Coronavirus and the severe weather season

I don’t need to tell you that the the novel coronavirus, causing Covid-19, has put the nation at a standstill. One of the few rays of light from this strange state of affairs is the respect shown to the doctors and epidemiologists who are offering advice and instructions. As a meteorologist, I am envious of these scientists who have grabbed the attention of the public and the powers that be, and have incited action in the face of grave danger.

Granted, there are many people who reject the threat of the disease out of hand, as many are also quick to dismiss a severe weather warning, and it is for a similar reason. While the disease is much more lethal than the flu, the threat it will cause severe symptoms in any particular individual is almost astronomically small. The highest rate of infection in the world right now is in San Marino, a tiny principality embedded within Italy, and even there, the fraction of the population that has been confirmed as having the virus is less than 1%. Similarly, among those who contract the virus are said to have a death rate of 4%. These numbers are all very small.

The problem is that those numbers are all coming at the same time, especially if nothing is done about it. Having 4% of 1% of the population dying of this would still account for 120,000 people passing away after 3,000,000 people get sick. Those numbers would paralyze the medical system across the country. The threat to any one individual is small, but the threat to the system is very large.

Consider the television meteorologist, who gets hate mail for interrupting programming to provide alerts when there is a dangerous situation in a particular viewing area. Just think of Nashville earlier this year, where a tornado tracked through the metropolitan area, killing dozens and injuring hundreds. Still, if you lived in Oak Hill, you were unaffected by the worst of the storms. There was no threat to you, but the Nashville system was heavily disrupted, and the TV Meteorologist had to warn for the whole system, even if it was simply an inconvenience in the south metro (and the far north metro, for that matter).

Now, that same TV Meteorologist might have to tackle the next severe outbreak, or even the next month’s worth of outbreaks, from their home office, rather than surrounded by colleagues and advanced monitoring equipment, as we all try to stay away from others to prevent the further spread of Covid-19. Of course, more people will be at home, hopefully paying attention to the television or radio when severe weather looms.

Of course, when a tornado or severe weather event strikes, it can lead to a mass trauma event. Many people need medical attention all at the same time. This pandemic is an ongoing, ever worsening mass trauma event as well. With the spring and severe weather coming, can any part of the country stand to bear another compounding disaster?

I fear we will find out this spring, and I am more fearful that we won’t like the answe,

The Nashville tornado – The worst of all things

Last week, a devastating set of tornadoes swept through north central Tennessee, claiming the lives of 24 people and injuring hundreds, while causing significant damage across the region.

Frankly, you couldn’t ave asked for a worse set of circumstances for these storms. While we can’t underestimate the the amount of suffering that the storms caused, we also can also state that it could have been significantly worse, and the margin was very close. Let’s look at the circumstances in question.

  1. Time of Day: The first tornado from this outbreak dropped shortly after 11pm, with the Cookeville tornado occurring just before 2AM. Given that this outbreak occurred after most people were in bed, the effectiveness of warnings was reduced even further than normal, and few people in the path of the storm likely prepared as would have been prudent
  2. Location: These tornadoes went through heavily populated locations. The longest track any of these twisters took was an incredible 60 miles, and it started west of Nashville before crossing an airport and eventually through the city center, The storm passed between the Grand Ole Opry and Downtown, south of the Hermitage and across commercial and residential districts. A venue that hosted a political rally that very night was leveled. To summarize, there were definitely people in the path of this storm.
  3. Strength: That storm that went through the city center of Nashville did so as an EF2 to EF3 storm, and remained an EF3 as it did considerable harm to life and property in Mount Juliet. The Cookeville tornado, which skirted the city limits was stronger, grading as an EF4, and was the deadliest as a result.

Take a look at the storm tracks of the Nashville and Cookeville tornadoes below to reference what I discussed above.

