Blizzard 2016 Thoughts

While it is still fresh, some thoughts on this storm.

1.) Give New Jersey the record it deserves. Being a native of New Jersey, I sincerely hope NWS investigates the 33″ Morris Plains and 35″ CoCoRaHS ob from Mine Hill. The 24 hour record for snow in Jersey was 32″ in 1915 in Rutherford. Based on the timing of snow obs at Morristown (MMU) and Somerville (SMQ), I suspect almost all this snow fell within a 24 hour period, and if the totals can be vetted and verified, a new state record should be established.

2.) Kudos to forecasters and communicators. While this was a challenging storm to pin down, I thought almost *all* forecasts for this event were incredibly well done. Everyone deserves credit. Unless you bought the NAM literally and took 1-2′ of snow to I-90 in Massachusetts, or unless you completely ruled out any chance of New York City seeing major snows, you did well in this event.

Between the uncertainty of the northern fringe gradient, the potential for epic snows around DC, the coastal flooding potential, there was a lot to communicate in this event. In my opinion, it was all done very effectively by so many within the weather community, from the NWS, TV, private sector, and social media types.

3.) It’s not the model, it’s how you use it. The amount of “modelology” surrounding this event was…annoying to say the least. So many people declaring the NAM victorious. At one point or another, most major global models indicated enough variability and risk on the northern fringe of the snow to include most of New Jersey and New York City within the “margin of error” so to speak. The NAM did not “win.” Again, judging by the map above, if you lived in Hartford or Springfield, MA or Boston and used the NAM, you had a lot of egg on your face. That’s not an inconsequential populous. Yes, the NAM was the more aggressive model in New York City and on that metric alone, it did well. But it didn’t win. No model “wins.” As a forecaster, it’s your job to objectively analyze the models…all of them…use every tool in your toolbox and make a call. If you blended the NAM with the RGEM and the Euro/GFS, well then you did *damn* good in this event with your snow forecast most likely. Likewise, if you outright dismissed the NAM because of last winter’s NYC debacle, you probably failed too. Recency bias will kill you. Many of us joked about the NAM being the NAM…and that is certainly exaggerated by some of us (including me…I do use the NAM daily when forecasting for Texas and Louisiana, and I have used it aggressively at times). It has a reputation for being sketchy, but I know most rational forecasters do use it and consider it.

We just can’t turn this into some training camp competition. If you use the NAM alone for the next event, I guarantee you your forecast will have serious shortcomings. Use all the tools; know their strengths and weaknesses in the areas you care about and leverage them to your advantage as a forecaster. And don’t fall prey to recency bias.

4.) Can we please figure out snow measurement? This is not a uniquely DC thing. It’s been a problem in New York City in the past. It’s a problem in Denver. It’s a problem in so many places.

Fully understanding weather and changes in climate in places is heavily dependent on having a long set of reliable actual measured data at those places. When we can’t depend on data being reliable, what use do we have for it? Why do we have a top 10 list of snowstorms? Why even bother? It’s time for someone to step in, standardize, and properly coordinate snow measurements at places. Cost isn’t an issue. The way I’d approach it: You know how many people would volunteer to do it correctly and love every second of it? Find a spot representative of a city (not an airport across from it and adjacent to a river), probably on state or federal property, and have a team of volunteers at the ready, able to coordinate, trained properly by NWS, and eager to jump in when snow is predicted. Adjust the site as needed for changes in population distribution, new construction, etc. We’re making this a lot more difficult than it needs to be.

5.) Storm names are fine, but we don’t need 30 of them. When they started, I was skeptical of The Weather Channel naming storms, though I believed from the beginning that it would be a successful venture. I think to this point, the storm name concept has worked. I get the frustration, but that ship has sailed and it’s not coming back. So we either do it right or we continue doing it this way, where there were at least 6-7 different storm name hashtags for the same storm. It’s a patchwork free-for-all, and it would be nice if we could streamline it. It would be better for everyone. The research argument is simple: How on earth can we find pictures and tweets from this event without searching through eleventy different hashtags? Instead of still griping about the fact that it’s done, come up with a way to do it better and get everyone to agree. It will be less difficult than anyone thinks, but to make it universal, it can only come from the NWS. It’s time.

