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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Hurricane Season Ends, European Chill, Cool Video, Quake Off Jersey

Well, I hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving and holiday weekend, did their shopping, etc. Back in California after a fun leg of flights today over the large storm system swirling in the middle of the country. More on that shortly. First, let’s catch up on some of the more interesting stories from the last week or so…

2010 Atlantic Hurricane Season Storm Tracks - courtesy NOAA

2010 Atlantic Hurricane Season Ends

First and foremost, today is November 30th, which is the last day of the Atlantic Hurricane season. That isn’t to say more storms can’t form, but in terms of statistics, this season is done. How did we do?

19 Named Storms
12 Hurricanes
5 Major (Cat 3+) Hurricanes

Normal is 11, 6 and 2 respectively. Here’s the official NOAA press release on the season. The season ends up tied for the 3rd most active on record (1887, 1995), and it ties for the second most hurricanes on record (1969). The money quote from the release (in my opinion):

“Large-scale climate features strongly influenced this year’s hurricane activity, as they often do. This year, record warm Atlantic waters, combined with the favorable winds coming off Africa and weak wind shear aided by La Niña energized developing storms. The 2010 season continues the string of active hurricane seasons that began in 1995.

But short-term weather patterns dictate where storms actually travel and in many cases this season, that was away from the United States. The jet stream’s position contributed to warm and dry conditions in the eastern U.S. and acted as a barrier that kept many storms over open water. Also, because many storms formed in the extreme eastern Atlantic, they re-curved back out to sea without threatening land.”

KTRK-TV in Houston compares some of the seasonal forecasts.

Some more perspective on the season and hurricanes in general, including a neat satellite derived rainfall map from this season.

Overall,  I think this season is going to go down in the books as a bust in general, namely because the U.S. was spared a hurricane hit for the fifth straight year, despite the hyperactive nature of the season. But the forecasts were very well done for the most part this season, and frankly, I don’t know that you can ask for much more than that, given our limited ability to predict weather and climate.

So what about next year? It’s obviously way down the line and there’s little skill in trying to make a forecast this far out. But, if you look at a couple of key El Nino area forecast, the ECMWF and the IRI, both indicate (an implied and/or average) weak La Nina persisting into next summer. Should that hold together, that would be one factor that would would favor another busier than normal season. Whether it’s even remotely as busy as this year…or busy at all…remains to be seen though. But that just gives you an idea.

Lastly with the tropics, some new online maps are available, indicating flood vulnerability along the coast due to storm surge. If you click the link in the article and tool around with the maps, some of them are interesting. Bottom line, there are a LOT of vulnerable places on this country’s coast to storm surge flooding.

Mildly similarly related…

There was an interesting article published in Friday’s New York Times about how Norfolk, VA is handling frequent bouts of tidal flooding.

Some cool video came out of last week’s big Western storm. This video was courtesy of Dale Ireland in Silverdale, WA (originally published in Cliff Mass’ Washington weather blog). Then of course, there was this priceless video from Seattle last week:

Here’s a radar loop from the snow in Seattle last week as well:

That Seattle snow made it to Salt Lake City last Tuesday, and here’s some really cool time lapse video of the snow rolling in, and a slower video that shows basically a wall of angry weather arriving:

Interesting AccuWeather blog post today about how the West is seeing absolutely phenomenal early season ski conditions…some of the best in years. It has been stormy…and it’s also been cold, helping a lot of ski resorts add more white gold to their slopes. Absolutely great conditions out West this year. Here’s an article on how citrus growers in Central California have been protecting their crops.

Cold in Europe

This winter is behaving (in some regards) oddly similarly to last winter. If you remember last winter, the US and Europe had it especially rough. Well, Europe is off to the races this winter too.

A few inches of snow for London…and a lot of travel disruptions.

The snow is disrupting school and life in the UK.

This follows some of the coldest November temperatures on record in the UK over the weekend!

Sweden is also seeing some of their coldest November weather in years.

The Eastern US will taste some cold weather, sort of driven by similar factors (and relatively, not nearly as cold) as we go through the next ten days or so. The pattern will also be ripe for the potential for at least some snow. More on that in coming days.

A few final things today.

USGS "Did You Feel It?" Map from today's 3.9 magnitude earthquake off Long Island.

From the head scratch department, dust storms can occur in the Arctic…and there’s an interesting driver behind them.

