Sunday, May 26, 2013

Happy Memorial Day (slight tropical risk for Florida in 10 days?)

Memorial Day Jackets

With a son in the Navy I now read the news with new eyes. Brett's service gives me new appreciation for the men & women who gave everything for this country. No, freedom isn't free.
Thank a veteran for their service today.

And yes, the weather could be better. At least it didn't snow. Climate records show 2 Memorial Days since the mid-1800s cold enough for flurries. Boating in heavy jackets; a friend reported tiny icebergs on Gull lake as recently as last week.

Warm frontal thunderstorms sparked flooding over Iowa over the weekend; a few strong T-storms arrive by evening; downpours most likely tonight & Tuesday. Today won't win any awards with highs in the 60s to near 70. The sun may even pop out for 15 minutes.

No, I don't quite yet grasp the mutual attraction of holidays & puddles,either.

A stormy week is on tap as a slow-moving front sloshes across the Upper Midwest. Models show drier, cooler weather returning by next weekend.

The cool bias that kicked in back in February is still with us. I see a cooler, stormier June, with a few severe storm outbreaks.

At least our storms don't have names. GFS guidance hints at a possible tropical storm brushing Florida by June 6. Details below.

Memorial Day Soakers? The RAP (Rapid Scan) model brings heavy showers and T-storms into the metro area by early morning today, printing out nearly 2" of rain. Skies may brighten by afternoon, but with the warm front almost directly overhead it'll be a close call whether we can see any clearing. Other models print out over 1" of rain, pulling in another band of heavy showers and thunderstorms by late afternoon and evening. Yep, looks like a major holiday - possibly an omen of a soggy (cooler) summer to come.

Ripe. The RAP model has a pretty good track record lately, so I'm not discounting the band of warm frontat T-storms forecast to drift into the metro area this morning. Confidence level: low to moderate. Timing with warm frontal storms is always tricky, but they usually flare up early morning and evening/overnight hours.

Flood Potential. WSI's high resolution 4 km. RPM model prints out some 2-5" rains over the next 20 hours from near SIoux Falls into far southwestern Minnesota and northwest Iowa.

A Stormy Week. ECMWF model data suggests today will be the wettest day of a fairly soggy week (of course); temperatures warming into the low 80s Wednesday and Thursday with a few strong/severe T-storms possible. We dry out and cool off slightly by the weekend.

Severe Potential. A surge of Gulf moisture interacting with strong jet stream winds and an eastbound cool front will spark strong to severe storms from Montana across the Plains, Midwest, reaching the Great Lakes by Tuesday. For Minnesota the best potential for hail and high winds may come Tuesday. Graphic: WeatherNation TV.

Serious Flash Flooding in San Antonio. Nearly 10" of rain drenched San Antonio, Texas Saturday, the wettest May day on record - second wettest ever recorded. That's roughly 2-3 months of rain falling on the metro area in less than 24 hours.

Putting This Spring's Cold In Context. January thru March was the 8th warmest period in over 100 years for the planet, but it's human nature to look out the window and make assumptions. I get it. UCAR has a good overview of our chilly spring, placed in a larger context of a slowly warming atmosphere; here's an excerpt: "What led to this springtime string of cold and snow? It’s due in part to the perfectly normal seasonal shift of the polar jet stream. The jet often flows from west to east across the heart of the United States in winter. By summer, it’s flowing mainly across Canada and the northern tier of states. Spring and autumn are times of transition, when the jet oscillates back and forth. Throughout the year, packets of upper-level low pressure ride the jet stream, rippling along the flow like waves and often bringing stormy weather with them.  Sometimes these atmospheric waves “break.” Southward dips in the jet stream can become so large and deep that they snap off from the main flow. The result: an upper low marooned hundreds of miles south of the polar jet stream..."

Image credit above: "Cut-off centers of low pressure loitered near California and the U.S. South early this week, with the polar jet stream in a summerlike position across northern Canada. Shown here are upper-level winds as of 8:00 a.m. EDT on May 6." (Image courtesy NOAA/NCEP Model Analysis & Guidance.)

Drought Continues To Ease. The entire Twin Cities and St. Cloud metro areas are officially out of the drought now, lingering pockets of moderate to severe drought over southwestern Minnesota, but conditions continue to improve statewide. Yes, this spring has been a bust, but at least there's water in our lakes, and look at how good your lawn looks! Details from the Minnesota Climatology Working Group: "The U. S. Drought Monitor, released on May 23 places portions of southwest Minnesota in the Severe Drought category (map at right). Only 7 percent of Minnesota's landscape is in Severe Drought, a substantial improvement over early April when 67 percent of Minnesota was experiencing Extreme Drought or Severe Drought. The maximum geographic extent of the present drought was late autumn 2012 through mid-winter when 83 percent of the state was rated in the Extreme Drought or Severe Drought categories..."

