Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Deadly Tornadoes Strike Southern US, Some Risk Of More Today

A tornado destroyed this post office in Polk County, Tenn.
The wildfire disaster in and near Gatlinburg, Tennessee stole most of the weather headlines over the past couple of days, but a deadly tornado outbreak made things even worse in the American South. 

There were at least 26 reports of tornadoes yesterday, and some of them turned deadly.

It's been a fairly slow tornado year, and we'd gone from May 9 without a tornado death in the United States.

Until yesterday.

Tornadoes killed 5 people in Alabama and Tennessee. As if Tennessee needed more tragedies after the Gatlinburg fire. In fact, Gatlinburg was under severe storm alerts during this tornado outbreak.

The worst hit area in this latest tornado outbreak was in Alabama, where three people died when a tornado crushed a mobile home. Four children were critically injured when another tornado roared through a 24-hour day care center.

As bad as this storm outbreak was and is, the number of tornado deaths so far this year in the United States is below average.

More tornadoes are possible today in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic states. I'm guessing the tornadoes won't be as strong or widespread as those Tuesday and Tuesday night. But people in the alert area should be on the lookout for threatening skies, and take shelter if any warnings go up.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Terrifying Wildfire Roars Through Tennessee City, Resort

Sharon Pinyan snapped this scary photo as she
evacuated from the Gatlinburg fire last night.
She said the car behind her caught fire as
flames jumped into the road. 
I watched in horror on social media last night as an immense wildfire tour through the city of Gatlinbug, Tennessee and surrounding resort communities like Pigeon Forge

Details are still coming in but dozens and dozens of buildings appear to be lost. I don't know if anybody died in the fires but the flames came into town so fast, and the evacuation was so chaotic, I definitely worry about people there.

Incredibly scary videos of the Gatlinburg fire are at the bottom of this post.

Television station WATE in Knoxville, Tennessee was reporting that 30 buildings in Gatlinburg were on fire, including a 16-story hotel and a large apartment complex.

Incredibly scary video emerged on social media of people trapped inside the smoke-filled hotel as flames danced wildly just outside the windows.

WATE interviewed a man named Logan Baker, via phone, who was trapped in the burning Gatlinburg Park Vista hotel. Firefighters on the scene told people it was unsafe to leave due to 80 mph winds and swirling flames and embers, and falling, burning trees outdoors.

Sadly, the wedding chapel
during the fire


A Gatlingburg wedding chapel
before the fire
"The only road to get down from the hotel, trees had fallen down in the road and were just engulfed in flames...Then the flames came up into the parking lot and then they told us we all had to stay inside," Baker told WATE.

The hotel's emergency doors came off their rollers, so dense smoke and hot embers swept into the hotel's interior.

The smoke was so dense in the hotel it was hard to breathe. Guests like Baker went to upper floors of the hotel and smashed out windows to get (slightly) better air.

Sound absolutely terrifying to me.   

Baker said as he leaned out these windows, he could see fires in downtown Gatlinburg and numerous cabins on the hillsides exploding into flames.

Ripley's Aquarium was evacuated, and workers there had to abandon 10,000 or so animals there. At last report, the building was still standing, but we don't know how things are there. The Aquarium's manager said some workers had to be forcibly removed from the building because they didn't want to leave the animals.

Another wildfire was just on the edge of the famed Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge. Guests at the parks hotels and cabins were all evacuated. At last report, none of the strucures at Dollywood were on fire, and firefighters were setting up in the park to protect buildings.

The Amercian Eagle Foundation was also conducting an emergency evacuation of its bird sanctuary and rehabilitation center in Pigeon Forge. I imagine it must be incredibly difficult to move all those birds out of harm's wa.

People in the fire zone were also urged to stay off their cell phones unless they were making emergency calls because the system was overloaded.

A weather station on the east side of Gatlinburg during the fires was telling: It reported a temperature of 118 degrees with a 43 mph wind, gusting to 69 mph. Yikes!

FIres have been burning for weeks near Gatlinburg and much of the Southeast due to a record drought.

A strong cold front was approaching with a burst of much needed rain last night. However, preceding the rain were very strong south winds that fanned the flames and send them cascading uncontrollably into Gatlinburg.  

A popular restaurant burns near Gatlinburg,
Tennessee Monday evening.

I was watching weather radar and you could see the increasing plume of smoke from Gatlinburg and a large band of rain approaching from the west. I was literally urging the rain to move faster toward Gatlinburg, but it obviously didn't arrive fast enough.

The Gatlinburg fire disaster comes just a week after a wildfire crashed into the big city of Haifa, Israel. Another immense wildfire tore into Fort McMurray Alberta, Canada this spring.

You have to wonder if the Gatlinburg disaster, and the other fires are part of climate change. It's hard to tease out one incident, like Gatlinburg and start screaming "CLIMATE CHANGE!!!!"

But it is consistent with climate change, in that global warming makes extreme weather more likely.

Oh, sure, there have always been epic wildfire disasters. In 1871, on the same night as the Great Chicago Fire, a wildfire swept into Peshtigo, Wisconsin, killing perhaps 2,000 people. (It's known as America's forgotten fire, as Chicago took the headlines, but Peshtigo was the more deadly of the two disasters.)

In 1910, America's largest wildfire, fed by hurricane force winds, killed 86 people in Idaho.

But it's the apparent uptick in the frequency of wildfires and other strange weather disasters that has caught my attention this year, which will go down as the world's warmest in modern record.

Something very disconcerning is definitely going on,  and Donald Trump is a fool if he still thinks climate change is hoax.

Some Gatlinburg videos:

In the first one, Michael Luciano filmed his narrow escape by car from the hills around Gatlinburg, as forests and cabins around him burned ferociously. He's lucky to be alive:



Here's the view from inside the smoke-filled Park Vista Hotel during the wildfire:











Monday, November 28, 2016

Italy Floods; Tokyo Snows

Kiosks and lamposts are inundated during massive
flooding in Turin, Italy over the past few days  
Two extreme weather events slammed a couple locations around the world over the weekend.

The worst was an epic flood in Italy. The other was one of the earliest snows on record in Tokyo.

In Italy, torrential rains from a large, wet, slow moving storm caused incredible flooding, especially in the northwestern part of the nation.  

At least two people are reported dead, and thousands have been evacuated. The hardest hit area is in the Po River basin, including the city of Turin.

Most bridges in Turin were closed for safety reasons, and tourist boats were ripped from moorings and slammed into bridge abutments, the Weather Channel said. 

Video of the Italy flooding is at the bottom of this post.