Those are my thoughts. What are yours?

Follow me on Twitter: @mattlanza.

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Your East Coast Winter Storm Run-Up Survival Guide

As a forecaster and communicator, I try and approach my audience a lot like I would my mother. Would my mom understand what I’m talking about? Sometimes I deviate and get nerdy; we all do. But when it comes to the forecast details, it has to be simple, clear, and easy to understand.

So my mother sent me an interesting text message today. She said:

Ok. I’m getting anxious. Or curious. I’ve heard so many maybe this or maybe that’s. I want the truth. I’m sick of speculation.

That’s such a great mom text.

In the run up to this major East Coast winter storm, blizzard, Winter Storm Jonas, whatever you use to describe it, you’re going to get a ton of this speculation.

So today, you’re all my mother, and consider this my survival guide for you.

What’s going on here?

The weather models have been hooked on this idea of a major winter storm in the Eastern US for awhile now. There is good agreement among all the various models we use that something is going to happen. Someone’s getting a major storm.

So how much snow am I getting?

No one can answer that question today unfortunately. What we know is that a number of factors are going to contribute to this storm being loaded with moisture. In other words, someone is going to get a *lot* of snow. It’s just not possible to say who that is yet.

Right, right, I get that, but give me your best shot.

This storm is big, slow, and it has a number of complex parts to it that will make it difficult to peg down until we are closer in than usual. But, some trends have evolved in the last couple days that lead us to believe a few facts about this storm.

First, it will be a *big* storm. That means even if you don’t get snow, you may get impacts. It will be slow moving. It will have wind…lots of wind. It will have major, major coastal impacts. Depending on track, we could be looking at a top 5-10 coastal flooding event for folks from the Jersey Shore into Virginia perhaps. That is a serious issue.

But what about snow? The storm has slowly trended south on the weather models. Additionally, it has a very, very sharp gradient on the north side. In plain English? If you live on the northern fringe of this storm, there’s going to be a razor thin margin between major snow and conversational snow.

Here now, a map of where I think things stand as of Tuesday afternoon. Remember, this is subject to change.

011916_snowrisk
My Own Tuesday Evening Snow Synopsis for the Weekend

The trouble is in New England, New York City, and Northern NJ. The models show a tremendous cutoff in snowfall here. The next map is a weather model’s output for precipitation (liquid, not snow). I’ve focused on the NYC area.

011916_precip
18z GFS Model Precip for New York City area (Weather Bell)

Why am I showing this? Notice how in the Central Jersey area, the model spits out about 1.5″ liquid. Go 50 miles north from there. So, like Orange County, NY? About 0.5″ liquid. A 1″ liquid is roughly equivalent to about 10″ of snow. So 10″ snow difference over 50 miles, and the reality is likely that it will be even sharper than this. You’re talking about (surprise!) a major difference in snow totals likely over a short distance over a major population center.

Bottom line in all this: I have higher confidence in heavy snow hitting Virginia and probably DC right now than I do for the Northern half of NJ, New York, or New England. I don’t focus on North Carolina much since the majority of my family and friends are between DC and Boston. But this has potential to be a big storm in a good chunk of NC also.

Alright, so when does all this unfold?

Snow should start in Virginia as early as later Friday morning, and it probably won’t end until about Saturday night. In Philly, it’s a Friday afternoon start and late Saturday night finish. Add a couple hours to all this as you go north to NYC. I have lower confidence in anything further north, so I won’t speculate beyond this.

What about this coastal flooding?

