A Rational Review of a Rational Discussion

Some more coming out from yesterday’s Rational Discussion on Climate Change on Capitol Hill. A couple of blog postings and other info from yesterday…

Dr. Judith Curry offers some suggestions for how the science-policy interface should work. They’re very sensible, and sadly, to me, represent a common sense approach to this…something that’s been severely lacking in this debate all along. Another “skeptic” of anthropogenic global warming, Dr. Richard Lindzen, a decorated atmospheric physicist from MIT offered his own take. Lindzen states:

However, my personal hope is that we will return to normative science, and try to understand how the climate actually behaves. Our present approach of dealing with climate as completely specified by a single number, globally averaged surface temperature anomaly, that is forced by another single number, atmospheric CO2levels, for example, clearly limits real understanding; so does the replacement of theory by model simulation.

Some very sensible commentary. Lindzen’s testimony is worth a read, as he delves into some very strong counter-opinions to what is standard climate change belief. And Lindzen (or Dr. Curry) isn’t a typical “rogue” scientist…his opinions carry serious clout.

An article in the Orange County Register today discusses how alarmism may have polluted climate science enough to cause it to backfire and lose popular support. I agree 100% with this. I described a few entries ago how I believe this “science is settled” mantra is unfair and is the undertone for the entire climate science debate. As a scientist, I can attest to the fact that most of us are absolutely dreadful communicators. Most scientists do not know (some notable exceptions do exist) how to explain their research in simple terms that the average person can understand and NOT come off as smug, elitist, or…to a lot of people…frankly, annoying. There’s a significant communication gap between climate science, policy, and the public. And as I have previously stated, it is the job of climate scientists to not be policy advocates, but to explain their research. And it would do a world of good if colleges and universities require basic communications classes for scientists. The clearer and more approachable scientists become, the more likely the public is to not raise an eyebrow with everything they say. Skepticism is good for climate science, as it challenges what have been unchecked beliefs. Meteorology is an inexact science. Climate science is rooted in meteorology to a large degree. The processes driving weather vs. climate aren’t always the same, but the result of uncertainty and doubt at the end of the day still exists.

The bottom line on this: I hope we can continue to engage in a rational debate on climate change…with both sides being open minded to each other’s viewpoints and ideas…and hopefully absent of policy.

Damage in Baltimore from a macroburst and EF-1 tornado, image credit: NWS Sterling, VA: http://www.erh.noaa.gov/er/lwx/events/svrwx_20101117/

In other news….

The NWS confirmed an EF-1 tornado and larger macroburst in Baltimore, MD from yesterday. Here’s some links on it:

AccuWeather has some decent imagery and a brief synopsis.

The NWS has a full page of damage photos and information from the event.

So a very active November day in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic piles on some more!

Elsewhere, a good read from the Capital Weather Gang on this hurricane season and where it stands historically (starting to get to the recap mode of hurricane season now…expect more of these in the coming days).

Also, a new faultline has been uncovered in the Rocky Mountains in Idaho…apparently capable of producing a 7.5 magnitude earthquake…scary stuff. Fortunately it’s a relatively sparsely populated area, but still certainly worth noting…and it makes you wonder what else we don’t know about!

One last bit of cool weather news: Fairbanks, AK shattered their highest barometric pressure reading of all-time yesterday. It actually was such high pressure that it forced an aircraft to divert! The air pressure was so high, it made reading the plane’s altimeter exceedingly difficult. So a plane was diverted because of…good weather? It can happen. We’ve had a significant amount of low pressure records set this year…so this is an intriguing change-up. The PNS from Fairbanks on the 1051 mb pressure is below:

445 PM AKST WED NOV 17 2010



Wrapping Up the Midwest Bomb

What a storm it was for sure. It looks like the lowest pressure was around 28.20″, or 954.96mb, recorded at Orr and Bigfork, MN. This blows away the previous mainland US record set in Cleveland, OH in 1978 of 28.28″ or about 958 mb. In terms of the damage, yesterday alone had 287 wind reports and 24 tornado reports. The previous day had about 150 wind reports (a lot though from another system in the Carolinas) and one tornado report. So, all in all, it looks like we probably ended up with close to 400 wind reports and 25 tornadoes from this storm in the Midwest, which is remarkable. Lots of links on this one:

SPC Mesoanalysis for 10/26/10 at 5 PM Central Time, near the peak of the storm.

A full recap on the pressure record is here.

A few tornadoes were confirmed in Ohio.

About eight tornadoes were confirmed in Central Indiana.

A couple of stronger tornadoes were confirmed around Chicago. Some good imagery and information here.

