Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May 2: Severe Storms Omaha to Twin Cities to Chicago and D.C.

2.5" diameter hail reported at Sauk Rapids at 7 pm yesterday. Source: trained spotter for NOAA.

"Supercell". Thanks to "weathriver" for providing some amazing pics and footage to WeatherNation TV - this was the supercell thunderstorm that dropped a few tornadoes and 2"+ diameter hail on Stearns County late Tuesday afternoon. Wall cloud visible upper right; the "tail cloud" upper left is a tip-off of a severe updraft and violently rising air into this rotating thunderstorm.

A Wild Lightning Display. WeatherNation TV meteorologist Addison Green captured some of the amazing cloud to cloud and cloud to ground lightning last night. The storms weakened to below severe threshholds as they pushed across the Twin Cities metro Tuesday night, but they dropped torrential rains - much needed rain at that.

"A Multi-Million Dollar Rainfall." These are Doppler radar estimates (NWS Dopplers) showing streaks of 1-3" rainfall amounts over parts of central and southwestern Minnesota. The same "supercell" that spawned a few tornadoes from Brooton to Becker also dumped out 2-3" rain, 2" amounts near Glencoe and 2-3" amounts south of Marshall and Redwood Falls. Doppler estimates as of 10:30 pm last night.

Tuesday Storm Reports. The "supercell" thunderstorm that swept across central Minnesota produced at least 3 tornado touchdowns (near Brooton) with funnel clouds spottered at Becker, reports of 2"+ diameter hail heavy enough to cover the ground and break car windshields from Sauk Centre, to Freeport to St. Joseph. Click here to see an interactive map of Minnesota storm damage, courtesy of NOAA and Ham Weather.

National Damage Reports. 284 reports of tornadoes, funnel clouds, hail and damaging straight-line winds as of 9 pm Tuesday, a single day's worth of severe weather. Interactive map courtesy of Ham Weather.

Wednesday Severe Threat. According to SPC there is a risk of severe storms from central Nebraska eastward across Iowa and southern Minnesota into Wisconsin, the Chicago and Detroit area, to Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Washington D.C. - along the leading edge of tropical, 80-degree air. Map: SPC and Ham Weather.

Another (Big) Dent In The Drought? I'm not convinced (yet) that it will be enough rain to end the drought altogether, but we're making significant progress. A stalled, east-west frontal boundary will spark more heavy showers and T-storms later today and Thursday. A "train-echo" effect is possible. Just like the cars in a train pass over the same section of track, storms may keep redeveloping over the same counties, especially tonight, when minor flooding can't be ruled out. The NAM model (above) is hinting at some 2-3" rainfall amounts over the southern and eastern suburbs of the Twin Cities.

Fast-Forward Spring For Corn Farmers. Check out this update from the Midwestern Regional Climate Center: “Weather conditions for planting crops in the Midwest have been ideal this year, resulting in all nine states planting well above the 2007-2011 average for April 29th. The states that are furthest along in planting are Kentucky, with 86% of its corn planted, and Illinois, with 79% planted. All states are also much further along in planting corn when compared to last year’s late planting (last column). For instance, on April 29th of this year, Indiana has already planted 70% of its corn, which is substantially higher than the 2% that was planted in Indiana by April 29th, 2011.”

Only 330 Warm Weather Records Tied or Broken In April Across USA. That compares with over 15,000 warm weather records in March. NOAA's NCDC has more details, by way of Facebook.

4th Least Snow On Record For Salt Lake City. Check out the details from the SLC office of The National Weather Service. No, skiers and snowboarders didn't have much to celebrate this past "winter".

"..It's like you're moving into a new house and the roof is on fire and the basement is flooded, their's gas in the kitchen and there's a dog in the backyard. The question is, how do you make this house livable?" - quote from the (remarkable) 4 part PBS series, "Money, Power and Wall Street", recalling President Obama's arrival at the White House in early 2008, on the cusp of a banking failure, international banking contagion and the brink of a global depression. It's a 2-hour documentary about what really happened in 2008, risks that remain in the banking community, and Wall Street power, greed, and corruption. It may be the most important thing you watch on TV this year.

Scientists Try To Figure Out What Makes Some Storms Spawn Deadly Tornadoes. Here's an excerpt of a fascinating article at The Washington Post: "While violent, rotating thunderstorms spawn almost all of the most powerful tornadoes, most of them produce only weak twisters — or none at all. Unfortunately, meteorologists can’t predict which of these swirling storms, known as supercells, will spin out damaging and deadly tornadoes, such as those that devastated Birmingham, Ala., and Joplin, Mo., last year. To understand what causes one storm to be devastating and another to fizzle — and to enable forecasters to give earlier warnings when a deadly twister is on the way — a federally funded program known as VORTEX2 was launched several years ago. About 1,300 tornadoes hit the United States in an average year; about a quarter of them are classified as particularly deadly, with winds of at least 118 mph."

