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April-like Severe Storm/Tornado Outbreak (why nighttime tornadoes are much deadlier than daytime twisters)

31 Jan 2013, 6:30 am


521 Record Highs: The map above shows record highs since Wednesday of last week. It does not include additional record highs yesterday. The warmth came tantalizingly close to Minnesota, low to mid 60s reached Chicago Tuesday. Map: Ham Weather.

Extended Outlook: February 6-12. NOAA’s experimental NAEFS temperature trends show warmer than average conditions over much of the USA for the second week of February as bitter air finally retreats into northern Canada. The worst of the chill should be history by Saturday. Spread the news.

Warming Trend Next Week. The extremes in recent weeks have been impressive, as much as 50-60 degrees in some cities. A building ridge of high pressure coupled with a flow form the Pacific triggers milder weather the first week of February over the central third of the USA. Map: CPC and Ham Weather.

Tornado Aftermath. Alert News has some amazing footage of the aftermath of the Adairsville, Georgia tornado, which claimed at least one life (in a mobile home).

January – Or April? A surge of freakishly warm, humid weather out ahead of a vigorous cold front, coupled with unusually strong jet stream winds, sparked nearly 300 separate reports of wind damage yesterday, 7 tornadoes as of 8 pm yesterday evening. Details from SPC here.

Nighttime Tornadoes Are Worst Nightmare. Here’s an overview of some new research from Northern Illinois University that shows that tornadoes that strike between midnight and dawn are 2.5 times more likely to result in fatalities, especially over the Mid South, from Arkansas into Tennessee and Kentucky. The problem is obvious: people are asleep, not monitoring media, apps or radio. How best to get the word out of an oncoming tornado at 2 am? NOAA Weather Radio. It may be the only thing that will set off a shrill alarm when there’s a tornado warning for your county (if it has S.A.M.E. technology). Here’s an excerpt of the article at Northern Illinois University: “A new study by Northern Illinois University scientists underscores the danger of nighttime tornadoes and suggests that warning systems that have led to overall declines in tornado death rates might not be adequate for overnight events, which occur most frequently in the nation’s mid-South region. Over the past century, the tornado death rate has declined, in large part because of sophisticated forecasting technology and warning systems. But the researchers found that the nighttime tornado death rate over the past century has not shared the same pace of decline as the rate for daytime tornadoes. “The proportion of nocturnal fatalities and killer tornado events has increased during the last half century,” said lead author Walker Ashley, an NIU meteorologist and professor of geography. “Unfortunately, this nocturnal fatality rate appears to be a major factor for the stalled decline in national tornado-fatality tallies during the past few decades….”

The Silver Lining In Drought: 5 Upsides To Rain-Free Weather. O.K. I’m a glass-half-full guy, but I’m not sure this one passes the smell test. Try explaining this to a farmer in Worthington or someone with lakeshore (in theory) on White Bear Lake, or towns in southwestern Minnesota where aquifers continue to recede, threatening agriculture and drinking water. But in the spirit of full disclosure here’s an excerpt from a story at NPR: “Drought is mostly seen as a bad thing — and for good reason. It dries up crops, destroys landscaping and stops ships from moving. But even the lack of rain clouds has a bright side…Another upside of the drought? Fewer pests. And not just those plaguing grapes, but fewer bugs that, well, bug humans. Mike McClain at Metropolitan Mosquito Control District in the Twin Cities says the types of mosquitoes that drive people crazy tend to multiply after it rains. “And when you have real dry conditions that we did the last half of 2012, the actual number of complaints about mosquitoes and the number biting people tends to go way down,” he says. “And that’s a good thing. People are a little less irritated by mosquitoes during drought…”

* photo above courtesy of Timothy Butz in Ellicott City, Maryland, where Tuesday’s high was a balmy 64 F.

66 F. record high in Buffalo yesterday. Old record: 56 F.

Are Tornado Alleys A Myth? It’s all how you look at the data, right? Here’s an excerpt of a fascinating perspective from “…As she wrote in her AMS meeting poster, Tornado Alley and Dixie Alley are concepts coined by members of the meteorological community, specifically, Tornado Alley by Fawbush & Miller in 1952, and then Dixie Alley by Dr. Allen Pearson in 1971. “But no universal definition of either concept exists; they shift, expand, and shrink with different publications, authors, and purposes. They are sociopolitical rather than scientific concepts,” Henderson explained (you can see her poster here). The thing about the original Tornado Alley, she said, is that once it was established, it became the scientific standard against which other alleys were defined. The concept of a tornado-prone “alley” is a natural outgrowth of 20th century meteorological history. Tornado alleys are terms that have become “scientized,” she told me. “Scientization transforms sociopolitical concepts, ideas, and other phenomena into metrics that can be standardized and measured…” (photo: meteorologist Aaron Shaffer at WeatherNation TV).

