Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Significant Tornado Risk Central USA (more lessons from last week's Moore, Oklahoma EF-5)

Happy Mosquitoes

The person who said "there's no such thing as bad weather - just poor clothing choices" obviously hasn't spent any time in Minnesota this year. I think I've enjoyed a grand total of two Adirondack-chair-worthy evenings since ice went off the lake. Yes, the drought is easing, everything is lush & green, but the stubborn cool & gray has many of us in a dark March-like funk.

Planalytics says the Memorial Day weekend was the coolest since 2005, nationwide. No wonder we feel cheated: Memorial Day 2012 was the warmest in 50 years.

It feels like Mother Nature is driving under the influence, swerving from one crazy extreme to the next.

Warm fronts seem to tire before reaching our latitude, but a slow-motion boundary finally breaks through with 70s; high dew points & instability fueling severe storms later today, again Thursday. It's going to be a tough month for severe storms - just a hunch.

We dry out Friday, cool off Saturday with a few showers up north. Sunday may restore your faith in spring, before the next round of heavy storms arrives next Tuesday. As long as the front separating cool from hot loiters nearby it's going to be tough to break out into sustained 80s & 90s.
Severe Threat. The more sun we see today the more unstable the atmosphere, the greater the potential for strong to severe T-storms by late afternoon and evening. A moderate risk from SPC over the Central Plains means a risk of larger, more violent EF-2+ tornadoes from near Oklahoma City to Wichita and Lincoln.
A Stormy 48 Hours. The approach of a slow-moving cool front, coupled with moisture streaming out of the Gulf of Mexico, will set the stage for scattered T-storms, some severe, today, again Thursday. The threat of heavy weather drops off Friday as winds turn around to the southwest, then west, pulling drier, cooler air into Minnesota by late week.

More Extreme Rains (And Snows). Nearly 3 feet of snow in upstate New York, while residents of San Antonio clean up from a 1 in 100+ year flood? Here's the latest installment of Climate Matters, courtesy of WeatherNation TV: "Meteorologist Paul Douglas says "It's like mother nature is driving under the influence, swerving down the highway veering from one side of the road to the next". The central part of the country experienced flooding in 2011, followed by a major drought in 2012 and now back to flooding again."

Flood Disaster Emergency declared for 13 Iowa counties. Details here.
Shocker: Wet And Stormy Into Next Week. We'll get a few sunny breaks, but probably not as much blue sky as you want (or need) right about now. Thursday appears to be the wettest day of the week; a weekend cooling trend (best chance of an instability shower up north). Sunday appears to be the cooler, sunnier, drier day of the weekend right now. More heavy showers and T-storms rumble in by Tuesday of next week. Not a heat spike in sight. ECMWF forecast highs in Celsius, btw.

A Volatile Pattern. The NAM model shows showers and T-storms pushing eastward across the Plains and Midwest, reaching the Ohio Valley by Friday. Cooler weather pushes into the Upper Midwest by the end of the week. Summer is still on indefinite hold across much of the USA.

When Disaster Strikes America, A More Skilled Response. Here's a segment of a story at Yahoo News: "...Improved forecasts are helping to limit the loss of life, and the fallout from hurricane Katrina has dramatically reshaped disaster response. Federal, state, and private officials, who once had only a vague notion of what their counterparts were doing, now coordinate to the point that folks on the ground know who will be collecting lost pets and who will be flipping burgers for the droves of emergency workers. To be sure, the Moore tornado was not of the scale of Katrina or superstorm Sandy. But the story of how ATV-riding urban search-and-rescue teams here were on their second and third rounds of searches less than 24 hours after the tornado touched down suggests how much has changed since New Orleans was lawless and underwater for days in late summer of 2005..."

Storm Chasers Undaunted After Deadly Oklahoma Tornado. Do chasers serve a purpose and collect essential information, photos and video? Absolutely. Do them sometimes get in the way? Absolutely. Here's an excerpt from denverpost.com: "...Storm chasing was once a relatively rare activity, conducted primarily by meteorologists who tried to get close enough to a tornado for research that could help predict the path of future tornadoes. Now there are so many people running into a tornado's wake so they can capture up-close videos that there are traffic jams of storm-chasing vehicles on otherwise lonely country roads. This tornado does not appear to have shaken the resolve of serious storm chasers, many of whom have moved here to be closer to tornado territory. "I wish it would," said Howard Bluestein, a meteorology professor at the University of Oklahoma, which tries to walk a fine line by neither encouraging nor discouraging storm chasing. "It's becoming difficult to go out in the middle of the countryside with your mobile Doppler radar and you get stuck in traffic."

Photo credit above: "The funnel of a tornado touches the ground near South Haven, Kan., last week. It was part of a massive storm front that swept north through the central U.S." (Gene Blevins, Reuters).