Sophisticated Tornado Warning System Saved A Lot Of Lives In Oklahoma. Here's a segment from Business Insider: "When a devastating tornado touched down in Moore, Oklahoma on May 20, locals had 16 minutes to get to safety before the mile-wide EF4 hit. Even that seemingly short warning system is enough to save a ton of lives. The Oklahoma City siren system, a network of 181 emergency warning sirens, was state-of-the-art when it went online in April, 2002. It cost $4.5 million to install the new system, which replaced the cold war-era sirens that covered only the most densely populated parts of the city..."

Photo credit: SUE OGROCKI / AP

Storm Shelters And Safe Rooms Save Lives When Tornadoes, Hurricanes Strike. Here's a portion of a timely article at EHS Today: "...High wind speeds produce flying debris turning construction materials, furniture, appliances and just about anything into deadly missiles. The standard requires that walls, windows and doors are tested to withstand flying projectiles.
Tornado storm shelters are required to house people for 2 hours and include minimum requirements for ventilation, sanitation facilities, a fire extinguisher, lighting and other minimal power needs. 
 A storm shelter does not need to be a separate space or structure. A shelter can be a “hardened” room inside a building that normally is used for other purposes. For instance, schools often use a classroom or group of classrooms, a gymnasium or library as a shelter. The walls, doors, ceilings and windows are then designed to withstand the higher wind loads and flying debris.

Photo credit above: "In Moore, Okla., there have been dramatic examples of survivors who lived through the killer tornado because the home or other building they were in had a safe room or fortified basement." Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA

Racing The Clock And A Storm: A Way Of Life In Tornado Alley. Here's a clip from a New York Times article on how Oklahomans deal with tornado season, an amazing, minute-by-minute account of the minutes leading up to Moore's EF-5: "...In this breeding ground of Oklahoma tornadoes, people prepare for the season with the care that the defensive coordinator for their Sooners prepares for the inevitable autumn. They develop family plans, hang on the words of meteorologists, and, in places like Moore, become accustomed to the Saturday noontime testing of emergency sirens. At the same time there exists disbelief that the devastation visited upon neighbors could ever happen to them or, that is, could ever happen to them again. Amid all the siren tests and awareness and false alarms, the warning can still be a half-hour, maybe a little more, maybe a little less. This means you must stop what you are doing, shake off the disbelief, track down loved ones and find shelter, all in the time it takes to watch a few rounds of “Jeopardy!"...

Photo credit above: "A handout photo of a tornado in Newcastle, Okla., before it reached Moore, about 10 miles away, on May 20, 2013. With authorities saying they have likely recovered all the bodies to be found beneath the rubble left by the Category 5 tornado, the focus turned to the long and expensive path of recovering from one of the most catastrophic storms in Oklahoma's history." (Nick Rutledge via The New York Times).

5 Myths About Tornadoes. Meteorologist Mike Smith makes some very good points in this story at The Washington Post; here's an excerpt that caught my attention: "...But many misconceptions persist — misconceptions that can encourage bad policy and put lives at risk. I’d like to dispel some of the myths.

1. Meteorologists aren’t any good at forecasting these storms.
How does 99.3 percent sound? In 2011, 553 people lost their lives in tornadoes. For all but four of those victims (99.3 percent), both a tornado watch and a tornado warning were in effect before the storm arrived. Modern tornado warnings are Nobel Prize-worthy endeavors that combine weather science, social science and technology. As recently as 1990, people in the path of a tornado were lucky to get five minutes’ warning. Now, thanks to advances in radar, computer simulations and research on how tornadoes develop, the average “lead time” is 12 minutes — and more than 15 minutes for major tornadoes. The city of Moore had a stunning 36 minutes of warning..."

Tornadoes Were Just The Beginning. This Hurricane Season Is Going To Be Stormy. Here's an excerpt from Time Magazine: "...Altogether NOAA predicts a 70% likelihood that 13 to 20 named storms—which have winds that sustain at 39 mph or higher—will occur, of which 7 to 11 could become hurricanes (winds higher than 74 mph). Of those three to six may become major hurricanes, which means Category 3 to 5, with winds above 11 mph. That’s all well above the average for an Atlantic hurricane season, which lasts from June 1 to the end of November. Why will this summer potentially be so stormy? For one, an atmospheric climate pattern, including a strong African monsoon, that’s been ongoing since 1995 will help supercharge the atmosphere for tropical storms. Warmer-than-average water temperatures in the tropical Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea will lead to more of the wet, hot air that provides the fuel for hurricanes. And there is no El Nino—the alternating climate pattern that means unusually warm sea temperatures—which would usually suppress the formation of hurricanes..."

