Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Dustless Dust Devil Raises Havoc At Chilly Rose Bowl Preparations

Tents and other debris are sent aloft during a whirlwind
at the Rose Parade site in Pasadena, CA today. 
As if the predicted temperatures in the 30s for the start of the annual Tournament of Roses parade tomorrow in Pasadena wasn't enough, another weird type of havoc struck preparations today.

A whirlwind hit a Fanfest area today in the runup for the parade. You can see it in the video, below.

The video is titled "Tornado At the Rose Bowl" but it was definitely not a tornado. Notice the clear skies. You need a strong, severe, rotating thunderstorm to get a tornado going.

This was a dust devil. But since there was no dust handy, it was a nearly invisible whirlwind until it started hitting stuff.

Dust devils or whirlwinds are usually pretty harmless. They are a tight swirl of wind that usually does little more than blow some leaves around. You can walk into one and be just fine.


Sometimes, dust devils can get strong, almost as strong as a weak tornado. They can, on rare occasions like today's in Pasadena, cause a bit of damage.

It was chilly and windy in Pasadena today, but the sun was out. The sun heated the ground, and the air right near the ground.

Warm air is lighter than cold air, so the air that warmed up near the ground started to rise. The rising air got caught by the strong crosswinds, that formed a tight circle.

So you got the whirlwind, or dustless dust devil that you got today.

There were reports of four minor injuries from this.

But at least it wasn't as bad as a real tornado.

Here's the video:

Let's Go Skiing In Algeria! Cold Now In Odd Places

Snow in Algeria this week. Photo by
@Ovardaigbal on Twitter.  
As noted yesterday, there's snow and cold in the normally hot southwestern United States deserts and near Las Vegas.

That's not the only place that is having frigid weather amid the palm trees. There was a bunch of snow around the Mediterranean over the past couple days, including a nice snowy covering in what is normally the sandy dusty reaches of Algeria in northern Africa.

Snow does occasionally reach lower elevations in Algeria, the last two times before this in 2012 and 2005.

It also snowed quite a bit this week in far southern Italy, where again, snow is a rarity.

If you want warmth, head north. Scandanavia was generally warmer than Algeria yesterday, which is saying something.

A big ridge of in the jet stream pumped unusually warm air into northwestern Europe, which explains the Scandanavian warmth.

Much of Europe is coming off its hottest year on record, so the thaw up toward Norway is a fitting end to 2014.

Head north to Alaska, too, if you like relative warmth. Delta Junction, Alaska tied a record high of 44 degrees yesterday.

It was 30 degrees in Fairbanks yesterday, which doesn't seem particularly warm, but it was 27 degrees warmer than normal for this time of year and just missed the record high by five degrees.
Snow covered palms in Lake Havasu City, Arizona today.
Photo via Twitter, @Lklettenberg.  

And Anchorage, Alaska is finishing up 2014 with above zero readings.

This will be the first calendar year on record in Anchorage where the temperature never fell below zero.

By contrast, it got below zero 18 times near me in Burlington, Vermont this year. (all in January, February and March)

Even St. Louis, Missouri, zillions of miles south of Anchorage, was below zero more often than Anchorage. St. Louis had four subzero days in 2014, in January and February

Today, two cities, Needles, California and Lake Havasu City, Arizona had snow.

If you've heard of these two communities before, it's because they are very often the hottest spot in the nation on many days. Temperatures in Needles and Lake Havasu City can get up into the 120s (!!) in the summer.

The Havasu News-Herald said it's the first time it has snowed there in 27 years.

So I'm sure the snow today was quite a shock.

But not as shocking as in Wyoming, where one town got down to 48 below. That's not including the wind chill.

Time to go get a hot chocolate, I think.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Will The Ball That Drops New Years Eve In Las Vegas Be A Snow Ball?

The last decent snow in Las Vegas in December, 2008. 
I live in cold winter wonderland of far northwestern Vermont and I can see Canada from my house.


Yet as I celebrate New Years Eve tomorrow, I might be dealing with less snow on the ground than my partying friends in the desert mecca of Las Vegas.

There's barely a dusting of snow on the ground where I live, thanks to a mega Christmas week thaw. But an odd storm is gathering strength, and could dump several inches of snow on many areas of the desert Southwest.

Depending upon how much moisture feeds into the very cold storm system, up to a couple inches of snow could fall on the Las Vegas Strip.

It does snow in Las Vegas every once in awhile, but not often. According to Dennis Mersereau in Gawker's The Vane weather blog, Las Vegas has had measurable snow 29 times over the past 100 years or so.

The most recent snowstorm came on December 17, 2008, when Las Vegas got 3.6 inches of snow. Their biggest storm brought 7.4 inches of snow on January 31, 1979.

This storm looks to be smaller, and there's still a chance Las Vegas, at least the downtown and Strip area, could miss out on most of the snow.

This storm is a turnaround for Las Vegas, which just this week ended its longest continuous streak of temperatures remaining above freezing. It lasted 381 days.

Other areas of the Southwest are also in for a snowy treat. High elevations, but really not that high, are in for snow near Los Angeles and San Diego. It often snows in the highest peaks east of Los Angeles, but the snow level doesn't usually fall to as low as 2,000 feet above sea level.

Winter storm warnings are posted very close to the Los Angeles basin. The National Weather Service says the snow could end up closing heavily traveled routes like Interstates 15, 8 and 10.

The Los Angeles Times says a few inches of snow might cover the normally sunny, warm Antelope Valley. People camping out overnight to get good views of the Rose Parade in Pasadena on New Years Day are urged to dress in layers as overnight temperatures will hover at or just above the freezing mark.

That's just it. Desert areas of California, and the Las Vegas metro area, aren't equipped for snow, since winter storms don't happen very much in that neck of the woods.

It's kind of like what happened in the Deep South last winter, when an inch or two of snow caused all kinds of havoc in places like Georgia, Alabama and far northern Florida.

Even if Las Vegas barely gets a dusting of snow, that could spell trouble. As the Las Vegas Sun notes, about 340,000 visitors are expected in Las Vegas for the New Year's holiday.

People expected desert weather might not be prepared for temperatures of around 30 degrees. And a dusting of snow could really ice up the streets, since Las Vegas doesn't exactly have a zillion salt spreading trucks ready to go.

The cold weather could freeze up water pipes, too, since houses in and around Las Vegas aren't insulated for very cold temperatures.

For the nation as a whole, it's been a very warm December until now, which is a contrast to last year, which was very cold.