Snow fell in November in Tokyo for the first time in
54 years. Photo by Shizou Kambayishi/AP
In Tokyo, snow fell in November for the first time in 54 years, numerous media outlets, including the Guardian reported

The snow didn't pile up much, but it did cause a stir in the megalopolis. It was the first time on record that snow actually accumulated on the ground in Tokyo in November.

Tokyo is a relatively warm city that averages only four inches of snow a year. Usually, that snow falls in January or Februrary. But a strong cold front from northeast Asia dropped temperatures to as much as 20 degrees below normal.

Temperatures are still a bit below normal in Tokyo, but are now much closer to normal.

Here's a video of the terrible flooding in Italy:


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Tornado Drought Interrupted: Severe Weather On The Gulf Coast Tomorrow

Tornadoes are possible Monday especiall in the yellowand orange
zones in this map, centered on Louisiana.
The autumn in the United States has been great in at least one respect: There have been very, very few tornadoes.

Most tornadoes are in the spring and early summer anyway, so it's not unusual to get fewer tornadoes in the fall and early winter.

But they do occur on occasion. This year, there have been far fewer twisters in what is already a normally slow season.

There were 23 reports of tornadoes in October, almost all of them early in the month, Usually there's double or triple that number.

Remarkably, there have been no tornadoes this November. I think this would have been the first November on record without an American tornado. (Again, on average there's usually a couple to a few dozen tornado reports in November.)

I'm saying would have been because I'm almost sure there will be a few tornadoes in the Deep South on Monday.

Things are coming together for a Louisiana tornado outbreak that might also affect parts of East Texas southern Arkansas and western Mississippi.

A storm system will bring oodles of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, and strong winds, veering with height will create severe, rotating thunderstorms.

That's perfect to form tornadoes, and the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma says a couple of the tornadoes could turn out to be quite strong.

People in that neck of the woods will want to watch the skies Monday, and listen for tornado warnings. This time of year especially, tornadoes can move forward very quickly, giving people little time to take shelter.

The good news about this storm system is it's going to spread heavy rains across the Southeast, which is having a terrible drought. Atlanta, Georgia and Birmingham, Alabama have had their longest stretch of consecutive rain-free days on record.

A few inches of rain is likely to fall on the drought region this week, which won't end the drought, but put a dent in it and help control a lot of the wildfires burning in the area's forests.

The New England drought is still ongoing, too, but it has diminished a bit in recent weeks with rains and snows. This storm is going to spread more rain into New England this week, which will bring a bit of additional help to the situation.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Terrifying Wildfires In Israel

People flee raging wildfires in Haifa, Israel.  
There are few things as terrifying as a wildfire rampaging through urban neighborhoods, and for the second time this year, we've seen just that disaster.  

Wildfires, many started by arsonists, tore through Haifa, Israel and surrounding areas this week. Some of the fires burned in trees and parks amid high rise buildings in the city, which is Israel's third largest.

Videos, which you can see at the bottom of this post, shows flames burning against tall buildings, people running for their lives as fires rapidly approach and aircraft buzzing buildings and dropping fire retardant on neighborhoods.

At least one high rise appears to catch fire in the videos.

The fires peaked on Thursday amid drought conditions and strong easterly winds, Reuters reported

According to Reuters:

"With fires burning in the forests west of Jerusalem, around Haifa, on central and northern hilltops and parts of the Israeli-occupied West Banks, the government sought assistance from neighboring countries to tackle the conflagration.

Greece, Cyprus, Croatia, Turkey and Russia offered help, with several aircraft already joining efforts to quell the blaze, dropping fire-retardant material to try to douse the heaviest fires and stem their spread."

Haifa was apocalyptic Thursday, with the city's mayor asking residents to turn on their water sprinklers to keep flames at bay before they fled to the relative safety of sports stadiums and other areas away from the fires.  
Wildfire burning in a Haifa, Israel neighborhoo

It hasn't rained in Israel for several months. By now, seasonal winter rains start to arrive in Israel but that hasn't happened yet. Dry, windy weather is expected to continue into early next week.

The dry weather is helping flames spread, but political unrest appears to be causing them.

"'Every fire that was caused by arson, or incitement to arson, is terrorism by all accounts. And we will treat it as such, ' Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters gathered in Haifa. 'Whoever tries to burn parts of Israel will be punished severely,'" Reuters reported. 

On social media, some Arabs and Palestinians celebrated the fires, Reuters added.

The fires in Haifa recalled the fires around Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada this past spring that forced the full evacuation of that city and destroyed parts of it. While the Canadian fire had no connection to terrorism, it was another example of the horrors of a fire crashing into a busy city.

Here are some videos of the Haifa fires:






Thursday, November 24, 2016

Would Be Internet Weatherman Sets Wildfire To Increase Clickviews

Authorites accuse Johnny Mullins of setting a Kentucky wildfire
to bring attention to his weather-related social media.  
As I've noted earlier this month, the southeastern United States is plagued by dozens of wildfires that are taking advantage of a severe and deepening drought in that region.

Unfortunately, many of the wildfires have been started by arsonists.

It turns out that one of the wildfires was started by a would-be internet weatherman named Johnny Mullins who figured that starting a wildfire, and him reporting on it, would increase views on his Facebook page, says ArsTechnica.

According to ArsTechnica:

"According to Jenkins Police Chief James Stephens, the 21-year-old Mullins now faces a charge of second degree arson or setting a fire in Letcher County (Kentucky.) The chief told the Associated Press on Friday that Mullins said he started the fire he was charged with 'because he enjoyed the attention he got from the Facebook stuff.'"

Few, if any other online weather geeks and meteorologists would resort to something like starting a wildfire, but, as ArsTechnica points out, bad, dramatic or dangerous weather brings attention to meteorologists and weather geeks, including me. You get more viewers, more clicks, and increases TV ratings.

That leaves us feeling conflicted. Obviously, few people want to see death and destruction from severe weather. But to be honest, it's that very severe weather that helps bring meteorologists' and weather weenies their paychecks. It's ghoulish, to say the least.

I'm not sure what to do about it. Other than not setting wildfires to make people read our Facebook pages.  

Dangerous Hurricane Otto Making Landfall in Nicaragua, Costa Rica

Hurricane Otto just before landfall Thursday. 
As I write this, Hurricane Otto's eye was coming ashore near the Nicaragua and Costa Rican border as a ferocious storm with 110 mph sustained winds.  

This part of the world is not used to such strong hurricanes, so this could really be a disaster. 

Otto is an odd one. It's the strongest hurricane on record to strike this far to the southwest. It's below the latitude of the northern reaches of South America, so this is something. 


Otto is also the strongest Atlantic hurricane since 1934 to form this late in the season. In the relatively rare cases when tropical storms get going late in November, they're usually pretty lame. 

However, Otto is a beast. 