Nashville Tornado Track
Cookeville Tornado Track

That is a recipe for disaster, and one that likely left most residents feeling helpless. The storms themselves were moving at 80mph as well, which would have limited warning times even if they had come during daylight. The storms had a mission, and Tennessee is proving how strong the state is, thanks to the ability to withstand such as storm, and their immediate attempts at recovery.

February Forecaster of the month

February wasn’t nearly the snowlogged marathon that it was in 2019, even though we had an extra day in the month. Also, February wasn’t quite as tightly clustered among the forecasters as January was. This milder, tamer month led to only one winner for the month, and one that didn’t do as well in January. Congratualtions to the Weather Channel, our top performer in our second month.

OutletMonth wins
The Weather Channel2
National Weather Service
OutletMonth winsyear wins
The Weather Channel22
National Weather Service1

Snow band at it’s best

I have talked about “bright banding” in the past. It is the phenomenon in which snow forms striations on radar, with the brighter returns indicating elongated bands of heavy snowfall. Given the movement patterns of snow storms, these bands tend to linger and usually result in the locations that receive the most snow in a region’s snow event.

What happens, then, if there is only one band of snow in a withering area of low pressure, and it sets up in an area that is otherwise snow free? What this bright band would do is something like what happened earlier this week in Kansas, with a system that moved through the mid-Mississippi Valley, and ultimately became a blizzard in western New York and eastern Canada.

Here is the satellite edition:

And this is what it looks like from a little closer to the ground.

In the end, the snow band was less than 20 miles wide, but in some places more than a foot deep, and came down at a pace that required the closing of I-70 in northern Kansas. Certainly bad luck for the very few people that saw all the snow, but at least they didn’t need to go far to get out of it.

Persistent patterns lead to problems

If you have been tracking the weather in the southeast over the last several weeks, you know that the we’ve had a bit more early severe weather than last year, particularly in the Dixie Alley of Mississippi, Alabama and states surrounding them.

The issue hasn’t really been the individual severity of these storms, but rather the frequency with which they have been occurring. Big thunderstorms often bring heavy rains, and while the southeast is uniquely equipped to contend with a higher water content than most places in the country, they have simply seen these storms too often.

Presently, the Mississippi is over it’s banks in Natchez, while the Tombigbee River in Alabama from Gainesville to Mobile is at moderate flood levels. The Pearl River, particularly in Jackson, is where the flooding is presently the worst. The Pearl is currently cresting at eight feed above flood stage.

If we were expecting to stay dry for a while, I would confidently say that the worst will soon be over for residents of Jackson and the surrounding environs, however the forecast calls for more rain. Many parts of Mississippi, including Jackson, will see at least a couple more inches of rain through Thursday, leading the WFO in Jackson to pain the region in Flash Flood watches and warnings.

Mississippi’s terrain is porous and will be able to absorb the excess faster than many places, but it is still significant to see flash flooding forecast over such a broad swath of land. The next round of rain and thunderstorms has already popped up south of Grenada.

Eastern Seaboard gets a reprieve

Do you know what this site has been missing this winter? Posts about snow storms on the East Coast. this isn’t just because of our pared down content schedule either; there just hasn’t been any snow to speak of south of New York, and the biggest features have waited until they are over the Atlantic to really take off.

New York hasn’t been particularly snowy either, but Philadelphia and Washington have seen less than an inch of snowfall accumulation all season. Take a look at the accumulated totals for the mid-Atlantic to date this season.

The light blue shadings are the 0-1″ range, which includes southern New Jersey to northern North Carolina, at which point the total accumulations really taper off. Things are light north of there as well, with under half a foot falling from the Cape to southeastern Pennsylvania.

It hasn’t been dry along the East Coast. There have been plenty of warmer core systems that brought enough rain to make sure the soil stays saturated. There have also been cold snaps from time to time. The problem for snow lovers in the Beltway is that those two things haven’t phased.

It’s still only the middle of February, so hope is not all lost for people want to see some snow this season, but for those that aren’t snow aficianados, we are already almost out of the woods for the season, and it has passed with very little headache.

