Category Archives: Story

September Forecaster of the Month

September was a grueling month for forecasters, weather aficionados and  anyone with a heart as they watched scenes of hurricane Florence inundating the Carolinas, leaving pain and devastation in their wake. We hopped around the rest of the country with our forecasts, and made sure weather was addressed aside from just the Carolina Catastrophe. In that broader lens, we can say that once again, The Weather Channel was the forecaster of the Month.

Michael makes his mark

Hurricane Michael made his landfall on Wednesday as one of the strongest to ever strike the American mainland. The images of devastation in Panama City, Port St. Joe and Mexico Beach are striking, as much for the devastation as for how profoundly different the images are from recent major hurricanes that have afflicted the US mainland.

Florence, Harvey and even Katrina 13 years ago were all lessons in the powers of flood waters. Either the storm surge, as in Katrina, the heavy, incessant rain, like in Harvey, or the combination of both that was brought on by Florence. The destruction Michael has left behind is  so jarring because it is a clear representative of the power of hurricane winds, unseen in the mainland since Andrew devastated south Florida in 1992, but reflective of Maria’s wrath in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands last year.

There was indeed a storm surge in Mexico Beach, reaching 8 feet by accounts I have heard, but the insidious nature of standing water isn’t going to be as problematic with this storm, because of how little was left behind to experience molding. Trees were sheared, power lines were kniocked down in a scene that looked more like a large scale tornado that stretched dozens of miles along the beaches.

In the end, Michael will go down in history as one of the strongest hurricanes to ever make landfall in the United States. Like Andrew, it’s possible that he will one day be upgraded to a Category 5 in reanalysis. Also like Andrew, he will almost certainly provide a lot to think about in this part of Florida, affecting construction and safety practices for a generation.

Dakota Smith has a Twitter thread with a comprehensive look at the damage brought upon the region by Michael.

The thread came from here

Coming Soon

We’re digging into October now, and the forecasts are about to get a lot more wintry. What fall foliage locations might we pass through on this forecast adventure?

Portland, Maine

Road Trip from Portland to Reno, Nevada

St. Cloud, Minnesota

Odessa, Texas

Riverside, California

Rosa targeting drought stricken southwest.

One of, if not the most drought addled parts of the country is the 4 Corners territory. The nexus of those four states is a bullseye on the CPC drought monitor for being the most in need of rain and cooler temperatures. Fortunately, Rosa is on her way. The next month forecasts to be a very wet one for most of the country, which is good news for the western US, and the remnants of Rosa, which is tracking over the Arizona as we speak, is only a start, though a very robust start. The heaviest rain will fall in northern Arizona, but Phoenix has already seen over 3” of rain, which doesn’t sound like much, but could be overwhelming to that arid landscape.

Rosa also has brought severe storms to northwestern Arizona. The population in the Mojave is spread thin, however the downpours caused by severe storms can fill arroyos and become extremely dangerous. The aftermath can be quite beautiful, and fresh rains will hopefully suspend significant fire threats for the time being.

The heavy rain will relent later in the week as Rosa winds down with more speed than tropical features in the eastern US (thanks to the Rocky Mountains), but the disruption to the flow aloft will change course for the precipitation pattern across the country.

Forecaster of the Month

September has been so busy, we haven’t had time to look back to August to confirm the forecaster of the month even yet. If anyone is upset about that, it is certainly going to be Accuweather, who not only won the month, but won it going away, and 2/3rds of the way through the year have taken the lead in the annual standings. 

The Curious Case of 1936

Lately it seems like each heat wave brings new all-time records with it, like one that went from Late July to Early August this year. As the planet continues to slowly warm, more and more of these heat waves are expected to occur. However, outside of 2012, we haven’t seen a heat wave like the record setting one in 1936. Extreme heat wasn’t the only noteworthy weather event of that year though, as the temperature see-saw tipped the other way in an unprecedented way just a few months earlier.

