Sunday, July 22, 2018

Texas Weather Hazard: Heat Causes Tortilla Chip Fires

Austin, Texas firefighters battling a tortilla chip fire at a factory. A
heat wave set off the fires
Texas is certainly a hotbed of weather risks.

It's a land of epic floods, like Hurricane Harvey last year. It's a place the experiences horrible droughts. Dust storms. Destructive tornadoes. Hail the size of canned hams, as David Letterman would put it. 

And big heat waves. Not to mention tortilla chip fires. Wait, what?

It was so hot in Austin, Texas this past week that firefighters there dealt with a rash of tortilla chip waste fires.

According to CNN, a tortilla chip factory there was testing a new way to get rid of chip waste from the manufacturing process.  Says CNN:

"The company crushed the chips into a fine, powder like substance and put the powder into boxes that soaked up oil, Austin Fire Department division chief Palm Buck told CNN.

When the weather heated up, the chip dust heated up too -- and burst into flames. 'Certainly, tortilla chips was a new thing for us,' Buck said."

It definitely has been hot in Austin. Each of the past five days have been over 100 degrees, with a high temperature of 104 degrees reported Thursday and Friday. These are record high temperatures for the region.

Luckily, the boxes were stored outside the factory building, so the company can still keep cranking out tortilla chips in their undamaged building.

When firefighters arrived to put out the fires, new blazes kept breaking out in the boxes of tortilla chip powder. Firefighters were called to the scene three times last week, and stayed overnight one night to monitor the chip dust boxes. Finally, the fire department submerged the waste in water to prevent more fires.

Which is a good thing. The forecast for Austin calls for 100 degree temperatures through next Saturday, with a high of 107 degrees predicted for Monday.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

No, The Tragic Missouri Duck Boat Storm Did NOT "Come Out Of Nowhere"

Duck boat sinking in a severe Missouri thunderstorm on
Thursday, killing 17 people.
Investigations are just starting on what led to the disaster near Branson, Missouri in which a duck boat sank in a severe thunderstorm, killing 17 people.

But there has been one very, very nagging question.  What was that rickety thing doing out there in such a bad storm?

Ripley Entertainment, owns Ride the Ducks company in Branson. Jim Pattison Jr, president of Ripley, told CBS News he'd been told that it was "an almost micro storm event.....It was a fast-moving storm that basically came out of nowhere...The storm was moving at a higher rate of speed than expected."

Sorry, Jim. I think what you're doing is trying to create a new reality to possibly influence a jury during the inevitable lawsuits that will come out of this tragedy. Meteorologists will talk about what really happened during the litigation, but I have to wonder if Pattison was trying to plant a seed of doubt into whoever will make rulings and decisions in the likely lawsuits.

Pattison did say that given the conditions, the boat should not have been in the water.

Still, as many in the media reported: No, the severe thunderstorm did NOT "come out of nowhere." It was moving fast, but meteorologists were tracking it and had a good handle on the timing of when it would hit. It was not a "micro storm." It was a pretty big and nasty thunderstorm complex.

Also, as the Kansas City Star reported, there were lots of warnings about the oncoming storm rushing in from the northwest.

A severe thunderstorm watch has been posted as of 11:30 a.m. Thursday, more than seven hours before the storm hit. A watch means keep an eye to the sky, as there's a good possibility of severe thunderstorms somewhere in the area. That means think twice about launching rickety duck boats, folks.

The complex of storms formed in Kansas, and reports of wind damage began coming in from eastern Kansas more than nine hours before the storm hit Table Rock Lake. National Weather Service meterologists closely tracked this thunderstorm complext during its entire lifespan.

Roughly an hour before the storms hit the Branson area, Springfield, Missouri, to the north, reported a wind gust of 74 mph.

The National Weather Service office in Springfield, Missouri issued a severe thunderstorm warning at 6:32 p.m for an area including Branson and Table Rock Lake, where the duck boat was.
The warning mentioned likely wind gusts in the 70 mph range were on their way.