Photo credit above: "Ryan McGinnis - An anemometer measures winds near a tornado in Goshen County, Wyo., in 2009."

Do Tornadoes Have A Favorite Path? Or Are Repeat Victims Just Unlucky? Details from al.com: "HUNTSVILLE, Alabama -- Is it just bad luck that at least a dozen of the same homes on Yarbrough Road in Harvest have been hit twice by tornadoes in 10 months? Or is the science just stacked against them? Yarbrough Road seems just like any other road in western Madison County - other than the fact it was hit by both an April 27, 2011, tornado and a March 2 tornado. Same homes, same victims. Spooky? Unbelievable coincidence? Or is there a scientific reason for the double damage?"

Photo credit above: "The trailer overturned during the March 2, 2012 tornado was the makeshift home for a family while they rebuilt their house damaged in the April 27, 2011 tornado. (The Huntsville Times photo/Eric Schultz)."

Study: Most Victims Knew Alabama Tornadoes Were Coming. Details from WeatherBug: "ATLANTA - Most of the victims of last year`s epic tornado outbreak in Alabama had at least one thing in common: They knew the storm was coming. A year after the onslaught of dozens of twisters killed at least 250 people in Alabama and more elsewhere in the South, federal researchers are completing a study of who died and where they were when it happened. Among the conclusions so far: Nearly half of the people who died had been advised to take shelter. Indeed, most of them did. But many of the tornadoes were so fierce that few structures were able to withstand them. "These were catastrophic winds that could destroy pretty much anything in its path," Cindy Chiu, an epidemic intelligence service officer, said in reporting preliminary findings this month at a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conference in Atlanta."

Tornado Scientists Are Surprised To See "Ribbon" In Thunderstorm Data. There is still so much about tornadoes we don't understand, in spite of Doppler radar and numerous experiments literally out in the field (with the "Vortex" projects). Here's an excerpt of a curious story at The Washington Post: "Examination of VORTEX2 radar data uncovered a supercell mystery no one noticed when the data were being recorded. When taking a second look at the data to trace the genesis of a tornado, scientists observed that there was an area of light rain and small raindrops inside the thunderstorm supercell that spawned the tornado. Normally supercells are filled with heavy rain and ice."

Graphic credit above: "(CENTER FOR SEVERE WEATHER RESEARCH) - An oval marks an area of light rain and small raindrops inside a thunderstorm."

New NASA Satellite Sees Tornadoes Like Never Before. I'm impressed with some of the articles local stations and local meteorologists are doing - here's an excerpt of a must-read article from NASA and WDBJ7.com: "On Jan. 22 and 23, 2012, more than 37 tornadoes struck the southern USA. Ten of them tore across the Lower Mississippi Valley into Alabama. Worst hit were St. Clair and Jefferson County, Ala., where 2 people were killed, about 100 others injured, and at least $30 million in damage was done. It was a chilling reminder of the April 2011 onslaught of deadly tornadoes that took a staggering toll across southern and Midwestern states. In southern parts of the USA, tornado season tends to peak in springtime. Yet January 2012 produced 73 winter tornadoes -- third most of any January in recorded history. Most of them struck southern states. And since over a quarter of the incredible 1,688 twisters confirmed across the US in 2011 occurred in the four-state region of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee, residents there are becoming ever more wary of darkening skies."

Tornado Rooms Could Save Lives. Some good information and a video from WDTN.com: "WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP, Ohio (WDTN) - A tornado room currently comes standard for new home owners at one Washington Township development. The room, which is available in homes at Scarborough Village off State Route 48, is designed to protect you in case of a violent storm. "Part of their concern was living in the ranch with the weather conditions so we offer this tornado room to give them a little more comfort," says Rick Cherubini, with Crosstown Properties, which builds the homes. The tornado room doesn't look like much. It's not even enough to make a closet jealous. But it's what you don't see that matters."

* Tornado Sirens: An Old Technology That's Still Saving Lives. USA Today has the story here.

Learning The Behavior Of The Tsunami. One of the few things Minnesotans don't have to worry about; scienceray.com has the story - here's an excerpt: "Loud audible alarm sounds. From the distance came the sound of water thundering closer. The higher the waves and tossed a house of wood and concrete. Simulation of tsunami waves in the laboratories of the Port and Airport Research Institute of Japan that makes hair stand on end. Japanese disaster researchers believe the prediction that the tsunami, which in Japanese means “harbor wave”, will only come at the same location once every 100 years. However, a series of simulation studies and the impact of the tsunami still routinely done by studying the character of the tsunami that occurred in various countries." Photo: NOAA.

