Tomas & Haiti? Plus Storm, Heat, and MeteoPolitics!

Wind shear and 24 hour change in the Atlantic Basin, credit: University of Wisconsin CIMMS

Tomas continues along in the Caribbean today, about 265 miles west of St. Lucia, chugging off slightly north of due west around 10 mph. Tomas bumped up to a Cat 2 storm overnight, but has since weakened, back to a minimal 75 mph category one storm. Reconnaissance aircraft visited the storm earlier and helped quantify what satellite had been showing all day. It looks pretty ragged, as some dry air and shear have begun to take their toll on Tomas. You can see  the ragged structure of Tomas here. The darker area to the west of the storm indicates the presence of at least some drier air too. The image to the left shows the current wind shear analysis in the Atlantic, as well as the trend. The red area near the hurricane symbol indicates that Tomas is in an area of enhanced shear. Assuming things gradually progress from west to east, it would appear things are only going to get more hostile for Tomas the next day or so. In fact, the model guidance suggests that the shear remains over Tomas into Tuesday, before pulling away. Provided Tomas can maintain its core and overall structure, even if it weakens into, say, a tropical storm, it will have an opportunity later Tuesday and through Wednesday to intensify, and given the water temperatures in that region, it could be explosive strengthening if the conditions are right.

In terms of the track of Tomas, while things may change some in the next day or two as the storm fluctuates in intensity,

Morning Model Guidance Spaghetti Plot of Tomas' Tracks, credit: South Florida Water Management District

you can see that most of the models track Tomas to just south of Hispaniola. After that, they generally either stall or it lift it northward. In reality, given the normal uncertainty of tropical systems, anything is possible, from Cuba to east of the Dominican Republica. Unfortunately though, Haiti looks to be right in the middle of the possibilities. And again, unfortunately, regardless of the intensity of Tomas at landfall, this is really looking like it could be a very grim situation for that country, and if you thought things couldn’t get worse in Haiti, this would be how it can. Current model projections (which generally do a poor job handling specifics of tropical system precipitation totals) are dropping 8-10″ on southern Haiti. This is really a disheartening situation to watch, and hopefully precautions are already being taken to ensure the safety of residents and relief workers.


Still watching this storm for next week. In my forecasting for California next week, it was pretty obvious the differences in the main models (Euro and GFS). The GFS cuts down the western ridge and slides it to the Lee of the Rockies on Friday/Saturday, which has almost no support from any other model or its own ensemble members.

Euro Depiction of a Mess in the East, credit: Allan Huffman's Weather Model Page:

So what it’s doing is forcing everything in the east to develop further east, and therefore not as amplified. The Euro however last night took a deeper low out of the gulf and up the Appalachians into Western NY, wrapping the possibility of at least a few inches of snow on the backside for much of the mountains of Tennessee/North Carolina, up through West Virginia, eastern Ohio, western PA, Michigan, and western NY and Ontario, along with some lake effect or lake enhanced snow on the wrap around. The European has some support from the Canadian model (which is taking a 980 mb landbomb from the Carolinas northwest into OH/IN), which is also encouraging for confidence. This morning’s verison of the Euro was a little further east, and brought the chances for snow from the mountains of NC/TN up through WV’s mountains, and perhaps some in W PA and Eastern Ohio/Western NY, as well as Ontario and northern Michigan. It has to hit a fairly narrow window for snow, but if I had to place bets right now, I’d lean on Ontario/Michigan and not much more than that at the moment. Stay tuned.

Election Day Weather

With the big midterm elections coming up, there are all sorts of anecdotes about weather and people’s voting habits. Well, we’ll test the theory again this year, but primarily in the south. It looks like areas from Houston to New Orleans up through Mississippi and into Memphis and over to Little Rock will see the worst weather in the US on Election Day (as the late week storm begins to develop). Otherwise, other than a couple showers in the Northwest and parts of Minnesota it looks dry. So no excuses to stay home…go vote.

