Mississippi, Alabama, and Some Odds & Ends

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged about anything, and I think it’s time to try and work back into it. Maybe I’m just more inspired now after attending talks at the AMS Conference in New Orleans about how totally awesome social media in severe weather is. Or it could just be that I enjoy doing this, and I tend not to do it enough, and I post too much on Facebook when I can package a lot of things in here. Just to catch you up on some things….

I started contributing to another blog on a weekly basis in my free time, with just some more in depth “whys” about the weather…just some color on what’s going on with the weather, maybe a postmortem or two, or some interesting links and info. I usually don’t touch forecasting issues, as I keep that minimal because of my job. Anyway, be sure to visit PhillyWeather.net. Bookmark it, read it, love it, like it on Facebook. I post Wednesday evenings.

I went to the American Meteorological Society conference in New Orleans last week. The conference was solid…some good talks. But, man, New Orleans is a great city. I visited it for the first time last year, and it’s rapidly climbed my list of favorite cities in the US. I think my top 5 is probably

1.) Philadelphia
2.) Madison
3.) Chicago
4.) New Orleans
5.) Houston

Six through 10 would probably feature NYC, Boston, Pasadena, Seattle, and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

There were a lot of talks at AMS about the springtime tornadoes, some of which were extremely sobering. I recalled many of the details of those tornado talks last week in a blog over on PhillyWeather. I won’t repeat myself here, but you can check those out if you want.

After AMS, my wife and I, as we seem prone to do, took a detour on the way home and spent a couple nights in Central Mississippi and Alabama. It’s a part of the South I’ve never visited before. It’s worth a visit. We spent the first night in Jackson, MS and the second night in Birmingham, AL. Jackson is a very old city, but seems to have quite a bit of Southern charm to it. We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn downtown, which I strongly recommend if you find yourself in Jackson…just a lovely old hotel converted into a modern HG Inn. We didn’t spend much time in Jackson, so I’d like to go back, but we did check out the State Capitol . Lovely grounds, like most state capitols, with a handful of other monuments.

After Jackson we visited Vicksburg and spent a few hours exploring the Vicksburg National Military Park there….site of the 1863 Civil War Siege and Battle. It’s a good place to visit…lots of history as it really was a major turning point in the War…not so much from a strategic perspective (though it was that), but from a morale perspective in the Union.

We drove back east through Jackson again on our way to Birmingham. Birmingham is a great city as well. The Little Five Points area is pretty cool..hip, with some eclectic individuals, but cool. We also visited the gigantic statue of Vulcan in Vulcan Park overlooking the city. The area really reminded me of a mini Atlanta. If you’re in that region, it’s worth a trip to the city. We overnighted in Birmingham before heading home through Montgomery and Dothan. The Alabama State Capitol is very, very nice. Lots of monuments (an intriguingly high proportion of them were devoted to the Civil War). Definitely worth a visit. Some very friendly people in both Mississippi and Alabama. I look forward to exploring more of those states eventually.

Backtracking a bit… On our way to Birmingham, I had my wife navigate us into Tuscaloosa, AL, following the path of the horrific EF-4 tornado that ravaged that city back in April. I’ve seen one tornado in my life…a meager F-1/EF-1 tornado that hit Somers Point in 2001. I was a cashier in a grocery store there and watched it move across the parking lot. I was stunned. It did a minimal amount of damage, but it was the most intriguing thing I had ever seen meteorologically.

I anticipated we’d see a fair amount of damage, but we were honestly not prepared for what we saw. Everyone’s seen pictures and everyone knows how awful it was. But to actually see firsthand just how much of a scar this left on this city. I never expected it. Seeing pictures is one thing, but seeing it with your own eyes is another entirely. I really wanted to take photographs of some of the damage and the scope of how much damage there was, but I was very conflicted…I really didn’t want to be that guy who gawks over something as awful as what these people went through, and honestly, after seeing some of it with my own eyes, I didn’t want to photograph it. I took about 3 photos, one or two of which actually came out. That photo is posted at the left, which shows what used to be a full neighborhood, now completely vacant, barren, empty. Amazing to see how close the tornado was from the University of Alabama (literally about 5 blocks). It was a real eye opening experience, one that really brought home the fact that what we as meteorologists love so much and are so passionate about can really devastate communities and people’s lives. A lot of people were somewhat annoyed at the social science talks at the AMS conference. I think some of those people need to visit some of these communities devastated on April 27th and on other days and understand that weather isn’t just science or something that inconveniences people…it impacts people’s lives directly. Here’s to hoping the 2012 severe weather season is much, much quieter.

A Sierra Special!

Map of NWS Watches/Warnings/Advisories as of 5 PM Pacific, 11/19/10

Wanted to discuss what’s about to unfold in the Sierra-Nevada Mountains of California over the next couple of days. Now, the Sierra get rocked every winter…and sometimes they get mind boggling snow amounts. But for some reason, every time it happens, I’m always floored by the numbers and the forecast. The map at the left shows the mess in the West…winter storm warnings for the entire Sierra Crest, mountains around Los Angeles, as well as northern California, Lake Tahoe, Carson City, and Reno. I’d classify this storm as “fun.” Let’s discuss how some of this will unfold.

