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.

A Busy Day At The TV Factory

I walked in the newsroom this afternoon and ran into Joe Furey. I was in early, but he was in late… very, very late. Joe has a dual role at FoxCT and the CBS Radio station in the Hartford area. He was holding down the radio fort.

It was obvious something was brewing. There wasn’t enough to mention tornadoes Thursday night, but as I got ready for work and scanned the radar I knew we were going to get soaked if not worse. A Tornado Warning on Long Island was an attention getter!

I led the 4:00 PM News on FoxCT with a watch already posted for our six eastern counties. While live in my normal weather slot a Tornado Warning was hoisted in Connecticut.

When there’s a Tornado Warning in effect that’s what we cover! Everything else is blown out. It’s our policy. I didn’t even check with the producer (I should have since she runs the show) before explaining on the air we were going to stay with weather.

At this point things come at you quickly. Radar is close to real time. Storm reports are always delayed. My job was to stay in front of the weather.

If I wait until I see a cell over a town it’s too late!

Bridgeport had 1.6″ of rain in an hour. New Haven had over 2″. A wind gust near 60 mph was reported in Madison.

Being able to place towns from memory while sight reading a map is helpful here!

What began as a well planned show turned free form. If Joe walked out of the radio booth it meant he had info for me. He was on-the-air ASAP. No waiting. Just do it.

I began to ask the director and producer for external cameras. To their credit they totally understood. You’ve got to have the team pulling together, even if we’re not always sure where together leads.

Because of Joe’s diligence we were on-the-air showing the potential tornado in Glastonbury as the warning came up! He saw it in the radio booth and came out.

We switched to the Doppler function of the radar–unusual to see most days. This was totally Joe’s doing and I’m glad I trusted my instinct to let him lead the way. It was powerful TV for people in the storm and everyone else. His experience was showing.

As the point guy for our 2’ish hours of live coverage I hope a lot of people watched. In the end it was a day to reinforce what we have… how we do what we do… our style and sensibility in coverage. We tried to make friends.

I hope you watched.

Wichita’s Tornado Coverage

You want reality television? Hello! A little while ago Dave asked non-essential station personnel to move to their shelter.

I’ve got KSN’s streaming weather coverage on the latop. Dave Freeman is on with Mark Bogner. They are in Downtown Wichita directly in the path of a large tornado.

You want reality television? Hello! A little while ago Dave asked non-essential station personnel to move to their shelter.

They’ve got the NWS NEXRAD Doppler radar and are staying totally with base reflectivity. No Doppler products on-air. Sometimes management demands showing the bells and whistles. I don’t miss it. The position of the tornadoes within these cells is pretty evident on the radar.

Some stations go too far showing off technology. They make themselves less effective in critical situations. If a piece of gear requires explanation don’t use it when time is critical!

It’s tough for me to understand their market. I can’t sight read the close-up maps of tiny rural Kansas towns. I guess they’re covering the storms thoroughly. A local could make a better judgement.

We TV mets read the radar and report what that means in real time, but it will be a while before actual damage reports gravitate out to the media. There is a fog of war effect that slows the flow of information.

What Have We Learned From The Joplin Tornado?

As you might imagine Connecticut isn’t Joplin, but there are some problems we all share. We are overwarned!

On May 21st 159 people were killed as a tornado barreled through Joplin,Missouri. Considering warnings were issued and severe weather had been expected why did 159 people die? I just finished reading the Weather Service’s assessment.

Connecticut isn’t Joplin, but there are problems we share. We are overwarned!

Fully 76% of all tornado warnings produce no tornadoes! Three of every four are false alarms. I assume the percentage for Tornado Watches is even worse.

That statistic looks at the entire area warned. If you boiled it down to individuals–were you impacted by a tornado when warned–the number would be in the low single digits.

Finding #2b: The majority of surveyed Joplin residents did not immediately go to shelter upon hearing the initial warning, whether from local warning sirens, television, NWR, or other sources. Instead, most chose to further clarify and assess their risk by waiting for, actively seeking, and filtering additional information.

I know why they didn’t listen right away. We’ve spent the last few decades desensitizing you to warnings. Most warnings have no severe weather associated with them. Frustrating.

Part of the frustration lies in our inability to truly observe these monsters or even forecast them over short period with a high level of accuracy. The science just isn’t that good.

It hurts me that I can’t provide this level of service to you.

Another frustration is the sheer volume of watches, warnings and advisories issued by the Weather Service. There are entirely too many and too many individual types. It sometimes seems like an exercise in CYA politics. Small Craft Advisory I’m talking to you!

Maybe it’s time we removed advisories from the repertoire entirely?

If an area is experiencing severe weather there should be a single warning issued to cover it. Right now a major storm might throw a town under four or five separate alerts. Who does that serve?

I’m going to reread this report sometime over the next few days. There’s a lot to absorb–too much for a single look.

Part of my job is saving lives. I take that seriously.

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!

Oklahoma’s Tornados

It’s exhausting work. As the coverage rolled on Morgan looked spent. Severe weather coverage is a marathon, not a sprint.

I watched tornado coverage yesterday between newscasts. MSNBC took live coverage directly from KFOR in Oklahoma City. Mike Morgan, KFOR’s long time meteorologist was on-the-air.

I had never seen Mike Morgan before. I have no idea if I’d like his day-to-day on-air style. Yesterday he was commanding the TV station like a general and saving lives.

He was the lone on-air voice of their coverage, but he was not alone. KFOR had a number of crews in the field who could go live by phone or with video. In the studio Morgan had another meteorologist or producer who was running the gear.

That’s the secret sauce right there! If you have the right person, one voice is what you should strive for. Morgan was calling the shots for all to hear. Having multiple meteorologists in front of a camera tends to unfocus the coverage. There’s often competition for the choicest data. That doesn’t serve the viewers.

It’s exhausting work. As the coverage rolled on Morgan looked spent. Severe weather coverage is a marathon, not a sprint.

If you’re interested in some geeky meteo minutiae from yesterday here’s a technical write-up on a small weather station that happened to be in a tornado’s direct path!

Just before I began writing this I saw a semi-related Facebook post from my friend Aaron Barnhart. He’s the TV writer at the Kansas City Star.

Aaron Barnhart
As of 1130 when was the storm to hit Mission Wds? WDAF: 1135. KCTV: 1159. KMBC: 1153. KSHB: 1235 (?!) #tornadoalleylive

I have used display equipment similar to what Aaron’s talking about. We have that ability at FoxCT (though I’ve not used it yet). It’s easy for me to see how that discrepancy can happen because you’re doing things freehand in a live situation. Now I have to figure out how to make it never happen to me!

Leave No Storm Unhyped

I’m not trying to split hairs here, but Doppler functions from the Weather Service Upton, NY radar can’t get close to the ground in Brooklyn/Queens/Staten Island!

Any time I want to get upset I take a look at Drudge. No disappointment today!

“109 mph Winds Rip Through NYC…”

I hadn’t heard that number so I clicked the link and ended up on AccuWeather‘s site. Their headline reads:

“109 mph Winds Rip Through NYC. NWS Investigating Possible Tornado”

The story by AccuWeather meteorologist Meghan Evans was factual and straight to the point until she said,

Radar indicates that winds topping 109 mph tore through parts of the city.

Oh. Sorry Meghan, that doesn’t count!

I’m not trying to split hairs here, but Doppler functions from the Weather Service Upton, NY radar can’t get close to the ground in Brooklyn/Queens/Staten Island! The NEXRAD radar scans at many different elevation angles. Even the very lowest (.5&#176) is a few thousand feet up by the time it makes the approximately 60 mile trek across Long Island.

Low level winds are effected by friction with objects on the ground. At a few thousand feet that effect is greatly diminished. What the radar shows is often different than what’s happening on the ground.

I’m not saying there wasn’t a 109 mph wind yesterday on the streets of New York City. However, if that wind was there it wouldn’t be seen on NEXRAD!

There’s no doubt yesterday’s weather in New York City was scary and damaging. Is it necessary to quantify it in this less than scientifically sound way?