Why Don’t We Listen?

Imagine for a moment that your state spends $100 billion each year. The nation spends roughly $3.5 trillion each year. Now, what if I told you that between your state and the nation, you could spend about $10 billion to insure against $100 billion or more in future losses? Does that sound like a good deal? What if I told you that in any given year though, you only have about a 0.2% chance of seeing that event you’re insuring against? Seems like a low risk. Do you think that $10 billion would be better spent elsewhere or not spent at all?

This is the issue Southeast Texas is grappling with.

On Thursday, one of the most important pieces of journalism written about the risk of a worst case scenario hurricane in the Houston area was published. The Texas Tribune/ProPublica mashup called “Hell and High Water” is worth your time. It describes, in detail, how a worst case scenario storm would play out in Houston. Without any mitigation or protective measures, the economic, human, and environmental cost of a worst case hurricane would be utterly catastrophic.

I read stories like this a lot. I’m a meteorologist. I work in energy. I’m pretty well acquainted with the concept of risk. And the more I read these stories, the more I ask myself: What in the hell are we doing?

It’s 2016. I fully appreciate the skeptical world we live in, where cable news is shouting at us 24/7 in hyperbolic terms about the next big threat. There is an element of hyperbole that exists in media, and  yes, sometimes in science too. Objectively, this idea of a worst case scenario storm is not hyperbole, not in the least. If Hurricane Rita in 2005 had tracked further south and west, or if Ike had been a tad stronger or bigger and tracked a tad further south and west, Houston would have been in a bad, bad place.

Yes, that’s 2 storms in the last 11 hurricane seasons that had the potential to be a worst case scenario for Houston. It’s not difficult to get monster hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. This area has been hit time and again by big ones. The concept isn’t new. It will continue.

Someone might argue that it’s just that “global warming alarmism.” Here’s the thing. Even if climate change weren’t real (it is). Even if sea levels weren’t rising (they are). This would *still* be as serious a concern as it is today.

So again, I ask: What in the hell are we doing? From this article, there are multiple groups spending millions of dollars to conduct multiple studies on this issue. And no one is committed to implementing any one of these plans. We have the information we need to get this thing moving. But what do we do? Because no major storm has threatened us since Ike, we sit on our hands, dawdle, and just hope and pray it never happens? People don’t see true risks until they’re realities. And over time, interest, concern, and motivation to act fades. Why are we still doing this in 2016, when we have the technology and capability to SEE risks before they happen? Think about that. We have abilities to understand and protect against disasters that even 50 years ago weren’t possible. It’s borderline miraculous.

Everything’s about saving money and gearing up for the next election. We see candidates for president arguing about the size of their hands and who can get married. Newsflash: We have clear evidence that we can mitigate potentially hundreds of billions in losses and unspeakable environmental and human catastrophe for what amounts to a drop in the bucket in terms of what we spend in this state and country. It would be great if we actually acted proactively and did something for the actual good of the people for a change. We have an incredible gift to see trouble coming. We also have a way to help minimize the toll. Why throw that away?

Read the article. Let it sink in. Then let’s get real about this risk.

I’m on Twitter: @mattlanza


2011: Summer of Pain

Streak of heat in Dallas continues... courtesy: NOAA (NWS Dallas-Ft. Worth)

Following up my post from last week when we saw extreme heat in the Northeast, this summer has been pretty awful in terms of heat. Not atypical given a strongly positive Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) and sharply negative Pacific Decadal Oscillation and strong pool of warm water further in the North Pacific, but as we are beginning to approach to some insane records, I figured it would be interesting to look at this summer from a historical perspective, and I decided to use the NCDC’s record temps tool to sort all of the all-time record highs recorded or matched this summer. In other words, stations that have seen or tied their warmest temperature ever. And as we prepare to see the drought stricken Southern Plains and North Texas absolutely bake this week, this list should grow further.

Some notes:

– Stations had to have a period of record of at least 30 years to qualify. Some of the 30-50 year records aren’t that impressive, but there were a substantial number of all-time records set at stations with periods of record of 60-110 years.

– I didn’t discriminate between official ASOS observing sites and Co-ops, so some of the Co-op records shouldn’t be taken with full confidence, but any site with 60-80+ years of data that sets an all-time record is pretty significant.

– Northway, AK broke the old record of 91 degrees twice…once with a 94 on 7/10 and then shattered that with a 97 on 7/11.

– Tallahassee and Marianna, FL both tied or broke their all-time records multiple times in June.

– Multiple locations on the Plains and Texas did as well. It was interesting to see how many station tied their all-time records one day, then busted through them shortly thereafter.

