Friday, May 31, 2019

The Wichita River Festival Opens This Evening

One of the festival's hot air balloons going over my
house a few minutes ago



The Wichita River Festival opens this evening with balloons, the Twilight Pops Concert and fireworks. Come and join us!

Seven-Day Rainfall Forecast

While not the torrential rains we've experienced, this is far more rain than we would like to have at this point.
Statistically, this is the wettest time of year in the central Great Plains, so this would not be unusual. However, because of the recent extreme rains this could cause additional problems.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

A Back of the Envelope Guess As to How Many Lives Were Saved Tuesday by Kansas' Tornado Warnings

This was late Monday evening in Dayton, Ohio.
In darkness, a rare (~1% of all tornadoes), violent EF-4 tornado was approaching densely populated Dayton. Yet, numerous people were calling the station to complain about missing The Bachelorette. Finally, a television meteorologist gave them a piece of his mind.

With the excellent warnings (I was live-tweeting and watching the Dayton TV coverage), the death toll was zero.

Fast forward about 19 hours...
You'll recall that I wrote a book about the failure of the warning system during the Joplin Tornado .. a storm that killed 161 people. There were many similarities in the Joplin Tornado and Tuesday's Northeast Kansas Tornado.
  • Both were 1-mile wide at times.
  • Both were rain-wrapped and their approach could not be seen.
  • Both were in May (5 calendar days apart) about the same time of day. 
  • Both originated in Kansas. 
But, there is one huge difference: The warning system failed in Joplin while it worked beautifully (as far as I know) in northeast Kansas. The NWS issued great warnings and the broadcast meteorologists in Topeka and Kansas City emphasized that the tornado was rain-wrapped and invisible and to not even attempt to go outside and try to see it and instead to take cover. Excellent advice! 

According to NIST, 7,500 residences were affected by the Joplin Tornado. According to Dr. Stephen Strader, an expert in the field, 71,000 21,000 residences were potentially affected by the Kansas
tornado. It is number, but  too soon to know the exactI am sure it is considerably smaller. Since the number of potential residents affected by the Kansas storm was 10 times the Joplin (JLN) number, for this "back of the envelope" purpose, let's call them about the same. New: Actually, even with 21,000, it is still considerably more than Joplin although I think the 21,000 will end up much higher than the actual number. 

The JLN Tornado was rated by the NWS as EF-5. However, NIST's detailed engineering study rated it an EF-4. The Kansas Tornado is rated EF-4. I believe the Joplin storm was the stronger of the two but they were in the same general intensity ballpark and they were about the same size.

Here is how I see things: There were zero deaths in the (nighttime, extremely dangerous) Dayton storm. There were zero deaths in the Kansas storm. There were 161 in Joplin. Now, that is not an apples-to-apples comparison. The Joplin Tornado was stronger and likely will have affected more people (more apartments in an urban area) and businesses than either of Monday's and Tuesday's storms when the final numbers are in. 

But, that said, what can account for 161 deaths versus zero? In my opinion, it was the warning system's success in Dayton and Kansas and its failure in Joplin. 

A emergency management friend called me right after the JLN tornado and told me that their GIS-program used to estimate deaths (so as to size the immediate response) predicted about 35-40 deaths in Joplin. To be very conservative, let's take that number up to 60. That would point to about 100 Joplin deaths caused by the failure of the warning system. 

While there is always an element of good fortune with zero deaths in an EF-4, we might be able to characterize it this way: Absent any warning whatsoever, up to 100 people might have been killed by Tuesday's tornado. While these are extremely tentative numbers, there are dozens, if not 100, Kansans walking the earth today because of weather science. Yes, their homes or businesses may have been destroyed. But, the are alive!

And, there is one group that overwhelming deserves their thanks: weather science. 

So, thank you to the National Weather Service, television and radio meteorologists and meteorologists employed by commercial weather companies.
The photo is from LocoPilot at "Trainorders.com."
It is of a mangled crossing on the BNSF Railway between
Lawrence and Eudora, Kansas. The fact there is
no derailed train is likely due to the meteorologists
at AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions. 
The tornado warning system is a Nobel Prize-worthy achievement. It has cut the death rates from tornadoes by more than 95%. So, please drop your nearest meteorologist a thank you note and stop complaining when they interrupt your program on television.

Note to Congress and the Trump Administration: The tornado warning system is a jewel that should only be strengthened and never tampered with. About 15-20 gap-filler radars would be an excellent start. 

Two-Week Rainfall Totals

The great tornado and rainfall siege began two weeks ago tomorrow (Friday). Here are the two-week rainfalls over the affected areas as of this morning.
click to enlarge
There were areas in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma that received between 15 and 20" with point amounts likely higher. Of course, record flooding continues in many areas.

