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.

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Raleigh, Tuscaloosa/Birmingham, Joplin….Springfield, MA

2011: Raleigh, NC….Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, AL…Joplin, MO…Springfield, MA
1953: Flint, MI…Worcester, MA…Waco, TX

Not much to say about this…it was awe-inspiring to watch as it happened yesterday, and it happened in an area I’m very familiar with, so it hit close to home. But a couple words on it….

Tornadoes don’t have personality….they don’t pick and choose to destroy some houses and spare others. They don’t choose to form on certain days and choose not to on others. If the right ingredients come together over any given location, a tornado can develop. And in 1953 and now in 2011, it’s just so happened that several of the areas impacted by tornadoes have been large communities and unfortunately they’ve been large tornadoes in many cases.

Weather Scope App for iPad image of Doppler Velocity near Monson, MA

If Springfield, MA should teach you one thing, it’s this: It does not matter where you live or what you remember or were taught about the weather in your town: If the right set of ingredients comes together at the right time, a large, destructive tornado can develop and can do serious, life threatening damage. What you see on the left…that’s something straight out of the Midwest or Plains. But that’s over Massachusetts. It can happen to you, and yesterday is a textbook example of why you need to pay attention when warnings are issued. If you take one lesson from it…that’s the one.

In the end, I think we’re looking at a solid stripes of EF-3 damage in between widespread EF-1/2. The radar presentation of this thing was as good as anything I’ve seen this spring, and hands down the most well developed supercell I’ve ever seen on radar in the Northeast, so it has the potential to be an EF-4 in a few spots… especially near where this radar image was taken. It was at its best (worst) I believe between Monson and Southbridge. But we’ll see. NWS Boston won’t have an official answer until tomorrow it appears.

Pick of the Weekend

Just trying something new here. My pick of the weekend is the Pacific Northwest. After months of rain and misery, at least a couple nice days are on top with 80s likely in Portland Saturday and upper 70s in Seattle as well into Sunday. As long as the dry, offshore flow develops as expected, it could be a chamber of commerce type weekend in the Northwest. Long overdue!

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Reflections on Joplin…Diagnosing Why It May Have Been So Bad…

Yesterday was yet another day in an unfortunate slew of tragic days in the severe weather season of 2011. With over 115 killed (reported so far) in Joplin, MO, last night’s tornado ranks as one of the ten deadliest single tornadoes in US history. The most recent entry on this list of top 25 is 1955. And this is, thus far, the deadliest tornado since the Woodward, OK 1947 tornado. So the question becomes…why?

Satellite Imagery of storm that produced the Joplin tornado, source: http://cimss.ssec.wisc.edu/goes/blog/archives/8215

I posted less than a month ago, reflecting on the tragedy in Alabama, and discussing some theories and ideas I had in light of the events of April 27th. I brought up the topic of sociometeorology then, and I’ll bring it up again now.

Why are so many people dying in tornadoes this year? We used to think that death tolls of 30-40 were horrible. Now we’re getting 50-100…and I think to a lot of us, it’s staggering. I think the answers to that question though are multi-fold. The first and most obvious answer I think of, that probably won’t satisfy anyone, is this: bad luck. We’ve had large tornadoes barrel through generally large communities this year. Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Raleigh, and Joplin. These were all EF-3 to EF-4+ tornadoes. The deadliest ones were the EF-4s, as you’d expect. We have not seen this happen very often in recent years…and it’s not like they’re missing communities. The Tuscaloosa tornado was a monster between there and Birmingham. The Raleigh tornado was very strong for an EF-3 and hit an area that isn’t frequently hit by large tornadoes. If you’ve seen film of this tornado, it was absolutely massive and incredibly violent as it hit Joplin. This goes back to the analogy I make in the entry I linked to above: If you fire more shots at more targets, you’re inevitably going to hit more of them. Communities in the southern half of the US have grown in recent years, and it’s becoming a measure moreso of bad luck than anything.

We’re also coming out of a La Niña winter, which because of certain atmospheric variables, inherently produces more severe weather events in the Southern US than in normal years….we’ve had a constant barrage of moisture and storms hitting the Pacific Northwest since March. That’s just more available energy to produce severe weather as we transition seasons. We haven’t had a real potent, entrenched La Niña like this since 1998. In addition, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation is in a negative phase, possibly a long term negative phase, something we haven’t had in conjunction with a La Niña since the 70s (we’ve had some -ENSO/-PDO events since then, but…I’m talking bigger picture). We’re in a pattern that’s more similar to the 50s or 70s than we’ve seen since then. Thus, I don’t think it’s a huge surprise that there were several devastating tornadoes from those eras.