-Ypsilanti, MI set their record July 2nd and then broke it by two on 7/21. That one is an oddball and stands out, and I wonder if that has to do with new construction in that area?

– It’s not a coincidence that several of these all-time records being broken were originally set in the 70s, 50s, or 30s, as those also saw somewhat similar global weather patterns to what we see in 2011. No coincidence either that we’ve had insane, Dust Bowl type drought, incredibly horrible tornadoes, and active hurricane seasons as well.

– It is also impressive how many 1980, 1988, 1995, 1998, and 2010 records you see on these lists as well.

– Check S of O out on Facebook!

Here’s the list…apologies for some of the formatting. Haven’t found a simple way to put Excel into WordPress.

Date Site New Record Prev Record Date Set Yrs. Data
6/1 Tallahassee, FL 103 103 7/30/2010 68
6/1 Marianna, FL 105 105 7/31/2010 65
6/4 Enterprise, AL 104 104 7/21/2000 45
6/4 Winter Haven, FL 104 104 7/24/1952 71
6/13 Marianna, FL 105 105 6/1/2011 65
6/13 Jal, NM 114 112 6/29/1957 75
6/14 Tallahassee, FL 103 103 6/1/2011 68
6/14 Ashburn, GA 102 102 8/10/2007 55
6/15 Marianna, FL 105 105 6/13/2011 65
6/15 Valdosta, GA 106 106 8/2/1998 44
6/15 Tallahassee, FL 105 103 6/14/2011 68
6/15 Purdum, NE 116 114 7/24/1940 109
6/17 Laredo, TX 113 113 6/15/1998 56
6/19 Putnam, TX 110 110 8/8/2003 48
6/23 Raton, NM 102 100 7/25/2009 32
6/24 Raton, NM 102 102 6/23/2011 32
6/24 Amarillo, TX 109 108 6/28/1998 68
6/24 Borger, TX 109 108 6/27/1998 63
6/24 Dalhart, TX 108 107 6/24/1990 64
6/25 Portales, NM 109 109 6/28/1968 103
6/25 Wellington, TX 114 113 6/25/1994 52
6/26 Dodge City, KS 110 110 6/29/1998 68
6/26 Gage, OK 113 113 7/10/2009 73
6/26 Wellington, TX 117 114 6/25/2011 52
6/26 Childress, TX 117 117 6/27/1994 69
6/26 Amarillo, TX 111 109 6/24/2011 68
6/26 Borger, TX 111 109 6/24/2011 63
6/26 Morton, TX 111 110 6/28/1994 49
6/26 Plainview, TX 111 111 6/28/1994 104
6/26 Tulia, TX 110 110 6/28/1994 63
6/26 Dalhart, TX 110 108 6/24/2011 64
6/26 Canyon, TX 109 109 6/24/2011 58
6/27 Ft. Huachuca, AZ 106 106 7/28/1995 74
6/27 Ashland, KS 114 114 8/13/1936 112
6/27 Richfield, KS 111 111 6/30/1933 67
6/27 Goodwell, OK 112 111 6/30/1998 93
6/27 Fort Supply, OK 110 110 7/11/2009 72
6/27 Paducah, TX 118 118 6/28/1994 55
6/27 Turkey, TX 116 115 6/27/1994 47
6/27 Shamrock, TX 115 113 6/25/1980 50
6/27 Lipscomb, TX 114 114 7/19/1978 48
6/27 Panhandle, TX 112 111 6/3/2008 49
6/27 Plainview, TX 112 111 6/26/2011 104
6/27 Silverton, TX 111 109 6/28/1994 50
6/27 Canyon, TX 109 109 6/26/2011 58
6/29 Wilcox, AZ 110 110 6/28/1994 108
6/30 Garden City, KS 109 108 7/15/2003 55
7/2 Ypsilanti, MI 101 100 7/15/1977 49
7/9 Medicine Lodge, KS 114 113 8/22/1984 32
7/9 Oklahoma City, OK 110 110 7/6/1996 71
7/10 Northway, AK 94 91 6/15/1969 70
7/10 Hutchinson, KS 112 111 7/17/1980 50
7/10 Blanchard, OK 112 112 8/5/1964 60
7/10 Fort Supply, OK 110 110 6/27/2011 72
7/11 Northway, AK 97 94 7/10/2011 70
7/12 Shamrock, TX 117 115 6/27/2011 50
7/13 Magnolia, AR 109 109 9/1/2000 61
7/14 Magnolia, AR 112 109 7/13/2011 61