Photo credit above: "Lightning in the sky over debris from the tornado that devastated Moore, Okla., Thursday, May 23, 2013." (AP Photo/Tulsa World, Mike Simons).

Hurricane Center Chief Focusing On Water Hazards. The power of moving water is overwhelming, as Sandy proved last year. Here's an excerpt from a story at "...It wasn’t just high winds that posed a threat and caused damage, said National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb, who joined Florida’s emergency managers earlier this month in Fort Lauderdale at the annual Governor’s Hurricane Conference. “2012 was all about water, water, water. Debby, Isaac, Sandy,” Knabb said. “It was storm surge from the ocean, it was inland flooding, it was river flooding.” The hurricane center has been working for several years to improve its storm surge forecasts and public warnings about potential flooding risks far from the coastline. The last season has added a sense of urgency to get those upgrades ready by the 2015 season, Knabb said..."

Photo credit above: "National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb talks this month in Fort Lauderdale about the lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy and expectations for the Atlantic storm season that begins Saturday. Knabb and hurricane center forecasters joined emergency managers at the annual Governor’s Hurricane Conference." (The Associated Press)
2013 Atlantic Hurricane Season Expected To Be Active. 2012 saw 19 named storms, the 3rd busiest year on record. The last major hurricane to hit the USA was Wilma in 2005. That 7 year stretch (of no category 3+ hurricanes) is the longest on record, so we are overdue for a significant hurricane landfall. NOAA came out with their official predictions on Thursday; based on a variety of factors it promises to be a very active hurricane season, details via Climate Matters: "NOAA released its annual Atlantic Hurricane Season Predictions. Meteorologist Paul Douglas shares the factors forecasters consider when coming up with their numbers. What do you think of NOAA's predictions?"
Here's an excerpt from from one of my corporate Alerts Broadcaster Outlooks (issue Saturday morning):

Predicting hurricane track & intensity is as much art as science; knowing which models to trust, and when. My meteorology professors at Penn State would cringe to hear me say this, but intuition and past history can play as big a role as model trends. Predicting hurricane potential 3-4 months from now is equivalent to forecasting what financial markets will be doing in late summer. Good luck with that. But there are factors that lead me to believe that this will be another above average year for tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic basin, with as many as 2-3 hurricanes hitting the U.S. coastline by October. Here's the logic behind that prediction:

* Hurricane Cycle. There is a natural 25-40 year cycle for hurricanes - we entered the busy/active part of that cycle in the mid-90s, so this is a significant factor.
* Warm SST's. Sea surface temperatures are warmer than average, to the tune of 1F. That may not sound like much, but hurricanes get their strength from warm ocean water, and every 1F. of warmth increases hurricane potential by 5-10%
* No El Nino To Save Us. El Nino warming phases in the equatorial Pacific tend to increase winds over the tropics; more wind shear shreds developing tropical storms, reducing the threat of hurricane development in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Right now we are in an ENSO-neutral state, meaning no El Nino or La Nina in the Pacific.
* Feeling Lucky? The last major (category 3 or stronger) hurricane to strike the USA was Wilma in 2005. The intervening 7 year stretch with no category 3+ hurricane is the longest on record for the USA. Last October we saw what a category 1 storm, Sandy, coming at high tide and a full moon can do. Jet stream winds are more erratic this year, more sweeping north/south dips and bulges to prevailing steering winds aloft, which increases the potential for tropical systems to penetrate unusually far north.

2012 Recap. Last year was very active in the Atlantic basin with 19 tropical storms; 10 strengthened into hurricanes; 2 of those became major hurricanes (but remained out at sea). Damage estimates vary, but generally run in excess of $70 billion, the vast majority of that from Sandy.

2012 Tropical Systems. NHC confirms 19 named storms, the 3rd highest number on record in the Atlantic basin. Mercifully most of those tropical storms and hurricanes remained out over the open waters of the North Atlantic.

2012 U.S. Landfalling Storms. Only Isaac was a full-fledged hurricane as it hit the U.S. coastline. Debby and Beryl were tropical storms, and Sandy was "extra-tropical", technically not a warm-core hurricane as it came ashore - although the distinction was probably lost on waterlogged residents of New Jersey and metro New York. In fact NOAA got a lot of grief for discontinuing Hurricane Warnings before Sandy's landfall - this send the wrong message to coastal residents who assumed the storm was weakening. Sandy was a hybrid storm, a slowly weakening hurricane that was energized by a Nor'easter, mutating into a storm 3 times larger than Katrina in 2005. Slow movement and astronomical forcings whipped up a 900-mile wide band of tropical storm force winds, the largest ever recorded, compounding the storm surge problems for the northeast coast.

2013 Hurricane Prediction. I tend to agree with both NOAA and CSU, Colorado State University, that we will experience more hurricanes than usual again this year. The big question: will prevailing winds guide those storms into the U.S. - or whisk them out to sea, as was the case last year. For a variety of reasons, including a more amplified north/south jet stream pattern (less of a westerly wind bias aloft) I believe a higher percentage of tropical storms and hurricanes will impact the Caribbean and U.S. in 2013. NOAA predicts 7-11 hurricanes, above the annual average of 6, and 3-6 major hurricanes, category 3 or stronger.

* it's important to remember that, overall, climate change doesn't seem to be triggering more hurricanes in the Atlantic, but since 1970 the number of category 3 or stronger hurricanes has roughly doubled; it may be having a causal effect on hurricane intensity. Scientists believe this may be linked to consistently warmer sea surface temperatures. 90% of all warming is going into the oceans, and that has implications for tropical development.

Hurricane Climatology. Think twice before booking a Carnival Cruise on September 10, the date hurricanes are most likely to reach the U.S. coastline, statistically. Atlantic basin hurricanes have been observed every month of the year, but tend to peak from late August into early October, when sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic and Caribbean are warmest.

Return Frequence Of Major Category 3+ Hurricanes. We compiled this map showing the probability of major (category 3 or stronger) hurricanes along the U.S. coastaline. The red dots show the locations of highest risk, based on past storm tracks: a return frequency of 14-22 years for New Orleans, Mobile, much of south Florida and the coastal Carolinas and Outer Banks.

Out On A Limb. Based on a variety of factors, including prevailing winds, SST's, climatology and historical analogs, this is my forecast for overall hurricane risk level in 2013; the greatest potential for landfalling hurricanes and tropical storms from south Florida northward to Savannah, Hilton Head and Charleston, South Carolina. A moderate risk for landfalling hurricanes exists from Galveston and New Orleans eastward to Mobile and Pensacola, with a low to moderate risk from Virginia's Tidewater northward to Long Island and Cape Cod.

An Early Visit From Andrea? Latest GFS runs don't look quite as impressive as they did on Saturday, but there's still a chance of a tropical depression or weak tropical storm impacting south Florida around June 6. Map above courtesy of WSI.

As Need For New Flood Maps Rises, Congress And Obama Cut Funding. Here's an excerpt from OPB News: "...Congress has cut funding for updating flood maps by more than half since 2010, from $221 million down to $100 million this year. And the president’s latest budget request would slash funding for mapping even further to $84 million — a drop of 62 percent over the last four years. In a little-noticed written response to questions from a congressional hearing, FEMA estimated the cuts would delay its map program by three to five years. The program “will continue to make progress, but more homeowners will rely on flood hazard maps that are not current,” FEMA wrote"...

Sequester Cuts Wildfire Prevention, Sets Up Bigger Blazes. Grist has another story that caught my eye - here's a portion: "...Last year saw the third-worst wildfire season in five decades; the Southern California fire that threatened thousands of homes earlier this month looks to be only the first flash of what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced last week will be an above-average season for much of the Southwest. But the sequester took a 7.5 percent bite out of the Forest Service’s budget, nearly half of which is spent fighting wildfires. That means there will be 500 fewer pairs of boots on the ground and 200,000 fewer acres treated to prevent fires; the agency’s next proposed budget cuts preventative spending by a further 24 percent..." (photo: DNR).

Weather Service To Add Major Might To Computing Power. With any luck I won't to rely on the European ECMWF model quite so much in the years ahead. Kitsap Sun has the story - here's an excerpt: "...After coming under fire for falling behind the capabilities of other nations, the National Weather Service (NWS) is setting out to make an unprecedented increase in its computing power over the next several years, the agency announced this week. The computing boost will triple a key measure of the agency's main weather model, and could yield major improvements to its weather forecasting and warnings capabilities. The program is made possible by recent funding from Congress contained in the Hurricane Sandy relief legislation, which was signed into law in January. The NWS plans to use $25 million of the $48 million provided to it in the Sandy supplemental bill, along with funds that are called for in President Obama’s fiscal year 2014 budget proposal, to bring about “unprecedented” computing upgrades — going from an operational computing capacity of 213 peak teraflops at the end of the current fiscal year, to 1,950 peak teraflops by the end of fiscal year 2015, according to NWS Director Louis Uccellini..."

