Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Review of the Udall Tornado; Part II

On May 25, 2022, I published Part I of a reexamination of the data surrounding the horrific F-5 tornadoes that struck Blackwell, OK and Udall, KS that evening.  

One hundred two people died in those two small towns. Because they occurred in darkness in the pre-warning era, people literally died in their beds after being told by television weathercasts, "all advisories have been lifted."  I recommend reading Part 1 (click there blue link) before reading on. 

Now, I would like to present the second part of what I have learned about that historic event: 
Truck thrown 1/4-mile out of Udall. Most of the truck was 
stripped away from the steel chassis. 

I enjoy applied meteorological research and, when possible, advancing our science. 

My computer screen while working
on a tornado project

So, to learn more about that horrific night in May, 1955, I examined the following "new" data. 

  • Radar photography from the evening of 5-25-55 from the OSU radar outside of Stillwater (discussed in part 1).
  • Second visit to the Udall, Kansas, city museum where photographs and other documents were reviewed. 
  • Discussion of material available at the OSU Library with librarian. Learned the entire set of radar data was not saved nor were original radar photos. The only data is the photos in the journal. 
  • Review of the Augusta, Kansas, newspaper during the period of interest (special thanks to the Augusta, Kansas, library staff!)
  • Review of El Dorado, Kansas, newspapers and other material at the Butler County [Kansas] historical society. 
  • Review of a master's thesis pertaining to the lightning polarity of the Udall storm. 

My findings:

    Weather Bureau Survey Map
  • The map above is the result of a ground survey done by the Wichita office of the Weather Bureau. It is unlikely an F-5 tornado would carve a path of that nature. It is possible that the "swerve" between Geuda Springs and Oxford may have been one tornado lifting and another tornado in the series touching down; or it might have been one or more satellite tornadoes, but I found no evidence to confirm that hypothesis. There were satellite tornadoes with the F-5 Greensburg, Kansas Tornado of 2007 (see photo below) and it seems most likely that the damage found near the "swerve" was a satellite tornado(s).  
  • The depiction of the tornado past Udall (above and see Part I) is almost certainly incorrect. F-5 tornadoes generally do not make a nearly 90° right turn of the type shown, plus the OSU radar does not provide evidence for such a turn. The more likely cause of the damage along the dashed line was a new tornado touching down east or east northeast of Udall with possible damage from a "rear flank downdraft." 
  • My evidence for a tornado north of Udall is newspaper articles discussing a tornado damaged home later that evening south of Augusta, Kansas, and additional homes damaged on the east side of the city. 
  • My proposed tornado map for May 25, 1955, after this research is below. I have added the source for each tornado. Locations are approximate. The "L" is the location where letters from Udall were found. That, too, would tend to indicate the supercell continued north of Augusta. 
May 25, 1955 Tornado Map
Locations are approximate.
  • The yellow line northeast of Augusta is placed there based on radar data (the supercell was still in progress at least as far north as Augusta) plus a report of large hail at Bazaar, Kansas, still later.  It is unknown whether any tornadoes were produced past Augusta as the area was, and is, very sparsely populated. I took the photo below southwest of Bazaar and it is typical of the terrain northeast of El Dorado. At night, a tornado could go a long way without being seen or striking anything. 
  • There was an unusually high rate of positive polarity lightning near the Udall Tornado based on the lighting data. This was also the case with the 2007 Greensburg, Kansas, Tornado. In the latter case, the polarity flipped about the time the tornadoes from that supercell became violent. Unfortunately, this is not a consistent signal of strong tornadoes. For example, the 2011 Joplin Tornado did not have a high rate of positive polarity. The map below is of what could be called the Greensburg "family" of tornadoes the night of May 4-5, 2007. 
Map of the tornadoes of May 4-5, 2007
The Greensburg (tornado #5) was rated F-5 intensity. Tornadoes #13 (Trousdale) and #14 (Hopewell) were rated F-3, but likely would have been rated higher if more substantial objects had been in their path. Note that they turn left at the end of their lives. Strong tornadoes almost never turn right as they dissipate.

Given the pattern in May 4-5, 2007 was moderate tornadoes, then violent tornadoes, then less intense tornadoes, it is possible the same pattern may have occurred in 1955.

That is what I have found. This information has been sent to the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center for its consideration as to whether a revision will be made in the official tornado locations for that night. 

© 2023 Mike Smith Enterprises, LLC

Monday, March 20, 2023

New Review of "Warnings"

Brittany Glish

A new review of Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather was posted at LinkedIn Saturday. Here are some excerpts:

Wow! Absolutely blown away by Mike Smith book. 

Mike wrote several chapters on Delta 191, while giving an informative, yet tactful explanation of what happened. He describes beautifully not just how impactful microbursts are on aircraft and all the research behind it, but just how understudied and misunderstood they were at the time.

