Crazy Weather — Last Minute Changes


The Palm Springs area is known for it’s beautiful weather, especially now during ‘the season.’ For most, today was no exception. For some it was nuts!

I planned on showing a telescopic image of last night’s asteroid fly-by. It’s cool show-and-tell. I got to do that at five, but it was quickly pushed off my agenda.

My forecast yesterday called for moderate to strong winds this afternoon. By 4:30 police had closed Gene Autry Trail in Palm Springs because of reduced visibility in blowing sand! I quickly worked up a graphic showing the gusts tonight.

As we went to air (and the road reopened) I got a photo of what looked like a funnel cloud. I hurriedly pushed that into my TriCaster and aired it a few minutes later.

It was probably a landspout. Conventional tornadoes come from mature storm cells. Landspouts are weak tornadoes that form early as storms are building.

This evening I got the video you see at the bottom of this entry. It’s the landspout near Desert Center (population around 150), a rural community surrounded by sandy wilderness. I showed it briefly at 9:00 and will feature it again at 11:00.

The landspout was unexpected, unforecast and unseen by Doppler radar! Luckily, It did no harm. It made for great TV.

Rain For SoCal, Again

Once again we’re right on the 3-hour flash flood line. I expect some flooding. Homes in burn areas will be threatened by mudslides. A few inches of rain probable through this region.


Helaine saw the hashtag #stormageddon touted on TV a few minutes ago. SoCal is bracing… again. Is there some weird secret competition with the East on weather?

“Yeah… well… rain!”

Actually this storm looks very un-SoCalish. The radar from Vandenberg AFB shows a squall line out front. The HRRR agrees. The squalls remain intact as the line slides down the coast. Embedded thunderstorms are entirely possible.

We’ll have rain most of the day Friday though the bulk falls between 4-7 AM. We’re right on the 3-hour flash flood line, again. I expect some flooding. Homes in burn areas will be threatened by mudslides. A few inches of rain probable through this region.

wind15min_t410m_f0945The heaviest wind comes with the heaviest of the rain. Winds will gust out of the south. The wind map to the left highlights the higher ground where winds will be strongest.

If there’s snow for our two nearby tall peaks it will happen late in the storm. My second winter and no white so far.

Father north, San Francisco proper has gotten 2-4″ of rain with some windward mountainsides getting over 7″.

So far, this is the awful winter everyone was praying for!

Rain Is Different Here

In the burn areas, places that had fires in the last year or two, it will take much less for canyon walls to fall. The scrubby growth that held everything together was burned away.

People in scenic canyon homes are usually OK, not always. They always say they’ll rebuild.

When a storm approaches the Southern California coast, as is the case tonight, it’s a big deal!

Thank you

Rain leads the news in SoCal just like snow does in the Northeast.

Every area has some sort of natural Achilles heel. Ours is rain. Can’t live with it. Can’t live without it.

This is a semi-desert climate. We get our paltry rain in a very few large doses. The water is good for reducing fire danger and irrigation, but most of SoCal’s water comes from the Sierras, hundreds of miles away. Rain at my house isn’t quite as important as it seems.

The latest computer guidance says we can take around an inch of rain in an hour, up to three inches in six hours before we flood. Close call.

In the burn areas, places that had fires in the last year or two, it will take much less for canyon walls to fall. The scrubby growth that held everything together has burned away.

People in beautiful homes with spectacular views are usually OK, not always. Sometimes their houses fall. Other times something falls on their houses. They always say they’ll rebuild.

Irvine has a few large drainage channels carrying runoff to the sea. Always empty. That will change.

No snow for Santiago Peak–visible from the bedroom window. A quick estimate keeps the rain/snow line above 10,000 feet–higher than these mountains.

NERD ALERT — Feel free to skip the next paragraph.

In Connecticut I’d look for the 850mb 0C isotherm as a good rain/snow indicator. During this storm it will be close to 10C over me. These storms tend to be convective–so cellular. Rain amounts will vary greatly city-to-city.

Hopefully the storm’s mightest punch will be in the Sierras. If you start hearing of little mountain towns with a new feet of snow you’ll know we hit the jackpot!

Oh–people here can’t drive in rain. I’ll leave it there.

Do You Miss Buffalo?


I was just on the phone with my dad. We talked about the weather a little. He’s in Milwaukee where it’s 29 with a wind chill of 22. My office window thermometer shows 72.

“Bet you’re glad you’re not in Buffalo,” he said.

