Category Archives: Story

Everybody loves a parade

The beginning of September is the peak of hurricane season in the Atlantic, and late August is the ramp up to it. Presently, as you can see by the satellite overlay seen above, we have a train of tropical systems lined up over the north Atlantic. Fortunately at this point, they all appear to have no interest in inflicting any damage upon the United States.
For systems that form as they are coming off the western shores of Africa, there is too much forcing to the north in most cases to the systems to be of major concern for US mainland interests. Hurricane Danielle will be entirely a fish storm (no direct land impact expected) while Tropical Storm Earl, soon to be a hurricane will pose some threat to the Northern Antilles, and may bring some destruction the way of Bermuda. The next wave, which will soon be Tropical Storm Fiona, is still a mystery, but if I had to guess at this point, she will likely follow the path of her older sister Danielle.
If ever there was a location you wanted a stagnant, training pattern, it was with tropical systems in the Atlantic. Thus far, 5 years after the hellacious 2005 season (this is the 5th anniversary of Katrina’s landfall) the United States has been blessed by a merciful Atlantic.

Video of a fire tornado in Brazil

That fairly nifty image (from Russia Today) is tornado borne of extremely hot air caused by the tornado. Dry weather in Sao Paulo (it hasn’t raised in about 3 months) as left the are extremely susceptible to wildfires, such as the one seen above.
These “fire tornadoes” are best explained by looking at the desert southwest in the summer. There is a seasonable area of low pressure called a “thermal low” caused by the extreme heat of mid summer in the desert that exists from about May to October. Imagine that with a stronger temperature gradient (with fire creating air temperatures of several hundred degrees) over a small area, and you get rapidly flowing wind towards the fire. Add to that that it was a gusty day, and voila, you end up with the fascinating scene you had in Sao Paulo, thanks to the area of localized low pressure which helped turn already gusty winds.

The New Tornado Alley

This year has been somewhat unusual. Thanks to a very stagnant pattern this summer across the United States, areas of low pressure have shown a tendency to track directly over the Northern Plains, but the systems have been unable to pull in a lot of cold air. This has meant an active year for the Dakotas and Minnesota, where the circulation of the lows has allowed for rotating thunderstorms which, of course, produce tornadoes. Since the area is staying hot in the absence of any cold air finding it’s way in behind the thunderstorms, it’s remained unstable, and tornadic thunderstorms quickly become a possibility again, week after week.
As it turns out, this has lead to an unusual happenstance. Minnesota has had more reports of tornadoes than any other state in the union so far in 2010. The thing that should be noted is that there will be another maximum for tornadoes in the fall down in Texas and Oklahoma, where their numbers will likely increase. Texas, for those that haven’t noticed, is a rather large state, and they will certainly match the numbers of Minnesota eventually, but it certainly is unusual that, at this point, such a northerly state has had some many reports.

I hope you aren’t relying on the SPC

As it turns out, the Storm Prediction Center’s website isn’t quite functioning correctly. Note the current warning map put forth by the National Weather Service.

The reddish area in southwestern Minnesota is a severe thunderstorm watch. If you look at the current watches page from the SPC, you see this:

If the issue was with the SPC itself, Scott Air Force Base would issue the various products put forth by the SPC, but the fact that they aren’t showing up at all suggests issues with the website instead. The good news is the information is getting out there, the watches are scrolling across TV screens in Minnesota and they are showing up on the NWS page. The issue is for hardcore meteorology enthusiasts like us who have the SPC pae bookmarked.

Heat Relief Imminent?

For the better part of the last 2 months, the Central and Southern U.S. has been sitting in Mother Nature’s pressure cooker. Seemingly endless streaks of Heat Advisories and Excessive Heat Warnings have plagued the country from Texas and Kansas eastward to portions of the Ohio Valley and the Deep South. My road trip to St. Louis last week was met with their first 100 degree reading in 2 years, along with a Heat Index well above 110, and topped it again the next day. They’ve also hit 98-100 degrees the last 5 days in a row. Up here in Minneapolis we just went through our longest heat wave of the summer, cracking 90 on 5 consecutive days and hitting our summer high of 96. Wichita, KS has been 100 or higher for 12 of the last 15 days including 3 days of 108 or higher. Tulsa, OK has seen the last 2 mornings in which the LOW temperature could only cool off to 84 degrees, only the 5th time on record that’s happened on consecutive days and should this mornings’ low of 86 hold up through midnight, it would mark the 2nd warmest low on record.
Thankfully, some relief is in the way for the start of next week. A large trough is looking to dig its way into the Central US and FINALLY give a bit of a reprieve to the region. Minneapolis could see high temperatures in the upper 70s for Monday and Tuesday, St. Louis looks to “chill” into the mid to upper-80s, and see humidity levels drop down to more tolerable levels as well across the region. Hopefully this will bring a bit of a break to people’s air conditioning bills, but enjoy it while it lasts since we’ll see some scorching temperatures yet this summer.

