Sunday, May 31, 2015

Social Media Buzzword In California: #droughtshaming

A man documents California water wasting to post on social
media. Image from The Today Show.  
Despite a bit of out of season rain earlier this month, the incredible California drought grinds on with no sign of stopping.

The latest Drought Sign Of the Apocalypse: There is now zero percent of normal snowpack in the Sierra Nevada.

That's the snow that should be there now running into reservoirs to help get California through its normal long dry summer.

There's just little patches of snow up there. Nothing to really help quench California's thirst.

As reservoirs lower and dry vegetation threatens to burst into flames, Californians are being told more and more urgently: Don't waste ANY water.

A few people might not be getting that memo, or feel like they are above water restrictions.

That has led to a new trend in California, says The Guardian newspaper: Drought shaming, or in the hashtag vernacular of Twitter, #droughtshaming.

Probably inevitably, notes the Guardian, the drought shaming has become the latest war between the ultra rich 1 percent, and the rest of us.

Says The Guardian:

"Targets in the past few weeks have included Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, for maintaining obscenely green, lush lawns, visible from the air; Walmart, for sourcing its bottled water from the drought-stricken state at enormous profit; rich Beverly Hills residents, for filling up their pools; and even a local Ritz hotel that was 'water misting' its too-rich-to-be-hot patrons."

Of course, drought shaming via social media is an alternative to getting real data about real water wasters, because in many cases, such data is no longer available.

It's now next to impossible for water managers to get real data on who is actually wasting water and who is not, according to Mother Jones,  originally reported by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting.  

From Mother Jones:

"In 1997, state legislators voted to weaken an important open government law, the California Public Records Act. The reason: Palo Alto city officials were concerned with tech executives' personal information would be made public, as Reveal reported last month.

The move largely made individual and corporate water use private even though public agencies coudl have simply redacted the sensitive personal information - like home addresses and phone numbers - as they often do when releasing records."

Back in 1991, when California was also going through a bad drought, the Oakland Tribune sued the East Bay Municipal Utility District under the Public Record Act to obtain the list of the biggest residential water users.

The resulting Oakland Tribune story on the biggest residential water users, the district toughened conservation rules.

Now, with the public records laws weakened because of the sensibilities of Palo Alto tech industry executives, no such reporting can so far go on. Which means there are a few residential water wasters out there acting with impunity.

That is, until they are found out by individuals using the #droughtshaming hashtag.

So you see, drought has one other effect. It causes a lot of public discord and disagreement.

Maybe El Nino will bring welcome rains to California by November or so. Until then, it's going to be a long hot California summer. And I'm not just talking about the weather. I'm talking Californians' emotions and politics.

eveal asked East Bay MUD for the names of the top 100 residential water customers today. Even though the public records law was weakened in 1997, the district can give us the information if it determines "the public interest in disclosure of the information clearly outweighs the public interest in nondisclosure."
But the district is refusing to release the information. "For numerous reasons, including the privacy interests of our customers, EBMUD protocol prohibits the disclosure of individually identifiable consumption data of its customers," wrote Rischa Cole, assistant to the general manager of the district, in an email.
So for now, the district's 1.3 million customers in Alameda and Contra Costa counties who all are being asked to use less water don't really know how much their thirstiest neighbors are using, much less who they are.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Dallas Is The Latest Southern Plains City To Drown

Ellen Bryan of NBC Dallas/Fort Worth Tweeted
images of flooded cars on Dallas area freeways early today.  
The Oklahoma City metro got hammered by flooding earlier this month. Houston metro got it big time last weekend.

Today, it's Dallas and environs that are totally underwater.

Three to seven inches of rain swamped the already soggy city overnight, and just before dawn, it was still raining hard.

In a rather dire flash flood warning, the National Weather Service in Dallas early this morning said, "significant and life threatening flash flooding is occuring near Duck Creek in Garland. Spring Creek and Howlett Creek are also likely overflowing their bans. 

"This is a flash flood emergency for the area from Garland to Allen. Flash flooding is occuring with numerous roads now dangerous and impassable. Multiple high water rescues are occurring. Trave has become impossible  in many areas."

The Dallas Morning News was blogging about an unfolding scene of chaos in North Texas early Friday. Dallas Fire and Rescue was pullling people from cars stuck in flooded roads. Television station WFAA said an apartment complex was being evacuated with water in first floor apartments. White Rock Creek was about to experience a record high flood crest.

Major flooding is now forecast along the Trinity River, the biggest waterway in the Dallas area. It crested at 40 feet the other day, just barely at major flood stage, and is now expected to go to 43 feet. The last time it was at 42 feet was in 1991,

The heavy rain causing the flooding is expected to crawl into eastern Texas today, causing more flooding there.

I'm sure there will be many more updates to this story later today on the news.

The rain is forecast to become somewhat lighter and spottier in the southern Plains over the next few days, but there's still the risk of heavy downpours and more flash flooding in what has been easily the wettest month on record for the region.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

India Heat Is Worst Weather Disaster Of The Year

Melting pavement during the intense heat
wave underway in India.  
Although it is getting some increasing media coverage in recent days, you could still be forgiven for not even hearing about an epic weather disaster unfolding this week.

No, it's not the Texas floods, though those are incredible, with billions in damage and at least 19 deaths.