Yeah, this one goes unchecked sometimes. Snow is way sexier, but this is way more damaging potentially. The NWS office in Mount Holly has done an excellent job highlighting this risk. If you look at storm surge guidance for Cape May, NJ, you’ll see the first high tide cycle impacted late Friday ends up at a water level of about 8.5-8.7 feet. Sandy saw a tide level of 8.9 feet there, October 29, 2011 was 8.7 feet, the December 1992 nor’easter was 8.6 feet. An 8.5 foot tide level would rank in the top 8 all time at Cape May. This one’s big. It’s like a 90’s throwback nor’easter.

011916_Cape May
Cape May Surge Guidance shows a tidal level over 8.5′ Friday night/Saturday AM. This would be a top 10 event without much trouble. (NOAA)

If you live along the coast or Back Bays of New Jersey, Delmarva, Virginia, you should begin planning for the possibility of 2-3 high tide cycles like this. If the storm track shifts a bit or the intensity changes, we could see these values change. It’s a fluid forecast, but it’s a serious issue along the coast. Follow your local NWS office for info and guidance.

So will it be a blizzard?

Maybe for someone. It’s entirely possible, but specific criteria must be met regarding wind speed and visibility. It’s too soon to say exactly where and who or how long, but it’s a distinct possibility.

That’s all for now. Feel free to ask any questions and follow me on Twitter at @mattlanza.

Can the Packers-Niners be the Coldest Game Ever?

Sensationalism reigns supreme in today’s 24/7 news cycle world. If you aren’t the loudest or boldest, why even bother, right?

Today’s Drudge Report has a headline reading:

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Bleacher Report agrees: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1909338-packers-49ers-playoff-game-might-be-coldest-nfl-game-ever

The San Francisco Chronicle concurs also: http://blog.sfgate.com/stew/2014/01/02/49ers-playoff-game-in-green-bay-could-be-coldest-ever/

There’s no question that Sunday’s Packers/Niners game is going to be painfully, brutally cold, and it will most likely crack the list of 10 coldest games in NFL history.

According to NFL.com, the coldest game in history was the Ice Bowl on December 31, 1967, also at Lambeau of course, with a temperature of -13°. The second coldest was 1/10/82 at Cincinnati between the Bengals and the Chargers, with temperature of -9°. And #3 all-time was Chiefs/Colts in Kansas City on 1/7/96, with a temperature of -6°.

So for it to be the coldest ever, it would need to be -13° during the game. For it to crack the top three, we’d need to have a temp of -6° during the game. Can we do it? Let’s examine the evidence.

The game is scheduled to kick off at 3:40 PM local time. Weather models and data are frequently in Greenwich Mean Time or Zulu (Z) time. Accordingly, this game is slated to kick off at 21:40Z. Assuming an average NFL games lasts roughly 3 hours, we’ll examine temperatures in the 21Z to 00Z timeframe.

First off, the bane of most weather forecasters is MOS (model output statistics). It takes weather models, applies statistical algorithms, and produces a temperature, precip, cloud cover, etc. forecast based on the model and history. Sometimes it works nicely, but a lot of times it can be less than stellar. Anyway, looking at the two primary models’ MOS forecasts from this morning:

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I have highlighted the key times. The GFS model (top) is showing temperatures falling from -6° to -10° during the game. The NAM model however disagrees substantially and is quite a bit warmer, with temperatures dropping from +6° to +2° during the game. Worth noting: If you look at the far right numbers (-25° top and -21° bottom), that indicates the the models are only four degrees apart for the Monday morning low temperature in Green Bay. So the issue is timing. The GFS is faster bringing in the Polar cold to Green Bay than the NAM model, which is a few hours slower.

A higher-resolution version of the NAM model is run also. It goes out 60 hours (vs. 84 hours like the normal resolution version the MOS output is derived from). Looking at that from the PSU E-Wall:

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The map above is for 00z (or right around the end of the game). It shows temperatures just approaching 0° west of Green Bay (I circled the Green Bay area). So add another to the slower/”milder” camp. Incidentally, the European model (considered the gold standard of weather models) is somewhat between these two, with temps dropping to somewhere in the -2° to -5° range during the game.