But winter is making up for lost time. In addition to the Southwest snow, winter storm warnings are up for much of West Texas because of a forecast mix of freezing rain and sleet Wednesday.

Wind chill advisories are up for a vast area of the Northern Plains.

And that big thaw we had around my home in northwestern Vermont? It's over. After highs near 50 early Sunday morning, the temperature is forecast to only make it into the upper teens today.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Good News: Nation Has Had A Three-Year Tornado Drought

Twin tornadoes rip through Nebraska in June. The mayhem
in this photo aside, 2014 will be the third year in a row
with fewer than the normal number of
tornadoes in the United States.  
Despite the Christmas week tornadoes in the South, and a possible tornado today in Georgia,  the year 2014 is going down as having among the fewest tornadoes in United States since at least the early 1950s.  

The two previous years also had a dearth of tornados.

Of course, you wouldn't think so, given some of the dramatic tornadoes in recent years, like the huge Moore, Oklahoma tornado in 2013 and the incredible double tornado that swept across part of Nebraska this past June.

But those are two of the highlights. The actual number of tornadoes is down. Way down.

On average, the nation gets about 1,260 tornadoes a year. So far this year, it's been closer to 900.

Most of the tornadoes that happen in the United States aren't those blockbusters you see on the news that destroy whole towns. Most of them are lower end, with winds of around 100 mph or less and don't last long.

Yes, they cause damage, but it's mostly in the form of damaged house roofs, broken windows, busted up barns and lots of toppled trees. It's stuff that makes the local news, but you won't see it on CNN.

There doesn't seem to be a hard and fast reason why the past three years haven't had many tornadoes. It probably has to do with chance more than anything else.

In 2012, as Capital Weather Gang notes, there was a big "heat ridge" over much of the nation that discouraged the moisture and the violent updrafts that create storms and tornadoes.

In 2013, there was a brief period in May, during which the Moore tornado hit, that was typical of the weather pattern that spawns tornadoes.

But that weather pattern didn't last as long as it often does.

In 2014, a chilly spring weather pattern discouraged tornadoes. Surges of hot, humid air moving northward from the Gulf of Mexico into colder air to the north is a key ingredient for tornadoes. We had few of those hot surges during the spring and early summer.

Unfortunately, we shouldn't count on the lack of tornadoes to continue. The number of tornadoes changes greatly year to year.

And we've been unlucky in the tornado department in recent years, too. The year 2011 brought the largest single outbreak of tornadoes in the United States on record around April 27 of that year.

The 350 or so tornadoes between April 25 and 28, 2011 killed 321 people and featured a much larger than normal proportion of violent twisters.

The year 2011 also featured a massive tornado that destroyed large swaths of Joplin, Missouri, killing 158 people and injured more than 1,000.

As you can, the tornado drought is one kind of "dry spell" the nation can embrace.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Want Snow? Head To Europe

Want snow? Head to the highways near the French Alps
Then get stranded, as these people did.  
Much of the snow has melted away in northern New England, putting a crimp in winter sports.
True, the downhill ski areas still have snow for skiing and riding, but it's pretty thin otherwise in most areas.

Winter cold is returning to the Northeast later today and will stay put for quite awhile, and there will be little snowfalls. Some mixed precipitation is due next Saturday, as it looks now.

But I don't see any whopper snowstorms for awhile, anyway.

Where do you go for snow, then. There's the northern Rockies in the U.S., where winter storm warnings are flying for up to a foot of new snow, on top of recent snowfalls there.

If you really want snow, though, head to the French Alps. The only problem is, if you do it today. (Yeah, right) you might have trouble getting there.

A very heavy snowfall has stranded up to 15,000 travelers as roads became treacherous in the storm, and many people didn't put chains on their tires in time.

In addition to all that snow in the French Alps, gales have cut power in areas of Britain and France. Paris is expecting its first freeze in at least a year, and snow has spread to wide areas of Europe, including the Netherlands, Germany and the Balkans.

For those New Englanders who can't travel, the snow will return eventually, for those who want it. Much of the first half of January looks like it will be on the cold side, which gives us chances for some snow anyway.

Maybe we'll get flurried to death like we often do in the northern New England mountains. An inch here, two inches there. Over time, that adds up, as long as we don't get any mega thaws again.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Springlike Christmas Season To End As Winter Reasserts Itself

My back yard, St. Albans, Vermont, buried
beneath 15 inches of wet snow on Dec. 13.  
The temperature has been continuously above freezing in normally wintry Burlington, Vermont since early Tuesday morning and won't get below freezing again until Sunday afternoon or evening.

That's a remarkably long thaw for this time of year, especially considering the normal high temperature at the end of December is around 30 degrees.

It's also remarkable that less than two weeks ago I had a thick 15 inch cover of heavy wet snow on m property in St. Albans, Vermont.

Yesterday, I was able to get to some autumn lawn raking I didn't get to back in November. Yep, the snow is pretty much gone.

But winter is about to make its inevitable comeback here, and in the rest of the country, and in other parts of the northern hemisphere as well.

Winter is already firmly entrenched in some parts of the country. It's in the single numbers, with even some below zero readings noted in the Northern Plains this morning. That's not particularly remarkable for this time of year, but it's certainly winter.

Much of California and Arizona is under freeze and frost warnings as a cold wave has settled in there.

The chilly weather is spreading across the nation, and by the time New Year's Eve rolls around the entire contiguous lower 48 United States will be colder than normal, or at least near normal in a few spots.
Yesterday, less than two weeks after the above photo
of my snow-buried back yard in St. Albans, Vermont,
I was raking leaves on that very same lawn. Big thaw, no?

Luckily, this cold snap isn't like some of the ones we had last winter, the one where "polar vortex" became part of the weather vernacular.
I see few if any daily record lows being set anywhere in the country during this cold wave, except maybe a few in the desert Southwest.

It looks like repeated cold shots will come into the nation well into January. But that's fairly typical of any winter.

Unlike the unrelenting cold in the eastern two thirds of the nation last winter, the cold waves will come to any one location, last a couple days, and then it will warm up, then it will turn frigid again.

Rinse and repeat.

The most interesting weather over the next several days might be a nasty snowstorm that develops in the mountains of Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.  Given the cold snap under way in that portion of the country, snow might fall even in the lower desert valleys.

Las Vegas, Nevada will probably go below freezing in the next few days, ending a record streak. As of today, there have been 379 consecutive days there where the temperature has never gotten below freezing. The only record of 378 days was in 2012.

Las Vegas will also have its latest first freeze of the season on record. The old record date was December 20 2012.