Yes, tornadoes have been spinning up across parts of the Plains and Midwest, but that's not what I'm talking about, either.

The enormous weather disaster now unfolding is a terrible heat wave in India and Pakistan. So far, at least 1,000 people have died, and the unrelenting heat will certainly kill more people this week.

The Hindustan Times put it most graphically, as temperatures soared to 48 degrees Celcius, or about 118 degrees Fahrenheit:

"Humans 'boil in their own skin' at 48 degrees Celcius, the maximum temperaure record at Khamman in Telangana, which has become the focal point of a blistering heat wave sweeping through swaths of India."

True, other parts of the world, like Arizona and Saudi Arabia, get that hot and people do just fine. But they can retreat to air conditioned buildings in Phoenix and Riyadh. Not so in much of India, especially the poor and homeless, who must sit out there in that horrible heat. It's more humid, too, than in the deserts, so it makes it worse.

A disaster that kills more than a 1,000 people, with a spiraling death toll continuing, is usually big news. But every picture tells a story. More so than the printed word.

Heat waves are not telegenic. We are in awe of flash floods sweeping away buildings or tornadoes lifting whole houses into the sky. But a heat wave just bakes the populace quietly, with no fireworks.

The only dramatic photos we get are of pavement melting under the relentless Indian sun.

Heat waves are often the world's biggest weather killer, During a summer long heat wave in Europe back in 2003, 70,000 people, mostly elderly and ill people, died in the torrid conditions.

An extreme Russian heat wave in 2010 killed 11,000 people in just Moscow.

With climate change, bigger, more intense and longer heat waves are becoming more likely, so ore fatal heat waves seem to be a good bet

In India, the heat is forecast to continue for days. This disaster is only going to get worse.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Severe Weather Threat in The Northeast Today

A severe thunderstorm approaches St. Albans Bay,
Vermont in July, 2013. Skies like this
are possible in parts of the Northeast today.  
The Southern Plains have been getting all the weather headlines lately, what with all the daily severe storms, epic floods, and tornadoes that seem to happen daily.

It's active there today, too, but we've got a new region to watch: The Northeast.  

There hasn't been too much severe weather in that neck of the woods this spring. Just a smattering of wind damage reports earlier this month from New York, Vermont and New Hampshire.

That'll change today, as severe thunderstorms are likely to develop across much of the Northeast and parts of the eastern Ohio River Valley.

As is the case with most severe outbreaks, most people in this heavily populated region won't suffer through super severe storms. A few places will have tree and structural damage, big hail and flash flooding.

Most other people will probably get a good thunderstorm or two, but nothing to get your homeowner's insurance agent too worried about.

NOAA's Storm Prediction Center has a slight risk of severe storms in areas including all of Vermont, most of New Hampshire, the eastern half of New York, much of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and parts of Ohio and extreme eastern Indiana.

In most of these areas, strong wind gusts are the main danger from the storms, along with the lightning that is also dangerous. Hail isn't as big a threat, except in Ohio. The tornado risk with this system is quite low.

So, keep an eye to the skies in the Northeast, as we are likely to get the first real outbreak of strong and severe storms of the season.

The National Weather Service phrase for this is cheesy, but true: When thunder roars, stay indoors.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Houston, We Have A Problem

The Houston Chronicle showed
this chaos on the city's freeways  
The latest city to be tortured by the epic storms and flooding across the South is Houston.

Torrential rains fell across that city last night, and freeways are under water. The Houston Chronicle reports people are still stranded on freeways.

Most stranded motorists wisely opted not to drive into flooded areas, but when they turned around to go another way, they found their escape routes abruptly flooded out, too.

Schools are closed in Houston, buses aren't running and commuters are being urged to stay home instead of driving to work.

Six to 11 inches of rain fell on the Houston area Monday.

An epic line of torrential storms crossed most of Texas from west to east during the day Monday, aggravating the intense flooding that has clobbered the state and neighboring Oklahoma for days now

According to Reuters and other news organizations, at least five people have died and 12 are missing after the flooding over the last few days. Homes were swept away along the Blanco River in near San Marcus, Texas.
A bridge after the flood in Wimberly, Texas. Photo from
the Associated Press  

One of the deaths was the homecoming queen of a high school whose car was swept off a road by floodwaters as she was driving home from the senior prom. The governor of Texas likened some of the flash floods to tsunamis.

The nation, and the world, have been getting more and more of these intense precipitation events.

Especially in or near summer. Last summer, Detroit and the Washington DC area were clobbered by these types of intense flooding downpours.

You can't attribute every single flash flood to climate change, but the fact that these epic floods are occuring more frequently falls in line with what climate scientists have been telling us for years now

While climate change can cause droughts in some areas, it can also create more intense storms. Hotter air holds more moisture than cooler air. So if the atmosphere wants to unleash a storm and downpour, the air is now often able to dump more rain than in storms decades ago.

So you get the type of thing you got in Texas this week:  Record flooding.

The storms across the South aren't done yet. However, the storms and rain coming in the next few days mostly don't look as if they'll be as intense as those over the past few days.

Monday, May 25, 2015

More Extreme Weather Videos

This car was crushed by a tornado this morning
in Ciudad Acuna, near Del Rio, Texas.  
It's another day of stormy weather across the southern Plains today.

A particularly nasty batch of storms spewing hail, high winds, tornadoes and flash floods got going over western Texas this morning.