While nothing like the rainfalls of the last two weeks is forecasted by anyone of which I am aware, here is the NWS's forecasted rainfall for the next two weeks.

Addition: I mentioned that point amounts were higher. Take a look at some of these totals.
All of these are in southern #Kansas. 

Storm Tourism Controversy, Again

Photo of violent tornado I took while chasing May 1, 2018
near Tescott, Kansas.
As previously mentioned, two vans belonging to Silver Lining Tours were overturned by a satellite tornado as the guests were watching the huge EF-4 tornado in the Lawrence, Kansas, area Tuesday. There were minor injuries.
Via Facebook
To my knowledge, this is the first incident of its nature in the history of storm tourism. Roger Hill is conservative and, if I wanted to take a tornado tour, I would not hesitate to book one of his (or any of the other responsible tour operators).

As expected, this brought out the usual complaints that storm tourism and storm chasing should be outlawed and that it is somehow unethical. Here is just one.

Let's see: Fewer than 1,000 people climb Mt. Everest in a given year. Eleven have died in just the last two weeks. "Putting people's lives in danger for a buck." A storm tour costs a tiny fraction of scaling Everest.

There are thousands of yearly storm chasers/tourists, not counting researchers. How many have died?
2019: Zero
2018: Zero
2017: Zero
2016: Zero
2015: Zero
2014: Zero
2013: 1 (3 researchers died)
2012: Zero
2011: Unclear. No known chasers died. There are rumors 2 locals died near Tuscaloosa.
2010: Zero
2009 and before: Zero

So, with numbers in just the past decade far in excess of 20,000, the most fatalities due to being struck by a tornado is 3. The researchers, with full knowledge, put themselves in extreme jeopardy to place research "pods" in the path.

My point is that storm tourism is extremely safe when compared to some of these other sports.
My first comment about blocking the roads into Linwood: When a 1-mile wide EF-4 is headed toward your community the streets should be empty! No one should be in a car during a tornado warning.

Second, do marathons block streets? Yes. Do marathons kill people? Yes.
The statistics show storm chasing is far safer than marathons, climbing Mt. Everest or SCUBA diving. Should we outlaw those?

I believe that one source of misunderstanding about the relative danger of storm tourism is the misunderstanding by many in the public that tornadoes are caprious. They are not. With the combination of current meteorological science and good Doppler radar coverage we pretty much know where the tornadoes are and where they are going to be. Regardless, to be sure, this storm chaser ( @usweatherexpert) always reports important storm conditions to other meteorologists and the public on Twitter via AAwx (where AA = the state abbreviation).

I do agree that what we call "the locals" can be a problem. I have had locals recognize what I was doing (in the middle of nowhere) and they began following wherever I drove. One of them parked partly blocking one lane of the highway. I'm not saying the pros don't do these things occasionally but the correct way to handle it is to give traffic citations to them.

Now, a final point. I have a philosophical problem with person X telling person Y how to live their lives (unless person Y endangers person Z). America is much less free than it was when I was growing up on the 50's and 60's. A little of that is to the good; most of it is bad. When I was growing up, one did not need a license to braid hair, for example. Tornado chasing, by helping researchers confirm the value of Doppler radar, by helping improve storm warnings, by confirming whether weather conditions agree with the storm warning or forecast, has done tremendous good. Far more than I would have guessed that evening in 1972.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Great 2019 Siege of Heavy Rain and Tornadoes Is Over

While there will certainly be more tornadoes and more flash floods in 2019 (like there are every year), the great siege of 2019 is over tonight.  

The low pressure system and quasi-stationary front that triggered all of this vast destruction have finally de-coupled and moved away. But, not before untold billions in damage and destruction.

There are many aspects of this unusual event that deserve comment.

The Forecast:
The most amazing thing is that this highly unusual event was forecast well in advance on this blog and elsewhere.
The first extended forecast of high numbers of tornadoes, including violent tornadoes, was published May 12 here. Five days before the first of the tornadoes. More on the forecast of flooding, published May 17, here. I believe you'll agree they were remarkable forecasts five days before all this began..  Take a look at the red areas above and compare it to the tornado map (ending this morning).
Not only were the high numbers in the Great Plains forecast, note the extension through Illinois, Indiana and western Ohio.

Creating Safety in Chaos

This forecast was only possible through the amazing progress in meteorological science. And, the warnings saved dozens and dozens of lives. Think about it: 207 tornadoes (more occurred today), including four in four densely populated metropolitan areas, and just seven lives lost. Seven. While each is a tragedy to their friends and families, that is a spectacularly low number.

And, this time, our work seems to be appreciated and understood. In addition to dozens of ordinary people, this showed up in my Twitter feed this morning.
Thank you to everyone who thanked meteorologists!!

Storm Chasing
Why do I, and others, chase storms? One is to help with the warning process.

Yesterday, Kathleen and I chased in eastern Kansas. I took the photo below and sent it out via Twitter (tagged: KSwx so meteorologists would see it).
The photo was taken just before the tornado tightened the rotation and produced this major, EF-4 (upper 1.5% in intensity), tornado. The location is noted on the map below. I'm hoping it contributed to the excellent warnings yesterday.
We stopped the chase south of Lawrence without seeing the tornado directly. It was completely surrounded by rain ("rain-wrapped") and invisible. Plus, tornadoes and cities do not mix from a chasing point of view: it is not safe and we should not be there clogging traffic. So, we moved southwest to an area of storms that was developing near Wichita. I did get to hear the coverage on WIBW-AM and KMBZ-FM, the latter with my friend, Bryan Busby. Fantastic job!


But, I have to admit I have other reasons for chasing. I love watching the weather and the beauty of the Great Plains. I took the photo below in the Flint Hills north of Cassoday looking northwest at a slowly rotating wall cloud.

There were many other chasers in the area. The gentleman below was part of two large vans full of meteorologists -- from Holland.

A few minutes later, as the storm moved east, the sun lit up part of the storm.

Minutes later, there was nearly continuous lightning.
It was an exhausting day but one that was professionally satisfying. By that I mean that it helps me be a better meteorologist to occasionally watch the weather firsthand and to hear/watch others cover it.

Some find beauty in Mt. Everest or at the bottom of the ocean. I find it in the Kansas sky.

Thank You

I just saw this:
Thank you so much! If you would like to follow storm coverage and my take on other topics at Twitter, just follow @usweatherexpert. 



No, Tornadoes Are Not Increasing Due to Global Warming Or Any Other Reason

Because, according to the national media, everything is caused by global warming, here are two more articles in the last 24 hours lamely trying to tie tornadoes to global warming. They are here and here. You'll find lots of weasel words like "consistent with" but they all avoid one very inconvenient truth. The number of strong tornadoes -- the type that kill people -- are dropping.
So, if the "background odds" are changed by global warming, the background odds are making big tornadoes less likely 

Remember: if global warming isn't an extreme crisis, the research dollars drop.

Today's Tornado Risk

There are two areas of tornado risk today. One is the Middle Atlantic region including New York, Washington, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

The other is an enhanced tornado risk from Little Rock and the southern Ozarks through Dallas-Ft. Worth. The hatching indicates that strong tornadoes are forecast to occur.

This is the last day of the tornado and flood siege! I'll have more later today.

One of the Most Important Days in the History of Science: 100 Years Ago Today

Today is the 100th anniversary of the experiment that proved Einstein's Theory of Relativity. 

There is a brief, and very readable, explanation here. Here is the most important paragraph (attention people in the field of climate):

Here we might also note, in the field of epistemology Einstein’s theory of general relativity as the “perfect theory” and Eddington’s verifiability test, have become the gold standard of what Karl Popper termed “conjectures and refutations” as the basis of advancement in our knowledge of the universe and its working. How do we know what is scientifically true, and Popper indicated “by saying that the criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability” (italics given).

The word "consensus" does not appear. 

A Way Out of the Antibiotic Crisis?

A fascinating read, here. The answer may be Civil War era herbs.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Another Day of Heartbreaking Tornado Damage

As of 11pm, there are no reports of deaths in another day of tornadoes in densely populated areas. People literally owe their lives to meteorologists. 


Today was a day of multiple tornadoes over multiple states. Kansas was the hardest hit with two long-track tornadoes. You can scroll down if you wish to view some of the forecasts.
Red triangles = tornado reports
The more serious of the two occurred in northeast Kansas and northwest Missouri.

Kathleen and I chased the northeast Kansas tornado and, based on what we were hearing from the Topeka radio station to which we were listening, the field reports were helpful to other meteorologists. For example, I took, tagged and tweeted this funnel cloud photo (below) when the rotation was between Lyndon and Overbrook (lower left on map, above).

Like the Joplin Tornado, this tornado was rain-wrapped and nearly impossible to see. Here is what rain curtain containing the tornado looked like when it was near Lawrence. Photo taken looking north northeast.

Here is the tornado a few minutes later looking west. I added an arrow to denote the inflow area
Via Twitter
and I circled the (very low contrast) tornado. Fortunately, people had faith in the television weather coverage and the warnings from the NWS and took shelter even though they could not see it coming.

