Clearing Up Some Misconceptions About the Earthquake in Japan

First off…now in Jacksonville, FL, and that is where I shall be for awhile, so expect more insights on hurricanes and thunderstorms as the warm season gets going. New job affords me more time to look at weather data, but less free time, so we’ll see what kind of balance I can maintain going forward.

First off, my thoughts and prayers go out to anyone and everyone impacted by this unspeakable tragedy in Japan. It truly is a horrific disaster, and we all can only hope they can recover as quickly as possible. You’ve all seen the videos, read the stories, etc. I’m not going to get too wordy here, but I have heard a few odds and ends here and there that have sort of irked me the last few days. I’m not a geologist, nor am I a seismologist. I am a meteorologist, though we used to joke in TV that we were supposed to know every field of science because we were the only ones in the station with a legitimate science degree. I digress. Let’s discuss a couple points.

Myth: A tsunami can only occur on the West Coast of the U.S.

I actually heard a nuclear expert say on TV tonight that the East Coast isn’t susceptible to tsunamis. And while the East Coast certainly doesn’t see the frequency of tsunami events that the West Coast sees, history tells us that they have occurred…and they could be substantial. The Capital Weather Gang actually published an entry today with a lot of details on past East Coast events. I won’t recite them all here, but you can click the link and read for yourself. And the NWS in Philly has a really good timeline of past events and details. Landslides off the coast in the Continental Shelf, landslides elsewhere, or a large earthquake in the Caribbean (Lesser Antilles subduction zone) would be the primary culprits for such an event on the East Coast. But they can happen, and you should be aware that they can happen.

Hype: The nuclear power disaster unfolding in Japan could happen here too.

Without getting into the debate of whether nuclear power is good or bad, suffice to say this: Yes, we do have nuclear plants in the Western US in vulnerable areas. However, keep this in mind: The nuclear plants in Japan survived the earthquake. They did as they were supposed to do during the quake, which is not crumble. They did not however survive the tsunami. And that’s where a lot of the focus on the current nuke plants on the West Coast should be made. In California, San Onofre, in between LA and San Diego is a concern, as is Diablo Canyon (Avila Beach). However, both of these plants are equipped with extremely sophisticated technology and able to withstand earthquakes of very powerful magnitude that can occur in those areas.  San Onofre is on the coast and has a wall designed to withstand a 25 foot tsunami. The LA Times had an article today specifically about San Onofre. So with all this in mind, yes this is a serious issue that needs to be revisited, but again, keep in mind that you aren’t going to see a 9.0 earthquake centered in SoCal. In general, northern California is at a much higher risk than SoCal for a tsunami as well.

This is Another Chernobyl

No it is not. Chernobyl had a number of extenuating circumstances that compounded its disaster. All you need to know is here. That being said, that’s not minimizing the magnitude of this disaster or how bad it could get. But these are two completely different scenarios.

Myth: The Japan Earthquake Could Not Happen Here

You probably won’t see anything quite as strong as 9.0 occur on the Mainland of the US, though, yes, we can and will see large earthquakes occur. But an earthquake of the magnitude observed in Japan could occur off the Northwest Coast. The culprit would be the Cascadia Subduction Zone. If you live in the Northwest or have friends/loved ones in the Northwest, make sure they are fully aware that what occurred in Japan WILL one day occur there. It could be tomorrow, or it could be in 200 years. We simply don’t know, but the geology is similar. And we’re not prepared for it. Make sure they/you get prepared as best as you can.

Seattle Times Article

Cascadia Subduction Zone Info

This is just a sampling of the flash points I’ve come up with based on what I’ve read and heard over the last couple days. Hope this helps clear the air a little.

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So About Next Week…

Tonight's 00Z European Model Forecast for Next Wednesday Evening (http://www.meteo.psu.edu/~gadomski)

I’m not one to go bonkers when it comes to any particular storm (in fact, you read me discussing how I would be apt to NOT hype next week a couple days ago). But I think now it’s obvious we have something rather significant showing up here. The three major models tonight all went nuts for the middle of next week, showing an absolutely massive storm slowly rolling up the East Coast. When all three models lock in on a massive storm, that very often means that they’re right. Models struggle and they can be a bit inconsistent at times, but when it comes to the extremely large, widespread or historic sized events, they are usually quick to hit on things. I’m not saying that next week’s storm will be historic, but there’s no question we’re now looking at a significant to major event for much of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

Tonight's 00Z GFS Model Forecast for Next Wednesday Evening (http://www.meteo.psu.edu/~gadomski)

So what are the details? Well, it’s far too early to speculate, but we’ll do just that because we can. Based on tonight’s model runs, we’d be looking at a snow to mix/rain ending as snow event from I-95 to the coast (and even a little further inland from there), with extremely heavy snow/mix possible from the Smokeys north into Upstate NY and interior New England. The storm is also extremely slow moving. For example, the precip begins in Philly on tonight’s Euro run at about Midnight Wednesday and does not end until about 9-11 AM Thursday. Snow moves into the Albany area around 9 AM Wednesday and doesn’t depart until after Noon on Thursday. These aren’t forecasts…they’re just examples of what the model is showing and emphasis on a 24+ hour event.

