Fun With Radar + Latest on Tomas and More

I’ve had this post brewing awhile, but I was inspired today by a friend’s photos on Facebook. I want to show you a couple cool radar images from the last couple weeks, from the Weather Underground weather website. Radar is obviously primarily used to track precipitation and thunderstorms. But, it can also be used to find hail cores in thunderstorms, areas of rotation in thunderstorms that may be producing tornadoes, rain/snow lines, areas of gusty winds, birds, and more!

Well, a couple recent examples of cool stuff you can see on radar.

Radar Loop from San Francisco Bay Area, credit: Weather Underground

If you click the map to the left, it will open up a radar loop from the San Francisco Bay Area that I caught a couple weeks ago. It was generally a quiet day, with just some showers offshore. But, if you look at the image, you’ll see a couple stationary areas, which, if you didn’t know better, you might assume are thunderstorms. Those areas are west of Modesto and south of Sacramento. Well, we know that it was a quiet morning, so it wasn’t a thunderstorm. So what’s going on?

Well, if you know about that area, there’s a gigantic wind farm in Altamont Pass. It’s the largest concentration of wind turbines in the world, with a capacity of 576 MW…through 4,900 turbines! So it’s huge. The other large wind farm there is north of that little lake: Shiloh Wind Power Plant. Smaller, with 300 MW of capacity and about 175 turbines. So what happens with radar in simple terms: The radar emits an electromagnetic beam, which will reflect off of objects and bounce bank to the radar, producing a pixel at the location where the beam bounced from. The radar almost always aims upward (so it doesn’t bounce off of ground level objects and can “look” into the clouds, where the rain/snow falls), so if there are any objects in the line of sight, they will reflect back a pixel. Given the location of the radar, just south of Sacramento, and assuming the line of sight is higher up…but not too terribly high (the radar beam was probably aimed low to look for patchy drizzle this morning), it’s obvious that the radar is picking up the turbines at those wind farms. The radar beam is hitting the rotating turbine, and firing back to the computer that “something” is there. That something is the wind turbine.

A lot of good, easy to understand information is here from the NWS Milwaukee, in a case study on their Butler Ridge wind farm.

More technical details are here…a website from the NWS explaining the issues with wind turbines and radar.

Example II

Radar loop from Fort Dix, NJ, zoomed in on Raritan Bay, credit: Weather Underground

This afternoon, there’s a fairly large brush fire burning near Edison, NJ. Well, in addition to picking up a lot of the other cool things I talked about above, radar can also detect smoke from large fires. If you look the image at right, you’ll see a great example of this happening…as the fire grows and the smoke plume rises, you can see it on radar. Essentially, the same process is at work. The radar beam is looking up into the clouds and instead of seeing a wind turbine, now it’s seeing (the many) particles contained within the smoke. We see this a lot.

Occasionally these fire plumes can put off enough heat to help clouds actually form above the fire, often in the smoke plume, called pyrocumulus clouds. These essentially are formed by the same process that forms thunderstorms, and like those, they can occasionally have lightning too. I do have a few photos from last year’s massive Station Fire near LA on Flickr here. More on that another time though.

Here’s a link with more ways radar can be interfered with…from the NWS Milwaukee, which seems to be a treasure trove of cool links.

So there’s some of the “fun” we can have with radar.

Hitting the Links

Here are some links I’ve encountered the last few days.

Ahead of the impending disaster likely from Tomas, Haiti is trying to get refugees from the earthquake as far out of harm’s way as is humanly possible. Tomas does not appear to be as big of a threat in terms of wind potential. However, it is equally as disheartening to watch as I warned you over the weekend from a rain potential. Tomas nearly fell apart this morning, as it was downgraded to a tropical depression. It has since restrengthened into a 45 mph tropical storm. The good news is that, as previously mentioned, everything got to this storm and it will likely NOT reintensify into a major storm. The bad news is that it’s still going for Haiti, and they should expect 5-10″ of rain, with upwards of 15″ possible in favorable upslope areas. Just a terrible situation. Stay tuned on this.

A trio of links for folks in the Mid Atlantic…

Part II of Wes Junker’s detailed analysis of last winter’s record snow in Baltimore/DC and surrounding areas from the Capital Weather Gang.

An article that claims last winter could have been far colder, possibly prevented by global warming!

Visualizing just how much snow fell last winter in the Mid Atlantic.

And lastly, Minnesota set a record for most tornadoes in a year in 2010.

Go Rutgers tonight…beat USF!

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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.

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.

Twin Tropical Trouble + Latest on Next Week

European Model Surface Plots (Left: Thursday morning, Right: Friday morning), From PSU E-Wall.

Not too much to add this afternoon on next week’s eastern system. There are still glaring differences between the models. The European model continues to go all bomb’s away off the East Coast. The GFS model continues to be flat..dumps some pretty chilly air in, but no storm. I continue to side with the Euro for the most part on this, with maybe not as much of an explosive system to develop later next week. Check this out. The European model (images above) takes the storm from about a 1008 mb weak low on the Carolina coast Thursday morning to a 972 mb beast in Central Maine on Friday morning. One key change with the European model today though is that it is not flinging quite as much moisture back into the cold air on the west side of the storm. This would spell less snow, except perhaps for the higher terrain of Northern New England (which would be hammered if the European model is correct).

So the take home message today is that, there’s still a chance for a pretty interesting storm. There’s a chance snow will be involved in some interior sections. There’s also a slight chance we could be dealing with another bomb cyclone, which could potentially cause significant weather impacts in parts of Northern New England and Quebec. So stay tuned…these sorts of battles aren’t uncommon between the two models. This will be a good test for the upcoming winter. Sometimes if a model shows a radical solution (like the Euro) and ends up correct, you can occasionally give that model some extra confidence through the winter season. In a tough situation, sometimes that can pay off huge if you’re a forecaster. So we will see.

In other news….

Model Spaghetti plot of tracks for Tropical Storm Shary, from South Florida Water Management District

The National Hurricane Center has started issuing advisories on two new tropical systems in the last 24 hours: Shary and Tomas. This brings the 2010 Atlantic Hurricane Season tally to: 19 named storms, 10 hurricanes, and 5 major hurricanes. Normal is 11/6/2 I believe. So we’re long gone in terms of normal.

So what about these two storms? Shary is more of a nuisance than anything. Expecting a mid-grade tropical storm (current winds 60 mph) that will bring gusty winds and locally heavy rain to Bermuda. Then it should scoot out to sea.

Tomas, on the other hand, has a potentially much more sinister future ahead. Tomas just formed, so its winds are only 40 mph, and it will scoot along in the Caribbean, likely not impacting anyone through the weekend (except perhaps some cruises or some outer rain bands/gusty winds on some of the islands). But Tomas is headed into an area of very favorable ocean and environmental conditions for development.

Model Spaghetti plot of tracks for Tropical Storm Tomas from South Florida Water Management District

The latest image from the LSU Earth Scan Lab shows a whole lotta red in the Caribbean. This spells development if the environmental conditions are right. And it appears they will be as we go into next week. The official track of Tomas from the NHC shows it becoming a major hurricane next week as it begins to turn north toward, sadly, Haiti. If there is one place in the Atlantic Basin that could really use a season without a direct impact from a storm, it’s Haiti. Still a long way to go, but this could very well shape up to be a devastating storm for someone. We’ll see.

More Power/Less Power

Some renewable energy news to close things out.

California is fast tracking several big time solar plants to get in before a critical deadline.

Wind power, however, has slowed down considerably, back to 2007 levels. I do think wind will pick back up with the economy though.

More later…