I am.

766 Auburn Ave   Google Maps

I lived here, at 766 Auburn Avenue (Google streetview link) in the third floor apartment. It was a beautiful one bedroom with no insulation and enough water pressure to take a shower if no one in the other two apartments was! During the summer we were woken by squirrel races on the roof.

Those who live in Buffalo do so by choice. Anyone who wanted to leave left a long time ago. There is a survivor spirit among the residents.

It is a really nice, liveable city. Real estate is very reasonable. Summers are magical. Winters are hellish.

Starting in mid-November a thick veil of low clouds descends upon the city. This is the beginning of the process that spawns Lake Effect snow. It’s convection, like bubbles in a pot of boiling water. It will remain mainly cloudy with a handful of exceptions until spring.

This time of year the Great Lakes are warm and the flow through the atmosphere cold. Warm air near the lake’s surface is drawn up, condensing as it cools. Clouds form, often dropping snow.

Lake Effect season begins suddenly. The start is when the potential for big storms is greatest… as we saw this past week. Once Lake Erie freezes the process shuts down.

Lake Ontario doesn’t freeze. Sorry Syracuse.

For a real Lake Effect event, winds must be aligned through the atmosphere often parallel to a lake’s longest dimension.

These storms are VERY localized. The physics involved in Lake Effect snow is very similar to summertime thunderstorm formation. In fact, sometimes thundersnow is part of a Lake Effect storm.

Think “thunderstorm downpour” of snow… except instead of moving on, the storm continues for hours or days relentlessly.


This graph is from East Aurora, NY. Under land use it’s marked, “Urban.” People live there. That’s over 30″ of snowpack with a water equivalent of 5″.

The edges of Lake Effect storms are well pronounced. You drive out of Lake Effect snow like you drive out of a summer thunderstorm. And these boundaries stay in place as long as the wind doesn’t shift.

No one can cope with this much snow. No one is equipped, even those areas that get as much as 200″ of snow a year!

“Yes, Dad. I’m glad I’m not in Buffalo.” But I don’t regret a day of living there.

Let’s Look At Clouds From Both Sides Now

If it looks like the clouds are boiling, just like a pot of water on the stove, it’s because the dynamics are very similar. Heat is being transferred upward through convection.


We seldom get the big picture of what’s on the radar by just looking at the sky. Not today. Today is different in SoCal.

The atmosphere is unstable on the the other side of the Santa Ana Mountains, around 30 miles east of me. That’s where the radar (at the top of this entry) shows strong thunderstorms.

What’s striking in the time lapse below are the mid and upper levels of the clouds producing the storms. There are no clouds in the way blocking my view.

If it looks like the clouds are boiling, just like a pot of water on the stove, it’s because the dynamics are very similar. Heat is being transferred upward through convection.

The heavy rain and lightning bolts are out-of-sight behind the mountains. Here, I only see the signs. Everything is moving north and will soon be gone.

Gray And Gloomy

In SoCal people look forward to these gray days as a break from our endless sunshine. An OC native I spoke to yesterday was curious if I missed rain?


I wanted to say, “You’re nuts.” I held my tongue.


When I got up this morning (OK–it was afternoon. So shoot me.) the sky was gray. Not as bad as the photo (above) from the Mt. Wilson camera… but still gray. That’s not unexpected this time of year. May Gray is a well worn California phrase.

As it turns out, what looks like typical SoCal marine layer cloudiness is anything but! There are moderate to heavy radar returns from Central and Southern California.

The NWS office in San Diego describes it this way:


cali-radarThere are reports of street flooding in San Diego. Storm drainage isn’t very good in most older neighborhoods. It doesn’t take a lot to flood.

Even though these cells are moving in my direction it’s likely few (if any) will get here. The mountains east of us enhance the rainfall on the desert side, then stabilize the airmass as it moves back to lower elevations.

In SoCal people look forward to these gray days as a break from our endless sunshine. An OC native I spoke to yesterday was curious if I missed rain?


I wanted to say, “You’re nuts.” I held my tongue.

Actually, I feel gypped on days like today. Stupid attitude, but it is what it is. My mind has independently decided it’s supposed to be sunny and mild every day. I have no control over the letdown I truly feel.

By tomorrow we should be back to normal.

When In Doubt, Blame The Weatherman… Again

georgia snow

When in doubt, blame the weatherman! Maybe there was a time that worked. It doesn’t anymore. The governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal, understands that better today than yesterday.

