Saturday, October 26, 2013

One Year Ago, Superstorm Sandy - A Look Back

Its hard to believe but its almost been a year since Superstorm Sandy started reeking havoc along the eastern seaboard. Now its time for a look back.
I’ve always used my blog as a diary chronicling my thought process on different topics each day. Often times, I write about what I call “behavioral meteorology” or the study of how we each perceive the weather through our own biased lenses. This time last year, my attention was significantly diverted to the increased potential of a major east coast storm. My passing interest was driven by purely science. The reality sunk in that this storm could directly affect one of the largest population centers on the planet. My interest quickly shifted to documenting every weather detail as they unfolded.
Below are all 9 blog posts I made from October 22nd to November 1st of last year (2012).
Late October Atlantic Hurricane…Potential Storm Next Week
Hurricane Sandy Update #1 of 3- Impacts on North Carolina Coast
Hurricane Sandy Update #2 of 3 – Landfall Projections, New England Impacts
Hurricane Sandy Update: 3 of 3 – Northeast Ohio Impact
Hurricane Sandy – Monday Update – Northern Ohio Forecast
Historic Northern Ohio Winds/Lake Erie Waves/Snowfall as Sandy hits Ohio

Thursday, October 24, 2013

October Snow in Northern Ohio

Lake effect snow in northern Ohio is common....but usually not before Halloween. Here is what our classic lake effect skies look like in Cleveland:  Sunshine west; heavy, low and unstable cloud cover with rain and wet snow east

Here are the best of the best October snow photos! You can always email me weather photos at

Snow in Mayfield Heights

Snow on a pumpkin in Middlefield, Ohio
Parma, Ohio
Beachwood, Ohio accumulations
Garfield Heights, Ohio
Andre Bernier's photo of 5" in Chesterland, Ohio
Lyndhurst, Ohio snow
Snow on the west side...Westlake, Ohio
Jefferson, Ohio near Lenox Township
Branches down in Highland Heights
Snow in Newbury, Ohio

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How Do We Define a Cold, Snowy Winter?

How often have we heard the saying "Perception is Reality"?  
No other phrase describes the weather better than this one. We look at past winters through our own lense molded by our own experiences in that weather. Maybe we were on our way to a Christmas party in a snow storm. That storm will leave an indelible mark in our minds because of its proximity to Christmas. This memory often places more emphasis on the current weather than a more innocuous event. We might perceive the winter to be more harsh as a result. 
I've often heard people talk about how mild last winter was here in northern Ohio.  Yet when I site the data which shows that the average temperature from early November to March 31st last winter was SLIGHTLY COOLER than the 20 year average, people are skeptical.
There must be a more detailed story behind the typical winter narrative we are used to. Generalizing degrees of cold and snow just doesn't cut it. So how do we quantify why we remember a winter to be COLD or NOT SO COLD; SNOWY or NOT SO SNOWY?  
As I stated above, sometimes the average temperatures or total snowfall don't tell the complete story. For example, last year's overall average temperatures were SLIGHTLY BELOW THE 20 YEAR AVERAGE! Hard to believe but its true. 
The 5 month average is misleading to be sure. How about snow...we had more snow last year than the year before right?

Now let's dig a bit deeper beyond the generalities and averages.  The number of days at or below 30 degrees during was more than DOUBLE the year before
...and we had a week's worth of nights in the single digits well above the winter before.
...and we had almost 3 weeks MORE with at least one inch of snow cover!
I mention all of this to people and its still not enough to convince them that this past winter wasn't as "mild" as how they perceived it. Digging deeper still into the data shows the most important stat of all: The number of days at or above 40 was pretty high on the list. We probably remember those days more than the run-of-the-mill 30 degree days.
What can we learn from this in determining how we personally define a "cold and snowy" or "not-so-cold and snowy" winter?  
*  We remember the weather extremes better than the run-of-the-mill "typical" winter weather. 
*  We easily forget the single digit nights and the consistent snow cover vs the winter before. 
*  We diminish the importance of the days when the temperatures stayed in the 20s. 
We chalk all of this as normal.
Coming off of several winters with below normal snowfall and milder temps, we involuntarily assign more importance to the winter days above 40 degrees--the warmer extremes--so the memory becomes stronger as a result.  
What will stand out in the months ahead in solidifying our memory of this winter?