It's still unclear exactly what time the duck boat departed from shore. It was scheduled to leave at around 5:30 p.m., according to a Weather Channel time line, but might have left as late as 6:45 p.m., says the Kansas City Star.

A severe thunderstorm warning was issued for an area just northwest of, but not including Table Rock Lake at 5:45 p.m., according to the Weather Channel time line.

Even if the duck boat left shore before the severe thunderstorm warning was issued, the operators should have known bad storms were looming to the north and northwest, Reports say the duck boat left the dock for the lake excursion as late as  around 6:45 p.m. Was anybody watching the weather? The sky? Did anyone associated with Ride the Ducks review weather radar or check for storm warnings?

They should have, that's for sure.  A lot of attention went to a tweet and Forbes article from Marshall Shepherd, the Director of the Atmospheric Sciences Program at the University of Georgia that stated what should have been the obvious:

"It is 2018, not 1901. The meteorological community has advanced weather satellites, weather radar and models. Storms like this do not 'come out of nowhere.'"

Shepherd, ever the polite, competent scientist, isn't nearly as nasty and rude as I am, but his Forbes article should be required reading for anyone planning on doing anything outside. At any time.

Shepherd also highlighted guidance developed by NOAA and the National Safe Boating Council. The guidance, again,  should be obvious to everyone, including people who conduct duck boat tours:

"Before going boating, fishing, diving or enjoying other water sports, check the forecast from or your favorite weather source...If severe weather is predicted, stay home or go earlier than normal. Be prepared to head to shore quickly."

The guidance says you should have a NOAA weather radio with you which would sent immediate alerts if a storm warning is issued.

Shepherd, a former president of the American Meteorological Society, also highlighted a report from that organization in his Forbes article that basically says organizers of outdoor events and attractions don't really have an excuse when bad weather causes tragedies. Although the AMS puts it in much more sober terms than I am doing. Members of the AMS are a bunch of serious scientists, after all.

According to the AMS report:

"A common theme in the after-action reports and service assessments for these disasters is that the weather plan was inadequate to deal with a comprehensive portfolio of weather risk, or a weather plan didn't exist. In many instances, organizers simply 'hoped that we wouldn't get hit.'

Reducing the weather risk to life and property at venues and public gatherings is a priority for the weather enterprise and the American Meteorological Society (AMS). Knowledge of, and investment in, pre-event planning and mitigation serves the nation economically as well as socially."

In other words, my admittedly blunt, sarcastic words, careless event organizers really need to pay attention to weather hazards and stop killing people because they don't. It's not all about making money, you know.

Not all the facts are out yet in the Missouri Duck Boat tragedy, so it's hard to draw exact conclusions as to who is at fault and to what extent. But I believe there was a big time screwup, with awful results.

This is especially true given the vessel: Duck boats need calm water, and the canopies overhead tend to trap people when the vessels sink. That's probably what happened in Missouri.

The lesson learned: Always be cognizant of the weather if you're organizing an outdoor event. And if you plan on going to an outdoor concert, a duck boat excursion or anything else outside, bring along a weather radio. Adjust your plans if there are weather alerts.

And if your gut tells you the weather is too iffy to do what you planned to do, definitely trust your gut.  

Friday, July 20, 2018

Developing Odd Weather Pattern Creates Tragedy In Midwest

Tornado destruction in Marshalltown, Iowa Thursday. 
A key ingredient to an odd weather pattern that seems destined to bring flooding rains to the East Coast has already caused tragedy and destruction in the Midwest.

An unusually sharp trough of low pressure for this time of year touched off tornadoes and severe storms, especially in Iowa and Missouri.

As you probably saw on the news already, one of the severe storms swamped a so-called tourist "duck boat" on a Missouri resort lake, killing at least 11 people. Five are still missing.

A severe thunderstorm warning was issued about a half hour before the boat sank. Winds in the area gusted to 63 mph.

