Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hurricane Nate?

Well, my namesake is on the list of potential named storms in the Atlantic this year. Which got me this a good thing or a bad thing?

If Hurricane Nate became a Category 5 hurricane in the middle of the Atlantic, set records for wind speed and low pressure, then veered away from the U.S. coast without damage or casualties, that would be pretty cool.

On the other hand, what would happen if it became another Katrina? Of course this is not likely. But it just got me thinking: How many people named Katrina cringe that their name is associated with one of the worst natural and manmade disasters in American history?

More random thoughts: What if we named tornadoes? How would you feel if your name was associated with Tuscaloosa? Joplin? Should we even name storms? It almost gives hurricanes an aura all their own. Some people even refer to a hurricane as "he" or "she". Does this make hurricanes seem less "evil" than tornadoes? Remember, Katrina and many other hurricanes have claimed countless more lives than a single tornado or single tornado season have.

Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Storm Season 2011-Tragedy, Awe, and Guilt

The year was 1953. The National Weather Service was not allowed to use the word "tornado" in forecasts, for the fear that it might cause people to panic. Tornado Warnings were a figment of the imagination. It was the year that would spur the astounding advancements in tornado research and forecasting.

5/11/53-Waco, Texas F5: 114 dead
6/8/53- Flint, Michigan F5: 116 dead
6/9/53- Worcester, Mass. F4: 94 dead

I remember reading books growing up stating that the days of single tornadoes killing over 100 people were over. Up until this year, I believed them.

4/25-4/28/11- Southeastern Super Outbreak: 322 dead
5/22/11-Joplin, MO EF5: 134 dead; 8th deadliest tornado in U.S. history
2011 storm season so far: 522 dead; most in 1 year since 1936

The events of this year have affected me emotionally. I remember seeing the incredible radar signature of the Tuscaloosa tornado. So I decided to pull up the live streaming coverage of the ABC affiliate in Tuscaloosa/Birmingham. The first image I saw was one of the tower cams in Tuscaloosa showing the violent tornado in the center of the city. The tower cam that was there to show traffic jams was showing a tornado tearing up the heart of the city, while the TV meteorologist did his best to keep his composure. He did an amazing job, by the way, and probably saved countless lives.

The next event that will be seared in my brain is Joplin. This time, there was a threat of tornadoes, but it didn't seem to be a threat of violent tornadoes, at least in my opinion. The tornado went from funnel to monster in seconds, right on the outskirts of the city. A warning meterologist's worst nightmare. I was watching the Weather Channel as on-air personality Mike Bettes, who was chasing the storm, arrived in Joplin minutes after the tornado hit. He had been on what the Weather Channel was dubbing "The Great Tornado Hunt." As he went on-air live, he broke down. As the camera panned, there was utter devastation as far as the eye could see. I watched as this unfolded, live. Right before he broke down, he uttered the words, "We were just out here doing research." I broke down with him. An hour previous he had been admiring the work of Mother Nature. Then he was confronted with the absolute hell that these storms can cause.

I have been asked before, "How can you like tornadoes?" Like is a strong word. Fascination, awe, respect, and wonderment are more appropriate, and also the reason why this year has affected me so much. While watching videos of tornadoes, I'm usually in "weather-mode." I'm amazed at how different each of these storms can be, and at what the atmosphere can produce. The realization of lives affected comes after the fascination. No matter how much my wife confirms the fact that I have no control over the weather, I feel guilt for the initial excitement of seeing the tornado.

This guilt really hit home for me during the Oklahoma tornado outbreak last Tuesday. From the beginning of the El Reno-Piedmont tornado, I was truly in awe of it. It was massive. Other storms that were trying to interfere with the storm's mesocyclone were just sucked up into it. I knew it was going to be bad. Doppler radar was showing maxed-out red and maxed-out green (winds blowing towards and away from the radar site), right next to each other. Radar reflectivity, which is used to determine rain intensity and hail sizes, was showing bright red and purple in the tornado. This was actally debris that the radar was showing, and this radar signature was headed for NW Oklahoma County, where my family and friends live.

Minutes before friends and children gathered in the underground storm shelter that close friends so generously shared with us, I talked with my 2 year old daughter. Our earlier test run had not gone so well. Anna cried even before going into the shelter. So I thought it was best to talk to her. I told her that it was going to thunder. She liked that, since she enjoyed the thunder the night before. I told her we were going into a fun tunnel, and we were all going to be safe and happy. She nodded at me. I then asked if she could be good for Mommy and Daddy, and be a big girl. She nodded again. At the same time, I was thinking about what would happen if our friends' house was hit. I was truly scared. At that moment, I wanted nothing more than to protect her and Liz. Little did I know that during this time there was an EF-5 tornado on the ground, the strongest winds on Earth, only a few miles from where I was. And it was ruining lives.

I share this story because it explains where my guilt comes from. At the moment of impact, all tornado victims care about is protecting their loved ones. They don't care about Doppler radar velocities, EF-ratings, or amazing videos. In this day and age, it almost feels like I am "gawking" at other's suffering. I just have to remind myself that without the researchers, storm chasers, and meterologists who get adrenaline rushes every time they see a tornado, our warning system would not be what it is today.

