Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Buffalo Lake Effect Events: Oct 12-13, 2006 vs Current Event

I remember the October 2006 lake effect snow event well. I was sitting in the WJW FOX 8 weather center watching a band of snow moving parallel to the Lake Erie shoreline about 15-20 miles offshore near Ashtabula, Ohio.  The leading edge of the snow barreled through Buffalo, New York.

This is the only lake effect event comparable--when looking at the temperature parameters--to the current Buffalo event I can remember. It started on October 12, 2006 and finished the next day.

The Lake Erie water temperature was 62 degrees. The air aloft (5000 feet)--the key level for determining lake effect--was -8 celsius (or 17 degrees F).

The temperature difference: 45 degrees from the surface to 5000 feet.

Here were the 2 day totals:

In the current (November 18-19, 2014) event, the lake water temperature in the eastern basin of Lake Erie is between 50 and 54 degrees. The air aloft (5000 feet) was -18 celsius (or zero degrees F)! 

The temperature difference: 54 degrees from the surface to 5000 feet!

This eastern basin warm pocket fueled the snow development as the wind paralleled the shoreline before it made landfall south of Buffalo. The key has been the wind direction. The SW wind (now WSW) carried the arctic air directly over the ENTIRE warm pool of water. The fetch over the warm pocket was more than 100 miles! Normally in northern Ohio, the fetch is between 50 and 60 miles from Canada to Cleveland.

Notice the intensity and uniformity of the lake effect snow band compared to the "edgier, disjointed-looking" radar loop from the October 2006 snow event

November 18, 2014 Event

October 12-13, 2006 event
This type of cold in November (850mB temps at -18) has occurred a dozen times in Buffalo (upper air soundings) since 1950, the most recent was last year.
Snow forecast map from the National Weather Service office in Buffalo.

Snow totals as of mid evening Tuesday 11/18. Final snow totals coming later in the week.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Unbelievable November Cold, Lake Effect Snow!

Lake Effect Clouds Along Cleveland Shoreline Heading to Buffalo, New York

More than 80% of the US was below freezing Tuesday morning; 50%+ under 20 degrees.

It was the coldest average Continental US November temperature since 1976.

Stats below courtesy: Ryan Maue.

Average US temperature at 6AM Tuesday 11/18: 19.8 degrees!

Ohio's statewide average temperature was more than 12 DEGREES COLDER than the statewide Alaska average temperature this morning.

Buffalo, New York will end up with more than 45 inches of snow by Wednesday morning. 850 temperatures between -18 and -21 over eastern basin of Lake Erie. This would mark only the 6th TIME Buffalo, NY had 850 mB temperatures below -20 since 1950!  The other years (1955, 58, 59 and 1987) Date here

Snow band. Photo courtesy; WGRZ, Twitter

Lake effect parameters are off the charts!

A break comes later this week with a run at 50 by Sunday and Monday.

Another cold blast could drop late in Thanksgiving week. More of the same: Eastern trough/below normal temperatures continue to dominate.



Thursday, November 13, 2014

First Lake Effect Snow Event Underway

We knew this was coming:  LAKE EFFECT SNOW 

I90 and I271  (click image for update image)

Last week, I mentioned a lake effect event similar to this one on November 17, 2005. The 850mB temperature during that event was -12. Lake Erie water temp: 52 degrees. Winds were westerly then west-north-westerly. That event dropped 9+" in Lake/Ashtabula/northern Geauga Counties. 

Today, 850mB temperatures will fall to between -10 and -13.  Lake Erie water temperature just fell to 51 degrees. Winds are westerly with an expected shift to the northwest tonight/Friday. Below are the Bufkit numbers for today at noon and today at 10pm.  The rectangles areas from west to east are:  850mB temperatures, relative humidity and wind direction. The Bufkit numbers support the drop in 850 mB temperature, increase in low level moisture and a veering wind to the WNW later this evening.