In Iowa, a swarm of tornadoes caused extensive damage, especially in and around the towns of Marshalltown and Pella. Ten people were injured in Marshalltown, which had widespread, extensive damage to homes and businesses. Video showed the tornado ripping the steeple off an iconic courthouse there.

Two tornadoes spin simultaneously near each
other in Iowa Thursday.
Seven people were injured in Pella.

Parts of South Dakota were swamped by heavy rain and flash flooding. More than eight inches of rain fell in Brookings in just a few hours.

Some videos are at the bottom of this post.

This storm will bring a threat of more tornadoes and severe thunderstorms today, especially in an area including Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and northern Alabama.

A map of the risk area resembles something you'd see in during the spring tornado season, not July, when severe storms are usually more isolated and sporadic.

The trough to the west will inspire what will amount to be a way out of season nor'easter Sunday, which will bring gusty winds and heavy rain to parts of the Northeast.

Even here in Vermont, they're talking about fairly strong downslope winds on the west slopes of the Green Mountains, something that's common in winter, but almost unheard of in July.

The low pressure to the west, and the Bermuda High strengthening to the east will result in a stalled weather pattern over the East most of next week. This pattern is still expected to bring boatloads of tropical moisture through the East with the risk of flooding rains.

It's still too soon to say which areas are most at risk for flooding.

Here's a video of the duck boat in Missouri being swamped by the severe storm as onlookers in a restaurant look on with increasing worry and horror:

A compilation of tornadoes destroying houses in Iowa:

Two simultaneous tornadoes near and in Bondurant, Iowa:

Tornado wrecking a courthouse in Marshalltown, Iowa:

Thursday, July 19, 2018

A Very Wet Week On East Coast Next Week?

This precipitation forecast map shows widespread precipitation
amounts of over three inches (in red) over the next seven days. 
Forecasters are becoming increasingly confident that it will be a very wet week along the East Coast next week.

That raises the possibility of flash flooding in a few areas, due to the type of heavy rain that seems likely.

This won't be a steady, moderate rain that soaks things down but doesn't cause many problems with high water.

Instead, this will largely take the form of spotty, very torrential downpours, the kind that put city streets under water instantaneously - kind of like what Worcester, Massachusetts and other cities endured during thunderstorms Monday.

This is also the kind of rain that will send gigantic gushes of water down hillsides and mountainsides.

The set-up will be a strong Bermuda High sending thick moisture northward up the East Coast. A trough of low pressure will be somewhere near the eastern Great Lakes and upper Ohio Valley. It will be in the form of a fairly sharp dip in the jet stream for this time of year.

This setup favors very humid air over the East with lots of potential for torrential downpours. The dip in the jet stream means disturbances will try to enter this humid air and set off these intense downpours.

It's impossible this far out to determine exactly where the heaviest rain will fall, when it will fall and for how long. Let's just say there's a potential for torrential downpours at any time, anywhere in much of the East Sunday through at least Thursday.

Up here in Vermont, I know we've heard this song before. The weather pattern looks promising for some good rains to ease the worsening dryness out there, and then we don't receive much rain at all.

The good news with this is we will be under threat of weather disturbances that would trigger showers and thunderstorms for a long time, not just part of a day like we've had all summer. So we'll have several chances at receiving some healthy rains.

The storms will be hit and miss, but if the hit and miss variety lingers over us for days as expected, the chances of being hit go up.

Because it will be very, very humid here in Vermont, too, this isn't exactly the type of rain we need. It'll often come in short, sharp downpours, instead of a slow, steady drizzle. Although everything around us is dry, if you get a two inch dump of rain in an hour, a flash flood can still result in urban areas and near small mountain streams and creeks.

We'll have to watch out for that next week. Especially if you go up in the mountains to camp and hike.

Between now and Saturday, it will remain super sunny and dry. We're starting off cool, with a record low of 35 degrees this morning in Saranac Lake, New York. A record low of 44 degrees was tied at Montpelier, Vermont.

As I write this at 8 a.m. Thursday, it is warming up very quickly and most of us will hit the low 80s by this afternoon.

