All Weather News

Maps Looking More Like March (El Nino Watch; can USA/NOAA catch up to Europeans on model forecast accuracy?)

7 Mar 2014, 7:53 am


Meteorologists are an odd bunch. When we’re right (it has been known to happen) we puff out our chests, noting our experience and good sense. When we’re wrong we blame the weather models. “It’s not my fault, the computers made me do it!”

In 1976 there was 1 weather model (LFM). Now there are dozens. Lately the Europeans have been focusing all their time & money on 1 model, the ECWMF, which has done a better job on many (but not all) days. The “Euro” gave me an 8-day heads-up that Superstorm Sandy might hook into the northeast in 2012.

But don’t bet against the USA. Dan Luna, at the local NOAA office, told me “our NOAA NCEP Computer, the one running the weather models, will have its computing power increased from 208 Teraflops to 1900 Teraflops…very soon the GFS will be upgraded to 13KM out to 10 days. That will be a game changer!”

NOAA has issued an El Nino Watch for late 2014. The last major El Nino was 1998, which turned into the warmest year on record, worldwide. Details below.

* as of February 25, Cliff Mass reports that NOAA’s new supercomputer hasn’t even been ordered, while the European Center (ECMWF) has just secured a new (American) supercomputer to try and push the envelope even further. His must-read post is here.


Minor Weekend Relapse, Then Welcome Temperature Inflation Next Week. I hesitate calling this a warm front (unless you live on the central Plains, where 60s are possible by early next week). For the rest of us: a not-as-cold-front is shaping up, as steering winds aloft become more westerly, more zonal, treating many ice-encrusted northern cities to a welcome spurt of 40s. 2-meter NAM temperatures courtesy of NOAA and Ham Weather.

NAEFS Extended Outlook. Here is the temperature anomaly outlook for March 14-21, courtesy of Environment Canada. The pattern is shifting, but painfully slow.


USA Snowcover In Early March: Third Highest Level On Record. Only 1969 and 1978 saw more snow on the ground in early March, from coast to coast. Here’s an excerpt from a story at USA Today: “As of Tuesday, North America is covered by the third-highest amount of snow this late in the season since records began in 1966, according to NOAA’s U.S. National Ice Center. Only 1969 and 1978 had more snow cover at this point in the year, according to Sean Helfrich of NOAA’s National Ice Center…”


>Spring Forward. Yes, we lose an hour of sleep Saturday night, but here’s another encouraging sign of lukewarm days to come. Don’t forget to turn your clocks ahead 1 hour before you turn in Saturday night.


Something’s Missing. Yes, snow, at least in Alaska, where the Iditarod is underway. Monica Zappa (a St. Cloud State University graduate participating in the grueling race, featured in the photo above) reports unusual amounts of ice vs. snow on the course; many lakes and streams are slushy and unstable. Eric Holthaus has a good recap of the springlike conditions at Slate; here’s an excerpt: “The dogs are ready, the gear is in place, and mushers are gathering for this weekend’s start of Alaska’s classic sled dog race, the Iditarod. There’s just one thing missing: snow. After one of the warmest Januaries in Alaska’s meteorological record books, parts of the epic thousand-mile sled dog route were bare ground and open water as recently as last week—not exactly the winter wonderland that’s more typical this time of the year in what is usually one of the coldest parts of North America…”

* Here are the latest Iditarod standings – at least report Monica was 48th.


What The Heck Is “Blow Ice”? It’s not trending like “Polar Vortex” but a new phrase has been coined to describe an age-old problem. Details at Rick Kupchella’s “…So, after “polar vortex,” “umbles,” and “bombogenesis,” add “blow ice” to your winter-weather vocabulary. Grabow tweeted BringMeTheNews that blow ice is the result of wind blowing snow across the road and either slightly warmer temperatures or tires melt it, but the moisture is still cold enough to freeze and quickly become ice…”

Who knew?


Great Lakes Ice. Check out the CIMSS high resolution visible satellite image from Thursday morning, courtesy of the University of Wisconsin. What caught my eye was the ice calving off the eastern regions of Lake Michigan, water currents pushing the ice flows south and west – an amazing sight.


