Friday, December 14, 2018

Do Tornado Warnings Save Lives? Absolutely!

Snow covering tornado debris in Taylorville, Illinois
Photo by: "State Journal-Register"
Even in 2018, there are people who dispute the fact that tornado warnings save lives. Today, I came across a story in the Springfield, Illinois, State Journal-Register pertaining to the warnings that clearly saved lives as a tornado passed near a (called-off due to the warnings) Santa Parade on December 1 in Taylorville, Illinois.

I would like to congratulate the National Weather Service on a job well done as well as the officials and citizens of Taylorville for responding in the proper manner. While there was considerable damage, there was no loss of life. 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Attention: Storm Chasers and Anyone Interested in Weather or Storms!

For the first time, Chasercon -- the world's largest meeting of storm chasers and meteorologists who focus on storms -- will be in Wichita this February 8 to 10th. On Sunday, 10th, there will be a seminar on "how to forecast severe storms" which will be useful beyond storm chasers. It will be valuable for emergency managers and anyone wanting to get a jump on tornadoes and extreme thunderstorms.

Here is a partial list of presenters:
  • Dr. Greg Forbes (The Weather Channel)
  • Tim Marshall, world expert on engineering buildings to minimize storm damage as well as an expert storm chaser
  • Roger Edwards, forecaster, National Storm Prediction Center
  • Dr. Jason Persoff, the storm chasing physician (really!) and photographer
  • Jon Davies and his excellent storm forecasting class
I will be delivering the keynote speech Saturday evening (9th) as well as moderating a panel of storm chasers/law enforcement/emergency management on how to make chasing safer as well as more useful to society. Reed Timmer of AccuWeather, formerly of the Discovery Channel's Storm Chasers will be a participant. 

There will also be tours of AccuWeather's Extreme Weather Center in Wichita during the event.
Wichita Eagle photo
The event is being held at the Hyatt Regency Wichita (special room rates, here) which is a wonderful hotel with great food and great service (it is where I held my retirement party).
Bring your family! Wichita has many family attractions in or near the downtown area. For example,
Wichita has a new, modern airport and is served by most major airlines. 
Photo of Eisenhower National Airport by Wichita Business Journal
If you are interested in weather or storms: come, learn, and have a great family experience. 

Protecting Wind Turbines From Lightning

As readers of this blog know, I am not a fan of wind power as it currently stands. However, that will change if cheap storage becomes available and if we find better ways of protecting wind farms from lightning, ice, (ironically) high winds and other forms of extreme weather. The current generation of wind turbines is surprisingly delicate.
An expensive helicopter used to de-ice a
wind turbine in Canada.
There is good news with regard to wind turbines and lightning mitigation. Wichita State University has developed a way to protect the turbines when they are struck.
Wichita State researcher Billy Martin works on a Kansas wind turbine
Wichita State's system for protecting wind turbines is an outgrowth research done by its National Institute for Aviation Research. After all, a turbine blade is similar to an aircraft wing or an airplane's propeller.

I am hopeful all of this will add up to meaningful progress in the field of wind energy so it is a useful source of reasonably-priced energy without subsidies.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Do You Want More Complex Tornado Warnings??

This is the story of a bad idea: probabilistic storm warnings. 

Under the current storm warning system, you are either in a storm warning or not. For example, in the illustration below, the red area is a tornado warning which is nested in a yellow severe thunderstorm warning (large hail or damaging winds).
So, if you are in the tornado warning, your weather radio or tornado siren goes off, or the TV cuts in to let you know. You immediately go to shelter. That's it; that's all a member of the public has to know.

Unfortunately, the meteorological research community has been in love with the idea of probabilistic weather forecasts ("20% chance of rain") for decades and now wants to extend that concept into tornado and other storm warnings. In their minds, probabilities of flash floods and tornadoes (to name two) are "more scientific" than "deterministic" (yes or no) warnings.

What might a probabilistic tornado warning look like? Below is an example:
From a paper on probabilistic storm warnings
presented yesterday to an American Geophysical Union meeting 
Instead of "Take Cover!" (or not) as with the current system, your local television station will show you a graphic similar to the above that will update as often as every one minute.

Instead of, "Go to the basement!," you will learn you have a 70% chance of tornado in the next 15 minutes, a 40% of a tornado in the next 30 minutes and a 10% chance of a tornado in the next 40 minutes. And, the probabilities you are given will change at least every five minutes and, perhaps, as often as every one minute. Really.

This is a terrible idea that will cost lives.

