Monday, February 24, 2020

6:45pm Monday: Major Winter Storm Developing

These snowfall amounts, from AccuWeather, look reasonable to me.
Major snows are expected in both Chicagoland (especially in the southern suburbs) and Detroit (especially in the northern suburbs). The snow should begin in Quincy around 8am and Chicago around midday.

Meanwhile, farther west, rare snow squall warnings are in effect in southwest Kansas.
Winds are gusting to 40 mph with very low visibility in heavy snow.

This map, which shows forecast snow through 7pm Tuesday, shows the start of the Midwest winter storm in Missouri and Illinois. Farther west, across Kansas and Nebraska, snow is forecast to forecast in higher amounts than we thought 24 hours ago. Please note that some quick accumulations of several inches (even more in the center of Kansas) may occur tonight through Tuesday evening.

In Wichita, I wouldn't be surprised to receive 1-4 inches of snow.

Important Rains For the 2020 Winter Wheat Crop

Soaking rains fell over most of the primary winter wheat areas of Kansas and far northern Oklahoma during the last 48 hours ending at 11am.
The wheat, at this point, should be very good shape as Kansas has avoided extreme cold this winter and precipitation has been timely and plentiful. You may click on the map to enlarge.

Winter Storm For the Midwest and Great Lakes

I'm surprised that winter storm watches and warnings are not already out; but here is a map from AccuWeather that shows the timing of a signifiant winter storm that will develop tonight.

This is a first approximation of snowfalls with this storm.

Katherine Johnson, Rest in Peace

The great Katherine Johnson passed away at the age of 102 this morning.
She gained long overdue fame from the movie Hidden Figures but did so much more in her life. Katherine was one of three black girls to integrate West Virginia's schools and set academic records. In 1952, she learned about what would become NASA. Her full biography is here.

In 2015, at age 97, President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

She lived a full, wonderful life. Rest in pace, Katherine!

Agree With This 100%

This was recently sent to me. Agree 100%. 

Saturday, February 22, 2020

After 9 Years, Tornado Tracks Still Visible

click to enlarge
Even though it will be nine full years on April 26, two of the tracks of the violent tornadoes in Alabama are still visible from space. The first is the Tuscaloosa (TCL) to Birmingham (BHM) track.
The second, at upper left, is the Reform to Cordova tornado track.

That these tracks are still visible is testament to the violence of the storms that day, April 26, 2011.

Hat tip: Kevin Scharfenberg

Friday, February 21, 2020

NWS Takes a Half-Step Toward Better Atmospheric Modeling

Sunday, I wrote about issues facing the National Weather Service pertaining to its computer modeling

Today, the NWS announced it is going to triple its computing capability. However, that increase is less than a third of what has been recommended.

But, my concern is they have the cart before the horse. Before buying new computer power, however welcome that is, they should have decided what is the future of their modeling program. In other words, what type of models do they wish to run?  That is still very much up in the air.

NOAA's modeling has two other major issues:
  • The headquarters models treat atmospheric modeling primarily as a physics challenge rather than as furnishing great guidance to the forecasting community. Their recent switch to the FV3 was not an guidance improvement but the modelers thought it was a more modern model. Poor reasoning. 
  • The speed of the models count. There are demands on mesoscale modeling to handle tornadoes, flash floods, ice storms, etc. There are rumors (I emphasize rumors) that one of the new models is great but takes twice as long to run. The forecaster community must be included in these decisions. Model resolution must be balanced against speed. 
Still, it is nice to have two postings in a row that point to improvements in the National Weather Service. 

Thursday, February 20, 2020

A Most Welcome Improvement to the NWS/FCC's WEA Warning System

With numerous good reasons on multiple occasions, I have been very critical of the WEA smartphone storm warning system. My most recent posting was in August. WEA is a program of the National Weather Service (NWS) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
My primary objections is that it duplicates free services already available that are much more location-specific. As the August article demonstrated, the false alarm rate with the WEA alerts are huge.

I am happy to report they are making one improvement that I really like.
The NWS is going to categorize flash flood warnings by severity and only the top two levels will trigger WEA. That will cut down on the high level of unnecessary false alarms such as the one August 8, 2019, in south central Kansas. Good job, NWS and FCC.