Scientists: El Nino (May Be) A-Comin’. There are markers in the Pacific that suggest some of that warm water that’s been accumulating over time may slosh east later in 2014. There’s only one problem: NOAA is flying blind to some extent; about 40% of ocean buoys that monitor wind, swells and water temperatures are operational right now. Here’s an excerpt from Mashable: “…Michael McPhaden, a senior scientist with NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, told Mashable that some similarities exist between the ocean and atmospheric state right now compared to observations shortly before the onset of the 1997-1998 El Niño event. This suggests that if an El Niño does occur, it could be an unusually strong one…”

Image credit above: “Sea surface height anomalies across the Pacific Ocean on December 1, 1997. The warm water associated with El Nino raises sea surface heights. Measurements taken by the U.S. and French TOPEX/Poseidon satellite.” Image: NASA/JPL.


El Nino Watch Issued By NOAA NCEP. ENSO-neutral is expected to continue through the Northern Hemisphere spring of 2014, with about a 50% chance of El Nino developing during the summer or fall. More details from NOAA in this 6 page PDF.


What Is An El Nino Watch? There’s a growing body of scientific evidence that the most recent La Nina cooling phase in the Pacific may have masked some of the (atmospheric) warming in recent years. Certainly ENSO, swings in temperature, moisture and winds in the Pacific can have a domino effect downwind over North America. That’s why oceanographers and meteorologists will be keeping a close eye on a possible El Nino event later in 2014. More on the El Nino Watch issued by NOAA in today’s Climate Matters: “WeatherNationTV Chief Meteorologist Paul Douglas goes over the El Nino forecast issued from NOAA. How does this set up compare to previous El Ninos? And what can we expect from the long range forecasts? Will this help or hurt the historic drought situation across the West?


A Brewing El Nino? Here is more information from NOAA on a growing possibility of an El Nino warm phase of ENSO in the Pacific for later in 2014: “The NWS Climate Prediction Center has issued an El Niño Watch, indicating a possibility of El Niño developing during the summer or fall. El Niño, which is marked by warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean near the equator, is known for influencing weather across the U.S. and other parts of the globe. Currently, the Climate Prediction Center is monitoring a very warm pool of water in the Western Pacific, and is seeing this pool move eastward, which will likely warm the Eastern Pacific in the coming months.”


52% Probability Of El Nino By Late Summer. More details via NOAA: “The Climate Prediction Center (CPC) consensus forecast on ENSO conditions shows a 52% probability of El Nino conditions by late this summer and fall 2014. therefore, an El Nino Watch has been issued for this potential. The chart below shows the red bars associated with El Nino increasing in time from left to right. OND stands for the months of October-November-December.”


El Nino Monitoring System In Failure Mode. Well that’s convenient – one of many potential impacts of budget cuts? Nature has the article; here’s the introduction: “An ocean-monitoring system that extends across the tropical Pacific is collapsing, depriving scientists of data on a region that influences global weather and climate trends. Nearly half of the moored buoys in the Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO) array have failed in the past two years, crippling an early-warning system for the warming and cooling events in the eastern equatorial Pacific, known respectively as El Niño and La Niña. Scientists are now collecting data from just 40% of the array…”

Photo credit above: “Nearly half of the buoys in the Tropical Atmosphere Ocean array have failed because of delayed maintenance.” NOAA.


One Way To End A Drought. El Nino correlates with a (much) more active southerly branch of the jet stream, often pushing big, wet, sometimes violent storms into California and the western USA. Such was the case in 1998, the most extreme El Nino event ever measured. Additional heat from the oceans contributed to 1998 being the warmest year ever measured, worldwide. Photo credit above: “In this Wednesday, March 25, 1998 file photo, Enrique Lagunas digs a trench to redirect water toward a street in Laguna Beach, Calif. after heavy rains from an El Nino storm hit Southern California. On Thursday, March 6, 2014, the U.S. National Oceanic Atmospheric and Administration announced their prediction of an El Nino warming of the central Pacific Ocean in 2014 that will change weather worldwide. It is expected to trigger fewer Atlantic hurricanes, more rain next winter for drought-struck California and southern states and even cause a milder winter for the nation’s cold-struck northern tier next year, meteorologists say. For the world it can mean an even hotter year coming up and food crop losses.” (AP Photo/Orange County Register, Bruce Chambers)


Not Much Long-Term Drought Relief For California. Last week’s rains helped (to settle the dust), but they didn’t do much to replenish depleted reservoirs, aquifers or snowpack in the Sierra. Much of California is still in the “Exceptional Drought” designation – pockets of moderate drought as far north and east as central Minnesota. Map: NOAA.


An Encouraging Drought Outlook For The Upper Midwest. NOAA is predicting “Drought Removal Likely” for portions of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa in the coming months, but persistence, possibly intensification of drought from Texas into much of the western USA.


How Recent California Rains Could Make Wildfire Season Worse. It seems counterintuitive, but Climate Central explains; here’s the introduction: “The massive Pacific storms that streamed onto the California shoreline dropped a lot of rain, but they did little to ease long-term drought conditions and may end up exacerbating what is already expected to be a disastrous wildfire season. This week’s U.S. Drought Monitor, released Thursday morning, shows that the “blockbuster” storms that lasted from Feb. 26 to March 2, dropped as much as 75 percent of the moisture some California cities have received all season. Burbank received 4.78 inches of its 5.28-inch season-to-date rainfall total and downtown Los Angeles received 4.52 inches of its 5.72-inch total...”

Photo credit above: “Children get splashed by a passing car while playing in a puddle in Long Beach, Calif., Sunday, March 2, 2014. The storm, the largest since 2010, kept emergency planners and rescue crews busy, but it did not produce enough rain to pull California out of a crippling drought that has grown to crisis proportions for the state’s vast farming industry.” (AP Photo/The Orange County Register, Anibal Ortiz)

Colorado State Hurricane Outlooks To Continue, For Now. I’m always vaguely amused when these hurricane predictions come out around June 1, looking 2-6 months into the future. Last year was especially rough, but according to this story at USA Today, the hurricane hand-waving will continue in 2014: “They didn’t want to end on such a sour note. Following the self-described “worst” seasonal hurricane forecast in 30 years in 2013, Colorado State University (CSU) meteorologists Phil Klotzbach and William Gray were at risk of losing funding for their well-known Tropical Meteorology Project. But there is hope for this season, at least for now: “While we are not fully funded, we have made some reasonable progress in obtaining funding over the past few weeks,” Klotzbach writes in an e-mail…”


360 Fly Captures Interactive, Panoramic Video. Move over GoPro? For those who need a full 360-degree view there are new options to clamp onto your helmet; details from “Though moving around panoramic photos can feel fairly natural, the ability to do so in a video still feels a little unusual. Perhaps it’s because there’s a sense that you’re always missing part of the recording. Nonetheless, panoramic video is gradually moving into the mainstream, with EyeSee360 announcing two offerings that will join the market later this year…”



Another Sign Of Spring. Why should weather-disappointment be confined to snow, ice and the dreaded Polar Vortex? Thursday’s Twins Exhibition game was rained out in Fort Myers by a squall line: torrential rains and high winds.


From Your Faithful Weather Servant, Paige Dorniels. Have you tried Travoltifying your name? It’s free, which is a very good thing. If you’re looking to waste a little time and have a good laugh check out the link at Slate.


My Photo

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.

2 responses to “Maps Looking More Like March (El Nino Watch; can USA/NOAA catch up to Europeans on model forecast accuracy?)

  1. Interesting blog. And is this where WeatherNation was “created”? It amazed me that DirecTV was so bold to drop the ridiculous “The Weather Channel” and start WeatherNation fresh on. I, too, fell into a passion for weather when the Columbus Day storm hit our city of Salem, OR in 1962. I’ll be sure to return regularly to this blog to learn more.

  2. The Weather Nation blog has a spot on my bookmarks toolbar! (And thank you for not giving winter storms stupid names!!)

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *