Learn your geography!

One persistent problem that hasn’t gone away, even with improvements to forecasting and technology is the reception of a weather forecast, in particular during alert or warning periods. NPR recently released an article that highlights the number one issue with weather forecast reception among the public.

People just don’t know where they are.

I reached out to some meteorologists and social scientists in the process of writing my book, (which comes out next month!) and more than any discussion on a particular type of weather phenomenon, the dissemination of alerts and warnings stood out as the most problematic issue with regards to operational meteorology. While meteorologists can continue to refine our communication of the severity and immediacy of a weather situation, it’s hard to tell someone to be vigilant of the weather in their area, if they don’t even know where their area is.

The NPR Facebook post for this article had many commenters claiming that James Spann’s methods for testing this out were flawed. How can anyone figure out where they are if you are given a map with only county and state lines? If you are given a state, I would posit, you should be able to know, roughly, what part of the state you are in. This should take only a couple of glances at the map to get yourself a rough idea. Failing that, warnings are given on a county basis. Learn county names, and you are a step ahead of the game.

Admittedly, I grew up as a kid who loved looking at maps and knowing where I was. I’m visiting relatives as I write this, and I know exactly where I am on a map of South Dakota, just as much for my own interest as for the benefit of receiving weather information (we did get thunderstorms overnight, though they were not severe). Also, I’ve been looking at maps for my entire professional career, so that is surely a benefit to me. That said, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to address one’s physical location in schools across the country at an early age. If it’s too late for some older people, perhaps we can inform young students and THEY can help their parents along the way.

Early start to the severe season

Generally speaking, Tornado Alley is at its most active during the late spring and early summer. The most treacherous tornadoes in Oklahoma’s history have all seem to come in the first week in May, for example. Here in 2019, however, we have been reminded that the so called “Dixie Alley” sees its busiest time in the early part of spring.

We’ve already seen the deadliest tornadoes in 6 years on March 3rd, as a twister in Beauregard, Alabama killed 23 people there alone. Earlier this week, destructive tornadoes rumbled from Franklin and Alto, Texas to Vicksburg, Mississippi.

This pattern is expected to continue in the next couple of days. There is a chance for strong thunderstorms today in the southern Plains, a bit further west than what we have seen so far, but tomorrow poses a risk for a return of severe storms, with an emphasis on tornadoes in Dixie Alley. There is an enhanced risk for severe storms from Louisiana to Georgia and the Panhandle of Florida.

The jet stream hasn’t quite retreated to Canada yet this early in the season, so surface moisture doesn’t build all the way back to the Plains. Cold air is more dense and has more momentum than warm air, so it has no problem intruding on the southeastern US, touching off the strong storms of early spring.

It will get a little bit further away, that cold air, as the summer approaches and finally arrives. The severe threat in the southeast will lessen, but the oppressive heat and humidity will certainly arrive.

Spring Snowstorm Sadness

It was a picture-perfect day around here in the Twin Cities. Upper 60s, partly cloudy, a little on a breezy side but wasn’t awful. These are the beautiful spring days that we cherish around here.

So of COURSE we’re looking at a monster snowstorm moving our way in 3-4 days. A low pressure system that’s currently moving onshore over the West Coast is expected to eject into the Plains on Wednesday and become another BOMB CYCLONE (it’s this year’s fun media-hyped weather buzzword, like Polar Vortex). Forecasts are, naturally, very wide-ranging in our area specifically, but it’s looking extremely likely that there will be a broad swath of land from western Nebraska to northern Minnesota that will get 12-18″ of snow, with embedded areas getting over 2 feet. Below is the latest GFS snowfall forecast through the event. It will be interesting to see how the system evolves over the next couple of days.

Just for reference, the biggest April snowstorm on record in the Twin Cities is 15.8″ set all the way back in… 2018. The 9th biggest storm of 9.0″ was also last year. This is not a trend I like to see continue, but alas, BUCKLE UP EVERYBODY. Winter is coming… well, I guess it hasn’t left at all.

March Forecaster of the Month

We were very busy in March. Even despite our complete website collapse, we fit 11 forecasts in, so we definitely feel comfortable in saying that The Weather Channel did enough to prove that they were the forecaster of the Month. It’s even more impressive than that, as they had 4.5 wins in March alone, and went from the lowest forecast win total for the year to the lead. Nice work, Weather Channel!

OutletMonth wins
The Weather Channel4.5
National Weather Service1.5
OutletMonth winsyear wins
The Weather Channel4.55.75
National Weather Service1.53.75

Can flooding be slowed?

There are two things that we can see long term that help indicate whether or not flooding is in the future. Is there a lot of snowpack ready to melt? This year, that was a firm yes. Second, is there flooding upstream? For places from Missouri south to the Gulf of Mexico, the answer is also yes. Residents are already preparing, especially on the banks of the Missouri River.

A short term impact on flooding, as in one that can arrive with much less advance warning, is rain. Flash flooding is the result of more local rains, but river flooding can be exasperated by fresh rain fall. It can also be advanced by a rapid warm up, especially if coupled with rain. This was the problem in South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska earlier this month.

Fortunately for millions of residents, the thaw at the headwaters of the Mississippi was methodical, with refreezing overnight, and a more tempered warm up. The Mississippi and many of it’s tributaries are high, but municipalities in Minnesota and Iowa were able to anticipate the rising waters, for the most part, and have been able to stave off major issues.

And although the CPC continues to have a wetter than average beginning to April and spring season in the forecast, the ground is beginning to thaw and most of the melting above ground is complete. The Mississippi is cresting in Minnesota and starting to recede, with a major crisis averted. The good news in Nebraska, Iowa Kansas and Missouri is that any potential catastrophes aren’t going to loom more ominous than they already do.

The water was so high upstream in Nebraska and South Dakota that downstream flooding through Kansas City couldn’t be averted (though it wasn’t as bad as feared) and communities between Kansas City and St. Louis will need to be aware too, however the graciousness of Mother Nature, allaying the melting process and keeping the Midwest dry for several days, and the lower Mississippi Valley can breathe a sigh of relief.

Video Round up (And the forecaster of the Month)

While we’ve been knocked out of commission and also trying to get caught up with life, the weather has gone on unabated. While most of the country has been bouncing back from a grueling winter, our first stop takes us to Nebraska and South Dakota, which are undergoing unprecedented flooding, thanks primarily to snow melt, which has led to dam breaches, particularly on the Missouri, Elkhorn and Niobara Rivers.

These floods pale in comparison, somehow, and amazingly, to the catastrophic landfall of a cyclone near Beira, Mozambique. Cyclone Idai, all told will end up killing thousands in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Part of the problem, as is often the case with disasters in the third world is a failure of infrastructure, but another is that Mozambique has a natural barrier – Madagascar – that usually saves the country, and the region was less experienced with such catastrophes. Idai brought its strongest winds to Beira, a city of 300,000, then meandered through southeast Africa, with floods sweeping inland areas, driving up the death toll.

After all that, it’s tough to move to a different, more positive tale, but here it is” We were able to maintain our records, even if we weren’t able to keep our site up and running. We can say for sure that Accuweather had the top month back in February, which seems wild, since A) I can’t believe we are still thinking about February and B) they did it without much success on winning individual forecasts. Consistency! Congrats to Accuweather

Month wins
The Weather Channel0.25
National Weather Service0.25
OutletMonth winsyear wins
National Weather Service0.252.25
The Weather Channel0.251.25