Following Up on Japan and Media Mismanagement

NOAA HYSPLIT Model Run for Japan, from Dr. Jeff Masters' blog at Wx Underground (

A pretty cool link I stumbled upon today allows you to actually listen to the devastating Japan earthquake. The Japanese Lab of Bioacoustics has a network of undersea instruments that allows for this. It’s rather incredible.

Also, here’s a link to a  pretty nifty animation someone’s created that shows the foreshocks, the 9.0, and the subsequent aftershocks pop up in sequential order. Amazing how much seismic activity continues over there. Note that this is not at all uncommon. Most major quakes like this have aftershocks (some that can still be large) continue for weeks, months, or even years after the main shock.

Along the lines of what I wrote about earlier in the week, it’s been incredibly frustrating to read and hear some of the coverage in the media about this incident and what actually should matter to people here (besides the recovery effort and how we all can help). There’s been an intense debate about nuclear energy, which is certainly fine, but I think that needs to wait until after we at least figure out how to solve the issues in Japan.

There continues to be this implied comparison to Chernobyl. Here’s a good link that details the worst nuclear incidents in the world. To this point, this is not Chernobyl. The IAEA rates events (similar to tornadoes and hurricanes) in a seven category scale. Chernobyl is the equivalent of Andrew, Katrina, or Camille. So far to this point, the Fukushima incident ranks as a 5 out of the seven. This is terrible on every level, but again, this is NOT Chernobyl.

There also continues to be a wishy-washy bit of media coverage regarding how radiation will impact Americans. You get headlines like this…even though the article has very little to do with direct radiation impacts in California (it’s mainly discussing how LA is activating a lesson’s learned sort of campaign to help mitigate and prepare in case a similar disaster occurred there). But if you just read the headline, you’d assume that even if there is no direct impact, they’re still concerned enough that they have to activate emergency procedures.

In the New York Times the other day, they put this movie online showing the plume’s path. Their intent was to show people when *trace* amounts of radiation would be detected at various monitoring stations. If you are an ordinary American, with a limited science background, and you look at this movie, what do you see? Radiation coming to America.  Buried on the righthand side in the text at the bottom, it says that it would, “at worst, have extremely minor health consequences.” First off, this needs to be emphasized ON the movie or IN the headline. That’s the MOST important aspect of this imagery. And what do extremely minor health consequences consist of? Honestly. Vagueness is what will cause people to panic.

Then, you just get completely misinformed articles like this that make headlines on Drudge. But truthfully, why shouldn’t they be making headlines? Heck, the surgeon general earlier in the week implied it was intelligent for people in the West to stock up on Potassium Iodide. And of course she meant that it was good to always be prepared for a disaster, but it was implied that they should stock up directly because of THIS incident.

The fact of the matter is, that this is NOT a threat to Americans here at home. There have been a handful of great articles written on this topic. I’ll direct you to a couple of them.

Dr. Greg Forbes of The Weather Channel discussed dispersion and dilution, the main drivers of why this won’t be a major threat.

Dr. Jeff Masters of The Weather Underground has discussed this for several days now. Granted, the headline isn’t putting the focus on what’s important in all this, but he makes a point to emphasize the lack of a health threat.

The biggest issue in all this is communication. Scientists inherently have issues communicating information in a language and a way that ordinary people can relate to. Perception is everything in these types of situations. If people sense any iota of danger to their health, of course they’re going to react. Scientists, politicians, and, most importantly, the media need to get their acts together and make sure the information they are providing is coherent, clear, and important to people. The reports of “trace” radiation, while interesting, don’t matter in the grand scheme of things to an average American.

The prospect of radiation making it to America from Japan is interesting, but it’s an interesting concept for scientists. As an ordinary American, who probably has enough to worry about,  this is one thing you do NOT need to be concerned with. Over the next few weeks though, this whole disaster should serve as a reminder to you that it *can* happen here. Anything can. Look over your plans if a disaster strikes (any disaster…fire, quake, hurricane, tornado, etc.) and make sure it will work (make contingency plans). And if you don’t have a plan, make one. You might be happy you did.


Catching Up

Been out of town the last few days for a conference, so here’s a rundown of some things I’ve marked of interest. Plus we’ll talk about the weather for the weekend.


CIMSS Satellite Blog Capture of Satellite Loop/Lightning From Weekend Midwest Snow Blitz

So the Upper Midwest got absolutely spanked over last weekend. Just a massive snowstorm, even for that part of the country. Here’s some information on that storm.


The image on the right is courtesy of the CIMSS Satellite Blog, showing the development and movement of the storm as it lifted through the Midwest, along with lightning strikes. Thundersnow isn’t too rare or uncommon, but it still seems to be surprising when it happens. That usually means though that you’re dealing with a bigtime storm or some very heavy snowfall.  The storm set a few daily records at Minneapolis and Duluth. But the snow was quick to compress…it is still somewhat early in the snow season. Overall, the maximum totals looked to sit around 6-12″ in a band from Duluth back through MSP, Mankato, and down to the Iowa border.

The NWS in Minneapolis has a fantastic write up on the storm.

Another solid write up from the NWS in Duluth for Northeast Minnesota and Northwest Wisconsin.

Also a good write up from Minnesota Public Radio on some of the more unique aspects of this storm…particular the convective aspect, as well as the fact that temperatures were in a prime range for good accumulations.

Keeping on the topic of winter weather and convection: Big Sky Convection’s Dann Cianca has a good write up and very nice pictures from catching some convective snow in Denver on Tuesday.

Congrats to the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang for having the phrase “Snowmageddon” make the list of the top words of 2010. They were likely the original ones to coin this term. I’m not sure who coined “Snowpacalypse,” but while it was clever and useful for last winter, I hope this trend of coming up with clever catch phrases for every snowstorm stops. I’m still comfortable with “Super Bowl Snow” or “President’s Day Storm.” But in rare instances (and last winter was very rare), it’s manageable.

Shifting gears to climate stuff. Here’s the statement from Judith Curry for today’s Rational Discussion of Climate Change. The word is that the hearing was relatively uneventful, save for a few occasional heated discussions here and there. Setting the tone for the next couple years perhaps. More details and links for the testimony from the Dot Earth blog at the NY Times. So check that out if you have some interest.

A lot of times you’d think supercells were strictly an American thing. But you’d be mistaken. Check out some photos from this beauty off the French coast. The article is written in French, so if you don’t know French, oh well..the pictures tell the story.

As hurricane season winds down, Greg Nordstrom has a look at how the Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) stacks up compared to some other hyperactive years. This year isn’t in the top 5, despite I think being there for actual *number* of storms. There was some pretty pathetic named storms this year (Nicole and Bonnie come to mind). Now, ACE is a decent gauge of a season or storm’s intensity, but it only factors in wind velocity and duration. We’ve learned in recent years especially that there is a LOT more to a hurricane than wind speed, pressure, surge, etc. Not all 125 mph storms are alike. So while this season may go down with the perception of sort of a bust (since the US was spared) and even ACE to some extent, this season was definitely hyperactive and worth the insane forecasts put out prior to the start of the season. I think we just simply dodged a bullet this year. It doesn’t make anyone more overdue or less overdue or anything…it just is what it is.

Here’s just a pretty simple overview as to why this may have been…sort of explaining how the pattern from last winter translated into what occurred this summer/autumn.

In the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic this morning, what a mess. Some crazy gusty winds, as well as tornadoes. A friend of mine had some family in and crazy pictures from the Town of Ghent in Upstate NY, which was hit by an EF-1 tornado. Wind gusts seemed to be widespread in the 35-55 mph range from Virginia up through New England. The wind did a lot of damage to an inn under construction in New Canaan, CT. The Trenton-Mercer Airport in Ewing, NJ was especially hard hit with a number of small planes that got flipped over. A link to The Trentonian here. This sort of thing is more common earlier in autumn, but still wicked, but I don’t think too unprecedented. And lastly, the CIMSS Satellite Blog with some mountain wave captures…never fun if you’re flying.

Lastly, in what could be the coolest minor league sports move ever, the Omaha Royals have changed their name to the “Storm Chasers!” I don’t know if the Royals “brand” has been tarnished in recent years, which prompted the change, but it’s really cool regardless. The article does point out that things have changed in recent years (see: Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Richmond Flying Squirrels, etc.). I’m all for cool minor league team names.

PSU E-Wall GFS Model Map for Saturday Evening

Just a quick synopsis here on what’s coming. The image to the left shows the GFS model’s depiction of weather on the West Coast come Saturday evening. This is a MUCH different look than we’ve seen of late out here, with almost 60-70% of days I would suspect having offshore flow, dry weather, and oodles of sunshine…a nice respite after an awful summer. Well, the storm door has officially opened. And it starts this weekend. Strong low pressure off the British Columbia coast is driving a series of cold fronts, rain, and snow into the Northwest and eventually down the coast. By Saturday evening, that low pressure parks along the Oregon coast. As we go through the next few days, each one of the cold fronts swinging through is going to reinforce and strengthen cold air over the Northwest, driving down snow levels to around 2,000′ initially, then below 1,000′, and then perhaps down to “ground level” by the time we get to late in the weekend, so places like Seattle and Portland may not be exempt from snowfall. And this could set the stage for a White Thanksgiving for a lot of places in the Northwest.

Down here in California, it’s going to get colder as well, with Sierra snowfall likely, and even snow in the SoCal mountains. Just assuming from the maps, without specifically forecasting, that snow levels will approach or dip below 5,000′ in the San Gabriel and/or San Bernardino Mountains early next week. The question I guess becomes whether or not we see any precipitation at that time. This is a very interesting and cold pattern for the West Coast though, so the next few days definitely should be fun to watch.

This cold air should also work its way to the east during Thanksgiving week, bringing a  pretty strong cold shot to the East cities just after Thanksgiving. Stay tuned!