Climate Stories...

Geoengineering: Our Last Hope, Or A False Promise? Tinkering with the atmosphere on a global scale - what can possibly go wrong? Here's a clip from an important New York Times article on tinkering with the atmosphere, attempting to undo the impact of carbon pollution: "...Geoengineering — the deliberate, large-scale intervention in the climate system to counter global warming or offset some of its effects — may enable humanity to mobilize its technological power to seize control of the planet’s climate system, and regulate it in perpetuity. But is it wise to try to play God with the climate? For all its allure, a geoengineered Plan B may lead us into an impossible morass. While some proposals, like launching a cloud of mirrors into space to deflect some of the sun’s heat, sound like science fiction, the more serious schemes require no insurmountable technical feats. Two or three leading ones rely on technology that is readily available and could be quickly deployed..."

Century-Old Science Helps Confirm Global Warming. Here's an excerpt from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory: "A new NASA and university analysis of ocean data collected more than 135 years ago by the crew of the HMS Challenger oceanographic expedition provides further confirmation that human activities have warmed our planet over the past century. Researchers from the University of Tasmania, Sandy Bay, Australia; and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., combined the ship's measurements of ocean temperatures with modern observations from the international Argo array of ocean profiling floats. They used both as inputs to state-of-the-art climate models, to get a picture of how the world's oceans have changed since the Challenger's voyage..."

Image credit above: "Drawing of the HMS Challenger survey vessel preparing to measure ocean temperatures by lowering thermometers deep into the ocean on ropes in 1872. A new NASA and University of Tasmania study combined the ship's 135-plus-year-old measurements of ocean temperatures with modern observations to get a picture of how the world's ocean has changed since the Challenger's voyage. The research reveals that warming of Earth can be clearly detected since 1873, with the ocean absorbing the majority of the heat." Image credit: NOAA.

From Global Warming To Flouride: Why Do People Deny Science? Salon has a good story about the roots of denial; here's an excerpt: "...Why is it that ordinary citizens do not sit up and take notice of the danger? Unfortunately, the focus remains mostly on “global warming” instead of on the bigger concern—that we are disrupting the planet’s climate in completely unpredictable ways. Because climate prediction includes a significant degree of scientific uncertainty, this has allowed skeptics to gain the upper hand and even corner some expert scientists into difficult positions. A friend in the climate research field privately admits that he and most of his colleagues are afraid to stand up and speak out because of the vituperative attacks and massive smear campaigns that they would inevitably suffer—as did Michael Mann and others. But much research indicates that as forests disappear and polar ice caps melt, etc., there are unpredictable feedback mechanisms that will make global warming increasingly difficult to tackle. Even more worrisome, there will likely be a tipping point after which continued warming may become irreversible, no matter what we do..."

Photo credit: "The clouds of a thunderstorm roll over neighborhoods heavily damaged in a tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, May 23, 2013." (Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson)

Where Is President Obama's Climate Agenda? Here's the intro to a story from Politico: "President Barack Obama began his second term with a ringing pledge to tackle climate change — saying that “the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” Four months later, everyone’s still waiting. Instead of taking bold steps, Obama’s environmental regulators are dodging questions about how they intend to rein in the nation’s largest sources of greenhouse gases. They missed a major deadline last month for rolling out rules for future power plants, prompting environmental groups and several states to threaten lawsuits. And the EPA has insisted to Congress that it’s not even working on regulations for the next piece of the carbon puzzle — the nation’s vast fleet of existing power plants..."

Photo credit: Politico, AP.

Insurers And Climate Change: The Truth Is More Complicated Than The Sound Bytes. Insurance Journal has the story - here's a clip: "...On one hand, if one doubts the opinion of an overwhelming majority of scientists, the insurance industry provides another major data point.  Given that accurate and unbiased weather forecasts are key to property insurers’ business, the fact that the industry broadly accepts that climate change is real and likely to be a problem should be taken seriously by anyone who believes in the power of markets to aggregate information. If insurers were not concerned about climate change, that would be a very strong piece of evidence that politicians, the media or scientists have hyped the issue beyond what it deserves. In fact, every large property insurer incorporates climate change-related projections into its own models. Every large property insurer that I know of considers the likelihood of climate change-linked catastrophes to be a future operational threat. Smaller property insurers do less long-term planning and are less likely to make direct use of climate change projections, but they still feel the impact of those projections in terms of how much reinsurance they can buy and at what price..."