Just before 1 p.m. today, the eye of Otto made landfall on the extreme southern coast of Nicaragua near the town of San Juan De Nicaragua, says the National Hurricane Center. 

There is surely devastating winds and storm surges going on there and in northern Costa Rica. As Otto makes its way inland, torrential rains will cause terrible flash floods and mudslides. 

Otto will eventually emerge into the Pacific Ocean as a tropical storm, but strong upper level winds there will finish it off, making it just a remnant, weak swirl within a few days. 

Otto was already killing people and causing serious damage well before coming ashore. Three people died in Panama with the outer fringes of Otto. Two died in a rain-caused landslide, and a child died when a tree fell on a car.

See Panama landslide footage at the bottom of this post.

The governments of Nicaragua and Costa Rica evacuated tens of thousands of people away from the coastline, so we hope that will minimize the number of deaths Otto causes. 

Here's that terrifying video of the Panama landslide:


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Third Of California's Trees Died In The Drought

This is not a picture of fall foliage. All the orange and rust
color you see here are trees in California killed off
by the drought. U.S. Forest Service photo.  
I had my tiny little mini weather drama here at my St Albans, Vermont weather hacienda when this week's storm destroyed about one third of a weeping willow on my property.

Imagine the maxi-drama, then going on in California where one third of all the trees in the state have died in the past six years.  

Talk about two contrasting disasters: Mine, an extremely minor inconvenience, and California's which is literally putting many lives at risk.

Blame the long lasting drought for California's sudden lack of trees.

About 62 million trees in California died this year, bringing the total during the drought to more than 102 million, says SFGate.com

The majority of the dead trees are in the central and southern Sierra Nevada range.  More trees will likely die as well, even if good rains somehow return to California.

"It's not beyond the pale to suggest that this is a pretty unprecedented event in at least recent history," said Adrian Das, an ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, as quoted in SFGate.com

This many dead trees is dangerous because all that dead wood would make wildfires much worse and more intense than they otherwise would be, which would put people at greater risk.

Tree roots also hold soil in place on steep hillsides. With the roots disappearing, there's a greater risk of erosion, landslides, mudslides and flash floods when it does rain.  That's more risk of death and property damage there.

This year's rainy season in California seems to be getting off to an OK start, but most of the rain so far has been in the north. Southern and central California are in most need of precipitation.

NOAA's winter outlook indicates bad news for central and southern California. If NOAA is right, that area can expect a drier and warmer than normal winter, exactly the opposite of what they need.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Tropical Storm, Soon To Be Hurricane Otto Formed While We Weren't Looking

Strengthening, soon-to-be Hurricane Otto in the southwestern
Caribbean this morning  
Hurricane season in the Atlantic basin officially ends November 30, though you can get tropical storms after that date.

Usually by now, though, our attention has turned away from the tropical Atlantic and toward snowy type weather events, like the snowfall that just turned my Vermont surroundings into a winter wonderland.

While we weren't looking, sneaky Tropical Storm Otto formed off the east coast of Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Actually, there's been an area of disturbed weather in that area of the southwestern Caribbean for many days now and most forecasters knew it had the potential to turn into a tropical storm.

But like I said, we tend not to pay attention as much this time of year as we do during the height of hurricane season.

Otto became a tropical storm yesterday, As of 11 a.m., Otto was roughly 500 miles east of Costa Rica and Nicaragua and pretty much not moving anywhere. It had sustained winds of up to 70 mph, just short of hurricane strength.

The National Hurricane Center thinks Otto will become a hurricane later today and start drifting westward toward Central America.

I like the goofy name Otto, but this storm could end up being deadly serious.

At this point, it looks like Otto will hit the coast somewhere near the border of Costa Rica and Nicaragua sometime on Thursday.

Predicting the strength of a hurricane, especially one like this one that's late season, over warm water in this section of the Caribbean, is tough. The current thinking is it will have sustained winds of 90 mph at landfall, which is dangerous enough, but there is a potential for Otto to get even stronger than that.

Otto's torrential rains moving into the steep terrain after landfall makes the risk of devastating flash floods.

Otto is unusually far south for an Atlantic hurricane. If it hits the coast as a hurricane as now predicted, it would be the farthest south an Atlantic basin hurricane has been recorded making landfall, says Bob Hanson at Weather Underground.

If Otto goes far enough south to make landfall in Costa Rica, it will be the first Atlantic hurricane to score a direct hit on that nation. Tropical storms have hit Costa Rica, but not full blown hurricanes.

The storm will weaken greatly over land, but will be intact enough to emerge out over the Pacific Ocean this weekend. I have no idea if it will strengthen back to a tropical storm when that happens.


Storm Pretty Much Done In Northeast Finally

The scene in front of my house in St. Albans, Vermont
this morning with a lilac bush smushed by
dense, heavy snow and plenty of snow to shovel.
I awoke to an additional two inches of snow at my weather hacienda in St. Albans, Vermont this morning, bringing the storm total to nine inches.

Impressive, as I'd only been expecting a couple of inches before the storm.

One last clot of moisture crossed northern Vermont last night, bringing that additional burst of snow. There are many reports of two to five inches of snow last night with that last band.

Unlike Sunday's snow, last night's parting sot from the storm that's heading away from us now was light and fluffy and will be easier to shovel or sweep.

The storm actually caused damage on my property. splitting a large weeping willow tree and causing minor damage to lilac bushes and evergreen shrubs.

Other than snow showers in the mountains today and flurries elsewhere, there won't be much in the way of snow anymore.

Western New York State got clobbered. I found it interesting that the storm system pulled moisture all the way from the tropics near Bermuda up into Quebec, and then turned it southward across the Great Lakes into New York.

Lake effect snows like this usually work by pulling moisture off the relatively warm waters of the lakes and dumping it on land in the form of snow, and that was the case here. But the snow was enhanced even more by that tropical moisture from Bermuda.
This willow tree in my St. Albans, Vermont yard
suffered significant damage in this snowstorm. Note
the large branch that's cracked and now hanging
vertically after nine inches of snow fell.  

This arrangement also pulled lake and other moisture into southwestern New England and the higher elevations near the lower Hudson Valley of New York.  Which meant quite a bit of snow fell there.

Here are some of the totals I came across, based on reports from the Weather Channel and National Weather Service offices in Buffalo and Albany, New York and Burlington, Vermont:

40 inches, Lacona, New York
21.9 inches, Syracuse, New York, which was that city's largest snowstorm on record.
32 inches, Redfield, New York
30 inches, Osceola, New York
20 inches, Peru, Massachusetts, in the Berkshires.
26 inches, Woodford, Vermont, in the southern Green Mountains east of Bennington.