Hotel Company Sues Government Over Tennessee Flooding. The NWS has never been found "guilty" for an incorrect forecast. It's an "act of God", and everyone realizes the limitations of weather forecasting. You can be held negligent for not maintaining equipment, which can lead to injury or death, but a "bad forecast"? It'll be interesting to see how this plays out in the courts - as usual, the only winners will be the legal teams involved. Boston.com has the story; here's an excerpt: "NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Gaylord Entertainment Co. filed a lawsuit Monday accusing the National Weather Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of negligence that heavily damaged its luxury hotel in Nashville and the famous Grand Ole Opry House during flooding in 2010. The company says it sustained more than $250 million in damages at several of its businesses from flooding of the Cumberland River that could have been avoided had the Corps of Engineers opened up a spillway sooner to relieve a swollen reservoir. The historic flooding left 26 people dead, including 11 in Nashville, and caused an estimated $2 billion worth of damage when it rained 13.5 inches over two days."
File photo from 2010 flood courtesy of people.com.

Can An Algorithm Write A Better Story Than A Human Reporter? I sure hope not - but at the rate we're going nothing would surprise me. The story from wired.com: "Had Narrative Science — a company that trains computers to write news stories—created this piece, it probably would not mention that the company’s Chicago headquarters lie only a long baseball toss from the Tribune newspaper building. Nor would it dwell on the fact that this potentially job-killing technology was incubated in part at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. Those ironies are obvious to a human. But not to a computer. At least not yet. For now consider this: Every 30 seconds or so, the algorithmic bull pen of Narrative Science, a 30-person company occupying a large room on the fringes of the Chicago Loop, extrudes a story whose very byline is a question of philosophical inquiry."

How Tech's Giants Want To Reinvent Journalism. Here's another eye-opening story from paidcontentorg: "Some of Silicon Valley’s biggest technology companies reject suggestions they are now news organisations. But they nevertheless think they have the prescription for what news media must do next… First, the disclosures: “We’re not a news company,” Google’s head of news products and Google+ programming Richard Gingras told media executives at the Paley Center’s international council of media executives in Madrid on Thursday. “We’re a platform,” Facebook’s journalism manager Vadim Lavrusik duly followed."

The New Pay Phone And What It Knows About You. You've heard it before, but it's true: if the product or service is "free" - you're the product. Your personal information is being tracked and harvested, for a variety of reasons and clients, everything from advertising to direct marketing. Here's an interesting read from The New York Times: "The term pay phone has a new meaning today. For consumers who wish to ditch their wallets, paying through a mobile phone can be awfully convenient. Those same consumers can also, often unwittingly, give up valuable information about themselves to merchants that want to sell them things. A new survey by law professors at the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that most Americans are uneasy with the idea that their phones could divulge behavioral and personal information, like phone numbers and in-store browsing habits. The survey was created by Chris Hoofnagle and Jennifer Urban, who study digital privacy issues, and financed by Nokia, which makes cellphones. The survey posed a variety of questions by phone to 1,200 people nationwide. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points."

"More Than A Number". I'm a little biased on this one - Jordan's brother, Ryan Jakubov, works with one of my companies. But this is a terrific story about overcoming adversity - definitely worth a look. The complete video can be found at kuathletics.com: "Coming back from one Tommy John surgery is tough, but two is nearly unheard of. Jordan Jakubov's story is highlighted in this "More than a Number" video."

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” – James 1:2-3

Severe Weather Hype?

"Why is the TV meteorologist ruining "The Voice" with stupid tornado warnings? I don't even know where that county is." I hear this every spring. "You're just doing it for ratings, hyping the 'dang weather!" People have a slightly different reaction when an EF-3 tornado is approaching their neighborhood. "Why weren't you on the air? Why didn't you knock on my door and lead me by the hand to my basement, Paul?" It's a lose-lose proposition.

In a perfect world (it ain't) your GPS-aware smart phone would send out an audible shriek if a tornado, or any threat, was approaching your house. This is the future. It's coming. Until then we make do with the multitude of options that currently exist, good options ranging from TV to radio, NOAA Weather Radio, e-mails and smart phone apps. I guess I should list sirens too, but only for outdoor use. Depending on the sirens is a one-way ticket to trouble.

Meteorologists talk about situational awareness and "multiple safety nets"; the more sources of information the better. You never know where you'll be, and which device could make the difference between getting the warning, and being caught unprepared.

