Wednesday, April 30, 2014

From Fire to Biblical Floods - Will 2014 El Nino Rival Record 1997 Event?

Big Swings

Welcome to May, as in spring MAY finally arrive this month. We're due for a major shift in the pattern and with a potentially major El Nino brewing don't be surprised if we go from nagging chill to record warmth later in 2014.

We're all feeling pretty bruised & battered though right about now. Factoring cold and snow it was the toughest winter in a generation. April was the second wettest on record for the Twin Cities with 6.25" of rain.

On a positive note: no drought, no severe storms (it's been too chilly) and lawn-mowing season has been delayed by a couple weeks.

That's about to change. The model guidance I'm staring at shows a big northward bulge in the jet stream next week, with a few 60s likely, even a shot at low 70s by midweek. I can't wait until friends and family start griping about the heat. Next week should at least partially restore your faith in a Minnesota spring.

The same stalled storm rotates more bands of showers into town today, but skies brighten Friday - upper 50s for Saturday & Sunday.

My son is a Navy helicopter pilot. I remind him not to push the weather, in a helicopter or a Camry for that matter. Tuesday night, driving through historic rains in Pensacola, he did just that. 2 hurricane's worth of rain fell in less than 8-10 hours. Somehow he was able to find his way home amidst swamped police cruisers, flooded cars and washed out highways. He was lucky.

"Turn Around, Don't Drown." That's a NOAA phrase, and it says it all. Most flash flood fatalities take place at night, in vehicles trying to cross flooded streets. It's impossible to estimate water depth, especially at night. Given the option do the smart thing and stay put or turn around and find another, safer way home. I had a close call with my youngest son Tuesday night (stationed near Pensacola) when this massive flood, compared to Hurricane Denny in 1997, engulfed a vast swath of the Gulf Coast from Mobile to Pensacola and Destin. That's the subject of today's Climate Matters.

One Volatile Week. When weather stalls bad things often result: more intense drought/heat or extreme flooding. In the last week there were 3,606 severe weather reports, nationwide. Red dots designate tornado touchdowns, yellow dots signify high winds, green dots mark the location of flooding rain events. There was even a small tornado in Washington state. Something for everyone - expect tranquil weather. Interactive map: HAMweather.

Total Storm Reports:3606

Sizzling Southwest - Warming Trend Central USA into Next Week. NAM guidance shows 90 degree heat over central and southern California and Arizona the next couple of days, a building ridge of high pressure expanding into the southern and central Plains early next week. Much of the northern USA chilled by the recent slow-motion storm will see slowly moderating temperatures. Loop: NOAA and HAMweather.

Looking More Like Spring. Temperatures hold in the upper 40s to near 50F today, but if the sun peeks out Friday 60F is a real possibility, a few days in the 60s next week, even a chance of 70F by next Wednesday, depending on possible convection. The arrival of warmer air may set off a few scattered T-storms from Monday into Wednesday of next week. Graphic: Weatherspark.

Monsoon Season. This map from the Midwestern Regional Climate Center shows how much rain has soaked the Midwest and Ohio Valley in just the last week; in some cases 2 month's worth of rain. Over 8" estimated for southeast Missouri, 4-5" for much of the Twin Cities metro area.

This Is What 2 Feet Of Rain In Less Than 8 Hours Can Do. It was the equivalent of (two) slow-moving tropical storm's worth of rain, as much as 24-26" of rain from training thunderstorms in the Pensacola area Tuesday night. Details from WeatherNation's Facebook page: "Incredible rainfall amounts are leading to extensive flooding damage in Pensacola, FL. This picture from @oliverrhudy1 is of Scenic Highway falling off the bluffs."

Historic Flash Flood Event. Some are comparing the flooding from Mobile into the Florida Panhandle with Hurricane Danny in 1997. Here's a good synopsis of the record flood event of Tuesday night, which hit Mobile, Pensacola and surrounding communities so hard, courtesy of the local Mobile/Pensacola NWS: "A historic rainfall event developed ahead of a slow moving cold front on Tuesday evening, 29 April 2014 over portions of coastal Alabama and the western Florida Panhandle. The cold front was associated with a very powerful low pressure system in the Plains. The widespread flooding produced sinkholes (some very large and deep), cut roads in half and necessitated human water rescues (one confirmed fatality). Parts of I-10 were closed. The Fish River at Silver Hill (Baldwin County Alabama) peaked at a record high level of 23.18 feet (previous historical record was 22.78 feet on 20 July 1997).  Many folks throughout the area have compared this event to the extreme flooding impacts caused by Hurricane Danny (1997)..."

We're Going To Need A New Color Table. A friend of mine spent a few minutes recalibrating the color table for "storm rainfall" on GRLevel3 version 2.0, because the default table only goes up to 5". No, you don't expect half a year's worth of rain in one night. Amazing.

Pensacola, per CoCoRahs report, received 18.91" of rain yesterday. Saw an unofficial 24.40" report as well (see here: 
Officially yesterday, Pensacola (per NWS) had 11.13".

Pensacola averages: 4.35" for the month of April; 65.35" for the year.
Mobile: 11.24" at the airport made it the 3rd-rainiest day EVER there and the wettest since April 13th, 1955.
Mobile averages: 4.79" for April; 66.20" for the year.

* thanks to WeatherNation meteorologist Chris Bianchi for compiling these rainfall reports.

"Life-Threatening Flooding" Submerges Pensacola, Florida. Some communities around Pensacola may have picked up 5-6 months worth of rain in a few hours Tuesday night, creating a level of flooding and mudslides usually only seen in the aftermath of severe hurricanes or tropical storms. NBC News reports: "Forecasters figured that the rain in Pensacola set a record, but they could not be sure because a suspected lightning strike knocked out the National Weather Service reporting station there. “We’ve had people whose homes are flooding and they’ve had to climb up to the attic,” said Bill Pearson, a spokesman for Escambia County, which includes Pensacola. He said that authorities there described it as the worst flooding in 30 years..."

Moisture Haves and Have-Nots. Jody James posted this NOAA image of precipitation departures since October 1 of last year. The variations around the eastern half of the USA are striking.

Mid Atlantic Soaking. Here is a total rainfall update for Wednesday's soaking rains, showing Doppler estimates as high as 4-6" from the suburbs of Washington D.C. and Baltimore into the Delaware Valley.

Tropical Plume. The same stalled, retrograding storm responsible for record chill over the northern Plains was able to pull a plume of truly tropical air northward, which shows up on the precipitable water map above, contributing to severe flooding from Mobile and Pensacola to Washington D.C. The very slow forward motion of the storm also helped to prolong rains, creating a "train echo effect" along the Gulf Coast, and much of the Mid Atlantic from late Tuesday into Wednesday evening. Graphic: ClimateReanalyzer.

Tornado Chaser's True Story: "I Messed Up Big". This is why you really don't want to be in or near a vehicle when a tornado is approaching. Mashable has the video clip and story; here's the introduction: "A Mississippi tornado chaser met his match on Monday when a massive twister barreled directly over his car — while he was strapped inside. Luckily, he survived the tornado that swept through Tupelo, Miss. Even better, he filmed the whole thing. In the video, which was posted to YouTube on Monday (and has now been made private), a man is seen driving alongside a tornado, when he suddenly pulls off the road and into a field..."

Tornado Drone Journalism, Raising First Amendment Questions. Are you free to fly your personal drone over tornado wreckage, or any other natural disaster? The FAA has some serious questions/concerns. Here's an excerpt from Forbes: "Storm chaser and videographer Brian Emfinger used a drone to document the aftermath of a tornado that ripped through Arkansas.  That video prompted speculation as to whether the FAA was going to investigate or even fine Emfinger for using the drone.  Today, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is reporting ($0.99 paywalled) that the FAA is investigating the use of drones to gather aerial footage in Arkansas. FAA investigations and enforcement actions against drone journalists raise serious First Amendment questions about the agency’s ability to infringe upon press freedom in the absence of formal rules..."

