Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Threshold For Heat Warnings Lowered In New England

Heat,  near 120 in the shade, melted this plastic Phoenix
mailbox last week. Though things never get this bad in Vermont,
heat can still be dangerous in the summer. 
Chances are you'll hear more heat advisories and heat warnings this summer if you're in New England.

No, I'm not expecting this summer to be record hot. Instead, they're lowering the temperature at which they start issuing heat advisories.

According to Vermont Public Radio, they used to issue heat advisories if the temperature was expected  to reach 100 or more for at least two hours.

Now, they'll issue advisories if there is a forecast of two consecutive days when readings are likely to reach 95 or more.

"In Vermont, where our hot days are so infrequent, it can be really tough for our bodies to adjust to those hotter temperatures and change your activities to work around the hot weather.... And often Vermonters, myself included, don't have air conditioning, so it's hard to find relief during those hot days," Jared Ulmer, the climate and health coordinator at the Vermont Health Department, told VPR.

Emergency room visits for heat related illnesses begin to rise in Vermont when the temperature reaches about 87 degrees, so you know a couple 90 degree days can be a bit much for some people.

For today, at least, no worries about the heat. The expected high temperature in Burlington, Vermont today is 71.



Monday, June 26, 2017

Bright Sun And Storms: Skies Perfect For A Weather Geek

A photo I took last summer in Fairfield,
on a day with beautiful atmospheric
conditions similar to Sunday's
in Vermont.
Sunday featured what I consider perfect weather here in Vermont, though I know most people would disagree with me.

Oh sure, people must have thought it was nice enough, at times. There were bouts of briliant blue skies and bright sunshine. But those were frequently interrupted by billowing clouds, lightning, and quick downpours accompanied by chilly wind gusts.

But those skies! Big cloud towers lit up white by the sun against a deep blue sky backdrop, free of haze. Closer to the storms, evening sun cut underneath roiling storm clouds, giving the atmosphere an  otherworldly feel.

This kind of thing happens at least once a year, sometimes several times of year, especially in June and the first half of July.

These beautiful sunny and stormy days are created when a pocket of cold air sits high overhead. The sun is as strong as it gets this time of year and quickly heats the ground. Warm air starts to rise, and rises especially quickly when it's cold up above.

These rising air pockets condense into billowy clouds, and eventually, the types of showers and thunderstorms we saw on Sunday. This is especially true when a weak weather front, again like we had Sunday, adds more lift to the air.

You might think this is odd, but the weather conditions remind me of my favorite play, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf." by Edward Albee.

In that play, protagonists George and Martha are in constant conflict, but seem to have an emotional need to constantly engage in that conflict.

Sunday's weather was a classic conflict between warmth and cold, and the two temperature extremes needed each other to create the beautiful turmoil overhead.

The kind of storms we had Sunday come on days when the air isn't particularly humid. Which means there's no haze obscuring the beautiful cloud structures the way it usually does when we have thunderstorms. After all, we associate thunderstorms with hot, humid weather and not  during refreshingly cool days. But of course it does happen.  
Dramatic skies over St. Albans, Vermont Sunday evening
as the setting sun lit up the base of a thunderstorm
passing by just to my north. 

Sometimes, these cooler weather storms can get strong or even severe. Since there's plenty of cold air aloft, it's easier to get hail out of the type of storm we got Sunday, so that's one drawback. We love the sky we had yesterday, until the hail shreds the hostas.

Also, these storms are relatively brief, and will collapse suddenly, bringing a gush of potentially strong to damaging winds to a few local areas.

This all happened up toward St. Johnsbury, where one storm Sunday produced golf ball sized hail and knocked down some trees and power lines.

Today, there will be some cool weather showers and isolated thunderstorms around, but the dynamics of the atmosphere don't lend themselves to the skies we had Sunday.

However, tomorrow, Tuesday, we have another weather disturbance and a new pocket of cold air aloft  coming in, so there's the potential for things to look as beautiful as they did Sunday.

So make sure you look up and enjoy the spectacle of an active Vermont summer skh. Let's just keep the hail out of the gardens, OK?



Saturday, June 24, 2017

We Dodged A Flash Flood Bullet, But It's Going To Stay Wet

Arrived at work early this morning, amid rain, a wet parking lot
and dark overcast skies, Burlington, Vermont
We hare in Vermont and the rest of the North Country barely dodged a nasty flash flood bullet on Friday.