Study Links Headaches And Migraines To Weather. Lightning as a possible trigger for serious headaches? Here’s a clip from “If you’ve ever blamed the weather for a splitting headache, you might be right.  A new University of Cincinnati study finds that lightning may affect the onset of headache and migraines. “What we found was that on days with lightning around the patients’  homes there was approximately a 30-percent increase in headache activity, or headache occurrence, and also a 30-percent increase in migraine,” said fourth-year medical student Geoff Martin, one of the researchers. The study looked at chronic headache sufferers.  There are a number of ways lightning might be a  trigger...” (Lightning photo: AP)

Research Spawns Stunning Hurricane Sandy Animations. Here are a few clips worth watching, courtesy of meteorologist Andrew Freedman at Climate Central: “…In Sandy’s wake, researchers have tried to gain a better understanding of the characteristics of this fascinating storm, and their work has already resulted in some interesting insights. Mel Shapiro, an atmospheric scientist who studies how tropical storms and hurricanes transition into powerful extratropical storm systems, recently produced a series of astonishing animated visualizations showing the inner workings of Sandy as the storm moved up the Eastern Seaboard and eventually made landfall on the evening of Oct. 29. These visualizations were produced with an ultra-high resolution computer model run at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. Known as the ARW-WRF model, it used data from an operational computer model that the National Weather Service used to forecast the storm…”

Graphic credit above: “The animation above shows modeled particle trajectories that demonstrate how the low level air comes into Hurricane Sandy and then ascends to the outflow jet at the top of the troposphere. The outflow jet can be seen in red colors moving away from the storm, toward the Midwest. Particle trajectories help show how the air was flowing throughout the storm. This was done by simulating the movement of particles inserted into a modeled storm environment.” Credit: Science by Mel Shapiro and Thomas Galarneau. Visualization by Alan Norton, NCAR Computational and Information Systems Laboratory, using VAPOR visualization software.

Twice As Many Structures In FEMA’s Redrawn Flood Zone. Many homeowners living near the ocean will be forced to raise their homes by several feet, or risk not being able to qualify for any insurance. The New York Times has the story; here’s an excerpt: “New federal flood maps released on Monday revealed the grim news that many New Yorkers were girding for after Hurricane Sandy sloshed away: More areas farther inland are expected to flood. Tidal surges will be more ferocious. And 35,000 more homes and businesses will be located in flood zones, which will almost certainly nudge up insurance rates and determine how some structures are rebuilt. (Photo above: Gizmodo).

“Superfog” Not To Be Taken Lightly, Expert Says. Here’s an excerpt of an interesting article at that caught my eye: “The monster that formed over Paynes Prairie on Jan. 29, 2012, and led to what is believed to be the deadliest set of accidents in Florida history wasn’t merely fog or smoke or a combination of the two. It was a unique phenomenon that can arise when the conditions are ripe, and it could kill again. Meteorologist Gary Achtemeier with the U.S. Forest Service knows it well. He had named it “superfog” and warns it is not to be taken lightly. “There is only one course of action for a motorist encountering superfog, and it is not to drive. I liken it to a bridge collapse,” Achtemeier said. “It has to be stressed that it is a unique phenomenon and is extremely dangerous…”
Photo credit above: “Aerial view of Interstate 75 in Gainesville, Fla. where according to Florida Highway Patrol at least 9 people have died as a result of multiple crashes Sunday January 29, 2012 involving 4 commercial vehicles and at least 10 passenger vehicles. The majority of the accidents happened in an area adjacent to where a brush fire was burning and producing heavy smoke.” Rob C. Witzel/Staff photographer

Research: Discovery Of Upper Atmosphere Bacteria That Affect Weather. Here’s an excerpt from “…The finding is of interest to atmospheric scientists, because the microorganisms could play a role in forming ice that may impact weather and climate. Long-distance transport of the bacteria could also be of interest for disease transmission models. The microorganisms were found to be the appropriate size to facilitate the formation of water droplets and ice in the regions where they were discovered. When the air masses studied originated over the ocean, the sampling found mostly marine bacteria. Air masses that originated over land had mostly terrestrial bacteria. The researchers also saw strong evidence that the hurricanes had a significant impact on the distribution and dynamics of microorganism populations…”

