Have We Become Snow Wimps–And Why That’s OK

Are we really that scared of running out of milk, bread and eggs? Is this 1952? We have plows. We have salt/sand and ice busting chemistry. Many people have 4-wheel drive vehicles.

just-an-inch.jpgGrowing up in New York City in the 50s and 60s I seldom got to experience school cancellations or delays. If it snowed we went to school. The official pronouncement from the Board of Education was, “tough nuggies.”

I hear similar stories all the time. People muse over the fact that this is New England and it does snow. “When I was a kid…,” they’ll begin. No need to finish the sentence. We all know where it’s going.

Is today’s reaction to a tiny snowfall prima facie evidence that we’ve gone wimpy? No! No emphatically.

Schools weren’t canceled as quickly 30-40 years ago (and more recently as well) because we just didn’t know what was coming! Yes, there were weather forecasts, but they were awful compared to today’s (and today’s have room for improvement).

We just don’t have “Blizzard of ’78” scenarios anymore.

We still get blizzards, but we’re not surprised by them. 1978’s storm was by-and-large unexpected. Sure the exact snow forecast timing might still be off or we’ll blow the amount of snow, but it’s been a long time since snow snuck in totally unannounced or a forecast of flurries became a dumping.

School superintendents wake up with “actionable intelligence,” to steal a military expression. That leaves them with a quandary. What’s the potential downside for having school versus canceling–especially with the huge percentage of kids who bus in?

There is no upside having school on a snowy day and plenty of potential downside. That’s why they’ve developed hair triggers and why schools are shut at the drop of a hat. It’s also why “snow days” are already built into the calendar.

Pity the superintendent who keeps schools open and has a bus slide off the road, even without injuries!

Weather forecasts have more utility and they’re being used. That’s a good thing. On the other hand old habits die hard. That’s bad.

Because we have better forecasts (and much, much better mechanized technology) your chances of being stranded somewhere for more than a handful of hours because of snow have become very low. Still the mere mention of snow causes a panicked run on supermarkets!

Are we really that scared of running out of milk, bread and eggs? Is this 1952? We have plows. We have salt/sand and ice busting chemistry. Many people have 4-wheel drive vehicles.

The real wimps aren’t running schools. The wimps are at the grocery store!

The Storm’s Over — The Numbers Are In

The dry air was the wild card. Radar showed moderate snow over all of Connecticut for hours-and-hours before anything hit the ground.

snow-shovel-on-the-steps.jpgThe snow has come and gone. There’s never a bullseye, but the forecast was reasonably close. If success is judged by number of complaints, or lack thereof, I’m doing fine. Here are the final DOT numbers. I have also added the Boston and New York NWS snow totals, which include Connecticut, for the Dec 20-21, 2009 storm at the end of this entry.

Not everyone was as lucky. A friend who forecasts in Springfield sent a text message saying he’d received nothing! “Bust of the decade,” he said. Ouch. Been there. I know exactly what he’s going through.

I was right about Southeastern Connecticut getting the most snow followed by the shoreline in general. The snow was fluffy and windblown as predicted. Accumulations were generally in line with my numbers. My call for the Northwest Hills and most of the area directly adjacent to the Massachusetts line was a few inches higher than the actual totals.

I wrote about this last night, but it bears repeating the most unusual and interesting part of this storm was the exceptionally dry air. During the summer we sometimes see 30 grams of water content per square meter. Last night it was around 1 gram per cubic meter!

The dry air was the wild card. Radar showed moderate snow over all of Connecticut for hours-and-hours before anything hit the ground. Once the atmospheric column over any location became saturated light snow turned to heavy snow. I’d never seen a situation quite like this before. It cut inches off all the accumulations.

It’s a shame this storm will impact Christmas shopping. Otherwise we’re lucky it came on a Saturday night when travel is usually light.

And now the dig out begins.

(NWS totals after the jump)

Continue reading “The Storm’s Over — The Numbers Are In”

How Hurricane Tracking Has Changed Since Bob Hit

I went to get a tracking map to double check my memory and was surprised to see Bob was tracked with pencil and paper!

huricane-bob-track.gifA viewer wrote a while ago worried Hurricane Bill would be comparable to 1991’s Hurricane Bob. Nah. Little to compare.

Bob struck near the Connecticut/Rhode Island border. Bill will be well out to sea.

I went to get a tracking map to double check my memory and was surprised to see Bob was tracked with pencil and paper (click the map on the left for a full size view)! Was 1991 that far into the computing dark ages? It was at the National Hurricane Center!

This really looks old school.

My Return To WBT

Whoever listens to AM radio on a Monday night at 10:40 PM will be interested.