That soaking rain - one to two inches of it - primed the pump for some real nastiness Friday afternoon and evening as we expected some more torrential thunderstorms.

Those afternoon and evening downpours indeed developed across New York, Vermont and New Hampshire.

But, thankfully, they were just a bit too scattered, a bit too fast moving and not quite consistent enough to send blasts of water roaring out of the hills.

The result is some minor driveway and back road washouts, high water in the creeks and soggy, half drowned gardens, but no real disaster.

Other areas that have been getting a lot of rain weren't so lucky. Flash floods were reported Friday and earlier this week from Ontario to Louisiana.

Also, early this morning, severe thunderstorms and at least one likely tornado caused a lot of damage in New Jersey

If you're getting sick of the rain, I've got bad news for you. There's a chance of showers daily for the forseeable future, pretty much through next Friday.

No single day in this damp stretch will be a washout, and I see no signs coming up of enough rain to renew the flood threat. At least that's how it looks now.

However, it appears weather disturbances will come through just about every day, creating the risk of showers.

Sunday afternoon in particulary has a high chance of showers as a another cold front ripples on through.

Despite the rain threat, it will turn less humid this afternoon and on into early next week as a dip in the jet stream sits over us.

It will probably turn somewhat warmer and more humid near the end of the week, but the threat of showers and thunderstorms will continue as a front stalls to our north and other weak weather systems keep zipping in from the west.

Summer is still young, and things could change, but if this summer turns out to be a wet one, that's following a trend in New England.

Last summer was very dry, of course, but that was an exception. Almost every summer since 2001 has been definitely on the wet side here in Vermont.

Flash flooding, always a risk in hilly New England, have gotten more common. The summers of 2011 and 2013 were especially destructive in that regard.

The ground now is very wet. If a particularly heavy burst of rain comes through in the next couple weeks at least, we're in for another flash flood threat.

Stay tuned.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Not Cindy, But A Very Wet Day Up Here In New England. Flash Flooding?


UPDATE


This graphic/radar image from the National Weather Service
in South Burlington, Vermont shows heavy rain over northern
New York and Vermont early this morning, with more downpours
looming to our west for later today.
A flash flood watch has been issued for a strip of north central Vermont, basically and roughly within 30 miles either side of Route 2.
The flash flood watch also covers a good chunk of northern New York.

The rain really came down hard in this region this morning, with up to two inches of rain reported.

The ground is soaked, and more downpours loom.
The warm front that caused the heavy rain has moved to the north, and we're in very, very humid air. Any showers and storms that form will bring torrential rains, and flash flooding is now a real risk in much of northern Vermont.

As of 12:30 p.m., weather radar is frankly ominous. Heavy downpours were lurking in New York state and strengthening. Bands of heavy downpours look like they might want to repeatedly move over the same spots.

Flash flooding, as the name implies, happens fast, so be aware of gushes of water coming down from the hills. Don't drive through flooded roads, because even shallow water can sweep a car away, and you don't know if the road is washed away beneath the water.

Take care this afternoon, northern Vermont and northern New York peeps!

PREVIOUS DISCUSSION

I awoke in northwest Vermont today to gusty south winds, bursts of heavy rain and, occasionally, the sound of thunder.

Tropical Storm Cindy?  

Nah, no and nope, but the now-deceased tropical storm is having some influence on the weather here in Vermont and the rest of the Northeast.

There was impressive band of rain and thunderstorms all the way from Wisconsin, across Michgan, through southern Ontario, across northern New York and on into Vermont and the rest of New England early this morning.

That was a very active warm front coming through. Some warm fronts, like this one, produce a lot of precipitation. Others go by with little fanfare.

This warm front, in part, had some moisture to work with from the remnants of Tropical Storm Cindy, which was still located in the South and prompting flood watches today from Louisiana to southwest Pennsylvania.

By the way, Cindy did cause flooding and some tornadoes Thursday after coming ashore and weakening to a very wet tropical depression. One tornado caused damage and injuries around Birmingham, Alabama.

There might not be much flooding in Vermont or northern New England today, but some of us have already gotten pretty wet, and will get wetter.  If there is any flooding, it's most likely across northern Vermont and New York, which got the biggest soaking this morning, with more than an inch of rain.

And those storms this afternoon will be torrential. Plus, I saw one weather model that showed up to five inches of rain in parts of  the northern third of Vermont today, which would cause some pretty substantial flash flooding.