Breathtaking 360-Degree Panorama Photo Taken Atop The World’s Tallest Building. Isn’t this where they filmed the Tom Cruise movie? Here’s an excerpt from a story at “Until the Sky City One tower is completed in China, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai can lay claim to being the tallest building in the world. Standing at a whopping 828 meters (2,717 ft), it’s a must-visit destination for those traveling to the UAE. But now anyone can enjoy the building’s stunning views from the comfort of their own home thanks to a photographer who recently composed a stunning 360-degree panorama image taken from on top of the Burj Khalifa….”

Popularity Of New Weather-Reporting App Stuns Officials. Have you downloaded “mPing” yet? Talk about crowd-sourcing weather; this app takes weather observations to the next level. Interactive Intelligence has the story; here’s an excerpt: “…Already, the National Severe Storms Laboratory has received 22,000 reports in the first month the Precipitation Identification Near the Ground — or PING — app has been in use. That’s five times the number of observations gathered by telephone over the past six years, Elmore said. And NOAA hasn’t even begun promoting PING’s existence. “It’s unprecedented,” Elmore said. “We have more than we ever thought we would” in such a short time. It’s all due to social media, he said. Folks are hearing about the apps on sites such as Facebook and signing up for it…”

Experimental Cold Climate House Built In Japan. Wonder if this would work in Minnesota? Here’s a snippet from one of my favorite sources for cutting-edge tech and sustainabiility news: “Japanese architectural firm Kengo Kuma & Associates recently demonstrated its ethos of design inspired by light and nature with an experimental house in Hokkaido called “Même.” The structure is designed for cold climates and whilst based upon the local Ainu people’s “Chise” (House of the Earth), it uses modern materials for an insulated double skin membrane that promotes convection and maintains a comfortable internal environment due to heat circulation from its continually lit fire….”

* photo above snapped in southern Wisconsin, courtesy of Tom Purdy.

Climate Stories…

Data Bank:

U.S. Temperature Trends Since 1900. Data courtesy of NOAA NCDC.

Millions of Acres Burned Since 1960 (USA). Data courtesy of The National Interagency Fire Center.

In Energy Taxes, Tools To Help Tackle Climate Change. There’s growing concern among farmers about crop insurance, how a spate of recent disasters (Sandy comes to mind) and the federal deficit may put even more pressure on farmers grappling with a persistent drought over the nation’s midsection. Here’s an except of a New York Times story that caught my eye: “…The erratic weather across the country in the last couple of years seems to be softening Americans’ skepticism about global warming. Most New Yorkers say they believe big storms like Sandy and Irene were the result of a warming climate. Whether climate change is directly responsible or not, the odd weather patterns have underscored the risk that it poses to all of us. What’s yet to be seen is whether this growing awareness of the risks will translate into sufficient political support to address climate change, especially after we figure out the costs we will have to bear to do so. In his inaugural address, President Obama wove Hurricane Sandy and last year’s drought into a stirring plea to address climate change. “The failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” the president said…” (Photo: Star Tribune).

Climate Hawk: GOP Will “Pay In The Future” For Ignoring Climate Change. Yes, this is what I’m trying to explain to my friends on the right side of the political aisle. A few Republicans are paying attention; they seem to realize that this is a big deal, especially among younger voters. Here’s an excerpt from Buzzfeed Politics: “U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, one of Congress’ few outspoken environmental advocates, is making a new argument for legislative action on climate change: Lawmakers who oppose future measures to reverse global warming, Whitehouse argues, will pay a price — in votes. Whitehouse, who last Thursday announced the formation of a bicameral task force to address the issue, compared climate change to social issues like gay rights and immigration reform that Democrats claim are moving to the center. “I’m hoping we can convince Republicans that this is a big generational issue and, like being on the wrong side of immigration and gay rights, there will be a huge political price to pay in the future for being on the wrong side of climate change,” said Whitehouse, the Democratic junior Senator from Rhode Island, in an interview with BuzzFeed…”

Fight Fire With Fire. Here’s an overview of a Kickstarter project unlike anything you’ve ever seen: “Global warming might be real.  The problem is that this unfortunate phenomenon hurts the pocket books of some really great Americans, like Charles and David Koch.  We are two filmmakers who want to tell the other side of the story.  If we can get enough funds together, we’ll be able to make a documentary that discredits the current theory of Global Warming so that Charles and David can quit worrying about the earth and get back to their favorite pastime, making money….”