Tonight's 00Z Canadian Model Forecast for Next Wednesday Evening (http://www.meteo.psu.edu/~gadomski)

The other issue then is track. Tonight’s runs are up along or just inland from the coast. That is extremely unfavorable for heavy snow from DC-Boston…that’s a wet track, not a white one. However, if you look closely at each model’s ensemble mean, you’ll see the track is still fairly far offshore. What does this mean? That the operational models *may* be on the extreme west edge of the track forecast envelope. I wouldn’t go shouting from the rooftops just yet, but it’s something to keep in mind.

We’ve seen a lot of storms the last couple winters, but this one I think is the most impressive looking in terms of physical size and slow track. We’re in a powder keg pattern right now, and this may be the fuse that helps things explode. I’m not going to get into details of the meteorology behind what’s happening right now, but we need to watch things very closely over the next few days. But each model run has looked more impressive with this storm, not less impressive, and that trend may continue as we get closer.

Unfortunately, I’m heading out of town Friday afternoon…well, actually I’m moving, but taking a week or so to drive to Texas, so my updates will be much more infrequent. However, make sure you “like” State of Occlusion on Facebook, as I’ll post updates each night/morning with the latest information. This really could be a big time event, so stay tuned!

It’s a Christmas Miracle? Flip a Coin.

Just a quick update. I won’t be drawing a snow map this evening for a couple of reasons: One, it’s Christmas Eve, two, the Euro won’t be out for another hour+, and three, the amount of inconsistency and volatility regarding this storm is something I’ve heard people with years of forecasting experience beyond my own, say they have never ever witnessed. In other words: You’re looking at one of the most complex storm systems we’ve ever seen…moreso because of the location it may or may not impact rather than because of the storm itself.

But I will provide you with a couple of major teases. The two maps I place at the end of this entry are raw snowfall forecasts from the GFS and NAM computer models from this evening. Now, don’t go shouting from the rooftops. I STILL am not behind this storm. I still see flaws. I still think the models are suffering problems (given their wild swings and disagreements over the last 2-4 days or so, this may seem obvious). And I still think we’re in for changes here in the final 36-48 hours before gametime. The Hydrometeorological Prediction Center’s model discussion this evening is once again hinting at the potential that the models are erring, and that could be leading to solutions later in their runs that are, well, incorrect.

CONSOLIDATING UPPER LOW OVER THE EAST...
LOW PRESSURE FORMING UP THE EAST COAST...PREFERENCE FOR A 00Z
NAM/15Z SREF MEAN COMPROMISE
THERE ARE SMALL SCALE DETAILS THE NAM/GFS/ECWMF ARE SHOWING ISSUES
WITH WHICH MAY IMPACT ITS FORECAST LATER ON.  THEIR SOUTHERN
STREAM SHORTWAVE IN TEXAS ARE 30-40 METERS TOO WEAK AT THE 500 HPA
LEVEL BASED ON RAOB REPORTS FROM TEXAS.  THE NAM DOES NOT CAPTURE
THE ONGOING CONVECTION IN EASTERN TEXAS.  THE 18Z AND 00Z GFS RUNS
ARE SHOWING SIGNS OF CONVECTIVE/GRIDSCALE FEEDBACK AS THE SYSTEM
MOVES ALONG THE GULF COAST WHICH COULD BE MAKING ITS SOLUTION AT
THE SURFACE AND ALOFT TOO STRONG.  THERE ARE HINTS THAT THE RIDGE
INITIALLY ALONG THE EAST COAST IS MORE AMPLIFIED THAN THE
NAM...WHICH WOULD BE CLOSEST TO THE 12Z ECMWF/12Z ECMWF ENSEMBLE
MEAN FORECASTS FOR 00Z.  ANY OF THESE DETAILS COULD
DEGRADE/NEGATIVELY AFFECT THE SHORT RANGE FORECAST.

So there’s still much uncertainty. I mean, honestly, there’s NO forecast out there now that stands much chance of being right on, including my own. This is simply one of those storms where you sit back, roll the dice, and pray you come close.

Consider a compromise of the maps below as the potential for the maximum impact of this storm. Click on either map to enlarge it. Consider my forecast map from earlier this morning the potential for minimum impact of this storm. So enjoy the tease, because tomorrow is going to tell us that either a hefty dose of reality is going to kick in, or you really will believe in miracles. Merry Christmas!

00Z NAM Forecast Snow: http://wxcaster4.com (Worth bookmarking)
00Z GFS Forecast Snowfall: http://wxcaster4.com