There are rumors floating around that they are going to add severe thunderstorm warnings to the WEA alerts. That is a terrible idea and it will kill WEA just like the severe thunderstorm warnings have killed NOAA Weather Radio -- no one wants to be awaked at 2:30 am because of a warning of 1" hail that, statistically, is likely a false alarm anyway.

If the NWS and FCC are determined to add severe thunderstorm warnings, I would urge them to set a minimum of 75 mph winds and/or hail of 3" in diameter or larger. Personally, I believe the severe entire thunderstorm warning program is something that should be completely re-evaluated as part of my proposed reorganization of the National Weather Service.

In the meantime, good job on the changes in flash flood warnings for WEA.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

9:45am Wednesday Snow Update

Forecast hasn't changed much (see below).
Note the small dot of 4" amounts near Dodge City. It could be a bit farther east based on some late data. Denver will receive 1-2" and Wichita 1 to 3 inches.

Radar 9:38am.

Some Housekeeping....

....this blog is Copyright 2020, Mike Smith Enterprises, LLC.

The photos are my own, licensed from iStock photos, or (with credit) third parties under Fair Use for news. Those are credited to the photographer.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Snow: Front Range to Central Plains

Above is AccuWeather's forecast for the next weather system to affect the central United States. There could be some isolated 3 inch amounts perhaps as far east as Hays or LaCrosse, Kansas.

For my readers in the Wichita area, I'm expecting 1 to 2 inches.

Yes, Prudent Planning is Vital

I agree with the sentiment expressed in this Wall Street Journal headline:
I also contend that, with the 2020 tornado and then hurricane seasons rapidly approaching, it is important to also plan for emergencies.
Warnings tells the upbeat, true story of how the tornado and hurricane warning systems came to be and the people who built them.

When the Sirens Were Silent is the story of how the warning system failed the people of Joplin, resulting in 161 deaths. It also tells how you can protect yourself whether at home, at work or at school.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

A Way Forward For the National Weather Service

While I have great admiration for the National Weather Service, the agency is dealing with serious issues with few signs of resolution. Dr. Cliff Mass published an incisive column about one of its issues, specifically, how it is falling farther and farther behind in atmospheric modeling.

But, while weather modeling is vital, it is hardly the only serious issue with which the NWS is struggling.
  • It's weather radars were designed in the 1980's and installed in the early to middle 1990's. While they have been upgraded several times, they will not last forever. There is no real plan for their replacement. The proposals to use phased-array radar will, when it comes to tornado detection, be a step backward due to its poor resolution. 
  • It has been evident for more than twenty years that gap-filler radars are needed, at least 20 in number. The NWS has done little or nothing to acquire and install them. 
  • The promised storm warning accuracy increases from various technologies (to cite one example, here) do not appear to have panned out. In fact, tornado warning accuracy has regressed and a new version has significant issues
  • The NWS has been dragging its feat on acquiring new types of data that are essential if we are to improve storm forecasting. 
  • Instead of fixing these issues and focusing on its core mission of storm warnings and forecasts, the NWS is 'reorganizing' itself to focus on decision support services, which -- in some cases -- is corporate welfare. 
I could go on but you get the idea. I have given a great deal of thought to the future of the National Weather Service.

It is time to face facts: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the parent agency of the National Weather Service, is failing in its management of public-sector weather in our nation. The NWS lacks a genuine vision for becoming the world's best public meteorological agency.

There seems to be no appetite in Washington to get to the root of the problem. The "ocean" side of NOAA and its constituency has far more clout than the atmosphere/weather side, even in this era of global warming concern. The first administrator of NOAA (1970-74) is the only administrator with a meteorological background in the half-century of the agency's history. The recent nominee of the Trump Administration failed because he had a weather background rather than one in fisheries or ocean enterprise.

Congress, in a rare bi-partisan manner, is more than willing to help but is not getting the guidance it needs from the agency and I doubt it will ever get that guidance because of the NWS being NOAA's figurative stepchild.