Like every other meteorologist I'd rather be harangued for being on the air, trampling "Dancing With The Stars", then hear "where were you when my home got leveled?"

A nagging severe threat lingers into Thursday; if the sun comes out today and tomorrow (likely) we should top 80, sparking a very unstable sky. But most of us will NOT see anything severe. Locally heavy rains are possible tonight, especially southern Minnesota. A surge of cooler air arrives Friday with partial clearing and highs returning to the 60s to near 70. Another wave of low pressure passing to our south may spark a shower Saturday; heavier, steadier rain may fall on Sunday. Another partly-puddly weekend. Ugh. Sorry. In unison: "we need the rain." If only we could time it for weekdays. At night. Non-commuting hours. We're working on that.

Cooler, drier weather returns next week.

Climate Stories...

Tim McCarver Isn't Crazy: The Home Run And Global Warming Connection. It may seem counterintuitive, but as moisture levels go up, as humidity and dew point rises, air density drops, and (yes) a ball can travel farther through the air, all other things being equal. Meteorologist Jason Samenow at The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang has more: "Over the weekend, baseball announcer Tim McCarver became the source of ridicule when he blamed global warming as a reason for the increase in home run totals in recent years. But it was the criticism of McCarver rather than McCarver’s comment that was over the top. “There have been climactic changes over the last 50 years in the world, and I think that’s one of the reasons that balls are carrying much better now than I remember,” McCarver said. Deadspin called McCarver’s statement “one of the most insane things ever asserted by a professional broadcaster.”

Graph credit above: "Temperatures compared to a 1951-1980 baseline since 1880 and the average home runs per team per game since 1880. (Temperature data from NASA GISS; home run data from Baseball-Reference.com )."

Clouds' Effect On Climate Change Is Last Bastion For Dissenters. The argument goes something like this: "don't worry about a warming atmosphere - a spike in temperature will evaporate more water in the world's oceans, producing more clouds, which will have a net cooling effect!" Details from The New York Times: "LAMONT, Okla. — For decades, a small group of scientific dissenters has been trying to shoot holes in the prevailing science of climate change, offering one reason after another why the outlook simply must be wrong.  Over time, nearly every one of their arguments has been knocked down by accumulating evidence, and polls say 97 percent of working climate scientists now see global warming as a serious risk. Yet in recent years, the climate change skeptics have seized on one last argument that cannot be so readily dismissed. Their theory is that clouds will save us."

No, Wind Farms Are Not Causing Global Warming. Here's a snippet of an article from The Washington Post: "Scientific studies are misrepresented all the time. But now and again the distortions get particularly bad. That was the case Monday, when Fox News ran the headline, “New Research Shows Wind Farms Cause Global Warming.” A number of other media outlets did the same thing. And it’s... not true at all. The frenzy started after Liming Zhou, a scientist at the University of Albany, published a short study in Nature Climate Change. Zhou’s team analyzed satellite data for a handful of large wind farms in west-central Texas. And he found that, between 2003 and 2011, the surface temperature in the immediate vicinity of Texas’ wind farms had heated up a fair bit, especially during the night hours, as the wind turbines pulled warmer air from the atmosphere down closer to the ground."

Photo credit above: George Frey, Bloomberg.

Don't Believe The Headlines. Wind Farms Do Not Cause "Global" Warming. Another perspective from The Christian Science Monitor; here's an excerpt: "All energy technologies have nuances and drawbacks. New research published in Nature Climate Change found that wind farms are no exception.....If it were true that the spinning blades of wind turbines increased the overall temperature of the planet, as opposed to simply redistributing thermal energy, we would have to rewrite some basic laws of physics, particularly the 2nd law of thermodynamics. This is an important distinction from the burning of fossil fuels, which produces gas that increases how much of the sun's energy the Earth retains. In this respect, this process contributes to a globally warming climate because the source of energy (the sun) is apart from the system that is warmed (the Earth.)"

Photo credit above: "Cattle graze beneath turbines at the Penascal Wind Power Project in Kenedy County, Texas. A new study indicates that large wind farms can cause local temperature increases. Business Wire."

Offering A Conservative Perspective On Climate Change. This one hit close to home, as someone who leans to the right, politically, here is another lonely conservative voice in the climate-wilderness, an excerpt of an Op-Ed at the press-citizen.com: "As a conservative Republican who very much understands the need to reduce and control our spending, it may seem strange that I understand and accept that climate change is impacting my home, state and country. It is beyond comprehension that my party would so adamantly avoid dealing with the fact that we now are facing historical events on such a regular basis that it is impacting our state and national budgets in the hundreds of billions of dollars annually. Why do we continue to miss the chance to address proactively the adverse impacts of our past and current actions? Why is it that we have not connected the dots between climate change and real life events that have occurred in our own backyards?"

