Category Archives: Story

And our 2010 Captain Obvious Award Goes to…

As meteorologists, we always look at what other people are forecasting for various things: tornado outbreaks, an upcoming blizzard, intense heat wave, etc. One of those would also be the upcoming Hurricane season! The 2010 Atlantic hurricane season officially started on June 1, and it’s been a quiet start so far. One tropical wave is moving through the Caribbean south of Hispaniola, but is having a tough time doing much of anything. In an earlier post, we mentioned that various forecasters were forecasting an above average hurricane season, with something around 14 named storms. Other outlets went slightly higher with 15-17. One of them, however, not only takes the cake with his recent updated forecast, but also the way he displays the information.

Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2010 Captain Obvious Award goes to Joe Bastardi of Accuweather! If you wish to check out his newly updated 2010 Hurricane Outlook and refresh yourself, click on the link. Also, it will give you an idea of why he wins the Captain Obvious Award. First, he INCREASES his outlook for the season from 16-18 to 18-21! Only 3 seasons have had 18 or more named storms (that I can remember anyways), so to predict such a prolific season is pretty tough to put out there. What is most annoying, however, is how the graphics and data he says which he emphasizes as critical information… isn’t very ground-breaking in the least.

First, look at the Threat Zones graphic. The area of Biggest Threat goes from Louisiana to the Outer Banks of NC. Now lets take a look at the climotological best tracks for storms in the months of September and October, typically 2 of the most active months of the season.

So, the area of Biggest Threat… is the normal area that’s under the gun. Every. Single. Year. If I didn’t know fancy graphics didn’t exist back in the 60s you could use that same graphic for the season Hurricane Camille roared ashore. Making a fancy image showing information that is normal doesn’t make it any more informational, just grabs peoples attention and scares them. Then again, to everybody from New Orleans to Miami to Myrtle Beach, I’m pretty sure they know the danger they’re in each year.

Second, the line “Bastardi predicts the heart of this season’s storms will occur between Aug. 15 and Oct. 15”. Now, let’s look the seasonal average for tropical activity during the season…

So he predicts the heart of the tropical season to be… directly when the season normally peaks. Way to go out there on a limb Joe. The 1933 Hurricane Season peaked at the same time (2nd most active on record). The 2005 Hurricane Season peaked at the same time (most active on record). Even the way overforecasted 2009 Hurricane Season peaked at the same time. Him telling us that time frame is of crucial importance, isn’t any different than any other year, active or not.

So for that, Mr. Bastardi wins the award for making a big deal out of weather phenomena that naturally occur in a certain timeline and normal paths on an annual basis. Oh, and for also predicting possibly the 2nd busiest season on record. If it does indeed happen, I’ll be the first to eat a slice of humble pie. Until then, we’ll let the Atlantic do the talking.

A sad Father’s Day for northwestern Minnesota

Statistics are still being parsed, but it appears a tornado outbreak on that day was the most prolific in the history of the state. The towns of Wadena, Mentor, Algora and Kiester will never be the same. Several other towns were struck, though Wadena, a regionally important city of about 4500 was devastated, and there were deaths in Mentor, Algora and near Kiester.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune had an excellent piece on this Father’s Day about Wes Michaels, the man who lost his life in Mentor, which is in the northwestern corner of Minnesota, who died protecting his daughter at the gas station he owned.
The article is poignant and sad, however his death underscored a danger highlighted by these storms. Weather services across three states, the Dakotas and Minnesota, did an excellent job giving people proper warning. The city of Wadena, for example, had 36 minutes between the time the sirens went off and the tornado sweeping into town. Michaels was watching The Weather Channel (reportedly a favorite of his) and actually had time to drive to the gas station to ensure the safety of his daughter and customers, ushering them into the freezer.
This is the problem that was exposed by the storms. The three deaths that occurred were because of unsafe places of refuge. The other two were killed when their mobile homes were tossed. The safest place to endure such weather is always below ground. Wes Michaels couldn’t get there, but found the next safest place, and there were 4 other people in that freezer that are alive to thank him for that.
Hopefully we won’t have to hear any more tragedies like this on this Father’s Day, however there is a dangerous situation setting up again today, this time through South Dakota and Nebraska, with most of the states under the gun. Here’s hoping YOU have a happy Father’s Day, no matter what the weather may be.

