Thursday, December 31, 2015

Images Of The Missouri Floods Look Pretty Scarty

A forlorn flooded McDonald's in Union, Missouri. 
Missouri is closing out 2015 and beginning 2016 with one of the state's worst disasters on record.

Flooding, especially along the Mississippi River and its tributaries, continues to worsen, as I noted the other day.

So far, 20 people have died in the floods since they began last weekend. At least 14 of those have been in Missouri.

Five of those who died Saturday were international soldiers attending officers' training at Fort Leonard Wood, AccuWeather said.

The five were in a car that got caught in flash flooding at a low water crossing.

Major roads like Interstates 44 and 55 were closed by high water. In one town, 20,000 people or so are without drinking water because a pumping station was overwhelmed by the water.

WPXI reported harrowing tales of a house floating down a river, and at another house a man and his dog rescued from the eaves of his flooded house after the two spent the night there.

Videos coming out of Missouri look pretty devastating. Here's a few:

Here are some houses in Branson, Missouri submerged in water, video from Live Storms Media:






Here's what the town of Union, Missouri looked like, via the Associated Press/KTVI



As this video shows, nobody is getting on Interstate 44 in a good chunk of Missouri anytime soon:


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Maybe She Shouldn't Have "Commanded" The Tornado To Go Elsewhere

Sabrina Lowe said she "commanded" God to divert
last weekend's tornado away from her house
If that's true it hit these dozens of houses
instead, destroying them. 
A woman named Sabrina Lowe of Rowlett, Texas is lucky in that one of those big Texas tornadoes last weekend just missed her house, and it's still standing, all good and secure.

But now, she's is - fairly or not - facing an even bigger tornado on social media for her comments to NPR.

I almost drove off the road while I was listening to NPR on the way to work the other morning. They interviewed her and she said this:  

"We actually went outside and started commanding the winds because God had given us authority over the winds - the airways. And we just began to command this storm not to hit our area. We - we spoke to the storm and said, 'go to unpopulated places.' It did exactly what we said to do because God gave us authority to do that."

I'm probably too cynical, but I have a lot of problems or questions about this quote.

First of all, you don't go outside when a tornado is approaching to "command the storm." Despite Lowe's heartfelt religious beliefs, the tornado missed because it just wasn't exactly on a path to her house.

I'm glad it wasn't. Because:

You could easily get killed by flying pieces of sheet metal, trees, and all sorts of fast moving debris while "commanding" a tornado to go away. Especially if the tornado isn't listening to you. Tornadoes never listen to you.

Too many people died in this tornado. We didn't need additional casualties.

Even if you believe God made it turn away from her house, why would He make it hit other houses? Like the 101 destroyed ones and 345 others damaged in Rowlett.

Lowe said she and her friends commanded the storm to go to unpopulated places. Which would have been great. I love it when tornadoes miss towns and cities and spin harmlessly over abandoned fields.

But, as noted, this tornado didn't exactly hit just unpopulated places. It mowed down what looked like what had been perfectly pleasant neighborhoods.

Maybe Lowe didn't think of this, but if she really had the power to tell God what to do with tornadoes, why didn't she tell him to make it just fall apart? Then nobody would have gotten hurt, and nobody's house would have gotten wrecked.

Plus, there's what? 7 billion or so people on the planet. Why would God give Lowe the power to divert tornadoes and nobody else gets that power?  I don't want to steal Lowe's thunder, but would God give me some lesser power to wield?  Something more modest than changing the course of EF4 tornadoes?

Like maybe melting the ice off my Vermont driveway after yesterday's snow/sleet/freezing drizzle storm? Just askin'

Of course, social media lit up after NPR aired Lowe's story about commanding the tornado. Most called her an idiot. Or worse.

To be honest, maybe we're being too hard on Lowe. Everybody, including Lowe, must have been scared to death as that tornado approached Rowlett and Garland. She might have just been acting out of fear.

Nobody is the most rational person in the world when they're terribly frightened.

Anyway, now that the tornado has destroyed a bunch of homes near Lowe's house maybe she can ask God to restore those wrecked houses to the way they were before the storm?

Or at least lets hope she's donating money, material or time to help those unfortunate tornado victims recover from this disaster.

December Thaw At North Pole Worrisome, And Has All The Weather Geeks Talking

The area of green you see curling up from the Atlantic
Ocean up to the North Pole indicate the rare
thaw this week at the top of the world.
The pinks and purples represent the more typical
minus 20 or so readings up that way 
This morning, it's was just a degree or two above freezing at the North Pole.

It gets above freezing there in the summer all the time, but in Dark December? Most observers have never seen such a thing.

Writing in Slate, Eric Holthaus quoted James Morison, the principal investigator of the Nortn Pole Environmenal Observatory, who said he never heard of temperatures above freezing in the wintertime there.

Its usually about 20 below at the top of the world this time of year. The North Pole is deep in winter darkness, so the sun surely can't heat things up.

After all, when we get our worst cold waves here in tropical Vermont and elsewhere in the good ole' USA, the air comes straight down from the North Pole.

So what the hell?

There's an incredibly strong storm in the North Atlantic, fed in large part by the massive storm that unleashed tornadoes and flooding in the United States in recent days. It's so strong that it flung a warm front all the way to the North Pole. Air from near Spain ended up there, and so it's warm.

It's one of the strongest storms on record in the North Atlantic, and is pummeling Iceland with hurricane force winds, and slamming flood-weary Britain with gales and more heavy rains. (The British Met Office names winter storms. For the record, this one is named Frank.)

Of course, scientist, climate change experts and plain old weather geeks like me want to know why this storm is so special, and why it made it so warm at the North Pole. It's warmer there than it is Oklahoma City this morning.

El Nino, that cyclical patch of warm water in the eastern Pacific Ocean, gets blamed for everything, including Donald Trump, so why not blame the North Pole heat wave on that?

The current El Nino is the strongest on record, and probably contributed to that epic storm in the United States. Since that big U.S. storm was a key ingredient in the giant storm in the Atlantic Ocean, the El Nino connection is plausible.

However, El Nino usually doesn't influence the weather in the North Atlantic and Europe as much as it does in the Americas, so the connection here is possibly iffy.

Environmental blogger Robert Scribbler worries the severe storm and the push of warm air far into the Arctic is a symptom of atmospheric changes wrought by global warming.

Ice melting off Greenland appears to be helping change ocean currents and creating a zone of colder than normal water in the North Atlantic. This, in turn, might be shifting atmospheric currents to create stronger storms in the North Atlantic, and sometimes causing those storms to fling warm air toward the high Arctic, goes the theory.

Additionally, some scientists think climate change is weakening the jet stream up north, allowing storms like this to punch through some warm air, or displacing the "polar vortex" southward on occasion, causing issues like the big New England arctic freeze and snow attack last winter.

This idea is still being tested and debated in the scientific community, but signs are pointing in this direction.

Of course, we have to be careful about blaming global warming on individual weather events. All kinds of forces drive individual storms and weather systems. This could well be a fluke, just a weird moment of Arctic heat driven by a strong storm and maybe El Nino.

However, there does seem to be a rising tide of more and more frequent weird weather events. This North Pole thaw certainly qualifies as weird. These trends could be pointing to global warming messing around with the already chaotic physics that is the world's weather.




Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Huge, Destructive December Storm Ending, Huge Floods Remain

Just the peak of a house roof is visible
as the Illionois River reaches a
record flood crest on Monday. 
We are slowly saying goodbye to the huge bout of storminess in the nation that cursed us with deadly tornadoes, flooding downpours, high winds, blizzards and ice.

But severe flooding is the calling card left behind.

Incredible amounts of rain fell in the Mississippi Valley especially over the past week. More than 10 inches poured down in many places.

The flash flooding of small creeks and rivers and streets and such have ended, or will shortly, now that the torrential rain has moved out.

And good riddance.

At least 13 people died in these flash floods, mostly in cars that got caught in high water along roadways. Proves the point, don't drive into flooded areas. You never know how deep the water is or how strong the current is.

A car can be washed away with a lot less water than you think.

As of Tuesday morning, 53 USGS river gauges in the Mississippi Valley were in major flood stage. A total of 434 gauges were in at least minor flood stage in the Midwest and Southeast.

The next phase of this flooding is the Mississippi River.  The Ohio and Arkansas rivers, too.

In a few places, the Mississippi might reach record high crests. In many more, the crests will be among the top five on record.

That's particularly amazing for this time of year. If you want the Mighty Mississippi to really flood, you need a lot of snow melt from its northern reaches or the northern reaches of its major tributaries, like the Missouri.

The massive storm causing the flooding,
not to mention tornadoes and blizzards and ice
in the United States yesterday.
Or you need extra heavy versions of the torrential rainstorms that sometimes strike the Mississippi Valley in the late spring or early summer. (That's how the record, epic Mississippi flood of 1993 got going.)

In December, the ingredients are never, until now, there to get the Mississippi into high flood. It's too cold up north, so there's not much in the way of melting snow.

December rainstorms aren't usually all that heavy or widespread, so that's not a factor.

This time, a series of December storms were indeed much heavier and more widespread than seen before.  Which means the Mississippi is now causing trouble.

Already, before the peak of the crest arrives, the city of West Alton was under an evacuation order as the water overtopped a levee and the water is expected to flood that community any second now.

The flood stage at Cape Girardeau in southern Missouri might make it to a record crest. Flood heights ranging from second to fourth highest on record along the Mississippi will continue all the way down through Louisiana to the Gulf of Mexico through the first half of January, say river forecasters.

Flood walls, many bolstered and made taller after the devastating 1993 Mississippi River disaster, but surely some towns, or sections of towns, will suffer catastrophic flooding as a few levees are overtopped.

There will probably be some flooding in and near Vicksburg and Natchez, Mississippi, notes The Weather Channel, and industrial and shipping activity around Baton Rouge, Louisiana will be screwed up for awhle as well.

Down in Texas, parts of the Red River might go into major flood stage this week. If so, it will be the first time on record that's happened along the Red River within one year, says the Weather Channel. 

Thankfully, over the next week, torrential rains will be confined to near the Gulf Coast, so not much water is going to be added to the flooding rivers just to the north.

Meanwhile, overseas, Great Britain had tragically destructive and record warm weather much as the United States did over the past week.

Incredible flooding has caused at least a billion dollars in damage in much of Great Britain this month, especially around Cumbria earlier this month and around York and Greater Manchester this past weekend.

Another strong storm is expected to cause further British havoc with heavy rain and destructive winds tonight and Wednesday.

BBC forecaster and climate correspondent Paul Hudson said central England will have its warmest December since at least 1659, when they began keeping reliable weather records there.






Winter Finally Arrives, Sort Of, In New England

At my St. Albans house, weather watching dogs
Tonks, left, and Jackson wanted no part of the sleet
falling on them outside and wanted back indoors pronto! 
As expected, if you're driving to work in New England this morning, expect unpleasantness.

There's a mix of winter precipitation out there, as the forecast from yesterday come true, generally.

The only difference is the changeover from snow to sleet and freezing rain is occuring a little faster than expected.

As of 7 a.m. it was still snowing in the northeastern third of Vermont on into northern New Hampshire and Maine, but sleet and freezing rain had encompassed  northern New York and much of Vermont.

Massachusetts, and most of Connecticut and eastern New York were getting sleet and freezing rain, too.

At 7:15 a.m. after an early morning that brough a little less than three inches of snow, sleet was falling, mixed with a bit of freezing rain at my Weather Castle in St. Albans, Vermont.

As of 8 a.m., about one to three inches of snow and sleet had accumulated in southern New England. Vermont, northern New Hampshire and western Maine generally had 2 to 5 inches so far.

By the way, down in Albany, New York, it started snowing just before midnight, so they recorded measureable snow on December 28. This was the latest first measureable snow for the Capital District on record, beating out December 24, 1912.

Expect it to be dreary at best in New England today. The morning burst of heavy snow is now blustering through central and northern Maine.  But there's still a fair amount of icy glop to come out of the sky yet today.

The huge storm that caused so much misery and disasters and death to much of the country is finally weakening over the Great Lakes.

(One thing we New Englanders can be thankful for: This storm is just a minor inconvenience for us, not a horrible disaster.)

As is typical when a winter storm moves up through the Great Lakes, a secondary storm will get going today near Long Island and move up the New England coast.

This means that while warm air has surged in high above us, allowing the change over from snow to a mix here at the surface, the new storm along the New England coast will lock in the colder air. We won't get any surges of super warm air down in the valleys where we live.

Which means the sleet and freezing rain will continue across most of New England, except in the far southern reaches of the region, where there will be some cold rain.

The pricipitation - whatever might be falling - will tend to taper off in most areas this afternoon, but patches of drizzle and more likely freezing drizzle will continue on through the late afternoon and tonight.

By the way, springtime in December is OVER for New England.

Oh sure, it might get somewhat above freezing Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, but certainly no 50s and 60s like we had.

And, it will cool off further as we head into the New Year. The ski resorts in the North Country  have snow now, and t's cold enough for them to make snow. Plus  there will be bouts of light but accumulating snow frequently in the northern New England and northern New York mountains, certainly into the first few days of 2016.

True, no deep powder days yet, but at least you have something to play with.

Told ya the skiers and riders would eventually get their chance to have fun.

Monday, December 28, 2015

New England To Finally Get Winter Weather

Well, it's a start. A dusting of snow appeared on my backyard
in St. Albans, Vermont on Sunday. It looks like a few
more inches of snow be added to this scene on Tuesday.
Snow and ice storms should be old hat to us New Englanders by now.

As December closes, we usually have experience with several bouts of winter weather.

Not this year, as we end what will be a record warm December. 

We knew winter would eventually arrive, and it is doing so now.

If you haven't heard, I'll break the news to you now: The drive to work Tuesday morning is going to be a wintry hell.

Partly because we're going to have a bunch of snow and ice to contend with, and partly because the first real winter storm of the year brings out the idiots. Some out there still have NO clue how to drive in the winter, and they cause accidents, and traffic backups and all kinds of havoc.

Do us all a favor: If you can't drive correctly in snow and ice, call in sick. Stay at home. Have some hot chocolate. Just leave the rest of us alone.

Today in Vermont, there's a dusting of snow on the ground, finally. This will be the first day this season that Burlington will have a high temperature that's below freezing. Usually, we would have had a dozen or more days like that by now.

Then the storm comes in late tonight.