Friday, October 18, 2013

Friday's Miscellaneous Meteorology

Its Friday and its time for some miscellaneous meteorology tid-bits. An eclectic blend, if you will, of current weather topics with handy charts and colorful pictures. So settle in and get ready to jump around a bit as I clean off my desktop of all the jpegs I've been working on this week.


Cold weather is coming next week. The 500mB map shows a huge trough in the east and a ridge in the west. Also, the Greenland Block is present which will only aid in strengthening the eastern trough into November.
What a difference when you compare the first two weeks of October to the last two weeks upcoming.

Could we see wet snow IN SPOTS at the end of next week? You bet...

How many days do we typically have each winter with 6 inches or more of snow on the ground in Cleveland? Only 6 last year, 40 back in the winter of 2009-2010.

What decade had more days with at least 1/2" of snow on the ground in Cleveland? I checked the numbers for each decade since the 1910s. The 1970s were the snowiest followed by the 2000s (2000 through 2009)!
2013 continues to feature record low tornado numbers.
This is the first tropical season since 1994 where the Atlantic has NOT had a major hurricane (Category 3 or greater). If this trend continues, it would be the first season since 1968 where the Atlantic and Pacific (east of the International Dateline) have not had a major hurricane!

Could we still see warmer days? Historically, it happens a few times after October 17th and before the end of November. We had 4 last year. Over the last 30 years, we've only had 3 instances where the daytime highs never went about 70 in late October and early November in northern Ohio.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Will the Warm Fall Slow The Cooling of Lake Erie?


Last year, a similar question was asked on the heals of the incredibly warm summer of 2012. I did some quick checking of the lake water temperature data and compared 2012 to other recent summers. READ MY FULL POST HERE That research showed the lake seems to cool at relatively the same rate from September through November.

Will the lake cool similarly this year? 

The overall summer temperatures were very close to average. Yet the air temperatures this fall--since September 22nd--have been very warm, 5th warmest in 50- years!   Common sense would seem to point to a warmer lake later in the fall season. So I checked the Lake Erie water temperatures in the years with early fall warmth WARMER than this year.  The remaining years in the top 5 warmest (since 1964) are 1973, 2007, 1986 an 2005.

Data  Courtesy: NWS, Dick Goddard
It seems the Lake cools at about the same rate in each of these years. The differences year to year are very small.  By early December, the water temperatures differences are only a few degrees. In fact, in 1973, the WARMEST early fall in the last 50 years, the lake cooled FASTER then the other years in question only to level off in the last two weeks of November. 

How do these temperatures compared to other random years?  Check my blog post listed above and you'll find the water temperatures for 2010, 2009 and 2001.  The cooling is very similar to the above years.

So what does all of this mean?  Many factors contribute to the cooling of the lake like RUN OFF from heavy rain and THUNDERSTORM EVENTS and general lake circulation. 

Will lake effect snow be affected this year? Probably not. The lake seems to balance out the other external factors by the time we need to worry about lake effect snow.  The severity of the cold air moving over the lake and the strength of the wind (among some other) are more of a contributing factor.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Behavioral Meteorology: The Warm Weather is Playing With Our Minds!

Our biases can undermine how we look at everything.  We all have a bias about something as much as we deny it. So we trick ourselves into believing that our decisions are solely rational ones. Our human nature is an exercise in self-deception. Many financial gurus have taken up behavioral economics (see here and here and here) in an effort to nail down how our addiction to narratives (good stories vs information) and our built in biases affect our decision making on investing.

What does weather come into all of this? I like to call it "Behavioral Meteorology" (I might be the first to coin this new discipline...probably not). Here's is an example that I guarantee has happened thousands of time in the last several days:

"Everyone is ready for the weather bottom to fall out.  We're now in the midst of one of the warmest early fall stretches in recent years so our inner thermostats are a bit skewed. This early October warmth has lead to speculation of what this winter will be like.  We scrounge up our distant memories of winters gone by and start making comparisons to what lead up to the winter in question. In the span of minutes, we create a stripped down analog of what this winter might be like using what information we have. The results are everything from "this winter will be very cold and snowy" to "this winter will be mild like the last few winters." We get preemptively testy. We fear the unknown winter. We start to question the weather forecasts more than usual. We jump to irrational conclusions..."

No surprise with any of this. We've all done this.

