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A 4th of July To Remember Locally (limits of technology; forecast calls for more extreme wildfires)

Limits of Technology
We don’t know as much as we think we do. Technology is a useful tool, but it’s still far from foolproof, especially going up against Mother Nature, who tends to get the last laugh.
On May 31 an erratic EF-5 tornado suddenly veered northeast, killing 3 experienced tornado researchers. Earlier this week sudden, violent winds triggered by pop-up T-storms fanned the Yarnell Hills blaze, trapping 19 heroic firefighters.
Thunderstorms can do more bad than good out west, capable of “dry lightning”: no rain reaches the ground, but lightning can ignite new flames. Fickle winds at the base of these storms can make it impossible to predict where the fire line will advance next.
Some of the best weather America has to offer will be floating above our heads in the coming days, a stubborn ridge of high pressure blessing us with 80s, blue sky, and reasonable humidity levels. A retrograding (east to west moving) storm over the Ohio Valley may spark late-day storms over Wisconsin & Iowa, but most of us won’t see T-storms until Sunday. Weekend highs approach 90F with a drippy dew point of 70. It will feel like summer this weekend.
After the year we’ve had I guess we’ve EARNED a memorable 4th.


NASA Image: Fires In Manitoba. This is why we’ve had such a hazy, milky-white sky (and cherry-red sunsets) in recent days. Smoke from fires up north is being swept south of the border. According to an article at 27 separate fires in Manitoba have burned over 300,000 acres.

Not Quite Right For Early July. By now a massive heat-pump high pressure ridge should be dominating most of the USA as the jet stream lifts north into Canada. Not so in 2013, with unusually big, sweeping, north-south dips and bulges to the jet. In fact weather systems have pretty much stalled, in fact the band of showers and heavy T-storms sweeping from the Gulf of Mexico right up the Appalachians is retrograding, drifting toward the west!

Soggy Fourth For The Southeast. NOAA’s 5-Day QPF shows 5-6″ rainfall amounts from the Florida Panhandle to near Huntsville, Atlanta and Asheville, where more flash flooding is possible by the weekend. No rain is forecast for the west coast or the Central Plains into early next week.

4th of July Weather Since 1871: Fairly Good Odds Of Dry Weather. At least that’s been the case in recent years. Farther back in weather history? Not so much. Here’s an excerpt from theMinnesota State Climate Office: “Looking back at records dating to 1873 for the Twin Cities, the average high and average low for Independence Day are 82.4 degrees F and average low of 62.6, respectively. 2012 came in as the warmest July 4th on record at 101 degrees, this was a part of an extremely warm early July. 1967 recorded the lowest high temperature at 58 degrees, which was the last time the high temperature has dipped below 70 degrees. Although recent July 4th’s tend to have warm and mostly dry, Mark Seely mentions on the June 28th 2013 WeatherTalk that it is the rainiest holiday in Minnesota looking back to 1891. The heaviest rainfall occurred in 1900, a year that saw 2.27 inches of rain over Independence day. The most recent washout occured in 1995, the Twin Cities reported 0.24 inches from 6:00-8:00 PM, with a brief shower at Noon. This has been the lone rain event to disrupt July 4th events in the Twin Cities for the past 50 years…”

Image credit above: Twin Cities National Weather Service.

“Dry Lightning”, Sudden Wind Shifts and Haboobs. You would think that a forecast of thunderstorms for the Southwest would be greeted as good news. Not necessarily. A sudden wind shift (gust front) from rapidly moving thunderstorms in Arizona probably fanned (and shifted) the flames that ultimately claimed the lives of 19 firefighters northwest of Phoenix. And when the atmosphere is so dry T-storms can spark lightning, with little or no rain actually reaching the ground. A mixed blessing at best, unless it rains hard and repeatedly for days on end. Here is today’s installment of Climate Matters: “You might think a thunderstorm would be good news for firefighting efforts because it brings much wanted moisture. Think again. Not all thunderstorms bring rain. WeatherNation Chief Meteorologist Paul Douglas explains how a storm can be dry and why this creates extremely dangerous conditions for those battling wildfires.”