Higher elevation towns in central and northern Vermont, and the northern Adirondacks, picked up close to a foot of snow.

The next couple of weeks look stormy for much of the nation, with several systems expected to cross the middle and eastern parts of the country. Some of these storms could be fairly strong.

A weak system will affect New England Thanksgiving morning with light snow and rain showers. A potentially stronger storm Saturday could dump a fairly heavy amount of snow and/or rain on the region, but that prospect remains very uncertain.

I'll update you on that when we get closer. Several more storms of rain or snow will likely follow that.

If nothing else, at least it's some drought relief, right?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Monday Morning Snow Nightmare, Or Dream Come True

My partly cleared off truck in St. Albans, Vermont
this morning. After I took the pic, it started snowing again
to create a bit more work. 
I have to get up early today and get the dogs to daycare and then to work.

I'm sure you have your morning rush to do.

Well, if you're reading this before work, get moving, pronto!

The snow that came down in Vermont and New York is surprisingly deep. And wet and heavy. And also freezing to everything.

Here at my weather hacienda in the northwestern Vermont community of St. Albans, we have 6.7 inches of new snow.

It has the consistency of wet concrete. It froze to my truck and it took me 15 minutes of scraping and digging just to get my truck in driveable condition.

If your car was outside overnight, expect a chore.

I don't have time to shovel so I'll just power through it. Thank goodnews for FWD.

Not much snow was falling in Vermont as of 5 a.m. but it was snowing pretty good still in northern New York. Some of that is lake effect, but a lot of it is a stream of moisture coming down from Canada on the back side of the storm.

The roads in New York and Vermont are icy, despite the good work of road crews. Also, the snow in New York might start to pivot into Vermont, especially northwestern sections, during the morning commute.

That will make things rougher this morning.

A note to bosses all over the Champlain Valley: Don't be surprised if your employees show up late today. Be nice to them. They had a frustrating, snowy trip to work.

All this is grumbling, but skiers and riders have really hit the jackpot. Most resorts got close to a foot of snow out of this, and it's still coming down.

It's going to stay cold enough for the snow to stick around through the weekend in the mountains. There will probably be more light snows off and on up there through the weekend, and of course it will be cold enough to make snow.

The winter sports season in the North Country is certainly off to a better start than last year.

I don't have a lot of updated snow totals to give you as of 5:30 a.m. I'll update later.

The places that really seemed to get clobbered so far are the high elevations in east central New York, the Berkshires of Massachusetts, the Litchfield Hills in northwestern Connecticut and high elevations of southern and southwestern Vermont.

Storm totals as of around midnight were 16 inches at a high elevation at Woodford, in far southern Vermont. Also, 12.5 inches in the Massachusetts Berkshires town of Savoy. An observer in North Pawlet, at a 1,250 elevation in southwestern Vermont got 11.5 inches. In Connecticut's Litchfield Hills, Norfolk got 13.5 inches.

The giant snow totals will spread north today, with mainly high elevations in New York, Vermont and northern New Hampshire sure to get buried. I'm sure I'll see at least a couple reports of at least 18 inches emerge later today.

So far the most I've seen in the North is 10.5 inches in Lake Placid, New York and 7.5 inches in South Starksboro, Vermont.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Sunday Evening Snowstorm Update For Vermont And North Country

The area around a little brook that flows past
my St. Albans, Vermont house turned into a pretty
winter scene today  
As Sunday evening falls, the early seasons snowstorm across the North Country is continuing pretty much as expected.

We're still going to see some impressive accumulations up in the high country of New York and Vermont. Maybe northern New Hampshire, too.

The only thing the storm has done so far that was unexpected is the rain changed to snow earlier than expected in many areas of the region.

That just means the snow will be even a little deeper than first thought.

Just as I said this morning, though, the big winners still look to be New York's St. Lawrence Valley, the Adirondacks, and the spine of the Green Mountains. Plus the western slopes of the Green Mountains.

As of late afternoon Sunday, there have been reports of up to six inches of new snow in northern New York and up to four inches in Vermont. Here at my weather hacienda in St. Albans, Vermont, we were up to 1.7 inches of new snow as of 4:15 p.m.

A few trees still have leaves clinging to them.
Here a buckthorn with leaves leans towards power lines
and te road near my St. Albans, Vermont house 
Totals so far are even more impressive in high elevation towns in east central New York, the Berkshires of Massachusetts and high country in southern Vermont east of Bennington.

Some of these include 15 inches in Taborton, New York, 12 in Hoag Cornners and Canaan, New York, 9.7 inches in Lenox, Massachusetts and 9 inches in Woodford, Vermont.

The National Weather Service is still calling for four to each inches of snow in elevations above 1,000 feet, and I suspect that it will be closer to eight inches than four by the time things start to taper off Monday.

Ski resorts and summts and such could easily get 12 inches or more. I still think we'll still get a couple spot reports of two feet on some summits, such as Jay Peak.

The Champlain Valley can expect about an inch or a little less right on the Lake Champlain shore, but otherwise, a good 2 to 4 inches is likely.

Up toward St. Albans, away from the lake, the way things are going, I'm guessing three to five inches there.

The Monday morning commute still looks like it's going to be a disaster in much of New York and Vermont. Leave for work much earlier than usual, and take your time getting there, please.

The snow today is wet and sloppy, so power failures have been a problem. Vermont Outage Map has been near 2,000 people out today in Vermont. Some places get their power restored, while others lose it.

This will continue tonight, although I'm hoping it won't get too, too much worse. The snow will turn more powdery, and that type of snow would blow off tree branches and power lines better.

If you're like me and haven't gotten all your outdoor autumn yard chores done yet, I think you're screwed.

A state highway plow clears slush off the road
in fromt of my St. Albans, Vermont house Sunday
afternoon. Expect a slippery, icy, slow commute
Monday morning. 
The snow isn't going to go away very fast. It's going to stay cold all week, though there might be some minor thawing in the valleys Wednesday and beyond.  Plus, the snow fell on warm ground, so there will be a little melting from below.

But that minor melting is literally cold comfort.

On top of that, other storm systems are likely to affect northern New England early Thursday, Saturday and next Monday or Tuesday.

At this point, none of these storms look like they will be blockbusters, but they have the potential to drop more snow or mixed precipitation on all of us.

Stay tuned on that one.

Humdinger Of A Storm (In Spots) Has Begun In Vermont

Road conditions looked bad in this web cam
shot of Route 9 in the hills east of Bennington,
Vermont at 8:30 a.m. 
Shortly before 8 a.m. this Sunday morning, heavy snow was falling in Bennington, Vermont as the expected wintry storm cranked up.

The cold air with this dynamic storm has been coming in from the southwest, which is a sign that it's a really wound up storm.