Storm Velocity Image of Joplin Tornado, source: http://msustormchaser.blogspot.com/2011/05/radar-images-of-joplin-tornado.html

I’m sure proponents of climate change are going to feast on the events of April/May and use them as fodder to “show you” that climate is changing. This is not the time for that debate, nor is there any concrete evidence that climate change has left a fingerprint on these events. We need years of data to make a claim like that. And with tornadoes it is incredibly difficult to make that link because reporting standards, reporting methods (internet, chasers, 24/7 media), and populations changes have skewed the numbers significantly since even the 1990s or 1980s. We’re in transition from an old normal to a new normal in terms of raw numbers. So climate change has no place in the discussion of the recent tornadoes in my opinion.

That was a bad luck tangent. The warnings were more than sufficient for the storm. A major kudos to the NWS office in Springfield, MO. We really don’t know how unbelievably more horrific this would have been without their timely warnings and work yesterday. They and their media partners are responsible for probably saving hundreds of lives. The following is from the IEM Cow, which archives warnings from the NWS. As an aside, if you’re a meteorologist or weather enthusiast, this website is a must to bookmark.

IEM Cow Warning information, with lead times

The information above shows that the first report of a tornado in Joplin occurred approximately 24 minutes after the initial warning was issued. That’s incredible lead time, and that’s a job well done by the SGF office. This is another one of these situations though where we do not know if the warnings were taken seriously however. There were a number of factors that could have contributed…this is just a brief list.

1.) Was the tornado just so strong that even if you “followed the rules” and got to the lowest level/interior room you would have survived? EF-4 damage is pretty steep, and the pictures show many houses flattened. I don’t know if most homes have basements in Southwest Missouri or if there are storm cellars given their proximity to the Plains. Even if people utilized those, would they have been safe?

2.) Unlike Alabama, there does not appear to be any precursor storms from earlier in the day to knock off NOAA Weather Radio transmitters or cable/satellite coverage. At least there has not been anything I have heard of.

3.) Another thing I find interesting, and while I’ll openly wonder about this, I’ll doubt it had much impact….is that the CBS and Fox TV affiliates were in negotiations with DirecTV, as the satellite provider did not carry those affiliates in their lineup. However, there were other local channels being carried (ABC, NBC, CW, and PBS).

And lastly…

4.) Did people take the warning seriously? One report I read was that despite tornado sirens wailing in the city, folks at a driving range basically ignored them and kept hitting golf balls. I don’t know if this is true or not or just was an isolated incident. Regardless, it’s disturbing. And this goes back to the older entry I linked to above…about what I call sociometeorology…people’s response to and interactions with the weather. For all we know right now, the primary reason for the obscenely high death toll is my first point…big tornado, big community, even if you follow the rules, you end up in trouble. But, I do want to move to that point.

The NWS issues a lot of warnings. In my experience from working in television and talking to friends/family, people often wait until they themselves see something before reacting to it, be it a tornado, flood, or otherwise. Until they get the most dire warnings, they will not react, and by then it very well may be too late.

The tornado warning originally was issued because of Doppler radar indications of a possible tornado:

BULLETIN - EAS ACTIVATION REQUESTED
TORNADO WARNING
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE SPRINGFIELD MO
517 PM CDT SUN MAY 22 2011

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN SPRINGFIELD HAS ISSUED A

* TORNADO WARNING FOR...
  NORTHWESTERN NEWTON COUNTY IN SOUTHWEST MISSOURI...
  SOUTHEASTERN CHEROKEE COUNTY IN SOUTHEAST KANSAS...
  SOUTHWESTERN JASPER COUNTY IN SOUTHWEST MISSOURI...

* UNTIL 600 PM CDT.

* AT 514 PM CDT...NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DOPPLER RADAR INDICATED A TORNADO NEAR RIVERTON...OR 4 MILES NORTH OF BAXTER SPRINGS...MOVING
  NORTHEAST AT 40 MPH.