Winter is moving into Europe, too. A sizeable chunk of the United Kingdom is struggling with icy, snowy roads after what had been a mild start to the winter.

Some long range models for a week or so down the road bring snow to a lot of areas around the Mediterranean Sea, too.

We're getting into January. It's winter. We'll have to get used to it for awhile.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Jay Peak, Vermont Skiers Get Awesome Sky, Impromptu Atmospheric Science Lesson

From @erikosterlund via Twitter, the sky over
Jay Peak, Vermont last Saturday.  
It was the perfect day to ski at the Jay Peak Resort in Vermont, right close to the Canadian border this past Saturday.

The sun came out, the snow was great, the temperature was comfortable.

But what happened in the skies over the mountain Saturday afternoon was worth way more than the price of admission.

Some high, thin clouds, the low angle of the December winter solstice sun, created a spectacular show in the sky.

Skiers at Jay Peak got to witness such atmospheric phenomenon as sun dogs, two sun halos, a sun pillar and something called a circumzenithal arc, among other things.

When there's high, thin clouds, which are made out of ice crystals, you sometimes get halos, sun dogs and the like. But Saturday brought out pretty much all the gorgeous and cool phenomena that cirrus clouds can muster.

Let's explain some of them, for the benefit of those (like me!) who were not lucky enough to be skiing at Jay Peak Saturday afternoon.

We'll start with sun dogs. When the sun shines through the ice crystals in those high thing clouds, a bright spot forms near the sun, at least when the ice crystals are laying flat, in a horizontally.

It's called a sun dog, I think, because it looks like a little companion to the sun, kind of like a dog taking a walk with its owner.

There was also a halo around the sun Saturday afternoon at Jay Peak. Those form when the ice crystals in the high, thin clouds are not all horizonal, but jumbled in different positions.

What must have happened Saturday is a lot of the ice crystals were horizontal, so you got a sun dog, but some of them were more vertical, so you also got a halo around the sun.

In fact, there were two halos around the sun, as you can see in the picture.

Now, what the heck is a circumzenithal arc? Say that five times fast.

A circumzenithal arc forms when sun shines through the top of an ice crystal and is diverted out the side of the crystal instead of going through.

You have to be at the right angle with the sun to see them, and there has to be a relative lack of clouds where the arc forms in order to see it. Jay Peak skiers got lucky.

Circumzenithal arcs are often referred to a upside down rainbows, or, the way I prefer, a grin in the sky.

Major Storm Settles Down, Very Slightly

This house in Amite, Louisiana was trashed
by a tornado Tuesday.  
After causing havoc near the Gulf Coast yesterday and last night with deadly tornadoes and flash floods, the blossoming, large storm in the eastern half of the country is behaving slightly better this morning.

I emphasize the word "slightly."

There's still the risk of tornadoes or at least severe thunderstorms in northern Florida, southeastern Georgia and part of South Carolina.  

Flooding is also still a threat in northern Florida and Georgia.

As the storm moves north and brings batches of rain north, flooding is also a concern in New England and northern New York.

Luckily, any flooding there will be relatively minor:  Wet basements, low lying roads under water, field flooding, streets with snow-clogged storm drains, that kind of thing.

Winds will be an issue over the eastern Great Lakes as well. Widespread gusts over 50 mph are likely from Michigan to New York, with a few areas seeing gusts to over 60 mph, which could cause local power outages and some damage.

There's going to be a stripe of snow later today with this thing going through central and eastern Illinois, western Indiana and a good chunk of Michigan. On the bright side, those areas will get a white Christmas. On the bad side, the roads out there will be lousy.

Here where I sit in St. Albans, Vermont, the first good batch of rain with this storm has hit, the wind has picked up a bit, the snow is melting and it's very, very wet out there. Not the most pleasant of Christmas Eves, let me tell you.

Those four tornado deaths in Mississippi yesterday make this the state's deadliest December tornado outbreak since 1953, by the way.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Tornado Tragedy In Mississippi

It seems the big storm anticipated in the eastern United States is already much worse than many thought it would be.

As the storm gathered steam near the Gulf Coast, pretty much all forecasters expected some severe thunderstorms and maybe a couple of tornadoes.
But today's severe weather was tragically way more intense than anyone anticipated.

As of this evening, at least two people had been reported dead and others injured as tornadoes, stronger than the relatively weak ones that seemed like would develop, blasted across Mississippi.

The deaths and injuries were in Marion County Mississippi, according to early reports by WDAM-TV reporter Megan Hodge.

A tornado ripped the roof off of a day care center occupied by numerous children, but thankfully, none of them got hurt. Adults apparently hustled the kids into safer parts of the building as the tornado arrived.

Tornado watches were still in effect in the Gulf States. There have been nine reports of tornadoes in Mississippi, Georgia and Louisiana so far, as of 6:30 this evening.
Tornado damage in Columbia, Mississippi today.
Photo by Chad Farber, via Twitter.  

With the developing storms spawning more severe weather than expected, I have to wonder if the entire storm will be a little more forceful once it moves north into the Great Lakes and Northeast.

I'm certainly not expected any tornadoes in those regions, but the expected strong winds might be a little stronger, and the rain a little heavier than I thought this morning.

I noticed the Storm Prediction Center outlook for a marginal chance of severe thunderstorms in Ohio Christmas Eve and early Christmas Day has been expanded into much of Pennsylvania, the western half of New York and bits of Kentucky and West Virginia.

Western New York is an odd place for severe thunderstorms this time of year, even if the chance if very iffy. You expect lake effect snowstorms, not severe weather around Christmas in those parts.

A strange storm indeed.

The storm has boatloads of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, too. There are flood watches out now for most of Georgia, pretty much all of New England and a chunk of northern New York.

A flood emergency was unfolding in the Florida Panhandle Tuesday evening. The National Weather Service was warning of an "extremely dangerous and life threatening situation" in and around Tallahassee as a deluge continued.

Several water rescues were under way, the National Weather Service said. Some areas in the Florida Panhandle had already received six inches of rain, with another three to four inches expected in the next few hours.

I'm sure there will some more rather dramatic news about this storm by tomorrow morning. And look for more nastiness up and down the East Coast with this one over the Christmas holiday.

And more weirdness. In New England mountainous ski country, the forecast for Christmas is rain and temperatures near 50. Meanwhile, atop the volcanoes in Hawaii, a blizzard warning is in effect.

I'm not kidding.

Christmas Week Storm Continues To Ramp Up

This British pooch encountered wind and rain
last Christmas. If he visits the U.S. East Coast this
Christmas season, he'll probably encounter the same thing.  
If you had a ski vacation in mind this Christmas week, it's Colorado's turn to shine.