In The Line Of Wildfire. 19 highly skilled, fire-fighting “hotshots” just lost their lives battling a blaze 80 miles northwest of Phoenix. Who are these men, and how do they take on raging fires with backpacks and shovels? Outside Magazine published an article on June 13 detailing what life is like on the front lines: “I ROLL OUT of my sleeping bag at 5 A.M., waking to the smell of dry grass and woodsmoke. I spent last night in the open, camped on rodeo grounds in the tiny Northern California town of Stonyford. Flames are visible on a ridge half a mile away. Time to go to work. It’s July 12, 2012, and I’m about to be sent to my first forest fire of the season. I arrived yesterday to meet up with the Tahoe Hotshots, an elite group of wilderness fire-fighters based about 120 miles east of here, in a Sierra foothills town called Camptonville. The Tahoe team is part of a sprawling, multifaceted army: 177 federal, state, and county crews who must try and stop a fast-moving, 17,000-acre blaze before it spreads into Stonyford. Known as the Mill Fire, it was started on July 7 by lost hikers and raced east through the Coast Range and the Mendocino National Forest. Drought conditions and 60-mile-per-hour Pacific winds have fueled its advance; already, five buildings have burned on the edge of town….”

Photo credit above: “Tahoe Hotshot Isaiah Eastlng burning slash in the Tahoe National Forest.”Photo: Kyle Dickman.

Astronaut View Of Fires In Colorado. Here’s a slightly different perspective, one which brings home the scale of these massive wildfires. Here’s more from NASA’s Earth Observatory: “Thick smoke billows across the landscape in these digital photographs of the western United States. Both photographs were taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) on June 19, 2013. The images show a plume wafting from the West Fork Complex fire, which was burning explosively in southwestern Colorado near Pagosa Springs. To the northwest, a smaller plume from the Wild Rose fire is also visible (upper image). While the Wild Rose blaze was fully contained by June 25, 2013, the West Fork Complex was still raging through the San Juan and Rio Grande National Forests. The West Fork Complex is a combination of three fires: the West Fork fire, the Windy Pass fire, and the Papoose fire. Lightning ignited the first of the blazes on June 5, 2013, and together they had charred approximately 75,000 acres (30,000 hectares) by June 25. The fires were burning in rugged terrain with large amounts of beetle-killed spruce forests…”

There are currently 27 fires in the northeast section of Manitoba. These fires have burned over 126,000 hectares (over 311,000 acres). Showers have lowered wildfire danger levels in most areas of the province with the exception of northeastern Manitoba where conditions continue to remain dry.

Read more at:

There are currently 27 fires in the northeast section of Manitoba. These fires have burned over 126,000 hectares (over 311,000 acres). Showers have lowered wildfire danger levels in most areas of the province with the exception of northeastern Manitoba where conditions continue to remain dry.

Read more at:


The Low-Down On The West’s Heat Wave; What’s Causing It, And Why Hot Nights Are So Dangerous. Here are some interesting facts from AP and The Washington Post: “…“Nighttime heat is especially bad,” said Eli Jacks, chief of fire and public weather services at the National Weather Service. “Not to get below 90 is crazy.”

Q: What’s so dangerous about that?
If you aren’t in an air-conditioned place, “your body never has a chance to recover” at night, Jacks said. Normally the “feels-like” index — which factors in temperature and humidity — has to get to 80 degrees or below for your body to recover from the daytime heat, Jacks said. The lack of nighttime cooling is more dangerous than the 117 degree all-time record in Las Vegas, experts said…”

658 people fall victim to intense heat in the USA every year, according to the CDC, The Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Heat is, by far, America’s biggest weather-related killer.

Heat Waves Throughout History. As always, perspective is in order – heat claimed far more lives in previous centuries, long before central air conditioning revolutionized how most of us ride out a hot summer. I had no idea a heat wave in 1896 killed an estimated 1,300 New Yorkers. Here’s an excerpt of a fascinating read at “Summer 2013 has only just begun, but one region is already feeling the heat. This week, thanks to an unusual change in direction of the jet stream, much of Alaska is experiencing near-record breaking temperatures (30 degrees warmer than usual in some places), prompting authorities to issue warnings meant to protect citizens and prevent the outbreak of wildfires. As North America prepares for a long, hot summer, find out what happens when things start to really heat up with this look back at some of the most infamous heat waves in history…”

With Weather Warnings, How People Use Their Lead Time Is Key. Here’s an excerpt from a thoughtful Op-Ed at The Oklahoman: “…Weather science is steadily evolving and vastly improved. In a state so devastated by violent weather, it’s good that so much weather research is centered here. But government researchers can’t dictate how TV weather teams conduct themselves. Just as we were reminded on May 20 of the importance of having adequate shelter to weather the most powerful tornadoes, we were reminded on May 31 that being in cars or storm drains is deadly. We learned some things from both storms. What did the TV weather teams learn? How will they change their methods as a result? What people do in response to a warning is sometimes more important than how much lead time they have.”