Cali Heat

I discussed how the European model keeps the western ridge in tact. Well that ridge is going to lead to searing autumn heat in California, with Santa Ana winds possibly leading to temperatures into the mid or upper 90s here in SoCal. It looks blazing hot Tuesday and Wednesday. Tuesday’s record high for Downtown LA is 99 degrees, and Wednesday’s is 95 degrees. Tuesday’s looks a lot safer than Wednesday’s at the moment. I suspect we could be talking record heat for a day or two in parts of SoCal. Been a year of some ridiculous temperature extremes out here.



Talking Tomas and Scary Shary

We currently have two storms in the Atlantic, both of which are hurricanes. It’s October 30th…this is just slightly bizarre. According to Dr. Jeff Masters, this is the second latest point in the hurricane season we’ve ever had two hurricanes at once in the Atlantic (at least in the historical record). The latest was November 7-10, 1932.

Hurricane Shary

Shary is a weak category 1 storm (75 mph winds), and is currently beginning the transition to a non-tropical storm. Shary will continue to race toward Europe, likely bringing them a significant storm sometime this coming week. This will probably be the last we hear about Shary.

Hurricane Tomas

Radar Image From Meteo France of Hurricane Tomas near St. Vincent

Tomas is not quite as simple. We talked about the threat to the bigger islands later this coming week, but as you can see from the radar image from Meteo France to the left, Tomas is clearly bearing down on the smaller islands now. The current advisory as of 2 PM Atlantic Standard Time has Tomas as a 75 mph hurricane, near St. Vincent or about 25 miles south of St. Lucia. The pressure is still 992 mb, so we’re not looking at a very deep storm right now. This is just the humble beginnings.

Tomas will continue across the Caribbean, gradually building strength (the current NHC official forecast is for a 115 mph major hurricane by Tuesday night or Wednesday morning). And as you can see from the track forecast, it looks like the brakes get put on somewhere southeast of Jamaica and south of Haiti. As it either gets caught in a squeeze play..or the models are having issues resolving what’s next.

Morning Models Forecast Spaghetti Track of Hurricane Tomas from the South Florida Water Management District

Either way, this will likely be a prolific rain maker in some parts of the Caribbean and should it start to pull north late in the period, could be, again, a real serious blow to Haiti.

But another aspect that’s interesting regarding Tomas, is how it might interact with whatever system develops in the East next week. Just looking at new model data rolling in, the GFS is interesting, in that it it brings one storm up well into Northern New England on Thursday and Friday, with the potential for snow well north into Maine and Quebec, but the possibility of lake effect snow into New York and upslope snow in Vermont on the backside. It then takes a second storm out of the Gulf and up the East Coast, pretty far offshore and into Eastern New England, Maine, and the Canadian Maritimes. This storm would grab Tomas and inject it right into the system, so it would be very moist and potentially very strong (ironic as we’re celebrating the 19th anniversary of the “Perfect Storm” today).

The new European model coming in leaves Tomas behind in the Caribbean, but opens up a moisture plume all the way down there. So the storm deepens, but actually tracks up the Appalachians and west of Buffalo into Lake Huron. This would bring heavy snow potentially to parts of Michigan, and a heck of a lot of rain to parts of the East Coast and New England.

What does this mean? It means there is a LOT of uncertainty next week, and now that we know we have an organized tropical system possibly getting involved, well…that certainly makes the whole pattern more intriguing. It is interesting to note however that this European model solution has some similarities to the Canadian model we also look at. I’ll be watching this over the coming days.

Last item of note, a friend of mine at the NWS has helped put together what’s essentially a Bible of NWS lingo, products, items, places, services, as well as severe weather, safety, and much more. It’s a must bookmark and/or print for any meteorologist or serious weather enthusiast. Check it out here.

Tomas Revving Up + More Incredible Tornado Video

Just a quick late update here this evening. Hurricane hunters got into Tomas this evening and found 60 mph surface winds. That means this storm has strengthened quite a bit quicker than anticipated (frequently occurs in certain types of storms). Here’s a great blog entry from Dr. Jeff Masters, who’s actually embedded in the National Hurricane Center and describes what the forecasters there are going through at this moment. It provides some good insight into things there. We’ll just have to see how much further Tomas decides to intensify here early in the game.

Second, some really dramatic pictures from the Midwest storm in Minnesota. The one of the waves battering the lighthouse is truly awesome.

Lastly, more video emerging of the tornado from Rice, TX from last week. In this video (below), you can see the tornado actually taking out a freight train and watch as it crosses the highway. Some of the drivers in this video are incredibly lucky.

Twin Tropical Trouble + Latest on Next Week

European Model Surface Plots (Left: Thursday morning, Right: Friday morning), From PSU E-Wall.

Not too much to add this afternoon on next week’s eastern system. There are still glaring differences between the models. The European model continues to go all bomb’s away off the East Coast. The GFS model continues to be flat..dumps some pretty chilly air in, but no storm. I continue to side with the Euro for the most part on this, with maybe not as much of an explosive system to develop later next week. Check this out. The European model (images above) takes the storm from about a 1008 mb weak low on the Carolina coast Thursday morning to a 972 mb beast in Central Maine on Friday morning. One key change with the European model today though is that it is not flinging quite as much moisture back into the cold air on the west side of the storm. This would spell less snow, except perhaps for the higher terrain of Northern New England (which would be hammered if the European model is correct).

So the take home message today is that, there’s still a chance for a pretty interesting storm. There’s a chance snow will be involved in some interior sections. There’s also a slight chance we could be dealing with another bomb cyclone, which could potentially cause significant weather impacts in parts of Northern New England and Quebec. So stay tuned…these sorts of battles aren’t uncommon between the two models. This will be a good test for the upcoming winter. Sometimes if a model shows a radical solution (like the Euro) and ends up correct, you can occasionally give that model some extra confidence through the winter season. In a tough situation, sometimes that can pay off huge if you’re a forecaster. So we will see.

In other news….

Model Spaghetti plot of tracks for Tropical Storm Shary, from South Florida Water Management District

The National Hurricane Center has started issuing advisories on two new tropical systems in the last 24 hours: Shary and Tomas. This brings the 2010 Atlantic Hurricane Season tally to: 19 named storms, 10 hurricanes, and 5 major hurricanes. Normal is 11/6/2 I believe. So we’re long gone in terms of normal.

So what about these two storms? Shary is more of a nuisance than anything. Expecting a mid-grade tropical storm (current winds 60 mph) that will bring gusty winds and locally heavy rain to Bermuda. Then it should scoot out to sea.

Tomas, on the other hand, has a potentially much more sinister future ahead. Tomas just formed, so its winds are only 40 mph, and it will scoot along in the Caribbean, likely not impacting anyone through the weekend (except perhaps some cruises or some outer rain bands/gusty winds on some of the islands). But Tomas is headed into an area of very favorable ocean and environmental conditions for development.

Model Spaghetti plot of tracks for Tropical Storm Tomas from South Florida Water Management District

The latest image from the LSU Earth Scan Lab shows a whole lotta red in the Caribbean. This spells development if the environmental conditions are right. And it appears they will be as we go into next week. The official track of Tomas from the NHC shows it becoming a major hurricane next week as it begins to turn north toward, sadly, Haiti. If there is one place in the Atlantic Basin that could really use a season without a direct impact from a storm, it’s Haiti. Still a long way to go, but this could very well shape up to be a devastating storm for someone. We’ll see.

More Power/Less Power

Some renewable energy news to close things out.

California is fast tracking several big time solar plants to get in before a critical deadline.

Wind power, however, has slowed down considerably, back to 2007 levels. I do think wind will pick back up with the economy though.

More later…

Intriguing Scenario Next Week, Video of a Tennessee Tornado, and More

Looking ahead, we might have some interesting weather on the horizon around or just after Election Day. Both of the main models we assess…the GFS (American model) and ECMWF (European model) are suggesting low pressure to develop in the East early to middle next week. But, the models disagree on exactly how things are going to pan out. The GFS is a little flatter and slower with the system, which means it doesn’t draw in nearly the same amount of cold air, and doesn’t really deepen the storm as much. The European model is much deeper and is enough to draw in cold air and flip rain to snow over many interior locations (well west of I-95 and the Big Cities).

Wednesday Morning's European Model 500 mb Forecast
Wednesday Morning's GFS 500 mb Forecast

So at left, I’ve posted both 500 mb (maps of what’s happening about 20,000 feet up) maps for next Wednesday morning. And I think one of the keys is what’s happening out west. If you notice, the Euro (left) paints a fairly robust ridge of high pressure over the West (which is going to create significant heat for California and the interior for the first half of next week). If you compare that to the GFS (right), the ridge is a little skinnier, tilted northeast, weaker and slightly further east (and also has a much broader upper low centered over Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana).

A good rule of thumb for those of you in the east is that if there is a Western ridge centered around the same longitude as Boise, ID, that’s a favorable position for getting interior snow and a decent East Coast storm. The Euro has that; the GFS does not. So which model is right? Generally, this far out, you put your money on the European model. My philosophy when forecasting for California today was that the Euro had the right idea (though not quite AS aggressive as the model is showing) and the GFS broke the western ridge down too quickly. If you look at the ensembles (each model has a set of similar models run with different conditions to provide a forecast blend), you’ll clearly see that the Euro is a little too aggressive with this ridge in the West, and the average falls somewhere between it and the GFS solution.

So my current thinking? Rain, maybe ending as snow for interior locations like Syracuse, State College, and much of West Virginia. If the Euro is right, we will be talking about some accumulating snow in interior parts of New York, Pennsylvania and the mountains of WV and MD. If the GFS is right, don’t expect much. I’ll watch it evolve and post more as we get closer.

More on the Midwest Storm

A good article from WLFI in Lafayette, IN summing up the damage in their viewing area. Some good pictures and details here.

Stu Ostro of The Weather Channel, as always, has a great write up putting the storm in some historical context…in that, while it was a really, really strong, epic storm…it really lacked some of the features of those truly epic storms of the past. The reason? Well, I’ll let him explain.

A couple of fantastic NWS post-mortems with great imagery and details: Duluth, MN and Grand Forks, ND

Bonus video: Surveillance footage of a tornado near a dam outside Chattanooga, TN.

And I’m not 100% sure if this is included in the above, but this is absolutely ridiculous footage of that tornado (I think), destroying trailers. Incredible…and scary.

Other Links

Speaking of The Weather Channel, it sounds like they’re backpedaling somewhat from their comments about going away from weather only programming.

It’s been a year of extremes nationally, but looking at it more locally, it’s been a rather incredible year in Baltimore, MD.

The Washington Post reports on the last home on a sinking Chesapeake Bay island that has collapsed. A rather interesting read.

Wrapping Up the Midwest Bomb

What a storm it was for sure. It looks like the lowest pressure was around 28.20″, or 954.96mb, recorded at Orr and Bigfork, MN. This blows away the previous mainland US record set in Cleveland, OH in 1978 of 28.28″ or about 958 mb. In terms of the damage, yesterday alone had 287 wind reports and 24 tornado reports. The previous day had about 150 wind reports (a lot though from another system in the Carolinas) and one tornado report. So, all in all, it looks like we probably ended up with close to 400 wind reports and 25 tornadoes from this storm in the Midwest, which is remarkable. Lots of links on this one:

SPC Mesoanalysis for 10/26/10 at 5 PM Central Time, near the peak of the storm.

A full recap on the pressure record is here.

A few tornadoes were confirmed in Ohio.

About eight tornadoes were confirmed in Central Indiana.

A couple of stronger tornadoes were confirmed around Chicago. Some good imagery and information here.

Here’s some video from WSBT in Indiana of a tornado destroying a pole barn.

The highest confirmed wind gust I can find is about 77 mph in Greenfield, IN. In addition to all the wind and storminess, there’s also the snow aspect of this storm! As with most fall storms, this one dragged down some cold air, enough to change any liquid to snow in the Dakotas and Minnesota. Thus far, Harvey, ND is the champ with 8″ of snow. Duluth, MN isn’t far behind though with 7.4″. Blizzard, High Wind, and Winter Storm Warnings continue today for much of the Upper Midwest.