Storm “Dennis” batters the British Isles

A strong storm with an origin in the southern United States underwent explosive cyclogenesis (a ‘bomb cyclone’) in the North Atlantic over the weekend and slammed into Ireland and the United Kingdom, bringing strong winds, heavy rain and disruption through the region.

Many European meteorological agencies give names to all significant systems. In this case, the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Netherlands form a cooperative that ascribes names to storms, much like the National Hurricane Center does to hurricanes. This is a tried and true method of weather agencies both to document and streamline the notifications of the strongest storms (and a lot of that is lost when networks give their own names to snow storms).

But the politics and naming conventions aside, Dennis was one of the strongest storms to ever move across the north Atlantic, thanks to a strong jet structure that fostered the rapid development. Usually, and once again this was the case, when there is such a rapid development, it is accompanied by very gusty winds.

With Dennis, however, the most significant impact was with the water. Churning seas claimed the lives of a couple of British citizens, while flood waters and heavy rains lead to the death of another man in Wales, and a woman was swept away by floodwaters in Worcestershire. There have also been stories of ships (though abandoned) washing ashore in Ireland thanks to the churning seas, and flooding as far away as Sweden as Dennis made his way towards the Baltic.

The storm has mostly shifted out of Europe, though a cold front remains particularly active in Russia and Belarus, though it tails as far west as France. A few snowflakes will fall in Scotland and northern England today, while runoff will continue to cause rivers to rise on Great Britain for at least another day or so.

To continue to follow Dennis and his lingering impacts, as well as learning more about individual tales and specific happenstances brought about by this massive storm, BBC News continues to have live updates about his wrath.

One last wintry gasp

It is cold this morning in the Upper Midwest. For the second morning in a row, temperatures dropped to the double digits below zero across the regions. It’s the coldest it’s been all season, but there will be a bounce back this weekend, back to near freezing, if not above.

This little cold snap is not the last gasp that I am talking about.

The cold snap I am referring to is the one forthcoming. It may not be too terrible in the north central United States, relatively speaking, but look at this spate of blue on the 6-10 day outlook from the CPC.

That’s a peculiar outlook, I will be the first to admit, and it has everything to do with systems generating in the Rockies, diving into the Big Bend of Texas and then shuttling off towards New England.

The good news is, much of the cool down is going to owe to the precipitation in the region, rather than an Arctic intrusion, which means, among other things, that despite the high precipitation and unseasonably low temperatures, west Texas probably won’t see accumulating snow out of this.

While this will be the pattern for the end of February and into the beginning of March, it will not hold through all the way through spring. Indeed, as luck would have it, this map will once again reverse for the rest of the season, as the north central US will be the spot most liely to endure a below normal spring.

January Forecaster of the Month

January was interminable, wasn’t it? And here we are, 10 days later, still talking about. It’s mostly good news, though, because in the fray of January, we were able to reward not one, not two, but THREE outlets with the forecaster of the month award. The three outlets to draw level in the first month of the year were Victoria-Weather, Weatherbug and the Weather Service.

OutletMonth wins
National Weather Service0.5
The Weather Channel
OutletMonth winsYear Wins
National Weather Service0.50.5
The Weather Channel

2019 Forecaster of the Year

This year, there was a grand cluster of similarly competent forecasters. 5 Outlets were matched pretty well, but then there was one outlet that was very bad (sorry, and one that was really good, but it took until December to realize how dominant they had been. Victoria-Weather won the month of December, while the ultimate winner for the year tied for second…. and that was all it took to finish well above the runner up this year. Congratulations to the Forecaster of the Year,


For completeness, here is the chart of individual forecast wins. It shows that The Weather Channel didn’t necessarily have the highest peaks, but they were able to stay steady all year. Here’s to a wonderful 2020!

OutletMonth winsyear wins
The Weather Channel114.03
National Weather Service19.31