Sorry for the long, rambling post. I'm not looking for sympathy for my guilt. I just needed a method and forum to vent this. It's been a roller coaster ride the past month or two.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

High Risk of Severe Weather

The Storm Prediction Center in Norman has issued a rare high risk of severe weather for the Western half of Oklahoma for this afternoon and tonight.......this is the first high risk in Oklahoma in five years. The potential exists for tornadoes, some of which could be long-tracked, strong, and large. I wasn't thinking the threat would be this serious, but anytime the SPC issues a high risk, it should grab anyone's attention, as they are the world's foremost severe weather forecasters.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Severe Weather Timeline

Trying to give details on severe weather events more than 1 or 2 days out is virtually impossible, but I am going to try to give a general idea of what to expect the next couple of weeks. What I do know is this: I can't remember the last time I have seen as much severe weather as what could be packed into the next 2 weeks. Usually you get 1 or 2 severe weather days, and the system moves on (under normal circumstances) and you get a break of at least a few days if not a week or so. This time, it appears the 1-2 day severe weather events will be separated by only 1 day breaks in between. So here goes:

Saturday- Greatest threat is over the Western 1/3 of Oklahoma. A localized tornado outbreak is possible over Western Oklahoma, including the possibility of large tornadoes. Threat to OKC-Slight and after dark.

Sunday- Greatest threat over Western 1/2 of Oklahoma. More tornadoes possible, possibly more than on Saturday. Locations will be highly dependent on how soon the storms move out from Saturday night and how much sunshine we receive. Threat to OKC-Slight to Moderate, and after 3PM.

Monday- Greatest threat approx. the SE 1/2 of Oklahoma. Biggest threat this day could be more hail, wind, and flooding than tornadoes, but that is still TBD.

Tuesday- Day of Rest.

Wednesday-Thursday- More severe weather possible, with some indications that one or both of these days could produce a significant severe weather outbreak.

Friday-Next Saturday should be break days. Hopefully the week afterwards also provides a break, but some models indicate the severe weather pattern will continue. This is really tarot card/crystal ball territory.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Severe Weather Outbreaks on the Horizon

It appears the real severe weather season in Oklahoma will get going beginning this Saturday. The models over the past couple of days have been hinting at a pattern that will result in a prolonged period of thunderstorms with associated severe weather potential and heavy rain/flooding potential. I can see a possible scenario of severe weather in the state every day from Saturday through the end of next week. Beyond the end of next week it's vague, but the pattern could continue beyond that.

This Saturday evening the severe weather threat will be over western Oklahoma, with the greatest threat over NW Oklahoma. Wind shear profiles look ideal for supercells: from top to bottom (surface) the winds go from W, to SW, to S, to SSE at ground-level. I imagine there will be 1-3 isolated supercells in western Oklahoma Saturday evening that will have the threat of producing tornadoes. Any threat to OKC appears slight at this time and would more than likely be between 10PM and 2AM.

Depending on where the cold front sets up Sunday and the rest of next week (which is highly dependent on the amount of rain that occurs with/behind the front), more severe weather and isolated tornadoes will be possible. One day I see on the horizon that could have an enhanced threat of tornadoes would be Wednesday, but that is not set in stone by any means.

Bottom line is this: Late April and Early May are primetime for severe weather in Oklahoma. Some years we are lacking in storms moving through during this peak season, but it appears as though a stormy pattern will coincide with peak severe weather season this year. Just stay weather aware over the next couple of weeks. If you don't own one, I highly recommend purchasing a programmable NOAA weather radio. The programmable radios are more expensive, but you can set them to just go off for certain counties and certain warnings (Tornado, Severe Thunderstorm, Flood, etc.) The cheaper ones give you peace of mind as well, but you can only program by county, not by type of warning.

More updates to come in the coming days!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Work-Week Weather and Long-Range Severe Wx

If you have any extra time you can take off of work this week you may want to use it! Beautiful weather will be here from Monday all the way through the next weekend. There will be a little bit of wind, but it's Oklahoma, so you should expect that. Temperatures will range from the mid 70's to the mid 80's with plenty of sunshine!

I've looked at some of the long-range computer models, and I have a feeling things are going to get pretty interesting around here starting the first week of May. Until then, a large ridge of high pressure is going to build over the Plains and Gulf of Mexico, which will allow heating, and most importantly in terms of severe weather, moisture build-up. Starting that first week of May, a parade of storms looks to begin impacting the Central Plains. As opposed to the rest of the storms we have dealt with this year, these coming ones will have plenty of heat and humidity to work with. This will probably yield a few severe weather/tornado outbreaks in the Plains. I say the Plains just because it is impossible to pin down locations this far out. So get ready to buckle your seatbelts........we may be in for a bumpy ride.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Late Start to Spring

Anyone wondering when Spring will be here permanently? So far this Spring there has been an endless stream of cold fronts moving through every 3-4 days. In addition to keeping temperatures down, this has also reduced the amount of severe weather we have seen so far. The cold fronts have taken the warmth and moisture that is needed for severe weather and shoved them down deep into the southern Gulf of Mexico. So other than the February tornadoes, severe weather season has been tame so far.

I suspect our severe weather season will ramp up in early to mid May and go a little later than normal, probably late June. The second half of April will probably be warmer and drier than normal. This will actually allow the Gulf to build up some heat and moisture content so that storm systems that move in during May will have adequate moisture to work with. Bottom line as to my thinking in terms of severe weather: The rest of April will be quieter than normal, May will be normal, and June may be more active than normal.