Sunday, September 24, 2017

Vermont Autumn Heat Wave Really Off The Rails

Heat alerts in Vermont in late September?
Weather is really off the rails once again. 
Either the National Weather Service office in South Burlington is off the rails or the weather is.

I think it's the weather that's really off the rails, as the NWS is usually pretty sane.

Here's the deal: At this time of year, we're usually getting frost advisories from the National Weather Service.

Heat alerts are fairly rare any time of year, but this is ridiculous. Those meteorologists in South Burlington this morning put out an advisory warning Vermonters of high heat indexes with a few degrees of 90 today through Tuesday.

Never seen that in late September before.

As of 1 p.m. in Burlington, Vermont this Sunday afternoon it was already 85 degrees, with a heat index of 87.

This is turning out to be one of those really unprecedented warm spells that are really extreme. It might not seem like it. After all, it is only going to be in the upper 80s to near 90. We've had that before.

But never this time of year. And never for four days in a row, like what is expected to happen over the next few days.

We've had a whole series of these weird spells in recent months and years. You might remember the day in February when it got up to 72 degrees in Burlington, which was a full ten degrees warmer than it had ever been that time of year.

Or Christmas Eve, 2015, when it was 70 degrees in Vermont, when we're supposed to have those nice powdery white yuletides.

Not every odd spell of weather is global warming. Sometimes, things just get weird. But despite the climate denialists, despite the fact I can't prove this hot spell was influenced by climate change, the fingerprints of global warming all over this stretch of hot weather.



Saturday, September 23, 2017

Mega Heat Ridge Toasting Much Of Eastern North America

d
A depiction of the strong heat ridge in the 'eastern
United States now is causing near record
temperatures. 
I'm in Yankton, South Dakota this weekened, and yesterday felt like a blast furnace.

It was an incredible 95 degrees - so hot for southeastern South Dakota, with winds gusting to 38 mph.

It's cooler behind a cold front in Yankton today, but the heat stays on from Iowa and Minnesota all the way to the East Coast.

And it's going to stay summer like in parts of the Northeast and southeastern  Canada for the next several days.

Blame it all on another one of those huge mega ridges. What I mean by mega ridge is an immense northward bulge in the jet stream that brings lots of very warm air north and lets it sit there.

These ridges don't usually last long, but sometimes, they stall, and the heat builds to very high, unseasonable levels and lasts a long time.

These things happen from time to time, but there is evidence in recent years, that these stalled mega ridges are happening more often and lasting longer. Could be a sign of global warming. More on that in a minute.

In this case, the ridge started forming over southeastern Canada around September 10 or so. That created the start of a spell of remarkable warm weather for this time of year across southern Quebec and Ontario, and northern New England, including Vermont.

This big blob of warm air has expanded westward into the Great Lakes and upper Mississippi Valley, eastward into the northwestern Atlantic, and now southward down the United States East Coast.

The strength of the ridge is peaking, too. That explains the tempeatures in the mid-90s in Yankton and places like Chicago on Friday.

In northern New England, temperatures will really get into record territory today through about Tuesday.

Burlington even has a slight chance of reaching it's latest 90 degree reading on record. As of today, the latest in September it has reached 90 in Burlington since they started keeping track of such things was on September 16, 1939. There is a chance temperatures could reach 90 degrees Sunday or Monday.

Record highs are sure to fall. The records highs for Sunday and Monday are 84 and 85 degrees, respectively. The official National Weather Service forecast highs for both days is 88 degrees.

This odd as this heat ridge feels for this time of year, it has protected us Vermonters from some potential trouble. First, it deflected the remnants of Hurricane Irma eastward, so we barely got a few showers out of that, instead of torrential downpours.

Then, the ridge blocked the northward progress of Hurricane Jose, which ended up stalling southeast of New England and giving Cape Cod and the islands a few days of gusty winds, rain and coastal erosion. Now the ridge seems like it also wants to block the northward progress of Hurricane Maria, which appears as it it will stay off the East Coast, and then head northeastward out into the North Atlantic.

These huge mega-heat ridges can cause real damage and even death if they hit at the wrong time of year, however. The notorious one in eastern North America in March, 2012 brought temperatures into the 80s for a week as far north as Quebec.