The changeover from rain to snow has also been traveling from southwest to northeast, hence the heavy snow in Bennington while rain was still going on in lower elevations further to the north in Vermont and New Hampshire.

If anything, the changeover to snow is happening a little sooner in many areas than anticipated. At 8 a.m. at my house in St. Albans, in the northwest corner of Vermont, a little sleet was already mixing with the rain. By 8:30 a.m., it was snow mixed with rain.

However, the low elevation changeover to snow in Vermont, while it will eventually happen, might take awhile as the storm trudges northeastward over New Hampshire today. When you're closer to the storm, you are closer to the warm air ahead of it, so it might take time for things to go over to wintry today.

Still, as the morning goes on the rain will change to snow in the valleys of Vermont heading north from Bennington. I noticed it was already snowing in Rutland, too. By mid afternoon, it will probably be snowing in most areas of northern New York and Vermont. Snow will be beginning to reach into New Hampshire by then, too.

Of course, northern New York and the high elevations all over Vermont were firmly into the snow by 8:30 a.m. Sunday and that will continue.

It still looks like the big snow winners in this storm will be the St. Lawrence Valley and Adirondacks of New York, where a widespread snowfall of 8 to 18 inches is likely before things taper off later Monday into Tuesday.

Vermont's Green Mountains, and the western slopes of those mountains are also still looking like they are in for a big dump. Elevations above 1,000 feet there are in for 4 to 12 inches of snow, as it seems now.

I also wouldn't be surprised if there ends up being a few spots in the mountains, say, in the Adirondack high peaks, and places like the summits of Jay Peak and Mount Mansfield, that end up with two feet of snow out of this long lasting, wet, snowy storm.
Web cam image of the base of the Sugarbush Ski Resort
in central Vermont starting to pick up some snow accumulation
as of 8:30 a.m Sunday. The resort and others in Vermont
and New York, will have a lot more snow than this
by the time Tuesday rolls around.  

A lot of the snow is, and will be, wet and heavy, so I expect some fairly widespread power failures out of this today through Monday.

As of 9 a.m. Sunday, Green Mountain Power was already reporting nearly 2,000 homes and businesses out, mostly in Bennington County where the snow got going earliest and in earnest.

Road conditions were already bad in parts of New York and Vermont, especially south and west of Interstate 89 as of 8:30 a.m. Sunday. Many low elevation roads there were still just wet, but the higher you go, the slicker it got.

Slippery roads will gradually get more and more widespread as the day wears on.

For you in the Champlain Valley, where it was still mostly rain Sunday morning, I'd still gear up for a terrible Monday morning commute. Snow will continue off and on tonight and Monday, and the roads will be slow and treacherous on the way to work as you begin your week.

Oh joy!

Overall, I think the Champlain Valley will get 1 to 4 inches of snow out of this. Maybe a little more if the rain changes to snow earlier than expected.

Light snow will continue off and on through the day Monday into Tuesday, so there still will be slick spots here and there through that day. Starting later tonight and on into early week the western slopes of the Green Mountains will get the most, and most persistent snow.

Skiers are rejoicing.

For those of you who are less enthusiastic about the snowy weather, there is a silver lining. The rain and then the snow is falling on unfrozen ground, which means some will melt and soak in.

The regional drought is still ongoing, so this storm will help a little because there is quite a lot of precipitation with it. If you melt the expected snow down, and add in the rain that preceded it, we're looking at one to two inches of precipitation.

Not bad.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Saturday Morning Update: Winter Storm Warning Parts Of Vermont, New York

A parade went on as scheduled in Duluth, Minnesota despite
a snowstorm that's heading in our direction. I'm sure
Vermont skiers and riders are in the mood for a parade,
given the forecast. Photo by Andrew Krueger  
If you've got outdoor work to do in your yard still in Vermont, northern New York and the rest of the region, get it done today.

It's going to be gorgeous for this time of year in the North Country with sunshine and highs near 60. Springlike, frankly.

Yet, we're still on track for a big blast of winter starting tomorrow.    

The winter storm watch has been upgraded to a warning in the high and mid elevations of northern and central Vermont and in northern New York. That means winter storm conditions are imminent, not just chancy.

The winter weather will start in the mountains early Sunday morning and slowly spread toward, and then into the valleys.

The general idea of the forecast hasn't changed since yesterday. A sharp cold front will come in tonight, and a slow moving storm will develop over New England later tonight as well.

This sluggish storm will move into southeastern Canada over the next couple of days, continuing a cold, wet northwest air flow.

Almost everyone in Vermont will get some snow out of this, but the valleys will only get a little -- a dusting to three inches.

Mid elevations, say 1,000 or a little more, are in for four to eight inches of snow in northern and central Vermont and northern New York. The St. Lawrence Valley of New York will probably get more than that, with 6 to 12 inches expected there.

The mountains are going to get clobbered, as I noted yesterday. I can hear the cheering from the skiers and riders already.

High elevation snow totals could easily reach a foot, and I still think there might be spot two foot totals near some summits. (Jay Peak ought to get ready for this one, for sure.)

I'm still thinking the Monday morning commute is going to be bad almost everywhere in Vermont and northern New York. . The National Weather Service in South Burlington, Vermont is considering putting out a winter weather advisory for the Champlain Valley for early Monday.

We won't get much snow in the valley -- one or two inches is my guess--- but the roads will ice over, nobody is used to this, and accidents will abound, for sure.

This will be a long lasting storm. Rain will change to snow above 1,000 feet Sunday morning in the region, and then go to many valley floors by dark.

For much of the time, it will be a wet snow, accompanied by gusty northwest winds of up to 30 mph. That could get some of us in trouble with power failures, so be ready for that.

It'll last through Monday at least, with off and on light snow in the lower valleys and sometimes heavy snow in the mountains, especially Sunday afternoon and night, and the first half of Monday.

Watch out in western New York, too, because the lake effect snow machine will really crank up. Places like the Tug Hill Plateau and other areas most prone to these lake effect snows could get up to two feet of new snow in the more persistent squalls.

It will be cold and blustery with scattered snow showers Tuesday. Wednesday will be chilly, and we're watching a possible new storm with maybe some mixed precipitation Thanksgiving. Wintry weather is here to stay for awhile.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Big Thanksgiving Gift To Vermont Skiers? (Winter Storm Watch Added For Mountains)

Rina Knapp snapped this photo of a skier
at Mad River Glen, Vermont after a
snowstorm in October. The snow has
since melted, but it's coming to the
Vermont mountains in a big way in the
next few days.  
UPDATE: 3 p.m. Friday:

The National Weather Service in South Burlington, Vermont has now issued a winter storm watch for central Vermont, especially for areas in and near the Green Mountains with elevations of above 1,000 feet.