I listened to my friend Bryan Busby covering the weather on KMBZ-FM out of Kansas City and he was excellent. So was the meteorologist on WIBW in Topeka. I believe his name is Dave Holliday.

Like most tornadoes, this one had its share of oddities.


I'll have more tomorrow, including some spectacular photos of a storm over the Flint Hills.

For Additional Severe Weather Information...

..I expect to tornado chase this afternoon so that means there will be only intermittent coverage on the blog. To get additional updates, follow me on Twitter at:

@usweatherexpert 

1:55pm CDT Severe Weather Threat Update

A tornado watch has been issued for a large area from Ohio to New Jersey.
I urge people in this region to keep up with the latest weather information! Large hail is also a very significant threat. 

2:45pm EDT radar shows thunderstorms developing rapidly across this area. The red polygons on this map are severe thunderstorm warnings.


In the Midwest, I believe the outlook below from SPC is quite good. However, later data indicates the higher threat has enlarged farther south into north central Oklahoma. So, I have added red
stripes to indicate where I believe scattered supercell thunderstorms with very large hail and, perhaps, destructive tornadoes could occur as the dry line is strengthening significantly. This includes Wichita, Emporia, Salina and Manhattan. The dry line extends from Russell, Kansas, to Alva, OK and is moving east. Thunderstorms will form in the next couple of hours along and east of that line.


Note: I'm storm chasing the rest of the day. Please follow me on Twitter @usweatherexpert. 

UPDATE: 1:556PM. Just as I pushed the "publish" button, SPC issued a second tornado watch. This is for Kansas and Missouri and includes Kansas City.
Note: NWS SPC says there is a "high" risk of tornadoes in this area and a "moderate" risk of strong tornadoes.

Major Tornado Risk This Afternoon and Overnight

I am extremely worried about tornadoes this afternoon and tonight. Let's break down the threats:
Brown (5%) is the significant tornado risk. There are two areas at risk.

One in the Upper Ohio River Valley from Ohio to Pennsylvania and New Jersey. This includes Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Newark.

The second is in the Midwest. The yellow area is 10% and the red is a high 15%. Hatching means that violent tornadoes are possible. This includes Kansas City, Topeka, and St. Joseph. The NWS Storm Prediction Center made this map and I agree with one exception. I would have brought the hatching down to Wichita. Giant hail is possible in the tornado threat areas along and north of the Missouri River.

What Should I Do Now?
Below are safety suggestions you can implement now, before the storms begin:
  • Because of the higher than average overnight tornado risk, I strongly recommend downloading both the AccuWeather app (scroll down to bottom of page). Be sure to allow location services. 
  • Making sure you have turned the emergency notification feature (ENF) your smartphone. Easy instructions are below. 
  • If you are in the threat area, put your (fully charged!) smartphone with the AW App and the ENF turned on next to your bed! Turn on your weather radio. You want to be awakened if a tornado warning is issued. 
  • Insure your PC and phone are fully charged but take them off the charger before lightning arrives.
  • Put any family heirlooms (scrapbooks, etc.) into your shelter area now. 
  • Have a flashlight (check the batteries), a couple bottles of water and diapers in your shelter area. Take your cell phone into shelter with you. 
  • Always wear shoes into your shelter. 
Here is how to turn your smartphone into a tornado alarm. The AccuWeather App and the FCC's WEA ENF are a good combination. On an iPhone, go to "Settings" (the "gear" icon) and then choose notifications (arrow).

Once you have tapped Notifications, scroll down to the bottom and turn on Emergency Alerts.
While not as fast or as location-specific as NWS warnings provided by the AccuWeather App, the WEA tones will wake you up at night if the phone is next to your bed and the volume is turned up. So, you want both. Because WEA only triggers for tornado and flash flood warnings you don't have the false alarm problem that you have with many NOAA Weather Radios. Please make sure family and friends have done this.

Good News From Dayton!

The Dayton area damage was as bad as expected but there is wonderful news this morning: No deaths! 

Think about that: A violent tornado that struck after 10pm on a holiday weekend evening produced 40 injuries but no fatalities. Without the tornado warning system, a storm of this nature would have killed scores. Meteorologists have been working insane hours under extreme stress the last two weeks. If you know one, thank them. Or, send them a note on Twitter. 
Dayton Daily News

Monday, May 27, 2019

Two Areas of Violent Weather

11:00pm CDT
Multiple, violent tornadoes have occurred in Ohio this evening and tonight after an afternoon and evening of tornadoes in Indiana and Illinois.