The current situation will never lead to the National Weather Service being first-in-class. So, I offer this unsolicited advice to both the Trump Administration and Congress.

The U.S. needs to do two things:

1. Split off the NWS from NOAA into an independent agency. It is time to concede NOAA, which was a good idea, needs a divorce.

2. As a Reagan conservative, I hate proposing more government. But, we desperately need a National Disaster Review Board (NDRB). Details of this proposal are here and here. The NLRB would also be tasked with verifying NWS forecasts and, especially, storm warnings. The people issuing the warnings should not be the people doing quality control evaluations.

There is a much better chance of the independent NWS striving to be best in class with the necessary tools (better models, gap-filler radars, etc.) and other essentials as an independent agency. If it does not, the NDRB will be holding its heat to the fire as the NTSB does with aviation and transportation.

Sunday Feature: The Best Christmas Story You Never Heard

An amazing story of the 2020 Army-Navy game and a salute to our nation's injured military. Details are here. A brief, highly recommended read.


Hat Tip: Trainorders.com

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Friday, February 14, 2020

Way to Go, Bernie!

Daily Mail
There are postings all over Twitter giving Sander's a hard time because he was flying first class. I completely disagree and actually salute him.

Whether you agree with his politics or not (in my case, not!), running for President is grueling. Grueling! He deserves the extra room. Plus, he was on a small jet so he could have a seat by himself. Given that he has to deal with strangers throughout almost every day of the campaign so his motivation to fly first class was probably to have a few minutes to himself as much as anything.

But, most importantly, he is walking is own walk. By flying commercial, he is putting little additional CO2 into the atmosphere as opposed to flying private. 

Congratulations, Bernie.

Another New Rating of "Warnings"

Yet another happy reader.
Thank you, David.

If you would like a great read for a winter getaway, click here.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Jim Williams, Rest in Peace

Jim Williams, one of my mentors, has passed away at the age of 91. His full obituary is here. Jim served the people of Oklahoma with groundbreaking weather coverage for 32 years.

WKY TV (now KFOR) was the #1 television station in the Oklahoma City market in 1971. WKY was the organization that invented tornado warnings and it had an outstanding reputation for severe weather coverage -- thanks in large part to Jim. He received an award for outstanding severe weather coverage from the American Meteorological Society.

In '71, while a meteorology student at the University of Oklahoma, I heard WKY was looking for a part-time meteorologist. Since almost all meteorologists want full-time work, I thought there was a slight chance they might consider hiring me. Unbelievably, even though I was only 19, Jim took that chance. His kindness led to a television career that lasted until 1993 when I took myself off the air to run WeatherData, Inc., the company I had founded, full-time.

Mike Morgan (current chief meteorologist of KFOR) was kind enough to send the photo of Jim (above) in front of one of the maps on the weather set. I'll never forget the hours of drawing maps with liquid chalk, using an X-Acto knife and art film, and moving around magnetic symbols in that era to create graphics that would inform. While at WKY I learned to use three different weather radars and their strengths and weaknesses. Jim had an encyclopedic knowledge of weather.

So, rest in peace Jim. Your career saved lives and made life better for people throughout Oklahoma.

Global Warming and Sea Level Rise

Dr. Judith Curry has published an important paper contributing to the knowledge base pertaining to sea level rise and global warming. The full paper is here.
There are a few highlights I wish to mention:
Some of the global warming activists would have you believe that sea level has been more or less constant over the eons. This, of course, is not correct. As Hubert Lamb (source of the quote, above, which appears in Dr. Curry's paper) points out, sea level has varied considerably during the last 4,000 years.

The conclusions begin on page 69 and they are well worth reading (non-technical). The bottom line is, "Recent research has concluded that there is no consistent or compelling evidence that recent rates of sea level rise are higher or abnormal in the context of the historical records back to the 19th century that are available across Europe." Europe, in this case, is a rough proxy for world sea level.

Of course, it is fair to point out that 500 years ago we did not have the highly expensive beachfront developments we enjoy now.* So, any unusual increase in sea level would be almost unbelievably expensive. Fortunately, that does not appear to be in the offing.