7/14 Wilmington, NC Co-op 104 104 8/2/1999 61
7/21 Ypsilanti, MI 103 101 7/2/2011 49
7/21 Waterford, MI 98 98 8/9/2001 34
7/21 Elmira, NY 104 102 7/17/1988 42
7/21 Altoona, PA 101 100 7/16/1988 56
7/21 Dubois, PA 98 98 7/16/1988 46
7/21 Fort Atkinson, WI 103 102 8/2/1988 71
7/22 Homer, AK 84 81 7/10/1993 80
7/22 Hartford, CT 103 102 7/6/2010 52
7/22 Windsor Locks, CT 103 102 7/6/2010 68
7/22 Bridgeport, CT 103 103 7/22/1957 68
7/22 New Haven, CT 101 100 7/6/2010 58
7/22 Tipton, IN 98 98 7/21/1999 35
7/22 Boston, MA 103 103 7/22/1926 92
7/22 New Bedford, MA 102 100 7/6/1999 38
7/22 Walpole, MA 102 102 8/2/1975 39
7/22 Norwood, MA 101 101 7/6/2010 34
7/22 Hingham, MA 101 100 8/14/2002 51
7/22 BWI Airport, MD 106 105 7/6/2010 67
7/22 Salisbury, MD 102 102 7/6/2010 64
7/22 Newark, NJ 108 105 8/9/2001 77
7/22 Trenton, NJ 106 104 7/6/2010 36
7/22 Teterboro, NJ 104 104 7/10/2007 41
7/22 Bath, NY 102 101 7/16/1988 51
7/22 Geneva, NY 99 97 8/10/2001 43
7/22 Shippensburg, PA 105 104 7/16/1988 80
7/22 NE Philadelphia, PA 105 104 7/6/2010 42
7/22 Altoona, PA 103 101 7/21/2011 56
7/22 Williamsport, PA 103 103 7/15/1995 64
7/22 Lancaster, PA 103 101 7/6/2010 38
7/22 Stevenson Dam, PA 102 101 7/17/1988 43
7/22 Dubois, PA 101 98 7/21/2011 46
7/22 Tionesta, PA 100 99 7/16/1995 73
7/22 Bradford, PA 97 97 7/16/1988 55
7/22 Dulles Airport, VA 105 104 7/16/1988 50
7/23 Norfolk, CT 94 93 8/6/1955 74
7/23 Birch Hill Dam, MA 99 99 7/8/2010 63
7/23 Norton, MA 99 98 8/27/1948 37
7/23 Natl. Arboretum, DC 105 104 8/1/1999 64
7/23 Salisbury, MD 103 102 7/22/2011 64
7/23 West Buxton, ME 98 98 7/20/1991 57
7/23 Williamston, NC 101 101 7/8/2010 57
7/23 New Brunswick, NJ 105 105 7/7/2010 44
7/23 Bath, NY 103 102 7/22/2011 51
7/23 Stevenson Dam, PA 106 102 7/22/2011 43
7/23 Renovo, PA 105 104 7/4/1966 53
7/23 Lock Haven, PA 105 104 7/15/1988 36
7/23 Ford City, PA 104 101 7/30/1988 69
7/23 Blue Marsh Lake, PA 103 102 7/6/1999 34
7/23 Lancaster, PA Co-op 103 102 7/16/1988 36
7/23 Slippery Rock, PA 102 102 7/16/1988 63
7/23 Tionesta, PA 102 100 7/22/2011 73
7/23 Bradford, PA Co-op 99 98 7/7/1986 70
7/23 Kane, PA 98 98 6/30/1944 73
7/23 Sterling, VA 104 104 8/21/1983 35
7/23 Buckeye, WV 97 96 7/6/1999 51
7/24 Twin Lakes Resvr, CO 88 88 7/18/2003 44
7/25 Downsville Dam, NY 95 95 7/6/1987 32
7/25 Beltzville Dam, PA 101 101 7/11/1988 41
7/27 Salina, KS 113 113 7/14/1954 60
7/27 Hutchinson, KS 113 112 7/10/2011 50
7/28 Hutchinson, KS Co-op 113 111 8/6/1964 50
7/28 Sterling, KS 112 112 6/27/1980 63
7/28 Marion Resvr, KS 110 109 7/20/2006 46
7/30 Natl. Arboretum, DC 106 105 7/23/2011 64

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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Polar Pain

First a quick reminder that S of O is now on Facebook, so if you haven’t already, “Like” the page, and I’ll be posting intriguing links from time to time, as well as posting snowfall forecast maps as needed a little faster than you’ll get them here. Click here to “like” State of Occlusion, and feel free to tell anyone you pass snow forecasts on to!

