Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Family of Nine That Survived and Survivor's Guilt

The Kansas City Star has a story tonight about a family of nine that survived the duck boat disaster.

The article mentions that the family is suffering from survivor's guilt. I strongly suspect the other survivors are, as well. It is difficult not to in a catastrophe like Thursday evening's.

While those who made it off the Stretch Boat 07 alive are obvious candidates for survivor's guilt, there are others: all of the first responders and perhaps those who were on duty at the Springfield office of the National Weather Service. The NWS did a great job. No need for guilt. But, that is not the way it usually works.

After the 1991 Wichita-Andover Tornado, the meteorologists on-duty at WeatherData, Inc. had terrible cases of survivor's guilt, myself included. There was no reason for it; we did our job to near-perfection (including a national award from the American Meteorological Society). But, there was a strong sense of, "if I'd have gone on the air just one more time" or "if I had phrased this differently maybe those killed would have taken shelter." Seventeen were killed in that tornado, the same number killed on Table Rock Lake Thursday evening.

I got over it by talking at length with an ER nurse at Wichita's Wesley Hospital who also had survivor's guilt after treating people who were horribly maimed by the tornado's flying debris. It takes some years to get over it.

I'm writing this so you will keep all of the people who may be affected in your prayers. If you live in southwest Missouri, please offer your words of encouragement. They will be appreciated far more than you'll ever know.

There is a good article about survivor's guilt here.

Sunday Photo: Amazing Photo of Rotating Thunderstorm

For the eleven years of this blog, we have tried to lighten the mood on Sundays. After the Thursday tornadoes in Iowa and the derecho in Kansas and Missouri (the latter which led to the Table Rock Lake tragedy) let's write about something else.

Via Twitter, this is one of the most amazing thunderstorm photos I have ever seen. Click to enlarge it.

Nautical and Aviation Malpractice?

On June 5, I wrote about an American Airlines crew that flew into a hailstorm over New Mexico. Their action put their passengers in serious jeopardy. That posting, titled "Aeronautical Malpractice?", is here.

I believe it is pertinent to repost that report in light of what happened at Table Rock Lake Thursday. Why aren't indications of dangerous storms being taken seriously?

Saturday, July 21, 2018

"No Weather Advisories Interrupted the Program"

I have been reading R. A. Scotti's wonderful book, Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938, which is the story of the devastating hurricane that struck New England completely without warning. From pages 85 and 86,

In inland towns and cities, where the weather did not dictate the day’s activities, radios were tuned into CBS Studio Nine. Correspondent William Shirer was reporting from Berlin that Hitler had just won his first slice of Czechoslovakia. At eleven o’clock, under intense pressure from Britain and France to concede or fight alone, the Czechs had capitulated. Was it “peace in our time,” or “base betrayal”? CBS correspondent Ed Murrow was standing by in London for a live broadcast with Anthony Eden.

No weather advisories interrupted the program. 

The exact death toll from that storm is not known but it is believed to be around 800. The hurricane's storm surge caused water in downtown Providence, Rhode Island, to rise to a depth of 17 feet.
I imagine the grieving family and friends of those killed by the Great Hurricane wished there had been an effective storm warning system that would have allowed them to protect themselves, their families and their communities.

Fast forward eighty years. Weather scientists in the United States have developed the finest storm warning system in the world. It is not perfect (I plan to write more about that in the next few weeks) but most of the time it works well.
One of the Duck Boats foundering on
Table Rock Lake Thursday evening
Screen capture from video by Jennie P. Carr
The system to warn of dangerous weather at Table Rock Lake, Missouri, worked as it was supposed to Thursday. A NWS severe thunderstorm watch -- that explicitly forecasted winds of 75 mph -- flashed across television screens, set off NOAA Weather Radios, and triggered smartphone apps eight hours before the sinking. There was a severe thunderstorm warning calling for 60 mph winds issued by the NWS office in Springfield more than thirty minutes before the sinking. There was also an update to the severe thunderstorm warning that increased the forecast winds to 70 mph before the sinking occurred. Those messages also triggered smartphone apps, television, radio, NOAA Weather Radios and other outlets for storm warnings.

