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80% Chance of “Debby” Forming Soon

23 Jun 2012, 6:40 am

$50 million in damage to Duluth’s infrastructure, according to Mayor Ness. Total damage toll may far exceed $100 million.

10% of Duluth’s roads and utility infrastructure damaged by Wednesday’s historic flooding. 100+ roads still closed.

Photo credit above: “Lake Superior was filled with mud from flood runoff looking east from Duluth toward Wisconsin, Thursday, June 21, 2012.” (Glen Stubbe/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT)

8.83″ rain soaked Cannon Falls on June 14, a new state rainfall record. 15.11″ rain so far this month at Cannon Falls, “only the 4th time in Minnesota’s climate history that an observer has reported 15 or more inches for June.” Source: WeatherTalk blog.

7.41″ rain fell on Island Lake (St. Louis County) on June 20, the second state rainfall record so far in June. Source: Dr. Mark Seeley.

Photo credit above: “Residents of Cannon Falls, MInn. survey the damage to Minnieska Park and a swollen Cannon River in Cannon, Minn. Friday morning June 15, 2012 following over night rains that dumped over 8 inches of rain on the area causing many area rivers to overflow their banks.” (AP Photo/The Rochester Post-Bulletin, Jerry Olson)

450 cooling centers opened up in the New York City area to deal with the impact of extreme heat. Details below from Climate Central.

102 F. high in Denver, Colorado, a record high for June 22.

Photo credit above: “Youths cool down with an opened fire hydrant in New York, June 21, 2012. Record-high temperatures marked the second day of summer in the city.” (Angel Franco/The New York Times)

Brownsville: the ECMWF (European) model brings “Debby” ashore near Brownsville, Texas next Wednesday. Other models suggest a track toward the Florida Panhandle. The reality: steering winds over the Gulf of Mexico are light – it’s still too early to know. Confidence level is low; that track will almost certainly change in the coming days. Details below.

80% Probability of “Debby”. NHC has raised the odds to 80% of tropical cyclone (at least tropical storm strength) within 48 hours. Details:



Flip A Coin. Here are the various computer model predictions about the track of (imminent) “Debby”. A majority of models are now taking the storm west, toward Texas – which is falling in line with the European (ECMWF) model solution below. Graphic source here.

More Speculation Than Prediction. The ECMWF model forecast above (valid next Wednesday) shows “Debby” coming ashore over south Texas. Confidence level is very low, but in the spirit of full disclosure, here you go. Model data courtesy of Weather Underground.

Florida Soaking. The tropical disturbance strengthening in the Gulf of Mexico is forecast to dump 2-5″ of rain on Florida through the weekend, some 18″+ amounts predicted for the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Heavy rain lingers today over New England, some 1″+ amounts possible near Sioux City and the Pacific Northwest. Map: NOAA HPC.

Possible Tropical System In Southern Gulf Has Forecasters On Alert. More details from New Orlean’s “Forecasters at the Slidell office of the National Weather Service are watching the system’s evolution carefully. In their morning forecast discussion message, they said computer forecast models show the low a few hundred miles south of the Louisiana coastline by Saturday evening. “If this is the case, higher winds and higher seas will be expected, and at least a small craft advisory will be needed,” the message said. “That also depends if the system has not developed into a named system by then.”

Minnesota Flood: “We Feel Overwhelmed”. It will take many months for any semblance of normalcy to return to the North Woods of Minnesota. The Morris Daily Herald has more details: “As residents here filled dumpsters with ruined possessions Thursday and state officials surveyed gaping sinkholes and an estimated $100 million in damage from historic flooding, water suddenly rose farther south, forcing more evacuations. In Moose Lake, about 40 miles south of Duluth, city officials declared a state of emergency as water encroached and surrounded the town. Well into the evening, residents desperately sandbagged trying to hold back rising water. Some won. Some didn’t.”

Photo credit above: “The small town of Brookston, northwest of Cloquet, Minnesota was feeling the heat of the rising St. Louis River Thursday morning, June 21, 2012.” (Photo by Brian Peterson/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT)

Worst Ever Duluth, Minnesota Flood Causes $80 Million In Damage. More head-shaking details from Reuters; here’s an excerpt: “Duluth officials on Thursday estimated damage at up to $80 million just to the city’s public infrastructure from the flood that swamped the northeast Minnesota city and nearby communities this week. The flooding, which left huge sinkholes and ripped up dozens of roads, also forced hundreds of people from their homes and killed several zoo animals. Mayor Don Ness said the flood was the worst in the history of the Lake Superior port city, surpassing a 1972 flood both in damage and rainfall, and he estimated the damage to public infrastructure at $50 to $80 million dollars.