As noted in my earlier information, below, there will be some snow even in the valleys, which will lead to a tricky Monday morning commute.

The winter storm warning extends from Sunday morning all the way through Monday. This snowfall will last a long time, giving plenty of opportunity for a lot of snow to accumulate, especially along the western slopes of the Green Mountains, and the summits.

The only thing that will cut back on total snow accumulations will be relatively warm ground, made that way by unusually mild weather in recent days, and continued very, very warm weather for this time of year today and tomorrow.

Still, many areas at elevations over 1,000 feet will get four to eight inches of snow by the end of the day Monday. Some places above, say, 2,500 feet in the western slopes of the Green Mountains could easily get more than a foot.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if isolated spots, like Jay Peak, end up with two feet of snow.

Northern New York, including the St. Lawrence Valley and Adirondacks, are also under the winter storm warning.

I'm very concerned about the commute to work Monday morning everywhere in the region, including the Champlain Valley around Burlington. It'll get below freezing, so wet snow will freeze on roads to form a very slick ice.

Expect crashes and epic delays on roadways. I'm guessing most of Interstate 89 will turn into a parking lot Monday morning.

PREVIOUS DISCUSSION:


Back in October, heavy snow in the Vermont  mountains prompted some die hard skiers to hike up the slopes to take advantage of up to a foot of new powder.

Warm weather has melted all that, and skiers and riders are itching to go at it again, especially after last winter's very lackluster season.

It looks like these skiers and riders are about to get a pre-Thanksgiving gift.

It's balmy now, and will stay that way through Saturday, but things are about to change, hugely, as they say.

The storm that's causing the upper Midwest blizzard this morning will redevelop over New England Saturday night then largely stall over southeastern Canada later Sunday and Monday.

This will set up a wet, cold northwest air flow that promises what could be lots and lots of snow in the mountains.

Unlike in October, some of the Vermont, New York and New Hampshire ski resorts will be open over the Thanksgiving holiday, so skiing and riding will be that much easier.

It'll snow for a long time in the mountains. Probably from Sunday morning through Monday night. I would not be surprised to see places like Jay Peak and Stowe pick up a foot or more of snow near the summits. Mid-level elevations I imagine would pick up a good four to eight inches.

Plus, it will be more than cold enough for resorts to make snow Sunday through Wednesday.

This wintry weather comes at a price, as it always does. Some snow will accumulate all the way down in the valleys, including the Champlain Valley, which has not had any real accumulations of snow yet this season.

It won't amount to much, maybe an inch. Or even a little more in spots. Nobody is yet used to driving in snow. Hell, we didn't even get much practice doing that last winter.

The roads Monday morning could be dicey on the commute to Burlington and other Champlain Valley towns and cities.

This would inevitably lead to stupid people doing stupid things in their cars on icy roads. Be prepared to sit in backed up traffic for a long, long time Monday morning if the forecast plays out like I think it will.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Wild Weather Extremes Now In The Great Plains

The National Weather Service hazards map was
busy this morning with blizzard and winter storm
alerts in the norther Plains, and fire and wind warnings
in the southern Plains. 
Yesterday, my relatives in the southeastern South Dakota city of Yankton enjoyed temperatures in the low 70s, which is incredibly warm for them this time of year.

By tonight, Yankton will be in the low 30s, it will be snowing, and winds from the  north will be gusting to 50 mph.

That's just one of many examples of some real whipsaw, extreme weather going on in the Great Plains at the moment.

Yankton will be on the southern edge of a winter storm that, as mentioned yesterday, is poised to bring blizzard conditions to parts of South Dakota and Minnesota.

Further south, in southeastern Colorado and western Kansas, there's an extreme fire risk today after record high temperatures yesterday are followed today by super dry air and winds of 60 mph or more.

Southern California is also under the gun for fire weather today.

The cold front with this Plains storm is also providing a rude awakening after temperatures in the central and southern Plains yesterday reached their highest levels for so late in the season on Wednesday.

Denver reached 80 degrees, tying the record high for the entire month of November. This record is unusual in its own right, but if you are going to have a monthly record high in November, it would be in the warmer early days on the month, not right before Thanksgiving.

Denver's forecast high today is just 41 degrees, so that's quite a change.

Dodge City, Kansas reached 87 degrees Wednesday, by far its hottest reading for so late in the season. By Friday, the high temperature will only reach the upper 40s there.

If you want wild swings in temperature, the Great Plains are usually the place to go anyway. The kinds of extremes this week in the region are a little bigger than usual, but it has happened before.

Places that are far away from the moderating effects of oceans tend to have wilder temperature gyrations. This week is a terrific example of that.

Year-to-year differences in the Great Plains are striking, too. Two years ago Wednesday,, there was snow around Oklahoma City. Last year on the same date, tornadoes threatened that city. Then, on Wednesday this year, Oklahoma City recorded a record high temperature of 86 degrees.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Winter To Finally Hit Parts Of Nation Over Next Few Days

There's been a notable lack of winter
storms like this one in the nation so far
this month. That's about to change 
Snow has been seriously lacking in the United States so far this late autumn.

Oh, sure there have been decent snows in the higher elevations in the Rockies and in the mountains of northern New England.

But by this late in November, the United States has usually seen a couple good, widespread snowstorms somewhere in the northern half of the nation.  Not this year.  It's been pretty much storm free for the past few weeks.

Until now. The weather pattern is finally changing. A blizzard watch is up for parts of the northeastern South Dakota, a bit of southeastern North Dakota and a little piece of western Minnesotal.

Winter storm watches are in effect for a broader in a band from Wyoming through much of Minnesota.  Much of western Colorado is also under a winter storm watch.

In the blizzard watch zone, six to 10 inches of snow could fall, with winds gusting to 50 mph. The region about to be hit by the winter storm had record high temperatures earlier this week, so the snowstorm and blizzard might come as a bit of a shock.

The storm that will likely cause the Dakotas/Minnesota snowstorm will move into Ontario toward the weekend, but a new storm will form somewhere near or over New England Saturday or Sunday.

That means rain is likely, which is good news because we could still use it in much of the Northeast. The drought is kinda lingering on.

The mild weather will come to an end in the Northeast, too with this weekend storm. By Sunday, temperatures will be crashing, and rain will change to snow, especially in the higher elevations.

I don't think there will be much snow with this, except in the mountains, which could pick  up a few inches. I think the lake effect snow machine will finally rev up along the shores of the Great Lakes, too.

Temperatures will be wintry in northern New England by early next week, so get ready for that.

There has been a dearth of storms across the nation in recent weeks, up until now, so the weather has been remarkably calm.

