Haboobs aren’t just for the Middle East

This massive, sprawling dust storms are more frequently associated with the sandy deserts of the Middle East, or more locally, the dusty landscapes of the Southwest, but this massive haboob swept into Lubbock, Texas late last week, and was captured by Texas Tech University for all of us to marvel at.

As the Red Raiders noted, the haboob is formed, as they often are, but winds rushing away from thunderstorms, thanks to downdrafts hitting the earth and spreading outward, faster than the storm motion itself. This is a feature that often appears in the desert where the climate is arid and the ground can get dusty, but where instability can be such that strong, but low precipitation thunderstorms can develop. Usually, there is more moisture available than this in West Texas, but on this occasion, we get quite the show.

The SPC and it’s terminology

There are so many layers of terminology in meteorology and weather forecasting on top of the scientific definitions of various phenomenon that it’s no wonder there is so much confusion when dangerous weather looms. Part of the problem is a fundamental lack one’s own geography, but also a lot of these terms we use in alarm as meteorology, we take for granted that the general public understands.

The problem is that more often than not, the public does not understand. There are a lot of terms, there are a lot of different levels of concern and there is generally a lot of confusion. One of the disconnects is that meteorologists are immersed in the terminology at all times, whereas the lay person only worries about, say, thunderstorm watches a handful of times a year. I’ve seen too many meteorologists get exasperated with the public, but the truth is, there is culpability on our side as well.

I would invite you all to explore my book, coming out on June 18th, for some definitions on watches and warnings. The short version is that warnings are more immediate, while watches are more precautionary. This section begins on Page 108, if you are so interested.

The Storm Prediction Center is truly our first alert for impending severe weather. Still, their terminology can run afoul of the laypersons intuition. Take a look at the current Day 1 (aka – today) forecast for thunderstorms across the US.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you might know that a “Slight Risk” (SLGT) suggests a potentially stormy day, while an “Enhanced Risk” (ENH) portends a bit more intensity, but if you aren’t familiar with these definitions, a “slight risk” may seem dismissable, while an “enhanced risk” sounds apocalyptic.

Generally speaking, the outlooks are based on the potential for severe weather to occur within 25 miles of a location. The threshold for severe wind and hail is a 15% chance to be referred to as a “slight risk” which means that roughly, you can expect a severe weather event once every 6 or 7 times a slight risk is issued in your area. Tornadoes have a lower threshold, of 5%, or one in every 20 issuances, to have a slight risk be issued for an area. This is the case today in southern Mississippi and eastern Louisiana.

when a “Moderate” or “High” risk is issued, this should be an advanced notice of a significant severe weather outbreak expected for the day. Usually, this terminology is broadcast by the media. For further information, a visit to the SPC website will give a breakdown of the individual threats. and will even label areas under the threat (10% or higher) of significantly severe weather, by use of hatching in their graphics.

It kills us as meteorologists to hear that there was “no warning” when a catastrophic storm moves through an area, because in our minds, there are often at least three layers of notification before a storm arrives. We must accept the fact that the messaging is not as crystalline for the lay person as it is for us, and attempt to deliver out alerts more clearly. for the time being, I hope that this helps to clarify some of the terminology that exists today.

May Forecaster of the Month

Between a move and a long vacation, Victoria-Weather wasn’t very active, so as much as I like to laud active months for their clarity in selecting a forecaster, I think luck had more to do with the result than usual. The win was split by The Weather Channel and Accuweather all the same.

sOutletMonth wins
The Weather Channel1
National Weather Service0
OutletMonth winsyear wins
The Weather Channel17.25
National Weather Service05.25

El Centro, California to Lakeland, Florida

This is a drive I can get behind. It will be a 4 day drive along the southern tier of the US. The drive will cover 2331 miles, and we will cover ground at approximately 68.5mph, which is a decent clip. That decent clip also means a robust 548 miles traveled on days 1-3, with a long day in the southeast on day 4. they drive fast in Florida, so I bet we save some time.

El Centro, California

DAY ONE (Saturday)
For a drive in the southwest, our route will take us through a couple of pretty large areas, as we will encounter the sweltering Phoenix and moderately cooler Tucson on our way to New Mexico. Precipitation is not expected, and population will be minimal between the towns in question. The terrain in central New Mexico may aid in the development of a few showers and storms, but I think those will all remain east of where we will stop, exit 116 between Akela and Las Cruces.

