Category Archives: Story

Severe weather steps it up

Yesterday, I highlighted the risk for severe weather in the Lower Mississippi Valley, and we did see widespread severe storms, especially along a line from north central Arkansas to eastern Texas. Most of this was because of wind, as the front rocketed east at 60mph, with thunderstorm gusts compounding the situation.
A merging of the cold and warm front (cold fronts move faster than warm fronts) happens at something called an occlusion, which is representative of the surface low, which works its way down the cold front and introduces an element of turning in the atmosphere that can turn those straight line wind events into widespread tornado outbreaks, as happened today (and the SPC correctly labeled a “high risk” day). A large wedge tornado was on the ground for 200 miles from northeastern Louisiana and across the state of Mississippi before finally lifting.
The long lived twister killed 10, with most of the hardest hit communities were near Vicksburg, Yazoo City and Holmes County. Another tornado dropped near Meridian, and the active pattern has also led to strong thunderstorms in and around Saint Louis, where funnel clouds were also reported. The energy associated with the storm system is still present, and will allow the continued development of strong thunderstorms overnight. Even now there are severe and tornado warnings in the Birmingham area, and any residents of the southeast should be aware that overnight, deadly tornadoes are a distinct possibility.

Severe storms raking the Lower Mississippi Valley

A strong system is coming out of the Rockies is generating the southerly flow we expect out of a good Spring severe outbreak. The system doesn’t have the typical vorticity of a massive tornado outbreak, however the storm is strong enough and there is enough potential energy that the storm prediction center has put out a moderate risk for severe weather in the lower Mississippi Valley. It’s projected for where the front will intersect with the strongest inflow from the Gulf will intersect the boundary, which actually isn’t entraining a lot of cool air. Here is a look at where the SPC is most concerned.

The threat is enough for tornadoes that the region, from Nebraska to Missouri and south into Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi that tornado watches are littered about the area. Only a few tornadoes have been reported so far today, a far cry from yesterday when the low over the High Plains generated dozens of mercifully remote twisters. Today, the storms will likely be more of a wind and hail threat for the south central US than tornado, but the threat is enough that residents should be wary. We’ll see how this moderate risk forecast verifies tomorrow.

The “Weather” Channel

The other day, The Weather Channel had a nice little clip talking about the New Madrid Fault Zone, which is an active earthquake zone in the Mid-Mississippi Valley region. Most of the earthquakes are too small to be felt, with perhaps 1 a year being noticeable to most people. Check out the video here: New Madrid Fault Zone.  Overall, it is pretty informative, a very large quake nowadays would devastate Memphis and cause damage to St. Louis, Evansville, Louisville, and even Cincinnati. The main reason an earthquake here would so damaging is because the ground under the region is mostly loose silt and soft earth, whereas a large earthquake in say, Los Angeles, would be less ranging b/c of the mountain ranges and mostly rocky base throughout the region. While a powerful earthquake, especially the ones of 1811-1812 that reversed the flow of the Mississippi for roughly 3 days and was even felt in New York City, is unlikely anytime soon, retrofitting buildings isn’t such a bad idea.

However, WTF does this have to do with weather!!?!  Last time I checked, there aren’t Earthquakes on the Eights or Seismic Stories on the programming, so why bother even reporting about this? Granted, more people probably know somebody who’s a meteorologist than seismologist or geologist, but for some reason being a meteorologist is layman’s terms for “all-knowing scientist”. While “The Geology Channel” doesn’t quite have that ring to it, perhaps TWC should stick to what’s going on above the ground rather than below it. Then again, if there’s anything going on in the Atlanta area, you wouldn’t be hearing about your own weather anyways.

What will the volcano in Iceland mean for us?

Back in the early 90s, Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines erupted, ejecting 10 billion metric tons of magma and 20 million tons of sulfuric acid into the atmosphere. Not only was the system devastating to Luzon, the island where the eruption occurred, but it affected the entire planet for about a 12 month period. The hemispheric average temperature was down an entire degree Fahrenheit after the eruption, thanks to the concentration of ash in the atmosphere, reflecting the suns radiation. This is a dramatic drop in temperature. Consider, that’s the same temperature change that is being discussed in regards to global warming. Even then, the degree change is somewhat misleading, as the lowest temperature change would be over the Pacific, where there are fewer recording stations, and the change in temperature would not have a dramatic impact.
Now, in 2010, we are poised for a similar event. The Eyjafjallajokull (and that’s the last time I’m typing that) volcano in Iceland hasn’t put out as much ash, or sent it as high in the atmosphere as Pinatubo did, but the Icelandic volcano has a history of longer eruptions. That said, the global temperature drop will likely be imperceptible when taken on a large scale. That said, this stands to have a greater impact on more people than Pinatubo did. Remember, that Pinatubo’s most dense ash was over the Pacific. Iceland’s ash will end up over Europe, as it already is. Even as the ash clears up at flight levels and air travel picks up again, temperatures for the summer and perhaps even into the window are going to be down in Europe. Here in the United States, it is extremely unlikely we see any temperature changes, unless the volcano somehow becomes more explosive. Even then, we won’t see a substantial drop in temperature stateside as we did with Pinatubo, as the ash would have to wrap its way all the way around the globe.