But this initial storm signals a pattern change. It's going to be much stormier than it has been in recent weeks over the nation, so various places are at risk for several more winter storms over the next few weeks.

It's hard, if not impossible to pin down exactly who will get hit by winter precipitation after this weekend, so stay tuned. Anyone in the northern half of the nation could be a target with this likely parade of wintry storms.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Southeast U.S. Literally Stinks. Not A Slam On Them, Just The Forest Fires

Smoke from wildfires fills the sky over northern
Georgia last week, in this view from a satellite. 
The intensifying drought in the Southeast slogs on, and now the forests are burning, causing air pollution levels to soar in many cities in the region.

Atlanta has been smelling like smoke off and on for days.

One of my customers I had on the phone yesterday from western North Carolina says she's been choking on the smoke for weeks now. She can't even go outside and work in her garden.

There are no fewer than 30 wildfires burning in the Southeast late last week, says the Weather Channel.

There have been some mandatory evacuations in parts of western North Carolina because of the fires, and seven firefighters were trapped by a wildfire in Tennessee. They were later rescued, uninjured, thank goodness.

Evacuations have been reported in northern Georgia, too.

Last week, Atlanta, Georgia was choked in smoke, as winds from the north and northeast brought smoke from the wildfires into the city. People said that it was hard to walk outdoors in the smoggy air.

Unfortunately, many of the wildfires were started by arsonists. In Kentucky, 150 of 210 fires were set by arsonists, the Weather Channel says.

The season is complicating fire fighting efforts. Falling autumn leaves are dropping down on containment lines, creating combustable "bridges" in which the fires can cross those containment lines. That makes it so much harder to put out the fires.

The wildfires have broken out amid a deep and worsening drought in the Southeast. Birmingham, Alabama, for example, is closing in on 60 consecutive days without measureable rainfall, the longest such period on record.

The weather forecast for the region is bleak. Little or no rain is expected in the Southeast for at least a week or more.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

"Supermoon" And Possible Storm Create Risk Of New England Coastal Flood

Minor coastal flooding in Gloucester, Mass caused by
a king tide. Photo by Donna Ardizzoni via CBS Boston.  
You've probably heard we're going to get a "supermoon" early next week, in which the full moon will appear in the sky much larger than normal.

The distance between the Earth and the moon varies, and early next week, the moon will be closer to Earth than usual.

 In fact, it will be the closest to us since 1948 and won't come this close again until 2034.

People that have clear skies Tuesday night will have a really, really bright and big moon. It will be quite a show.  The full moon will look 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than usual.

In New England, it looks like clouds, as usual, will interfere with the view. Worse, the supermoon and a run-of-the-mill storm along the coast could cause some coastal flooding.

The moon is the force that exerts its influence on the tides. Since the moon is closer than usual, it can make higher tides. Coastal areas can expect what are known as "King Tides" that are higher than normal, even if there is no storms around to cause any kind of extra high water levels.

Since sea levels have risen, especially along the East Coast, there's a good chance of some coastal flooding even where there's no storm, such as near Miami, Norfolk and other low lying areas in the Southeast.

The Miami Herald says the expected high tides come just a month after a similar flooding episodes, and flooding from tides has increased markedly in recent years. This will be just another bad example of rising sea levels there.

Up in New England, we're expecting a nor'easter. By the standards of the region, this one will be lame. Just a slug of rain and some fairly gusty coastal winds. Definitely not a big deal.

At least not normally. But as meteorologist Eric Fisher at CBS Boston notes, nor'easters do cause an east wind in New England as they approach. The King Tides  combined with the east winds pushing water onshore could easily cause some pretty good flooding along the coast.

This definitely WON'T  be a mega disaster like Superstorm Sandy or the Perfect Storm by any means.   But if you have oceanfront property in New England, be prepared for flooded roads, beach erosion and maybe some property damage.

The Supermoon strikes again!



Thursday, November 10, 2016

Lesson: How To Make It Rain

Since I'm feeling childlike today, I'd like to give this lesson on how to make it a cloud release a rain shower.

I found on Twitter today.

It's brilliant.

h/t @WorldAndScience

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Hot Times In Barrow Alaska. (At Least By Their Standards)

Barrow, on the northern tip of Alaska is not the place for you if you like basking in tropical warmth.

It's easily the coldest city in the United States, and this time of year, normal highs are near 10 degrees, with readings a little below zero at night.

Barrow, Alaska, shown here in a summertime photo a
couple years back, is having a record warm autumn
at least by their standards.  
Back in October, when we Vermonters usually bask in temperatures up in the 50s and 60s amid fall foliage, it's usually winter already in Barrow. Normal daily high temperatures are usually below freezing by mid-October in Barrow.  

But by those chilly standards, Barrow has been a tropical paradise this autumn.

October's average temperature up there was 30.1 degrees, the hottest on record and a whopping 12.9 degrees toastier than normal.  It got up to 44 degrees on October 10 up there. Chilly for us, beach weather for them.

The warmth has continued into November. Instead of the usual high/low of 10 and a little below zero, daytime temperatures have been in the mid 20s to low 30s this month.

Part of the reason Barrow has been so warm has been a serious lack of sea ice in the Arctic. When there's open ocean, relatively warm water can evaporate into the air. When it's frozen, it's frozen, no "heat" escapes from the water. It's sealed off by ice.

Barrow is not the only place that's been so warm lately in the Great White North, though in a few places up there it still isn't so white.

The western and northwestern shores of Hudson Bay have reached the upper 50s in recent days, in a zone that is normally constantly below freezing this time of year.

Hudson Bay is usually freezing up by this time of year, but it's largely ice free at the moment.

This northern warmth will have a bit of a factor in our weather here in New England late this week and into Saturday.

We're due for a shot of cold air from the source region of central Canada, where temperatures are so much warmer than average. That means the cold shot coming our way won't be as cold as you'd expet in the weather pattern that is expected to set up at the end of the week.

Instead of our own early season bout of subfreezing afternoons, it will be seasonably cold, with highs in the upper 30s, with just scattered wet snow showers. No big deal for November.



 were basking in fall foliage and temperature

Monday, November 7, 2016

Rare Tornado Kills Two Near Rome, Italy

A large tornado north of Rome, Italy Sunday.
A fairly rare, but powerful tornado swept through areas of Italy near Rome Sunday, killing two people, according to media reports.

A 25 year old man died when a cornice fell off a building during the tornado in Ladispoli, north of Rome, killing him. A 74 year old man died when a tree fell on him.

Video of the tornado, which you can see below, shows a wide, wedged shaped tornado, the kind that often tend to be particularly strong.

There was widespread damage to buildings, cars and trees north of Rome.