As always with these types of things, there's a lot of questions as to what proportion of this will be snow, what proportion will be sleet, freezing rain and rain, and when any kind of changeover will occur.

The computer models, of course, disagree on these kinds of mixed precipitation and timing issues, but that's normal. Very, VERY subtle differences can affect whether it snows or ices, so we never do get the forecasts completely right.

As it stands now, expect a burst of snow or mixed precipitation in southern New England before or at dawn, before things go to a complete mix or just rain during the day.

Up in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, it looks like there could be a burst of heavy snow before dawn and continuing around the morning commute time, with accumulations ranging from three to eight inches.

Sleet and freezing rain will gradually work northeastward across northern New England during the day, but precipitation will lighten up some during the afternoon, no matter what form it takes.

But, expect lousy roads all day and into Tuesday night because of all this.

Looking further ahead, the springlike winter weather we had all of December is a thing of the past. It looks like we'll head into the New Year with winter weather, like we always do.

So far, I'm not seeing anything extreme, like last February's Arctic snow nightmare in New England.

But still, look for plenty of seasonably cold air - subfreezing mostly - as we close out 2015 and welcome 2016.

There will be a few bouts of snow as well. Again, nothing extreme, but something we should expect this time of year.

At least that will help New England ski areas start recovering from a Christmas holiday week that was a tropical, snow free bust.

Those Tornadoes Were Really Odd, Scary And Tragic

Damage in Garland, Texas, in an image
from Chopper 5, NBC DFW 
Some of the many weather geeks I read and follow online say the tornadoes that have pummeled the nation over the past week are nothing unusual, that there are often December tornado outbreaks.

Don't believe it.

It is true that there are often tornado outbreaks in the United States in December. I can think of some nasty ones in at least five of the past ten years.

But this one, in addition to the obvious tragedy of the deaths and destruction brought by the storms, was by many measures more extensive than most if not all past December tornado swarms.

Tornadoes are most common in the spring, when surges of increasingly warm and humid air from the south feed into large storm systems that still maintain much of their winter strength and size as they move across the country.

In December, such surges of warm, humid air are much more rare, are less intense than in the spring, and don't get as far north.

This time, the air was springlike, bringing record setting, unprecedented Christmas week warmth to the eastern third of the country, and extending all the way into southeastern Canada.

The other key ingredient was a very strong storm organizing and now moving through the middle of the country. It was likely fueled by El Nino, as this type of storm is energized by the El Nino atmospheric patterns.
Large tornado near Hampton,
Arkansas Sunday. 

The result was that terrible week of tornadoes. (not to mention the incredible floods in the Midwest and Southeast, and the blizzard in the southern Plains, AND the ice storm in Oklahoma.)

Here are some of the records and oddities of this December's tornado outbreak:

Deaths:  This stat is the most tragic of them all. At least 25 people died in the tornadoes since December 23. More people died in tornadoes in the United States in the past four days than in the entire rest of the year.

Until this outbreak, the natiion was on pace to have the fewest tornado deaths in a calendar year, with 10.   This is the first time since at least 1975 there were more tornado deaths in December than in the entire rest of the year.

Consecutive Days:  The United States has now had seven consecutive days with tornadoes. That's the most consecutive days in December with twisters. The old record was set in December, 1982, during another super El Nino.

And it apparently continued on this morning. Tornado touch downs were reported in Alabama and the Florida panhandle, and possibly Mississippi today.

Night: Tornadoes are obviously harder to see at night. Also obviously, you should take shelter as soon as you hear a tornado warning. But human nature being what it is, people want a visual confirmation.

Especially if you're out on the road in a car, it's hard to decide how to take shelter, and where. So people get caught.

Days are short this time of year, so a greater proportion of tornadoes in this outbreak happened when it was dark out, as compared to the more traditional springtime tornadoes.

With no visual cues, people were no doubt surprised by how suddenly some of these tornadoes came up to them.

I noticed that all eight of the deaths associated with the tornado in Garland, Texas happened in vehicles. People in vehicles who see a tornado during the day will often stop, or turn around or take a detour to avoid the tornado.

I'm guessing many or all the Garland motorists didn't realize the tornado was near them until it was too late. They just couldn't see it.

Violence I: The tornado that devastated parts of Garland, Texas and surrounding towns Saturday evening was considered "violent" rated as an EF4. Video of the tornado is at the bottom of this post.

Tornadoes rated EF4 and EF5 are regarded as violent and are rare. They're the ones that we hear about because they are obviously the most destructive.

The EF4 Garland tornado had winds of 170 to 180 mph on its 13-mile path through eastern Dallas County, according to the National Weather Service in Dallas-Fort Worth. 

It was only the second EF4 rated tornado in Dallas County since at least 1950, and was the furthest west for an EF4 during December on record. (If you do get an EF4 tornado in December, which is rare, it would tend to be near the Gulf Coast or southeastern United States.

The Garland tornado, which killed at least eight people and damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes,  was the nation's' first EF4 December tornado since 2000.

Violence 2: This one has little if anything to do with meteorology, but it was bizarre. Experienced and reputable storm chaser Jeff Piotrowski was chasing the Garland tornado when he encountered what appeared to be a man injured by the tornado on the roadway.

He stopped to help, but the man was faking the injury and attacked Piotrowski with a knife. Piotrowski thankfully escaped with minor injuries and the attacker was arrested.  At the time of the attack, Piotrowski was live streaming  on Periscope his chase and efforts to help victims, so there were man witnesses to this weird crime.

Early this Monday morning, tornado warnings were still flying in parts of Mississippi and Louisiana.

The outbreak of severe weather will finally wane as the storm heads off toward Canada over the next couple of days.

The weather pattern will mercifully turn much calmer across the nation as we end 2015 and begin a new year.

From Basehunters stormchasers, here's what they saw in Garland as the tornado tore through power lines and neighborhoods Saturday evening:



From USA Today, aerial footage of the Garland, Texas area destruction



Sunday, December 27, 2015

Great Britain, Too, Getting Hit By Huge Floods AGAIN. South America, Too.

Hebdon Bridge, England on Saturday. 
The United States is not the only region of the world beset by extreme, sometimes record breaking storms this weekend.

England, reeling from severe flooding earlier this month,  is getting walloped again, and the latest round of flooding looks at least as bad as the destruction a couple weeks ago, if not worse.

Parts of Argentina and Paragua are also struggling with record flooding.

BRITAIN:

In Britain, every river in Lancashire experienced record flooding during this most recent episode of British flooding, says the BBC.

Lancashire and West Yorkshire had as much rain in 24 hours as they normally do during the entire month of December.

Images on social media today showed villages like Hebden Bridge in Croston under feet of water.

Floodinb collapsed this 200 year old pub
in Greater Manchester, England. 
Flooding was halfway up first floor shop windows in Hebden Bridge, A 200 year old abandoned pub collapsed in Greater Manchester.

Greater Manchester and Leeds had particularly severe flooding, with major roads closed and thousands without power, says the BBC. 

Police said 2,000 homes in Calderdale and 1,000 in Leeds were flooded, the BBC reported. North Yorkshire Police said they ran out of "road closed" signs since so many highways and lanes were under water.  

The severe flooding comes less than two weeks after devastating floods hit parts of Great Britain, especially the area around Cumbria.