The National Weather Service forecast office in Green Bay is on the colder side of things. Their forecast is below. They have temps falling to -6° to -8° or so, with wind chills of -25°.

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And the last thing I will show you is what the SREF, or short-range ensemble forecast spread in temperatures is for Sunday afternoon. This is a suite of a bunch of short-range models, all with different parameters to create a cluster or consensus forecast.

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The black line in the “middle” represents the mean of the various models averaged together. That mean forecast is for temps to drop from roughly -6° to -9° during the game. Note that leading into the gametime period, it does appear the model consensus splits into two camps…a milder one and a cold straight through one. The bigger cluster heading into the game window appears to be near the mean or just milder. So the mean is probably a fair representation of this model.

So, with all this being said, will Sunday’s Packers/Niners Wild Card matchup be the coldest NFL game in history? Most likely not. However, there is at least a reasonably small chance it could be if things come together perfectly. The GFS model does tend to rush certain air masses and weather systems, so I would be apt to lean warmer than it, but colder than the NAM model. This would put me at something like -3° to -1° at kickoff and maybe -7° to -5° at the end of regulation.

Either way, it should be a memorably cold game that’s something of a throwback or relic to old school football.

April’s Not Foolin’ for New England & Update on Opening Day

Here’s just an updated forecast on Thursday and Friday’s home openers.

Opening Day Thursday

Detroit at NY Yankees
Atlanta at Washington
Still looking at clouds, chilly temps, and scattered showers. I think NY is safe right now, but there are some signs that rain will envelope DC before game’s end, so keep an eye on that.

Milwaukee at Cincinnati
Still looks: Partly cloudy to mostly sunny and generally in the 40s.

LA Angels at Kansas City
San Diego at St. Louis
Still tracking a shower threat in KC. But those look more hit/miss, so I’m not anticipating any major disruption. Saint Louis looks pretty solid with sun and clouds. I’d take mention of showers out.

San Francisco at LA Dodgers
5 PM local time for first pitch at Chavez Ravine, and it will be postcard LA weather. Sunny, with temperatures probably 85-90 for first pitch, slipping into the upper 70s by the end of the game. Second place “Pick of the Weekend.”

Friday’s Home Openers

Minnesota at Toronto
Baltimore at Tampa
Dry and 70s…dome sweet dome.

Houston at Philly
It still looks like the worst of the weather will be in the morning in Philly. The snow/rain will lift into New England during the afternoon. It will be cold, breezy, raw, damp, gross. Should be some flurries around. Despite the fact that the worst will be long gone by game time, I would label this game as a risk to be rained or snowed out though, just because of how miserable the weather will be.

Pittsburgh at Chicago
Mostly cloudy here with some rain showers likely. I doubt it’s delay inducing stuff, but it may make Wrigley an unpleasant experience…sort of a raw, damp day.

Chicago at Cleveland
Still looks partly cloudy here. Looks like low 40s…a pleasant day for baseball, but still a bit chilly.

Boston at Texas
No changes in the ideas here either, except it could be a couple degrees warmer…low to maybe mid 80s in Arlington Friday. The Red Sox will be happy they’re opening there and not in Boston.

Arizona at Colorado
Not what you’d expect in Denver for baseball this early. Sunny, mild, and temps in the low 70s. This is the State of Occlusion “Pick of the Weekend!”

NY Mets at Florida
Taking out any mention of t’storms here. Looks good for the Mets/Fish. Temps upper 70s/low 80s at first pitch.

Seattle at Oakland
Partly cloudy after a nice day when highs should push into the 70s. We’ll see temps around first pitch in the 60s, easing back into the low 60s or upper 50s at game’s end.

Northeast Snow

The map to the left is this morning’s GFS model forecast for snow in the Northeast from Earl Barker’s model website. This is a pretty significant storm, for any time of winter, let alone early April. The GFS forecast is reasonable. Here’s how it breaks down.

NYC-Philly-DC: AM Rain, perhaps ending as some steady snow north and west, with a little coating possible there, and maybe some flurries into the cities.