Heat Index

With the official start of Summer just a few days away, and kids across the country enjoying a couple of months with nothing to worry about, another meteorological danger lurks about that not many people really pay attention to. Temperatures will continue to be heating up over the country, along with more humid conditions, leading to heat indicies often soaring over 100. The Heat Index is the apparent temperature felt by a human in hot conditions, much like how the Wind Chill does the opposite for cold conditions. Some minimum requirements must be met, however, for a Heat Index to be calculated, and those being:

1) Actual temperature is above 80F
2) Dew Point is higher than 54F
3) Relative humidity is higher than 40%

Once the Heat Index gets above 100F, dire consequences can result of prolonged activity outside without seeking occasional relief in shade, air conditioning, or replenished fluids. Recently i was in Las Vegas when it was 106F (the day before it was 110F, the earliest Sin City had ever reached 110F), but even though it felt blistering hot when I stepped outside, I’ve encountered far worse conditions living in NC. Countless days during the summer there I would go outside to get the mail in the middle of a 94-degree day with a 72-degree dew point. Those numbers equate to a 104 heat index, which is perilously close to the Danger Zone (no, not the Kenny Loggins hit). In this zone, heat cramps and heat exhaustion are quite possible if one doesn’t seek relief, and continued exposure can lead to heat stroke (which I myself have nearly been a victim of). In the “Absolutely Ridiculous” department, the world record was set back on July 8, 2003 in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, when the temperature topped out at 108. More incredibly, the dew point was 95F, which calculates to a mind-numbing 172F!
So this summer when you’re out at family picnics, baseball games, or a nice 6-mile run outdoors, be sure to keep cool and plenty of fluids nearby and you’ll have a great summer! Stay safe readers!

The NWS’ far reaching, surprising scope

Since it’s Sunday, and I have pretty much discussed the two longstanding patterns across the United States, the continued pattern of showers and thunderstorms across the northern tier, and that mid level low that has dropped so much rain from San Antonio to the Ozarks (something that has been far more tragic than I’ve mentioned to date. Massive flooding events are so tragic, but nobody pays attention to them because they aren’t as dramatic as, say a tornado, for example). Since I have covered the weather, like I said, I thought I would direct you to this quiz on Sporcle: can you name the National Weather Service’s event warnings?
The Weather Service issues warnings that aren’t just for weather, since they have the best access to the government’s warning system. There were a lot of complaints in the comments because many didn’t understand that it was only for “warnings” and not advisories (such as dense fog).
If you want a more complete look at all the warnings that you could receive from the NWS, check out their FAQ page. Let’s just say I’m happy that I’ve never been under a Nuclear Power Plant Warning.

The stagnant pattern bears results

Lately, we have had a fairly constant pattern, with a west to east jet drifting across the northern part of country, with the occasional undulation rippling along it, generating weak areas of low pressure that have trekked east. For the most part, they have kicked up some streaks of showers and thunderstorms along weak cold fronts, and most of all have produced steady rainfall for the northern tier of states.
The map above is the comparison to average rainfall for the month to date. As you can see, most all regions for the northern states are at or above average for rain so far. South of the line, they haven’t seen their standard rain, because there hasn’t been the systems with enough energy to sweep boundaries that far south. Nebraska has been especially wet with large thunderstorms as the surface lows have tried to organize right on top of them. This map is a pretty good indicator of the unchanging pattern.
Additionally, check out that nice dark blue streak through east Texas into Arkansas. That is the infamous blob that brought about a foot of rain to some spots. Too bad that rain couldn’t be distributed to other parts of the country.