NASA Launches IRIS Solar Mission To Research Space Weather. Because one of these days we’re going to see a G4 or G5 rated X-class flare that will threaten America’s power grid. Hopefully no time soon. TechHive has the story; here’s a snippet: “NASA launched a solar telescope on Thursday that scientists hope will be able to unlock the secrets of how material gathers, moves and heats up as it travels through the Sun’s lower atmosphere. Scientists say that better understanding of this part of the solar atmosphere, which sits below the corona, could help explain and model phenomena like the ejection of solar material—something that can cause damage to electronic circuits, power distribution networks and communications systems on Earth when it gets large enough…”

* more details on the NASA IRIS mission here.

America’s “Brainiest” Cities? Not my term, but I found this story in The Atlantic Citiesinteresting, and how they came up with their final metrics. Here’s the intro: “In the knowledge age, “smart” cities and metros have a considerable economic advantage. Economists like Harvard’s Edward Glaeser have shown how urban and regional economic growth turn on education levels or so-called “human capital” (measured by the share of adults who hold college degrees). Others show the connections between knowledge and creative jobs, innovation, and economic growth. Still others focus on the role of specific skills — knowledge, social, and physical — in economic and urban development (a subject I covered back in October 2011 for The Atlantic.) But what about more direct measures of “brain performance”? Last year, I mapped America’s “brainiest” metros, using new measures and rankings developed by Lumos Labs via their online brain-performance program, Lumosity. Since Lumosity allows you to track your performance, you can actually see if you’re improving or backsliding…”

Map credit above: “The map above shows the pattern for metros; the list below shows the top 25 brainiest CBSAs based on Lumosity rankings. Ithaca, New York, takes first place, followed by State College, Pennsylvania, and Lafayette-West Lafayette, Indiana, in third; Iowa City, Iowa, is fourth, and Ames, Iowa, is fifth.”

Climate Stories….

This Is What Climate Change Looks Like: Top 10 Most Expensive Climate Disasters of 2012. Here’s a story from Huffington Post that provides some perspective, more examples of how a warmer, wetter climate is fueling more extreme storms – and consequences: “On Tuesday President Obama released his climate action plan — and not a moment too soon. Extreme weather has been pounding the U.S., and while pundits and the fossil fuel industry will claim action is too expensive, the cost of inaction is far too much to bear. In 2012 there were 11 climate disasters that cost more than $1 billion each, according to NOAA. Below are the 10 most expensive.

1. Hurricane Sandy – cost $65.7 billion and caused 159 deaths

Hurricane Sandy touched down on U.S. soil on October 29 after leaving a path of destruction through Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, the Bahamas, and Bermuda. Sandy was the second-costliest and deadliest hurricane ever to hit the U.S. after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. A total of 24 states were affected, with thousands of homes destroyed and millions of people left without electricity. Of the direct deaths, the storm caused 48 direct deaths and 87 additional indirect deaths.”

Photo credit upper left: EPA/MASTER SGT. MARK OLSEN / US AIR FORCE
Photo credit upper right: NWS Meteorologist Samuel Shea

The Climate Context Behind The Deadly Arizona WildfireClimate Central meteorologist Andrew Freedman takes a look at the trends increasing the potential for catastrophic blazes out west; here’s an excerpt: “…Thunderstorms near the fire are a suspected cause of the erratic behavior of the flames on Sunday, when the firefighting crew was forced to deploy their last-resort fire shelters to try to deflect the flames. The Yarnell Hill fire, like other wildfires in the West right now, is taking place in the context of one of the most extreme heat waves on record in the region, as well as a long-running drought. While the contributors to specific fires are varied and include natural weather and climate variability as well as human factors, such as arson, a draft federal climate report released in January found that manmade climate change, along with other factors, has already increased the overall risk of wildfires in the Southwest. And projections shows that the West may be in for more large wildfires in the future. Climate models show an alarming increase in large wildfires in the West in coming years, as spring snowpack melts earlier, summer temperatures increase, and droughts occur more frequently or with greater severity…”

Graphic credit above: “Statewide temperature trends in Arizona since 1920, with the post 1970 trend line drawn as well.” Credit: Climate Central. 