Northwest NJ/Sussex County: Snow to rain to snow. Ending as a slushy 1-3″ accumulation I think. Higher elevations there could see snow continue longer, and there is definitely a risk that higher snowfall totals occur here. Still model disagreement in this area.

Boston: Mainly a mix in the city, but they could get 3-6″+ just north and west.

Interior CT/MA/Albany: 6-12″ easily, with higher amounts in the higher elevations. Some of those higher terrain areas may see 12-18″ of heavy, wet snow.

Interior NY west of I-87 to I-81 (Albany-Syracuse): Gradually diminishing snowfall gradient of 6-12″ near ALB to 1-3″ near SYR…. 5-10″ for Binghamton/Scranton.

This is just based on a cursory glance, so expect some changes, and refer to the NWS for the most local info. Either way, we’re looking at a large storm, with strong winds possible in New England as well, that could lead to power outages and downed trees/power lines. Just brutal for April.

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Winter Doesn’t Give Up That Easily…

If you’ve lived in the Northeast for any length of time (in years), you know full well that spring almost never comes without a price. Temps in the 60s, 70s, and even 80s over the last week are going to give way to the harsh reality that winter can still rule in March and even April.

Latest plot of recent and forecasted NAO from CPC

To the left you’ll notice a plot of the NAO..the North Atlantic Oscillation. You’ve probably heard of it before, but in layman’s terms, it’s a measure of atmospheric blocking (high pressure) in the vicinity of Greenland. Traditionally in winter, a negative phase of the NAO spells more troughing and thus colder conditions in the Eastern US. You’ll notice from the graph that since the beginning of February, the NAO has been almost locked in a neutral or positive phase. As such, you haven’t seen quite the harsh conditions you all experienced earlier in the winter. But the red lines indicate the forecast, and that, my friends, is what we call a tanking NAO.

Latest Plot of Recent and Forecasted PNA from CPC

Off to the right, you’ll see another, similar chart…this for the PNA, or Pacific-North American Oscillation. This measures blocking near the West Coast. When this is positive, there is traditionally a ridge present out west, which usually can translate to a downstream trough. When you have the NAO in a negative phase and the PNA in a positive phase, that’s a usual rock solid combination to generate warmth out West and cold in the East. It appears, we have these factors ready to lock in for a good 10+ days, with the +PNA holding on a little longer perhaps than the -NAO.

What’s this mean? With them both in concert, it spells strong cold conditions for the Eastern US and a developing warm pattern and end to storminess out West. As the NAO starts to fade, but the PNA stays relatively positive, it means the cold in the East will ease some, but there’s absolutely no sign of a return to the 60s and 70s you’ve seen recently. Expect some 30s, 40s and maybe occasional 50s if you live in the Northeast Corridor through at least next weekend.

How about snow?

A few snow chances exist over the next week or so. I won’t go into many details about the one on Sunday and the one next Wednesday, but suffice to say, the conditions do exist for potential snow.

3/22 12Z GFS Snow Forecast from Earl Barker's Model Site: http://wxcaster.com/regional_snowfall.htm

In the immediate term, we’ve got a situation tomorrow. The map to the left is this morning’s projection of accumulated snowfall from the GFS model. If you live in NYC, you can ignore this for the most part (think the model is a little too aggressive with snow there). This is mainly west of I-287 and north of I-80…but you can clearly see the risk. For Northwest NJ and the Scranton area, despite what this model is showing, I’d be shifting those bands south a bit, and a solid 6-10″ thumping seems likely…very elevation sensitive this time of year, so the higher up you are, the better your odds for snow. The highest amounts seem banded in an area east of I-81, north of I-80, west of I-87, and south of US Route 20. There is some model debate as to how far south the snow will get (one model brings heavy snow as far south as Central NJ). I am going against that model for now due to a poor track record this winter. But you will want to keep an eye on this situation. And if you live in Northwest Jersey/Northeast PA, tomorrow and tomorrow night look very unkind.

Wish I had better news, but enjoy this last gasp of winter if that’s your thing.