British soldiers who evacuated residents from the severe flooding in Cumbria a couple weeks ago were back at it, pulling people from flooded homes in Lancashire, the BBC said.

Severe flooding in Great Britain over the weekend. 
The Telegraph UK says the flooding in Britain has been so bad, and the damage so extensive, that the entire country will take an economic hit.

Early estimates are the flooding will take 0.2 percent of Britain's GDP. That doesn't sound like much, but it involves millions or billions of dollars in lost business.

The British insurance industry alone could face loses of a billion dollars.  

SOUTH AMERICA:

Severe flooding also hit Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay and parts of Brazil in recent days.

At least 150,000 people had to flee their homes because of the rising water in the region. That includes 90,000 or so people forced from their homes in the Paraguayan capitol of Asuncion.

The flooding there can be directly tied to El Nino, the patch of unusually warm water that forms periodically off the west coast of South American. The current El Nino is likely the strongest on record.



Let's Hope This Is Nation's Worst Storm Of The Winter

Terrible destruction in Garland, Texas after
last night's tornado. Image from NBC DFW. 
As noted last night, fatal tornadoes struck some Dallas suburbs last night.

Latest reports are 11 people died in the Texas tornadoes. 

That brings to at least 25 the number of people killed by tornadoes and storminess in the Uniteds States since Dec. 23. I worry we will lose more today.

We awoke this Sunday morning to enormous parts of the country suffering from very dangerous weather.

For one thing, the tornado threat isn't over, and we've had quite enough fatal, dangerous tornadoes already in the past week, thank you very much. Today's severe storm and tornado threat is highest in eastern Texas, western Louisiana and southern Arkansas.

An enormous flood warning extends from eastern Oklahoma, through central Missouri, Illinois and into Indiana as torrential rains continue to pour down.  An even bigger area of flood watches surrounds this huge, roughly 700 mile long flood warning zone.

Tornado destruction near Dallas, from WFAA. 
Meanwhile, a blizzard is hammering New Mexico and northwestern Texas. Winds are gusting past 60 mph, visibility is zero and so is the wind chill. Drifts are approaching ten feet deep in some spots.

In Clovis, New Mexico, for instance, they were telling everyone to stay indoors or else. And for good reason.

Visibility was about zero in the blizzard, it was only 18 degrees, and the wind was gusting to 64 mph. Snow drifts were already eight feet high.

An ice storm is looming in central Oklahoma. Winter storm warnings and watches cover another enormous area from Kansas to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Other winter weather advisories are in effect today for parts of northern New England.

WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?

Bad, dangerous weather often strikes the United States in the winter. But this storm is covering a wider area with a wider assortment of hazards than is usual. This storm is a real humdinger.

A lot of people are asking: What is causing this havoc?

When you scratch the surface, the answer is easy: There's a big, powerful storm system in the middle of the country.  It's pulling lots of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico.  There's also a lot of unusual warmth to the east of the storm, which is helping fuel it. The storm is causing a lot of lift in the atmosphere and stirring up a lot of wind.

So you have a big storm.

Drill down on the investigation and it gets more and more complicated.  The extreme nature of the storm, including the unprecedented Christmas week heat in the eastern United States, makes you wonder if other factors are involved.

The short answer is, Yep.

El Nino is probably playing a role. That infamous polar vortex is also positioned in such a way as to encourage weird weather in the U.S. And maybe, just maybe, global warming is playing a bit part in this.

I liken the investigation into the causes of this stormy mess to any other investigation.  Lots of reasons come to the surface the more you dig.

For instance, imagine you're investigating why a house burned down.  Perhaps the direct cause is simple to find: There was a short in the wire on a string of lights on a Christmas tree, and that sparked the blaze.

Mystery solved, right?

Then you start thinking. Why was the wire on the tree frayed? Did somebody damage it, or was it a manufacturing flaw? Were the homeowners blissfully unaware of the damaged wire or did they choose to ignore it and hope for the best.

Why did the fire spread so quickly? Were there smoke alarms to give early alerts? Sprinklers? Was the construction of the house conducive to allowing the fire to spread so fast?

It can go on and on.

So it is with extreme weather events like the one plaguing the United States now.

Yes, it's caused by a strong storm system. But why is it so strong? And why is it causing such a wide variety of scary weather?

Look more carefully and El Nino becomes a prime suspect. It's the strongest on record and it's mucking up weather patterns world wide.

El Nino tends to strengthen the jet stream across the southern United States. That helps make storms more likely from California to Florida.

These El Nino storms can be stronger than your typical winter storms, and this one could be a prime example

Another suspect: Remember the "Polar Vortex"?

Despite the hype, it's a real thing, and it's a cold circulation or pool in the far northern hemisphere that's always there, and is strongest and most noticeable in the winter.

When the jet stream up north in Canada is extremely wavy, the polar vortex can get closer to the United States, or a piece of it can break off and plunge to or near to the Canadian border. That's when we get our nasty subzero cold waves.

This year, a good strong jet stream is keeping the polar vortex wound up tight and confined way up at or near the North Pole. It's nowhere near getting close enough to plunge a huge bunch of cold air into the United States.

Some typical cold air is in the western United States - after all it IS winter -- but it's not the purest, coldest Arctic air that comes with the Polar Vortex.

Digging deeper into our investigation on this storm, is global warming a suspect? Maybe, but it wasn't the ringleader in this mass of tornadoes, heat, floods, storms and blizzards.

The extreme weather in the United States very likely would have happened with or without global warming. And it's very hard to tease out one weather event like this one and point an accusing finger at global warming.

That's not to mean climate change isn't culpable. It's very plausible that global warming made the Christmas heat wave just a little hotter than it otherwise would have been, which enabled more record highs to be broken.

And, global warming can make precipitation events more extreme. After all, warmer air holds more moisture than colder air.  Maybe because of climate change, there might have been more moisture available to this storm to make the heavy rains even more torrential than they otherwise would have been.

Again, though, it's very hard for even people well above my pay grade to determine how much, if any, global warming had in making this week's weather so extreme. My suspicion is it helped a little.




Saturday, December 26, 2015

BREAKING: Large Tornado Causes Big Damage, Injuries In Dallas Suburb

Flashes from snapping power lines light up
a large tornado east of Dallas this evening. 
Numerous live feeds and media reports are showing a large tornado in the eastern suburbs of Dallas, Texas this evening.

Major damage has been reported in the community of Rowlett near Garland, Texas. Video images showed the tornado causing numerous power flashes as it tore through electrical lines.

The Rowlett damage is just one of several reports of destruction from twisters near and east of Dallas today.

Preliminary reports suggest a supercell thunderstorm dropped a large tornado near Ovilla, south of Dallas, causing major damage, then another even bigger tornado near Rowlett.

The tornadoes in Texas  were ongoing as of 8:30 p.m. EST. Several tornado warnings were in effect.

Reports from local media say several homes have been destroyed, with personal belongings from the homes blown out onto roads and highways.

It was unclear as of 8:30 p.m. whether there were any deaths, or how many injuries occured. An NBC affiliate in Dallas was reporting four deaths in Garland, a report everybody is hoping isn't true.

Fox 4 News images showed widespread debris and a large fire, apparently related to the tornado, burning in Garland.
Fox 4 News showing tornado debris and a large
fire burning in Garland, Texas after a big
Saturday evening tornado. 