Water Crisis Looms For A Thirsty Planet. Underscoring my theory that water, not oil, will be the most valuable natural resource of the 21st century, here's an excerpt from NPR: "Twelve years ago, I was an intern working with the American Museum of Natural History on marine protected areas. One afternoon, after reading mountains of articles that documented the declining state of fisheries and reefs, I naively proclaimed that ocean conservation must be the most depressing field in the world of science. "Not at all," countered my mentor. "It's the freshwater scientists that have it the worst." He was right. At first this notion seems counterintuitive. Earth is covered in H2O, after all. Yet, in reality, only 2.5 percent of it is fresh and two-thirds of that happens to be frozen." Photo: ThinkStock.

Ford Powers Into Electric Car Business. Here's an excerpt from an article at AOL.com: "If it's true that it takes a crisis to force change then the US car manufacturing sector understands this better than anyone. Detroit has undergone a renaissance in the wake of the global economic and financial meltdown, broadening their offerings to include more fuel efficient passenger vehicles, hybrid models and electric cars. "We are experiencing technological changes in automobiles that I have not seen in my lifetime," said Ford Motor Company Chairman Bill Ford at a recent reception to promote Ford's partnership with sustainability innovator SHFT.com. AOL Huffington Post is also a founding partner of the site." Photo: Ford.

IBM's Lithium-Air Battery Tech: The 500-Mile Electric Car? The story from Motor Authority: "The only certainty of electric car technology is that nobody is really certain of our future path. Dozens of different battery technologies are under development all around the world to fix the common battery limitations--limited energy density, heavy weight, long recharging times--and one such path is that of lithium-air batteries. Computer and technology company IBM is taking the lithium-air route, and explains the workings of the battery in the video above."

Ocean Acidity Increasing At Unprecedented Rate. An important story from mathaba.net; here's an excerpt: "In a new study marine scientists have warned that the rate of ocean acidification presently occurring is unprecedented in the last 300 million years. This is due to dissolving carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, much of which human activity has contributed over the last 200 years through the use of fossil fuels. The extent and rate of acidification enhances the prospect for a mass marine extinction event this century. Research in paleoclimatology and oceanography has revealed that anthropogenic climate change is driving Ocean Acidification threatening marine ecosystems."
Graphic credit above: "Correlation of CO2 in atmosphere, seawater and seawater pH (acidity)."

An Underground Fossil Forest Offers Clues About Climate Change. Details from The New York Times; here's an excerpt: "In the clammy depths of a southern Illinois coal mine lies the largest fossil forest ever discovered, at least 50 times as extensive as the previous contender. Scientists are exploring dripping passages by the light of headlamps, mapping out an ecosystem from 307 million years ago, just before the world’s first great forests were wiped out by global warming. This vast prehistoric landscape may shed new light on climate change today. Dating from the Pennsylvanian period of the Carboniferous era, the forest lies entombed in a series of eight active mines. They burrow through the rich seams of the Springfield Coal, a nationally important energy resource that underlies much of Illinois and two neighboring states and has been heavily mined for decades."

Obama's Big Greenwash. Here's an excerpt from an article at Huffington Post: "The United Nations climate chief, Christiana Figueres, has warned that a Republican win in the U.S. presidential election would jeopardize action against climate change and that America would risk falling behind China and Europe in clean technologies. She urges American voters not to vote for a Republican candidate. In effect, Ms. Figueres is plumping for President Obama. The head of a UN body meddling in U.S. politics is not only impolitic, it also calls into question the president's own stance on clean energy. While Mr. Obama embraced it initially, allocating over $40 billion to the sector through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he took a near about-turn in his 2012 State of the Union address by strongly supporting shale gas and oil, while backpedaling on renewables."

Climate Change This Week: Weird British Weather, An Intensifying Water Cycle, And More. Details from The Huffington Post: "U.S. corn will be cut dramatically by climate change in coming years, and our biofuels policy might weaken farmers' attempts to adapt, a new Stanford study says. Add to Britain's winter drought, flooding, as unusual April torrential showers flow over the dried compact soil, failing to refill aquifers, reports Paul Cahalan from the UK's Independent. Get ready for fiercer droughts and storms, folks -- the salt of the sea is telling the world that climate change is intensifying the global water cycle twice as fast as originally thought, a new study in the journal Science shows, according to Michael Lemonick at Climate Central."