The amounts by Saturday morning will be close to the November 2005 event mentioned above. 


Remember that during snow events (big or small) we are not able to mention every town and municipality's snow forecast. The best way to do this is to check our snowfall map and estimate based on the snow contours. We usually mention the larger cities so that people can use that information in their estimating based on where they live.

Here is the snowfall forecast from early Thursday morning through Friday morning. THIS DOES NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT ADDITIONAL SNOWFALL FRIDAY AFTERNOON AND NIGHT.  Total accumulations will reach 8-10" in classic snowbelt areas by Saturday morning.

The first snowfall of the season try the patience of everyone. I've written extensively about the frustration people have about the weather, weather forecasts and extreme weather events here on my weather blog. I try to take the psychology of the weather into account when I formulate the initial snowfall forecast and subsequent updates. As much as we try to please everyone all of the time as broadcast meteorologists, it rarely works out. Remember that our approach has always been not to exaggerate the weather. We call it like it is. We don't sugar coat it. It might be hard to take especially this time of year when the first snow is around the corner. We highlight the overall pattern, present general forecast ideas then give you the specific numbers/amounts the closer we get to the day of the event. Please share this with others here and on Facebook. Remember our weather approach when the next snow falls this winter.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Typhoon Rule: 1976 vs 2014 Mid- November Cold

I've been doing some checking on the Typhoon Rule and compared it to events of the past.  So I checked to see if there was a recurving Typhoon in early November in 1976 since this was one of our analog years for this winter.  Sure enough, there was one:  Typhoon Louise.

So I plotted the surface temps and 500mB anomalies for Nov 1976 period.

The temperatures over the 12 days from Nov 12th to 22nd show the strongest cold air from the 21st to the 24th including three straight days below freezing with some accumulating snow!

The following map is the current setup for the current Typhoon and the temps for mid week next week only 6 days after the Typhoon starts to recurve.  They look similar to 1976! 

I want to reiterate that it's not the Typhoon that causes the cold air/eastern trough.  It's the overall pattern that I'm watching. The typhoon is just one element of it. Let's see if the cold air pans out next week.  Will we see our first lake effect snow of the season?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Was Last Winter Really The Worst In Years?

 ...It depends how you define "worst winter in years."

Most of us define past winters using four metrics:  Average Winter Temperature (Dec through February), Seasonal snowfall, Number of nights at or below zero and the number of days with snow on the ground greater than one inch (how often does the snow cover the grass).

I revisit this topic because we will air our Winter Weather Outlook Thursday, October 30th at 10PM. Invariably, everyone is comparing this upcoming winter to last year's rough winter.  If we only had longer weather memories, we'd soon realize that last winter was comparable with winters in the early 2000s both in snowfall and in temperature. 

* Was last winter a rough one?  Certainly. 

* Were the temperatures extreme?  Only the night time lows (6 nights below zero in January, 4 in February--3 were records). 

* Did we break snowfall records?  Nope. Not even close. More snow fell in the winters of 2002, 2003 and 2004.

The graphics below tell the story perfectly.





Friday, October 24, 2014

How Are Winter Outlooks Different Than Day-to-Day Forecasts?

Our WJW FOX8 Winter Outlook will air on Thursday, October 30th. Not long after, comments and criticism will start pouring stating in part that we should concentrate on getting the daily forecasts right rather than trying to forecast the weather months out. This isn't new. It happens after each seasonal outlook. Unfortunately, this common comparison is far from accurate and much more complicated than most of us realize.

Actual day to day weather forecasts are developed with analyzing current conditions, radar, satellite and other parameters to make a forecast for a short period of time in the future. 12 Hours, 24 hours, 36 hours, 48 hours. We utilize computer model projections as guidance. These projections are getting better as more data is utilized and assimilated into faster and faster computers. Computer projections are great but they still have their limitations. This is why its important for the meteorologist to determine which projection or combination of projections are accurate. Forecast accuracy continues to climb over the years. The lead time before tornado events has increased significantly saving many lives over the last decade.