DAY TWO (Sunday)
The dry line and the monsoon will be the two most identifiable features on our route on Sunday, but the late in the day develoment of these two features, and the lack of moisture available to them because of a batch of energy in the northeast means we will thread this needle without much threat for precipitation. We’ll make it to Kerrville, on the outskirts of San Antonio to finish the day.

DAY THREE (Monday)
The tail of a cold front will wrap around an advancing bubble of high pressure on Monday, and will touch off a few squirts of rain and isolated thunderstorms along the Texas/Louisiana border as we approach. It looks the wettest on the Louisiana side of the line, and the last couple of hours to Denham Springs, just east of Baton Rouge, bring a chance of a wet windshield.

DAY FOUR (Tuesday)
This isn’t something we see very often, especially this time of year, but high pressure is expected to settle into the southeastern US by early next week. Hot? Yes. Dry? Also yes, even in Lakeland. There might be a stray spritz left over in Denham Springs, but it should be good weather to enjoy the lakes of central Florida.

Lakeland, Florida

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to El Centro, California

This has been a challenging week. Tornadoes have now struck in several places, most famously in Jefferson City, Missouri and Dayton, Ohio. This 5 day trek, covering 2,585 miles will cover nearly all of the regions that were most heavily impacted. We’ll parcel this day into 530 mile segments, with a pace of 66mph. I thought it would be quicker given the surfeit of interstate we will cover, but safety first. hopefully the tornado threat is lessening as we traverse the central Plains.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

DAY ONE (Thursday)
Eastern Pennsylvania hasn’t been safe from the tornadoes either, with a twister northeast of Philadelphia last night. There is severe weather in the offing again today, however by tomorrow, when we start on our way westward, the system will finally be abating a bit. The rain won’t be any less, unfortunately, as the strong area of low pressure causing all this nastiness will occlude south into the Ohio Valley. Some rain, thunder and maybe another rogue severe (not as widespread!) thunderstorm will be possible through Pennsylvania in the morning. Rain will be heaviest on the western exposures of the Appalachians, but it will be tapering off through eastern Ohio. We should be dry by Columbus, and pleasantly cool in Huber Heights, a suburb of Dayton, though not as heavily damaged by the Memorial Day tornado. It will be our stop on Thursday night.

DAY TWO (Friday)
The weather is going to take a dramatic turn for the better on Friday. There might be a rogue thunderstorms, especially in the afternoon across Illinois, because we can’t just leave it well enough alone, but they will be garden variety, pop up storms on the back end of a broad spring cyclone. We’ll make it to Sarcoxie, Missouri in the southwest part of the state on a hot, humid afternoon.

DAY THREE (Saturday)
You might think that the drive from southwest Missouri, through Oklahoma and into the Texas Panhandle would bring the best chance for significant severe weather, and with the way things have gone lately, it would seem even more likely that you’d be right. By Saturday, though, the tail of the cold front that has caused so many problems will lie through Kansas, leaving us with some warmer, humid but dry conditions for the day. As the day turns to night, it looks like instability will take over and some terrific lightning producing, if not severe thunderstorms will pick up across the state. Not that this should bother us, we’ll be in the Texas Panhandle, spending the night in Pampa by the time things get going in the Sooner State.

We will likely see and hear some overnight convection associated with the dry line in the Texas Panhandle overnight, but it will also be associated with cooling aloft. That cooling is going to be gone when the sun rises, and after a short drive to the west, we will be on the dry side of the dry line anyways. The air will be clear in New Mexico, and it’s tough to find a good stopping point in northeast Arizona, but there is a travel center about 15 miles from Chambers that will suit us fine.

The most significant change we will be the elevation. The Petrified Forest is fairly high up there, and we will descend towards Phoenix, and then cut off towards El Centro. No significant weather is expected, but El Centro is pretty stinkin’ hot.

Imperial Valley, with El Centro at the bottom left

April Forecaster of the Month

It’s been a pretty wild week of weather, starting with a high risk severe day in the southern high plains, followed by a more dangerous day, as tornadoes swept through a more populous region, killing three in Golden City, Missouri, and sending an EF-3 tornado through Jefferson City. It passed very near the downtown and the State Capital causing extensive damage, a few injuries, but miraculously, no deaths. And then, just last night, a tornado passed nearly in the back yard of my in laws outside of Iowa City, Iowa. This was an EF-1, and while it caused some damage nearby, everyone is all right.