* This expensive property is the primary reason for the increase in hurricane loss rates, not stronger hurricanes. If you put more expensive "stuff" in harm's way, damage will increase. 


Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Pro Tip: Weather Forecasting Without Models

-- For Meteorologists --

There are some tweets this afternoon that have said, "the accumulating snow is ending for Wichita" or words to that effect. And, the radar was fairly clear to the west southwest. 
Radar at 12:10p
But, pattern recognition, an important forecasting tool independent of the models, indicates otherwise. In this type of storm, a final snow band usually forms along the 500mb trough line. Here is the trough line at 1pm.

In addition, the infrared satellite shows multi-layered clouds (capable of producing accumulating snow) west to the trough line. 
As long as multi-layered clouds are present, accumulating snow (given cold enough surface temperatures) is possible. 

In this part of the county, the snow band associated with the trough line will often produce 1/2" to 1 inch of additional snow. 

And, sure enough, as of 1:40pm CST, snow is redeveloping on radar to the west of Wichita (compare this image to the one at the top). 

Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha

I'll believe global warming is a problem when the people who tell me it's a problem start acting like its a problem.  -- Dr. Glenn Reynolds
Actually, "just talking" is a perfect description of Mr. Bloomberg on the topic of global warming.

Mr. Bloomberg has a fleet of private jets and helicopters.
NY Daily News
NY Intelligencer
Not only does he produce massive amounts of carbon flying by flying privately everywhere (he even once tried to use his helicopter to fly to a sports stadium to watch a game), he has 13 homes around the world!

In Mr. Bloomberg's reality: you and I should sacrifice and cut our already modest carbon footprints so the elite, with carbon footprints the size of Asia, can continue their jet-set lifestyles.

What a (really bad) joke!

Today's Tornado Risk

There is a risk of tornadoes later today in the area in brown.
Please keep up on the weather in this region.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Winter Weather Mess

Orange = blizzard warning.
Pink = winter storm warning.
Purple = winter weather travel advisory
Greens = various flood warnings.

Another Ridiculously Wrong Global Warming Prediction

Please note that Arctic sea ice is back within its long-term average.

In 2007, Al Gore predicted that all Arctic sea ice would disappear by the summer of 2013.

Monday, February 10, 2020

UPDATED: Dangerous Flash Flooding Situation in the Southeast

UPDATED: 2pm EST: A high risk of flash flooding should be taken very seriously. This forecast is valid from now until 6am Tuesday. The area of "high risk" has been extended into northern Georgia, including Atlanta.
41% of flash flood fatalities occur in the rare "high risk" flash flood areas. In addition 90% of the damage occurs in those areas.

Whatever you do, don't drive into floodwaters. If you live in an area prone to flooding, please have a "go kit" ready that you can quickly throw into the car and move to higher ground.

Our Society's Ridiculous Fear of Nuclear Power

An outstanding article from Forbes, here.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Serious Flooding Risk

Here is the forecast rainfall between now and 2pm Tuesday.
click to enlarge
Given the wetter than usual conditions over this region the last month, the flooding could be severe in places. Please prepare accordingly!

Update 2:45pm. Moments after posting the above, the NWS sent this. The red area is where there is a significant risk of flash flooding from sunrise Monday through sunrise Tuesday.

Happy 150th, National Weather Service!


Wow, 150 years of serving the nation. Thank you, National Weather Service!
1871 Weather Map
Over the course of its 150 years, the NWS has saved millions of lives and enhanced our standard of living.

In 1870, we knew very little about weather science. Day-to-day forecasting was mostly extrapolation. Tornadoes and hurricanes were nearly impossible to forecast.
The employees of today's National Weather Service are extremely dedicated and use modern science to provide important services to the public-at-large. The story of the quest to learn to warn of major storms is here.