Its Behavioral Meteorology at its finest. The psychology (which I wrote about HERE) goes like this:

Transition seasons are very hard to take both physically and mentally. Our preconceived notion of Decembers and Januaries featuring snow and cold have been replaced with rain and milder air. These changes don't sit well. It makes us feel uneasy holding onto these conflicting ideas.  Psychologists call this "Cognitive Dissonance". How many times recently have you had a conversation with someone and they said, “What is the deal with this crazy weather…what is going on here?” The uneasiness in the question is palpable.

No one likes to feel uncertain or conflicted.  Weather most times exists in a perpetual "grey" area. It’s this built in randomness that causes frustration and conflict. Most of the time, we grossly underestimate the significance of randomness. We all have a built in motivation to reduce conflicting ideas by altering the existing conditions in our mind to create consistency. 

In the case of understanding the weather, we do this by 1) either believing the weather information which best fits our comfort level or 2) we alter its importance in our mind or 3) we just plain criticize it. Sometimes, it’s a blend of all three. This inclination to favor information that reinforces our comfort level is called a "Confirmation Bias". The problem is that by creating "consistency" through favoring information , we create a new false interpretation of the weather which we believe to be true. Rather than looking objectively at the reasons for the change scientifically (science scares people), most people tend to use an overly simplified and often inaccurate scientific explanation of the weather to ultimately confirm their predispositions. For events that require object analysis, our own human nature deceives us.  In this case, our biases "cloud"--no pun intended--our judgment of the weather. 

So as we transition to the winter season and the temperatures start to fall and we see our first snow, remember your biases and how they work in deceiving the way you look at the weather and the forecast.

Our therapy session is over.  Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

MLB Playoffs: Progressive Field Photo Gallery

In between live shots this morning, I had the chance to roam the stadium and take pictures from some unique vantage points.

Panoramic view from the left field side
Mustard, Ketchup and Onion wandering the stands
View from the left field foul pole
Tunnel out to the outfield bleacher
The fantastic view from John Adams Perch high atop the left field bleachers

Panoramic shot from the 3rd base dugout

Steps from the dugout to home plate

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Snow in October?

October is here.  This allows me more flexibility in saying the word "snow" since technically it has snowed in October. So I take full advantage of this just to see who is paying attention.  The first few mentions of snow invariably invokes painful emotions and memories of winters gone by followed by sharp, poignant responses which run the gamut of colorful adjectives.  Depending on your age, these memories might start with the Blizzard(s) of 1978.  Maybe the Thanksgiving snowstorm of 1950 has a deeper resonance.  Maybe its the Blizzard of 1993 or the grand daddy of all snows: The Lake Effect Event of November of 1996 when Chardon, Ohio received almost 70 inches of snow in a few days.

Bottom line is this: Most people don't particularly like snow.  The level of disdain for frozen precipitation in these parts is on par with other evils of the world.  At least frozen precipitation melts and disappears.

What are the snowiest Octobers in Cleveland history? Here is the list. REMEMBER THAT THESE AMOUNTS ARE TAKEN AT HOPKINS AIRPORT

Here are the daily instances of October snowfall with the date and amount.  The snowiest month was in 1962. The earliest snow was in 2003.  Both are colored in blue.

10/29  0.3"       2003  10/2    0.3"
2001  10/26  1.0"       2000  10/8    0.1"
1993  10/31  0.2"       1981  10/19  3.8"
           10/23  0.2"      1979  10/25  0.2"
1976  10/26  1.5"
           10/27  0.1"     
1974  10/2     0.1"
           10/19  1.4"
1972  10/18   1.4"
           10/19   4.1"

1969  10/22   0.6"     1967   10/28  0.1"
1962  10/25  1.3"
           10/26  6.7"
  1957  10/27   2.5"
1954  10/16   0.3"
           10/30   2.0"
           10/31   4.1"     1952  10/20   0.8"
1937  10/24   1.0"      1935  10/4     0.3"
1934  10/27   0.3"
           10/28   0.5"     1932  10/18   0.2"
1925  10/22   0.3"
           10/28   0.7"
           10/30   0.8"   
1909  10/12   0.2"
           10/16   0.4"
1906  10/10   4.2"
           10/11   1.2"
           10/31   0.8"     1905  10/12   0.8"
1895  10/20   0.1"
           10/21   0.2"     1893  10/30   0.2"

Back in 2006, we just missed a MAJOR snow event.  Check out this radar loop from October 12, 2006 when Buffalo received 2 feet of snow in the middle of October. So it can happen...hopefully not this year!