When the inevitable normal late winter/early spring weather came back in late March and early April, the frost killed billions of dollars worth of fruit crops on trees that bloomed to soon.

In the summer of 2003, a summer long heat ridge in western and central Europe brought temperatures to unprecedented levels for weeks on end, resulting in the heat-related deaths of possibly 35,000 people.

A heat ridge in 2010 caused an unprecedented heat wave that lasted nearly a month in Russia. About 10,000 people died of heat related illnesses and from pollution caused by an outbreak of wildfires caused by the hot, dry weather.

So as you can see, mega heat ridges don't always smile down on us benignly, like the current one is in Vermont and elsewhere in North America.

Some of these heat ridges are just natural variability - the weather has always gone off the rails from time to time.

However, there seems to be growing scientific evidence that climate change might be slowing down and bending the jet stream more and more. That makes these mega ridges more likely, and more likely to stick around for awhile longer than usual.

It seems like a decreasing temperature contrast between the Arctic and the tropics might be to blame. (The Arctic is warming up much faster than the tropics, which explains the declining contrast.)

So, enjoy the gorgeous, long stretch of weather Vermont and other areas have had are are having lately, but as aways, there's always a black lining around the silver cloud, to screw up a cliche.

Meanwhile, our current mega heat ridge will break down toward the end of the week, and we will return to our regularly scheduled cool autumn weather.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Quick Thursday Update: Maria, Jose, Heat, Storms, Snow. Kitchen Sink, Too?

These palm trees in Puerto Rico were reduced to
sticks by Hurricane Maria
Hurricane Maria was sideswiping the Dominican Republic this morning, hitting it pretty hard with dangerous winds, flooding rains and storm surges.  

Hey, it trashed a bunch of islands already, I guess the hurricane figures it will keep destroying things.

As expected, Puerto Rico is hurting bad. The entire island has no electricity, and it could take up to six months to get it back. Which sounds daunting, depressing and quite possibly deadly.

Imagine trying to run hospitals, emergency services, entire societies with electricity in the 21st century. Oh sure, there will be generators, and electricity will slowly come back on line, but still. It's almost like going back to the stone age.

Especially since so many houses, businesses and other buildings are destroyed. Here's a glimpse of how horrible it was, as related by one witness, as relayed by the Weather Channel and the Miami Herald:

"'What I'm seeing is incredible,' retiree Rosita Galguerra, 66, who was riding out the storm with her husband in the Rio Piedras neighborhood of San Juan, told the Miami Herald. 'The house is trembling - and my house is made of concrete with a concrete roof. The winds are like out of a horror movie and its gusts, gusts, gusts. The island is going to be completely destroyed.'"

I suppose the only bit of good news right now is that most computer forecasting models are still insisting that Maria will stay offshore of the East Coast of the United States. Maria will still produce high tides, dangerous rip currents and such for the next several days, but that's certainly better than a direct hit.

Meanwhile, weird Tropical Storm Jose is still sitting and spinning and slowly winding down southeast of New England. It's track has had a seemingly endless history of stalls, loops and weird turns. That's continuing. Forecasters expect Jose will basically sit in the same spot out there at least through Sunday.

This is just making the weather miserable on Cape Cod and the Islands. The wind has been gusting past 40 mph continuously since just after noon Wednesday on Martha's Vineyard.

Elsewhere, we're still expecting record heat in northern New England - including Vermont, and southeastern Canada this weekend. Here in Vermont, weekend daytime highs are expected to reach the upper 80s, compared to the normal temperatures in the mid to upper 60s this time of year. Burlington has already had six consecutive days with highs in the 80s.

Further west, a stripe in the middle of the country can expect some flooding rains over the weekend due to a stalled weather front. It's hard to pinpoint exactly where the flooding might happen, but some areas could get a half foot of rain in the northern Plains.

And it's still snowing in the Rockies.

It's going to be one of those weekends when the weather is totally off the rails.

This video from CBS Miami is as good as any to show you the totality of the destruction from Maria in Puerto Rico and other islands:


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Hurricane Maria Hit Puerto Rico This Morning. It Looks Really Bad

Damage from Hurricane Maria in Martinique, which
wasn't even hit as hard by the hurricane as places
like Dominica, which people really can't get to yet. 
Powerful Hurricane Maria, as expected, plowed into the southeastern corner of Puerto Rico early this morning, and is spending the morning on a terrible northwestward path across the island.

