Sunday, May 30, 2010

Niles, Newton Falls Tornado of 1985

It was 25 year ago back on May 31,  1985. A tornado outbreak occurred in northeastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania and New York and portions of Canada. The most intense tornado touched down near the Ravenna Arsenal in Portage County and continued on the ground for almost 50 miles.  It devasted Niles, Newton Falls, Hubbard, killed dozens of people and continued into Pennsylvania.

This tornado was an EF-5, the strongest of all tornadoes with winds of more than 300 mph and a width of a mile and a half.  This was the last EF-5 tornado to hit Ohio and the first since the Xenia tornado outbreak back in 1974.

Thunderstorms began to develop in the late afternoon east of Cleveland as the temperatures rose into the middle 80s.  The upper levels of the atmosphere were ripe with energy. For anoutbreak of severe weather to occur, you need a "dry slot" in the middle of the atmosphere.

This allows the super-humid to "rise" into air that isn't saturated.  If the air in the middle of the atmosphere wasn't dry, storms couldn't have risen and blossomed into severe storms.  In this case, the air was dry all of the way out to Missouri.

The storms didn't look that impressive from space.

By midnight that night, 21 tornadoes had touched town in Northeast Ohio along along with the only F5 tornado (the strongest) in the Unite States.

Here are some great links showing more specifics on the tornado outbreak.  Special thanks to the NWS in Cleveland for the meteorology of that day and these additional sites for their photos and commentary.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Why the Increase in Hurricanes this year?

If you are making a trip to the east coast from Myrtle Beach to the Outer Banks to Hilton Head down to Miami, pay attention to the tropical forecast this summer and fall as tropical storms will be a plenty.


Why is season going to be so active?  Here is a technical/sciency peek into how the experts come up with their HURRICANE FORECASTS:


The first factor is whether an EL NINO or LA NINA is present.  Remember that EL NINO/LA NINAs are changes in sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean.  These changes alter the position and direction of the jet stream in the atmosphere either BREAKING APART tropical systems of allowing them to BUILD INTO HURRICANES.


This year without EL NINO, and with LA NINA rapidly developing, the sheer is weak so the environment is very strong for TROPICAL STORM DEVELOPMENT. Storms are steered right into the Caribbean.

The next factor is the temperature of the Atlantic Ocean.  For the last several months, the Atlantic SEA SURFACE TEMPERATURES have been at levels not seen in decades.  Remember last winter's cold spells?  That same arctic pattern responsible for our winter cold drove the Bermuda High south allowing the ocean to heat up to near record levels.  The red shades on the map below show the warmer than normal water in the central Atlantic. 

One other factor that will be present in hurricane forecasts for years to come has to do with a decadal cycle of high and low hurricane frequency.  The ATLANTIC MULTIDECADAL OSCILLATION or the AMO is a cyclical pattern of sea surface temperature completing a cold/warm/back to cold cycle every 70 years or so.  Since 1995, we have been in a warm cycle.  Here is the cycles since 1860.

There are also US LANDFALL HURRICANE TRENDS that correlate to the AMO. Check these out below.  The left image is a reflection of the current WARM CYCLE.  We can expect more US landfall hurricanes in a WARM AMO cycle which will more than likely continue for the next 20 years.

Factor in a turbulent and strong LOOP CURRENT shown here...

which has a history of rapidly intensifying hurricanes like Katrina and Rita in 2005...

 and you get this year's ABOVE NORMAL HURRICANE SEASON.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hurricane Season Outlook 2010 - National Hurricane Center

National Hurricane Center - Hurricane Outlook Press Release

As indicated earlier this year, the National Hurricane Center as well as other experts have been hinted at an above normal hurricane season which starts June 1st.

Here are the bullet points of the NHC's seasonal outlook with some analysis:

Across the entire Atlantic Basin for the six-month season, which begins June 1, NOAA is projecting a 70 percent probability of the following ranges:

    * 14 to 23 Named Storms (top winds of 39 mph or higher), including:
    * 8 to 14 Hurricanes (top winds of 74 mph or higher), of which:
    * 3 to 7 could be Major Hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of at least 111 mph)

The outlook ranges exceed the seasonal average of 11 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes.

The factors that support the outlook are:

    *  Upper atmospheric winds conducive for storms. Wind shear, which can tear apart storms, will be weaker since El Niño in the eastern Pacific has dissipated. Strong wind shear helped suppress storm development during the 2009 hurricane season.

    * Warm Atlantic Ocean water. Sea surface temperatures are expected to remain above average where storms often develop and move across the Atlantic. Record warm temperatures – up to four degrees Fahrenheit above average – are now present in this region.

    * High activity era continues. Since 1995, the tropical multi-decadal signal has brought favorable ocean and atmospheric conditions in sync, leading to more active hurricane seasons. Eight of the last 15 seasons rank in the top ten for the most named storms with 2005 in first place with 28 named storms.

“The main uncertainty in this outlook is how much above normal the season will be. Whether or not we approach the high end of the predicted ranges depends partly on whether or not La Niña develops this summer,” said Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

“If this outlook holds true, this season could be one of the more active on record,” said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.

Click here for the ENTIRE OUTLOOK.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Muckelhead Photo from Cleveland

This was a photo taken outside the WJW FOX 8 studios in May of 2009. That "shadow" looking thing on the ground is actually a pile of Muckelheads.

Now imagine that the pile is thousands of these...(image credit: flickr "kuddlyteddybear2004")

Monday, May 24, 2010

Our First Tropical Storm Already?

...Its a good possibility. 

Last week, a pocket of tropical moisture began to develop into an organized area of low pressure.  Although not unusual to have tropical systems this time of year, to have one develop in this area of the Atlantic Ocean is somewhat rare due to the relatively cool ocean water temperatures.

The moisture in the Atlantic was incredible this past weekend.  Notice the warmer colors in the middle of this image showing tropical moisture.

Here is the satellite picture showing the system.

Lots of dry air pushing into the backend of this system which could weaken it later this week.

Computer model projections keep it stationery.

While this "tropical pocket of moisture" probably won't gather enough steam to turn into a full fledged tropical storm, we are expecting a very active tropical storm season with several landfalling hurricanes or tropical storms along the US coast.  More on tha tlater.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

30th anniversary of Mt. St. Helens Eruption

The Mount St. Helens volcanic eruption is the most famous volcanic eruptions in US history.  The eruption and ensuing pyroclastic flow killed 57 people and dropped the elevation of the summit more than 1300 feet.  The amount of ash debris was almost 1 cubic mile in volume.  Imagine a box a mile on each side?  That's alot of material.  A look at Mount St. Helens before the eruptions.

What about the phrase "pyroclastic flow".  What does this mean?  It is term describing the flow of hot gas and collective material from the volcano that flows down the side of the mountain.  It can reach speeds of 450 miles per hour and temperatures of close to 2000 degrees and has been know to cross bodies of water for miles.  Its these pyroclastic flows that cause the majority of the damage in volcanic eruptions.  A look a year after the eruption.  Notice the crater in the middle.

A satellite timelapse over the last 30 years showing the evolution of the mountain since the eruption.

Amazing Hail Storm Video

Credit:  National Weather Service, Norman, Oklahoma for analysis and photo

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What is this Loop Current in the Gulf?

image credit: "uscgd8" at flickr

The Loop Current has been making the news since the Gulf Oil Spill occurred a few weeks ago. 
Now that the Oil Spill is drifting east, the Loop Current is now playing a pivotal role in where the oil spill travels.

What is this The Loop Current? is an ocean current that resides between the Yucatan Peninsula and Cuba.  It originates in the Caribbean Sea, flows out into the Gulf of Mexico and loops around southeastward into the Florida Keys and into the Bahamas.  Its a few hundred miles wide and runs more than a 1000 feet deep.

According to the Cooperative Institute for Marine and atmospheric studies, the Loop Current draws its waters from the Yucatan Current, which is ultimately fed by the Caribbean Current, Guiana Current and North Equatorial Current. This provides a vital link between North Atlantic and South Atlantic waters.  Here is a graphic showing the ocean currents around the planet from the 1940s. The animation below shows the currents in action.

Althought this might be the first time you've heard about the Loop Current, you don't have to go far back in
history to find that the Loop Current was involved in another natural disaster.  Remember Hurricane
Katrina?  The Loop Current was directly responsible for its rapid intensification into the historic Category 5
hurricane we all remember. Notice how the track of Katrina and Rita coincides with the Loop Current.

Katrina wasn't the first hurricane to feed off of this moisture/heat rich Loop Current.  Hurricane Rita in 2004 intensified over the loop current as indicated above  Hurricane Camille in 1969, the last hurricane to directly hit New Orleans prior to Katrina interacted with "The Loop". Hurricane Wilma in 2005 and Hurricane Allen in 1981 among others have greatly intensified due to the loop current.

Back to the oil spill.  This same Loop Current that played a direct role in Hurricane Katrina's development
is directly involved with the track of the oil in the next severe weeks.

How can we accurately forecast the movement of the oil spill?  For years, the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration has been doing research on the ocean and its movement. NOAA launches surface buoys to gain valuable data on the oceans and their behavior.  Here is the track of ALL of the buoys from 1978 to 2003.

You can see how the current behave near the loop current and how the current ntersects with the Gulf Stream around Florida and up the eastcoast.  Expect the Loop Current to strengthen hurricanes this season.  More on that later this summer.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Rainy Next 48 Hours

The grass is much greener now that we've had a few weeks of above normal rainfall. The trees are almost at  their peak and the late spring flowers are about ready to bloom.  Although the weekend was more or less dry and comfortable, the next southern system is now over the area and promises to produce yet another round of rainy weather over the next 36 hours.