As of noon, the storms were gaining strength, size and coverage, meaning much of central and eastern Texas is in for a trying day today. As if the last several weeks of tornadoes and floods weren't enough.

There's already been a report of a 76 mph wind gust around Abilene, Texas earlier today.

Demonstrating how potentially dangerous this weather system is, a tornado roared through Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, just across the border from Del Rio, Texas earlier this morning.

Reports are that 10 people died in the Ciduda Acuna tornado.

The tornado lifted before it reached Del Rio, but that city still got high winds and flash flooding out of the deal.
Huge hailstones in Romania today. 

Violent and unusual weather has been hitting wide areas of the world in the past week. Today, a supercell thunderstorm dumped tennis ball sized  hail on parts of Romania. Serbia is experiencing dangerous flash floods.

Record heat has hit parts of Alaska and northwestern Canada. Eagle, Alaska, some 200 miles east of Fairbanks, had six days in a row with temperatures in the 80s last week.  It was 47 degrees on May 21 in Barrow, on Alaska's northern tip.

That doesn't seem like much, but that is by far the warmest it has been there for so early in the season. The unusual and persistent heat up that way is aggravating early ice melt in the Arctic this year.

In Turkey a few days ago, massive flash floods swept away cars, buildings and people. Have a look in this video:

For proof that Texas has gotten way too much severe weather, here's footage from of hail piling up to a foot or more deep in Pecos, Texas back on May 18.

The hail was so deep that the bottom of low clearance cars were scraping the accumulation and getting stuck. It looks like the worst of winter driving, but it was springtime hail. Watch:

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Epic Flooding Continues In Southern Plains Is Example Of Whiplash Weather -- Drought To Flood

Flooding in Amarillo, Texas in the past few days. From CNN. 
Another wave of incredible rains hit the southern Plains, especially in Oklahoma and Texas Saturday, Saturday night and today, causing huge new floods that are causing widespread havoc.

The region was in a long, severe drought until the rains came this spring, but this is way too much of a good thing.

It's now a bad thing, given the deaths,  property destruction, crop losses and other crises these storms are causing.  

The El Nino, which warms the eastern Pacific Ocean perodically seems to be coming into full bloom, and this pattern tends to create lots of wet weather across the southern United States.

Oklahoma City has logged 18.19 inches of rain so far in May, making this by far the wettest month on record. More rain is in the forecast there, but it won't be as heavy as the 3.73 inches of rain that inundated the city on Saturday, causing lots of damage to roads, streets, homes and businesses.

Record flooding is expected today in some rivers in Oklahoma and northern Texas.  Wichita Falls, Texas is bracing for record flooding, and more than 2,000 homes have been ordered evacuated. 

Flooding in Oklahoma City Saturday.
Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman 
There's been lots of trouble with people driving around barriers blocking flooded roads.

At least one woman in Texas died last week doing this. (It might have been in the person in the white vehicle in the dramatic video below, I couldn't tell from news reports if the video shows the vehicle of the 79 year old woman who drove around barricades blocking flooded Interstate 35 in Texas.)

Yesterday's torrents were accompanied by severe winds, tornados and hail in several locations. A num ber of homes were damaged by tornadoes in Blanchard, Oklahoma and Hays, Texas.

Lots more rain is expected in the next week, especially in central and eastern Oklahoma, the eastern half of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and as far north as Iowa. Several inches of rain will fall in these regions over the next few days.

This extreme drought to flooding event in the southern Plains is an example of something I've seen more and more of in recent years: Whiplash weather.

This refers to abrupt swings from one extreme to another, that might be fueled by climate change. Droughts are more likely with climate change in many areas.

However,  hot air holds more moisture than cooler air. So if the weather pattern changes so that winds shift to a direction to one that favors rain, the drought  not only ends, but a flood happens.

We saw this in 2013, when a severe drought in the Mississippi Valley abruptly turned into a big flood.

Abrupt temperature shifts are also on the upswing, it seems, New England suffered through one of its coldest Februaries and winters on record. Parts of the region are now seeing the possibility of the warmest May on record, or nearly so.

I also think we'll see more examples of weather whiplash in part because of the burgeoning El Nino. I'm not sure, of course, but that's my suspicion.

Here's the video of the vehicle being swept away in Texas:

Another video showing lots of flooding around Elk City, Oklahoma on Saturday.

Friday, May 22, 2015

New England, Northern New York To Freeze Tonight

It's been a summery May so far in New England, but
widespread frosts and freezes are likely in the
interior Northeast tonight.  
After a brutal winter, things went directly to summer this May around my house in St. Albans, Vermont and in the rest of New England and northern New York.

Temperatures have run well above normal, and we've had spates of summerlike 80 degree weather and humidity.

That had people asking me if it was OK for them to set out their tomato plants and other sensitive vegetation earlier than usual. I've cautioned against it, over and over.

Well, I told you not to do it, so don't cry to me if your sensitive garden plants bite the dust in tonight's cold.

Freeze warnings are up tonight for a big swath across much of New York and New England. Northern Pennsylvania is under the gun, too. It takes just one cold night in an otherwise warm month to really screw things up, and tonight's your proof.

If you're able to bring any frost sensitive plants indoors tonight, do it. If you put your tomato plants in your gardens, cover them up, but even that might not do any good.

It'll probably get cold enough, especially away from Lake Champlain and away from larger urban areas, like Montreal, Quebec and Albany, New York, to kill pretty much any tomato, pepper, cucumber or squash plant out there.

Attention garden centers and nurseries: Be ready for a flood of Saturday customers shopping for  plants to replace the ones frozen and blackened by tonight's freeze.

I wouldn't be surprised if some of the coldest hollows in the Adirondacks and far northern New England get into the low 20s tonight. Most places away from the Champlain Valley will get below freezing.

The only place in northern New England that seems relatively safe from the frost is Grand Isle County, Vermont. That spot is surrounded by the comparatively warm Lake Champlain, and should pretty much escape the frost.

After the frost and freeze Saturday morning, it'll start to warm up, especially by Sunday.

All of next week, it's back to our early summer in the Northeast, with daily highs in the 80s, fairly high humidity and daily chances of afternoon thundershowers. A few places could maybe, just may e  reach 90 degree in the Northeast on Wednesday.

My advice? It's finally safe to put your tomatos and peppers out in your garden maybe on Monday, Memorial Day. Which is the traditional northern New England benchmark and when you should do this.

I told ya!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

They Make Everything Big In Texas. Including Hailstorms

LOTS of hail in western Texas on Monday. It didn't help
travel too much. Photo by Tony Laubach.  
I know. Winter wasn't that long ago, and the thought still makes you shudder, which means you are probably horrified by the photo in this post.

It's not a snowstorm, though. (Though it did manage to snow a couple of inches up in North Dakota during the past weekend.)

No, the photo by Tony Laubach is of a hailstorm near Pecos, in the western part of Texas. It accumulated a foot deep, and as you can see, didn't exactly help travel much.

Texas has been the epicenter of storminess this spring, with frequent floods, hailstorms, tornadoes and supercell thunderstorms.

An El Nino weather pattern seems to be developing, and that seems to favor wet weather and storms in Texas.

Flash flood watches and warnings are up for much of Texas today and perhaps through the rest of the week, as up to eight inches of rain are forecast for the next few days in northern Texas.

Parts of Texas, especially to the west, might get some more severe storms and hail today and tomorrow. 

By the way, some strong storms are forecast in New England, including my home turf in Vermont, could produce some gusty winds and hail today. But nothing like in Texas.

My new hostas might get dinged with a little hail today outside my St. Albans, Vermont home, but I probably won't be shoveling a foot of hail out of my driveway, so that's good.

Here's's view of the Pesos, Texas hailstorm.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Too Many Tornado Chasers With Saturday's Tornadoes

As expected, there were quite a few tornadoes in parts of the Great Plains on Saturday, all the way from Minnesota to Texas.

Also, as expected, there are quite a few new tornado videos on YouTube this morning. 

Luckily, it appears the largest, worst tornadoes seemed to avoid hitting large population centers, so that's a good thing.

One bit of concern. Atmospheric Scientist Marshall Shepherd - you might know him as host of "Weather Geeks" on the Weather Channel - shared an image on Twitter today that he saw from Paul Knightley, a British meteorologist with an interest in tornadoes

The image is in this post. Click on it to make it bigger and easier to see.

It's a Doppler radar image of a tornado, I think in Oklahoma, but the post was unclear. The different colors mostly represent different directions the wind is blowing.

You see the blue/green and red/pink in very close proximity to each other, and the colors seem "hotter" at the point at which they're closest together.

That's the circulation of a tornado. Winds are blowing in opposite directions on either side of the tornado, so that's why you get the contrast.

This isn't the disturbing part. It's just a classic radar image of a tornado. Great for meteorology textbooks, if they make textbooks anymore.

Here's what bothers me: Look in the mostly purple area, just to the right of the tornado. If you look closely, those red dots are tornado chasers on a nearby road, filming and watching the tornado.

It appears the tornado is heading to the northeast in this image, just to the north of the long line of tornado chasers.  But what if the twister suddenly decided to change directions, as they sometimes do, and make a run at the chasers?

With the tornado so close and so many cars in the way, they never would have been able to get out of the way in time is my guess.

If what I'm saying is true, this is worrying. We already had some tornado chasers die in 2013. Is it worth losing more lives to get videos of tornadoes?  Yes, I like those videos and watch them all the time. I don't think boycotting them wouldn't change anything, but still.

Just a bit chilling, ya think?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Destructive Tornadoes Possible On Plains Today

Severe storm near Brule, Nebraska Friday.
Photo by Brett Wright on Twitter @WxMstr  
NOAA's Storm Prediction Center has a moderate risk of tornadoes today, especially in much of Kansas and Oklahoma.

This could easily be one of the worst outbreaks of severe weather so far this spring, maybe even the worst.

It just depends upon whether the tornadoes cooperate, or mow through urban areas like around Wichita, Kansas or Oklahoma City.

The Storm Prediction Center says some of the tornadoes today could be "significant and long lived." so people in the areas under threat ought to keep an eye to the skies and have a path cleared to the tornado shelters, just in case.

Thunderstorms early this morning might have disrupted the potential for the big tornadoes a little bit later today, but the atmospheric energy entering the picture should be more than enough to stir up some really bad weather.

As a preview to today, there were nine reports of tornadoes on Friday, one of which caused three injuries in Texas.

 Here's a large tornado near Torrington, Wyoming yesterday:

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A Couple Of Images, Videos To Remind You Severe Weather Season Is At Peak

Incredible cloud structure of a storm that
had a tornado warning with it near Eads, Oklahoma
last week. Photo by Everett Occhipinti, on
Twitter   @Ejocch  
Another round of severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, hail barrages and floods is set to blossom across the Great Plains Friday and especially Saturday as we are in the peak of severe weather season.

NOAA's Storm Prediction Center says preliminary data shows there have been 384 reports of tornadoes so far this year in the United States.

That compares to 325 through May 31 of last year, so the trend in the past two or three years of fewer tornadoes seems to be waning.

There will certainly be a number of new tornado reports by Monday.  We can hope that none hit populated areas, but of course you can't count on that kind of luck. Just ask the people picking up the pieces from last week's tornadoes in Van, Texas and Delmont, South Dakota. 

I've said it before: It's sad that we get such incredible photos and videos of the incredible power of nature, but the unfair tradeoff, at least to us humans, is the sadness and tragedy of fatal tornadoes in innocent American towns.

All we can do is warn people in harm's way, and keep the science research to improve those warnings and build more tornado-resistant buildings.

And we will still gape in awe at these storms. Like this time lapse of a storm that came this close to producing a tornado as it swept through a part of Texas last month.

This next video has been widely circulated, but is still worth showing here. It's a tornado passing by or through a rainbow in Colorado earlier this month:

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Attack Of The Multi Vortex Tornadoes!

A multi-vortex tornado in Oklahoma two years ago.  
Tornadoes swept from South Dakota and Iowa to Texas over the weekend, sadly killing up to five people and werecking swaths of homes, neighborhoods and businesses.

Another severe outbreak seems destined to develop this coming weekend.

I noted something  interesting in some of the inevitable tornado videos on YouTube that came out of this latest severe weather outbreak. Some of the videos were dramatic examples of multi vortex tornadoes.

You can see some of the videos of this month's and past multi vortex tornadoes at the bottom of this post. Really fascinating.

Multi vortex tornadoes feature smaller sized tornadoes swirling within the main circulation of a larger tornado. They're especially prevalent in stronger tornadoes.

Suction vortices create little narrow paths of much stronger winds within an already destructive tornado The suction vortices can add more than 100 mph to the wind speed in parts of a tornado circulation, says NOAA's Storm Prediction Center.

Often, four, five, six or sometimes more suction vortices are swirling around the main tornado circulation like square dancers at a Texas hoedown.

The suction vortices are why you see such weird but sadly familiar damage patterns after a tornado. One house is totally destroyed, while the house right next door just has minor damage. The trashed house was probably hit by a suction vortice, the  house next door wasn't. Luck of the draw.

More often than not, you don't see the suction vortices in a multi vortex tornado. The dense funnel of the main tornado doesn't let you see them.

Sometimes, though, the main tornado funnel doesn't condense into a dense cloud. So you see the suction vortices dancing around, like in the past couple of days in Iowa and Texas.

They change and whirl and rotate around each other, always changing their form and picking up stuff from the ground and flinging it high into the air.

One such tornado hit the area around Lake City, Iowa on Sunday. Jacob Dickey - you can find him on Twitter @Jacob_Dickey caught the vortices swirling about and sadly causing damage. Fascinating, though:

Chasers with caught another multi vortex tornado near Denton, Texas late last week. also filmed perhaps my favorite video of a multi-vortex tornado, this one near Woonsocket, South Dakota last June. The suction vortices are lit up bright white by the sun, and they are mesmerizing:

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Bad Weather: Here Are Cities You Don't Want To Visit Today

Deadly tornado near Cisco, Texas on Saturday.
More severe weather is on tap today, mostly in
East Texas and the upper Mississippi Valley.  
Bad, damaging and at times scary weather is scattered around the United States and around the world today.

There's the usual springtime severe weather, and there's flooding, and tropical storms, and even a blizzard. The extremes keep coming.

I'll list some cities that in most cases are quite lovely, but ones you don't want to visit this fine Mother's Day. Also, don't take your mom to these places unless you really hate her.

Sioux City, Iowa and Wichita Falls, Texas: These two cities fall roughly into the middle of two broad zones that have the biggest risk of severe thunderstorms, large hail and maybe a few tornadoes. The Storm Prediction Center received 50 reports of tornadoes yesterday, mostly in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

Unfortunately, at least one death was reported with a tornado in Texas.

This zone of severe weather shifts east today, and forecasters say the areas I outlined above are most likely to be in for it today. This means the upper Mississippi Valley and the Red River Valley between Texas and Oklahoma.

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: This storm-battered city has already received more than 11 inches of rain this month and more torrential thunderstorms are forecast today. The ground is saturated, there's already been a lot of flooding and the area is bracing for more. Luckily it will dry out in Oklahoma City for a couple days anyway early this coming week.

Rapid City, South Dakota: A late season winter storm is socking parts of Wyoming and the Black Hills of South Dakota with up to 15 inches of snow. This type of thing occasionally  happens in this region in May, but it's still unwelcome.

Winter storm warnings are still up for a wide area in this part of the country, and a blizzard warning of all things continues for areas near Rapid City. You like to torture yourself with spring snow? Head to Rapid City. Otherwise, avoid.