Oh, and you can find State of Occlusion on Facebook too!

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.

Richard, Winter, Drought, Quakes

Lots to hit on today. First and foremost, Tropical Storm Richard has formed today between Jamaica and Honduras, and it is storm  number 17 of this 2010 hurricane season. Clearly hyperactive and clearly well forecasted from the start. Richard should gradually organize over the next day or two. It’s likely Richard will become a hurricane, and there’s also a decent chance it could become a major hurricane if the environment is right. Shear should be low over this in a couple days and the environment overall should be more favorable. A lot will be determined by how close to the Central American coast this storm gets. The closer, the better chance it does not intensify. The current model clustering suggests that the storm is headed for the southern Yucatan. However, there is a minority of models taking Richard toward the NE part of the Yucatan and then into the open Gulf of Mexico, which would imply less time over land. It’s a tough forecast right now, and I would lean closer to the track into the Yucatan north of the Belize border, likely as a strong, if not major hurricane. We’ll have to watch how close to land this gets early on. Beyond the Yucatan, it’s really up in the air as to where this thing goes…if it hooks toward Florida or moves into the open Gulf and hooks toward the Northeast Gulf Coast. Stay tuned. Track the latest official items on Richard here.

Winter

With winter rapidly approaching, an onslaught of forecasts is beginning to emerge. I’ve already seen multiple vendor forecasts at work, and today, the National Weather Service unveiled their own forecast for winter. The highlights?

– Warm. Overall the pattern of much above normal temperatures nationally from summer continues. The exceptions being the West Coast, Northwest (cool), and potentially the Northeast…where there are mixed signals.

– Dry in the South. From Florida over to Arizona and possibly SoCal…drier than normal. More on that shortly.

– Wet from the Tennessee Valley into the Great Lakes, which implies a storm track favorable for chaos in the East this winter. In other words: Higher risk of mixed precipitation and ice storms in much of the eastern Lakes, Appalachians and Mid Atlantic. Also wet in the Northwest, Northern Rockies and Northern California.

The forecast this winter, as expected, is dominated by La Nina, the periodic cooling of water in the Equatorial Pacific Ocean. And this year’s La Nina is raging at the moment, with no real signs of slowing. In my own opinion, their forecast is definitely acceptable. I’m finalizing my own ideas on winter, which I may present in some detail soon (I’ll at least present a summary…I may not post maps though for job reasons).

At least initially, I think the things that will be interesting will be: The development of a rather widespread, large drought (potentially…again, more on that in a moment), the potential for mixed/ice events from New York State into the Mid Atlantic, the potential for the Northwest to get slammed with heavy rain and heavy snow (with a lot of questions about temperatures possibly averaging above normal for a time), and New England…which could teeter on the edge of a blockbuster or lackluster winter. Again, I’ll discuss this more in the future.

Drought

This is beginning to get interesting. The US Drought Monitor report from this week shows some significant areas of drought from east Texas to Georgia. Abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions exist from Texas west to Arizona, which has been in a relatively long term drought. Referencing the NOAA forecast above, if you assume the southern tier gets abnormally dry conditions all winter, you can see where this is heading. Now, it’s not a slam dunk that this winter is going to be bone dry…nothing ever is, but past history suggests that this could be a pretty dry winter for a number of reasons (if you’re curious for a decent breakdown of these reasons, check out this blog posting from the Houston Chronicle).

Additional anecdotal evidence of drought is discussed in an article from today’s Wall Street Journal.

Mexico Shaking

The Baja Peninsula has been quite seismically active since I moved out here in 2009. It’s been interesting to watch. They’ve had several 3-5.0 quakes in south-central Baja the last few days. Today those erupted into a 6.7 magnitude quake, the same day, ironically, as the Great California Shakeout earthquake drill. If anything, this just serves as a reminder that we’re not immune from quakes and potentially large ones at that in this part of the world. Hopefully today’s 6.7 marks the end of the big shakers there for a bit.

Tis all for now.