In the early 1970s, my radio career took me to WBT, Charlotte. It was one of America’s truly great radio stations–never to be replicated. Tonight, I’ll be on again.

John Harper, who’s filling-in for the normal nighttime talk host, has asked me to spend a few minutes talking about Hurricane Bertha, the Category 3 storm in the Atlantic. More than likely, that’s where Bertha will stay.

Though well inland, Charlotte has been zetzed by storms. In 1989 Hurricane Hugo creamed the Queen City with strong winds and torrential rain.

Hopefully, whoever listens to AM radio on a Monday night at 10:40 PM will be interested.

First Named Storm – So?

I’ll answer his rhetorical question: Of course it wouldn’t have been named.

ZCZC MIATCPAT1 ALL

TTAA00 KNHC DDHHMM

BULLETIN

TROPICAL STORM ARTHUR SPECIAL ADVISORY NUMBER 1

NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL AL012008

100 PM EDT SAT MAY 31 2008

…TROPICAL STORM ARTHUR…FIRST STORM OF THE 2008 ATLANTIC SEASON…QUICKLY FORMS NEAR THE COAST OF BELIZE…ALREADY MOVING INLAND.

Tropical Storm Arthur formed yesterday, and has deteriorated enough to now be ‘just’ a Tropical Depression.

It’s not all that unusual to have a named storm before the official opening of the hurricane season. I don’t draw any inference from that. However, with “A” given to a minimal storm, the season takes one quick step toward being more active than usual.

That brings up a great point made by Jeff Masters at Weather Underground.

Would Arthur have been named 30 years ago?

Arthur is one of those weak, short-lived tropical storms that may not have been recognized as a named storm thirty or more years ago. Arthur was named primarily based on measurements from a buoy that didn’t exist 30 years ago, and from measurements from the QuikSCAT satellite, which didn’t exist until 1999. There was one ship report that was used, though, and ship reports were heavily relied upon in the old days to name tropical storms.

I’ll answer his rhetorical question: Of course it wouldn’t have been named.

This is something many meteorologists point out to those who worry about an evolving atmosphere. As weather observations become more sophisticated, historical averages become that much less meaningful.

Are Forecasters Liable?

Drudge has linked to an article from a Central Florida TV station that’s interesting and worrisome.

Hotel Mogul Threatens Lawsuit Over Hurricane Expert’s Gloomy Forecasts

Rosen: Fla. Lost Billions Of Dollars Because Of Incorrect Storm Outlook

I’m a non-believer in seasonal forecasts because I think, by and large, they’re awful – aka, inaccurate. By the way, the same goes for all the Global Warming hype.

Here’s what I wrote to a viewer earlier tdoay:

Viewer: I’m just wondering what the outlook is for the 2007-08 winter season. A lot of snow, not much but colder. I heard we arent’ going to get much snow. Please advise. Thanks.

Geoff: I don’t believe in them. We don’t currently have the skill. Most long range forecasts end in embarrassment for the forecaster.

Should there be a monetary downside to a bad prediction? Neither Gray nor anyone other forecaster claims divine insight and 100% accuracy. He used the best techniques known to science.

More importantly, I don’t think anyone expects 100% accuracy.

I tend to think Harris Rosen’s rhetoric is bluster and no more… but who knows? Maybe he does have a case. I’m sure there’s a lawyer willing to help him.

But why go after Dr. Gray? There are other seasonal hurricane forecasts from forecasters with deeper pockets. AccuWeather comes to mind, though there are probably others.

I’ve got a dollar that says the attorney won’t forecast the outcome nor guarantee it.

Continue reading “Are Forecasters Liable?”

My Beef With The Hurricane Center

Since Friday, I have traded emails with Ed Rappaport, director of the National Hurricane Center down in South Florida. He responded after I sent an email to two of his forecasters.

I was upset… No, I was livid the National Hurricane Center had decided to stop tracking and issuing bulletins and forecasts on Hurricane Noel Friday at 5:00 PM.

I’ve attached their final forecast discussion below. Two things to note. First, when they stopped their forecasting, Noel had already begun to take on non-tropical characteristics.

THE AIRCRAFT DATA ALSO INDICATED THAT NOEL STILL DISPLAYED A WARM CORE AND A FAIRLY TIGHT RADIUS OF MAXIMUM WINDS. SINCE THEN…THE INNER CORE CONVECTION HAS SUBSTANTIALLY DIMINISHED AND IS NOW INSUFFICIENT TO QUALIFY NOEL AS A TROPICAL CYCLONE. IN ADDITION…THE FSU CYCLONE PHASE SPACE DIAGRAM SUGGESTS THAT NOEL’S THERMODYNAMIC STRUCTURE IS BEGINNING TO BECOME ASYMMETRIC AND FRONTAL. THUS THIS WILL BE THE LAST NOEL ADVISORY.

Second, and much more importantly. Noel was going to get stronger!

BAROCLINIC FORCING SHOULD FURTHER INTENSIFY NOEL AS AN EXTRATROPICAL CYCLONE AS IT ACCELERATES TOWARD THE NORTH-NORTHEAST. ALL OF THE GLOBAL MODELS BOTH DEEPEN THE CYCLONE AND EXPAND THE HIGH WIND AREAS.

From a purely meteorological standpoint, NHC was correct. Noel was no longer a tropical system. They cover tropical systems – period.

That misses the point. The Hurricane Center’s job is to protect lives, not be meteorological purists.

When they stopped issuing forecasts, advisories, bulletins and maps, the job moved to the local forecast offices, like Taunton, MA and Upton, NY. Those offices have very capable forecasters (some of whom I’ve known for two decades).

Again, that’s missing the point.

By changing Hurricane Noel to an unnamed extratropical low, NHC signaled a diminished threat to the untrained public. That just wasn’t so.

There is already enough concern for public perception that the term “minimal hurricane” is no longer used in public bulletins.

Public safety officers, emergency managers and even broadcast meteorologists know exactly when and where to get data on tropical systems. It is specific and very different data than any other forecast product we get. The data from the local offices is totally different.

In the case of broadcasters, we all have equipment which automatically produces maps as the Hurricane Center’s data comes in! When that stopped, the ability to produce the most compelling and illuminating maps stopped. These maps made the case Noel meant business.

Based on the response I received from the director, I wonder if a “Hurricane of ’38” scenario would also see the Hurricane Center back off!

Something’s got to be done. That’s the bad news. The good news is, these are very bright people. I hope they find a way to change their policies before someone gets hurt.

Continue reading “My Beef With The Hurricane Center”

My Presentation

I took my hurricane presentation up to the American Radio Relay League this afternoon. The ARRL is the ‘mothership’ for ham radio in America. It’s located into Newington, under an hour north of the house.

I don’t want to do it too often, but I enjoy the opportunity to present before a live audience. The response is totally different than what you get on TV (obviously).

I have certain expectations. There are times when I hope for laughs, other times when I’m looking for attentive silence. Much of what I do is similar each time. The reaction isn’t always the same.

I used to find that puzzling. What I’ve come to realize is, audiences are different. That’s especially true with school audiences. There is an institutional personality that can guide everyone in the room to conform. That’s bad much more often than it’s good.

Today’s audience was very attentive and kind in their response. A friend in the audience commented later that my presentation didn’t have a tidy conclusion and payoff.

Unfortunately, he’s right. My subject is hurricanes and New England. There’s no neat payoff because a major hurricane up here (ala 1938) would be catastrophic. We’re not prepared in any sense of the word.

My story asks lots of questions but offers few answers.

Yikes – Dean Gets Stronger

Earlier this evening, around 8:00 PM, The National Hurricane Center issued a statement saying Hurricane Dean had top winds of 155 mph.

DEAN IS AN EXTREMELY

DANGEROUS CATEGORY FOUR HURRICANE ON THE SAFFIR-SIMPSON SCALE.

SOME STRENGTHENING IS EXPECTED LATER TONIGHT…AND DEAN IS LIKELY

TO BECOME A CATEGORY FIVE HURRICANE PRIOR TO MAKING LANDFALL.

About a half hour later, based on recon data, Dean was upgraded to 160 mph.

000

WTNT64 KNHC 210034

TCUAT4

HURRICANE DEAN TROPICAL CYCLONE UPDATE

NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL AL042007

835 PM AST MON AUG 20 2007

DATA FROM THE AIR FORCE RESERVE HURRICANE HUNTER AIRCRAFT CURRENTLY

INVESTIGATING HURRICANE DEAN INDICATE THAT MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS

HAVE INCREASED TO 160 MPH…MAKING DEAN A POTENTIALLY CATASTROPHIC

CATEGORY FIVE HURRICANE ON THE SAFFIR-SIMPSON HURRICANE SCALE.

$$

FORECASTER KNABB

There’s really no practical difference between 155 mph and 160 mph. Wind force increases logarithmically with the wind speed. But there’s a great perception difference, because at 160 mph, Hurricane Dean becomes a Category 5 storm.

Should Dean strike the Yucatan Peninsula as a Cat 5, it will be the first Atlantic Basin Category 5 landfall since Andrew, 15 years ago!

The only good news is, Dean will be sufficiently south of Cancun to produce less damage than a direct hit. It’s still going to crush the region mercilessly.

A Tornado For Brooklyn!

This is pretty over-the-top. Early this morning, as a line of very strong storms moved through the region, an EF2 tornado (111-135 mph) dropped down over the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn.

When I was in high school, my dad worked a few blocks from where this twister hit!

It’s an area on Brooklyn’s south shore, near the Verazzano Narrows Bridge and close to the cool waters of the harbor. It’s a surprising place to get this kind of weather event.

When I looked at the photos, I wondered, “Beirut or Bay Ridge?” It was really that significant damage.

After the jump, the Weather Service’s official pronouncement.

Continue reading “A Tornado For Brooklyn!”

Palm Springs Swings

I was on Instant Messenger with my friend Farrell a moment ago. Though he works in Poland, tonight he’s home in Palm Springs.

(01:11:23) Farrell: earthquake

(01:11:25) Farrell: just now

(01:11:28) geoff: wow

(01:11:29) Farrell: house just shook

(01:11:31) geoff: in the Springs

(01:11:46) Farrell: just now

(01:12:10) geoff: wow

(01:12:25) Farrell: where can i go to see it on line

(01:12:34) Farrell: vered thought she felt something on the other side of the house

(01:12:37) Farrell: weird

(01:12:43) Farrell: the entire room shook in here

(01:12:49) geoff: small quake?

(01:12:55) Farrell: small maybe

(01:13:07) Farrell: but large enough for the 3rd bedroom to shake including my chair and the desk

(01:13:33) Farrell: vered was in the BR when she felt it

(01:13:37) geoff: looking for it now

It’s was freaky to be online, speaking with someone, as the quake let loose.

This was even more amazing. Within a few moments,the data was available online!

Version #1: This report supersedes any earlier reports of this event.

This is a computer-generated message. This event has not yet been reviewed by a seismologist.

A light earthquake occurred at 10:11:26 PM (PDT) on Friday, June 1, 2007.

The magnitude 4.2 event occurred 17 km (11 miles) ENE of Thousand Palms, CA.

The hypocentral depth is 5 km ( 3 miles).

According to all this, Farrell felt the quake and sent a message three seconds before it happened! Could be my clock. Could be a data error at USGS.

Farrell and Vered are OK. They’ve got no damage. I’d be changing underwear.

You Never Forget Your First… Storm

So, here we are on June 10, and the first tropical system has formed in the Caribbean. Winds are ‘light’ at the moment. The storm remains an unnamed (only numbered) tropical depression.

Last year’s first storm formed on June 8 and in a similar place. It became Arlene and was an early non-entity.

People in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands have been dealing with torrential rains from this system for the past few days. We’re talking feet of rain, not inches!

I’m curious to see how this hurricane season plays out. For me, there’s awareness of every system – after all, it’s my job. Most people only perk up for the big ones… or at least that was the case until last year.

Will people hang on every word about storms destined to stay with the fishes? Probably – at least for a while. In years past, we often disregarded them on TV. This year, disregard at your own peril.

When this year’s season is over, and the hurricane count is down from 2005 (as it almost certainly will be), will those who make the connection between tropical systems and global warming make excuses? Probably.

If the count is up, I’ll certainly reevaluate my beliefs.

This first system… this little Alberto wannabe… looks like it will cross Florida and then parallel the East Coast. This time of year it’s tough for a storm to maintain any strength in the relatively chilly Atlantic. It’s also tough for a storm to have any westward motion – critical for it ‘hitting’ land from the Atlantic.

As far as I can tell, there’s never been a landfalling hurricane on the East Coast that moved through the Gulf.

Lots of eyes will be on this system. Lots of eyes will be on the Hurricane Center and anyone who forecasts the weather.

The “A” storm is usually pretty docile. Sort of like training wheels for weathermen. Except when they aren’t – Andrew, for instance.

Those were the ‘good old days.’ Back in 1992, Andrew didn’t form until mid-August. By August 16, 2005, we’d already seen Irene.

Blogger’s note: On the right side of the page, you’ll see links to the Hurricane Center’s official forecasts. Those are dynamic links which update through the season dozens of times a day.

Two More Articles Quote Me

I’ve become the Dr. Joyce Brothers of weather. Need a quote – here I am. Either I’m very pithy or too accessible. Either way, there are new articles from The New Haven Register and Norwich Bulletin.

This isn’t Earth shattering stuff. I’ve put it here more to archive it than to force you to read it.

Continue reading “Two More Articles Quote Me”

Quoted In The Norwich Bulletin

I think I’ve become the low hanging fruit of weather quotes. I was included in an article published today in the Norwich Bulletin.

Use the link above if you want to read it, though I’m attaching it to the jump should that link go stale.

Continue reading “Quoted In The Norwich Bulletin”