Friday looks hot and dry, with highs well into the 80s, with a couple spot 90s in the warmest valleys. Humidity will remain quite low on Friday, so it won't be too bad.

Humidity will begin to increase Saturday through Sunday, and by Monday, the humidity will be awful. It'll stay awful all week amid the expected showers and storms. Daytime temperatures next week will be in generally in the low 80s, which is close to normal. But again, the humidity will make it feel worse.

I also hope you slept well in the cool air last night. Because next week we'll have a long streak of terribly oppressive, muggy nights to deal with.

It's summer, after all.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Cheated Out Of The Rain Again. Southern New England Stole It

A motorist taken an ill-advised drive down a flooded Worcester, Mass
street yesterday. Lots of cars got stuck in high water from New
Hampshire to Virginia. Not much needed rain further north, though.
Photo by Ashley Green/Worsceter Telegram
That was a disappointment.

I'm referring to yesterday, which had promised to be quite a wet one as a soggy cold front was set to come through.

We desperately needed the rain here in Vermont, and the downpours would have been welcome.

Well, pfft!

A broken, skinny line of showers and storms did come through, but most of us in central and northern Vermont got very little rain.

Burlington got a whopping 0.01 inches of precipitation. So the dry, dry conditions go on.

The cold front did usher in cooler, drier air. The key is dry air. It'll be nearly wall to wall sunshine today through Friday, maybe into Saturday. The humidity will be low during this period, and it will turn increasingly warm through the period. By Friday and Saturday, many of us will be in the upper 80s.

Which means the dryness out there will only get drier. At least we'll have great beach weather, as I guess there's still some water left in lakes and swimming holes.

Lots of street flooding in Worcester, Massachusetts yesterday.
Photo by Scott Croteau,
Central and southern New England got all the rain. A band of torrential thunderstorms set up in that region starting late Tuesday morning and continuing much of the day.

An area from far southern Vermont and central and southern New Hampshire south to Connecticut, Rhode Island and on down the coast all the way to Washington DC.

Flash flood and severe thunderstorm warnings blared all day in this zone, and there were many, many reports of street flooding, power outages and fallen trees.

Boston received 2.68 inches of rain. Hartford, Connecticut received 2.14 in hes, and Worcester had 2.67 inches. Water as deep as three feet flowed through the streets of Worcester.

A funnel cloud was spotted over Brooklyn and New York harbor, but there's no sign that it touched down. Subways flooded in New York City and Washington. Streets were submerged from New Hampshire to Virginia.

CNN reported 3,700 flight delays and more than 2,100 cancellations.

Flood videos are at the bottom of this post.

Funnel cloud over New York harbor Tuesday. It doesn't look like
it touched down. 
So yeah, it would have been wonderful if things had evened out: I would have proposed southern New England get half the rain they received taken away, and have it dumped on northern New England instead. But it was not to be.

Forecasters are still saying we're in for an extended period of unsettled, possibly wet weather here in Vermont Sunday through Tuesday. It will turn moist and humid during that period, and a dip in the jet stream just to our west would encourage weather disturbances.

I'm still afraid this will only lead to hit and miss, brief showers and storms, and not a decent soaking rain. Maybe there will be lots of showers and storms, which would be terrific. I'll believe it when I see it.

Meanwhile, I'll stay in my gardens, constantly watering, and hoping my well holds out through this.

Here's a video of street flooding in Worcester, Mass. Lots of people did not "Turn Around, Don't Drown. Nobody drowned, but a lot of peoples' cars did:

Here's FDR Drive in Manhattan. Or is it FDR River?

Here's that funnel cloud over New York harbor:

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Record Highs Again, And Cheated Out Of Rain Again?

There's a slight risk of flash flooding today in southern New England
(in yellow) with a marginal risk in green. Less rain will
fall in northwestern New England, where precipitation is really needed.
It was raining hard enough in far southern Vermont this morning to prompt flood advisories for an expected one to three inches of rain in a short period of time.