Yes, Wildfires Are Connected To Climate Change. Here’s HowTreehugger takes a look at how the combination of less winter snowcover, less spring rain, a growing drought, and a warming/drying climate, are all conspiring to create a potentially record summer and autumn for wildfires out west; here’s an excerpt: “…Felicity Barringer and Kenneth Chang at The New York Times report that scientists are calling this a “new normal” for the American west: Warmer winters mean less snowfall. More of the winter precipitation falls as rain, which quickly flows away in streams instead of seeping deep underground. The soils then dry out earlier and more quickly in May and June. “It’s the most arid time of year,” Dr. Garfin said. “It’s windy as well.” The growing season also starts earlier, so there is more to burn. “The fire season has lengthened substantially, by two months, over the last 30 years,” said Craig D. Allen, a research ecologist at the United States Geological Survey station at Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico...” (Photo: DNR).

Wildland Firefighting At The Rough Cutting Edge of Climate Change. Rick Piltz connects the dots at Climate Science Watch; here’s the intro: “Western firefighters are more often encountering conditions they have never before experienced, with extreme fire behavior and extreme weather conditions,” writes former U.S. Forest Service firefighter Nick Sundt. “Many of our elected representatives in Washington are napping on the fireline. They need to wake up and smell the smoke.” The following is a guest post by Nick Sundt, a former U.S. Forest Service firefighter, who worked as a hotshot, smokejumper and helitack crew member from 1976 to 1990: Late Sunday (30 June), 19 firefighters died in the Yarnell Hill Fire southwest of Prescott Arizona. All of them were members of the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew; a hotshot crew consists of 20 firefighters, so nearly the entire crew was killed…”

“Long-Term Perspective On Wildfires In The Western USA”Here is a paper at the National Academy of Science that delves into causation. Climate change is a big factor, but probably not the only variable involved.

Climate Change, Pipelines And Alberta Floods. Here’s an excerpt of an article at The Vancouver Sun: “Most Canadians sympathize with those affected by the Alberta floods, and many have offered support of various kinds. At the same time, a number of commentators have pointed out the connection between the oilsands projects in Alberta, and the sad irony of the flooding relatively nearby. It has been asserted that intense floods of this nature are consistent with predictions about climate change, and that the oilsands are a significant contributor to global warming. While a single event cannot be used to provide evidence for or against climate change, scientific models predict that global warming will lead to more intense flooding in some places (as is currently happening in Alberta), more intense droughts in others (like in the south of the U.S. for example), more intense hurricanes (such as exemplified by Hurricane Sandy last fall on the Atlantic coast), melting of the polar ice caps (as is happening in the Canadian Arctic) and a variety of other negative outcomes (possibly including contributing to the severity of tornadoes, such as in Oklahoma recently)…”

Photo credit above: “The recent flood in southern Alberta is consistent with predictions that climate change is causing extreme weather events, UBC professor writes.” Photograph by: Jordan Verlage, The Canadian Press , Vancouver Sun

Oh Canada. How America’s Friendly Northern Neighbor Become a Rogue, Reckless Petrostate. Here’s the intro to a story at Foreign Policy: “For decades, the world has thought of Canada as America’s friendly northern neighbor — a responsible, earnest, if somewhat boring, land of hockey fans and single-payer health care. On the big issues, it has long played the global Boy Scout, reliably providing moral leadership on everything from ozone protection to land-mine eradication to gay rights. The late novelist Douglas Adams once quipped that if the United States often behaved like a belligerent teenage boy, Canada was an intelligent woman in her mid-30s. Basically, Canada has been the United States — not as it is, but as it should be…”

The Amazing Energy Race. Here’s an excerpt of an Op-Ed from St. Louis Park’s Thomas Friedman, writing for The New York Times: ….“In reducing coal’s historic dominance, the president is formalizing a market trend that was already taking shape,” remarked Andy Karsner, who was an assistant secretary of energy in the last Bush administration. His bigger message, though, was “no matter where you find yourself on the political spectrum, it’s useful for the nation to discuss, debate and consider a strategy for climate change. The consequences of inaction are potentially greater than all the other noise out there.” Sadly, many Republican “leaders” rejected Obama’s initiative, claiming it would cost jobs. Really? Marvin Odum, the president of the Shell Oil Company, told me in an interview that phasing out coal for cleaner natural gas — and shifting more transport, such as big trucks and ships, to natural gas instead of diesel — “is a no-brainer, no-lose, net-win that you can’t fight with a straight face…”



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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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