In what’s turning out to be quite an interesting winter across the entire US this season. We’ve had a blizzard in the Northeast, record low pressures in the Upper Midwest, a blizzard there too, one of the coldest Decembers on record in spots, snow in Vegas, graupel in Phoenix, and snow in many of the foothill and desert communities north of Los Angeles, record rainfall and snow in California, flooding in the Northwest, record brutal cold and snow in Europe, and on, and on. And that may have just been the appetizer.

6-10 European Ensemble 850 mb T Anomalies - Credit: Allan Huffman's Weather Model Site: http://raleighwx.americanwx.com/models

What’s coming over the next 1-3 weeks is nothing short of awesome to watch unfolding on the weather maps. Over the next 10-15 days there will be some of the coldest air of the season draining into the Central part of the country and possibly into the Southern and Eastern parts as well, at least 2-3 *chances* at storms in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic, the potential for the Southeast as well, and possibly even a winter storm deep into Texas. All *possibilities* in this pattern.

The image I posted (click it or any other image to enlarge) is a map from Allan Huffman’s model site (http://raleighwx.americanwx.com/models), which illustrates the European ensemble mean 850 mb temperature anomaly over the period 6-10 days from now. Basically, just an average of how much warmer (yellow) or colder (blue/purple) than normal this model is predicting over the period 6-10 days from now. And notice how almost the entire US (except Maine) is in the below normal range. Keep in mind, 850 mb temperatures are just temperature about 5,000′ above sea level. Translate this down to the ground and under clear skies and/or calm winds…that is cold, even for January, even for these areas. Also keep in mind that these temperature anomalies are in degrees C, not F, so 23F colder than normal aloft could be 30-40+ degrees colder than normal at times on the surface. And I’m not posting it, but the 11-15 day forecast looks equally as cold, if not even colder.

Does it get any better? One of the main drivers (probably the easiest to explain, but certainly not the only driver) is the Arctic Oscillation, or a measure of atmospheric blocking in the Arctic region. High pressure can set up there aloft, and it basically displaces the cold air that’s supposed to be there and dumps it southbound into the US, Europe, etc. The AO tanked in December and really has not recovered, and it seems to be reinforced this month. This happened last winter and helped make it one of the colder winters in recent years for the Southeast and parts of the Central US. This looks as impressive as anything that was seen last winter or this past December. Coupled with things we’re seeing elsewhere, this adds up to what looks to be a long-duration and impressive period of cold in the US. The biggest question is whether or not the extreme cold can spread south and east far enough to impact larger population areas. But for the Northern Rockies and Northern Plains, this looks awful.

GFS Forecast for Saturday Morning, credit: NCEP

So what about snow? This will be the more challenging forecast to make. The map to the left is the GFS forecast for this coming Saturday. Last night’s European model absolutely bombed areas from Baltimore northeast into Boston with extremely heavy snow. Today’s GFS tries to do something similar, displaced further north a bit and behaving differently. This is the first of several threats. I’m not on board with this being a major storm at this point, but a weakish “clipper” type system with a widespread light snow, isolated pockets of heavy snow (potentially a squall line type of scenario with embedded thunder as it moves through NY/PA and New England). Right now there’s a low risk of this being a big system for most of PA/NJ and south, and a medium risk for New England. Stay tuned.

GFS Forecast for Next Wednesday Evening, credit: NCEP

The more important storm comes early to middle next week. The image to the right shows the GFS forecast for next Wednesday evening. Depending on how things play out over the next week, this one could be the one that presents a major threat to the I-95 corridor again. There are threats beyond that, but primarily for Texas and the Deep South….in other words, it may be “too cold to snow,” as they say.

I’m going to be non-committal on any of these threats at this time, but if you live in the Northeast or Mid-Atlantic, keep an eye on this Friday-Saturday and next Tuesday-Thursday, and load up on cold weather essentials…when us as meteorologists start saying that the winter weather is interesting, that’s usually not a good sign. I will keep you posted however.

Tomas Revving Up + More Incredible Tornado Video

Just a quick late update here this evening. Hurricane hunters got into Tomas this evening and found 60 mph surface winds. That means this storm has strengthened quite a bit quicker than anticipated (frequently occurs in certain types of storms). Here’s a great blog entry from Dr. Jeff Masters, who’s actually embedded in the National Hurricane Center and describes what the forecasters there are going through at this moment. It provides some good insight into things there. We’ll just have to see how much further Tomas decides to intensify here early in the game.

