Who Said I’d Be Bored?

Some computer models show around an inch of rain in Palm Springs by Monday morning. That’s a lot in a place that floods easily. I spent time tonight explaining ‘washes’ to the tourists and snowbirds watching.


I’m forecasting the weather for the Coachella Valley at KMIR. The physics of weather are the same, but there are different tools to use.

Satellite imagery is a lot more important here. Anything coming from the Pacific is out of radar range nearly all the way to the coast.

I’ve been looking at a plume of moisture from north of Hawaii curving up the Pacific then back down the West Coast. It’s the big weekend weather maker for SoCal. The only way to see it is from the bird.

Saturday, while it’s raining in LA and San Diego, there will be partly cloudy skies over Palm Springs with a few sprinkles. We are protected by steep mountains, some over 11,000 feet tall.

On Sunday the moisture heads in from the south. No protection there! That’s when we get the bulk of our rain.

Some computer models show around an inch of rain in Palm Springs by Monday morning. That’s a lot in a place that floods easily. I spent time tonight explaining ‘washes’ to the tourists and snowbirds watching.

On top of the rain we’ve got wind for Saturday and as much as a foot and a half of snow in some mountain locations.

Who said I’d be bored forecasting here?

Joplin Before And After (photo)

It is among the most chilling tornado images I’ve ever seen.

The Los Angeles Times (sister publication of my TV station and the Hartford Courant) originally published this “Before-and-After” from Joplin, Missouri. It is produced from Google Earth and other satellite imagery. It is among the most chilling tornado images I’ve ever seen!

Hurricane Dean – At The Antilles

Tonight, the Hurricane Center deemed Hurricane Dean’s winds to be sustained at 100 mph. Sure, why not?

I actually don’t think they’re blowing that fast. I’m basing my estimate on the look of the satellite imagery, surface observations and the Martinique radar.

The chain of islands Dean is approaching, the Antilles, will be quickly passed. Though Dean might damage them, they won’t slow Dean much at all. That seems unfair.

The next two days will probably see significant strengthening of this storm as it enters the Caribbean. On TV, meteorologists and others will point out Dean’s well defined and circular eye. We can’t do that quite yet.

The official pronouncement from the Hurricane Center calls for a period of Category 4 winds. There’s no certainty, but that seems a reasonable call. Dean is entering an area primed to be hurricane fuel.

Jamaica, the Caymans and the Yucatan Peninsula are all under attack if Hurricane Dean follows the computer guidance (amazingly in agreement with each other right now). All three areas are quite vulnerable.

After Katrina, some people were left with a false impression. There aren’t many places that can flood like New Orleans. Certainly none of the places I just mentioned floods that way.

The major damage from Dean will be related to strong, destructive winds. If you want the Katrina analogy, that’s the kind of damage produced on the Mississippi Coast.

A less sexy story, Mississippi a whole lot less news coverage than New Orleans. The damage was nonetheless catastrophic. Let’s hope I’m wrong.

Rita On My Mind

I woke up late this morning to hear Hurricane Rita had been upgraded to 140 mph. This is a major hurricane.

My favorite observational tool is radar. You really get a feel for the structure of the storm with radar that you can’t get with satellite imagery, but Rita’s now too far from shore to get a meaningful radar return.

The satellite shows everything you don’t want to see. Rita remains symmetrical. There don’t seem to be any external forces distorting the shape, implying Rita is not being tugged or prodded by the outside environment. Further strengthening in the short term seems likely.

The Hurricane Center has shifted the projected landfall south. That’s farther away from Galveston and Houston… but still in the neighborhood.

There is an area between Houston and Corpus Christi that seems to be less densely populated. It’s not as desolate as the area closer to Brownsville. Still there is a nuclear plant there. There’s also a large industrial complex I can’t identify, except to say a railroad line runs right through it

We don’t have any say in this.

I don’t envy the people of Texas. A train is coming down the tracks – they can see it, but they can’t stop it. And, the memory of Katrina is so fresh in everyone’s mind.

Hurricane Links

I guess I should mention, there are links to all manner of hurricane watches/warnings/advisories with tracking maps and satellite imagery on the right side of this web page.

The links are dynamically updated. In other words, what you see should be reasonably fresh.