Wilmington, North Carolina: Early season Tropical Storm Ana came ashore early today not far from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The weakening storm was still spinning near the Carolina coast today, and that region can expect gusty winds, dangerous surf and occasionally heavy rain.

Santa Ana, The Philippines: Super Typhoon Noul was crashing ashore near this northern Philippines city today, packing winds of 160 mph. Authorities fear massive destruction from storm surges, incredible winds, and huge floods.

The Philippines get typhoons pretty frequently, but this one is stronger than most and might cause extreme damage and lots of deaths. Let's hope not

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Very Big Severe Weather Day In Plains Today. Again.

A tornado menaces a North Texas industrial park
on Friday. Photo by CW Marconi  
Severe weather continues on and on in the southern Plains, and today will be another day of torrential downpours, huge hail and tornadoes.

The epicenter of the severe weather has been pretty steadfast in torturing Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Today will be the third or fourth day in a row with scary weather.

The biggest threat for tornadoes and severe storms this afternoon looks to be in the western halves of Kansas and Oklahoma, and in central Texas. 

It's good that the largest threat of tornadoes is in relatively lightly populated areas, there's still a threat in big cities like Dallas-Fort Worth, Oklahoma City and Wichita, so be on the lookout for that.

Today's rough weather isn't a totally classic severe storm set up. It's kind of messy. There's been repeated rounds of storms and heavy rainfall in the region, as I've noted. That complicates the perfect setup you need for big tornadoes, and also makes forecasting them a challenge.

There's a chance of long lived, strong tornadoes today, but it's not a sure bet. Let's hope any tornadoes that do form are brief and hit open areas. You never can tell.

Flooding is an even bigger and more widespread threat, especially in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and western Arkansas today and tomorrow.

Oklahoma City has already received record rainfall this week, and more is due. The saturated ground can't handle it anymore.

This unusually torrentially wet severe weather outbreak caused one particularly tragic death the other day.  An Oklahoma City woman wisely went to her underground storm shelter when tornado warnings sounded. But the horrifically heavy rain sent floods pouring into the shelter. She couldn't escape and drowned, leaving behind five children.

The severe weather will finally get on the move Sunday, raising the risk of tornadoes, high winds, big hail and torrential rain in the Mississippi Valley and points nearby. Iowa, Illinos, eastern Texas and Arkansas appear to be under the greatest threat on Sunday.

There's extreme weather elsewhere, too. Early season Tropical Storm Ana is swirling around just off the coast of the Carolinas with top sustained winds around 60 mph.

As I noted the other day, this is quite early in the season for a tropical storm, but not unprecedented. Ana will come ashore in the Carolinas, and bring the area torrential rains, gusty winds and beach erosion today and tomorrow.

Winter has made a return to places like the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming, where winter storm warnings, of all things, are up this weekend. These areas could get six to 12 inches of snow, locally more, propelled by winds of up to 60 mph.

Near blizzard conditions are forecast in these areas. Yuck!!

As always, the severe weather has yielded some pretty incredible videos taken by people taking risky chances.

Here's a fascinating multi-vortex tornado near Denton, Texas on Thursday. You can see the funnels with the main tornado circulation circulating around like participants in a Big Texas Square Dance:

Here's a view of a tornado, or at least a tornado circulation, as seen by videographer Chris Mance from a storm shelter in Norman, Oklahoma.

 Judging from the strength of the wind, I'm impressed by the construction of the house you see in the video. It appears to suffer relatively minor damage:

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Tornado, Flood Season Hit Hard Wednesday And It's Going To Get Worse

Brett Wright captured this tornado Wednesday
near Verden, Oklahoma.  
Oklahoma City and environs are a mess this morning, and things aren't going to get better anytime soon.

The city is used to severe weather, but the Oklahoma City was rocked to its core by several tornadoes, hail the size of baseballs in some spots, and record flooding.

See the tornado videos at the bottom of this post.

This all started Wednesday, and by this morning water rescues were still ongoing in parts of the city.

Oklahoma City had 7.1 inches of rain Wednesday. Hail fell for 67 consecutive minutes at Will Rogers International Airport in Oklahoma City. The airport was shut down amid tornado warnings and flooding.

The Oklahoman newspaper reported no deaths from the tornadoes, but 12 people were injured, two critically in the area.

Tornado near Halstead, Kansas on Wednesday. 
One tornado destroyed a motel and a storage facility, and damaged other buildings near Interstate 35 in Oklahoma City, Rescuers had trouble reaching the area due to flooding and debris on the roads, says the Oklahoman. 

Major highways like Interstates 35 and 44 closed due to flooding and flying debris. There was quite a bit of tornado and flood damage in the Oklahoma City suburbs of Newcastle, Bridge Creek and Norman, all communities that have been devastated by major tornadoes in the past decade.

Wild animals, including tigers, escaped from an animal park in Tuttle, Oklahoma when a tornado struck, but the animals were later rounded up.

Extensive damage was also reported in Kansas and Nebraska, where the small town of Roseland was hit hard by a tornado. Flash flood warnings and alerts are scattered in areas from Nebraska to Texas this morning as heavy thunderstorms continue.

Torndo damage near Mount Hope, Kansas.  
Up to nine inches of rain fell near Lincoln, Nebraska.

NOAA's Storm Prediction Center this morning had 50 preliminary reports of tornadoes from Wednesday in Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

Severe weather, tornadoes and flooding are expected to continue today, Friday and especially Saturday in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and some surrounding states.