A storm system marching across the country has hit Colorado's mountains, dumping more than two feet of snow in some areas.

That's all part of a big storm that has or will affect almost every corner of the country this week.

The storm has already caused flooding in the Pacific Northwest, but the worst of the rain has gotten out of there.

The storm, now that it has crossed the Rocky Mountains, will regroup in the Plains and along the Gulf Coast, causing a variety of hazards.

One piece of it, the part that brought all that snow to western Colorado, is now prompting high wind warnings for gusts of up to 65 mph in the plains of eastern Colorado.  Depending on where you are in eastern Colorado, the wind will cause highway problems with blowing dust or blowing snow.

Winter weather advisories and winter storm warnings are up for parts of Nebraska and the Dakotas for several inches of snow today.

The main storm will consolidate near the Gulf Coast today, bringing the risk of severe thunderstorms and maybe a tornado or two to that region later today.

The storm will move north, causing a wide area of rain, some of it heavy, in the eastern third of the nation today into Christmas Day.  Most of the East Coast rain will be on Christmas Eve, and will be departing New England Christmas Day.

The good news is the storm, though it will pack a lot of wind over a wide area of the East and Great Lakes region, won't be quite as windy as I first thought a few days ago. While downed trees, power lines and such will be scattered all across the the eastern third of the country, it won't be a devastating wind storm.

In Vermont, particularly, I had been worried about destructive downslope winds on the western side of the Green Mountains over the Christmas holiday, but now it doesn't look as intense as first forecast.

There will be strong winds, but nothing like the 70 mph downslope winds I had initially worried about.

Still, this is a strong storm, so expect a really stormy Christmas Eve in the East. Snow lovers in the Northeast will mourn, because warmth and rain will extend all the way into northern New England, which until now had enjoyed some deep snow and great conditions for skiers.

The timing is unfortunate.

Before the warmth arrives, some snow and mixed precipitation was falling Tuesday morning in northern New England. That could cause some travel problems, but the precipitation will change to rain this afternoon.

The exception is far northern New Hampshire and the northwestern third of Maine, where some freezing rain could continue to make driving tricky in spots into Wednesday morning.

Some flooding might occur in northern New York and in parts of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine over Christmas as the relatively deep snow cover melts pretty fast, and about an inch of rain falls amid the warmth.

It'll be mostly nuisance flooding, basements, low lying roads, poor drainage areas, that type of thing.  If you see a flooded road or street, don't drive through it. It's dangerous. And even if you do survive a Christmas flood in a car, do you really want to see the presents you bought for Aunt Marge floating away down the river?

There are some springlike characteristics to this storm. There might even be some strong to marginally severe storms in and near Ohio with this on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve, at night when Santa is pulling his sleigh, he'll probably break a sweat as dewpoints rise into the 50s in some spots, and temperatures will approach record high levels in a few East Coast cities.

In the Northeast, the precipitation will taper off Christmas Day, but the winds will continue to gust. So that giant blow up snowman in your yard might take flight, so be aware of that.

Good riddance to that I say, though.

Winter will make a comeback in the Northeast and Midwest, as temperatures fall to normal winter levels over the upcoming weekend. It already has turned colder in the northern Great Plains and it will stay that way for quite awhile.

But that's normal for them.

By the way, even Hawaii, where the Obama family is vacation, isn't escaping tough Christmas holiday weather.

A storm system unrelated to the one hitting the U.S. mainland is raising the threat of flooding and high surf in Hawaii over Christmas.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Are We "Weather Porn" Addicts? And Is That A Bad Thing?

There's nothing inherently wrong with viewing
images like this tornado in Moore, OK, but..... 
Lately, if you really want to create a storm in the meteorological  community, just bring up the term "weather porn."  

And this storm has nothing to do with wind, rain, snow or destruction. But maybe it does have a little to do with hot air.  Or not. You decide.

What precipitated (ha!) this latest kerfuffle among weather geeks was a recent article by David Bauder, a television writer for the Associated Press.

He noted that the evening news, and lots of other news sources are loaded up with weather stories.

This, Bauder seemed to argue, had as much to do with ratings as news value. After all, people are attracted to dramatic images of extreme weather. Weather porn, if you will.

I've always freely admitted that some of what I post on this here weather and climate blog thingy is weather porn.

Hey, I'm just as much a fan of weather porn as the next guy or gal, even as I know I also have a responsibility to offer sober stuff, non-hyped stuff, not sensationalism

I really don't see the harm in weather porn, at least in moderation.

What really drew a negative reaction, and I can see why, is a source for Bauder's story characterized ABC News meteorologist Ginger Zee as a "pornographer."

Here's news consultant Andrew Tyndall, quoted in Bauder's piece:

"If Ginger Zee reported in the role of climatologist rather than meteorologist, I would praise ABC's 'World News Tonight's' decision as a daring intervention into a crucial national and global debate.....Instead, she is more like a pornographer."

I, as a weather geek and journalist, and many outspoken meteorologists, have real problems with Tyndall's quote.

First of all, Ginger Zee has proven herself to be a highly capable, accurate and good meteorologist and journalist.

Also, implicit in the Tyndall quote is an assumption that maybe every news story that even touches on weather ought to be sounding alarms on global warming.
.....when we're done watching the dramatic tornado video,
it's time to help people like this. (Photo by Sue Ogrocki, AP)   

It's true journalists really have a duty to spread as much accurate information on climate change as possible.

But not every news story, not every weather story warrants an exhaustive examination of global warming.

If a storm is an immediate threat, if a tornado, hurricane, flood, blizzard, snow storm, ice storm, cold snap or heat wave is threatening a city, a region or a country, those potentially affected want to know what's up with this particular crisis. And how to protect themselves.

One the storm passes, that would be a good time to examine whether global warming had a role in the disaster or really bad weather.

Additionally, it's a necessary public service when people like Ginger Zee describe for us the implications and hazards of a storm or extreme weather.

That said, it's also true that TV networks and other media outlets love, LOVE showing footage of extreme weather. Frankly so do I.

I openly refer to wild, dramatic videos and photos of tornadoes, hurricanes and the like as "weather porn." People get off on it. I do, too.

Of course, this enthusiasm for "weather porn" gives me some serious pangs of guilt, and should for everyone who enjoys weather porn.

The people who were killed in that storm left behind grieving loved ones. The houses that were destroyed belonged to someone. The lives that were uprooted by the severe weather will never be the same.