Tornado Seasons Lately Have Been Boon Or Bust. Serious weather whiplash - applied to moisture, heat, and now tornadoes. Here's an excerpt of a story from AP and ABC News: "Something strange is happening with tornadoes lately in the United States and it's baffling meteorologists. It's either unusually quiet or deadly active. Until this weekend's outbreak, the U.S. had by far the quietest start of the year for tornadoes. By the beginning of last week, there had been only 20 significant tornadoes and none of them that big. There was also a slow start four years ago. And after a busy January, last year was exceptionally quiet until a May outbreak that included a super-sized tornado that killed 24 people in Moore, Okla. "When we have tornadoes, we have lots of them," said Greg Carbin, warning meteorologist for the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. "It's boom or bust..." (file photo from Kent Nickell, in West Liberty, Kentucky).

Pick Your Extreme: Biblical Flooding or Blowing Dust. Check out the photo from Kansas taken on Monday. Thanks to Kimberly Qualls for passing this one along via Twitter.

U.S. Slips To 4th Place In Global Weather Prediction, While A New Weather Service Supercomputer Has Not Been Ordered. Part of the problem: IBM sold off their supercomputer line of business to Lenovo, a Chinese company, and that has raised some very real concerns - ultimately any supercomputer upgrade has to be approved by the State Department and White House. A source who knows the details tells me that 1). it's a lease, not a purchase, 2). NOAA does not control the process and 3). the deal is larger than just NCEP supercomputer.  Cliff Mass has the details in his blog; here's an excerpt: "It is with considerable disappointment that I note that the U.S. has now slid into fourth place in global weather prediction. Yes, the country that invented numerical weather prediction and the one that possesses the largest weather research community in the world is moving further back in the pack, with substantial costs to the American people.  And frustratingly, a powerful new weather supercomputer, funded over a year ago by the U.S. Congress, has not even been ordered, even though it could radically improve U.S. operational weather prediction..."

Markets Gird For Return Of El Nino. The Wall Street Journal reports on the potential impact a moderate to strong warming phase of ENSO might have on the commodity markets; here's a clip that caught my eye: " El Nino looms at a time when global supplies of many raw materials already are stretched. Investors are loading up on commodities futures contracts that would rise in value if global food supplies are crimped further. Money managers hold more bullish than bearish bets in all 16 major agricultural futures markets, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of data tracked by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The last time that was the case was in June 2011, when prices in many commodity markets were near their highest in decades..."

Comparing 1997 Super El Nino With 2014 El Nino Potential. STORMSURF has an amazingly thorough and comprehensive analysis of both the 1997 El Nino and the current 2014 El Nino underway in the Pacific, both events preceded by Kelvin Waves signals. The comparisons are striking, and although it's premature to estimate the strength of the current El Nino there are strong similarities to 1997. Here's an excerpt: "...All the above data suggests this evolving 2014 event is of equal strength to the 1997 event, if not stronger (as of the end of March 2014). The fact that the 2014 event started a month earlier might bias the analysis towards making it look stronger, if only in that it had more time to evolve. But the fact that it started a month earlier in and of itself could also suggest there was more latent heat energy built up in the ocean compared to the 1997 event. Note that El Nino is just a means for the ocean to vent off excess heat, serving much the same purpose as a hurricane relative towards venting off excess lower atmospheric heat.."

Early Symptoms of El Nino? I may be jumping the gun here (I am genetically capable of that), but El Nino tends to energize the southern branch of the jet stream over the USA, often resulting in more frequent and severe storms. It's impossible to know if a brewing warm phase in the Pacific had any influence on the record floods from Pensacola to Washington D.C. Wednesday. Out west the problem is drought, heat and high winds (clocked as high as 100 mph) fanning wildfires. That's the subject of this Climate Matters segment: "Talk about weather whiplash. WeatherNationTV Chief Meteorologist Paul Douglas goes over wind and wildfires in Southern California & the historic flooding and downpours over the Gulf Coast. What do the trends say about the increasing threat for heavy rain?"