* LOCATIONS IMPACTED INCLUDE BAXTER SPRINGS...CLIFF VILLAGE...DENNIS
  ACRES...DIAMOND...DUENWEG...DUQUESNE...FIDELITY...GALENA...IRON
  GATES...JOPLIN...LEAWOOD...LOWELL...REDINGS MILL...RIVERTON...
  SAGINAW...SHOAL CREEK DRIVE...SHOAL CREEK ESTATES...SHOAL CREEK
  ESTATE AND SILVER CREEK.

INTERSTATE 44 BETWEEN MILE MARKERS 0 AND 13 WILL ALSO BE IMPACTED BY
THIS TORNADO.

IN ADDITION TO A TORNADO...THIS STORM IS CAPABLE OF PRODUCING LARGE
DAMAGING HAIL UP TO GOLF BALL SIZE.

THERE IS ADDITIONAL TORNADO WARNING FOR A SEPARATE STORM ACROSS
CENTRAL AND NORTHERN JASPER COUNTY.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS...

THE SAFEST PLACE TO BE DURING A TORNADO IS IN A BASEMENT. GET UNDER A
WORKBENCH OR OTHER PIECE OF STURDY FURNITURE. IF NO BASEMENT IS
AVAILABLE...SEEK SHELTER ON THE LOWEST FLOOR OF THE BUILDING IN AN
INTERIOR HALLWAY OR ROOM SUCH AS A CLOSET. USE BLANKETS OR PILLOWS TO
COVER YOUR BODY AND ALWAYS STAY AWAY FROM WINDOWS.

IF IN MOBILE HOMES OR VEHICLES...EVACUATE THEM AND GET INSIDE A
SUBSTANTIAL SHELTER. IF NO SHELTER IS AVAILABLE...LIE FLAT IN THE
NEAREST DITCH OR OTHER LOW SPOT AND COVER YOUR HEAD WITH YOUR HANDS.

The Severe Weather Statement, or update to this warning, was issued 13 minutes later, at 5:30 local time, with mentions of a funnel cloud being spotted.

SEVERE WEATHER STATEMENT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE SPRINGFIELD MO
530 PM CDT SUN MAY 22 2011

KSC021-MOC097-145-222300-
/O.CON.KSGF.TO.W.0031.000000T0000Z-110522T2300Z/
CHEROKEE KS-JASPER MO-NEWTON MO-
530 PM CDT SUN MAY 22 2011

...A TORNADO WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 600 PM CDT FOR
NORTHWESTERN NEWTON...SOUTHWESTERN JASPER AND SOUTHEASTERN CHEROKEE
COUNTIES...

AT 524 PM CDT...NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DOPPLER RADAR CONTINUED TO
INDICATE A TORNADO NEAR RIVERTON...OR NEAR GALENA...MOVING EAST AT 20
MPH. THIS STORM HAS AS HISTORY OF PRODUCING A FUNNEL CLOUD IN
RIVERTON KANSAS.

LOCATIONS IMPACTED INCLUDE CLIFF VILLAGE...DENNIS ACRES...DIAMOND...
DUENWEG...DUQUESNE...FIDELITY...GALENA...IRON GATES...JOPLIN...
LEAWOOD...LOWELL...REDINGS MILL...RIVERTON...SAGINAW...SHOAL CREEK
DRIVE...SHOAL CREEK ESTATES...SHOAL CREEK ESTATE AND SILVER CREEK.

INTERSTATE 44 BETWEEN MILE MARKERS 0 AND 13 WILL ALSO BE IMPACTED BY
THIS TORNADO.

IN ADDITION TO A TORNADO...THIS STORM IS CAPABLE OF PRODUCING LARGE
DAMAGING HAIL UP TO BASEBALL SIZE.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS...

A TORNADO WATCH REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 900 PM CDT SUNDAY EVENING FOR
SOUTHEAST KANSAS AND SOUTHERN MISSOURI.

Then, the next update was issued roughly 9 minutes later at 5:39 PM local time, with the first mention of a tornado on the ground, spotted just across the border in Galena, KS at 5:34 PM:

SEVERE WEATHER STATEMENT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE SPRINGFIELD MO
539 PM CDT SUN MAY 22 2011

KSC021-MOC097-145-222300-
/O.CON.KSGF.TO.W.0031.000000T0000Z-110522T2300Z/
CHEROKEE KS-JASPER MO-NEWTON MO-
539 PM CDT SUN MAY 22 2011

...A TORNADO WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 600 PM CDT FOR
NORTHWESTERN NEWTON...SOUTHWESTERN JASPER AND SOUTHEASTERN CHEROKEE
COUNTIES...