Flash Flooding Wreaks Havoc In Duluth, Minnesota. More details from Climate Central: “After 18 hours of rain, the most rain the city of Duluth, Minn., has seen at once in nearly 150 years, flash floods wreaked havoc on the city on Wednesday. The floods followed 10 inches of rain and were more severe than any floods that have occurred there in the past 100 years, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Creeks became raging rivers and the rushing waters ripped apart city streets and created sinkholes. Two hundred and fifty people were evacuated from the Fond du Lac neighborhood, which is the lowest of the neighborhoods in Duluth. The mayor of Duluth, Don Ness, told the Associated Press that “Fortunately . . . it’s a relatively small number of households that are being evacuated . . . most homes in Duluth are farther up the hill.”

Photo credit above: “A submerged mail box is the only sign of the driveway for this flooded home on Lakeshore Drive in Moose Lake, Minn., Thursday, June 21, 2012. The waters of the Moose Horn river overflowed in to parts of Moose Lake after record rainfall hit the area.” (AP Photo/The Duluth News-Tribune, Clint Austin)

Duluth Flood: A Historical Perspective. Dr. Mark Seeley takes a look at previous floods across northern Minnesota, trying to put 10″+ amounts into some sort of long-term historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt of his latest post at WeatherTalk: “The climate record from Duluth shows very few stormy periods that are analogous to what happened there this week. Arguments can be made that thunderstorms on September 5-6, 1876 (6.48 inches); July 20-22, 1909 (7.83 inches), and August 15-21 (7.91 inches) might be comparable, but of course the Duluth neighborhoods and landscape in general were vastly different in those times. It is expected that damage to infrastructure in Duluth will be considerable this time around, perhaps approaching or exceeding $100 million, compounded by a prolonged recovery and reconstruction period.”

Photo credit above: “RVs in the Moose Lake, Minn., city park and RV campground are stranded in water overflow from the nearby Moosehead Lake on Thursday, June 21, 2012. Damage assessment teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency are expected to be in the area next week to start tallying the damage to public infrastructure in 14 counties and one Indian reservation.” (AP Photo/The Duluth News-Tribune, Bob King)

Was Climate Change A Factor? The question keeps coming up – people want to know if a warmer atmosphere somehow contributed to the mega-flood that may ultimately cost Minnesota well over $100 million. My answer, after teeing this up with climate scientists I trust, is yes. People who say “you can’t link any one event with climate change” are missing the point. Climate and weather are now hopelessly intertwined, linked – flip sides of the same coin. It’s basic physics: a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor. If there’s more water floating overhead you increase the potential for these extreme rainfall events. You may argue over how much is “natural” vs. man-made, but there’s no debating the fact that Minnesota is a warmer place than it was 30-40 years ago.

A warmer atmosphere is now flavoring all weather events, making winter snows more sporadic, reducing the number of subzero lows, keeping ice on area lakes for fewer days, and increasing summer dew points and humidity levels, doubling the number of 3″+ downpours since 1961, according to a new study that came out in May. This warmer “background hum” is our new reality. It will continue to manifest itself in strange, and (at times) violent ways in the years to come. The truth: the rain isn’t falling as gently as it did for our grandparents. This trend will ultimately impact everything from how we build our roads and homes to agriculture; engineering new strains of crops that are more resistant to downpours and (increasing) bouts of drought. The weather models we use are having a tough time keeping up with this brave new Weather 2.0 environment – the maps are crazy: just two months ago most of Minnesota was in an extreme drought – now we’re faced with one of the wettest Junes in Minnesota state history. Just when you think you’ve seen it all…

Photo credit above: “The Lester River flows through a gash it created in Jean Duluth Road north of Duluth, Minn., Thursday morning, June 21, 2012. City, county and state officials spent Thursday assessing damage, while areas farther south continued to fight rising floodwaters. The town of Moose Lake was being described as “an island.” (AP Photo/The News-Tribune, Bob King)

Victor – I see your point. There’s no question Duluth just saw a historically significant rainfall. I referred to it as a 1-in-100 year flood. I’m not sure we have enough data to say it’s “unprecedented”, but I agree that 10″ rain for the North Woods is incredibly unusual, off-the-scale weird. As I wrote (above) climate change was a undoubtedly a factor in turbocharging rainfall amounts, so this may very well have been the most rain to ever fall on the Duluth area from one storm. Accurate data goes back to the mid-1800s, before that we really don’t have a clue about specific extreme rainfall events. The more I look at the storm aftermath – the more I’m willing to adjust my point of view and admit that, yes, last week’s flooding probably was unprecedented.

Summer Comes In With A Bang Setting Heat Records. Here is a partial list of record-setting heat records in the Northeast, along with some resources to try to put this into perspective, courtesy of Climate Central: “…Climate studies show that, likely in part because of global warming, there are now many more record highs being set in the U.S. each year compared to record lows. In 2011, the ratio was about three warm temperature records to every cold temperature record. To track record temperatures in your region, take a look at our Record Temperature Tracker. You can also see how much your state has warmed over the past 100 years by looking at our “Heat Is On” Interactive map.”