Groundwater Depletion Linked To Climate Change. We assume that when we drill a well, we’ll eventually find (drinkable) ground water. But aquifer depletion is a real concern, especially over southwestern Minnesota. Here’s a clip from a must-read article at ScienceDaily:…”Over-pumping of groundwater for irrigation is mining dry the world’s ancient Pleistocene-age, ice-sheet-fed aquifers and, ironically, at the same time increasing sea-level rise, which we haven’t factored into current estimations of the rise,” says Allen. “Groundwater pumping reduces the amount of stored water deep underground and redirects it to the more active hydrologic system at the land-surface. There, it evaporates into the atmosphere, and ultimately falls as precipitation into the ocean.” Current research estimates oceans will rise by about a metre globally by the end of the century due to climate change. But that estimation doesn’t factor in another half-a-centimetre-a-year rise, says this study, expected due to groundwater recycling back into the ocean globally…”

Photo credit above: “SFU earth scientist Diana Allen has co-authored a major study linking groundwater depletion to climate change.” (Credit: Image courtesy of Simon Fraser University).

Whispers From The Ghosting Trees. This is a very long (and rather haunting) explanation of why so many trees are sick and dying worldwide. Elevated levels of ozone may be the problem. An excerpt of this worthy read courtesy of ScienceBlogs: “…Is it merely a colossal coincidence that all over the world, within the past few decades and at a hugely accelerating rate, trees are dying? If it’s not a coincidence, what is the underlying factor? Fair warning – this post will be a long explanation as to how there is an underlying factor, and why it is pollution. One of the strongest and most persuasive evidence for me has been the visible damage to foliage and needles that became virtually universal several years ago. Serious, terminal damage can occur in roots before any of the classic symptoms appear on leaves…so the fact that by the end of the summer growing season, it is just about impossible to find a single leaf on a tree, bush, garden produce or ornamental flowering plant that ISN’T visibly injured indicates the extent to which the problem has intensified. Just about any link to my blog will include photos of typical leaf damage….”

Colorado: Are January Red Flag Fire Warnings In The Mountains Part Of A New Climate Reality? Here’s an excerpt from The Summit County Citizens Voice: “January fire warnings, nearly unprecedented 30 years ago, have become more common the last decade. Illustrating the persistence of extraordinary drought conditions in parts of Colorado, the National Weather Service issued a Red Flag fire warning for the Rocky Mountain foothills west of Denver north to the Wyoming border and encompassing areas that were scorched by last summer’s High Park Fire. Boulder-based National Weather Service forecaster Mike Baker said the agency decided to post the warning after three wildfires were reported Wednesday (Jan. 24) within the span of an hour. All three fires were above 8.500 feet elevation on the east slope of the mountains along the Front Range, Baker said…”

Skating Rinks Monitor Climate Change. A grass-roots, citizen’s crowd-sourced effort to track the impact of a warming climate across Canada, by monitoring ice skating conditions. Here’s more from “In the latest citizen science venture, backyard ice skaters are monitoring climate change in Canada and the northern United States. After Canadian scientists predicted that global warming will eventually be the demise of backyard skating rinks, a group of geographers at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo created RinkWatch. In just 20 days, 630 volunteers signed up to keep tabs on the condition of their home rinks…”

Obama Talks Climate Change. California Is Acting On It. Here’s a clip from a story at Time Magazine: “It’s not the happiest time to be an environmentalist. Climate change hit home last year with brutal force: 2012’s historic drought singed much of the Midwest, turning farms to dust and withering the corn crop. Other parts of the U.S. suffered through storms like Sandy and massive wildfires. Average annual temperatures in the continental U.S. beat the previous recorded high by a full 1°F (1.8°C). And the future is uglier still: over the weekend, the British economist Nicholas Stern warned that climate change could be even worse than he predicted in his sobering 2006 report on the financial impact of warming, while on Jan. 28 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a draft report outlining the serious threat that sea-level rise poses to the coastal U.S…”

Photo credit above: Jonathan Alcom – Bloomberg. “A row of homes on a residential street stands as the ConocoPhillips refinery performed a non-emergency burn-off in the Wilmington district of Los Angeles on Sept. 15, 2012.”



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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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