This is now the earliest we’ve ever gotten to the “D” storm (Dennis) in the Atlantic Basin. I guess the predictions for a busy season just might come true.

Another Evening With Frances

There is one thing that has been established beyond the shadow of a doubt this week. Everyone has a connection to Florida. Whether it’s a friend or relative, someone living there or just visiting, we all have an equity stake in Florida.

Wherever I go people ask me about Hurricane Frances. We’ve all seen what happened on the West Coast of Florida, and this storm promises to be stronger. It’s no surprise that it scares the daylights out of normally unflappable people

Today, for the first time, the computer guidance is beginning to agree. I’ve been pointing to Jupiter/Hobe Sound and the official pronouncements aren’t far off that mark. Of course the hurricane actually has to perform as forecast… to ‘verify’ in the vernacular of meteorologists, which is never guaranteed.

A few things struck me this evening.

On-the-air, we played an ABC report which included an interview with, what I suspect, a government official in the Bahamas. He complained that maybe they had underestimated the storm.

What planet is he on? The predictions for the Bahamas couldn’t have been more dire if we had said a fiery meteor was plunging their way! The Hurricane Center, which cooperates with the government of the Bahamas in hurricane prediction, went out of its way to scare the crap out of Bahamians – and for good reason.

Unfortunately, areas with a lot of tourism often underplay warnings and later downplay damage. It’s not good for business. Not many people are going to want to go to San Salvador Island after today’s report of 120 mph sustained winds. Nassau might get a close scare. Freeport could get a direct hit.

I really miss having radar that sees Frances at this stage. Tonight the satellite imagery started showing some ‘weakness’ on the hurricane’s western flank. I commented to my friend Bob that I thought the storm would be downgraded… and it was at 11:00 PM&#185. Now Frances is Category 3.

It’s funny, but when satellite imagery begins to show a change, it doesn’t strike me as soon as the image actually comes in. It usually takes a while, staring at the satellite loop, before the trend takes hold. This is most frustrating, especially during winter storms, when I go on the air then look at the same data after my weathercast and begin to question impending changes.

The fact that Frances is weaker tonight doesn’t mean too much of anything. Storms naturally get weaker and stronger in response to their immediate environment. There are guesses why it happened, but no one knows. Hurricane experts are baffled by unknown forces all the time. And, for some unknown reason, hurricanes only have a finite amount of time they can spend as major storms. Again, no one knows why nature works this way.

Since all of weather is guided by the laws of physics, we should understand all the forces at work. We do not.

The official forecast is for Hurricane Frances to regain strength in its final march over open water to Florida. The Hurricane Center’s number for Saturday at 8:00 AM EDT is 140 mph, equaling Hurricane Frances strongest point.

It really doesn’t matter. The difference between 125 mph and 140 mph isn’t all that much in the general scheme of things. Even a minimal hurricane will cause significant damage.

More than the wind, I am worried about Frances losing her steering currents and wandering aimlessly, or at a very slow speed, in the warm Atlantic waters between the Bahamas and Florida. An extended period adjacent to land might be worse than a quick, but direct, hit. There will be that much more time for flooding and tornadoes and wind. The forecast will become exponentially more difficult (and less accurate). There will be that much more terror.

&#185 – I have no idea how this happened, but the Hurricane Center issued its 11:00 PM bulletin with the wrong wind speed! Frances was called Category 4, though it had been downgraded to Category 3. You would think something like this would be vetted.

Frances As A Spectator Sport

The names used for hurricanes are on a rotation. Every seven years the names repeat. There is, however, one exception. When a storm becomes ‘notorious,’ it is retired. That’s where Frances is headed.

As of this evening it was about twice the size and significantly stronger than Hurricane Andrew was at this stage of the game. That’s not to say Frances will be another Andrew – but there is that potential.







A few weeks ago while watching Hurricane Charley, I remarked about the steady stream of data available. There is less from Frances because of its track. As far as I know there are no weather radars available on the Internet from Haiti, Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos or The Bahamas. There are also few, or no, surface observations nearby.

The information is a little more abstract. It needs to be analyzed more carefully and digested. It is not self evident, like looking at Charley on the Key West radar.

There are weather buoys, drifting in Frances’ vicinity. There are also sporadic readings from hurricane hunter planes. And, of course, there is satellite imagery (though the highest resolution images are only available during daylight hours). These are good, but more would be better.

Hour by hour, computer run by computer run, Frances’ destination seems to be locking in on the Florida East Coast. If I had to venture a guess today, I’d say what I said yesterday – somewhere around Jupiter or Hobe Sound.

That’s no guarantee. No place from Homestead to Savannah would surprise me.

If I were anywhere in Florida tonight, I’d be making sure I was prepared. Even with Frances’ strength, most people inland will be forced to weather the storm in their homes. On the coast it will be a totally different story.

Wherever Frances lands, communication will stop. TV and telephone will be limited. Power will be spotty. In some communities, power will be shut off before the storm as a safety precaution.

Most people who live in South Florida have never felt the impact of any direct hurricane hit – much less a category 4 storm. It will be a sobering experience.

My parents live down there, in Palm Beach County. Of course, I worry for them. Their condo has storm shutters and is reasonably well built. The thing it has most going for it is its inland location. I won’t give them specific advice until we get closer.

My friend Wendie lives in the Miami area. Her office and home are close to the Intracoastal Waterway. That is more worrisome.

In a few of the later computer models, Hurricane Frances slows down while approaching the Florida coast. That could mean an extended period of torrential rain and very strong, damaging wind (possibly not hurricane strength if the storm is far enough off shore).

The are really no good scenarios left.

What I’ve Been Up To At Work

The past few weeks have been spent getting ready to use some new equipment at work. Our very dependable, SGI based, Liveline Genesis system has been replaced by Weather Central’s :Live.

Actually, replaced is not a good word, because :Live is really an add-on which extends the system. We’re still producing some graphics in Genesis but it now it doesn’t go on-the-air.

The SGI system we were using has to be at least 10 years old. These systems run slow by today’s standards. Our hard drive was only 4 GB! From time-to-time I had to go in an mercilessly blow out perfectly fine work created by the other guys in the weather department because we just didn’t have enough room.

Computers and homes are very similar in that you can never have too much closet space. And, of course, the hard disk is the closet of computing.

The problems with the SGI system were legion. It never handled the look of fonts correctly. Its interface, developed in he dark ages of computing, was anti-intuitive and often different in different parts of the system. It took long amounts of time to render animated segments, like a satellite loop or fly through, before they could be shown on TV.

On the other hand, it was nearly bulletproof. The system hardly ever crashed or locked up.

Because the SGI system was based on the Irix operating system, from time-to-time you’d have to delve into the **ix environment to attack a problem. It is a bit scary to do, because it is so foreign to most computer users. Over the years, as I have become more conversant in Linux, another **ix language, Irix has become more understandable.

Every time I have a problem, and work with one of Weather Central’s tech support people, I wonder how they do this with computerphobes? Often we can skip the first 5 or 6 steps. Imagine trying to describe this obtuse text oriented operating system over the phone!

The new :Live system allows us to show animations with no rendering time (though files still have to load from the hard drive to memory, which does take some time). It also integrates multiple layers of animation and still images, which makes it much more flexible. The most interesting part is the ability to stand in front of my green chroma key wall and use my finger as a mouse, drawing or placing objects on the TV screen in real time (or :Live, I suppose).

Right out of the box, it looked much sharper, cleaner and modern than what we had been doing. Simple things, like forecast pages, now run with animated backgrounds. Maps and icons look crisp. The satellite imagery is a little blockier and pixelated than what we were using, especially when viewed at a regional or tighter level.

Because the commands to create each graphic element are programmed in quasi plain text, I have started to write some new ‘scenes’ to suit our needs.

The downside is, this is a Windows based system – Windows 2000 to be exact. It has crashed more than once. So far, not while on-the-air, but awfully close. It also seems to have memory leak problems, not a surprise in a Windows environment. That means, if you run a sequence through, to check it out, you may be pushing the car closer to the edge of the cliff with each mouse click.

I already see some changes I’d like added to the system, which is probably a blessing and curse to those who designed it. I will help them make it better, but probably at the cost of being a pain in the ass.

At the same time we added :Live, we’ve also begun running our own, locally produced, high resolution, computer forecast model. I’ll get into that later.