Here’s one of the best forecasts ever…for the High Sierra (~ 12,000′) , just northwest of Mammoth. That’s 64-88″ of snow. The NAM model has been especially aggressive with this system, bringing extremely high amounts of precip to the Sierra Crest during this event. Here are a few maps..

Saturday Morning

Sunday Morning

Monday Morning

The first wave/cold front pushes through tonight and Saturday morning, dropping a fairly heavy amount of precip (liquid) on the Sierra. The second wave/front swings through Sunday morning, with probably an equal or greater punch. Wave #3 moves through Monday morning and should just be the “insult to injury” system. You have to remember how California is geographically set up. You basically have an 11-13,000′ wall sitting in the middle of the state and this soaks up any moisture on  a westerly wind component, which just allows them to wring everything out in those mountains.

The NAM model is admittedly ridiculously aggressive with QPF totals over 6″ on the northern crest by Monday evening. Using a standard 10:1 ratio of liquid to snow, that’s 60″ or 5 feet. But you would assume the ratios would be much higher so…yeah, you do the math. The GFS is a little more tepid, spitting out 4″ at max over the northern crest and “only” about 2.5-3.5″ liquid in the rest of the Sierra. That still comes out to close to 60″ when you factor in higher ratios. So the Sierra, Tahoe, etc. will get pummeled in this one, with 2-4 feet of snow on average above 8,000′ or so and lesser amounts in the lower high terrain.

We’re not quite done yet, as that Monday storm may be a sneaky one for the Northwest and deliver snow to Seattle or the area around it…and with cold air locked it, snow levels will get awfully low! Then that storm will move into the Rockies and places like Salt Lake City may get pummeled on Tuesday. An interesting start to holiday travel week!

Hitting the Links

Today is the one year anniversary of the debacle known as “Climategate.” Dr. Judith Curry examines if the climate science community has learned anything from it. There are a few good links to some other articles on the issue. Andy Revkin of the New York Times has a recap of what the last year has been like. While I don’t necessarily agree with how this was done, I think Climategate has done more good than bad for the long-term state of the science. It’s put things in perspective and helped curb the “science is settled” crowd to allow us to look at this with a wider focus before making economically destructive decisions. It’s re-opened a two sided debate and brought skeptics to the table. And that’s important for science.

Related: A departing Republican congressman from South Carolina fires a warning shot about dismissing climate change.

Eyjafjallajökull, the Icelandic volcano that messed up travel this summer, is the focus of a new paper in Nature that examines more about what was known about the volcano and what happened.

Today’s edition of the CIMSS Satellite blog shows ice and cold around Hudson Bay.

The Capital Weather Gang examines if the flood control plan being developed for a Flood Wall in Washington, DC is enough to do its job.

And from the photography side, time lapser Tom Lowe is putting together some truly beautiful and amazing scenes from the Southwest into a movie. Check out the site and some previews here. It really is some incredibly beautiful work.

Tracking Tomas, Late Week Storm Update, Hitting the Links

Official National Hurricane Center Forecast for Tomas, credit: NOAA/NHC

Just a quick update here. Tomas basically fell apart earlier today, with maximum sustained winds plummeting to 45 mph. However, if you look at a satellite loop of Tomas, you’ll see that thunderstorms re-flared up this afternoon. The take home from this is that Tomas still has its inner workings in place, and once shear relaxes, Tomas should be back in the game of intensification. You can see the official forecast to the left from the National Hurricane Center. Obviously, again, this looks primed to hit Haiti hard…be it a dangerous hurricane or heavy rain. There are a couple outlier models taking Tomas into either eastern Cuba or Jamaica, but the majority are clustered entirely over Haiti. So I’ll have more on this tomorrow probably.

End of Week Storm

The models shifted a bit today…further east and more disjointed. The Euro, which had been showing a large storm, has surprisingly trended toward the GFS model and is now showing a more strung out area of precipitation, less deep of a storm, and less interesting of a storm. Still could see some snowflakes in the air from the Appalachians up into New York, but this wouldn’t be a major storm, except a decent one in far Northern New England and Quebec, with rain ending as a little wet snow. But the Euro does bring in a second system into Sunday and Monday, with a setup that would favor lake enhanced snow in New York. So I’m not sold right now on any particular solution, as there appears to be a lot of additional uncertainty, both with the progress and breakdown of the ridge in the West, and the large amount of moisture likely to be present out of the Gulf and in the East. Stay tuned on this one.

Hitting the Links

A study claims that global warming is causing rainfall patterns in the Southeast to become more variable. Take it or leave it.

Also from the Capital Weather Gang, Wes Junker, one of the sharpest meteorologists you’ll ever find, is beginning a two part series on why last winter was such a record buster in the Mid-Atlantic. Well worth a read if you’re in the DC/Baltimore area or just like snow.

Wrapping up a ridiculous October in Minnesota.

Photography Sauli Koski in Finland, hit the atmospheric optics grand slam, when he caught no less than 13 different optical phenomena!! Amazing picture here, and more on spaceweather.com.

A list of the ten largest cities in America that may be in danger of running short on water in the future.