As I wrote below, businesses that are affected by weather should hire a commercial weather company that specializes in warning of extreme weather. While I cannot speak for the others, AccuWeather Enterprise solutions explicitly warned its clients at Table Rock Lake of winds of "70+mph" in plenty of time to take action.

I'm certain 100% the people involved in the "ducks" tragedy, if they had it to do over, would have inquired as to whether there were any warnings of dangerous weather and, once so informed, they would never have launched the duck boats.

But, the question is, "Why weren't Thursday's 
warnings heeded?"

Just hours prior to the catastrophe at Table Rock, there were weather warning success stories. For example, Marshalltown, Iowa, suffered a damaging EF-3 tornado that affected the entire city. The advance warnings -- 50 minutes' worth -- almost certainly saved lives. In the pre-warning era, that type of tornado would likely have killed dozens. The death toll Thursday was zero.

In spite of the successful warning of the three major 2017 hurricanes to strike the United States, the incredibly accurate forecasts of the extraordinary flooding associated with Hurricane Harvey, and tornado warnings in Iowa Thursday, weather science does not receive the respect it has earned and, consequently, too many people fail to respect and act upon the warnings. Why??

It was this very question, in the months after Hurricane Katrina (which killed 1800 people) -- and the utterly unfair criticism of the storm warnings -- that caused me to write my first book, Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather. The book was published in 2010. We chose the title because we thought it was vital to get the point across that, while we have not conquered the weather, we have unquestionably tamed it. In Warnings I discuss how the once-frequent downburst-related airline crashes have ceased, how hurricanes are forecast with incredible accuracy and how tornado warnings are made. While it is not discussed in the book, I imagine that, with effective warnings, the Great Hurricane of 1938's death toll would probably have been in the double digits, not 800.

Pictures like the ones below (via the Kansas City Star) affect meteorologists greatly.

Whenever one of these tragedies occurs, meteorologists view images like these and wonder about the lives lost and the anguish friends and families of the victims are suffering. Because we want to prevent this to the maximum extent the science will allow, weather science has been teaming up with social science since 2011 to attempt to better communicate the threats so that more people will heed these warnings. I fervently hope it is successful but I am starting to have doubts...

I had thought that smartphone apps would make a tremendous difference in the behavior of people who have received warnings. The apps work well as evidenced by the tweet. It was tweeted during the Iowa tornado outbreak just hours before the Table Rock catastrophe.
With the smartphone apps like AccuWeather's, false alarms are significantly reduced. It keeps track of your location and, as in Ms. Hanley's case, it alerts you if you are moving into danger or if the storms are moving toward your location. No more countywide storm warnings that don't apply to the user's location.

Yet even with the revolutionary step-up in accuracy and specificity of smart phones and television storm warning systems, too often storm warnings are treated like a curiosity and not something to be acted upon. That usually changes if the user "confirms the threat" (in the words of social scientists) such as by looking out the window and seeing a dark cloud. But if the sky appears to be unthreatening, too often a warning is not acted on. I've wondered if that was the issue Thursday.

Based on media reports, literally no one at the lake seemed to be aware of the threat before the boats left land. [Please see addition below] I checked the weather observations at the Branson airport 20 minutes before the sinking and the weather would have been described as "partly cloudy." The satellite image clearly shows there was still sunshine.

The terrain around Table Rock Lake is rolling hills. Unless they were looking, they probably didn't see the gust front/shelf cloud rapidy approaching -- the line of storms was moving southeast at 50 mph -- from the north.
Table Rock Lake
So, I am speculating (please note that word) that sunshine at 6:32pm Thursday cancelled out, in the minds of many, the warning of imminent dangerous weather. 

Even though we have social scientists working with meteorologists, I do not know how we go about ratcheting up the credibility of storm warnings so they are acted upon regardless of how cloudy the sky happens to be when the warning is received. It seems to me that is the key question going forward. Storm warnings are useless unless they are acted upon. Thursday evening demonstrates we still have a lot of work to do.
ADDITION, 9:50PM Saturday:
It turns out my speculation was correct. Some were aware of the warning and it did not cause them to stay off the water. Below are excepts from a just-published article by the Kansas City Star:  

Friday, July 20, 2018

A "Gust Front" Kills Again

I cannot say this strongly enough: Non-meteorologists should never use radar for mission critical purposes. And, yes, this includes law enforcement officials, 
emergency management and others.

While we certainly do not yet have all of the facts, we know the winds behind a "gust front" played a role in yesterday's tragedy on Table Rock Lake in which 17 perished. We also know that a gust front played a major role in the collapse of the stage at the Indianapolis State Fair on August 13, 2011, in which seven were killed and 58 injured. Some of those injuries were catastrophic.

I want to take a moment to review the similarities between the two tragedies to help illustrate why non-meteorologists should never use radar for mission-critical purposes.

The Appearance of a Gust Front
The appearance of the Indianapolis and Table Rock gust fronts were very similar.

Table Rock Lake

As a gust front (a/k/a squall line or shelf cloud) approaches it will usually have an appearance like the one below.
An approaching cloud of that nature means strong, possibly damaging, winds are approaching and that you should get to cover immediately. Note the visibility under the gust front is good. While there are times heavy rains occur immediately after the gust front passes, there is often some amount of time (seconds or minutes) between the gust front and the rain.

Radar Appearance
This is one of many reasons the public should not use radar for mission critical situations. In Indianapolis, the fair officials were "playing meteorologist" and trying to interpret radar to make critical decisions. The issue is that gust fronts can be extremely difficult to correctly interpret.

A thin blue line. What could be dangerous about that?

Table Rock Lake
In this case, you can barely see the blue line. But, it heralded the winds that caused the duck boat to sink.

But, here is the catch. Many gust fronts are harmless. We have one moving toward my home in Wichita right now.

In addition to gust fronts being difficult for the non-meteorologist to interpret, many radar displays smooth them out.
click to enlarge
The Weather Channel's radar presentation (left) smooths out the gust front. RadarScope's (a professional level product) radar presentation (at the same time) shows the gust front well (arrows).

The company from which I retired on March 31, AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions, has clients in the area of Table Rock and provided advance warnings of 70+mph winds yesterday. Commercial weather companies should be used when lives or substantial property is at stake.

While it is fine to use radar to decide whether to mow the lawn,
I cannot say this strongly enough: Non-meteorologists should never use radar for mission critical purposes. And, yes, this includes law enforcement, emergency management and others.


What Is the Hottest Time of Year Where You Live?

In southwest Texas, the hottest time of year is early June. In California? September.
click to enlarge

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Tragedy at Table Rock Lake

Updated at 11:10am CDT Friday
Late Evening Photo of the Search and Rescue Operation at Table Rock Lake
Photo: Springfield "News-Leader"
Seventeen people have been killed and seven injured (two in critical condition) after a boat capsized at Table Rock Lake between 7 and 7:20 Thursday evening. This information is according to the Springfield News-Leader. There were 31 passengers on a "Ride the Ducks" tourist boat. Table Rock Lake is near Branson, Missouri.

Below is a video of conditions on the lake. It shows boats in the high winds and waves. It does not show the sinking.

There is poor contrast because they are shooting through a window. However, at the beginning of the video you can see an image of the cloud base. That is the gust front (see radar image below). That is further confirmed by the fact it is not raining heavily. It appears the video was looking west because of the bright skies (the sun would have been in the W to WNW sky at that time).

The Branson Airport reported a wind gust of 63 mph. When the line went through Springfield (upper part of image), it produced at gust of 74 mph at their airport. A witness said the winds were 80 mph with five foot waves as the line of storms moved across the lake. The first call to 9-1-1 came in at 7:09pm according to a just-concluded news conference. However, the sheriff didn't know whether that was a distress call or whether it was a report of the boat sinking. From the video, you can see the two duck boats were in distress for a while before the sinking occurred.

Below is the type of radar display you see on television. I've circled the general area of the sinking. This was a case where there were strong winds ahead of the heavy rain. The winds were behind what is called a "gust front." It appears as a thin, irregular blue line (arrows). There were also intense winds with the heavy rain (yellow and red) when it arrived which would have decreased visibility to very low values.
click to enlarge
Below is a Doppler wind measurement from the Springfield NWS WSR-88D radar (top). The report of 80 mph winds seems very plausible. The tan tones are generally winds of 65 mph or higher. I've highlighted an area of 78 mph winds.

Below is the satellite image of the area at 7:17pm which is around the time of the sinking. Timing is extrapolated and based on the "Local Storm Reports" from the NWS in Springfield.
All of this information is preliminary but there is little doubt the weather played a role in this tragedy.

This is the severe thunderstorm warning in effect at the time of the sinking. 
The NWS issued a severe thunderstorm warning for Table Rock Lake was issued at least 35minutes before the incident occurred.

The owner of the duck boats is being quoted as saying the storm "came out of nowhere." Actually, a severe thunderstorm watch for the area -- which called for wind gusts of 75 mph (see below) -- was issued at 11:20am. Nearly eight hours before the tragedy.

A severe thunderstorm watch eight hours in advance combined with a severe thunderstorm warning 40 minutes before does not equal a storm that comes out of nowhere.

I have intentionally avoided speculating about blame because neither I, nor anyone else at this point, has all of the facts. That said, this indirect blaming of meteorologists was old a decade ago and is completely inappropriate in this particular situation. 

The Beauty After the Storm

If you scroll down, you'll see images of just before the thunderstorm moved into Wichita about 7pm.

Immediately below are images behind the thunderstorms between 8 and 9pm. The Kansas sky put on quite a show. Hope you enjoy them.

Picturesque Thunderstorms Move Into Wichita

After a day when tornadoes raked Iowa and winds of 80+ mph struck northeast Kansas, I thought I would post a couple of photos of ordinary thunderstorms.

When you hear meteorologists talk about a "rain shaft" below is what one looks like.

And, a photo of the sun low on the horizon peaking through the thunderstorm.

If you are interested, here is what the radar looked like at the time.

So, We Are Upset About Russian 'Interference' While We Intentionally Allow Illegal Aliens to Vote??

According to Justice Department's Rod Rosenstein Friday, the Russians did not change a single vote. Allowing illegal aliens to vote obviously will. I don't get it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Women's Basketball Fan? See You in Wichita in 2022!!

After our hugely successful hosting of the men's NCAA 2018 basketball tournament, Wichita will be hosting the NCAA women's 2022 Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight. 

Make plans to join us!!

Twitter Lights Up: Los Angeles is Having a Thunderstorm

It is amusing to me when Los Angeles has a thunderstorm. Radar from 11:20am PDT.

Below are just a couple of the many tweets.
On a serious note, stay indoors when you hear thunder or see lightning.

This too will pass.

Global Warming: Is There Anything It Can't Do?!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Global Warming: Words or Deeds?

Screen capture from ABC News .
London during President Trump's recent visit
As Al Gore and the Hollywood anti-global warming set continue to fly on their private jets (giving them the highest possible carbon footprints) and while protesters during Donald Trump's recent London trip complained about America's lack of participation in international climate agreements, let's look at what is occurring in the real world: America -- without participating in the climate agreements -- continues to lead the world in decrease in greenhouse gasses.

Take a good look at the graph below. Now, take a second look.
Free enterprise has produced far, far more of a reduction in greenhouse gas than any of the nations in the treaties. It isn't even close.

Currently, we have the lowest rate of extreme poverty in the entire history of the world. We have the lowest level of death by war or violence in world history. The environment gets better by the year. 

It appears to me the choice is words or action. As Glenn Reynolds wrote earlier today,

“Consider this: The United States — the nation that activists constantly decry as not taking the challenge of climate change seriously enough, the nation that allegedly is dilatory in mobilizing its government and national resources to combat a mortal threat to our planet, and the nation that continues to grow in population and national output — also happens to lead the world in reducing carbon emissions. And it’s not close.”

Yes, but if you do it without empowering the political class it doesn’t count, because the whole point of the doomsaying is to empower the political class.

I could not agree more.

The Real Threat is Global Cooling

Over and over and over, this blog has explained (and presented evidence pertaining to) global cooling is the major concern and not global warming.

Is global warming a problem? Absolutely. But, it is not the problem.

Weather and climate scientists have seen this graph many times. I have circled the most important item on the graph.
The graph depicts world temperatures over the last 400,000 years. It reveals periods of global warming and global cooling. The latest period (circled) shows, this time, temperatures have been holding at a high level, which has been a boom for the human race and human civilization.

It is unknown whether the "hold" in recent temperatures at the nearly optimally warm levels is due to global warming, the fact we have an instrumental (as opposed to indirect) record, or some other reason.

Regardless, as the graph indicates, there will be a major global cooling and it could begin at just about any time. And, when it does, it will be catastrophic if mitigation measures are not taken and very bad otherwise.

Here are two recent outstanding (including the quality of the science) pieces regarding the eventual cooling. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.

Monday, July 16, 2018

America's "Titles of Nobility"

An extraordinary article was published in this morning's USA Today that succinctly describes what is so terribly wrong with America's "political class." I urge you to read it in its entirety. Here are excerpts: 

"By custom, we allow our politicians to retain their titles for life. Throughout the 2012 election, Mitt Romney was referred to as 'Governor Romney,' though he had not been in public office for six years," Cooke wrote. "One can only ask, 'Why?' America being a nation of laws and not men, political power is not held in perpetuity, and there is supposed to be no permanent political class."

The article goes on to say: 

In America, if you misunderstand the law, or simply are ignorant of it, you will nonetheless be liable to go to jail or be sued — if you are an ordinary citizen. If you are a government official, you can generally avoid liability in a lawsuit by pleading “qualified immunity,” meaning, in essence, that you misunderstood the law or were ignorant of it, but acted in good faith, a defense that is not available to ordinary citizens.  As a judge or prosecutor it’s even better: you enjoy “absolute immunity,” meaning that in almost every circumstance you can’t be sued at all.
These governmental immunities aren’t in the Constitution, and they’re not the product of statutes passed by Congress. They were invented by judges (themselves government employees) who thought immunity for government employees was a good idea. And government officials almost never face criminal prosecution for their official acts, and on the rare occasions that they do, they are almost never convicted.
When the EPA poisoned the Animas River in Colorado, it rejected claims for damages, and nobody from the EPA went to jail.  A private company under similar circumstances would have faced ruinous losses, and the executives would have risked criminal prosecution. Then-EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy skated.
When I was young, Congress met about six months a year. Many congresspeople came home to their regular jobs when they left office. I can't tell you exactly when all of this changed but I sensed it during the administration of the first President Bush. It got much worse during the Clinton Administration. 

The election of President Trump -- who had never held political office -- was an instinctive reaction to all of this. The Trump supporters (many of whom were holding their noses with one hand as they cast their ballot with the other) knew that our nation (as we have known it) depended on breaking this cycle. Thus, an outsider had to be brought in. 

My solution is that qualified and absolute immunity have to go. Period. Yes, there can be some type of protection for them but bad acts should be prosecuted. 

A Fair Question

Especially since it is now hurricane season and, if anything, the money is more desperately needed for repairs.
Screen capture via Twitter

Joe Bastardi is Worried About an East Coast Hurricane Strike This Year

Here is an article from Joe that, especially, emergency managers may find useful. He believes there is a better than even chance of an East Coast hurricane.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

How Much Rainfall Is Forecast for This Week

click to enlarge
This is the forecast rainfall from now through 7pm CDT next Sunday evening.

A Little Business...

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