Where is all of this moisture coming from?

To answer this, we have to go to the tropics and a term called:  PRECIPITABLE WATER

If you were to squeeze out ALL of the water vapor in the clouds in the form of rain, that is called PRECIPITABLE WATER.  The higher the PW, the more moisture in the atmosphere.  Higher moisture values are represented with warmer colors on the image here from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


The band of red and yellow shows the higher pool of moisture over the tropics.  Every once in a while, a tongue of moisture will stream north through the central US.  Often in the spring, this tongue of tropical moisture will make it all of the way into northern Ohio. Its this moisture source that is responsible for the frequent rains over the last two weeks.  Expect more this week.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Do We Need More Rain After Last Week?

One quick update first from the National Weather Service in Cleveland.

...The short answer to that question is NO. The long answer to it is YES.

Here is a graph showing our actual rainfall versus the normal rainfall for all of Ohio over the last 2 weeks.

No wonder why the grass is so much greener recently.  90% Northeastern Ohio is above normal since May 1st.

Now, look at the map showing actual rainfall versus the normal rainfall over the last month.

A totally different picture.  Aside from some select areas where severe storms developed last week, more than 50% of Northeastern Ohio is still slightly below normal over the long haul.

Coming up Monday and Tuesday, we'll talk about the MUCKELHEADS!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Stormchaser Video from Monday, May 10, 2010

Credit:, Northeastern Ohio storm chaser for the video and commentary

More information on this storm chase  HERE at TWISTERCHASER.NET

"Today we chased a mesocyclone from the Western panhandle of Oklahoma into Texas, got some great footage of initial rotation and lightning, this storm did produce 1 tornado but it was on our southwest side and it was rain-wrapped so we couldn’t see it. It eventually weakened but left us with some great photo opportunities and footage, will post those pictures tomorrow, however I did want to post my first official footage clip, this was one of the first tornadoes that touched down on Monday just south of Wakita before all the chaos ensued"

Odds of Getting Struck by Lightning and other Weather

After a rough weather week and a much quieter weekend ahead, let's have some fun looking at weather odds.

Many people are deathly afraid of severe weather.  Are the chances of getting killed by severe storms as high as what most people believe?  According to the, the chances of being killed by a tornado are:

1 in 4, 513,000

For comparison, the chances of dying from a fall off a cliff is:

1 in 4,101,000

The correctly points out these facts about the deadliest tornado on record:

"The tornado with the highest death count was the 1925 Tri-State Tornado, which ravaged a path a mile wide and 219 miles across through Missouri, Illinois,and Indiana. The speed was 60 miles per hour—twice the forward speed of the average tornado. Although the Tri-State Tornado lacked the classic funnel cloud, and was therefore virtually invisible, the damage was catastrophic: nearly 2,000 people were injured, property losses totaled more than $16 million, and 689 people died."

The Deadliest Weather of the Decade; Top ten states/chances of getting killed by weather. (1999 to 2008). A word of caution: A distaster like Hurricane Katrina will significantly skew these chances higher for the state effected.

1. Louisiana 1 in 49,330
2 Mississippi 1 in 112,700
3 Alaska 1 in 116,900
4 Wyoming 1 in 173,800
5 Missouri 1 in 182,900
6 Oklahoma 1 in 240,500
7 Arkansas 1 in 287,800
8 Kansas 1 in 290,300
9 Illinois 1 in 303,900
10 Utah 1 in 337,700

The odds of getting by lightning: 1 in 835,500

The odds of getting killed by hail: 1 in 734,400,000

The odds of a meteor landing on your house: 1 in 182,138,880,000,000

A few odds and ends comparing severe weather odds to other odds.

A 10-character password yields 59,873,693,923,837,890,625 combinations.

80,658,175,170,943,878,571,660,636,856,403,766,975,289,505,440,883,277,824,000,000,000,000 The number of way to order a 52 card deck

Thursday, May 13, 2010

More Severe Possible Today

A few storms earlier today along the warm front.   They moved away very fast.

I rarely go into the science into weather forecasting mainly because it bores most people.  People want an accurate forecast and could care less where you get it or how you come up with it.



Since we've had several severe weather events over the last week, I figure that this is good time to go over some of the parameters that are analyzed in determining whether or not severe weather is possible.

Today, another two pronged system is developing in the middle of the US early Thursday morning.  The first wave is along the warm front which pushes through Ohio later on this morning/early afternoon.  Temperatures surge into the 70s after the warm front goes north.

After that, the cold front approaches with plenty of energy with it.

The components for today's severe weather are these:

* Humid air
* Warm temperatures & sunshine
* Strong cold front/lots of lift
* Changing wind direction from the ground up to 18,000 feet