The blob

A massive blob of rain has slowly worked its way north from near San Antonio to Dallas and now in the Tyler area, and has dumped as much as NINE inches of rain on some locations. It certainly looks impressive on radar:

What’s even more impressive is how little forcing it is taking to generate this low. The National Weather Service described this system as an “effective rainfall producer”. It is warm core, which just means that it is tropical in nature, not unlike a very weak, very rainy hurricane. Of course, hurricanes usually show up on surface analyses, because there is lower pressure at their core. This isn’t even a blip on the surface pressure plots. It sort of shows up in the mid-levels and even then, it’s very week. It doesn’t look like much.
Until you look at the output at the surface. The crazy thing is, all models have pegged this blobby mass of rain up to this point. They have even suggested the torrential rain that has been caused by the system so far. Ignoring the fact that this is the only thing the models have handled well lately, I have no reason, then, to believe that this mid level low and it’s associated wall of water won’t track through Arkansas into southeastern Missouri by tomorrow, then slowly march its way up the Ohio to Cincinnati overnight into Saturday, as the GFS posits. The good news is, the system is actually, you know, moving now, so there is a better chance that the overall rain totals won’t be up to a foot in Cincinnati, instead around the more manageable 3 or 4 inches. So that’s good.
What a weird system.

The deal with models

Yesterday, I mentioned in my post on the Philippines how awesome it was that there was a proprietary model that had been developed by that nation. I thought I would mention a few things about models, and why this is such an interesting quirk.
Models, first off, are generated when observations are plugged into nasty, almost unsolvable calculations. They have to make certain assumptions so the calculations can be solved to some degree, and the reason that there are different models is because of the different assumptions. The models that encompass the highest area solve those equations for a larger plot of land, just so the models can generate output fast enough to be usable for forecasters.
Some models are produced to cover smaller areas and thereby have a smaller resolution. They can miss the greater picture, sometimes, but can often interpret smaller scale events. There is the one GFS model that covers the globe that we use here in the United States, and is produced at NCEP in Colorado. Additionally, the NAM is nested in the GFS and has a higher resolution and solves exclusively for North America. It does better often with southern convection, but the GFS is the superior model for larger systems. Both serve their purpose. Additionally, there are models called the RUC and WRF that are short term models that do very well with convection. For longer forecasts, American meteorologists can use models produced in Canada and Europe, colloquially known as the Canadian and European models.
It’s not often that models are seen outside of the meteorological world, though the American models are freely available if you know where to look. Many other countries keep theirs under wraps, but the Philippines put theirs out there. It was a small area, so the resolution is likely good, though it appeared to only solve for a few variables, like wind, pressure and rain, however in the tropics, that is more than enough.

This is tough to do

Here we sit, just after noon, and there is a moderate risk for severe weather just north of the Ohio River from about Pittsburgh to Ottumwa, Iowa, there is a tornado watch for Upstate New York and western New England and we have one severe report in the smallest state in the country. That is statistically improbable.
If you were wondering, Coventry, Rhode Island saw a thunderstorm roll through early this morning and blew down trees and power lines. Later this afternoon, a slow moving cold front will set off some showers and thunderstorms for the Ohio Valley, somewhat similar to what they saw in Rhode Island this morning, with the strong winds, however there is also a good threat for tornadoes, especially in central Illinois this afternoon.

An update on Agatha

As you may have heard, the first name storm of the Pacific season, Agatha, has continued to cause incredible damage across Central America, namely because of the torrential rain that the area has seen with the system. Flooding, landslides and associated problems have led to the deaths of around 200 people, unfortunately. As I mentioned earlier this week, a weak storm can even be catastrophic for a place like Guatemala given the amount of rain that can be expunged.
Of course, the most amazing images for many are the enormous sinkhole that showed up in the center of Guatemala City, consuming anything on the surface above it. The water moving through the faulty sewer systems below eroded the sub surface rocks, which led to this sinkhole when the weight of soil above eventually collapsed. Impressive imagery, no doubt.

May Forecaster of the Month

We’re already into June. Can you believe it? It seemed lie it took forever, that’s for sure. The summer months and the conversion to fall, that’s when Victoria-Weather tends to make up ground on other sites. Fortunately, we had a pretty good winter too, so we’ll be poised to win the forecaster of the year award as well. If I haven’t spoiled things already, here’s the news… Victoria-Weather was the May forecaster of the month, rather easily.