EF-4 Supercell. Even though this is a still image you can see the powerful rotation in this supercell thunderstorm, courtesy of Severe Studios and Kory Hartman. Thanks to Scott Peak and Basehunters for the share: "Amazing photo from Basehunters of the Louisville, MS supercell that produced the EF-4 tornado as it was entering the southwest part of town Monday night!"

Shelf Cloud. Thanks to Jim Plucinak out of Cocoa Beach, FL for sending this in.

Lunch With Paul Douglas, Part 1. So is it a sit-down joint or just a drive-thru? Thanks to futurologist, astronomy buff and entrepreneur Jeffery Morris (ie. FutureDude) for spending some time with me recently, talking about weather, technology and climate trends. Here's a clip from the interview where I talk about how the future is just like the past, only with more apps and less privacy: "...I pictured the flying cars and the robotic butlers. I used to daydream just like any other kid about what the future would be like. It’s interesting how the future isn’t anything like I thought it would be. It’s a little more mundane in many respects. Our technology and productivity have certainly improved. One person can now do unimaginable things in terms of research. You’ve got the world at your fingertips with the net. And yet, we are still driving our fossil fuel legacy cars. No robotic butlers. For me, the fun has always been to try to look at the current trends. Trying to look over the horizon and connect the dots, and make some educated guesses about where specifically weather technology will be..."

Boat Believed To Be From 2011 (Japanese) Tsunami Washes Up On Washington State Shoreline. Here's an excerpt of a story from Fox31 in Denver, "A small boat that authorities believe to be from the 2011 Japanese tsunami washed ashore along the Washington coast Monday morning. The Ocean Shores Police Department told Seattle’s Q13FOX that the boat was discovered off Ocean Lake Way and turned over to Grays Harbor County officials. Deputy director of Grays County Emergency Management Charles Wallace said the Department of Ecology plans to inspect the watercraft Tuesday..."

Photo credit above: "A small boat suspected to be from the 2011 Japanese tsunami was found on April 28 2014, washed ashore in Ocean Shores, Wash." (Photo: Karen Rasmussen via Ocean Shores Police Dept.)

Here Come The Robots. In the age of increasing automation and computerization some jobs are more threatened than others. How vulnerable is your career to smart robots in the years to come? The example above is for sales, which has a high probability of being computerized in the future, according to metrics highlighted in this story at Quartz: "In the second machine age, robots will perform tasks once thought to require uniquely human abilities, like driving our taxis and filleting our fish. But not all jobs will be equally affected by automation. The interactive plot above attempts to sort out the differences. We compared three variables related to the American workforce: the median wage for various jobs; the number of people employed in those positions in the United States; and the likelihood that these jobs will become automated..."

The "Post-Antibiotic Era" of Drug-Resistant Disease is Almost Here. Right. Don't sweat the tornadoes or biblical floods. Remind me to never leave my basement again. Here's the intro to a story at The Wire: "Get ready to crawl into a hole, forever: Gonorrhea, urinary tract infections, and pneumonia are just some of the infectious diseases that are becoming resistant to antibiotics, a new report finds. The newly-released World Health Organization document finds that in every region of the world, the growing rate of antimicrobial and antibiotic resistance is a serious threat to human health. Minor infections that were once considered beaten could kill again, and lengthier stays in hospitals and higher healthcare costs are a near-guarantee..."

Photo credit above: "Microbiologist Tatiana Travis in the Infectious Disease Laboratory at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention." (AP / DAVID GOLDMAN)

Which Cities Spend The Most On Pampering Pets? No, the Twin Cities didn't make the cut. Miami is at the top of the list for some odd reason. Here's a clip from Consumerist: "The list is on 2013 sales of pet-related items — from Mr. Whiskers’ favorite toy to Rover’s beloved brush. Does your fish have a ginormous fish palace? That’s included too. According to Amazon’s list, the most pampered cities for pets on a per capita basis, and in cities with more than 400,000 residents:
1. Miami
2. Seattle
3. Atlanta
4. San Francisco
5. Portland, Ore.
6. Washington, D.C.
7. Las Vegas