Introducing the worst weather movie ever: Storm Cell

I happened to catch Storm Cell on TV a last weekend Sucker that I am for weather movies, I turned it on. It was probably the worst movie I have ever seen in my life, regardless of genre. But I thought I would introduce you, the readers, to this movie. In a way, it would be fun to rewatch this cinematic garbage if only to pick out the errors.
Back in 2008, the WE Network had a popular show entitled “Twister Sisters” on their airwaves that chronicled a real life pair of women who lead excursions into the Plains to hunt tornados. It was among the better tornado based reality shows out there, and the sisters got lucky, tracking a lot of tornadoes in front of the camera. Lifetime decided to get into the act, instead making a movie about a female storm chaser and replacing tornadoes and factual accuracy with familial angst and a love interest. It was a devastatingly terrible movie. Here are some of the hilariously incorrect scenes in the movie.
– Early in the movie, she takes a young interviewer out on a storm chase. She made the decision, after she opened her computer, it ran some calculations and came up with “tornado threat: WATCH”. Almost immediately after they departed, they come across a massive tornado. The storm chaser (her name was April, I believe) opened her computer which now said “tornado threat: WARNING”. Nice work, computer. She said some gibberish about lower inflow updraft jet winds or something.The storm eventually fell apart, which she thought was odd, and that there must be another tornado taking all the energy from the one they were watching. Totally. The chaser opened her computer again, and sure enough, there was another “tornado threat: WARNING” as told by her computer. “We have to call this in,” She said. “Don’t they have people to do that?” asked the anonymous passenger. “Yeah. Me,” stated the chaser quite boldly. If only the weather service had the same tornado threat software on their computer, perhaps we wouldn’t need chasers at all anymore.
– The tornado hit her daughters high school, so they decided it was time to take a vacation and went to visit storm chaser’s brother in Seattle. While watching the news, the weather report showed a warm front approaching Seattle from the west and a cold front from the east. Concerned (not that the local weatherman has no idea what he’s doing, of course) storm chaser April opens her computer and looks at a satellite image of Washington to see what looks like a hurricane bearing down on them. Increasingly concerned, she runs the tornado threat program. Tornado threat: WATCH! She puts it out of her mind though, because she’s on vacation. Later, her daughter comes in to check her e-mail and gets upset to see the program running. Mom says we weren’t here for work! Also, we’re bumped up to tornado threat: WARNING. Cut to a dock on the Puget Sound and a fisherman tying his boat up. DEAD. Tornado kills him. It wasn’t even raining. IF fact, the hole time, judging by the clothes the characters were wearing, it must have been cool and dank. There were a lot of jackets and trench coats. Perfect weather for tornadoes. Back to the brother’s house. The brother is a county sheriff, so he gets the call that there has been a tornado. Immediately, he confronts his sister, asking if she had anything to do with this. Stupid weather person, making weather happen near them. And let me just say, even if there were storms coming, there is no worse place to chase, I would imagine, than Seattle. Mountains, trees, lots of traffic. Of course, that’s only one of several logical inconsistencies with the movie.

I could only make it through about an hour of the movie. I can’t imagine there weren’t more later.

Most of Asia underwater

Lately , if you look at any news service, you’ll see stories about tragedies in India, Pakistan, and China as heavy rains have led to devastating flooding and a very high casualty rate. The meteorological issue is the Hindu Kush and Himalaya ranges that dominate the region. Typically, we don’t have to worry about such devastating consequences in the region because areas to the north and west of these ranges are typically quite dry. Unfortunately in this instance there has been ample moisture coming from the north, wrapped around the mountains through China, and a northerly wind has driven that moisture into the mountains until it is forced to formed high precipitation rain storms. Of course, given the mountains and valleys of the region, this makes the area more prone to flash flooding and land slides, which have been so devastating to the area. A look at the satellite shows a broad swath of thunderstorm activity in western China still posing a threat to the area.

Summertime rages on

This summer has been incredibly warm for most of the country. The West Coast doesn’t know it, but 5/6ths of the country is steeped in uncomfortably warm conditions. This is a result of a jet that has stayed fairly well defined and north of the Canadian border. Southerly flow and no infusions of cooler air from an occasional trough have allowed the country to bake. But at least there is the southerly flow which is introducing a great deal of humidity which, while making things stuffy, is preventing temperatures from climbing any further for the Mississippi Valley or points to the southeast. Of course, where the humidity doesn’t climb, in the Plains and in the deserts, temperatures ARE pinging in at triple digits. Pretty tough on the air conditioning bill.

A rash of new weather sites

In the past year, first Accuweather then The Weather Channel and Weatherbug all came out with new websites. For the most part, they are all essentially the same, beset with the same problems.
– Somewhat frustrating navigation. Why can’t I type in Minneapolis, Minnesota without being asked if I mean Minneapolis, Kansas? Minneapolis, MN works, but Minneapolis, Minnesota can’t be found. Or I could get sent to the airport. It seems like this should have been worked out many moons ago, but only smaller sites like Weather Underground have this figured out. It would be nice to be able to click a map for my location as well. Why did the Weather Service figure this out, but not these corporate behemoths?
– Screen to screen load times. These are all commercial endeavors, so they need their ads, but many of them have more complex adds than forecast displays, and those ads coat most of the screen. No site is worse than Accuweather which occasionally has full screen ads, though TWC’s roll out ads and Weatherbug’s sheer quantity makes those sites annoying as well.
-Each site has there own problems as well, of course. The Weather Channel still doesn’t have an easy way to get a simple text discussion, all symbols and Java script. They also don’t have hourly forecasts beyond 36 hours. Accuweather would probably be my favorite of these sites if it wasn’t for the load problems. It’s very slow to bring up whatever forecast you want to get too, say if you get into a city and want to look at the extended forecast. You can click on the days in Weatherbug’s extended forecast to get to an hourly forecast. This is a cool feature, but I only found out about it accidentally. It makes me wonder what other features I’m missing there.

These sites are all new, and their bugs and quirks will eventually be worked out. It’s also possible that the load times are because my computer was purchased in 1986. Progress.

July Forecaster of the Month

Once again, it was the Weather Channel taking charge for the years hottest month. This was no fluke, July, as there were a lot of forecasts to contend with, much more than are typical, and the Atlantans showed the world a thing or too about their forecasting prowess. It’s not just web sites in Beta and Stephanie Abrams over there. They have been forecasting like it’s their job this year.