As the Dust Bowl era started to take over the Central US, the previous few winters had been relatively mild. When November 1935 came around, cold snaps started to take hold in the Pacific Northwest, as ID, OR, WA, and ND all saw top 10 coldest Novembers on record. The cold extended eastward into December 1935 as much of the southeast (FL, GA, SC) saw their second-coldest Decembers on record. After a large mid-month storm in January, cold air started taking a firm grip over the eastern US, with OH and IL reporting wind chills below -80F (using the old formula) and ND seeing the month’s average temperature of a frigid -6.9F

February 1936 was the main event. NE, ND, and SD recorded their coldest month of all time, while a total of 9 states reported their coldest February ever. SD saw -58F and ND dipped to -60 along with MT. Devil’s Lake, ND had an average temperature of -21 from the last week of January through the end of February. Fargo stayed below 32F from Dec 14 thru March 1st. Schools throughout the Midwest, Great Plains, and Pacific Northwest were all closed due to the extreme temperatures and snowdrifts, leading to supply shortages throughout the region. It wasn’t until mid-March that temperatures finally started warming up and people could recover, although this lead to flooding due to the ground being frozen to a deep layer.

A few months later, ridiculous heat engulfed the Central US. The driest summer on record occurred for 9 Plains and Midwest states, further contributing to dust storms sweeping throughout the record. Combined with record warm summers for everywhere from MT to KY, this contributed to widespread suffering on farmsteads throughout the US. Steele, ND hit a blazing 121F, still the state’s highest temperature. Ohio hit 110F, while 13 other states all hit all-time high temperatures that remain to this day. Lincoln, NE recorded a LOW temperature of 91F on the morning of July 25th before setting the city’s all-time high of 115F that afternoon. The heat continued into August, where Arkansas and Oklahoma both hit temperatures of 120F on August 10th, while LA hit 116F 2 days later along with Texas joining the 120F club as well. A total of 17 states set or tied their all-time record high temperatures, all of which remain to this day (Kansas also hit 121F, joining ND atop the sweltering leaderboard)

Hopefully it’s a long time until we see such prolonged extreme weather, since our country’s infrastructure and population has increased exponentially since then, the human toll would be that much worse.

Relief on the way?

Not enough can be said about the valiant efforts of the hotshots and local fire fighters that battle the massive wildfires in the western United States as they encroach upon populated areas. They save countless lives and millions of dollars, but even they will admit that the greatest fire fighter of them all is mother nature, and she is finally stepping in to fight the blazes next week.

As noted earlier in the week, smoke from storms in the Pacific Northwest and western Canada has spilled east so as to smother most of the International border as heat and aridity embrace the region. Fortunately, both those things are expected to change fairly soon, particularly with temperatures dropping in the Pacific Northwest and Canadian Pacific.

High pressure in the north Pacific will cycle cooler, moister air from the shores of Alaska, through British Columbia, and at the coolest, all the way to southern California. Rain won’t be as widespread as the region could use, but the relief in temperature will help those heroic fire fighters get a leg up.

Stable pattern means smoke for the country

Once again, we are seeing a great number of fires, sweeping the western portion of North America. Fires are a natural occurrence, and good for the regeneration of hardwood forests, but with the urban sprawl moving ever deeper into the wilderness, the threat of fires to human livelihood increases, as does the threat for fires to be started by humans, either by accident, such as the Carr fire in northern California, or on purpose, such as the Holy Fire in southern California.

While the threat for fire is visceral in the west, the threat of smoke is real for much of the rest of the country, from something as simple as reduced visibility and haze, to poor air quality, respiratory issues and other safety and quality of life concerns.

The upper level pattern is fairly zonal, which is to say that the US’s upper level flow is moving predominantly west to east without many interruptions. The lone exception is a weak trough in the Pacific Northwest. The consequences are smoke pressing due eastward, right along the northern tier of states, both because of the predominant westerlies, but also because of the southerly flow within the trough, funneling California smoke in with the Washington and British Columbia haze.

One variable that helps to limit the amount of haze or smoke in the atmosphere is rainfall. It essentially cleans the skies up, as soot and smoke particles become captured in the water droplets, and the denser smoke gets scattered by updrafts. The southern US is enjoying some intermittent thunderstorms, while the threat for rain will shift northward for next week.

July Forecaster of the Month

I think this might be the first time this has happened, but I haven’t been able to verify it quite yet. I think this might be the first time we’ve had WeatherNation step up and have the top record for an entire month of the year, but alas, they claimed the July crown, putting aside an affinity for the NWS forecast and a series of technical issues and display shortcomings. Congratulations, Weathernation, you’ve earned it.