It got a little chilly

It’s been unseasonably warm for the past few weeks for most of the eastern part of the country. That all changed about three days ago. For anyone who tells you that they think it just felt cool because of how warm it was, the Weather Channel has a map to tell you that you are mistaken. In the upper Ohio Valley, temperatures were 15 degrees below normal in 15, which put them in prime temperature range for some snow. Which there was in western PA, as well as northeast through New England. So, yes, we did get a little bit cooler, and it wasn’t just you.

This isn’t what I meant by meteorologist

The National Weather Service’s offices in the western Great Lakes have had to field calls lately about something else falling from the sky. Cameras everywhere captured this fireball over Wisconsin, northern Illinois and eastern Iowa the other night:

The initial reaction, I’m sure, was that this was lightning, surely a phenomenon for the Weather Service to investigate! Well, no. It was actually a meteor, falling from the heavens. Well, that’s a job for meteorologists, right?
Um, no. It’s a job for an astronomer. The “meteor” in meteorology relates to hydro meteors, aka rain drops. Even so, this was a pretty cool incident that many people in Wisconsin and surrounding areas caugh, many on tape. The consensus among people who know these things is that it was a meteoroid, perhaps part of an expected, the Gamma Virginids shower, though that appears unlikely because of the directionality.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to keep an eye on the weather, and not meteors, because I’m a meteorologist.

Spencer Christian speaks to my soul

This site here is something known as “The Weather Blog”. There is a very good reason we don’t talk about the global warming and climate change controversies. If we did, it would probably be called the “Climate Blog”. On my way back from California, I sat next to a climate researcher from Harvard. We talked climate and weather a bit, but it became very clear we didn’t have much to talk about. He researched carbon, and had to ask me what type of clouds we were seeing out the window.
In an article from the Contra Costa Times discussing the schism between TV meteorologists and weather forecasters on the topic of global warming. San Francisco area meteorologist Spencer Christian has the most prescient.

“The climatologists are the experts in this field,” said Christian

Regardless of what you feel on the issue, it’s very important that you shy away from taking a TV meteorologists’ opinion as gospel truth. We weathermen have oh so little to get truly worked up about, and we’re probably all a bit more excited that people are taking what we have to say seriously for once. Mr. Christian and I are here to tell you: Go to the experts on the issue. Unfortunately, meteorologists aren’t them.
If you need another 2 day forecast for Bridgeport, however, we’re here for you.

Weather a factor in death of Polish president

The president of Poland, and other Polish officials were killed in a plane crash earlier today as he head into western Russia to honor the Katyn Massacre, which occurred 70 years ago during World War 2. Early accounts are that the cause of the crash is the dense fog permeating much of eastern Europe. The pilot, who likely couldn’t see the airport when landing, came in too low and clipped trees ahead of the runway, taking the plane down.
Much of eastern Europe is susceptible to dense fog for about half the year. The continent is surrounded by water, with warm water in the Mediterranean apt to filter north through the Adriatic and Black Seas much as moisture from the Gulf of Mexico finds its way into the center of the US. The continent is at a cooler latitude than most of the United States, and the cooler temperatures coupled with the higher humidity lead to often dense fog. When the area is ensconced in high pressure, wind is unable to mix out the fog, and it can be foggy for days if there is no injection of dry air. This is the situation presently in western Russia. Typically, it is not as grave a concern for Europeans, but in this instance, the Polish nation was met with tragedy.

March Forecaster of the Month

Our month began rather haphazardly, with the devious hacking from China that took us down for a week, but in the end, it turned into a neck and neck race to see who could claim supremacy as the top forecaster. In the end, it was The Weather Channel who was able to edge out their competition, to become the Forecaster of the Month

For the billionth year in a row, expect an active hurricane season

Ah, March. This is the time of year that your various long term forecasters project the hurricane season. What are they saying this year? Oh, it’s going to be active, just like every other year. Well, except last year, but everyone still SAID it would be an active year. Let’s see what the Charlotte Observer has to say:

“This year has the chance to be an extreme season,” says Joe Bastardi of Pennsylvania-based AccuWeather,

Because Joe Bastardi has never exaggerated the threat for anything before. The more telling of the quotes from the Observer (emphasis mine) is below:

Not all the forecasts are in. For example, the National Hurricane Center’s seasonal prediction won’t come until late May. And some forecasters plan to fine-tune their outlooks later this spring, when conditions become a bit clearer.

Besides, long-range hurricane forecasts have been unreliable in the past.

It’s tough to say. Right now, the Gulf of Mexico after a very chilly winter is quite cold. It’s hard to say how long it will be until tropical systems will be able to even move through the Gulf. It’s hard to say this early how many hurricanes there will be, or how active a season we are looking at. It’s dangerous to put a number on the hurricane outlook, especially when talking about how many storms will make landfall along the coast. Every hurricane is it’s own animal, and could just as easily miss land as make landfall every single time.
I’ve often said that anyone who says they can forecast past 10 days is full of it. sure, you can make predictions, but the accuracy is always going to be subject to more short term patterns. Mostly, it’s a way for people like Mr. Bastardi to get his name in the paper, and he can get a feather in his cap on the off chance he gets one of his forecasts right.