I like to think our addiction to weather porn has a good side. That maybe it inspires us to help those who were victimized by dangerous weather. That it makes us lobby for better structural standards, and zoning to keep people from building in hazardous places.

I'd also like to think all these images of severe weather prompts us to become activists against climate change.

That's the hope, anyway.

The power of nature is thrilling, awe-inspiring, deadly, tragic and incredibly vivid.  I will continue to be a fan of weather porn, and I'm sure a lot of other people will, too.  

I just hope we don't sit back and do nothing once we've finished watching that video of an EF-5 tornado destroy a pleasant Great Plains small town.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Holiday Tradition: Weather Turning Ugly In Nation Christmas Week

Here's one depiction, anyway, of a potential
Christmas Eve/Christmas storm. Actual results may
vary, depending on updated forecasts and information.  
No Christmas holiday is complete in North America without really horrible weather striking some part of the United States and/or Canada.

Last year, it was a nasty flood in the Ohio River Valley and an even nastier ice storm in the Toronto region, northern New York, and parts of Michigan, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

This year, big swaths of the nation and sections of Canada are in for it again. Some of the forecast details are a little squishy, but I can give you the broad brush, as it stands now.

The first trouble spot, starting today, is the Pacific Northwest. A "Pineapple Express" sort of type of storm is hitting that region.

Pineapple Express is a colloquialism for a storm that taps deep tropical moisture from near Hawaii and swings into California, causing a big horrible downpour that can cause flash flooding and nasty mud slides. That happened a couple weeks ago.

This storm is a variant of the Pineapple Express. Now, a storm has grabbed ahold of tropical moisture from way, waaayyyyy over in the South China Sea and put that moisture into an express lane and a direct route to coastal Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.

Environment Canada says the Vancouver metro region can expect about two inches of rain in a short period of time today and tonight, causing some flash flooding.
Will all this snow that fell on northern Vermont
contribute to flooding during a warm Christmas Eve
rainstorm? It's possible.  

In the coastal and western mountainous regions of Washington and Oregon, up to a foot of rain could fall in some spots over the next few days. Many areas are in for at least four or five inches of precipitation.

Substantial flooding is forecast on a number of rivers. Also, parts of that region had a hot, dry summer with plenty of wild and forest fires. Where there's no vegetation left from the fires, there's a high risk of mudslides, debris flows and flash flooding.

The rain will continue all week in the Pacific Northwest, but the most intense pieces of the storm will enter the Rocky Mountains, where a pretty good Christmas week dump of snow is setting up for the skiers.

Once it crosses out of the Rockies, the storm will regroup in the Plains States. It'll turn into a powerhouse as the storm moves north into the Great Lakes States on Christmas Eve.

This will create a wide variety of problems. Severe weather is possible near the Gulf Coast Christmas Eve ahead of the storm's cold front.

Widespread areas will get nasty winds. This is especially true in the Great Lakes, coastal New England, the Maritime Provinces of Canada and the western slopes of mountain ranges in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York.

That's especially not good in New England, which has already seen two storms that produced widespread power outages since Thanksgiving. The region won't need a third electricity cutting storm.

Northern New England and northern New York are  doubly at risk from this storm. Aside from the wind, this region had a heavy, wet snowstorm last week. A light, cold rain fell into the snow three days ago.

That means there's a lot of moisture for so early in the season in the snowpack.

Very warm temperatures, an inch or two of rain and high humidities for this time of year during the upcoming storm could cause rapid snow melt and flooding in some areas of the North Country Christmas Eve and part of Christmas Day.

The storm will depart more into Canada on Christmas Day so the weather will settle down.

But an active weather pattern will continue into the New Year, so expect more storminess in much of the country as we close out 2014 and start 2015.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Weather Radios Are Awesome Christmas Gifts, And A National Weather Service Ad For Them Is Even MORE Awesome

A weather radio like this is a perfect Christmas gift,
and the National Weather Service has an
awesome ad touting these.  
I just love, LOVE a National Weather Service announcement offering the perfect gift idea for you weather enthusiasts out there.

The gift is great: A weather radio. But the way the National Weather Service touts it is beyond perfect.

The ad that says how wonderful the weather radio is is given in the computerized voice of a weather radio that announces the arrival of dangerous weather.

The National Weather Service has pretty much advanced beyond the crude computerized voice, but some warnings, especially weather radios, do feature the voice.

A lot of us weather geeks have a soft spot in our hearts for that awkward voice, that is somehow simultaneously emotionless and full of heartfelt devotion to all things weather.

Or, as The Vane blog puts it, "dorky." And that's totally meant as a compliment.

The voice, one that sounds like a guy being muffled by a pillow while standing in a culvert pipe and under orders to show no emotion WHAT SO EVER begins by telling us:

"Ho, Ho. Ho. This is your friendly National Weather Service weather radio computer voice wishing everyone a happy holiday season.

The voice is funny, but does have a good point. A weather radio is awesome for saving lives. Especially for those living in tornado prone areas.

You can program the thing to only give you a warning for your specific area. If it's 100 miles away who really cares. And you can program it so it wakes you up with a blaring sound tone if there's a tornado right near you.

That's especially handy at, say 2 a.m., when you're sound asleep and not paying attention to any tornadoes roaming your neighborhood. The weather radio's piercing warning sound wakes you up and gives you time to hide in the basement while the tornado passes through.

Of course, these weather radios are handy-dandy for any type of weather problem, ranging from hurricanes to floods to blizzards.

I'm glad the National Weather Service is using a sense of humor to grab your attention and convince you to buy a weather radio.

And if stodgy Mark Trail endorses weather radios, you know it's a good idea.

The ad concludes with a photograph of a snowbound National Weather Service sign and a totally deadpan, "Let it snow, let it snow, let is snow," and the editorial comment, "Just be glad I don't sing."

Watch the totally awesome weather radio PSA below:

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Perfect Video Shows Beauty, Treachery Of Recent Vermont Snowstorm

A row of what had been eight foot tall cedar trees
on the left side of this photo was smushed down to
three feet tall by the heavy, wet snow in
my St. Albans, Vermont yard last week.  
Hat tip to Shay Totten for alerting us to this video that shows the start of one person's beautiful but tricky commute to work to Green Mountain College in the southwestern Vermont town of Poultney

You can see why so many people had no power when much of Vermont got a foot or more of heavy wet snow and ice.

Look at all the trees and branches that came down in the video, below.  Power was out for a week or more in some areas.

Yesterday, a few more people lost power. A mini-thaw had set in. The snow is finally slipping off the trees.