Tuesday at 10:00 AM, as a crippling snow and ice storm was moving through the south, Governor Deal said,

“At that time it was still, in most of the forecasts, anticipated that the city of Atlanta would only have a mild dusting or a very small accumulation if any, and that the majority of the effects of the storm would be south of here. Preparations were made for those predictions.”

Except those weren’t the predictions.

Here’s a segment of the NWS Area Forecast Discussion from Tuesday at 4:11 AM:



The governor has now been taken to task by pretty much everyone who knows the definition of the isobar!

Marshall Shepherd, a meteorologist with the University of Georgia and president of the American Meteorological Society, said neither meteorologists nor the forecast for the Atlanta area was to blame.

“The buses had a tough time getting kids home, but meteorologists should not be thrown under the bus,” he said.

At 3:39 a.m. Tuesday, Marshall said the weather service issued a winter storm warning for the entire Atlanta metro area, expecting 1-2 inches of snow. “Overall, the Atlanta event was a well-forecasted and well-warned event,” he said. – USAToday

This reminds me of Connecticut’s Halloween snowstorm of 2011. You remember Jeff Butler, the president of CL&P.

“But I will assure you, when we had the weather forecast and everything we looked at in preparation for this storm, the amount of snow, which ended up being the problem, was far more significant than what had been forecast,” he said.”This event as it came in Saturday started earlier and lasted longer, with more snow accumulation–and remember, all the trees still had their foliage on them.” Butler’s comments stood in stark contrast to the dire warnings issued by local television meteorologists and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Friday, more than 24 hours before the first flakes fell. “If we get the amount of snow that’s being forecast, a lot of people are going to lose power, and power is going to be out for an extended period of time,” Malloy told reporters at a news conference at the Legislative Office Building late Friday morning. – Hartford Courant

I don’t think so. Here’s what I wrote in my blog a few days before that storm hit.

Whatever falls will be heavier inch-for-inch than a typical storm. The snow to water ratio will be low. It’s the kind of snow that’s good for snowballs and extra slippery for drivers!

There’s one more element of this storm which is worrisome. Sustained 20-30 mph northeasterly wind with higher gusts is likely. If this wet snow clings to trees and leaves we’ll have enough wind to bring down limbs and power lines. – My Permanent Record

I wasn’t alone. NBC30’s Ryan Hanrahan’s early take:

“One of the reasons I’m unusually concerned about this storm is that the amount of leaves on the trees make them particularly vulnerable to damage. If the snow is of the heavy and wet variety we could have major and widespread power outages. We’re in uncharted territory here in terms of this type of storm this early in the season.” – Ryan Hanrahan

This same excuse was trotted out after Hurricane Sandy left Long Island powerless! Are we that easy a target?

What happened in Georgia is truly a tragedy. It would have been nice to get a really long lead on this forecast, but sometimes science doesn’t cooperate. However, once the forecast is there you can’t stick your head in the sand and you can’t blame the weatherman.

Well, you can, but we’ll call you on it in a hurry.

The Snow I Won’t Miss

New Year’s Night. 8:47 PM PST.

COD Meteorology    Numerical Model Data

There’s a storm on the way to New England. There are one or two major storms there during any snow season. This will be one.

I’ve been working the numbers. It’s fun to forecast. I like maps, graphs and numbers. I can do it sitting in my chair here in Orange County.

I don’t miss the anxiety of forecasting. I know my fellow meteorologists sweat these out too. No one wants to be wrong.

At this hour radar from the Northeast is showing snow over Connecticut. Bradley’s been reporting light snow for over an hour. Most of the state is still quiet. The center of the upcoming storm is over Arkansas!

Here’s the setup: The low moves from Arkansas to the Northeast. A Canadian high will block the low’s northerly progress, but also provide an ample supply of cold air.

New England’s geography takes over.

As the low moves over the relatively mild (compared to land) ocean it will explode! A low’s strength is measure by its central pressure. The pressure will drop like a rock!

The prediction shows a rapid fall from ~1016mb to ~985mb. That will enhance both precipitation and wind! More of each.

Don’t be fooled. This isn’t a linear storm. There will be a long period of light snow, then the main course.

Thursday will be cloudy with snow showers and flurries. A few inches will accumulate during the day. If you have to drive you probably will, though you shouldn’t. The wind will being picking up.

After dark, windblown snow becoming heavy at times. Strong northeasterly winds. You’ll want to be safely home before this bad boy gets going.

Some areas might see a foot. 5-8″ will probably be the average.

The snow ends Friday morning. It will be replaced by bitterly cold air with many spots dipping below zero Saturday morning.

You don’t want to know what it will be like here in SoCal tomorrow.

We’ve Got The Lede: It’s Raining

IMG_0700 rain on the roof

The TV was on in the family room as the noon news began. The lead story&#185:


How much?

Will it be gone by Christmas?

To an outsider this might seem a little overboard… maybe to insiders too. My suspicion is it’s a much more valid lead than first meets the eye.

Let me dismiss the hyperbole first. It’s the 19th. This storm will be a faint memory by Christmas. Has California ever even seen a storm lasting six days over one spot?

Rain does have an impact here. Because it rains so infrequently, roads often have a light surface coating of oil and grease. Roads get slippery in a hurry. Freeway traffic which normally buzzes by in the 70s has to slow down.

During our last ‘storm’ the embankment adjacent to a freeway in the San Fernando Valley gave way, flooding the road and blocking traffic for most of the day.

When it comes to rain, Southlanders (is that an actual word?) are fragile flowers. Rain storms do impact them.

Anywhere else this rain wouldn’t be a concern. But this isn’t anywhere else. In SoCal we’re just not used to weather!

&#185 – Yeah, I know. This entry’s title says “lede”, but this sentence says “lead.” There’s no explanation. It just is!

Like A Weight Has Been Lifted

Somewhere in this state (where I don’t know) there’s a pool where people are guessing how long Jeffrey Butler will remain as CL&P’s head guy.

Slowly… very slowly I see the power coming back on in Connecticut. I see it at work. One of our reporters tweeted her joy when she discovered her apartment had lights again. Being powerless is much more depressing than you can imagine. It only seems romantic in the abstract!

My co-worker Rachel Frank has been without electricity since Saturday. She lives in an apartment building on a main street. That’s where you’d expect the power restored first!

She’s usually perky. Not today.

I’m seeing a great deal of anger from people rendered powerless. They’re wondering who’s looking out for them? Did CL&P make decisions based solely on shareholder equity without considering ratepayer safety?

Somewhere in this state (where I don’t know) there’s a pool where people are guessing how long Jeffrey Butler will remain as CL&P’s head guy. He has shown little contrition. He seems tone deaf.

In our newsroom there’s a pool which will be won by the person who gets their lights last. The loser is the winner!

When Mr Butler spoke today I think he intended to apologize to his customers. I don’t think he actually did.

Anyone Sick Of Winter Yet?

When snow approaches people want to know as much as we know even when we don’t know all that much!

Over on Twitter the ‘house account’ for the Meriden Record-Journal newspaper just tweeted, “Reports of snow possible towards the end of the week/weekend. Anyone sick of winter yet? #ctweather”

It didn’t take long to see a reply, “I am sick of winter and you can quote me!” That was from me.

Not even two weeks into winter officially and it’s already like being on a bad blind date looking for a strategy to bail. I need a winter wingman!

We’ve only had one real snowstorm so far, but this has been the windiest winter in a long time. December was a decidedly cold month–colder than even December should be. Now there’s the chance for snow as we head into the weekend.

Here’s one thing last winter taught me: Don’t commit too far out!

It’s OK to say what looks likely, but foolhardy to make that anything more than an advisory for planning early on. If you say something will happen with certainty you will certainly be burned! I still have scars.

120 hours out an error of a mile an hour (or less) can be the difference between heavy snow and no snow! I’m not that good. No one is.

I got a note from Dr. Mel this morning. We often chat when these larger systems approach. It’s good on both sides because speaking your mind and defending your ideas is as helpful as listening!





People have accused me (and I suppose all forecasters) of hyping these storms. Why? You are just as likely to watch if we claim honest uncertainty as divine insight!

When snow approaches viewers want to know as much as we know even when we don’t know all that much!

The Weather And Keith Porter’s Legs

As I drove into the station’s parking lot I found my opportunity. Our chief photographer Keith Porter was working on some equipment in the garage. He is dressed for today’s weather!

Yesterday was our day for rain. It was associated with the huge storm that spawned both tornadoes and hurricane strength wind gusts to our south and west. Today the skies cleared.

The temperature will plunge tomorrow. Today it held on to the 70&#176s. One last hurrah!

This would be a beautiful day any time of the year, but for late October it’s a major treat.

I was looking to take a photo to note the weather on the blog. As I drove into the station’s parking lot I found my opportunity. Our chief photographer Keith Porter was working on some equipment in the garage. He is dressed for today’s weather!

Shorts weather is gone by tomorrow. Sorry Keith.

When Rotten Weather Makes Me Happy

It’s just a shame we need a state full of minor to moderate flooding with tree limbs and power lines down to make people happy with my work!

A few days ago one of my co-workers commented on the now fallen then expected precipitation and said, “We really need the rain.” I asked her to be careful what she wished for!

For me today’s storm (the second half of a system that spanned two days with a sizable lull in the middle) was very much like a snowstorm. I came to that conclusion around 3:00 AM when I checked the radar to find the rain already a few hours west of where I said it would be. Obsessive radar gazing is a winter tic for me.

Like a winter storm a good part of the overnight was also spent rechecking computer guidance. There are more models run more often nowadays. It’s a second guesser’s paradise!

I’m not sure why I do it. There’s little upside. Mostly it’s just a way to increase my anguish while alone of the sofa in our darkened family room.

What am I supposed to do? If I find things have changed do I give everyone a call? It’s a pointless exercise I can’t shake.

When I went to sleep around 5:10 AM my driveway was still dry. My next conscious thought came a few hours later. The wind woke me! No rain was falling yet, but we were in the middle of a howling gale.

I apologize. Even though I knew it would adversely affect lots of people there was satisfaction the forecast was beginning to verify. Then came the rain–buckets of rain. A little late, but as forecast&#185

As a forecaster I see weather before it happens. The actual numbers aren’t as important as being able to paint a picture from my pre-visualization. Viewers should be left with an actionable understanding.

The forecast is never 100% accurate–never. There is always some parameter (mostly small, sometimes not) that doesn’t play out.

It’s just a shame we need a state full of minor to moderate flooding with tree limbs and power lines down to make people happy with my work!

&#185 – “As forecast” are the two most important words I can hear.

A Storm Unlike Any Other

I called and told him I was confused because I’d never seen this particular setup before. Neither had he!

dot greenwich camera.jpgEarlier tonight I took a quick look at one of the CT DOT traffic cameras on I-95 and gasped. The camera was in Greenwich-adjacent to the New York State line. While the rest of Connecticut was seeing moderate to heavy rain with temperatures mostly in the 40&#176s Greenwich had limited visibility with heavy snow. The snow had begun to accumulate!

dot westport camera.jpgA few miles up the road in Stamford there was nothing but rain! Even now, hours later, only the communities in Lower Fairfield are seeing the snow stick.

In retrospect the Greenwich blitz doesn’t change my forecast. It was scary to see–sure. The weather had done a rapid about face. It was all part of the forecast, but it happened so quickly and with such fury I was originally taken aback.

Let me qualify this because it’s easy to lose sight of what I’m talking about.

Something’s been falling from the sky since early Tuesday. One storm came and went. This is Part B of Storm 2. However, this unnamed¹ winter storm is so unusual scholarly papers will be written about it!

Thursday while Atlantic City was seeing snow Albany, NY was getting rain. Friday morning New Haven, CT will see snow while Bangor, ME gets the rain! Crazy.

90fbw.gifThe barometer is so low it’s approaching the range usually seen in hurricanes and tropical storms. We get pressure readings this low every decade or so.
Tonight, as the wind in New London shifted from east to southwest the temperature dropped 9&#176 in one hour! Cold air advection from the southwest! Isn’t that where warm air comes from?

Seriously–that’s nuts.

I called my weather colleague Dr. Mel Goldstein this afternoon. I’d developed my forecast but was unsure about one aspect. He’s a great weather historian so I called and told him I was confused because I’d never seen this particular setup before. Neither had he!

My concern was how much warm air would remain and how much water would stay on roads as the snow fell? How would this affect Friday? My guess is a great deal of the storm will just melt as it hits the pavement–not all of it. What does accumulate will be wet and sloppy and very heavy to move.

After Friday I’ll know better how my speculation comports with the real world. I am working totally in a theoretical world right now.
I am exhausted. This week has been a killer. There’s been no forecast where I could let up because they all were jammed with critical information.

Bring on the weekend.

¹ – As long as I’ve been in Connecticut WFSB has been naming storms. It’s probably a good promotional tool for them, but on those occasions when people refer to a storm by the WFSB given name I gag. These are people who also call the Fiesta Bowl the FedEx Fiesta Bowl.