So with that in mind, it’s strange to be thinking back to April. We were fairly active back then, before Anthony went on a vacation and I moved. There was enough there to comfortably state that it was a very tight competition. The Weather Channel narrowly defeated Victoria-Weather, Accuweather, Weatherbug, and The National Weather Service to win the prize.

OutletMonth wins
National Weather Service1.5
The Weather Channel0.5

Month winsyear wins
The Weather Channel0.56.25
National Weather Service1.55.25

Phoenix gets fired up

Hi! It’s been a while! After a bit of a hiatus, thanks to a move and a minor illness, I’m here to remind you of a forecast we issued on Mother’s Day. Phoenix is one of the few places where it is actually quite warm, and the Tuesday after Mom got her day, it hit 98 degrees. Nick Lachey might think that’s just right, but to me, it seems a bit toasty. In case you were curious, yes, Victoria-Weather was the furthest off on a forecast that was won by the tag team of Accuweather and Weatherbug.
Actuals: Monday, May 13th, High 91, Low 655
Tuesday May 14th, High 98, Low 71

Grade A-B

Phoenix, Arizona to Lima, Ohio

Anthony is on vacation, and I am in the process of moving, so our posting has become a admittedly sporadic. I’m here now, though, to take us through a lengthy spring trip, potentially through the teeth of some strong storms. IT will take us 3 1/2 days to cover 1873 miles, which means a surprisingly lackadaisical 66.9mph. We’ll net 535 miles on the first three days, with, well, about half that on Wednesday.

Phoenix, Arizona

DAY ONE (Sunday)
We don’t usually think about the Desert Southwest when considering the threat for showers, thunderstorms and cold fronts, but a feature will be sliding into the west coast this weekend with a pretty sizeable cold front moving towards central California. It will eventually bring some rain to northern Arizona, but it looks like we will be sneaking into New Mexico with plenty of time to spare. It should be a seasonably warm day, except in the high reaches of the Rockies between Phoenix and Santa Rosa, New Mexico, the day one destination.

DAY TWO (Monday)
Monday has caught the eye of the Storm Prediction Center already as a moderate risk day. In my eyes, this means that it will almost certainly translate to a high risk day, and the high risk will be right along our route, particularly in the western half of Oklahoma. We will see some showers potentially starting around Amarillo, with the severe threat starting around Shamrock, Texas. Storms will be most likely, as it appears right now, around Woodward and Watonga, north of our route, but we will be in the mix up to and through the Oklahoma City metro area. Tulsa doesn’t seem to be under the gun on Monday as much as other parts of the state, and we will call it a day in Claremore, hopefully able to rest easy as severe storms and tornadoes stay well to the west.

DAY THREE (Tuesday)
The storm system will sit and spin over the High Plains along the Colorado/Kansas border Monday until Tuesday, which will cause dry air to cycle in from the southwest, and rope out the cold front. It will stall over eastern Oklahoma and western Missouri. There may be some showers and thunderstorms as we get started, however we should be through them by the time we get past Springfield, Missouri. The activity is likely to get stronger as the day goes on, but our trek towards St. Louis and Illinois will be hot, humid and free of rain. We’ll make it to Terre Haute, Indiana before we finish things off on Wednesday.

DAY FOUR (Wednesday)
The cold front will get started again overnight Tuesday into Wednesday as the system spins north and loses it’s bearings. Showers and perhaps an embedded thunderstorm will be possible over Indiana and Ohio on Wednesday, but they won’t be nearly as intense as the storms we see on Tuesday.

Lima, Ohio

The Wrong time

Last week, we took a look at Corpus Christi, where a weak area of low pressure was developing along the Mexican border. The only real problem I had with it was that the rain associated with it came heavier and harder about a full day early. At least by my estimation, because the rest of the group seemed to get it right. Nobody got it right-er than The Weather Channel, who also handled a Monday that was cooler than expected.
Actuals: Monday – .57 inches of rain, High 79, Low 68
Tuesday .07 inches of rain, High 84, Low 75

Grade: C