Maximum sustained winds at landfall were 155 mph. Terrifying. True, that's a little less than the 175 mph earlier last night, but the difference is really minimal.

Maria also ran directly over the tiny island of St. Croix, and I'm sure there's terrible devastation there, too.

As you can imagine, I don't yet have many fresh reports coming out of St. Croix and Puerto Rico, as of early this morning as the region was still being crushed by Maria. I am concerned by media reports that not many Puerto Ricans went to emergency shelters in sturdy buildings, choosing to ride out the storm in flimsier structures. That can get deadly.

One big danger in such intense hurricane winds is that debris is flung around violently, and this debris becomes deadly missiles. Not only is there new debris flying around in the terrible winds of Maria, but there was still a lot of fallen trees, branches and detritus from Hurricane Irma a couple weeks ago that is also being blown around.

At this point, it looks like that after Puerto Rico, Maria will become somewhat less danger, but still a big menace. Of course by then, the damage will have been done.

Hurricane Maria is forecast to sideswipe the Dominican Republic and then head northwestward to the east of the Bahamas.  So far, it looks like Maria will stay east, in the Atlantic Ocean offshore of the United States, but there's still no guarantees.

We actually have ex-hurricane Jose to thank for likely causing Maria to probably miss the United States. A strong ridge of high pressure, which is part of a strange weather pattern I'll get to in a minute, is parked over the Northeast and southeastern Canada.

Had it been able to assert itself further east, the high pressure system would have steered Maria toward the East Coast.

However,  Jose caused an area of weakness in the high pressure ridge, and prevented it from spreading out into the ocean waters east of Canada's Maritime provinces. Instead of being blocked by the high and moving westward, Hurricane Maria will be drawn into that "weakness" that is off the U.S. East Coast.
Satellite view of terrifying Hurricane Maria making
landfall in Puerto Rico this morning. 

Still, we have some more tropical strangeness to get through out in the Atlantic. Jose is slowly spinning down, but will stall for days southeast of New England.

Jose caused coastal flooding, and a lot of beach erosion across the Northeast Tuesday, and that will continue, at least for some extent, for the next few days.

There's even the chance of something called the Fujiwhara effect, when two tropical cyclones get too close to each other and start rotating counterclockwise around each other. The Weather Channel says to think of it like the Tilt-a-Whirl at the fair, except we're talking tropical cyclones, not teacup rides at the county fair.

The Fujiwhara effect in this case, if it develops, could fling a weakened Jose westward into New Jersey while slingshotting Maria northeastward out to sea. This is by no means guaranteed, but it is one scenario which could play out. We'll see.

The high pressure system I told you about that is, or is not influencing Hurricane Maria is part of a rather extreme and stuck weather pattern developing across the nation. When things don't move along as they normally do, the weather gets weird, and that's starting now.

The high pressure ridge will likely cause near record high temperatures in southeastern Canada, part of the eastern Great Lakes and northern New England, including here in Vermont over the weekend.

We've already had this type of weather over the past week as the weather patterns have been stuck for awhile now.

Meanwhile, out in the the northern Plains, severe weather is an issue. There were reports of at least four tornadoes in South Dakota yesterday, and there is a chance of severe weather, including the possibility of tornadoes all week, with the biggest chance of dangerous storms Friday in western Minnesota and eastern South Dakota.

What luck! I'm flying into South Dakota Friday.

The slow moving storms out in the Plains could cause flooding problems over the weekend, too.

Meanwhile, the stuck weather pattern will keep the snow piling up in the mountains of Montana, northwestern Wyoming and Alberta, Canada., among other places in the northern Rockies. A few of the highest elevations could get a foot and a half of snow.

Yikes! An early winter.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Category 5 Hurricane Maria Devastates Dominica, Other Islands Targeted

Hurricane Irma bearing down on the Leeward Islands
on Monday. It quickly blew up to a Category 5 storm
with sustained winds of 160 mph. 
Another gorgeous Caribbean Island has just been swallowed up and destroyed by a huge hurricane during this devastating late summer.

