Friday, January 10, 2014

Free-For All Friday: Polar Vortex, Lake Erie Ice & Winter Stats

I won't belabor the Polar Vortex talk.  Its been played quiet enough everywhere. Check out my last post for my thoughts on its misuse earlier in the week.

First, the Lake Erie ice cover update:

Over the last week, we have DOUBLED the ice cover concentration. January 4th, Lake Erie was at 44%. By January 10th, the number was just south of 90% which is way ahead of last year and slightly ahead of January 2011 and 2001; fairly close to January 1996.  The MODIS high resolution visible satellite image illustrates this increase perfectly. First image is from January 4th, second is from January 9th.

January 4th

January 9th
Back in 2011, I took a photo from the E 55th marina after the lake froze over. Notice the railing in the foreground. Compare that to a photo I took on January 4th after strong winds sprayed the lake water on the shoreline which froze everything on contact including the railing.

 A few more close up photos from along the Cleveland shoreline.

Contrary to what you might think, this winter in northern Ohio hardly cracks the top 40 coldest winters through the first week of January. Remember the hard winters of the early 2000s?

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Weather Reporting Needs To Change: Polar Vortex Edition

Many media outlets in my opinion have incorrectly described the cold air outbreak across the US as the Polar Vortex moving across the US. Some have said that their reasoning was the 500mB heights/trough signature. I think that this 500mB northern hemispheric map shows it best. While the eastern US trough was deep, cold and unlike any outbreak since the early 1990s, other pieces of the PV were easily visible on the 500mB chart around the higher latitudes. Was this piece of the PV over the US the actual main Polar Vortex sliding south from the Arctic or was the piece over northern Asia or the one over Northern Europe the main Polar Vortex?  Or did the main Polar Vortex stay over the North Pole with several pieces breaking off, amplifying and propagating south into lower latitudes dragging down arctic air?  (The correct answer is the latter) But see what I mean?

Call it an argument of semantics. Call it splitting hairs. Call it no big deal. I say it is a VERY big deal.

In a time where basic, objective and accurate science knowledge isn't emphasized in the media; where the US is lagging many other counties in math and science scores; where short phrases and hashtags govern our daily social consciousness; where scary words like "Polar Vortex" gain national and international attention through its instantaneous proliferation through social networks, attention to detail makes a HUGE difference.

I understand that "Flash and Dash" reporting has long since replaced investigative reporting. I get it. I understand that holding the viewer as long as possible is an important driver of a newscast. That's not going away. But we still have a duty to educate the public when its appropriate.  All I ask is for some basic due diligence.  When meteorological phenomena like the "Polar Vortex" directly effects a large chunk of the nation's population, we owe it to the viewers to be as detailed, complete, objective and accurate as possible. Perhaps shelving the flashy reporting model with a more--dare I said it "old school" approach in these instances would serve the viewers better. I'm open to suggestions.

The last paragraph in this blog entry say it all.

Monday, January 06, 2014


Huron, Erie, Sandusky and Ottawa Counties in OHIO under a LEVEL 3 snow emergency. Which means that only emergency vehicles are allowed on the roads.

Temperatures this low are not common in northern Ohio. It only happens a few times every few decades. Here is the cold air trivia for northern Ohio. This is on par with the cold of the late 70s and early 1980s.

The HUGE buckle in the overall jet stream across the North American continent has dumped arctic cold across most of the US and Canada
More than 85 million people are under a WIND CHILL WARNING. This is issued only when wind chills are expected to fall below -40 for more than 3 hours.

Lake Erie lost some ice over the weekend after a season high of 56.7%. Expect some rapid ice growth over the next few days.
Current wind chills are running between -10 and -30. CURRENT WIND CHILLS CAN BE FOUND HERE.


Sunday, January 05, 2014

The Anatomy Of an ARCTIC BLAST: 2014 vs Previous -15 Days

We don't reach -15 or below very often in northern Ohio--only 12 times in 140+ years of record keeping. Signs of arctic cold show themselves in the temperatures above the earth's surface away from surface influences such as concrete.

To be clear, not every instance of below zero nights or days is exactly alike. Several parameters need to be in place for this to occur in northern Ohio: COLD AIR ALOFT (850 mB level - 5000 ft), clear skies and snow cover.  How cold do the 850 mB temperatures have to get to reach, say -15 or lower?  Looking back at the 6 coldest readings in Cleveland history (I also threw in 2009 because that was the last time we fell to -10 or below), the west to east 850 mB temperature profile looked different each time

The 1/19/1994 record low event looked like this at 850 mB. Cold core was north of the Great Lakes.
850 mB temps fell to between -30 to -32
1/23 and 1/24/1963 was a two day event, -17 and -19 respectively. The 850 mB temp profile was this. NCAR reanalysis was used because the grADS site only goes back to 1979. The temperatures are in Kelvin. Cold core north of the Great Lakes.
850 mB temps fell to around -28 converted from Kelvin
1/20 and 1/21/1985 was another two day event, -18 and -17. Notice how the core of the 850 mB cold was centered in the midwest over Iowa, Illinois and northern Missouri before it moved east into Ohio. The 850 temps were some of the coldest on record. Here is the 24 hour breakdown from the grADS site:

850 mB temps fell well below -30
1/21/1984 was similar in surface temperature yet the 850 mB temps never fell below -25. Once again, cold core north of the Great Lakes.

Based on my checking, the coldest 850 mB temperatures EVER were during the 1/16,17/1982 event with a -38!

Yet the surface temperatures never fell below -13 and -17 over the two days.

850 mB temperature fell to a mind blowing -38 Celsius!
The 1977 two day cold blast...temperatures are in Kelvin. -28 was the coldest in northern Ohio.

Finally, 1/16/2009...850 mB fell to at least -23. Cold core was shallow.
 How about the cold on Tuesday? The 850 mB forecast temperature drops to -30. 

Each instance has a different west to east 850 mB profile with different resulting surface temperatures even though   the 850 mB temps might have been similar to past events.

In other words, the 850 mB temps are only part of the story when it comes to predicting arctic cold overnight lows.

Some cold tidbits for Cleveland:

The last time we fell below zero was in 2011
The last time we fell below -10 was in 2009 when we hit -13 (5 nights below zero)
High temperature at or below zero:  14 Times
The last time was 1994:  -3
The coldest high temperature EVER in CLE:   -5 in 1985
Below zero high temperature happened twice in 1982
Below zero high temperature happened 5 Times in 1899
Winter 1976-77 had 28 instances or below zero temperatures (days and nights)


Winter storm still on track however the heaviest snow will stay in NW Ohio later this evening and overnight tonight. Temperatures have climbed into the lower 30s so much of northern Ohio will see some rain before a sharp transition to sleet then snow this evening and overnight as temperature drop.

I am a bit skeptical on the large snow amounts for northeastern Ohio. Areas from TIFFIN, NORWALK to SANDUSKY and west could see 6-10". East of that arbitrary line, I think the amounts will be much less...that is until lake effect kicks in Monday.

Here is the probability of specific locations receiving at least 4 inches of snow. Notice how the chances drop big time further east.