A Year of “Extreme” (Duration) Disasters

This year has been interesting in a number of ways from a meteorological standpoint. It’s been tragic from a human standpoint…and it’s been extreme. And I’m not talking about what you may think. The disasters of 2011 have been, for the most part, either extremely quick to occur…or painfully slow. Tornadoes? Almost instantaneous. But drought and river flooding? Slow enough to the point where a lot of meteorologists call them “boring.”

Hydrograph/Forecast of river levels on the Missouri at Williston: http://water.weather.gov/ahps2/hydrograph.php?wfo=bis&gage=wltn8&view=1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1%22

We’ve had the flood on the Mississippi already. But in progress at present is another extreme flood, this time on the Missouri River. To the left is the hydrograph and forecast from the Missouri at Williston, ND…already at a record level and only forecasted to rise further. This winter has been a perfect storm for this sort of setup. With one of the strongest La Ninas in recent memory in the Equatorial Pacific Ocean, snowpack was high in the Upper Midwest (not unusual). The melt of that, combined with a period of extreme rains from March and April’s severe weather helped push the Mississippi to record levels. La Ninas also traditionally hammer the Northwest US with heavy snowfall. This year was a late bloomer, but when it hit, it didn’t stop from late February through mid to late May. That melt in the Northern Rockies is helping to fuel this record flooding scenario. The meteorological factors coming together this past winter/spring have really not happened since the 70s and possibly not to this level since the 30s or 20s…so it’s not a huge surprise that years from those decades are the years a lot of these records were set.

Speaking of the 30s…similar factors seen in the Dust Bowl era seem to be helping to fuel the epic drought in the Southern US this year.

US Drought Monitor's Map of Texas from Today

The map to the right shows the drought in Texas. The D4 (exceptional drought) area from the US Drought Monitor is currently in place across an uncanny 57.83% of Texas. These are tremendously high numbers that will likely only continue to get worse unless a tropical system impacts the entire state (because I don’t think daily isolated thunderstorm activity is going to really help this). D4 areas are also present across Louisiana, Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida, and New Mexico. With that La Nina, while northern parts of the country bask in precip and snow, the South usually ends up dry. Western Arizona into Southern California were a notable exception this year, but from Eastern Arizona (where the tremendous wildfires are currently burning) through West Texas, the La Nina helped to serve up dry misery.

These events are certainly troubling and certainly tough to swallow, especially if you live in those areas. But they are really far from unusual. They have happened in the past and will likely happen again in the future. The law of averages in weather:

Normal = ((Negative Extremes + Positive Extremes) / Number of Events)

There is no such thing as “normal” weather. While droughts and floods may be slow moving and “boring” though, they are costly, miserable disasters.

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Historic (?) Southeast Storm Could Be Next Northeast Snow Threat

Overall pleased with the forecast for the current storm for the Big Cities. Definitely underestimated parts of CT that saw 8-16″ of snowfall on average in the western part of the state, even down to New Haven County. Just a reminder… State of Occlusion is on Facebook. I’ve posted some additional cool links and snow maps early on that page. “Like” the blog by clicking here! On to the fun…

The Eastern 2/3 of the US are going to be peppered by winter events over the next five days or so. Let me run through things here.

Snowfall Forecast from Friday Overnight-Sunday Morning

First off, tomorrow, as all of the energy responsible for the unsettled eastern weather the last couple days starts to slide offshore, it will begin to develop into a nor’easter, but rapidly exit to the east. However, as it intensifies, it could produce a pretty well organized band of snow from about Southern NJ/Central DE through E Long Island and possibly Cape Cod. The snow map is over to the left if you want to enlarge it and see my thoughts through Sunday morning. Not a big storm, but there could be some heavy snow for an hour or two, especially east of Rt. 206 in NJ as the storm pulls away. Lingering snows will produce perhaps a couple more inches in New England, with upslope areas of the Green Mountains and Berkshires more favored. I don’t believe accumulations will be that high. There is some chance the Cape and Islands, as well as the Boston area may see some enhancement too.

GFS Forecast of Total Ice Through Tuesday Morning (Credit: wxcaster.com)

That will exit tomorrow night and by Sunday morning or so, things will be quiet. But that sets the stage for the next event, and this one might be an absolutely punishing doozy of a storm. The map to the right shows the GFS forecast for total accumulated freezing rain through Monday. A strong storm system is going to trek across the Southeast in an unusually cold air mass, and with it will come plenty of moisture…almost an El Nino type storm. Winter Storm Watches are posted almost to the Gulf Coast for Mississippi and Alabama, and for most of northern Georgia and Louisiana, as well as Arkansas. This amount of ice this far south would be absolutely crippling…that isn’t hyperbole either…these are places that almost never see frozen precipitation of any kind, let alone to this extent. The raw model outputs in some of these places is absolutely mind boggling. Atlanta is showing anywhere from 6-12″ of snow, with 1/4″ of ice! Of course, that’s raw model and has to be taken with a grain of (road) salt. But still, that’s absolutely insane, The all-time snow record for Atlanta is (I believe) 10″ in January 1940. It’s tough for me to put this in historical context, as I’m not THAT familiar with Southeast wintry climatology, but this would be, from a meteorological perspective, one of the most incredible things we’ve seen over the last couple winters (and we’ve seen a LOT). Check out the total snowfall forecast through Tuesday morning in the Southeast below (from http://wxcaster.com/regional_snowfall.htm).