The strong winds also helped to change the lake level of Lake Michigan, with westerly and northwesterly winds shifting water from the Illinois/Wisconsin side to the Michigan side. This is actually not terribly uncommon, but still pretty cool. I recall several instances of this happening on Lake Erie when I worked in Upstate NY.

More info on the storm in Minnesota here.

And some really cool loops and imagery on the pressure falls from the NWS in LaCrosse, WI here.

But is it really the record?

As is always the case with almost any record, there will be claims, disputes, etc. that, “Well, it’s not REALLY the record.” And of course, this time around, we have that as well. Folks in the Northwest are amused by the shock and hype of this storm in the Midwest…because storms such as this routinely impact them every winter. They’ve got a good point, as some of the pressures measured in past winter storms there (specifically one in 1995 measured at 958 mb, not even near the center of the storm) have indeed been routinely close to some of the “record” readings.

A slightly sarcastic tone in this entry from Dr. Cliff Mass, who publishes a great Northwest weather blog.

A great, great history of wind storms in the Northwest is here.

That all being said however, the truth is that in terms of actual measurements on land in the lower 48, away from the East coast, this storm is currently king.  But I’m sure one day, with better monitoring now in place in the Northwest, we’ll shatter this record as well.

But let’s not forget, this storm actually started in the Northwest too!

Midwest Monster

250 mb Wind Anomalies in Recent Strong La Nina Autumns

It’s not uncommon during La Nina autumns to see massive storms spin up in the Midwest, Lakes, and Plains, thanks in part to a raging strong jet stream coming out of the Pacific Ocean. If you click the map to the left, you can see a composite of the anomaly of 250 mb wind speeds (basically how much stronger or weaker than normal the jet stream winds are) in some recent stronger La Nina autumns, similar to this one. So it’s pretty obvious that this is somewhat normal. What isn’t normal is how much of a beast this storm is.

Yesterday we talked about this storm “bombing” out, which it appears to have done by definition (at least a 24 mb drop in 24 hours). It is now to the point where both state records for lowest barometric pressure have been set in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The previous record in Minnesota was set during a similar fall storm in November of 1998. According to the National Weather Service in Duluth, Aitkin, MN dropped to a barometric pressure of 962.3 mb or 28.42″Hg. The previous state record was 962.6 mb at Albert Lea, MN during that November 10, 1998 storm. In Wisconsin, Superior hit 28.38″Hg or 961.06mb. The previous record there was 963.43 mb in Green Bay in April of 1982.

As of this writing, both Orr and Bigfork, Minnesota are sitting at 28.24″Hg or 956.32mb. If this is verified (and it will likely go even lower in some other parts of Northeast Minnesota), this would break the all-time United States low pressure record for a non-tropical cyclone. The old record of 28.28″Hg was set in Cleveland, OH during the Blizzard of 1978 (and naturally, the Wikipedia article is already up to date with this information!).

Edit to add: 28.22″ as of 3:30 Central time, or 955.6 mb…both at Orr and Bigfork.

National Radar Composite from Late Tuesday, image from NCAR.

So this is truly an historic storm…and one that is not just setting records, it’s causing mayhem! Blizzard Warnings for the Dakotas, literally dozens of tornado warnings in the Midwest and Southeast, numerous tornado watches (5 currently from Mississippi to Southwest NY), widespread wind damage, and quite a change in the weather overall. We had a somewhat rare “High Risk” for severe weather issued this morning by the Storm Prediction Center. So far, there have only been 11 reports of tornadoes, however there have been over 150 reports of strong winds or wind damage thus far, and that number is only going to continue going up.

I’ll try and recap some of the damage reports and more tomorrow.

Hitting the Links

Paul Douglas blogs about the storm in Minnesota for the StarTribune.

The CIMMS Satellite Blog, as always, does a bang up job (and will likely add more in the coming days) with some imagery from this storm.

Sadly (from a weather junky’s standpoint), the Weather Channel appears to be headed down the road of the rest of cable TV…just when it seemed they were getting back on track. Unfortunately, this is what drives ratings, so they will continue to follow the blueprint until it fails.