On Twitter, @28storms quoted Dallas-Fort Worth police and emergency scanner traffic with reports of dozens of injuries and dozens of buildings destroyed in Rowlett, Sunnyvale and Garland, Texas.

Texas is a study in extreme, dangerous weather contrasts this evening, with the tornadoes, a blizzard warning in the northwest, winter storm watches and warnings central and flood watches and warnings in eastern Texas.

Conditions ranged from snow, temperatures in the 20s and winds gusting over 60 mph over the Texas panhandle to oppressive summerlike humidity near the Gulf Coast.

The destructive Texas twisters are part of an intense storm system that's bringing a blizzard to New Mexico and northwestern Texas, and flooding rains in a large are in the center of the country from Texas to Ohio.

Flash flood warnings covered a stripe from central Oklahoma to southwestern Illinois Saturday evening. Up to a foot of rain was forecast.

A broad area of the Plains from Texas to Minnesota were under winter storm watches, warnings or blizzard warnings Saturday. Parts of northern New England were in for snow, sleet and freezing rain Sunday as well.


Unpredented Christmas Heat Ending, Dangerous Storms Continue

A flower bloomed in Christmas Day in a West Rutland,
Vermont garden. This garden usually covered in snow
and temperatues are normally well below
freezing this time of year. 
Well, that was quite a Christmas holiday for weather geeks, wasn't it?

Many dozens of cities set record high temperatures for Christmas Eve and Christmas, and  few places even set records for the highest temperatures recorded for the entire month of December.

The downside of this were the tragic and/or dangerous storms that started in earnest on December 23 and continue now, and will continue through the weekend.

At least 15 people were killed in tornadoes Wednesday across the South.  Flooding got destructive in Alabama and Georgia Christmas Day, and will get really nasty in places like Oklahoma and Arkansas today and this weekend.

Meanwhile, a blizzard is churning through New Mexico and Texas, and ugly winter weather is forecast over the coming days from the Plains States to New England.  It seems like most of the country is under some sort of weather alert or warning.

The details, starting with the Christmas heat:

HOT CHRISTMAS INDEED

According to NOAA's National Center for Environmental Information, 515 United States reporting stations reported record highs in the past seven days. That's a big number for sure.

Here where I live in Vermont, we were an epicenter of sorts for at least the Christmas Eve heat, with all kinds of record highs being set statewide.

Burlington, Vermont  set an all time record high for the month at 68 degrees, so far the major reporting station I could find that set a all time monthly record.

New York City tabloids reacted to the
Christmas heat. Record highs of 72
degrees were recorded in Central Park. 
That record is especially impressive as in the rare case of a new record high for December, you'd think it would come early in the month, since that's the warmest part of December anyway.

That 68 degrees exceeded the previous record high by an astonishing 17 degrees.  It was also just six degrees cooler than the high temperature this past Fourth of July. (Normally, there's about a 50 degree difference between high temperatures in Burlington on July 4 and December 25.)

Down in Rutland, Vermont the Christmas Eve high temperature was 70 degrees.

Atop Mount Mansfield, at just over 4,000 feet in elevation, they experienced a record high of 51 degrees, and it was the first Christmas Eve on record at this mountaintop without any snow on the ground.

In my travels around Vermont on Christmas Eve, I was treated to a surreal December landscape that looked more like April, with meadows and hay fields greening up nicely, and a few flowers in some gardens. People played softball on baseball diamonds, and many families had outdoor Christmas Eve barbecues.  

The temperature in Vermont "cooled" to the 50s on Christmas Day, still some 20 degrees warmer than average. Temperatures in Burlington this December - complete with 10 days reaching highs of 50 or more - are normal for central Virginia.

The only winter heat waves I can think of that were as extreme as this one, was one in January 1995, when Burlington topped out at 66 degrees and had an overnight low of 59 one day. The other was one that stradled winter and spring in the middle of March, 2012, when temperatures reached the 70s and low 80s daily for a week.

The record heat continued in much of the East Christmas Day, and will continue in the Southeast today.

But it all came with a price.

SEVERE STORMS ALL OVER THE PLACE

One of the main ingredient for very rough, stormy weather is a sharp temperature contrast, and we've had that in the United States for the past few days. The East has had that record heat. The western half of the nation is cold.

Just typical cold for late December, mind you, but cold nonetheless. Contrast that with summer like heat in the East, and you get a battleground of sorts with tons of storminess. It's not helping that the eastern warmth is only grudgingly giving ground, so the severe weather between the warmth and the cold in the middle of the country is lingering on and on.
The National Weather Service home page
map is covered with a wide variety of
weather warnings and alerts Saturday. 

It started Tuesday, and won't stop until at least Monday..

Plus there's incredible amounts of warmth and moisture coming in from the Gulf of Mexico, and that is helping lead to incredible amounts of precipitation.

The rough weather is coming in many forms:

Tornadoes:

As mentioned,  at least 15 people died in twisters Wednesday.  This tragedy means that 2015 will not go down as the least deadly tornado year on record in the United States. Until Wednesday, only ten people had died in tornadoes all year.

But now that death toll is over 20. The least annual number of tornadoe deaths in the United States was 12 in 1912, says Dr. Jeff Masters in his Weather Underground blog.

A Christmas tornado near Birmingham, Alabama damaged or destroyed several homes. Severe flooding (more on that in a minute) hampered rescue efforts.

More severe thunderstorms and possible tornadoes could occur today over the weekend, and possibly into Monday near the Gulf Coast. The severe weather will be concentrated today over Texas, especially in a corridor between Austin and Dallas-Fort Worth.  Sunday, the risk moves to over eastern Texas, Louisiana and southern Arkansas, and along the central Gulf Coast Monday, says NOAA's Storm Prediction Center.

Flooding: 

There was quite a bit of flooding in Alabama and Georgia over the Christmas holiday, with Alabama's governor declaring a state of emergency there.

Heavy rain will continue over those two states over the next couple of days, but the flood focus is really shifting to places like eastern Oklahoma and Arkansas today and tomorrow.

The same storm that's causing the tornado threat in Texas and the Gulf Coast is drawing in enormous amounts of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. The forecast shield of heavy precipitation from this is enormous, with flood watches in a broad stretch from Texas to Ohio and along the southern and central Appalachians.
National Weather Service office in Birmingham,
Alabama tweeted this photo of a Christmas Day
tornado near Tuscaloosa. 

The bullseye for the heaviest rain goes from  northeast Texas into southern Illinois, where four to as much as 12 inches of rain are forecast.

 Much of this area has already been very, very wet in recent weeks and months, so this flooding could turn out to be huge.

The National Weather Service office in Tulsa is warning of a potentially dangerous and life threatening situation along several rivers in eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas.

Winter Storms:

The National Weather Service in Alburquerque, New Mexico is warning of a record setting blizzard or the rest of the weekend, especially in the eastern part of that state.

An incredible 15 to 20 inches of snow is forecast, which is pretty rare for dry eastern New Mexico, and drifts could reach five feet deep.

Winds during the blizzard could gust to 65 mph. The weather service is understandably warning people not to drive at all during this storm.

The Texas Panhandle is going to get it just as bad, with drifts as high as ten feet amid heavy snow and winds to 60 mph.

A separate area of heavy snow is falling from eastern Colorado, northern Nebraska, much of South Dakota and on into southwestern Minnesota. Winter storm warnings are up in that region today.

Northern New England is in for a rude awakening after the record heat of the past few days. Winter warnings and advisories are up for tonight and tomorrow for parts of northern Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine for a mix of wet snow, sleet and freezing rain later tonight and Sunday.

Another storm on Tuesday is expected to bring more snow and mixed precipitation to much of New England. So much for the green grass and unseasonable flowers.

Things will finally, finally settled down in the nation somewhat as we head toward the New Year, as temperatures in most places will become more seasonable and we will get a least a temporary break from intense storms.

For pretty much the whole nation among weather watchers, though, this will be the ultimate December to remember.


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Deadly Tornadoes Unleash Pre-Christmas Havoc, More Rough Weather Coming

An emormous tornado Wednesday in Holly Springs, Mississippi.
Photo by James Overton @musicmanjim on Twitter.
I was afraid yesterday's tornadoes would lead to tragedy, and unfortunately, I was right.

At least seven people were killed and 40 injured in the yesterday's severe storms and tornadoes, which include a violent and long tracked tornado across northern Mississippi.

Among the people that tornado killed was a seven year old boy in Holly Spring, Mississippi.

There were reports of 27 tornadoes in all Wednesday, though some of those reports are probably duplicates, or multiple sightings of the same tornado.

There often seems to be Christmas week tornadoes in the South. Deadly tornadoes struck just before Christmas last year, killing nine people. There were also deadly Christmastime tornadoes in 2012, 2010, 2007, 2000, among other years.

This particular stretch of dangerous weather is not over, not by a long shot. Tornado warnings were up before dawn in parts of Georgia before dawn.

While most of the tornadoes were concentrated in the South, one touched down in Canton, Michigan, which is incredibly far north for a winter tornado. The National Weather Service in Detroit said the Canton tornado is the first time in the record books that a tornado touched down during December in Michigan.

Though tornadoes will not be nearly as widespread or as devastating today as they were Wednesday, there's still a risk of twisters in the Southeast today.

We'll add flooding to the mix, too, along with a continued threat of tornadoes and severe thunderstorms in the South through the weekend.

A new, strong storm will develop in Texas over the next couple of days, spinning off more possible tornadoes from Texas and across the Gulf Coast through Sunday. This new storm, coming on the heels of the wet one now ongoing, raises the risk of floods.

Basically, several rounds of very heavy rain started yesterday from Louisiana to Illinois to Georgia and those areas will keep getting hit as that new storm I talked about ramps up. Some creeks in Georgia were already flooding early this morning and that will only get worse.

Over the next seven days, an area from northeast Texas, through Arkansas, southern Missouri and southern Illinois can expect five to 10 inches of rain falling on already soggy ground. You'll hear about flooding in the news for sure.
Tornado damage in Mississppi 

The year is certainly ending with a familiar pattern. 2015 has been the Year Of The Flood. There have been so many extreme floods in the United States and the rest of the world in 2015. We're ending the year with maybe another one.

Record heat is still going on and will peak today east of the storminess.

Burlington, Vermont set a record high for the date of 52 degrees by 5 a.m.. Temperatures there were expected to rise into the 60s there by this afternoon.

Temperatures in the 70s will be common today from southern New England all the way down to the mid-Atlantic states. South of that, temperatures will reach the 80s in many spots. Many dozens of records will fall.

The record, bizarre heat will go on, but slowly get suppressed to the south and east over the next week as the series of storms continue to slowly drive a cold front east.

It's part of a pattern change that's developing that will finally bring the nation into winter. On the north and west side of that Texas storm, a blizzard packing winds of up to 60 mph is likely to develop in that state's panhandle by Sunday'and spread into the central Plains.

It's already below zero and highs are expected to reach only the upper single digits to low teens in North Dakota. Not at all unusual for them, but it's a sign that winter is trying to reassert itself.

In New England, people are in for a shock. In Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine Monday, highs will only reach the 20s. Again, perfectly normal for this time of year, but something we're definitely not used to.

On Tuesday, New England is for a horrible mix of snow, sleet, freezing rain and rain.

Still,  December, 2015 will no doubt be the hottest on record for many places all across the eastern United States.

Here in Vermont, the warmest December on record at Burlington had a mean temperture of 32.6. So far, this December is averaging 40.4. It would have to turn awfully cold at the end of the month to prevent the monthly record from being shattered. And it's not going to get all that cold.

So, brace yourself for more extreme weather coast to coast for the next few days before things settle into a more typical winter pattern.

Here's one of Wednesday's tornadoes crossing Interstate 55 near Como, Mississippi. Very scary for the people caught in traffic, and you can see a vehicle get tossed into the median by the tornado. Awful:

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Weird December Severe Weather Outbreak And Heat Peaks Today in U.S.

A huge are of the nation (in dark green, yellow, orange and red) are
at risk for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes today.
The are in red is at the greatest risk.
Across most of the eastern United States today, the day before the day before Christmas dawned foggy, wet, and incredibly warm.

The air in many spots feels muggy. Like tornado weather. And tornado weather we'll get for much of the Midwest and South today.

Yes, this morning has all the hallmarks of a late April stormy, warm, humid spring day.  Never mind that it's late December. I can't get over how odd this is.

Before dawn, there was already a tornado watch up for parts of Texas, Louisian and Arkansas and pretty impressive thunderstorms were already firing up.

It'll get worse as we go through the day. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting this is going to be an apocalyptic tornado day with zillions of bad tornados and storms, like the epic super outbreak of April 25-28, 2011 (that one contained 355 tornadoes that killed 321 people)

Today won't be anything like that. Still, NOAA's Storm Prediction Center says "mulitple tornadic supercells" are possible in and near the Tennessee Valley.

Places like Memphis, Tennessee and Jackson, Mississippi are under a moderate risk of severe storms and tornadoes today, according to the Storm Prediction Center. That's the second highest alert level possible, and that high level of concern is fairly rare for December.

People across much of the nation, from Michigan to Alabama and from North Carolina to Arkansas will want to keep an eye to the muggy skies as they rush to complete their Christmas shopping.

It's true that the nation often has an outbreak of severe weather in December, but I don't remember the last time I saw a severe weather threat area in December being so large, and extending so far north.

There's at least a minimal chance of severe thunderstorms all the way to the Canadian border in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

The area of enhance risk, where severe storms and tornadoes are most likely later today, is in itself huge.

It extends from Louisiana, through the Tennesse Valley all the way north to southwestern Ohio. This is the kind of thing you see in the peak of severe weather season, in April or May, not December.

The weather experts were saying all along the intense El Nino would energize storms crossing the United States, raising the possibility of wintertime severe thunderstorm and tornado outbreaks.

Your proof is there today.

In fact, in another unusual thing for December, the severe weather threat will continue in various parts of the south daily at least through Sunday. It's very rare to have several days in a row of severe thunderstorms in December.

Even though the heat is on, parts of the country that have been mild will turn more wintry, i.e normal in the upcoming days.

A quick shot of cold air in the Northeast, especially northern New England, will keep daytime temperatures in the 20s come Monday.

That's very normal for this time of year but it's been such an incredibly abnormal December.  At this point, December in Burlington is running an astonishing seven degrees warmer than the hottest December on record. If it doesn't get too cool at the very end of the month, this could be quite a record.