There is a second area of sever thunderstorms and one area of tornadoes in Nebraska and far northern Kansas.

THIS WILL BE THE END OF MY COVERAGE FOR TONIGHT

Violent Tornadoes in the Dayton Area

It has been a day with numerous tornadoes in Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, Colorado and Nebraska. As of this time, the worst appears to have been in the Dayton Metro area. Based on radar and ground reports, considerable damage has occurred and there are injuries.
The arrows denote the paths of the two tornadoes as of 11:39pm EDT. The more southern tornado, so far, is the one with the most damage reports.

Addition 12:05a EDT.

This is a map of the rotation path, which equals the approximate tornado path, of the first of the two Dayton-area tornadoes. This was the stronger of the two.

Attention: Managers in the Field of Weather Forecasting

[If you aren't interested in some of the "inside baseball" aspects of 
weather forecasting, please skip this posting.]

Surface Chart from a 1974 Tornado Outbreak,
I did hand analysis on it, which is why I kept it.
This posting is not fun to write but it is important. Some caution signs are appearing in the fields of weather forecasting and storm warnings. I suspect I know why: 1) my generation of meteorologists, with our deep experiences during a wide variety of weather conditions have largely retired, 2) we are allowing young forecasters to get away with forecasting using techniques that make them "comfortable" rather than by using techniques proven to yield superior results. In this essay, I am talking about plotting surface weather maps (there are other techniques I could cite).

Two items from the last seven days highlight this issue facing weather science.
  • My superior heavy rain forecast earlier this week. I cite this forecast not to brag but to illustrate my point. The NWS forecast of the heavy rain is below. It was too far south. To compare the accuracy of the two, go here. Plotting surface charts that morning demonstrated the models (often favored by young meteorologists) had the crucial front, which would anchor the rain in one area, too far south. Please note that, at the time, I cited "non-model techniques," among them the hand analysis as the reasons for the differing forecast. This was a vital example as severe flooding resulted.
  • An article in the Palm Beach Post indicating the NWS's National Hurricane Center is going to cut back on hand analysis. Why? This year, the hurricane center will hand plot only hurricanes that could affect land — a break from decades of tradition but a compromise for younger forecasters more comfortable with computers and less inclined to spend time with colored pencils and compasses. “It’s a bit of a generational gap,” Brennan said. “There are some people who probably would like to get rid of the paper map entirely, and some who would like to use it all the time.”
To the people currently managing meteorologists, two questions: 
  1. How comfortable would you be with a physician, who during a medical crisis, didn't use the very best techniques because he or she was "uncomfortable" with them? 
  2. During an especially high traffic period with thunderstorms over northern Illinois, would you want to be a passenger on a plane if a Chicago air traffic controller was not using the best techniques because he or she was "uncomfortable" or "inexperienced" with them?
During periods of extreme flash floods and rapidly developing, violent tornadoes as we have had the last ten days, lives depend on meteorologists using the very best techniques so as to produce the best results. Just as the we expect doctors and air traffic control to do their very best to preserve our lives, the public should expect nothing less of us. 

While I am now retired, I assure you that I dealt with this, over and over, when working with young meteorologists. The root problem is most colleges teaching meteorology do not emphasize hand analysis even though it is vital. In fact, most of the people teaching students to forecast have never done forecasting for a career (i.e., the reason they got their paycheck). 

Supervising meteorologists in a way that maximizes the creation -- every time --  of the most accurate and timely forecasts and warnings is what managerial meteorologists are paid to do. I agree teaching and holding your team members accountable can be exhausting and it certainly doesn't make you popular. But, that is why you are a manager. 

If we want to reverse the unfortunate accuracy trends in some aspects of severe storm forecasts and warnings, we have to do a better job of teaching, coaching and guiding. And, holding people accountable for providing the best forecasts and warnings in a timely manner. 

Tornado Watch: Eastern Iowa, Northern Illinois and NW Indiana

The area outlined area, which includes Chicago and its suburbs, has a "high" risk of tornadoes and a "moderate" risk of strong tornadoes.

As of 1:36pm, I don't like the look of the intensifying storm west of Joliet.
Please keep an eye on the weather throughout the tornado watch area!

Heads Up: Eastern Iowa, Northern Illinois and Northwest Indiana

Because of the holiday, I am going to cover the tornado threat 
in the headlined area. 

There is a serious threat of tornadoes in the outlined area. This includes Chicagoland. Please make sure your family and friends are aware. With people being outdoors, etc., the word may to get out as fast as usual. 

At 1:28pm, there are already tornado warnings in SE Iowa with increasing thunderstorms throughout this area.
When the tornado watch is issued, I will post it.