Damaging tornadoes occasionally strike Italy, so it's not unheard of to have something like this. But it's still relatively rare, especially in cases like this one where there were unfortunately fatalities.

Here's a video of the Italy tornado and its destructive aftermath Sunday:





Saturday, November 5, 2016

Thousands Of Weird Snowballs Appear On Siberian Beach

Thousands of snow and ice balls formed along a coastline
in northwestern Siberia in a rare phenomenon caused by
wind, ice in coastal waters and snow. 
Residents of a shoreline community in northern Siberia were treated to an onslaught of snowballs that appeared on the beach recently.

According to the BBC, the snowballs appeared along an 11-mile stretch of coast in the Gulf of Ob, in northwestern Siberia.

The snow and ice balls, most of them perfectly round, ranged in size from tennis balls to almost three feet across, the BBC said.

The snowballs formed from a rare process in which small pieces of ice form, and are rolled by wind and water, collecting more snow and ice along the way, to form the snowballs. Winds and temperatures must be just right to form the snow balls.

Unrelated to these, there's another phenomenon that I've seen here in Vermont called snow rollers. These are rare, too, and form when fluffy snow gets sticky when temperatures are just barely above freezing, and strong winds roll them into cylinders.

The BBC says the Siberian snow and ice balls were something people who live in Nyda, just above the Arctic Circle, said they've never seen anything like it.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The "Desert Southeast": Drought Intensifies In Alabama, Georgia

As I sit and write this Thursday morning, it's starting to rain outside my home in St. Albans, Vermont.
A rare, intense drought is hitting parts of Southeast
Image from U.S. Drought Monitor.  

We're going to get another half inch to an inch of rain today, which will further ease the drought in the Northeast.

Today's rain if affecting most of New York and New England, which has been the epicenter of a drought that developed in the spring and lasted all summer and fall.

This drought is far from over, but at least we're getting a little wetting.

The Northeast drought has been getting all the attention, but a worse one has taken shape in northern Alabama and Georgia.

They can't seem to catch a break, as all the rain storms have missed them this fall. Rains from Hurricane Matthew missed. Tropical systems often move inland from the Gulf of Mexico in the summer and fall, dumping torrential rains on the South.

Not this year.

The lack of rain has been building for months. Now, in the fall, a strong high pressure system has been pretty much stuck over the Southeast, deflecting rain away from the region. Worse, that high pressure system has been causing an incredibly long streak of record high temperatures.

The record warmth increases evaporation, making the drought intensify even faster. That dry, hot weather is expected to remain over the region for at least another week.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, about 75 percent of Alabama is in at least severe drought, and 14 percent is in exceptional drought, the highest category you can get on the drought scale.

No measureable rain  has fallen on Birmingham, Alabama since September 18. Only a trace fell there in October, a month that usually brings about 3.5 inches of rain. Temperatures in Birmingham in September and October were five to seven degrees warmer than normal.

The drought in the Southeast is worse than the one in New England. The Weather Channel's Jim Cantore has taken to calling the region the "Desert Southeast."

So far, the Southeast's principal crops, including cotton, peanuts and peaches, have not suffered too badly because the main growing regions are outside the worst drought zone, says the Insurance Journal. 

Still, other crops have suffered, and the normally green, wet region of the nation is having rare forest fires.

Unfortunately, drier than normal conditions are expected to continue through the winter in the Southeast, according to admittably dicey long range outlooks.

Let's hope that's wrong and plenty of winter rains hit the Southeast. (Lots of winter snow in New England wouldn't be too upsetting, either.)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Is Warming Arctic Making Our Winters More Miserable

Boston during the winter of 2015. Will a warming
Arctic paradoxically give us more winters
like the one pictured?
Another study is telling us that the warming Arctic might not be doing us in the Northeast if we hate cold winters, and hate paying big heating bills.

As the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang reported this week, we're going to have to talk about the polar vortex again, that weather system that became such an internet sensation a couple winters back.  

The polar vortex is always up in the Arctic in the winter. It's a tightly wound circulation of frigid air that is perfectly normal, not the monster it was made out to be in the winter of 2013-14.

But a warming Arctic might be screwing around with that polar vortex.

Says the Washington Post:

"Occasionally (the polar vortex) fragments and pieces of it plunge into eastern North America, carrying bitter cold air. The winters of 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 witnessed several such polar vortex disintegrations and resulted in record setting cold snaps."

The polar vortex has showed a weakening trend over the past three decades, says the study in Nature Climate Change, making it easier to fragment and sent cold air into parts of Europe, Asia and North America, especially in the late winter and early spring.

Other studies have shown this overall polar vortex weakening, but the latest study takes things a little further. It's complicated, but an oversimplified version of it is this:

There's more open water in the Arctic in the autumn and early winter in recent years. That means more evaporation, and more water vapor in the air that falls as snow in Siberia and other high latitude locations.

The snow cover up there is thus, counterintuitively, more widespread than usual, which helps sets off weather pattern changes that make the polar vortex more likely to fall apart.

Additional complicated weather patterns favor fragments of the polar vortex to unload on eastern North America in late winter and early spring, mostly March, so we would be more prone to terrible cold snaps during that time of year, which prolongs winter.

Or at least give us weather whiplash. There have also been notable heat waves in recent years during March when the polar vortex isn't unloading on us. Remember the 80s in mid-March, 2012. And 70 degrees plus in early March last year?

The hints of spring might be prone to getting clobbered by these cold waves. Which screws ups and freezes early budding plants and fruit trees, causing crop losses, and less importantly, aggravated gardeners. It's a situation we saw last year, I know.

Of course, this doesn't always happen. A strong El Nino last year kept the Arctic air pretty much bottled up over the far north, and many of us in the Northeast enjoyed (or cursed) the warmest winter on record.

Even then, a brief very sharp cold wave around Valentine's Day brought some daily record low temperatures, and there was a temporary chill down in the second half of March and early April before the warmth returned. Which created the above mentioned havoc with frozen flowers on fruit trees.

As Scientific American notes, this is just another piece of evidence that global warming can cause more extremes in weather. Occasionally, those extremes are bitter cold, despite the overall warming trend.

This new study the Washington Post cites is not the final word, as there is controversy among scientists as to what Arctic thawing means, exactly how it affects the polar vortex, and howwe might feel the effects down here where we live.

We just know that things are getting screwed up with climate change, and we're only beginning to understand the picky details of how this will play out.

By the way, as I write this on a mild early November morning, there is much above snow cover in Eurasia, including Siberia, and much below normal Arctic sea ice, the Weather Channel notes. 

Many forecasters are saying this will lead to a bitter winter this year. Starting as soon as just before Thanksgiving, according to some predictions.

Bundle up and stow cash for those high winter heating bills!