Why is this a bad idea? Let me count the ways:
  • Surveys (here, among many others) show the public does not adequately understand what a "20% chance of rain" officially means (other than 80% is more than 20%). Those probabilities (and it rains far more often than a tornado occurs) have been around for a half-century.
  • If we have not been able to educate the public over a half-century as to the meaning of probability of precipitation, there is virtually no hope of educating them to learn that a 10% chance of a tornado in 30 minutes is actually high.
  • Unquestionably, you should go to the basement or take other shelter if there is a 40% chance (which is very high) of a tornado in the next 20 minutes. I confidently forecast this 40% number will cause mass confusion (deadly when dealing with life-threatening weather) and far fewer will take shelter than do now -- and, that deaths and injuries will almost certainly rise.
  • With the colors and numerical probabilities constantly changing, they will be nearly impossible to convey on television and online in a meaningful way. In the above illustration, part of the area in the tornado's path is green. Green is a color associated with safety, not danger. 
  • Commercial radio and weather radio will not be able to convey this type of warning at all. 
  • What do you do with tornado sirens?
  • These probabilities will be uncalibrated. Because tornadoes are so rare at a given location, there will be no way to know if a 55% chance of a tornado is actually meaningful or if it is just a number. 
I first heard about this concept at a meeting in Norman, Oklahoma, five years ago this month. I, and others, raised these concerns then and since but those concerns have fallen on deaf ears. To give a simple example, I've mentioned that green is not a color that should be used in tornado warnings. As recently as yesterday (see above illustration), it still was. 

What makes this even worse is that the existing tornado warnings continue to decline in accuracy -- a topic we have discussed several times on this blog; if you want a recent example of a missed warning of a major tornado, go here

Before we make any more changes to the warning system, we need to arrest the problems that have caused existing tornado warnings to be less accurate.

The tornado warning system has been a magnificent scientific accomplishment worthy of a Nobel Prize. The idea to create probabilistic tornado warnings needs to go away and the excellent brainpower of those involved should be used to fix and improve the existing warning system. 

Addition: I have been asked to provide evidence that tornado warnings across the United States are now less accurate than ten years ago. I've written about it so many times that I didn't think I needed to provide a link and I apologize. Go here and you can read my thoughts and those of Jason Samenow of the Capital Weather Gang on this important topic. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

"Warnings" -- A Review I Missed

I came across this a few hours ago. 
The full story is here.

Warnings makes a great Christmas gift for anyone interested in weather or science. Click on the red link to see it at Amazon.

I Have An Idea That Will Solve Their Problem

Since the Oscars can't seem to find a host, I have an idea to staunch the loss of viewers:

Have E! TV broadcast the celebrities:
  • Getting out of their limos
  • Walking the red carpet (while the limos are going around the block)
  • Getting back into their limos.
Whole thing could be done in 45 minutes, tops. Then, publish an online list of the winners while the celebrities are driven to their respective parties. 

No more nearly three-hour broadcasts. No more celebrities having to pretend to be interested while the "best technical awards" video plays. No more closeups of four "it's an honor to be nominated" losers while the winner isn't even in attendance. 

Everybody wins. 

What Is It Like to File Insurance Claims After a Catastrophe?

A terrific article is here about the experience of filing claims after California's Camp Fire. I would have been even more critical of the insurance company than the author.

At AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions, because we were dealing with mission critical issues, we had (and I believe still have) human beings answering the phones 24/7 without automation. The customers loved it. Insurance claims people need to lose the automation when dealing with people who have lost everything.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Facebook is a Terrible Company

The latest proof of that contention is here via British investigators.

I requested deletion of my Facebook page in April but I seriously doubt Facebook deleted it or any other users'.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

A Perfect Holiday Gift For Someone Who Likes Weather

"You Will Love This Book"
                     --- Gary England
click to enlarge
Warnings is written in the style of a novel and is packed with exciting, uplifting stories. 

Remember: a great hardcover book is highly portable and always charged. It is the perfect gift for those that like weather or even an uplifting, non-fiction story.

You can purchase from Amazon or from Barnes & Noble. B&N posted new reader reviews in the last ten days.
You can read those reviews here by scrolling to the bottom of the page.

Sunday Fun: For Catholics

Catholics believe, of course, that Jesus led a sinless life.

Catholics also believe that his earthly mother, Mary, also lead a sinless life.

Yesterday at the Mass for the Immaculate Conception, Fr. Josh Evans commented on the above by saying, "Can you imagine poor Joseph? Everything was always his fault!"