In Burlington, Vermont, there has not been a subfreezing high temperature yet so far this fall and winter. Normally, we would have had many such days by now.

Last year by this date, Burlington had already had 13 days with high temperatures at or below freezing, which is far more typical than this year.

This sure is a contrast to this past February, which was among the coldest on record. It's possible some New England communities will have their coldest winter month on record (February) and their warmest winter month on record (December) in the same year  -- 2015.

In the Plains, winter is set to make a return, too. It looks like there's a good chance of a big snowstorm from Colorado into the upper Midwest.

The northern panhandle of Texas is looking at possible blizzard conditions over this upcoming weekend, and those blizzard conditions look to extend north into western Oklahoma and Kansas.

So yes, if you want spring to wait until, um spring, after this week, it'll be back to winter for much of the nation. A lot of us don't like the cold, but this warmth and severe weather is also too freaky for a lot of us.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

December "Blowtorch" Heatwave Is Upon Us And Boy Is It Weird

We think Santa's going to look like this during
his East Coast swing this year
I can't stop obsessing about the big warm spell that I've been advertising and that's now developing in the eastern United States.

As I've already noted, there's going to be a lot of record highs broken over the next several days, especially on Christmas Eve.

If you like weather typical of May, this is your Christmas. Santa's coming on a surfboard wearning a Hawaiian shirt this year.  

TORNADOES AND SEVERE STORMS?

Another weird thing about this warm spell is how humid it will feel. It will actually be muggy in a lot of areas in the Midwest and East.

This is actually dangerous, because this humidity is helping set a wide area of the nation up for a widespread severe weather outbreak. The severe storm and tornado potential could end up outweighing the newsiness of the heat wave itself.

The potentially dangerous storms would start today and worsened on Wednesday. Later today, the focus for severe thunderstorms and maybe a couple of tornadoes would be in eastern Texas and Oklahoma, parts of Arkansas and areas of the Gulf Coast.

On Wednesday, the severe potential gets worse, and widespread and very weird.  By weird, I mean the severe weather could cover a huge area of the country, which is very, very odd for late December.

There are occasional outbreaks of tornadoes fairly close to the Gulf Coast in some Decembers, as storms moving by over, say Texas and Arkansas can draw warm, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico. That humid air is one key ingredient for severe weather.

This time, as I mentioned, pre Christmas humid air will engulf much of the eastern half of the nation. That means the potential for severe storms and possibly even tornadoes could reach as far north as Chicago, southern Michigan and much of Ohio.
 A wide area of the nation is at risk for severe weather and possible
tornados Wednesday, especiallyin the yellow and orange zones.

Tnere could even be non-severe thunderstorms as far north as New England, especially toward Thursday.

On Wednesday, the highest risk of severe storms and tornadoes looks as if it will be in the Tennessee Valley and northern Gulf Coast States, places like Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, eastern Arkansas, maybe even extending up north into places like southern Illinois and Indiana.

NOAA's Storm Prediction Center says there could be a number of tornadoes, "some potentially significant," in their words.

We are THIS CLOSE to ending 2015 with one of the lowest number of tornado deaths for a year on record. Let's hope this possible tornado outbreak doesn't change that low death toll.

FLOODING

All this storminess and humidity also brings us the potential for flooding over huge areas of the country.

The biggest threats for flooding over the next several days appear to be a wide area in and near the Ozarks and in the southern Appalachians.

The flooding could start with this pre-Christmas storm, but an even wetter new storm upcoming this weekend could really intensify the flooding in the areas I've mentioned. There's some uncertainty there, but it's worth watching.

THAT HEAT

Temperature forecasts for this week are truly incredible. Chicago is expecting a high of 62 degrees Wednesday. On Christmas Eve, Washington, DC is forecast to reach 76 degrees, and New York City, 72.

Down in Nashville, Tennessee high temperatures every day hrough next Monday are expected to be in the upper 60s to low 70s, in a city where the normal high temperature this time of year is in the upper 40s. Many nights this week in Nashville won't go below 60 degrees. Normal lows there are around 30.

The heat will go way north. Environment Canada says the expected high temperature in Montreal Christmas Eve is 59 degrees.

Near where I live, Burlington, Vermont is expecting a high temperature of 62 degrees on Christmas Eve, which would break the record high for the date of 51 degrees.

Normal high temperatures this time of year in Burlington are around 30 degrees, but the temperature isn't even expected to fall below 40 degrees, even at night, until Friday night.

Very many cities in the eastern United States will record their hottest Decembers on record, I'm sure.

The Gossarital, Austria ski resort on Dec. 21, 2014 (top)
and Dec. 21, 2015 (bottom) Photo from ZAMG/
Maximiliano Herrera via Weather Underground. 
HEAT ELSEWHERE

The United States isn't the only part of the country experiencing hot times this Christmas season.

In his Weather Underground blog, Dr. Jeff Masters outlines some European heat, including all time highs for the month of December recorded at Stockholm, Sweden at 56 degrees, Riga, Latvia at 53 degrees, and Helsinki, Finland, at 51 degrees.

Warm downslope winds brought temperatures up to the low 60s on the northern slopes of the Alps and Pyrenees at about the 3,000 foot elevation.

It's summer in the Land Down Under, and it's off to a super hot start. Port Augusta, Australia, had a new December high temperature of 117 degrees. Adelaide had four consecutive days with highs at or above 104 degrees. Dunedin, New Zealand broke its all time December high by four degrees, reaching 94 degrees.

Globally, 2015 is a shoo-in for hottest year in modern records. It looks like December is reinforcing that record.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Are "Climatarians" The Latest Foody Trend?

Image from Shutterstock via Grist. 
The New York Times recently put out its Top 15 list of food related words for 2015.

They were typically ridiculous. "Cuisonomane" is another word for "foodie" if you just want to be snooty about the term. "Hangry" is when you're so hungry you're angry.

The most interesting word was "climatarian," defined as "a diet whose primary goal is to reverse climate change. This inclucdes eating locally produced food (to reduce energy spent on transportation). choosing pork or poultry instead of beef and lamb (to limit gas emissions) and using every part of ingrediets (apple cores, cheese rinds, etc) to limit food waste."

I don't know if the word "climatarian" will catch on, but in one way or another, I think all of us will at some point become climatarians in one form or another.


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Eastern Winter Arrives Briefly, But Get Ready For Christmas "Blowtorch"

Jonathan Erdman @wxjerdman, posted
these contrasting images of the same
Buffalo neighborhood this snow-less year (top)
and after epic lake effect snows a year ago.
I woke up to winter today at my hacienda in St. Albans, at the northwestern corner of Vermont.

My place got about an inch and a half of snow yesterday and last night, and it was down around 20 degrees at dawn.  

That's nothing unusual for the middle of December, but it is odd for a December that could set all kinds of records for heat in Vermont and much of the United States and Canada.

IMPRESSIVE LAKE EFFECT SNOW

First we'll review this current shot of mini-winter. A good chunk of the snow in New England yesterday and last night can be tied to the Great Lakes.

Lake effect snows fired up, as expected Frday and Saturday, Buffalo got a light coating of snow Friday night, making December 18 the latest first snow in that city's records, which go back to the late 1800s.

The old record for Buffalo's latest first snow was December 3, 1899.