So, thank you National Weather Service. Here's to the next 150.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Warnings in Motion: A Provocative Idea From the National Weather Service

The National Weather Service and the National Severe Storms Laboratory, for about the last five years, have working on a new concept for tornado warnings. In it, they want tornado warnings "in motion." It is explained by the video above.
There are upsides and a number of challenges with this concept:
  • They talk about thirty-minute warnings even though all of the research says 13 to 15-minute "lead times" (the interval from when the warning is issued to when the storm arrives) are ideal. If that is the case, why does the NWS want to do this? Just because they can doesn't mean they should. People will only stay in the basement, closet or bathtub for so long. 
  • This can only be done with computers. What happens if there is a computer failure? I also worry it takes the human forecaster too much out of the loop. 
  • Current tornado warnings are, in general, less accurate than a decade ago. Why does the NWS wish to do this when they could be spending the effort on fixing the existing issues?
  • How are we going to update tornado warnings at one-minute intervals when National Weather Service radars take a minimum of 1.7 minutes (usually more) to  observe tornadoes?
  • They talk about considering the needs of businesses. The job of the NWS is to warn the public-at-large. If businesses want special tornado warnings they should get them from private sector weather companies. 
  • Finally, to do this with any degree of quality and consistency, we are going to need at least 20 gap-filler radars around the nation. This has been evident for at least two decades and I don't understand why the NWS has not been pressing for the infrastructure needed to improve these warnings (as well as warnings of flash floods and severe thunderstorms).
  • Since these will be highly computerized, there will be times when City A is in a tornado warning one minute, out of it the next minute, then back in it one minute later. This will cause havoc to warning understanding and credibility. 
To be clear: A lot of good thought and effort has gone into the "warnings in motion" concept and there is value in it. From that concept, I would recommend the NWS do more outreach (especially to broadcast meteorologists and private-sector meteorologists) before making final changes to the tornado warning program. 

My recommendations? The tornado warning system can and should be improved. I would, 
  1. Fix the known accuracy issues.
  2. Get more radars!
  3. In areas without a Terminal Doppler Weather Radar, allow the NWS's WSR-88D's to update every one minute (except for the tenth minute, then a low level volume scan can be done). 
  4. Issue tornado warnings for no more than 20 minutes into the future and update them every ten minutes. 
Tomorrow is the 150th anniversary of the NWS. It is good to know they are thinking about the future. 

Friday, February 7, 2020

An Update About Modern Tornado Warnings

Here is a tweet of mine from Thursday evening.

And, here is a headline from the Tampa Bay Times today.
This small tornado (EF-1 intensity) carved a nine-mile path through the Tampa Bay area.

This particular situation brings up several important points as we begin tornado season 2020.
  • This type of tornado is known to meteorologists as a "QLCS" (I won't bother you with the details). It used to be considered "unwarnable." Now, we can often do a decent job, especially in areas like Tampa that have a TDWR or other high-resolution radar that provides data at one-minute intervals. 
  • While I urge everyone in a tornado warning (red polygon) to take cover when a warning is issued, if you are in an area that is being singled out (in this case, Pinellas Park and Gandy), move very quickly to shelter! Again, while there are exceptions, we as a science are getting better at focusing on the areas at greatest risk. 
  • However, I recently read that emergency managers and others are lobbying the NWS for time-of-arrival info for tornadoes for all tornado warnings. That is a bad idea. Why? Tornadoes speed up and slow down and sometimes lift while another touches down nearby. This type of small-scale behavior is not well understood and we can't factor it into our warnings. If we were to say, for example, "Pinellas Park, 10:47pm" and the tornado hits at 10:43, then what?  Besides, I believe that by giving a 'precise' time tens of minutes in the future, we are taking the urgency out of the warning (e.g., if a town in the warning is not supposed to be struck for another 40 minutes) and making it less likely people will respond. 
Hope this is helpful and I hope the 2020 tornadoes are few and far between. 

Southeast: MAJOR Flood Potential

Below is a forecast of extraordinary rainfall amounts over the next seven days. A few areas are forecast to receive seven inches or more. 
Click to enlarge
These widespread rains would be enough for significant flooding under normal circumstances but, given the widespread rains that have already fallen this week (see below), the saturated soils and high rivers will make flooding likely.
If you live in the affected areas, I urge you to prepare for major, or even record, flooding in this region!

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Two New 5-Star Reviews of "Warnings"


I realize these are nearly impossible to read, so you can click here to read them. If necessary, go to "Most Recent."