Until now, it's been a quiet severe storm season. This week, clearly, it's not.

Severe thunderstorms, large hail, torrential downpours, and a few tornadoes are expected to repeatedly hit the central and southern Plains today and Friday.

Saturday looks awful. The ingredients seem to be coming together for a major severe weather outbreak, complete with strong tornadoes in from southern Nebraska into large parts of Texas. Once again, Oklahoma City appears as it it will be near the epicenter of Saturday's expected major storm outbreak.

Flooding will continue, too. Forecasters expect three to seven inches of rain, with locally higher amounts in the central and southern Plains over the next week.

From, heres a scary tornado, with multiple vortices,  near Lincoln, Kansas:

Here's a video inside a developing tornado circulation in Norman, Oklahoma on Wednesday:

Video of tornadoes, severe storms, and damage in Newcastle and Moore, Oklahoma:

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

(Sort Of) Tropical Storm Ana To Form This Week?

One forecast depiction of a possible
subtropical storm named Ana later this week.
This is just one scenario. Forecasters
are uncertain where this storm will go,
how strong it will get and even
whether it will form.  
Well, some of us have suddenly made the leap from winter to summer and skipped over spring.

After what had been a reluctant spring, temperatures soared into the mid-80s around my hacienda in northwestern Vermont.

The 86 degree reading in Burlington, Vermont Tuesday was the first 80 degree reading of the year and the hottest day since Sept. 5, 2014. Still, the hot day fell short of the record high of 89 degrees set in 1944.

The rest of the week will bring more above normal temperatures to the Northeast, including Vermont.

Our basking in the heat is not the only summer like thing going on. An early subtropical storm might form off the southeastern United States coast in the next couple of days.

Tropical systems are normally creatures of the late summer and fall, and Atlantic hurricane season doesn't officially start until June 1, but weather systems don't always follow the calendar or schedules or appointment books.

A few tropical storms or subtropical storms have formed in the past in the Atlantic in May or even April. So this is not unprecedented. Just odd.

True tropical storms and hurricanes have a warm core, as opposed to "traditional" storm systems that have cold cores.

Sometimes you get subtropical storms, which are often "normal" storms and low pressure systems with colder centers that then begin to get some complicated tropical characteristics, like spiraling rain bands and some tall thunderstorms surrounding the center of the system.

This happens when these systems are over warm ocean water. Tropical storms and hurricanes must form over water, and almost always the temperature of the water has to be at least 78, 79 or 80 degrees or warmer.

This warm water helps create these "warm" thunderstorms near the center of the storm, turning a plain old storm into something subtropical. Sometimes the subtropical storm entirely completes a transition to a tropical storm or even hurricane.

The current system is forming as a "normal" low pressure system along an old weather front in the Bahamas.

It might start to acquire some of the properties that characterize tropical storms as it moves north, making this thing a subtropical storm.

Subtropical storms still get names from the National Hurricane Center, and if this one gets going, it will be named "Ana"

It's still not entirely certain if "Ana" will form, and if so, where it will go. The system is going to move slowly, as it will be trapped south of a strong high pressure system that will be giving the Northeast its summery weather over the next several days.

People living in the southeastern U.S. coast from North Carolina to South Florida should be aware would-be Ana could come close enough to the coast to cause heavy rain, gusty winds, and long periods of battering surf that could do a real number on beaches and coastal structures.

The possible early formation of Ana doesn't really say anything about how busy the Atlantic hurricane season will be.

There is an El Nino going on, which is a warm area of water in the Pacific Ocean. When there is an El Nino, there tends to be fewer tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean than usual.

But a few still form, and if one gets big and hits the coast, then you're really screwed. For instance, 1992 was a quiet hurricane year, but one of those hurricanes was Andrew, which devastated South Florida.

Ana most certainly won't be a powerhouse like Andrew. But it's still a reminder for people living along the U.S coast that we're overdue for a major hurricane, and it could come later this summer or autumn.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Fire Weather Alerts Point To Too Dry Conditions In The Northeast

A firefighter works to contain a forest fire
near Bristol, Vermont during dry conditions
in the spring of 2013. Similar dry
conditions exist today.  
Today is probably the worst possible day to torch your burn pile, if you have one, pretty much anywhere in the Northeast.

Especially in New York and New England, it will be windy and warm today with low humidity. That's a great recipe to get a nasty brush, grass or forest fire going, especially this time of year.

The dead stuff from last year has dried out in the spring sunshine. Especially in northern areas, trees are just now leafing out, so drying sun is getting to the forest floor.

It hasn't rained much lately, so it's especially dry.  Bottom line: Don't do anything involving fire outside today. And please, smokers, just for once, don't throw your cigarette butts out the car window.

The fire alerts today point to another issue. It's getting pretty dry in the Northeast. That might come as a surprise to people who followed news of all those feet and feet of snow that buried parts of New England over the winter.

But the spring season hasn't been too wet. That was great because we didn't have much heavy rain to combine with snowmelt, which meant there wasn't much spring flooding.

Now, though, New England needs the rain. I noticed it working out in the gardens on Sunday. It's a lot drier than I'm used to this time of year.

The U.S. Drought Monitor has
dry and drought conditions across much of the nation.
The U.S. Drought Monitor has New England as abnormally dry, but there's no drought like out in California or other parrs of the western United States.