Southeast NAM Snowfall Forecast Thru Monday Night (Credit: http://wxcaster.com/regional_snowfall.htm)

The next question becomes, where does it go? The three main models to look at for tonight, taking them (since the NAM only goes out 84 hours) to Tuesday morning shows the low sitting somewhere off the northeast South Carolina coast. Not surprisingly, where this storm sets up, will determine how it impacts areas up the coast. The European model sets up the furthest northwest. Not surprisingly, as you run it out further in time, the European delivers a quick moving, but solid snow event (6-12″ish) for most areas from I-95 south and east. The GFS is a glancing blow, but mainly a miss (not bad for New England). The NAM stops at hour 84, but is a little closer to the European model than the GFS. So my feeling is that despite model flip flopping the last couple of days, we could still see a pretty potent little storm from the Carolinas up into New England. The timing on the snow would be later Tuesday to the south, ending Wednesday from Jersey through New England. Stay tuned on this, especially if you have midweek plans. I’ll do my best to keep you posted.

 

Catching Up: Tomas, Snow, Links, Climate Change, Hail Video

It’s been a busy few days on this end…family, weddings, etc., so the blog needed a few days off! Let’s catch up on some links and info.

– Tomas hit Haiti, but fortunately it seems that nation was spared the worst of a natural disaster for a change. Still, it didn’t help matters, and I don’t think the post-storm conditions are exactly desirable, but as I understand it, the death toll was limited to eight, which is great news considering how vulnerable that island is right now.

As a wrap, here’s some cool imagery from Tomas.

 

GOES-13 Water Vapor Imagery of East Coast Early Season Winter Storm, courtesy of CIMSS: http://cimss.ssec.wisc.edu/goes/blog/archives/7128

 

Winter Arrives

Tomas also provided some impetus for additional moisture in the storm that brought a surprise snow to parts of New England, New York, Long Island, and even parts of New Jersey today. Alright, it wasn’t technically a surprise, but I think the intensity and amount of it was. Cool image to the right is of the storm from the GOES-13 satellite…you can see the moisture feeding in on the eastern flank of the storm from the former Tomas. So this was a potent system that brought the first real accumulating snow to parts of the Northeast.

The Albany, NY area really cashed in with an average of 1-3″ of snow in and around the immediate Capital District. Parts of the Catskills ended up with 1-4″. Parts of Long Island received about 0.5″, and southwest Connecticut had about 0.5-1.5″. Much of interior New England saw 0.5-2.5″ of snow, widely varying from place to place. So winter is unofficially underway. This was not an easy storm to forecast, as the models were not quite on their A-game, and you’re dealing with a very anomalously strong storm. The combination allowed this to portray the element of surprise for a lot of people west and south of New England.

Keeping on the theme of winter, the first real lake effect snow event of the season for parts of the snow belts downwind of Lake Michigan kicked off over the weekend. Anywhere from 3-5″ of snow fell in parts of Indiana. Lake effect season is certainly underway.

And just to add on, last week’s system provided snow for parts of the South! The Great Smoky Mountains ended up with a fair amount of the white stuff.

More Links

In New Orleans, more issues regarding the levee system. This time, they want to ensure that the modeling that was done in the disaster projections was done properly. Obviously, when you’re dealing with billions of dollars in construction, you want to make sure all the I-s are dotted.

Invisible, ancient galaxies are brought to light, thanks to Einstein’s trick (gravitational lensing)! Pretty cool, as these are things even the Hubble Telescope wouldn’t be able to capture.

I don’t claim to be a volcanologist, but the amount of activity that’s gradually been building in Indonesia (in addition to earlier activity in Iceland) is intriguing. Indonesia is a powder keg though, given that it’s on the Ring of Fire in the Pacific. The latest addition to the building activity (aside from Merapi) is the new dome that built up on Krakatoa since its 1883 super eruption. Andy Revkin’s DotEarth blog has an interesting feature on a “volcano chaser.” It also has some cool volcano video.

Global Warming Fight

Some interesting articles on global warming are popping up. Since Election Day, this whole simmering battle may come to a boil over the next two years, with climate scientists possibly getting more involved in advocating policy than ever before.

Straight off the bat, the climate science community and American Geophysical Union originally came out they’re ready to fight. But they later struck a more conciliatory tone. This may just be another example of hyperbole in the media, but I think it makes a point.

In other news, the Chicago Climate Exchange is axing its cap and trade program. This is a good thing in my own personal opinion. Whether you are in favor of strict caps on carbon, or you could care less, cap and trade will not solve anything in my opinion. It doesn’t cut emissions…it keeps a cap on what already exists, which if it is causing problems, isn’t going to help things.

California may be the pioneer in alternative and new energy, but Texas is the pioneer in fighting the EPA. This furthers the battle I mentioned above.

Lastly, a pretty good blog entry from a meteorologist at WAOW in Wisconsin regarding some more of this hard line being drawn in the global warming fight.

Just a pause here for a moment for my own $0.02… this is all somewhat disturbing to see. Getting lost in this mess is actual sound climate science. And both sides are to blame in my own opinion. I think Congressional Republicans do have a right and probably a duty, given the election results, to question some of the science and actions related to the science….within reason. I think scientists have the right and the duty to defend their work. Unfortunately the line between science and policy has been blurred, and people who aren’t qualified to speak on either side of the issue are crossing lines they aren’t supposed to be crossing. In my opinion, the scientists need to be sticking to science (on both sides) and defense of their work. The policymakers need to stick to policy. In between, there should be people keeping scientists honest, keeping politicians honest, and keeping each group out of the areas they don’t belong in. It’s become too politicized (it was years ago), but now with this congressional takeover, I fear that this is going to get blown into something that will not have either group looking good in the end.

Video

Lastly, some cool video of a hailstorm in Georgia!