The places that got caught in the heaviest Great Lakes snowbands really got it. Lyonsville, New York picked up 36 inches of snow, and many places in western New York picked up more than a foot.

The impressive thing about these snowbands was how far inland from the lakes they got. Usually, they just go inland a few dozen miles at most.

At last, it looked wintry, at least briefly, in
my St. Albans, Vermont yard this morning. 
Saturday's snowbands were enhanced by strong upper level winds, and a disturbance in the atmosphere -basically a weak cold front.

This weak cold front would have produced a little snow on its own, but it drew the lake effect snows into its sphere of influence and enhanced the snow in New England.

The snow band off of Lake Erie ended up going north of Albany, New York through southern Vermont and into New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

By the time the snow band got that far away from Lake Erie, the snow became very light, but still.

Another broken snow band extended a good 400 miles from Lake Huron, across Ontario, northern New York and into far northern Vermont and New Hampshire.  Sutton, Vermont reported a hefty 8.9 inches of snow from this, and Holland, Vermont got 6.5 inches. Much more than forecast, let me tell you.

Burlington, Vermont got into the act, getting its first "real" snow of the season with 1.8 inches. (0.2 inches fell one day in November, but that was a trifle.

"BLOWTORCH" HEAT WAVE COMING 

Late last week, the National Weather Service at Burlington, in northwestern Vermont, said December, 2015  temperatures there had so far been just about normal -- for Roanoke, Virginia, which is about 730 miles south of Burlington.

Temperatures in Burlington had been continuously above freezing for 10 days straight, ending on Saturday. Though today is seasonably chilly in the Northeast, the heat is going to come back on full blast, so Burington may end the month as if everyone there had been relocated to Roanoke.

Don't worry about the "blowtorch" moniker you've been hearing about this upcoming record warm spell. It's not going to be 1,500 degrees and everything won't burn to a crisp.
High confidence of "blowtorch" near
record warmth in the East on or just
before Christmas.

The "blowtorch" refers to forecast temperature maps for around Christmas Eve, which had lots of hot reds on them in eastern North American depicted how readings will be far, far, far above normal Christmas week.

Many record highs will very likely fall from the Gulf Coast to New England, and in Ontario and Quebec, Canada.

The anticipated heat could even break a few records for hottest readings on record for the entire month of December, which would really be impressive since those monthly readings on the rare occasions the do occur, most often happen at the beginning of the month.

A cold front of Pacific origin will probably cool things off a bit on Christmas Day, but it will still be very mild across the East.

Another surge of very warm air is expected in the days after Christmas, but that will likely focus over a smaller area of the East. The Midwest will probably be cooler than the pre-Christmas heat.

All this warmth comes at a price beyond a lack of snow for skiing in the East.

This is a very stormy pattern, with strong systems barging into the West Coast from the Pacific,  raising the risk of flooding in parts of northern California, Oregon and Washington. The storms would carve out deep dips in the jet stream in the Rockies for lots more snowstorms there. (Four feet in Steamboat Springs, Colorado already over the last week or two!)

These storms will emerge into the Plains, giving snowstorms and possible blizzards to the western and northern Plains, and severe weather and flooding to parts of the Gulf Coast, Tennessee Valley and southeastern United States.

It's still hard to tease out when and how exactly these areas will get hit but expect bouts of rough weather there now through New Year's Eve.  It's already apparent a large area of eastern Texas, Louisiana and much of the rest of the Gulf Coast could get some scattered severe storms Tuesday.

The bottom line: In general, expect a mild and wild Christmas week.




Saturday, December 19, 2015

"Climate Change Anthem" Won't Warm Your Heart In Warming World, But Enjoy!

Watch this chorus perform an "inspirational"
Climate Change Denier Anthem. 
Funny or Die has a wonderful spoof out mocking climate denialists.

Sometimes, a movement will put out an inspirational song to back their cause. Maybe the most famous is "We Are The World" in the 1980s, to combat famine in Africa.

The anthem from Funny or Die purports to be from the Koch Brothers, the conservative billionaires who don't believe that climate change is happening, or at least don't think it's a big deal, so they back politicians that seek to block action on climate change.

The anthem is the typically schmaltzy inspirational music you get in these kinds of anthems. It's kinda set to the music from "We Are The World."  Pay attention to the lyrics to the Climate Change Deniers Anthem, which are also helpfully displayed in the video.

The video hits all the cliches of these things, too. For the record, I don't think climate change denialists are as ridiculous in real life, but like just about everything else in the world (including me!) they deserve to be spoofed.

Watch and enjoy:


Friday, December 18, 2015

November: Another Record Hot Global Month

Flowers blooming in Washington DC in
mid-December. The East Coast and
most of the rest of the world is having a
very warm end to 2015.
Cut and paste.

That's what I could have done month after month in 2015 describing how each month was the hottest on record during the year.

Add November to the list. The National Centers for Environment Information, an arm of NOAA, confirms in their monthly report that November was the world's warmest on record.

Only one other month in their records was farther above normal temperature-wise than November. That other month was October, 2015.

Nine of 11 months of 2015 have been the warmest on record.

That makes 2015 a shoo-in for the hottest year on record. Reliable records date back to the 1880s.

According to the National Centers for Environmental Information the only way 2015 would not become the hottest year on record would be if December over the globe as a whole; would have to be colder than the coldest worldwide December on record, which was 1916.

Fat chance of that, considering how hot some parts of the world have been so far in December. It's so warm daffodils are blooming in Ireland and England, cherry blossoms are out in Washington, DC, and there are dandelions blooming on my lawn in normally frigid northwestern Vermont.

As I've noted in the previous record months in 2015, El Nino has a LOT to do with this. The periodic warming of the eastern Pacific ocean releases a lot of heat into the global atmosphere, and that boosts global temperatures.

That this year's El Nino was the strongest on record only means that the heat was even hotter than it normally would have been in an El Nino year.

November, 2015, was Earth's warmest on record, says NOAA. 
And yes, global warming, caused by humans, plays a role. This year would have been abnormally warm without human-induced climate change, but with us burning fossil fuel, it makes the baseline temperature warmer, so this El Nino year is going at a record warm pace, instead of just pretty warm.

I bet it's fair to say that global temperatures will probably cool down a little bit later in 2016 and on into 2017 and 2018 asEl Nino fades away.

The climate denialists will highlight that "cooling trend" as "proof" that global warming doesn't exist.

But you gotta look at the long term trends. There will always be ups and downs in global temperature. Global temperatures are not rising at a uniform rate, because of so many other influences, like El Nino, and natural changes in oceanic and atmospheric patterns.

The general trend line is up, up, up, though.  A strong El Nino happened in 1998 and it helped make that year the world's hottest on record. For awhile, anyway.  Then came the hot years of 2005 and 2010 and 2014, and now 2015 to break that 1998 record.

It might be several years before the world sees a year hotter than 2015. But I'm still confident that year will arrive, eventually.

And while we're waiting for the 2015 hot record to be broken perhaps several years down the road, we will continue to have year after year of temperatures well above where they were several decades ago.

That will be true even if, say, 2017 is a fair amount "cooler" than 2015. A "coolish" 2017, if it happens, will almost certainly be very warm by historical standards, because of all the extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The last time the globe had a cooler than normal month was in February, 1985.  If you're under 30 years old, you've never seen a chillier than average global month.

I don't think you ever will.