A 3.9 magnitude earthquake occurred around 10:45 AM today, about 120 miles ESE of New York City. The details on the quake are here. A ton of “Did You Feel It?” reports were received by the USGS from Long Island, New England, and New Jersey. Anyone notice this today?

And finally, in what is the most painful story of the day, another tornado hit Yazoo City, MS this morning. If you recall, Yazoo City was hit by a devastating EF-4 tornado back in April that killed 10 and injured dozens. From what I’ve read thus far, there were six injuries from this morning’s storm. More details if I get them.

More on some of the upcoming weather in the next couple days as I get myself caught back up on things after the extended weekend.

Richard, Winter, Drought, Quakes

Lots to hit on today. First and foremost, Tropical Storm Richard has formed today between Jamaica and Honduras, and it is storm  number 17 of this 2010 hurricane season. Clearly hyperactive and clearly well forecasted from the start. Richard should gradually organize over the next day or two. It’s likely Richard will become a hurricane, and there’s also a decent chance it could become a major hurricane if the environment is right. Shear should be low over this in a couple days and the environment overall should be more favorable. A lot will be determined by how close to the Central American coast this storm gets. The closer, the better chance it does not intensify. The current model clustering suggests that the storm is headed for the southern Yucatan. However, there is a minority of models taking Richard toward the NE part of the Yucatan and then into the open Gulf of Mexico, which would imply less time over land. It’s a tough forecast right now, and I would lean closer to the track into the Yucatan north of the Belize border, likely as a strong, if not major hurricane. We’ll have to watch how close to land this gets early on. Beyond the Yucatan, it’s really up in the air as to where this thing goes…if it hooks toward Florida or moves into the open Gulf and hooks toward the Northeast Gulf Coast. Stay tuned. Track the latest official items on Richard here.

Winter

With winter rapidly approaching, an onslaught of forecasts is beginning to emerge. I’ve already seen multiple vendor forecasts at work, and today, the National Weather Service unveiled their own forecast for winter. The highlights?

– Warm. Overall the pattern of much above normal temperatures nationally from summer continues. The exceptions being the West Coast, Northwest (cool), and potentially the Northeast…where there are mixed signals.

– Dry in the South. From Florida over to Arizona and possibly SoCal…drier than normal. More on that shortly.

– Wet from the Tennessee Valley into the Great Lakes, which implies a storm track favorable for chaos in the East this winter. In other words: Higher risk of mixed precipitation and ice storms in much of the eastern Lakes, Appalachians and Mid Atlantic. Also wet in the Northwest, Northern Rockies and Northern California.

The forecast this winter, as expected, is dominated by La Nina, the periodic cooling of water in the Equatorial Pacific Ocean. And this year’s La Nina is raging at the moment, with no real signs of slowing. In my own opinion, their forecast is definitely acceptable. I’m finalizing my own ideas on winter, which I may present in some detail soon (I’ll at least present a summary…I may not post maps though for job reasons).

At least initially, I think the things that will be interesting will be: The development of a rather widespread, large drought (potentially…again, more on that in a moment), the potential for mixed/ice events from New York State into the Mid Atlantic, the potential for the Northwest to get slammed with heavy rain and heavy snow (with a lot of questions about temperatures possibly averaging above normal for a time), and New England…which could teeter on the edge of a blockbuster or lackluster winter. Again, I’ll discuss this more in the future.

Drought

This is beginning to get interesting. The US Drought Monitor report from this week shows some significant areas of drought from east Texas to Georgia. Abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions exist from Texas west to Arizona, which has been in a relatively long term drought. Referencing the NOAA forecast above, if you assume the southern tier gets abnormally dry conditions all winter, you can see where this is heading. Now, it’s not a slam dunk that this winter is going to be bone dry…nothing ever is, but past history suggests that this could be a pretty dry winter for a number of reasons (if you’re curious for a decent breakdown of these reasons, check out this blog posting from the Houston Chronicle).

Additional anecdotal evidence of drought is discussed in an article from today’s Wall Street Journal.

Mexico Shaking

The Baja Peninsula has been quite seismically active since I moved out here in 2009. It’s been interesting to watch. They’ve had several 3-5.0 quakes in south-central Baja the last few days. Today those erupted into a 6.7 magnitude quake, the same day, ironically, as the Great California Shakeout earthquake drill. If anything, this just serves as a reminder that we’re not immune from quakes and potentially large ones at that in this part of the world. Hopefully today’s 6.7 marks the end of the big shakers there for a bit.

Tis all for now.