What Makes Oklahoma A Perfect Place For Tornadoes? WeatherBug has the story; here's a clip: "...The exact location where tornadoes hit is random, but the fact that they occur so frequently in Oklahoma does have a reason. Brooks said there is no other place in the world that has the same geographic setup that Oklahoma does. The warm, humid air that comes from the Gulf of Mexico interacts with the cool, dry air coming from the Rocky Mountains. Southerly winds at the surface interact with strong westerly winds in the upper atmosphere and all combine to create "the laboratory to make tornadoes." "It`s the only place on the planet that has a nice, warm body of water to the south and a high, wide range of mountains to the west," Brooks said..."

Behind The Scenes At Tornado's Ground Zero. Here is a story focused on how one local TV news crew covered the carnage of Moore, Oklahoma last week; an excerpt from tvnewscheck.com: "...Torp says the already dire situation — unusable roads, downed wires and smashed cars — was compounded by the fact that rescue workers had a hard time getting to the damaged section of Westmoor. Once they did, they had even more difficulties because key markers like street signs were gone. "Even people who lived in the neighborhood for years, had a hard time figuring out where their house was after the tornado,” Torp says. “This added to the challenge of trying to find those missing....”

The Past And Future Of Tornado Prediction. Up until the early 1950s it was illegal to use the T-word, to even utter the word "tornado", for fear of causing public panic. Yes, we've come a long way. Popular Mechanics has the story; here's an excerpt: "...Today, the average warning time is more like 15 minutes, and the weather service uses a combination of weather balloons—launched every 12 hours—satellite, radar, and weather-station feeds to make those predictions. Today forecasters look at long-range temperature data and wind-flow patterns that can produce atmospheric instability (warm air at the surface, cold air higher up), moisture, and wind shear (change of wind speed at different levels of elevation). Those latter ingredients are the building blocks of tornadoes. While most of the news stories in the wake of Monday’s tornadoes have reported the fact that there was a warning issued 16 minutes before the tornado touched down near Moore, the Storm Prediction Center was hard at work, warning local forecasters, the media, and local citizens long before that..." (2010 Albert Lea tornado pic courtesy of WeatherNation TV meteorologist Aaron Shaffer).

Can We Get Better At Predicting Tornadoes? The answer is yes, but improvements will be incremental over time, and probably not dramatic. Here's a clip from a story at CBS News and ktvq.com: "...Forecasters have managed to increase the average lead-time for a tornado warning from 5 minutes in the 1980s to about 13 minutes today. (The lead-time is actually closer to 18 minutes when officials put out a warning - but they only manage to do so about 80 percent of the time.) "This is the hardest forecasting problem of all," said Cliff Mass, an atmospheric sciences professor at the University of Washington. He believes that it is possible to increase the advance time for a tornado warning to as much as three hours, though he doesn't know if meteorologists can do better than that. "I think six hours or eight hours is going to be very hard," he said..."

A Tornado's Heading Your Way. Now What? Local TV meteorologists in Oklahoma City warned residents of Moore without basements or underground shelters to drive away, that this tornado might be "unsurvivable" - advice you don't hear very often. Here's an excerpt of a story from CNN and kmsstv.com: ..."If you have good information on the storm, if you have plenty of warning, if you have an automobile, it may make sense (to drive away), but I personally don't feel that's the advice that we want to give the public." A better answer, he said, would be to plan. "I think there is today a storm shelter or solution for just about every situation, so I would urge people to consider procuring a storm shelter for their home." The options for shelters are many: above-ground, below-ground, mounted in the garage, on the patio, on a poured slab or even in a space carved out beneath the slab..." (photo credit: MGN Online).
Budget Cuts Will Hinder Our Ability To Predict Severe Weather. The dreaded "sequester" may be showing up at a local National Weather Service office near you; here's an excerpt from LiveScience and Business Insider: "The tornado that hit Moore, Okla., on Monday (May 23) killed an estimated two dozen people and caused devastating property damage. Residents had advance warning of the storm, thanks to weather forecasts. But with forced budget cuts in effect, forecasters may not be adequately prepared for future natural disasters. In March, $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts, known as the sequester, took effect. The cuts slashed 8.2 percent from the 2013 operating budgets of most federal agencies. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) suffered a 7 percent reduction in its fiscal year 2013 budget as a result of sequestration. Thinned-out staffs and under-maintained equipment could hinder the agency's ability to give timely and accurate weather forecasts, experts say..."

U.S. Hurricane Forecasts Could Be Better. Track forecasts are usually fairly good, but intensity predictions are very difficult. Here's an excerpt from a story at Scientific American: "...Perhaps the NWS itself knows it can improve hurricane forecasts. Last week it announced it would use $25 million recently appropriated by Congress to upgrade some of it supercomputers. U.S. hurricane models have a resolution of 25 kilometers, yet the European model has a resolution of 16 kilometers. Tighter resolution could allow forecasters to better assess how a hurricane is growing and moving, given that the inner core of such a storm is often in the range of 80 kilometers across. Predicting how high a coastal hurricane’s storm surge might be—often the cause of the greatest damage—is even harder than predicting its path, however, and might require different advances. Technology alone is not the answer, however. “A new computer is really good, but you also need the people to use it,” says Chris Davis, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo. “It takes a lot of work to use that better resolution well.” Researchers must properly recalibrate models to exploit the new resolution, and must learn how to interpret the results..."