It was a worst case scenario for the island nation of Dominica as Category 5 Hurricane Maria hit. 

First of all, they didn't have much time to prepare.  Places like Barbuda and the Virgin Islands at least had about three days to prepare for Hurricane Irma earlier this month.

Hurricane Maria blew up from a tropical storm to a Category 5 monster with 160 mph sustained winds in just 27 hours, all the while bearing down on Dominica, population about 72,000.

Everybody on Dominica was in grave danger. The Prime Minister of Dominca, Roosevelt Skerritt  tweeted during the storm: "My roof is gone. I am at the complete mercy of the hurricane. House is flooding."

He was later rescued, but as the winds began to die down he sent out a heartbreaking message:

Skerritt said in part:

"So far we have lost all what money can buy and replace....My greatest fear for the morning is that we will wake to news of serious physical injury and possible deaths as a result of likely landslides triggered by persistent rains...."

Skerritt said every roof of every house he knows of on the island was blown off. "I am honestly not preoccupied with physical damage at this time, because it is devastating... indeed, mind boggling."

Dominica is just the start of Maria's wrath, most unfortunately. The mountains of Dominic barely dented Maria's strength - it knocked the storm back down ever so slightly to a high end Category 4 hurricane.

But now, Hurricane Maria right back up to a Category 5 monster with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph.

Maria will remain a Category 4 or 5 storm as it plows through the Virgin Islands and then Puerto Rico in the next couple of days.

Puerto Rico is a real nightmare. It has severe infrastructure and economic problems, and the electrical network still isn't really fully up and running after Puerto Rico was sideswiped by Hurricane Irma a couple weeks ago.

There's a lot of concern about Puerto Ricans living in flimsy wooden or tin houses. "You have to evacuate. Otherwise you're going to die. I don't know how to make this any clearer," said Hector Pesquera, the island's public safety commissioner.

As for the mainland United States and Maria, there's still no guarantees. Unlike during Irma, it looks increasingly like Maria will curve north well before reaching Florida, so the Sunshine State will likely be spared, aside from some coastal flooding and battering waves along the state's east coast.

It is possible that dying Hurricane Jose, which will cause tropical storm conditions along the New England coast, will influence Maria in a good way.

Again, no guarantees, but there are suggestions among at least some of the computer forecasting models that Jose, lingering southeast of New England, could help pull Hurricane Maria northeastward, keeping it away from the United States east coast.

Again, it's important to stress that there's still a chance Maria could have impacts in the United States, so we'll have to keep an eye on this one, just in case.

By the way, up here in Vermont, we're going to stay on our extended period of dry, unseasonably warm weather for the next several days. There were a few pop up showers Monday, but not many, and a little rain from Jose will probably creep into southeastern Vermont Wednesday.

Up in Burlington, we tied the record high of 87 for the date on Monday. It was the fourth consecutive day in the 80s. Today might be the fifth.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Hurricanes Jose And Maria Just Keep On Menacing

Visible satellite view of growing Hurricane Maria taken
just after sunrise as the storm bears down on the
Leeward Islands. 
This very busy hurricane season continues to keep pace today, as we now have more specific forecasts of how Hurricane Jose will affect New England. And Hurricane Maria is a terrible threat to a number of Caribbean islands.

Let's take the two big storms one at a time:

HURRICANE JOSE

Coastal New England is now getting ready for Hurricane Jose, which won't hit the region directly, but  will be big enough to make for a very nasty midweek.

A tropical storm watch is now in effect from the Delaware Coast to southeastern Massachusetts. Some computer models bring gusts over 60 mph to some coastal locations as Jose makes its closest pass late Tuesday and Wednesday.

There will almost surely be some trees and wires down in the areas covered by the tropical storm watch.

It's going to rain like hell on the Cape and Islands, too, with maybe three to as much as eight inches of rain expected on outer Long Island, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket and the Cape.

Forecasters are watching this closely. Right now it looks like the heaviest rain won't get that far inland, minimizing the chances of widespread flooding. However, if the downpours go just a little further west than expected, places like Boston and New York could see some pretty unpleasant urban flooding.

It looks like coastal flooding, battering waves and rip currents will affect beaches in New England all week, too.