Second, some really dramatic pictures from the Midwest storm in Minnesota. The one of the waves battering the lighthouse is truly awesome.

Lastly, more video emerging of the tornado from Rice, TX from last week. In this video (below), you can see the tornado actually taking out a freight train and watch as it crosses the highway. Some of the drivers in this video are incredibly lucky.

Follow-Up On Rice, TX Tornado, a Bomb Cyclone, Gordon Lightfoot

Just to follow up last night’s video and info on the tornado that hit near Rice, TX… As it turns out, the gentleman who shot the video was actually doing his job. His name is Eric Meyers, and he’s the emergency management coordinator for Navarro County. He was trying to get the word out to locals to take shelter and be safe when he found himself in trouble. Here’s an article on his story. Eric tells his story on CNN as well.

The NWS in Dallas-Forth Worth did their damage survey today, and it was determined that tornado was an EF-2 on the enhanced Fujita scale, with estimated max wind speeds of 135 mph. It was quite an impressive autumn twister.

NCEP surface map from GFS Model valid from 2 PM Eastern time today
NCEP surface map from GFS Model valid from 2 PM Eastern time tomorrow

Speaking of impressive, what’s about to occur in the middle of the country is simply spectacular. Just a tremendously dynamic storm system is developing into an atmospheric bomb (which is actually a legitimate term). The two images above are from this morning’s run of the GFS model. The top image is the surface forecast for 2 PM today. The bottom is 24 hours later. Focus in on the pressure of the low. Today we have an elongated 984 mb type storm over the Plains. Tomorrow, we have a raging sub-960 mb storm in Minnesota. The record for barometric low pressure in Minnesota is 962 mb, set in November 1998 at Albert Lea and Austin. This will also likely be one of the strongest non-tropical storms ever recorded in the U.S. According to the NWS in Duluth, MN:


There have been some model solutions showing 950s with this storm. So this will be interesting to watch and see exactly how powerful this is. Of course, while this may set a record, this is somewhat common for a La Nina year. That previous pressure record in 1998, was a La Nina autumn. The storm most associated with the Great Lakes, the Edmund Fitzgerald storm, occurred in 1975, also an autumn with a strong La Nina in the tropics. Of course, we knew fairly well in advance that this was coming, so Gordon Lightfoot will likely not be penning another song about this storm.

Tuesday's Severe Weather Outlook from NOAA's Storm Prediction Center

In addition to the wind impacts that will occur over a LARGE swath of the Midwest, this storm will also be providing ample opportunity for severe thunderstorms, damaging winds and tornadoes out ahead of it. The Storm Prediction Center has actually outlined a moderate risk area for tomorrow in the Ohio Valley and Midwest. This is a pretty potent looking setup, and there could be quite a bit of significant wind damage from some of the thunderstorms tomorrow. Any time you get a storm as strong as what’s being projected for the Upper Midwest, this is often the result. We’ll see what happens.

A couple miscellaneous links to round things out….

A provocative blog entry from the Capital Weather Gang describing some research about how a loss of Arctic sea ice could lead to harsher winters in the continents.

I’m a much bigger believer in solar power over wind power personally, so it’s interesting and somewhat encouraging to see two projects making news: A massive project off I-15 in Ivanpah, CA…on the way to Vegas. Also, the federal “ok” for the world’s largest solar project off I-10 in Blythe, CA. Solar isn’t perfect by any means, but there is certainly abundant sunshine in the California desert, often times during the hottest times of the year in some of the urban centers. If solar can be made more efficient and cost-effective, to me, it just seems like it makes sense.

Oh, and if you feel like listening to the Gordon Lightfoot song, complete with some cool historic footage, click here.

Amazing Tornado Video in Texas

WFAA-TV in Dallas, TX received video from a viewer of  a tornado heavily damaging a building in Rice, TX. You can find the video here:


Frankly, I don’t know if this person pulled off to the side of the road to avoid the twister or was seeking it out. If the former, then that was an awfully close call. If the latter, then that was an awfully close call that probably should have been avoided. This person is lucky they were safe enough to provide the video (haven’t read anything about injuries or damage).

I’m not 100% sure if this is the same storm or not, but a quick search of YouTube, provides this video(not quite as dramatic) from a much safer location of the tornado:

Here’s another shot of the tornado (and an example of a place you should NEVER shelter…under an overpass:

And one final one:

Edit to add: I just found this late this evening…also some pretty sick video from storm chaser Shane Adams: http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=169702366373435

According to the Storm Prediction Center, so far only four reports of tornadoes from today’s storms, but nearly 70 hail reports and 35 wind damage reports.