As some branches snap back into position, at least sort of, they break through power lines, too.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is also in Vermont this week, trying to determine whether any parts of the state should be declared a disaster area due to the snow, the tree damage, the power line damage, and the arduous effort it took to clear roads of a foot or more of heavy wet snow, ice, and lots of fallen trees and branches.

Snow returned to Vermont this morning, but accumulations are fairly light. The roads are a bit tricky, but I doubt this new snow will cause many more power failures.

Even if it was destructive, last week's big snow was certainly one of the prettiest storms I've seen in awhile, too.

Here's the video by Philip Ackerman-Leist:

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Super-Scary Video Taken Inside That Airliner Caught In Japanese Turbulence

Marc Stanley, a passenger aboard
the flight that hit severe turbulence
near Japan, took this photo of debris
strewn inside the aircraft.  
This morning, I referenced in this here blog thingy an American Airlines flight from South Korea to Texas that had to be diverted to Tokyo after it encountered extreme turbulence stirred up by a whopper of a storm over Japan.  

Here's a heart-stopping video taken from inside the plane. I hope I never have a flight that bad. Twelve people were hurt, none seriously, thank goodness. I'm glad they make planes that can hold together that well.

If I were on that plane, it wouldn't help my heart rate that people were screaming so much. Of course, I can't blame them. It was terrifying.

The passengers had no way of knowing this, but turbulence almost never, if ever, brings down a plane, says

It will see, to passengers that the plane fell 3,000 feet or so instantly, but it's usually actually, 10, 20, maybe 40 feet, usually, says askthepilot.

Still, I'm told even that feels awful. I've heard it described as feeling like you are a penny in a spinning clothes dryer.

Injuries occur when people are not belted in or things fall on them as the plane bounces and rocks.

The reason this particular plane was diverted to Tokyo was probably not over concern the plane was damaged. Or at least not enough to be a safety concern.

It was probably diverted so that the injured could get quick medical attention in case they needed it. Secondarily, there was a big mess to clean up in that plane from food carts and what not being strewn everywhere.


Japan Storm Causes Immense Problems. Maybe In the U.S., Too?

Storm surge flooding
 in Nemuro, Japan due to a massive
storm there this week.
Photo via Twitter, @koutyakaden88.  
We're used to hearing about typhoons hitting Japan with terrible winds, terrible flooding and storm surges, but the country can also get nailed hard by winter storms that have nothing to do with tropical systems.  

Such is the case this week as an immense storm slammed much of the country, bringing howling winds of more than 90 mph  in places, damaging storm surges and several feet of snow to some areas.

I don't have details yet on how bad the damage is yet, but I have seen photos of severe storm surge flooding in the city of Nemuro on the island of Hokkaido. That region is being hardest hit by the storm.

Parts of Nemuro were evacuated ahead of the storm surge, and the city reported wind gusts as high as 89 mph.

The Japanese to English translation on the Japanese NHK news site doesn't work well, but it appears there are blown off roofs and blown out windows in Nemuro. 

An American Airlines flight, en route from Korea to Texas, was forced to make an emergency landing in Tokyo, Japan after it hit severe turbulence associated with the giant storm around Japan.

At least 14 people were injured about that flight, says The Weather Channel.

Parts of northern Japan are prone to heavy snows in the winter. You know how areas near Buffalo, New York and other areas of the Great Lakes in the United States can get lake effect snows.

In those cases, cold air picks up moisture from the comparatively warm waters of the lakes and dumps it as snow when it reaches the shore. We saw an extreme example of that where parts of western New York got seven feet of snow in a week last month.
Blizzard conditions in northern Japan due to
a massive storm this week.  

The same thing can happen in Japan, especially when a strong storm like this one gets northeast of the nation. Strong, cold west and northwest winds sweep across the Sea of Japan, picking up moisture.

When that moisture laden winds is forced to rise up the slopes of the mountains in northwestern Japan,  immense snowstorms develop. That situation, writ large, is happening now.

There have been reports of snow falling at a rate of five inches per hour.

All this storminess could affect you and me in the United States eventually, but it's impossible to tell how. With that storm, there's a lot of weather energy in the Pacific Ocean. That energy will ride the jet stream toward the east, like it always does.

That puts North America in the path of any storminess that does develop. Long range forecasts do call for an active weather pattern in the United States now through the end of the year at least.

Specifics are lacking, though, because long range forecasts are iffy, as I've always emphasized.

The rumored East Coast storm this Sunday is looking less likely. As it stands now, there might be some inclement weather, but I'm not seeing anything extreme.

There are signs there might be a large storm in the eastern half of the United States on Christmas Eve and Christmas, which could bring a lot of wind, rain and snow to a vast part of the country.

But again, that might not pan out. Stay tuned.

Elsewhere in the world, Australia is once again off to an early, hot and dry start to summer.  Being in the southern hemisphere, summer is getting under way there.

They've been getting unusually hot summers there in recent years. (Experts at least partly blame global warming for that.)

Big bush fires have already broken out, and they could get worse in the coming days, says the BBC.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

ANOTHER Whopper East Coast Storm? Well......Maybe. But Don't Hold Your Breath.

The thick layer of snow on my clothesline and the smushed-by-ice
lilac bush behind it prove I don't need any more
snow in my yard, St. Albans, Vermont. Possibility
of more snow Sunday, but no promises.  
You might have heard rumors that the East Coast would get pounded by another winter storm this coming Sunday.

I'll respond to that the same way I did five days before each of the last few storms. And the same way I did five days before the last non-events.  Maybe, but......

Get used to it. It's really impossible to tell with any degree of accuracy the way a winter storm might turn out anywhere in the country, but especially along the volatile East Coast.

I say volatile because each East Coast storm needs an alchemy of interaction between upper level wind flows up north toward Canada and down south near the Gulf Coast.

Along with that, there are so many ways upper level weather disturbances can interact, and so many variations on how strong potential storms might become.

Which means five days ahead of an event, you can never be sure whether a storm will be strong or weak. You never know if it will track inland, bringing rain, or just off the coast, bringing lots of snow, or way the hell off the coast, bringing the United States pretty much nothing in the way of winter weather.

There's enough alarm bells ringing right now in the computer generating forecasting models to at least keep a close eye on this weekend's weather. But don't be on a big snowstorm just yet.

Right now I'm leaning toward the idea that there will be some weather in the Northeast this weekend, but it won't be a blockbuster like last week's storm was.

The European computer models seem to be most bullish on a pretty big storm as of this morning.  But even there, the European model is hemming and hawing about this storm.

A lot of the American forecasting models are so far saying "Meh" on the idea of a big storm.