That's not a definite, but it's something to watch. It depends on whether thunderstorms develop and repeatedly go over the same areas. If there is flash flooding today, the best bet is north of Route 2.

Later this morning, the warm front will have lifted into Canada, taking its occasionally heavy rain with it.

However, we will be in a warm, somewhat unstable and very humid atmosphere, due, again, in part to the remnants of Cindy still sitting well to our south.  The lull in the rain late this morning and maybe early this afternoon will come to an end.

With a cold front well to our west, but approaching us, showers and thunderstorms will break out again this afternoon and evening.

 Unlike the morning's rain, which pretty much gave everybody in the northern half of New York and most of Vermont a good soaking, the showers and thunderstorms later today will be more hit and miss.

Some people will only get a little more rain, while others get blasted by torrential downpours. It's a roll of the dice.  Again, northern Vermont is the most likely scene of this.

It's possible some storms later today could end up being severe, too, with local strong gusty winds and hail.

This won't be a big time severe event. The atmosphere just isn't right to produce lots of organized, intense storms.   Still, a  few storms could get somewhat wild. But the bigger story will be the heavy rainfall today.

We'll keep showers in the forecast Sunday through Monday, though none of these days will be a washout. Just hit and miss stuff like we had over much of the past week.

Looks like it might turn warmer and drier for a couple days later next week, though.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Deadly Portugal Forest Fire Largely A Man-Made Tragedy.

A huge forest fire in Portugal has killed at least 64 people
I'm sure most of you are horrified by the news out of Portugal last weekend, when a huge forest fire in the central part of that nation killed more than 60 people.

Lots of observers are saying that the disaster was at least in part man-made.

The Portugal forest fire hit during a spell of extremely hot, dry weather, the kind of conditions that climate change and global warming tend to encourage.

There's that, but an even bigger reason for the Portugal disaster has an even more direct line to what humans did.

As the BBC and many other media outlets note,  eucalyptus trees had a lot to do with this.

I'll let the BBC explain:

"Much of the area in flames is dominated by eucalyptus, an Australian species introduced to Europe in the 18th Century, but which really boomed in Portugal with the rise of the paper industries in the mid-20th Century.

It is one of the most profitable trees, but ecologists say eucalpytus sucks up rare groundwater and is bad for native plants and animal life. 

The sap-rich tree that now covers large parts of central and northern Portugal is also highly flammable

Eucalyptus lined route N-236, where 47 people died in their cars while trying to flee." 

On top of all that, a lot of forest in Portugal is privately owned, and much of it isn't managed well. Plenty of underbrush, dead branches and other fuels accumulated in the forests, and that contributed to the fire's intensity as well.

Worst of all, a person might have started the fire. Initially, it was thought that lightning struck a tree during a "dry thunderstorm" sparking the blaze.

But there are now reports that the forest fire was already going gang busters when the lightning struck. The thunderstorm winds might have fanned the flames, but an arsonist might have started the fire ahead of time..

We always hear of "natural disasters" as being "an act of God." and there's nothing we can do about it.

To an extent, that's true, as we can't prevent every storm, every drought, every heat wave, every hurricane, every tornado.

However, every disaster death toll is made worse by something we could have done better. Hindsight is always 20-20, but when people die in a weather calamity, it's always useful to figure out why people died and how we can prevent deaths the next time.

Because there's always a next time.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Tropical Storm Cindy Drowns Gulf Coast; Southwest Bakes Enough To Cancel Flights

Tropical Storm Cindy and the Southwest heat wave are the big news stories of the day, so we'll get right into those: 
Ragged but very, very wet Tropical Storm Cindy in the
Gulf of Mexico this morning.

CINDY:

Tropical Storm Cindy, as anticipated, formed yesterday in the Gulf of Mexico, and it is already drowning parts of the South in way, way too much rain.

The storm doesn't even look like a classic tropical storm, and although highest sustained winds with this thing were 60 mph early this morning, the wind isn't the big issue with Cindy.

It fact, those winds will probably diminish some by the time it makes landfall tomorrow morning.

However, Cindy is bringing immense boatloads of moisture onshore. The storm could dump up to a foot of rain in a zone between Louisiana and the Florida panhandle. This would cause horrible flooding, as you can imagine.

Especially since that area has had a super wet June already.

Later this week, the remnants of Cindy will move over the area around Tennessee and then toward North Carolina and Virginia, continuing the threat of very bad flooding in those regions.

For my local readers wondering if Cindy will have any local impacts on Vermont, the answer is, not really.