The flooding, if any, was expected to be minor, and the rain was needed.

Up here in northwestern Vermont, it was beginning to look like we would be cheated out of a soaking rain again. Sure, it was raining some early this morning, but it's looking less and less likely it will amount to a  whole lot today.

After a batch of light rain goes through by 8 or 9 a.m., there's not much upstream on the radar heading this way.

Still, there is the risk of rain through the day, as more showers and storms could develop before the cold front comes through. But we are just not getting as deep a rinsing as I'd hoped.

The southeastern half of Vermont, and the eastern half of New England in general today have the highest chances of decent downpours, and maybe some local flash flooding and a risk of a few severe thunderstorm.  More rounds of storms are almost a certainty today in southern Vermont

Here in northwestern Vermont, we're also recovering from a record hot day that was a bad combination for dryness. Yes, we had the record heat, but we also had the almost wall to wall sunshine, and most importantly, it wasn't humid at all, at least until last night after sunset.

Slight risk of severe storms today in much of New England
(yellow shaded area) Less of a chance to the west.
The dry air and the heat really combined to evaporate a lot of water out of the soil and such. It just made things worse.  A dusty day indeed in the garden!

Burlington's record high yesterday was 96 degrees, besting the previous high for the date of 94, set in 1969.

Burlington has now had nine days this summer with temperatures at or over 90 degrees. That's nowhere near any kind of record, by the way.

The National Weather Service office in South Burlington tells us the year with the most 90 degree readings was 1949, with 26 such days.

That must have been a brutal summer!

There are probably no more 90 degree days on the immediate horizon, though with forecast highs in the mid to upper 80s on Friday and Saturday, it could be close. And who knows what will happen as we get into the end of July and August?

The next chance of any rain after today will come along Sunday or more likely Monday.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Hot Again, Then Wetter Times Ahead For Vermont, Northeast?

Lots of blue sky on the Burlington, Vermont waterfront on Sunday.
The second half of July might, maybe turn wetter.
Another scorcher is coming today. If it hits 90 degrees or more in Burlington, Vermont which is very likely, half of the days so far in July would have reached 90 degrees, so yeah, it's been a hot month so far.

And as previously noted, dry. But an upcoming subtle shift in the weather pattern might - maybe - lead to a wetter second half of the month. That's not cast in stone, but there's a few promising signs that could happen.

First off, Tuesday's cold front looks to be a wet one. Like any summertime cold front, there will be winners and losers, with some places getting absolutely drenched and others barely dampened.

But at least this one has lots of moisture to work with, and the atmosphere is primed to dump some good downpours.  Most of us will probably get some decent rainfall out of this.

It will turn dry again for most of the rest of the week after tomorrow, but meanwhile, that change in the weather pattern will keep developing.

Strong high pressure - the Bermuda High, basically - will build northward and stay strong over the western Atlantic Ocean. Meanwhile, a slight dip in the jet stream seems like it wants to develop somewhere over or near the Great Lakes for much of the second half of the month.

This dip would encourage storms, weather disturbances and cold fronts to come through the Great Lakes region and start heading east toward us. But then, these cold fronts and such would run into that strong Bermuda High off the coast.

Until now this summer, either a heat dome over us would prevent cold fronts from coming in, or the fronts would zip through so quickly they generally wouldn't have time to pour much rain on us.

But with the possibility of the cold fronts bumping up against that offshore, strong high pressure, these disturbances might tend to slow down or stall over or near the Northeast. Also, southerly flow on the western flank of this high would bring moisture northward into New England to feed water to these sluggish cold fronts.

The first of these possible wet spells looks like it might come in next Sunday or Monday.

There's no guarantee the weather will play out exactly like I'm telling you, but it does look like rainy spells are somewhat more likely during the second half of July. That would ruin some days at the beach, but hey, we really, really need the rain.

Although it will probably often be humid, the clouds and showers might also serve to keep temperatures out of the 90s Again, that's uncertain, but that's what the tea leaves are reading now.