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.

Briefly Updating Snow Chances

Just wanted to throw down a brief entry to outline snow chances more specifically.

Snowfall Forecast for the Friday Storm (click to enlarge)

To the left is my first and last call snow map for the Thursday night and Friday “storm.” Again, this will be a quick mover and really not a big system at all. It may get its act together to throw back some briefly heavy snows into New England, and dump mainly a 2-4″ sort of snow back in the red area. Most other areas will only see a coating-2″, with an isolated 3″ amount report or two possible. Timing…arrives in the Philly area after midnight Friday and exits the Boston area Friday after sunset. Quick mover.

Next week’s storm continues to show up on the models today. It does look as though this will be a rather large and strong storm. But the overall track is going to be what is impossible to nail down for several more days. I do expect someone in the interior Northeast to see a decent shot of snow, some areas with potential for a mix, and some areas with a cold, raw rain potentially. I still would avoid hyping this one in the big cities, as it’s far too early to even try and guess how it will unfold specifically. A lot of what does happen is dependent on how a system plowing into the Northwest US this weekend behaves. I’ll be traveling much of the next week, and I’ve been watching forecasts for northern New Mexico fluctuate between sunny and dry to heavy snow for the last several days. Why do you care? Because that shows you the volatility of what that Washington/Oregon storm will be doing…we simply can’t say, and in order to peg down who gets the snow next week in the Northeast, we need to know what will happen out west. So stay tuned.

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The Wild, Wild West

Map of National Weather Service Watches/Warnings/Advisories, November 22nd.

Lots to hit on tonight. The map to the left is the NWS map of watches, warnings, advisories, etc. Just a royal MESS in the West right now. But this is really a phenomenal storm. I give the West a lot of flack for having relatively boring weather overall, but when things like this happen, it’s pretty darn neat. This is round two of wild western weather. Round one is now in the Midwest (more on that in a minute). Let’s go west to east and look at some of what’s going on.

First up, in Alaska, the Fairbanks area (remember they were recently breaking fair weather records) is getting rocked by an ice storm, which is considered “unprecedented” by local standards. According to The Weather Channel’s Stu Ostro, the precipitable water measured at Fairbanks (which is just essentially a measure of how “juicy” the air mass is…measured in inches) came within 0.01″ of setting a November record for that area. These are things you don’t often see in Alaska this time of year. But I think this speaks to the amount of blocking that’s setting up in North America, which is going to make for a very intriguing couple of weeks across the continent.

Next, down south to Seattle. 2.0″ of new snow fell at Sea-Tac today, which is a record for the date, breaking the old record of 1.5″ in 1977. It’s the snowiest November day in Seattle in 25 years, and marks only the 6th time in November since 1948 that Seattle has accumulated 2″ or more. Snow wreaks absolute havoc on Seattle. Here’s all the latest news from the Emerald City. Closed roads because of ice, including some major ones, a 747 cargo plane slid off the runway at Sea-Tac, and Snoqualmie Pass and I-90 is chains only. Down the road in Portland, not as much snow, but they are also expecting some bitter cold, with temps getting to or below freezing tomorrow and overnight lows dipping into the teens.

National Weather Service Description of Blizzard Impacts in Spokane, WA and Adjacent Idaho

Inland from there, blizzard warnings are flying for much of eastern Washington, including Spokane, as well as northern Idaho. The map to the right is the NWS in Spokane’s description of how events should unfold tonight. The latest on news from Spokane is here. I don’t want to say this whole storm caught people by surprise in the Northwest. Much was known about it coming in, but it did get a little stronger than expected, so the impression of a “surprise” exists. Forecasting in the West is extremely difficult sometimes.

from the weekend were exceedingly impressive. Here’s a recap from the NWS in Reno, NV:

 ...LAKE TAHOE AREA...

 HOMEWOOD...              59 INCHES
 TAHOE CITY...            36 INCHES
 SQUAW VALLEY USA...      48 INCHES
 SQUAW VALLEY (8000 FT)...67 INCHES
 ALPINE MEADOWS...        56 INCHES
 ALPINE MEADOWS(TOP)...   77 INCHES
 TRUCKEE...               36 INCHES
 NORTHSTAR...             61 INCHES
 TAHOE DONNER...          59 INCHES
 GLENBROOK...             18 INCHES
 DAGGETT PASS...          28 INCHES
 SOUTH LAKE TAHOE...      30 INCHES

 ...WESTERN NEVADA...

 CARSON CITY...           6  INCHES
 MINDEN/GARDNERVILLE...   12 INCHES
 FALLON...                3  INCHES
 RENO...                  2  INCHES
 RENO (NORTH HILLS)       4  INCHES
 STEAD...                 4  INCHES

 ...EASTERN SIERRA...

 CEDARVILLE...            16 INCHES
 SUSANVILLE...            4  INCHES
 PORTOLA...               16 INCHES
 DOYLE...                 3  INCHES

 ...MONO COUNTY...

 BRIDGEPORT...            6  INCHES
 LEE VINING...            12 INCHES
 MAMMOTH LAKES...         45 INCHES
 MAMMOTH MOUNTAIN(TOP)... 81 INCHES

So those are some crazy totals (specifically the 81″ atop Mammoth!). So how much new snow? Looks like an additional 1-3 feet above 4,000′ seems likely in the Sierra, and it’s likely places like Mammoth (up around 11,000′) will exceed 100 inches for 5 day totals.

Record low temperatures will build in behind this next front..just brutally cold in the interior. Even the potential for a widespread frost or freeze in the San Joaquin Valley…the agricultural capital of America. Here’s a brief article on how farmers will handle it.

In Salt Lake City, they are preparing for a blizzard as well as this system spreads East into the Rockies. Here’s an NWS briefing on the storm.

Storm Prediction Center Radar, Surface, and Watches Map

As we move into the Midwest, the weekend storm that hammered the West has moved in and is creating some very intriguing severe weather…almost like springtime! So far, seven reports of tornadoes have been received from Illinois and Wisconsin, and with a wide area of watches in effect and a potent late autumn cold front moving through, I think we’ll see a few more isolated reports of tornadoes, but more than likely a lot of reports of damaging winds. The upper level support helping to fuel this mess will gradually diminish as we go into tomorrow, so as the front slides to the south and east, we won’t see quite the active severe weather day tomorrow.

In the meantime, here’s a radar capture from Chicago, IL earlier today, showing some of the supercells that had formed in that area and had recently produced tornadoes west of the city.

Those storms produced this tornado:

So all in all, extremely active today across the western two thirds of the country.

A couple other quick links…

A summary of the 2010 hurricane season in the Atlantic…but a cool collection of satellite images from all the hurricanes.

An interesting article from the NY Times that explains how South Dakota has had a pretty terrible year weatherwise (you may need to login or register to read).

The blog will be heading on to Thanksgiving break like most of the rest of you. Heading back to visit family in the East. So have a wonderful holiday!