The dryness in New England and elsewhere represents an expansion of drought or potentially drought conditions in the United States this year.

In New England, the dryness is still far from a crisis, but we need the rain. A cold front tonight will product a paltry set of scattered showers, but no soaking.

Most of the rest of the week will be dry and warm, perfect for outdoor spring activities, but not so great if you want to wet the gardens or you don't want to see us slowly slide toward a drought.

Again, no immediate threat, but we ought to hope some showers due next weekend are heavier than previous forecasts indicate.

Meanwhile, put the matches down and slowly back away. No outdoor burning today, caliche?

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Not News Except In Northern New England: It's Spring!

Finally! A daffodil bloom in my St. Albans
Vermont yard makes an appearance on Saturday.  
Spring has finally arrived!

Readers in most of the nation knew that weeks ago, but here where I live in northwestern Vermont, things move slowly.

Spring really just showed up in the past couple of days.

I know, astronomical spring arrived back in March. And we had a few days of bonafide spring weather in April.

But the green, lush, flowery, warm blooming effects of real spring seemed even later to arrive than usual after a winter that seemed to never end.

Just over a week ago, in fact, it snowed here in Vermont.

As is often the case when spring arrives late, it comes in in a rush, basically transitioning from winter's grasp to summer's embrace in a blink of an eye.

Temperatures yesterday afternoon were summery, and are forecast to be at least as warm today and Monday.  Parts of northern New England could flirt with 80 degrees.

The rush to green has begun.

Yesterday, when I drove to work shortly after dawn, none of the trees along the roadside had leaves yet. When I drove home along the same route late yesterday afternoon, some of the trees had popped out some fragile mint green colored leaves, glistening in the sun.

When I left home in the morning, daffodils were budding, just itching to bloom. By evening, many of them were.

My lilac tree is promising lots of blooms. Many of the green buds are now turning purple, hinting at the blossoms to come.

The lawn that was brown three days ago is green and could stand to be mowed now.

Weather forecasts have no mention of snow, but do mention the chance of spring and summer type thundershowers toward next weekend.  Temperatures every day in Vermont through next weekend will at least get well into the 60s, often into the 70s.

I might be jinxing things by writing this, but I think Vermont has finally joined pretty much the rest of the northern hemisphere to welcome spring.

It's been a long time coming.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Finding The Bright Side To Pollution: Hurricane Weakener?

Satellite view of Irene in the Northeast
in August, 2011 causing catastrophic flooding.  
Finally! A reason to love air pollution.

Particles in the air from cars and smokestacks and such could sometime weaken hurricanes approaching the U.S. coastline.

Um, Yay?

Oh sure, there's lots to hate about air pollution. It causes illness, lung disease, early death. Plus it's unpleasant.

But according to Dr. Jeff Masters in his Weather Underground blog, air pollution might help weaken hurricanes if they encounter the junk we belch into the air day in and day out.

Citing research published recent in the Journal of Atmosphere Science, Masters said a study look at Hurricane Irene as it approached the North Carolina coast in August, 2011.

Irene had just gone through an eyewall replacement cycle, a common occurence in hurricanes in which the band of intense thunderstorms around the storm's eye reorganized. During the eyewall replacement cycle, a hurricane will usually temporary weaken, then regain strength as the replacement cycle is complete.

This time, Irene did not restrengthen when it finished an eyewall replacement cycle southeast of North Carolina.

Extreme flooding from Hurricane Irene
destroyed this Pittsfield, Vermont house in 2011.   
The research indicates that Irene was encountering air pollution as it approached the United States. The pollution particles reinvigorated and strenthened the outer rainbands of Irene at the expense of its inner core.  

So ultimately, the hurricane came ashore as a category one storm as opposed to the expected and more feared catagory three storm.

Of course, Hurricane Irene continued on, not as a strong hurricane, but one that dumped incredibly heavy rain on much of the Northeast, especially New York and Vermont, causing catastrophic flooding in those two states. 

This is pure speculation on my part, but I wonder if the outer rain bands, strengthened by the pollution, dumped more rain on New York and Vermont than they otherwise would have without the pollution. That combined with the downpours closer to the center of Irene, maybe produced a more prolonged and heavy rainstorm, making the flooding worse.

There is evidence that pollution weakened Hurricane Katrina in 2005 from a monster Catagory 5 storm to a somewhat weaker Catagory 3 storm as it approached the Gulf Coast.

A lot of good that did. New Orleans still drowned.

In his blog, Masters raises an excellent point: If pollution particles weaken hurricanes, why not blast every hurricane that is threatening death and destruction at landfall with particles to weaken it?

Masters reports that this idea is actually a bad one.

It seems the injection of particles must happen at the right time, when the hurricane is going through an eyewall replacement cycle. If you inject the particles at the wrong time, you might actually strengthen the hurricane because the polllution would penetrate to the core of the storm, intensifying the thunderstorms surrounding the hurricane eye.

Most hurricanes don't go through a hurricane replacement cycle at the most convenient time, right before landfall.

There's probably other factors at work, too that would make injecting pollution into hurricanes backfire, making the problems worse.

Still, next time you find yourself choking in the smog, remember, this awful air pollution might be your friend in the unlikely event a hurricane is approaching.

With friends like this, who needs enemies?