A cold front coming in Friday looks like it will want to scoop up some moisture from Cindy, which means some of the thunderstorms with the cold front could produce heavy rain. But the storms will likely move along too fast to produce any widespread flash flooding.

HEAT WAVE

That long anticipated heat wave in the Southwest hit its stride on Tuesday. Las Vegas, Nevada tied the record for its all time hottest temperature, at 117 degrees.

Also, as the Weather Channel reports, Needles, California ties its all time high temperature record with an, um, balmy 125 degrees.

Fun fact: The Peanuts character Snoopy had a brother named Spike who lived in Needles. If Spike were real, I'd hope someone would have taken him to an air conditioned place.

It could have been worse for Spike: Death Valley reached 127 degrees Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Tucson just missed its all time high temperature by one degree, as it reached 116 degrees there. Phoenix set a record high for the date with a toasty 119 degrees.

Several flights out of Phoenix were canceled because some planes can't take off in such conditions. Hot air is thinner, so they need more speed to take off, thus more runway space, which isn't always available.

As for us here in Vermont, no, the heat out west isn't going to trek across the nation and affect us. Expect near normal temperatures for this time of year during the next few days.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Rare Dual June Tropical Storms And East Coast Storm Cleanup

Summer time is often the doldrums when it comes to weather.
This big mess of a storm in the Gulf of Mexico is likely to
become Tropical or Subtropical Storm Cindy.

It's hot and humid and nothing much happens. Oh sure, you get your occasional severe thunderstorms, a few searing heat waves, maybe a local flood or two.

But things so far in this young summer are coming fast and furiously.

I've already mentioned a couple days ago that terrible heat wave in the Southwest, where all time record high temperatures are being threatened today.

The Northeast today is cleaning up after punishing thunderstorms and flash floods on Monday. I'll have more on that in a bit.

JUNE TROPICAL STORMS

But first, we have the rare spectacle of two Atlantic tropical storms spinning up at the same time. It's the first time that's happened in June since 1968.

That is, if a near-tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico gets its act together today.

Tropical Storm Bret spun up in the far southern Caribbean yesterday, slashing Trinidad and Tobago and the northern coast of Venezuela with gusty winds and torrential rains.

It's heading toward the west with top sustained winds of 45 mph. It probably won't get much stronger, and forecasters think Bret will fall apart in a couple days. Stronger upper level winds will probably kill Bret before it reaches the coast of Nicaragua.

A bigger worry, at least for us in the United States, is a tropical storm or subtropical storm is  expected to develop in the Gulf of Mexico, possibly today. (A subtropical storm has characteristics of both a tropical storm and a regular old low pressure system.)

The Gulf of Mexico storm has winds of 40 mph, enough to have it declared a tropical storm. However, as of early this morning, it didn't have a nice circular center, which you need to have a tropical storm.

The storm was getting better organized, so the National Hurricane Center gave this storm a 90 percent chance of becoming Tropical Storm Cindy.

Forecasters are worried about wannabe Cindy because it's heading north toward the United States Gulf Coast. Tropical storm warnings are up for the Louisiana coast, and a tropical storm watch is up for the far eastern Texas coastline.

Storm surges in the low lying coasts could definitely cause flooding with this.

A bigger worry is the torrential rains that will come in with Wannabe Cindy. At this point, the storm poses an inland flood threat from East Texas and Louisiana all the way up to Tennessee and Kentucky, and possible east of that in the coming days.

EAST COAST STORMS

As expected, lots of strong and severe thunderstorms popped up in the Northeast Monday, sending plenty of trees and powerlines crashing down, sometimes onto cars and houses. Flash flooding became a real problem, especially in parts of southern Vermont and New Hampshire.

Only one tornado was reported so far, an EF-0 with 70 mph winds that trashed some trees in Maryland.
Departing storm clouds cast an orange glow at sunset last
evening in St. Albans, Vermont.

Here in Vermont, flooding was pretty widespread in and around Brattleboro. A large mudslide closed Route 30 northwest of Brattleboro. The Brattleboro Reformer also reported mudslides along Route 5 and Route 9. Back roads had washouts.

Parts of Rutland City also flooded amid the heavy rains.

Today, only scattered showers and thunderstorms are likely across the Northeast, including Vermont.

No more flooding is expected, except in northern Maine, where the storms might be heavy enough to cause further flash flooding

Here's a video of some flooding along Route 9 west of Brattleboro, Vermont: