Monday, July 22, 2019

"The Right Stuff"

If you have never read Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff, now -- with the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 -- would be the perfect time to do it. There is one caveat based on what we have learned since the book was written: the author was too tough on the late Gus Grissom. The Kansas Cosmosphere raised Grissom's sunken capsule and they learned that Grissom's account of the hatch "just blowing" was true. Regardless, the book is terrific.

And, my all-time favorite compliment about my book, Warnings, was when it was favorably compared to The Right Stuff by critic Tom Fuller. So, read TRS and then read Warnings and you'll end your summer with two great books!

Sunday, July 21, 2019

How Meteorologists Saved Apollo 11

A fascinating story I was not aware of. From the Capital Weather Gang.

Tornado Risk Later Today

According to the NWS's Storm Prediction Center, there is a significant risk of tornadoes in Kansas late this afternoon (the brown area) and, more likely, early this evening. This includes Topeka, Manhattan, Salina, Abilene and Peabody.

Please keep an eye on the weather in these areas, especially after 2pm.

Sunday Fun: What Medicine Does a Thunderstorm With a Summer Cold Take?

Answer: Cumulonimbus Decongestus. [a meteorologist joke]

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Why Weather Forecasts Should Be Taken Seriously

This morning, more than 750,000 people in two states are without electricity as a result of last night's storms. It may be days before all of them have electricity again (keep in mind that one customer = 3.5 people).

Addition: Some of yesterday's damage.

Resume original posting:
On this blog and elsewhere yesterday, meteorologists were urging people to prepare.

While we cannot prevent the damage storms like this create, we can help people mitigate their effects. I believe you'll agree the above was good advice in view of the extensive damage created. 

Please take weather forecasts and corresponding recommendations seriously. 

Friday, July 19, 2019

Unfortunately, The Derecho Forecast Was Correct

Including the forecast of widespread power failures. About 72,000 customers are without power.
That is about 250,000 people. It will be quite a while before they all have power again.

Dangerous Weather Forecast For the Upper Midwest

Tornadoes and a derecho -- which is a long-lived, destructive windstorm -- are forecast for the Upper Midwest.

Tornado Risk
The significant threshold is the brown, 5%, area. The 15% is a high risk of tornadoes. The hatched area is where violent tornadoes are forecast to occur.

Damaging Thunderstorm Winds
On this map, the significant threshold is the yellow (15%). The peak probability is 45%, which is high risk of damaging winds of more than 60 mph. The hatched area is where thunderstorm winds gusts of more than 75mph are forecast to occur.

Recommended Actions
  • In this situation, the tornadoes and thunderstorms will move quickly. So, you will need to begin monitoring the weather and gathering children and friends/relatives who need assistance getting to shelter when a tornado or severe thunderstorm watch is issued. 
  • Power failures are likely and some could last an extended period of time. Charge your phone and computer throughout the day but take then off the charger before the storms arrive. 
  • Get some extra cash from the ATM and fill your fuel tank (especially if you have an EV).
  • Make sure your shelter area is ready for people. 
  • Remember to wear shoes into shelter. 

Think About FaceApp: Is This Really a Good Idea??

Hat Tip: Instapundit.
Read this cautionary tale from Marketwatch here. Especially given the ability to edit photos in a nearly seamless way, I think anyone who wants to have a future in public service or management would be crazy to use this app.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The National Weather Service To Further Complicate Flood Warnings In the Name of Simplification

I can hardly believe what I just read: the National Weather Service (NWS) is going to extend its awful 'impact-based' tornado warning concept to its flash flood warnings. There is so much wrong with this, I hardly know where to begin.

Before we go further, I am basing what I am writing about the new flash flood warnings on NBC News' and The Washington Post's coverage of this announcement.

"Impact-Based" (paraphrasing: 'you will die if not in shelter') tornado warnings (IBW) were/are designed to scare people into taking action (since their introduction, they've toned down the language just a bit). The motivation for IBW was the National Weather Service's failure to grasp what actually went wrong in the Joplin Tornado catastrophe. In the wake of the worst death toll in more than sixty years, the worst of the tornado warning era, the NWS issued a highly flawed report (and that characterization is giving them the benefit of the doubt) about the disaster which has misguided them ever since. What really went wrong in Joplin was the subject of my second book.

With IBW, the NWS went from one type of tornado warning to three.
  • 'Ordinary' tornado warnings 
  • Particularly dangerous tornado warnings
  • Tornado emergency (the 'you will die'-type)
The problem is that we did not, and still do not, have the scientific skill to do these with any consistent quality. Plus, in may opinion, all tornado warnings are emergencies and should be treated accordingly. By creating unreliable sub-types of tornado warnings, it is possible we are training people to, at their peril, ignore 'ordinary' tornado warnings. 

And, as some of us predicted, with the added complexity, NWS tornado warnings have become less accurate.

So, with the new flash flood warnings, a lot is going to change. We will have,
  • 'Ordinary' or 'base' flash flood warnings. 
  • 'Considerable' flash flooding.
  • 'Catastrophic' flash flooding. 
Keep in mind, these are on top of areal flood warnings, flood warnings, arroyo flood warnings, urban and small stream flood warnings, et cetera. 

As NBC News reported, 

The impact-based warnings will fall into three categories: base, considerable and catastrophic. The latter two, considerable and catastrophic, which warn of floodwaters that could severely impact lives and property, will be the approximately 20 percent of warnings that the NWS will push out to people’s phones.

Question #1: if the flooding isn't expected to affect property or lives, why is a flash flood warning being issued in the first place? This is the root problem: the NWS issues way too many flood warnings under too many classifications (no one knows what an 'areal' flood warning is). And, this problem is exaggerated by the fact there is little or no consistency in warning thresholds between NWS offices when it comes to tornado or flash flood warnings. For example, what prompts the Springfield NWS office to issue a tornado warning is quite different from what prompts the Wichita office. And, while there should be, there are no "best practices" or quality standards.  

So, to 'fix' the "overwarning" and confusion issues, the NWS's plan is that only the "considerable" and "catastrophic" flash flood warnings will be pushed out to our smartphones under the, often flawed, FCC's WEA ("wireless emergency alerts") system. This is doubling down on failure rather than fixing the root problem. 
Question #2: Given it has taken decades to educate the public on the difference between watches and warnings, how does the NWS possibly hope to immediately educate people on the difference between these new types of warnings? Time is of the essence given the life-threatening nature of flash floods.

The ultimate irony is that the NWS is doing this under the rubric of "warning simplification" and it will begin in less than 90 days. 

I'd love to be able to end this piece on some type of "up note" but I don't have one. The NWS is an organization with increasingly serious issues that seems to have lost its way. 

The Heatwave Will Break Soon

click to enlarge
I'm happy to report the heat wave of 2019 will break soon.