On the bright side, Jose is weakening as it approaches New England, as it's being worn down by strong upper level winds and colder ocean temperatures. (Hurricanes need warm ocean water to survive and grow, if the water gets a little too cool, hurricanes tend to weaken.)

Jose will stay offshore, it looks like, but either it, or its remnants will linger southeast of New England all week into next weekend. There's even a chance it could head south again, find some warm water and begin to rebuild itself. We'll see about that.

Up here in Vermont, the effects from Jose will be minimal. There probably will be some showers from Jose in the southeastern half of the state Wednesday.

DANGEROUS HURRICANE MARIA

Hurricane Maria was rapidly intensifying this morning as it approached the central Leeward Islands. Its top sustained winds were 90 mph early this morning, but Maria is forecast to become a major hurricane - Category 3 or 4 with winds of 125 mph or more.

Maria's track is roughly parallel to the one destructive Hurricane Irma took, but Maria's path is just a little south of Irma's.

The northern Leeward Islands, and the Virgin Islands, completely trashed by Irma, are now going to get raked by Maria. It's just awful, to say the least.

Even worse, with the track further south, the central Leeward Islands, which didn't fare terribly with Irma, will get a horrible blow.

Also, Irma skirted Puerto Rico just to its north, causing massive power failures and some damage on that island, but it didn't devastate the U.S. territory.

At this point, it looks like Hurricane Maria will probably go right over Puerto Rico Wednesday or early Thursday while it is at top strength, so this is a real scary moment for them.

After Maria is done with Puerto Rico, it will head toward the northwest, kind of on a path toward the U.S. East Coast. But for the mainland, it's not time to panic yet, for sure. While it's possible Maria could hit, the massive hurricane could turn out to sea as well.

Nobody knows for sure, so we'll just have to keep watching.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Heat, Jose, Lee And Maria Keeping Us Busy

Satellite view Sumday morning shows Hurricane Jose southeast of
the Carolinas, soon to be Hurricane Maria in the center menacing
the Leeward Islands, and weak Tropical Storm Lee to the right. 
Quick Sunday update as the weather gets active again, though not so active here in Vermont.

The record high for today's date in Burlington, Vermont is 86 degrees, set in the hot September of 2015. That record could be challenged today as our long warm spell peaks.

Don't worry about any sharp cold fronts, though. Temperatures will slowly ease back downward over the next several days, but still remain warmer than normal. Little if any rain will come, either.

But the tropics sure are busy again! We have Hurricane Jose, still tormenting forecasters off the East Coast, new Tropical Storm Lee, which probably won't amount to much, and soon to be Hurricane Maria, which has a lot of people, including me, deeply worried.

HURRICANE JOSE

Hurricane Jose is still trudging northward, well off the East Coast. Many computer forecasting models predict Jose to steer directly toward New England, then take a hard right turn before it gets here, thereby making New England miss the worst effects of the storm.

Note that I said many computer models. That's because a few still take Jose into or at least very close to eastern New England during the middle of the week. The bottom line is that the Northeast Coast is guaranteed to have rip currents, battering waves, some coastal flooding and breezy conditions. There's still a chance it could get even worse than that so stay tuned.

Here in Vermont, we still expect minimal effects from Jose.

TROPICAL STORM LEE

This one developed in the far eastern Atlantic Ocean yesterday. It is moving to the west or northwest. Strong upper level winds above Tropical Storm Lee indicate the system won't be able to develop much and could just dissipate in a few days. It doesn't look like much of a threat to anybody at this point.

TROPICAL STORM MARIA

Maria is the scary one. It quickly developed into a tropical storm yesterday as it organized itself remarkably fast. It's expected to become a hurricane today and a major one within a couple of days.

Soon-to-be Hurricane Maria is heading toward the central and northern Leeward Islands, and will probably be a major hurricane by the time it gets there. This, of course, is extremely bad because many of these islands were devastated by Hurricane Irma.

Maria is also a threat to the badly Irma damaged Virgin Islands as well. This hurricane is also a definite threat to Puerto Rico, and Hispaniola.

It's too soon to speculate on what kind of threat Maria could pose to the United States. But Maria is the one to watch and the one to be worried about.