AT 534 PM CDT...TRAINED WEATHER SPOTTERS REPORTED A TORNADO NEAR
GALENA...MOVING EAST AT 25 MPH. THIS STORM IS MOVING INTO THE CITY
OF JOPLIN.

LOCATIONS IMPACTED INCLUDE CLIFF VILLAGE...DENNIS ACRES...DIAMOND...
DUENWEG...DUQUESNE...FIDELITY...GALENA...IRON GATES...JOPLIN...
LEAWOOD...LOWELL...REDINGS MILL...RIVERTON...SAGINAW...SHOAL CREEK
DRIVE...SHOAL CREEK ESTATES...SHOAL CREEK ESTATE AND SILVER CREEK.

INTERSTATE 44 BETWEEN MILE MARKERS 0 AND 13 WILL ALSO BE IMPACTED BY
THIS TORNADO.

IN ADDITION TO A TORNADO...THIS STORM IS CAPABLE OF PRODUCING LARGE
DAMAGING HAIL UP TO BASEBALL SIZE.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS...

A TORNADO WATCH REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 900 PM CDT SUNDAY EVENING FOR
SOUTHEAST KANSAS AND SOUTHERN MISSOURI.

Galena is roughly 6 miles from the St. John’s hospital we’ve seen so many pictures of that was devastated. Doing some quick math based on the speed indicated above, it should have taken roughly 15 minutes from 5:34 to start impacting Joplin, and in fact, the first reports of a tornado in Joplin come at 5:41 PM…or roughly two minutes after the warning update was issued. The reports of major damage and a multi-vortex tornado come at 5:46.

Radar Image/Debris Ball as Joplin tornado exits the city, source: http://msustormchaser.blogspot.com/2011/05/radar-images-of-joplin-tornado.html

I just diagnosed the entire warning sequence, not to make a specific point. The NWS did their jobs…and as far as I’m concerned they did an amazing job. But delving further into it, if the problem of people not taking warnings seriously unless they KNOW they’re in immediate danger prevailed, then they would have only had roughly two minutes to take cover, and by the time they actually got the updated warning, the tornado likely would already be on top of them. I sincerely hope this was not the case, but if it was, we have a major problem on our hands. The NWS does their job…sometimes, yes, they do warn for storms that don’t produce…but that’s not because they’re being extra cautious or saturating the public. If you’re under the gun in the NWS office and you have pull the trigger on warnings, you can’t look at radar and be able to tell that, “Oh, this is probably only an EF-0 tornado.” There are so many subtleties that you can’t make those kind of decisions based on radar or even real time reports. Storms can produce tornadoes instantly, and they can produce big time tornadoes instantly.

But if the NWS is issuing warnings because that is their job, and the people the warnings are intended for are not taking them seriously, how can we solve this problem? It’s an open-ended question I don’t have the answer to. And indeed, the bulk of the fatalities from this horrible storm may just be a case of bad luck and that it was too powerful to matter whether they followed the safety rules or not. But if it ends up that people felt surprised or didn’t react until they saw it, then we have a major conundrum that needs to be dealt with. As cities sprawl further in the south and our population grows, unless we know for sure that people are taking warnings seriously and lose the “it can’t happen to me mentality,” sadly these sorts of catastrophic losses of human life are going to become more common than they’ve ever been.

My own take? I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle, and the surprise, fear, and desperate warnings in the voices on the video below of local TV coverage from the storm makes me believe that people were surprised despite the warnings, and the storm got strong at the worst possible time.

Aerial footage of Joplin damage:

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Fourth Anniversary of Greensburg, KS EF-5

Doppler Radar Velocity Image Showing Astounding Gate to Gate Shear on the Greensburg Tornado (Courtesy: NWS I believe, click to enlarge)

A blog post by Mike Smith reminded me that tonight is the fourth anniversary of the EF-5 tornado that tore through Greensburg, KS. I thought I’d share some radar imagery I saved from the event. I was working on TV in Upstate NY at the time, and I remember watching this unfold that night. It gave me almost the exact same “pit in your stomach” feeling I had while watching the tornado outbreak ravage the Southeast last week. It was obvious from spotters and radar that a large and extremely dangerous tornado was on the ground in Kansas, and it was only a matter of time before it managed to run into a community on its path. Unfortunately that was Greensburg and unfortunately, that was at night. But because of the amazing warnings and preparedness of people in this part of the country, only eleven people lost their lives. It’s certainly 11 too many, but considering the circumstances, it had the potential to be even worse.

As a meteorologist, some particular events stand out to you…this one was one of them for me. I went home and watched coverage streaming online from KSN-TV for several hours that evening. Their chief meteorologist, Dave Freeman, did an absolutely remarkable job handling their station’s wall to wall coverage that evening. It was one of the few times I’ve ever said to myself that I need to write to someone to tell them what a spectacular job they did. Thankfully, that coverage is still online today:

Part One

Part Two

Some other imagery of that storm…

Radar Capture as Tornado Hit Greensburg, KS
Doppler Velocity Image as Tornado Exits Greensburg, KS, with over 160 kts. gate to gate shear

Truly a remarkable night…one we’ll certainly experience again, but one I wish we would not have to witness again.

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How Far We’ve Come

According to Erickson and Brooks (2006), tornado warning lead time improved from 5 minutes in 1986 to 13 minutes in 2004. I imagine we’re doing even better today. We just witnessed one of the biggest tornado outbreaks in a long time in the southeastern 1/3 of the country. We also probably witnessed one of the best forecasted tornado outbreaks in a long time. Thus far, the death toll from over 200 reported tornadoes stands at under 20. While certainly tragic for those impacted, it is truly remarkable the amount of lives that were likely saved by the warning and lead time for the outbreak we just witnessed. A tremendous hat tip and thank you to the meteorologists at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, OK, with well placed PDS (Particularly Dangerous Situation) Watches this week, as well as well placed moderate and high risk areas for severe weather. Also, a tremendous thank you and hat tip to the meteorologists at the local WFOs that issued the warnings and statements and no doubt saved dozens, if not hundreds of lives this week. And also a kudos to the TV meteorologists in the markets impacted. I’ve been in their shoes, and the amount of poise and knowledge they showed during this event was fantastic. Just rock solid, and they too got the NWS message out effectively and are also responsible for the success of how many lives were likely saved in this outbreak.

One of the books on my Amazon “wish list” right now (I have a backlog of things here now that I need to get to first), is the book “Warnings,” by Mike Smith. Mike has a blog that keeps up with some of the more interesting aspects of current weather and climate news as well. I suggest you bookmark it or add it to your Google Reader list. In his book, he discusses the cost benefit of improvements to meteorological warnings, as compared to some other fields and how it has truly saved countless lives and money. It looks like a solid read, with solid reviews. So I suggest you check it out.

Just scouring YouTube, here are some of the better videos I’ve found from the last couple days.

Tornadovideos.net (affiliated with Reed Timmer of the Discovery Channel show “Storm Chasers”) video of violent tornado near Jackson, MS yesterday:

Same site, video of tornado near Leakesville, MS last night.

Brief, but insane video from Raleigh, NC today…NOT recommending you do this…includes TOR, close lightning strike, and possibly another one or a power flash…can’t tell. Action packed 0:22

Insane damage from Raleigh, NC tornado

Video of the Raleigh tornado from Sanford, NC

Ominous view from S Saunders St. in Downtown Raleigh

And lastly, TOR footage from Oklahoma Thursday.

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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!

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:

PUBLIC INFORMATION STATEMENT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE FAIRBANKS AK
445 PM AKST WED NOV 17 2010

...FAIRBANKS BREAKS SEA LEVEL PRESSURE RECORD...

AT APPROXIMATELY 1 AM ON WEDNESDAY...THE FAIRBANKS INTERNATIONAL
AIRPORT REPORTED A SEA LEVEL PRESSURE OF 1051.4 MILLIBARS.
THIS BREAKS THE PREVIOUS NOVEMBER RECORD FOR HIGHEST SEA LEVEL
PRESSURE IN FAIRBANKS OF 1047.6 MB...WHICH WAS SET ON NOVEMBER 26
1966.