Here’s some video from WSBT in Indiana of a tornado destroying a pole barn.

The highest confirmed wind gust I can find is about 77 mph in Greenfield, IN. In addition to all the wind and storminess, there’s also the snow aspect of this storm! As with most fall storms, this one dragged down some cold air, enough to change any liquid to snow in the Dakotas and Minnesota. Thus far, Harvey, ND is the champ with 8″ of snow. Duluth, MN isn’t far behind though with 7.4″. Blizzard, High Wind, and Winter Storm Warnings continue today for much of the Upper Midwest.

The strong winds also helped to change the lake level of Lake Michigan, with westerly and northwesterly winds shifting water from the Illinois/Wisconsin side to the Michigan side. This is actually not terribly uncommon, but still pretty cool. I recall several instances of this happening on Lake Erie when I worked in Upstate NY.

More info on the storm in Minnesota here.

And some really cool loops and imagery on the pressure falls from the NWS in LaCrosse, WI here.

But is it really the record?

As is always the case with almost any record, there will be claims, disputes, etc. that, “Well, it’s not REALLY the record.” And of course, this time around, we have that as well. Folks in the Northwest are amused by the shock and hype of this storm in the Midwest…because storms such as this routinely impact them every winter. They’ve got a good point, as some of the pressures measured in past winter storms there (specifically one in 1995 measured at 958 mb, not even near the center of the storm) have indeed been routinely close to some of the “record” readings.

A slightly sarcastic tone in this entry from Dr. Cliff Mass, who publishes a great Northwest weather blog.

A great, great history of wind storms in the Northwest is here.

That all being said however, the truth is that in terms of actual measurements on land in the lower 48, away from the East coast, this storm is currently king.  But I’m sure one day, with better monitoring now in place in the Northwest, we’ll shatter this record as well.

But let’s not forget, this storm actually started in the Northwest too!

Midwest Monster

250 mb Wind Anomalies in Recent Strong La Nina Autumns

It’s not uncommon during La Nina autumns to see massive storms spin up in the Midwest, Lakes, and Plains, thanks in part to a raging strong jet stream coming out of the Pacific Ocean. If you click the map to the left, you can see a composite of the anomaly of 250 mb wind speeds (basically how much stronger or weaker than normal the jet stream winds are) in some recent stronger La Nina autumns, similar to this one. So it’s pretty obvious that this is somewhat normal. What isn’t normal is how much of a beast this storm is.

Yesterday we talked about this storm “bombing” out, which it appears to have done by definition (at least a 24 mb drop in 24 hours). It is now to the point where both state records for lowest barometric pressure have been set in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The previous record in Minnesota was set during a similar fall storm in November of 1998. According to the National Weather Service in Duluth, Aitkin, MN dropped to a barometric pressure of 962.3 mb or 28.42″Hg. The previous state record was 962.6 mb at Albert Lea, MN during that November 10, 1998 storm. In Wisconsin, Superior hit 28.38″Hg or 961.06mb. The previous record there was 963.43 mb in Green Bay in April of 1982.

As of this writing, both Orr and Bigfork, Minnesota are sitting at 28.24″Hg or 956.32mb. If this is verified (and it will likely go even lower in some other parts of Northeast Minnesota), this would break the all-time United States low pressure record for a non-tropical cyclone. The old record of 28.28″Hg was set in Cleveland, OH during the Blizzard of 1978 (and naturally, the Wikipedia article is already up to date with this information!).

Edit to add: 28.22″ as of 3:30 Central time, or 955.6 mb…both at Orr and Bigfork.

National Radar Composite from Late Tuesday, image from NCAR.

So this is truly an historic storm…and one that is not just setting records, it’s causing mayhem! Blizzard Warnings for the Dakotas, literally dozens of tornado warnings in the Midwest and Southeast, numerous tornado watches (5 currently from Mississippi to Southwest NY), widespread wind damage, and quite a change in the weather overall. We had a somewhat rare “High Risk” for severe weather issued this morning by the Storm Prediction Center. So far, there have only been 11 reports of tornadoes, however there have been over 150 reports of strong winds or wind damage thus far, and that number is only going to continue going up.

I’ll try and recap some of the damage reports and more tomorrow.

Hitting the Links

Paul Douglas blogs about the storm in Minnesota for the StarTribune.

The CIMMS Satellite Blog, as always, does a bang up job (and will likely add more in the coming days) with some imagery from this storm.

Sadly (from a weather junky’s standpoint), the Weather Channel appears to be headed down the road of the rest of cable TV…just when it seemed they were getting back on track. Unfortunately, this is what drives ratings, so they will continue to follow the blueprint until it fails.