But as more information comes in, the computer models will come around into agreement. Either the European or American models will change their minds, but it's a little soon to figure out which one will win the bet.

By the way, get used to this. For the rest of the winter, if you hear somebody say there's a big storm coming in about five to seven days, take it with a grain of salt. Just keep an ear out for later forecasts to see if the rumor mongers were right. Sometimes they are, sometimes they're not.

In the short term, winter weary New York and Vermont is in for another winter mess, although this time it's going to be really a small mess.

A weak storm is coming through tonight and tomorrow, which will bring a little mixed precipitation.

That would make some of the roads icy for Wednesday morning's commute. Also in some areas in the region, there's still a lot of snow and ice weighing down the trees. A little more ice could stress things more, bringing down more trees and power lines.

Which would be tough, because some people are only now getting their power back from last week's storm, and they had no electricity for almost a week.

Luckily, a little wind and thawing this afternoon, ahead of tonight's light icing, might shake a lot of the snow off the trees in many areas today, which would help reduce the threat of more power failures later tonight.

A brief mini-thaw will set in tomorrow, but it certainly won't melt much of the deep snow in areas that got socked by last week's storm.

Plus, as colder air filters back in later Wednesday, some of the ski areas could pick up a couple or a few inches of fresh powder.

Even if the rumored storm on Sunday turns out to be a mirage, it's still looking like winter enthusiasts in northern New England and New York will have a white Christmas, with plenty of snow to play in.

In fact, there are hints that some more snow could fall on parts of the Northeast Christmas Eve, but don't count on that yet, either. If we don't know what's going to happen this coming Sunday, we sure as hell don't have a good clue about the middle of next week.

Let's just say the weather pattern looks potentially active, and stay tuned.

Monday, December 15, 2014

(Somewhat) Rare December Tornadoes in Southern Plains Sunday

Small tornado in Oklahoma Sunday. Photo via
Twitter by @wxmstr24  
The same storm system that produced a somewhat rare tornado in Los Angeles Friday stayed true to form and produced somewhat rare, for December anyway, in Oklahoma and Kansas.

Those two states are routinely hammered by tornadoes in the spring and early summer.

But in December, tornadoes there are infrequent. Of course, tornadoes are fairly uncommon in the entire nation during the Christmas season anyway, but they do happen.

A tornado near Harper, Kansas Sunday marked only the eight time a twister has been seen anywhere in Kansas during December since 1950.

Television station KAKE reported no damage or injuries from the Harper tornado. It was the first December tornado to touch down in Kansas in 12 years.

Tornado sirens went off in the Oklahoma City metro area at one point Sunday, but nothing touched down in the city, though there was  a weak tornado on the ground briefly in northeastern Oklahoma.

The storm system is unlikely to spawn more tornadoes, but is spreading dangerous winter weather in the form of snow, sleet and freezing rain in the Dakotas, parts of Nebraska and in Minnesota.

Here's a video of the menacing looking Harper, Kansas, tornado:

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Washington State Ocean Front Rapidly Erodes, Watch Houses Fall Into Sea

One of the houses that recently fell into the Pacific
Ocean at aptly named Washaway Beach in Washington State.  
It's wintertime in the Pacific Northwest, and that means a parade of gusty, rainy storms stir up big waves on the ocean and send them crashing on shore.

There's an aptly named place in Washington State called Washaway Beach in which the waves generated by Pacific Ocean storms are eroding the land rapidly, and houses and other buildings are falling into the ocean one right after the other.

At least three more went this week.

Coastal erosion is a big problem in many areas of the world, especially as sea levels rise due to global warming. 

In most places, the process is gradual. A large storm every now and then in most places permanently destroys some land, and takes buildings with it.

Just last week, St. John's County in northern Florida issued an emergency declaration as coastal erosion threatened homes and roads.

A few days ago, a massive storm caused enormous waves and coastal flooding and erosion in Great Britain.

At Washaway Beach, in Washington State, the rapid erosion has little if anything to do with global warming and is more a creature of local effects.

According to the Washington State Department of Ecology, the land near Washaway Beach has been eroding away at an average rate of 100 feet per year for a century.

Natural processes are making a tidal channel migrate northward, causing the rapid erosion.

The result is that people who bought vacation homes a decade or two miles from the beach now find the ocean washing their houses away.

As the normal parade of winter storms continues in Washington State, most people will just hunker down against the wind and rain. But at Washaway Beach, more houses will surely be lost to the Pacific Ocean.

Here's the video of the latest loss at Washaway Beach.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Vermont Snow Biggest Disaster For Utilities Since Irene Or '98 Ice

Crews try to restore power amid heavy, wet snow near
Waterbury, Vermont. Photo by Wilson Ring, AP 
My home state of Vermont is suffering from something of a weather disaster that has mostly escaped the attention the national media.

This disaster is mostly associated with power failures that have gone on and one due to heavy wet snow.

It's not like California this week with a lot of property damage. Here in Vermont, nobody has been killed or seriously injured that I know of so far, and only a handful of homes have suffered minor damage here in the Green Mountain State.

But the power failures! They started Tuesday when the storm hit, and from late Tuesday on through early Friday, there were consistently more than 20,000 homes and businesses without power in Vermont.

That number had fallen to just under 13,000 by early Saturday morning, according to Vermont Outage Map. However, some of the state's utilities say it will be until next week before everybody has their electricity flowing.

Utilities say this is their worst storm since the epic ice storm of January, 1998 or the devastation from the Hurricane Irene floods of 2011. 

That, of course is a disaster for the people without power, huddling in cold homes, not being able to run their furnaces, water pumps, Internet connections and everything else for days.

This storm also caused on Wednesday one of the biggest traffic fiascos I've ever seen.

It might seem odd to outsiders that Vermont is suffering from a snowstorm.  We only got 6 to 20 inches of snow during the main part of the storm. Aren't we used to getting a foot or more of snow routinely during winter storms? What gives now?

The problem is the consistency of the snow this time around. Usually, when it snows hard in Vermont, it's all light and powdery. The slightest breeze knocks this powdery snow off of trees and powerlines, and the electricity keeps humming to the lights, the refrigerator the furnace, and the television set that's airing "How The Grinch Stole Christmas."

This time, the snow was extremely wet and heavy, and at times mixed with sleet and freezing rain. The temperature hovered right near 32 degrees as the glop kept pouring from the sky. It stuck fast to trees, which bent and broke over the power lines all over the state.

The heart of the storm lasted nearly two days, which is longer than normal for a Vermont snowstorm, so this kept coming.