Seasonal long range outlooks (winter weather forecasts) are created by looking at the ocean sea surface temperature patterns to include the north Pacific Ocean, the tropical Pacific Ocean (ENSO - two types of El Nino, neutral or La Nina), pressure patterns over the Arctic and North Atlantic, solar cycles, stratospheric wind behavior (QBO) and other longer term variables.  The elements just mentioned are matched up with other years of occurrence.  A best possible seasonal fit is created by "weighing" certain variables higher than others. Sometimes this works out well.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  I've learned a great deal about these variables and how they effect the overall pattern. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the best. Other meteorologists with far more experience are excellent at determining, weighing and piecing together the years that best fit. Their livelihood depends on it.

To reiterate, the Analog Method is a trend outlook and not for a specific forecast for a specific day. Individual storms cannot be seen this far out. Forecasts for specific days? Forget it. There is too much randomness in the atmosphere that's way beyond our abilities to model accurately. However, by looking at parameters that existed in the past during other storm events, we can say that the chance of a big east coast snow storm is greater or less than in years past. 

For most people, all of these forecasts and trend outlooks are lumped into one group even though each are derived using entirely different information. I get it. Its human nature to generalize and simplify complicated subjects like the science of weather prediction. We formulate concrete, black and white, overly scaled down versions of the weather.  Whether its a long range winter outlook, a climate average for a wedding day, the thunderstorm chances for later this afternoon, lake effect snowfall amounts or a hurricane forecast track, its all the same weather animal to most. We subconsciously eliminate the nebulous science, weird looking equations and fancy internet computer animations in favor of a narrative that tells a better story.  In short, The Old Farmers’ Almanac fits with how our brains are wired.  Its simple. Its folksy with just enough science to make it credible.  Why do we continue believing the Old Farmers’ Almanac?  The simple answer is it makes us feel good!

While I love the Old Farmers Almanac for its articles, I'd trust an actual Meteorologist's forecast first.  I wouldn't dismiss the scientific explanation, ignore the random changes and replace them with the Old Farmers Almanac figuring that its more accurate.  The results are usually disappointing.

So remember that Winter Weather Outlooks are by their very nature formulated differently than day-to-day forecasts.  Let's sit back and see if this winter will behave like we think it will.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

A Cold/Snowy Winter Coming? Here's A Sneak Peak

Before I go any further, let me make the same declaration I've made in the past shortly before and after we debut any seasonal outlook:  Do not project a seasonal outlook over a specific day in that season! The variables that are used in creating a seasonal outlook are entirely different than what is used to develop a daily forecast. Its a classic "apples to oranges" comparison. Please, head over to my past blog post and read this before you proceed. It will make me feel better :)

Difference Between Day-to-day forecasts and Seasonal Outlooks

This winter outlook sneak peak only takes into account a few variables.  (The rest are a part of our secret recipe written on a spiral notebook buried in the FOX8 front yard)  These "few variables" reside in and over the Pacific Ocean.  Take a look at the sea surface temperatures on October 8th.  I circled the regions we've kept an eye on since mid summer.
I will spare you the reasons why these locations are least for now.  Note that the warmer water in the Gulf of Alaska, the warmer water off the west coast, the cooler pocket of water east of Japan and the weak central based El Nino (Modoki) are all taken into account. When we match up these areas of concern with other years that are similar, we get this analog for the winter months of December through February.

Again, this is an outlook over a 90 day period not a specific day-to-day forecast.

This points to a colder than normal East Coast, Great Lakes and Deep South. The temperature legend is below.

Last year, the core of the cold was centered in the middle of the US. This winter, the core of the cold looks to shift more east and south.

Thursday, October 02, 2014



Current OHIO temperatures

Current Ohio Valley radar loop
Central Great Lakes sector loop

Temperature forecast for this afternoon...70s...dropping into the 50s...40s by early morning.