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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One for the Haters!

So not everyone loves snow. As a meteorologist, even if I dislike dealing with it (working four years in lake effect country will do that to you), I love the unique quality of events like this and appreciate what has to come together atmospherically for something like this to happen. It’s not THE perfect storm, but it’s one of the most perfect storms. But some people can’t deal with it, hate it, curse it, etc. And that’s fine. So I dedicate most of this post to you.

6-10 Day Average 850mb Temperature Anomalies from the GFS - http://raleighwx.americanwx.com

At least temporarily, there’s going to be a pattern change in the East. Once the energy and upper level trough from this storm lifts away, we’re finally going to see  some changes to allow the seemingly endless cold in the East to abate. Strong troughing is going to build into the West as the pattern sort of blocks up out here (a couple cutoff lows to allow for some of the coldest dry weather we’ve had here in some time). This will help allow a ridge to pump up in the East. There are still some questions as to how strong the ridge in the East will get and how long it will last, but at least as we go into the New Year, things begin to quiet down and thaw out a bit…and a lot of the snow that’s falling will be long gone. Enjoy it while you have it. The map to the left above, from http://raleighwx.americanwx.com, shows the average 850 mb temperature anomalies off the GFS model 6-10 days from now. It’s not a perfect representation, but you get the idea…cold West, warm East. It’s somewhat of an odd pattern, and truthfully, given the fact that blocking in the Arctic and Greenland wants to hold on, I don’t know how long it will last. But it is more “normal” for a La Nina pattern, at least temperature wise.

So truly an awesome storm unfolding. Storm totals are outrageous, 12-20″ widespread from Norfolk, VA-New England, and 6-12″ in parts of interior VA/NC, and even 1-3″ or so on the Outer Banks! It snowed as far south as Savannah, GA and Jacksonville, FL this morning. Pretty remarkable. I may do a wrap up post later, but pass on your totals if you’ve got them in your backyard!

Lastly, I’m curious if people are content with this format of either RSS/Google Reader, getting a link on Facebook, or email subscribing…or if you’d also like see a Facebook “Like” page for more short-form updates before and during events and occasional links of interest. Vote below and we’ll see what sorts of changes we can make.

Also, enjoy this video of the blizzard from NYC, including thundersnow around 1:45-1:50:

Threat for Next Weekend Remains

PSU E-Wall 00Z GFS Forecast Next Sunday Evening

I’m a major proponent of NOT hugging models, but there’s no question that tonight’s 00Z GFS run was encouraging. The map to the left shows the GFS forecast for next Sunday evening. Keep that in mind…that’s a week away. We all know how fast that can change, but to see both the Euro and GFS in agreement on an approximate track/style of storm here is encouraging. Taken literally, this would be a significant snowstorm from DC-Boston and for most/all of NJ. I wouldn’t take things literally, but I want to at least bring the idea that this is a possibility to your attention.

We’ve got a ton of energy swinging into the West Coast, and ultimately that’s going to be the key to this I think…how that energy gets directed inland and across. And a couple things to note: Models notoriously handle this sort of energy infusion into the Pac coast poorly. And the ridge in the West is a bit flatter and less amplified than I’d really like to see to generate a big East Coast storm. So the big problem with seeing a great storm like this seven days out is that everything can go wrong between now and then. More on this in the coming days.

One thing the GFS certainly does though is continue to provide reinforcing shots of cold weather to the Eastern half of the US through the end of the year. Obviously, that’s something else you can’t take literally, but winter doesn’t seem to want to let up. And with the off the charts AO and strong NAO blocking in place, this makes some sense. Stay tuned.

Lastly, cool video to end tonight that I just found. Heavy rain in Washington State and the Northwest has produced significant flooding around Seattle and elsewhere. Here’s video of the Stillaquamish River at Granite Falls in Washington…flooding…and this is absolutely massive.

That “Chance” of Snow is the Midwest’s Snowmageddon

Snow Totals Map for Southeast Minnesota and Western Wisconsin - courtesy of NWS Minneapolis/St. Paul

Well, after all the talk about the chance of snow for this weekend in the interior Northeast, it turned out to be mostly just model error…but kudos to the European model which did a fairly decent job in calling that this would mainly be a Lakes/Midwest beast. Something is just inherently wrong with the GFS that it can’t handle certain things well…especially interesting considering the ensemble track was south and east even of the model. Let’s discuss what’s up.

First the blizzard. Just massive. Most of you know about the Metrodome roof collapsing under the snow (not unprecedented, but they aren’t going to have that place ready for a game tomorrow). More details on the storm’s impact in Minnesota here.

Storm total at MSP is 17.1″, making it the fifth largest storm on record for the Twin Cities.

Storm totals were as high as 23″ in Polk County, WI, 21.5″ in New Market and Shakopee, MN, 21″ at Oakdale, MN, and 20″ at Red Wing and Maplewood, MN.

Blizzard Warnings remain in effect today from eastern Iowa to the NW suburbs of Chicago and Milwaukee and N Michigan. Winter Storm Warnings are posted for Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, parts of Ohio, and the Appalachians from PA to Tennessee. And Winter Weather Advisories are posted all the way into far N Alabama and Georgia! On top of that, freeze and wind chill warnings/advisories are posted for the Deep South all the way into southern Florida, where nighttime lows early this week are going to rival what we saw back in January. Another round of lake effect snow is going to hammer Central and Western New York again this week (though to me the trajectory looks a little more northerly than what occurred last week, which would mean less snow for places like Syracuse). But we’ll see.

Overall, winter is in force in the Eastern US. At the same time, we’re going to break record highs today across SoCal, with widespread mid 80s expected. Amplification…what goes up must come down…strong, deep trough in the East = strong ridge in the West usually. And we are in an extremely amplified pattern…and the anomalous nature of this amplified pattern is going to remain in place for the foreseeable future. That means more fun to come.

So what do I think is to come?

We have a couple systems to watch. With extreme blocking in place, the storm track is going to look a lot like last winter. One weak wave looks to pass through the southern US Wednesday night-Thursday night. It’s a flat wave though, so I question if other than some nuisance freezing rain or sleet if it will pack much punch. It will serve though to reinforce the cold over the East for next weekend.

CPC Graphic Showing Ensemble Forecast of Arctic Blocking

A more important storm is evident on the European model for the end of the weekend or early next week. This shows a more amplified storm, which if taken literally, shows a substantial snow chance from the Carolinas to DC and possibly into New England. The GFS isn’t showing much other than a cold pattern right now and keeps everything offshore (not uncommon for this model to miss a feature like this though). I am getting somewhat on board for at least the threat of a snow/winter weather event in the Mid Atlantic and possibly the Northeast next weekend or early Christmas week.

The pattern is active later this week with a 140+ kt jet stream pointed right into California. This isn’t too unlike what we saw a lot of last winter in the active El Nino pattern. Whether this is too far north or not, I guess we’ll see, but with a load of blocking in Arctic/Greenland and a load of moisture/energy slamming into the West Coast…that to me suggests someone in the East is in for it at some point. It still could track out to sea…it still could track inland…it may be the model misleading us. But it’s evident that the weather pattern is much more intriguing than it has been. We’ll watch this week and see!

Couple things to round this out…

First, if you missed it at all, here’s the incredible video of the Metrodome’s roof collapse in Minneapolis:

Lastly, if you like Google Earth, and if you like hurricanes, here’s a cool post with links to great visualizations of the hurricanes from this past season.

Well, after all the talk about the chance of snow for this weekend in the interior Northeast, it turned out to be mostly just model error…but kudos to the European model which did a fairly decent job in calling that this would mainly be a Lakes/Midwest beast. Something is just inherently wrong with the GFS that it can’t handle certain things well…especially interesting considering the ensemble track was south and east even of the model. Let’s discuss what’s up.

First the blizzard. Just massive. Most of you know about the Metrodome roof collapsing under the snow (not unprecedented, but they aren’t going to have that place ready for a game tomorrow). More details on the storm’s impact in Minnesota here: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20101212/ap_on_re_us/us_winter_storm_midwest;_ylt=AiVEC47U_j2JGmW7yTsO2MKs0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTNuNGpramwyBGFzc2V0A2FwLzIwMTAxMjEyL3VzX3dpbnRlcl9zdG9ybV9taWR3ZXN0BGNjb2RlA21vc3Rwb3B1bGFyBGNwb3MDMQRwb3MDMgRwdANob21lX2Nva2UEc2VjA3luX3RvcF9zdG9yeQRzbGsDbWlubm1ldHJvZG9t

Storm total at MSP is 17.1″, making it the fifth largest storm on record for the Twin Cities. http://minnesota.publicradio.org/collections/special/columns/updraft/archive/2010/12/storm_update_snowfall_rates_no.shtml

Storm totals were as high as 23″ in Polk County, WI, 21.5″ in New Market and Shakopee, MN, 21″ at Oakdale, MN, and 20″ at Red Wing and Maplewood, MN. http://www.crh.noaa.gov/news/display_cmsstory.php?wfo=mpx&storyid=60336&source=0

Blizzard Warnings remain in effect today from eastern Iowa to the NW suburbs of Chicago and Milwaukee and N Michigan. Winter Storm Warnings are posted for Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, parts of Ohio, and the Appalachians from PA to Tennessee. And Winter Weather Advisories are posted all the way into far N Alabama and Georgia! On top of that, freeze and wind chill warnings/advisories are posted for the Deep South all the way into southern Florida, where nighttime lows early this week are going to rival what we saw back in January. Another round of lake effect snow is going to hammer Central and Western New York again this week (though to me the trajectory looks a little more northerly than what occurred last week, which would mean less snow for places like Syracuse). But we’ll see.

Overall, winter is in force in the Eastern US. At the same time, we’re going to break record highs today across SoCal, with widespread mid 80s expected. Amplification…what goes up must come down…strong, deep trough in the East = strong ridge in the West usually. And we are in an extremely amplified pattern.

What’s to come?

We have a couple systems to watch. With extreme blocking in place, the storm track is going to be pushed further south. The classic, “it’s too cold to snow” pattern for much of the north. One weak wave looks to pass through the southern US Wednesday night-Thursday night. It’s a flat wave though, so I question if other than some nuisance freezing rain or sleet if there will be any real wintry precipitation anywhere with it. It will serve though to reinforce the cold over the East for next weekend.

A more important storm is evident on the European model for the middle of week two (Christmas week). This shows a more amplified storm, which if taken literally, shows a substantial snow chance from the Carolinas to DC. The GFS isn’t showing much other than a cold pattern right now. I am getting somewhat on board for at least the threat of a snow event in the Mid Atlantic next week sometime. The pattern is active later this week with a 140+ kt jet stream pointed right into California. This isn’t too unlike what we saw a lot of last winter in the active El Nino pattern. Whether this is too far north or not, I guess we’ll see, but with a load of blocking in Arctic/Greenland and a load of moisture/energy slamming into the West Coast…that to me suggests someone in the East is in for it at some point. We’ll seeWell, after all the talk about the chance of snow for this weekend in the interior Northeast, it turned out to be mostly just model error…but kudos to the European model which did a fairly decent job in calling that this would mainly be a Lakes/Midwest beast. Something is just inherently wrong with the GFS that it can’t handle certain things well…especially interesting considering the ensemble track was south and east even of the model. Let’s discuss what’s up.

First the blizzard. Just massive. Most of you know about the Metrodome roof collapsing under the snow (not unprecedented, but they aren’t going to have that place ready for a game tomorrow). More details on the storm’s impact in Minnesota here: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20101212/ap_on_re_us/us_winter_storm_midwest;_ylt=AiVEC47U_j2JGmW7yTsO2MKs0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTNuNGpramwyBGFzc2V0A2FwLzIwMTAxMjEyL3VzX3dpbnRlcl9zdG9ybV9taWR3ZXN0BGNjb2RlA21vc3Rwb3B1bGFyBGNwb3MDMQRwb3MDMgRwdANob21lX2Nva2UEc2VjA3luX3RvcF9zdG9yeQRzbGsDbWlubm1ldHJvZG9t

Storm total at MSP is 17.1″, making it the fifth largest storm on record for the Twin Cities. http://minnesota.publicradio.org/collections/special/columns/updraft/archive/2010/12/storm_update_snowfall_rates_no.shtml

Storm totals were as high as 23″ in Polk County, WI, 21.5″ in New Market and Shakopee, MN, 21″ at Oakdale, MN, and 20″ at Red Wing and Maplewood, MN. http://www.crh.noaa.gov/news/display_cmsstory.php?wfo=mpx&storyid=60336&source=0

Blizzard Warnings remain in effect today from eastern Iowa to the NW suburbs of Chicago and Milwaukee and N Michigan. Winter Storm Warnings are posted for Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, parts of Ohio, and the Appalachians from PA to Tennessee. And Winter Weather Advisories are posted all the way into far N Alabama and Georgia! On top of that, freeze and wind chill warnings/advisories are posted for the Deep South all the way into southern Florida, where nighttime lows early this week are going to rival what we saw back in January. Another round of lake effect snow is going to hammer Central and Western New York again this week (though to me the trajectory looks a little more northerly than what occurred last week, which would mean less snow for places like Syracuse). But we’ll see.

Overall, winter is in force in the Eastern US. At the same time, we’re going to break record highs today across SoCal, with widespread mid 80s expected. Amplification…what goes up must come down…strong, deep trough in the East = strong ridge in the West usually. And we are in an extremely amplified pattern.

What’s to come?

We have a couple systems to watch. With extreme blocking in place, the storm track is going to be pushed further south. The classic, “it’s too cold to snow” pattern for much of the north. One weak wave looks to pass through the southern US Wednesday night-Thursday night. It’s a flat wave though, so I question if other than some nuisance freezing rain or sleet if there will be any real wintry precipitation anywhere with it. It will serve though to reinforce the cold over the East for next weekend.

A more important storm is evident on the European model for the middle of week two (Christmas week). This shows a more amplified storm, which if taken literally, shows a substantial snow chance from the Carolinas to DC. The GFS isn’t showing much other than a cold pattern right now. I am getting somewhat on board for at least the threat of a snow event in the Mid Atlantic next week sometime. The pattern is active later this week with a 140+ kt jet stream pointed right into California. This isn’t too unlike what we saw a lot of last winter in the active El Nino pattern. Whether this is too far north or not, I guess we’ll see, but with a load of blocking in Arctic/Greenland and a load of moisture/energy slamming into the West Coast…that to me suggests someone in the East is in for it at some point. We’ll see

AM Models: Go Inland, Storm!

European Model Forecast for Sunday Morning: http://raleighwx.americanwx.com/models.html
GFS Forecast for Sunday Evening: http://raleighwx.americanwx.com/models.html

Good news and bad news if you’re an eastern snow lover today. The good news is that the ability for snow to fall because of cold weather looks to stick around for awhile. This morning’s model runs look quite cold for the Eastern US, and blazing warm for the West over the next 10 days or so. And it looks like at least some lighter snows will fall over a fairly large area for the end of this week. However, the bad news… this morning’s model runs did no one any favors regarding the potential for a significant storm early next week. The top map is the European model forecast…the bottom is the GFS, valid through the day Sunday (All model maps from Allan Huffman’s site here). You can see from both of these models, the center of the low…still a strong one…is pretty far inland. This absolutely crushes parts of the interior, specifically Ohio, NW Pennsylvania, Western NY, and Ontario. The Euro is even further west today, hitting Wisconsin, Michigan, and Central Ontario hard. Again, this does not mean that this is now a dead issue. But, this is modestly decent agreement, and there’s reason for me to think the threat further east (specifically east of I-81) is fairly limited.

 

European Model 500mb Forecast Sunday Morning (http://raleighwx.americanwx.com/models.html)
GFS 500 mb Forecast, Sunday Evening (http://raleighwx.americanwx.com/models.html)

If you look at the maps to the right, these are the 500 mb maps (slices of the atmosphere about 20,000 feet up) for the same time periods as above. Remember, things in the atmosphere move in waves with ridges and troughs. For a big eastern storm, you usually need a big ridge in the West and a big trough in the East. That exists here. But it’s the orientation that’s key. If you look at the Euro (top), the axis, or center of the ridge, is located through Portland and Seattle. If you look at the GFS (bottom), the ridge axis is along the Idaho border with Washington and Oregon. For a really good storm to impact areas east of I-81 to the big cities, you really need this ridge axis to set up around Boise, ID. If you notice, the GFS is a lot closer to a decent storm than the Euro (which wacks areas way far away from most of the Eastern cities)…and it’s no coincidence that the ridge axis on the GFS is a good 300-400 miles further east than the Euro.

Keep an eye on this in the coming days because this isn’t a slam dunk, as the operational models are not in lockstep with their ensembles, as has often been the case this autumn/winter…and in fact those show the potential for a further east tracking storm. So today wasn’t a great day of runs for snow lovers east of I-81, but this is by no means a dead issue.

Hey, lastly, cool video of the day for you… the entire 2010 Atlantic Hurricane season looping by on satellite. See all 19 storms go by (don’t blink, you might miss some!):