Climate Researchers Discover New Rhythm For El Nino. La Nina has faded into an "ENSO-neutral" situation, neither El Nino warming or La Nina cooling; there are some signs we might be heading into a weak El Nino by next winter, but nothing definitive yet. Here's an excerpt from Science Daily: "...A mystery, however, has remained despite decades of research: Why does El Niño always peak around Christmas and end quickly by February to April? Now there is an answer: An unusual wind pattern that straddles the equatorial Pacific during strong El Niño events and swings back and forth with a period of 15 months explains El Niño's close ties to the annual cycle. This finding is reported in the May 26, 2013, online issue of Nature Geoscience by scientists from the University of Hawai'i at Manoa Meteorology Department and International Pacific Research Center. "This atmospheric pattern peaks in February and triggers some of the well-known El Niño impacts, such as droughts in the Philippines and across Micronesia and heavy rainfall over French Polynesia," says lead author Malte Stuecker..."

What Kind Of Warning Are We In Again? WeatherNation TV meteorologist Todd Nelson writes: "Can't say I've ever seen this before... A stationary thunderstorm with significant rotation surrounded by a flood warning and severe thunderstorm warning! Wow!!"

How Happiness Changes With Age. Here's an excerpt of an article at The Atlantic that resonated with me: "...Happiness becomes less the high-energy, totally-psyched experience of a teenager partying while his parents are out of town, and more the peaceful, relaxing experience of an overworked mom who's been dreaming of that hot bath all day. The latter isn't less "happy" than the former -- it's a different way of understanding what happiness is. Social psychologists describe this change as a consequence of a gradual shifting from promotion motivation -- seeing our goals in terms of what we can gain, or how we can end up better off, to prevention motivation -- seeing our goals in terms of avoiding loss and keeping things running smoothly. Everyone, of course, has both motivations. But the relative amounts of each differ from person to person, and can shift with experience as we age..."

Climate Stories....

Sandy-Like Floods Could Hit New York Every 2 Years By 2100. The reason: rises in sea level, taking place faster than computer models are predicting. Here's an excerpt of a Scientific American story appearing at Salon: "By 2100 devastating flooding of the sort that Superstorm Sandy unleashed on New York City could happen every two years all along the valuable and densely populated U.S. east coast—anywhere from Boston to Miami. And unless extreme protection measures are implemented, people could again die. Hyperbole? Hardly. Even though Sandy’s storm surge was exceptionally high, if sea level rises as much as scientists agree is likely, even routine storms could cause similar destruction. Old, conservative estimates put the increase at two feet (0.6 meter) higher than the 2000 level by 2100. That number did not include any increase in ice melting from Greenland or Antarctica—yet in December new data showed that temperatures in Antarctica are rising three times faster than the rate used in the conservative models. Accelerated melting has also been reported in Greenland. Under what scientists call the rapid ice-melt scenario, global sea level would rise four feet (1.2 meters by the 2080s, according toKlaus Jacob, a research scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont–Doherty Earth Observatory. In New York City by 2100 “it will be five feet, plus or minus one foot,” Jacob says..."

97% Global Warming Consensus Meets Resistance From Scientific Denialism. The Guardian has the story; here's an excerpt: "The Skeptical Science survey finding 97% expert consensus on human-caused global warming has drawn an incredible amount of media attention. Hundreds of media stories documented our survey and results. Lead author John Cook and I participated in a number of interviews to discuss the paper, including on Al Jazeera, CNN, and ABC. President Obama even Tweeted about our results to his 31 million followers. The story has been so popular mainly because our results present a simple but critical message. There is a wide gap between the public awareness and the reality of the expert consensus on human-caused global warming... A 2009 paper published in the European Journal of Public Health by Pascal Diethelm and Martin McKee discussed five characteristics common to scientific denialism:

1) Cherry picking;
2) Fake experts;
3) Misrepresentation and logical fallacies.
4) Impossible expectations of what research can deliver; and
5) Conspiracy theories;.."

Energy Efficiency Can Make Billions While Fighting Climate Change. Make it a win-win, clean up the atmosphere, reduce your carbon footprint AND save money at the same time. Here's a clip from Triple Pundit: "Energy efficiency could be a several hundred billion dollar investment opportunity in the United States, but better policies are required to unlock broad-based financing from institutional investors, according to a new study by investor advocacy group Ceres. Power Factor: Institutional Investors’ Policy Priorities Can Bring Energy Efficiency to Scale details the results of a survey of nearly 30 institutional investors and other experts from the energy, policy and financial sectors that identified three areas of policy: utility regulation, demand-generating policies and innovative financing policies. The study finds that these three areas have the potential to take energy efficiency financing to a scale sufficient enough to attract significant institutional investment...."

Photo credit above: "The International Energy Agency estimates that one-third of emissions reductions must come from energy efficiency in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change."