On Wednesday afternoon, a heavier band of soggy snow swept across Vermont just as the evening commute got under way. In Chittenden County, the state's most heavily populated area, the fast falling snow caught everyone as they were getting out of work.

Just as it is with power lines, wet snow is harder to deal with on the roads than the powdery stuff we usually get.  The powder usually partly blows off the roads, and isn't quite as slippery as the wet stuff.

Car tires compact wet snow into an exceptionally slick hard pack of ice. A bit of water on this hard pack makes it all the more slippery.

So, on Wednesday, cars with bad tires got stuck on even the slightest hills all around the region. Other vehicles got trapped behind the stuck cars. What for many is normally, say, 20 minute commute home from work took more than two hours.

The local bus service abruptly suspended service amid the chaos, so people walked several miles home. In many areas, traffic signals weren't working due to power failures.

In more rural areas, dozens or hundreds of trees and branches fell onto snow covered roads and highways. It took forever to get crews to cut up all the fallen trees on the road, then remove the snow. Some roads were blocked for a better part of a day due to fallen trees or car accidents.

Another thing that made this utility snow disaster worse is the weather after the heaviest snow ended Wednesday night.

The remnants of the storm have stalled nearby, and occasional wet snow has continued since. There hasn't been any sun to melt some of the snow and ice off trees and power lines. The continued light snow is the straw that broke the camel's back, if you will.

Trees and power lines that were tottering on the edge of collapsing under the weight of the mashed potato snow finally did fail when just a little more slush accumulated on them.

So the utilities would repair some lines, get the electricity flowing in one neighborhood, only to have trees collapse a couple miles down the road, putting more people in the dark. This has happened over, and over, and over, and OVER again since Wednesday.

Some of my friends at work said they'd get power for a few hours, it would go as another tree branch fell down the road, then it would come back, go, etc. etc.

Utilities have been working around the clock to restore power, so the crews must be exhausted. Vermont's largest utility, Green Mountain Power, has called in help from Massachusetts and Maine to help restore power.

I'm hoping people who are running generators don't get carbon monoxide poisoning in the meantime. I also hope nobody gets hurt with all the chainsaws buzzing amid the icy conditions out there, and nobody gets a heart attack from shoveling all this heavy stuff. So far, so good.

This storm hasn't been all bad in Vermont, of course. The thick layer of heavy snow has helped establish a very nice base for the ski areas, which will last all winter unless we get a mega-thaw.

Continued snow since Wednesday in the mountains has been piling up at a rate of two to six inches a day. This sets the ski areas up for a potentially awesome Christmas vacation season. (The power will have been fully restored by then, so if you were planning to come to Vermont to ski during Christmas break, by all means do so.)

Cross country skiing and snowshoeing is awesome in addition to the skiing. And the thick accumulation of snow on every tree branch has turned much of Vermont into a gorgeous winter wonderland.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. The snow is expected to end today, and the sun will finally come out, at least part of the time, later today and especially Sunday.

That would melt some of the snow off the trees and power lines, especially as temperatures rise into the mid-30s on Sunday.

Though more power failures might occur as trees snap back into their normal positions as they dump their loads of snow, at least the heavy snow will be off of them. Then the utilities can finish their arduous task of restoring power to all of us.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Tornado In Los Angeles Amid Huge Storm

Flying debris amid a small tornado in Los Angeles today.  
As expected, that immense "pineapple express" storm caused lots of wind damage, flooding and very serious mudslides in much of California yesterday and today.

Among the problems it caused was a tornado on South Los Angeles today. It was an EFO, the weakest of tornadoes on a zero to five scale.

Still, an EFO tornado, with winds of between 65 and 85 mph, but they can still be scary, if brief, as the video below shows.

The expletives by the people filming the twister are annoying bleeped out with loud beeps, which makes the sound more annoying than if we just left the expletives in, but it's still quite a sight to see in southern California.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

It's The West Coast's Turn To Get A Huge Stormy Blast

Satellite view of the "Pineapple Express"
storm pounding California today  
I've been harping on the slow, strange storm that has dumped heavy wet snow on parts of New England and New York the past couple of days -- 30,000 homes and businesses STILL without power in Vermont as of 5 p.m. Thursday.

Meanwhile, though, an even more intense storm is raging on the West Coast.

As of this afternoon, 220,000 California homes and businesses had no electricity in the face of huge winds and torrential downpours.

This is a classic "Pineapple Express" storm that' snow smacking California. The state has had what some say is the worst drought in 1,200 years (!!) so these storms have been few and far between.

The one hitting California now is probably the strongest one to hit the state since 2009.

A Pineapple Express storm is so named because this type of system grabs a fistful of tropical moisture from near Hawaii and arranges it into a fairly narrow atmospheric river that makes a beeline to the California coast.

Normally, this type of storm is a bad thing. A Pineapple Express usually causes damaging winds, torrential, destructive flooding rains and blizzards up in the Sierra Nevada.

This storm is doing all these things, but of course there's a major silver lining this year: The rain is indeed coming down too hard, too fast, and will create flooding.
Kids play on a shopping cart in flooded Healdsburg, CA.
Photo by Eric Risberg/AP  

But it's also putting a dent in the epic drought I've mentioned. They had a pretty good rainstorm last week, which moisten the ground and greened things up a little bit.

The storms over the past week or two in California haven't really translated into filling near-empty reservoirs. The last rains sort of just soaked into the ground and didn't run off much.

As Eric Holthaus in Slate points out, now that the ground is a little wetter, this storm is apt to cause some runoff, and fill the reservoirs a little bit.

It won't solve all of the drought woes in California. But it will help.

Another good thing about this storm: It's going to be a slightly colder one than the last one.

California depends on a deep snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains to gradually melt off in the spring, feeding drinking water supplies and agriculture in the valleys below.

But California has had near record warmth lately, continuing a trend that's gone on all year. The last storm was very warm, and it rained in most of the Sierra Nevada range. So they don't yet have a good start on building a snow pack.

This time, it is snowing big time in the Sierra. A blizzard warning is up for those mountains.

It's wild up there today. One high elevation weather station reported a gust of 147 mph. A few other high elevation spots reported gusts of between 80 and 110 mph.

One of the biggest concerns is the heavy rain falling on areas that endured forest fires amid the drought this year.

The fires left no vegetation left to soak up some of the heavy rain, and no roots to hold soil in place. So in the fire areas, there is a great fear of mudslides, debris flows and flash flooding. 

One more bright side to all this California storminess: The big waterfalls at Yosemite National Park are flowing again, after being dry for much of the summer and autumn.