Historic Early Season Snowstorm

Snowfall forecast for Saturday - click to enlarge!

Sometimes, you just need to call it what it is. This is straight up a bonafide snowstorm, the likes of which not many people have ever seen or probably will ever see again…because of when it’s occurring. If you showed me these maps, I probably would have guessed mid to late November…still early, but more reasonable. If this storm occurred in December, we’d be talking about a blizzard for the Northeast Corridor. It’s remarkable by every stretch of the imagination.

The snow map is above, and here are a few things to note…especially the 3rd one…

1.) Wind: It will be strong, with our models today suggesting we see some 20-30 mph winds in the interior, with perhaps some 40-50 mph gusts on the coast. This will cause havoc inland, as any sort of wind > 10 mph with heavy, wet snow on trees that still have some leaves will lead to trees coming down and likely widespread power outages in the red area, numerous power outages in the purple area, and scattered outages in the dark blue area.

2.) The Northwest Connecticut into Western/Central Massachusetts corridor looks to be absolutely crushed by this storm. It will likely be an extremely severe hit there and could be one of the worst snowstorms in terms of problems and inconvenience for them in recent memory.

3.) Elevation will play a MAJOR role in this storm. While I have opted to unfilter things a bit regarding snow amounts, I can’t help but feel that there may be a wide and sometimes unbelievable disparity in snow totals in some areas…especially in and around Hartford, CT, Morris County, NJ, the area between Reading and Pottstown in PA, north and west of Baltimore…all places where terrain tends to transition from the more flat Coastal Plain to the Appalachian foothills…this may occur elsewhere as well, especially in valleys, like the Lehigh, Susquehanna, and Connecticut Valleys. You may see some areas with 2-3″ of wet snow…travel 5 miles north to slightly higher terrain and see 6-10″ of snow. It will be that kind of storm…the kind where a truly accurate snowfall forecast map is next to impossible.

4.) The Big Cities will likely see flakes…especially Philly-Boston, but mostly at the tail end of the storm and any accumulation should be minor and mostly on grassy surfaces….though Saturday evening could be comical in some places.

So go load up on supplies for Sunday’s football games, enjoy game 7 tonight, and enjoy the snow while you have it, because warmer air will start melting this stuff as fast as Sunday afternoon.

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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!

Midwest Monster

250 mb Wind Anomalies in Recent Strong La Nina Autumns

It’s not uncommon during La Nina autumns to see massive storms spin up in the Midwest, Lakes, and Plains, thanks in part to a raging strong jet stream coming out of the Pacific Ocean. If you click the map to the left, you can see a composite of the anomaly of 250 mb wind speeds (basically how much stronger or weaker than normal the jet stream winds are) in some recent stronger La Nina autumns, similar to this one. So it’s pretty obvious that this is somewhat normal. What isn’t normal is how much of a beast this storm is.

Yesterday we talked about this storm “bombing” out, which it appears to have done by definition (at least a 24 mb drop in 24 hours). It is now to the point where both state records for lowest barometric pressure have been set in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The previous record in Minnesota was set during a similar fall storm in November of 1998. According to the National Weather Service in Duluth, Aitkin, MN dropped to a barometric pressure of 962.3 mb or 28.42″Hg. The previous state record was 962.6 mb at Albert Lea, MN during that November 10, 1998 storm. In Wisconsin, Superior hit 28.38″Hg or 961.06mb. The previous record there was 963.43 mb in Green Bay in April of 1982.

As of this writing, both Orr and Bigfork, Minnesota are sitting at 28.24″Hg or 956.32mb. If this is verified (and it will likely go even lower in some other parts of Northeast Minnesota), this would break the all-time United States low pressure record for a non-tropical cyclone. The old record of 28.28″Hg was set in Cleveland, OH during the Blizzard of 1978 (and naturally, the Wikipedia article is already up to date with this information!).

Edit to add: 28.22″ as of 3:30 Central time, or 955.6 mb…both at Orr and Bigfork.

National Radar Composite from Late Tuesday, image from NCAR.

So this is truly an historic storm…and one that is not just setting records, it’s causing mayhem! Blizzard Warnings for the Dakotas, literally dozens of tornado warnings in the Midwest and Southeast, numerous tornado watches (5 currently from Mississippi to Southwest NY), widespread wind damage, and quite a change in the weather overall. We had a somewhat rare “High Risk” for severe weather issued this morning by the Storm Prediction Center. So far, there have only been 11 reports of tornadoes, however there have been over 150 reports of strong winds or wind damage thus far, and that number is only going to continue going up.

I’ll try and recap some of the damage reports and more tomorrow.

Hitting the Links

Paul Douglas blogs about the storm in Minnesota for the StarTribune.

The CIMMS Satellite Blog, as always, does a bang up job (and will likely add more in the coming days) with some imagery from this storm.

Sadly (from a weather junky’s standpoint), the Weather Channel appears to be headed down the road of the rest of cable TV…just when it seemed they were getting back on track. Unfortunately, this is what drives ratings, so they will continue to follow the blueprint until it fails.

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

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

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

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

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

A POWERFUL…RAPIDLY DEEPENING STORM MAY WELL RESULT IN RECORD
LOW PRESSURES…SUGGESTED ON ALL MODELS…AS IT POSITIONS ITSELF
AND REMAINS OVER DULUTH TUESDAY. ALTIMETER SETTINGS EVEN AS LOW AS
28.00 INCHES OF MERCURY…REDUCED TO SEA LEVEL…ARE POSSIBLE.

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

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

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

A couple miscellaneous links to round things out….

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

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

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