Photo credit above: Climate Central and flickr/afagen

40 Years Lager, Agnes’ Wrath Touches Off Flood Of Memories. It was only a tropical storm, but “Agnes” stalled over Pennsylvania, doing a big loop over the state, prolonging tropical rains. The storm flooded out our basement ( still have vivid memories of swimming in 5 feet of cold, muddy water, in my underwear [TMI] sorry) – and ultimately “Agnes” got me interested in a career meteorology. Here is a recap of the storm that triggered Pennsylvania’s worst floods on record from Lancaster Online: “Forty years ago the “A” storm of the hurricane season arrived here on June 22. It was a relatively weak one when it first made landfall in Florida. But as Hurricane Agnes started to make its way up the east coast and converged with another low pressure system over Pennsylvania, it reached its full intensity and became the costliest natural disaster in the United States at that time. The damage and death toll was the highest in Pennsylvania, with about 50 deaths and $2.3 billion in losses. “We haven’t had an event that can match Agnes,” Eric Horst, director of the Weather Information Center at Millersville University, said.”

Photo credit above: Agnes floodwaters collapsed the Engleside Bridge, south of the city, into the raging Conestoga River.” (Lancaster Newspapers)


“Ask Paul”. Weather-related Q&A:

Subject: Maybe it is rocket science


Read your column today and I feel for you. For the last few months I have been working my way through a DVD course on meteorology (taught by Prof. Robert Fovell, if that means anything to you). I have gotten through 16 lectures and still haven’t got to storms. Nonetheless, I no longer wonder why you guys don’t always get it right. Instead, I wonder why you even try.”

Steve Thompson.

Steve- thanks for the chuckle. You’re right – some days I wonder why I set myself up for problems and recriminations. Trying to time summer T-storms is problematic. We know when the atmosphere is ripe for convective showers, but trying to predict exactly when and where a 5-mile-wide, 30-45 minute T-storm will pop in this tropical stew? Good luck. Instability storms are most likely to sprout around the dinner hour, between 4-7 pm, right after the high temperature for the day, when the air floating overhead is most unstable and irritable. But warm frontal storms often flare up late at night, blossoming after dark along vague, shifting boundaries. That’s what happened in Duluth last Tuesday and Wednesday; storms repeatedly formed along a temporarily stalled warm frontal boundary. One storm would fizzle, another would take it’s place, a veritable conga-line of storms.

If it was just a matter of moving a storm or front from Point A to Point B the process would be straightforward and somewhat trivial. That’s what many people assume. “Paul, it’s raining in North Dakota today, it’ll reach Minnesota tomorrow!” Duh. It’s not that easy. Storms pop (literally) out of thin air; they mutate as they move along. Trying to predict which storm cells will grow and intensify, and which storms will fizzle and die, is a science within a science.

Most days we’re like frazzled weather-doctors, looking at symptoms, trying our best to come up with a real-time meteorological diagnosis on the fly. Out of 100 storms on Doppler maybe 3-5 will mutate and become severe. These storms often give off tell-tale signs (sudden spike in lightning strikes, large hail, “right turners”). These are the storms that may cause damage and injury, so we focus on these. But most people just want to know “what time will it rain at MY HOUSE?? The analogy is looking at a traffic map on Google and trying to time precisely what time you’ll walk in the door at home. You can get close, but there are thousands of variables, timing traffic lights, new traffic entering the pattern, etc – that ultimately impact your commute time. A few new NOAA weather models show promise (my favorite is the HRRR model, which goes out 12 hours). Most summer days we can give a 3-6 hour lead time, but if storms mushroom suddenly along a dormant frontal boundary we’re often caught with our Dopplers down. That’s what happened last Sunday (Father’s Day). Long explanation – sorry. Thanks for the note, and for recognizing how difficult the forecast process is, especially during the summer months.

Photo Of The Day. Here is an awesome display of cumulonimbus, courtesy of Brad Birkholz. Details: “A look at a cumulonimbus thunder shower that passed over Neenah, WI. Friday afternoon as seen from Kimberly Point Park.”



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Welcome to the WeatherNation blog. Every day I sift through hundreds of stories, maps, graphics and meteorological web sites, trying to capture some of the most interesting weather nuggets, the stories behind the forecast. I’ll link to stories and share some of the web sites I use. I’m still passionate about the weather, have been ever since Tropical Storm Agnes flooded my home in Lancaster, PA in 1972. I’ve started 5 weather-related companies. “EarthWatch” created the world’s first 3-D weather graphics for TV stations – Steven Spielberg used our software in “Jurassic Park” and “Twister”. My last company, “Digital Cyclone”, personalized weather for cell phones. “My-Cast” was launched in 2001 and is still going strong on iPhone, Android and Blackberry. I sold DCI to Garmin in 2007 so I could focus on my latest venture: WeatherNation. I also write a daily weather column for The Star Tribune And if you’re on Twitter, you’ll find me @pdouglasweather

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