If you are interested in weather or meteorology, or maybe just an aviation nerd like myself, I highly recommend this book! Thanks for your research and time dedicated to this book, weather, and aviation, Mike.

Thanks, Brittany!

Warnings is a great book for spring break or as a graduation gift for a meteorology graduate. 

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Note to Readers...

With calm weather across the nation today, I'm taking today and Sunday off. 

I recommend the two postings below pertaining to sea level rise and issues with the tornado warning program, I believe will be of interest if you would like to scroll down. 

In the meantime, since the post below is about Texas, here is Charles Peek's photo of a longhorn amongst the Texas bluebells. 

Friday, March 17, 2023

More NWS Tornado Warning Issues -- This Time in Dallas

Investigative Report
© 2023 Mike Smith Enterprises, LLC

I have reported many times about how the current issues with the National Weather Service's tornado warning program are costing lives (examples here and here) and preventing people from doing what they can to -- when possible -- mitigate damage. 

Because I have been asked, let me I assure you that I have discussed the issue with NOAA meteorologists and management on a number of occasions -- as recently as earlier today. The best way to describe their reaction is that they are in denial. 

Because NOAA has stopped doing after-incident "Service Assessments" where they lightly reviewed their performance after a major event, and because it isn't a good idea for NOAA/NWS to be investigating itself, I have been calling since 2012 for a National Disaster Review Board similar to the hugely successful National Transportation Safety Board. This is another event where the Review Board would have been helpful.

Thursday afternoon, there was a tornado in the western suburbs of Dallas for which the warning was late quite late. I will walk my valued readers, especially meteorologists, through this case history. It is especially important because the FAA's Terminal Doppler Radar for Love Field did a better job of detecting the the tornado than the NWS's WSR-88D, at least the way that radar was operated Thursday afternoon. 

Because it was explicitly designed to detect winds, and because they update at one-minute intervals, the TDWR's often detect tornadoes more quickly than -88'D's. I find them them to be great radars for detecting tornadoes, downbursts and other forms of damaging winds. 

As with the south Kansas City tornado of June 8, 2022, the NWS was operating its -88D in a less-than-optimal mode for the situation. An NWS radar can update as often as every 1.4 minutes. But, yesterday afternoon, it was operated in the three-minute mode (KC had it in 7-minute mode). I'm not sure why NWS offices do not automatically switch to rapid updates when a supercell is present, especially in a densely populated area, during a tornado watch.

Here is the radar/warning comparison:

FAA's Terminal Doppler Radar
Love Field Data
The conventional radar data, known as "reflectivity" to meteorologists, is on the left. The wind data, known as "velocity" to meteorologists, is on the right. The reflectivity data above is from 4:48pm. At this point, there is what meteorologists call a "pendant" echo extending southeast from the supercell. The pendant is a "caution" sign because there is rotation forming at this point (circled). 

One minute later, at 4:49pm, there is the first sign of a "hook echo" (so named because a mature hook looks like a fish hook). Hook echoes are an indicator a tornado may be forming or may exist. 
At right, the tornadic rotation has strengthened considerably. In my opinion, a tornado warning should have been considered at this point. 

At 4:51, if you click and enlarge, you'll see the hook is becoming better defined. The tornado rotation at right has become quite well defined. The red/green "couplet" has become so bright in the green I didn't think it needed to be circled. If I had been on the WeatherData, Inc. storm warning desk, no question I would have issued a tornado warning for our clients at this point. 

Because I believe, when the general public is involved, the term "tornado warning" should be reserved for the National Weather Service, I tried to get a warning message across at this time. The radar used in the Tweet (below) used the WSR-88D which we will come back to. 
The time the tweet was published was 4:53pm, which was as fast as I could analyze the 4:51pm radar (there was more data than shown here, such as "correlation coefficient," that is not discussed in this piece) type it out, screen capture the image, proof, and hit "send." 

4:52pm, the hook is now mature with strong rotation. Given the radar is close to the storm (meaning the radar is scanning the storm near the ground, where the tornado occurs), there is almost certainly a tornado at this point.

National Weather Service WSR-88D Radar Data
Because they were operating the radar at three-minute intervals (in my opinion, they should have been operating it at 1.4 minute intervals because of the imminent tornado threat), the first image we will review was from 4:49pm. The pendant echo is obvious but the rotation (right) was not. It was pretty disorganized.  

At 4:51 (reflectivity) and 4:52pm (velocity), the hook echo is quite pronounced with good rotation. As with the TDWR data, if had been all I had, I would have issued a tornado warning at this time. 

4:54 reflectivity and 4:55pm rotation clearly shows a tornado given the above plus the general atmospheric conditions. 

I was still very concerned about a tornado. Since there was no tornado warning, I tweeted this at 4:56pm. 
I think this is self-explanatory except that I typed "Dallas" in the hashtags but for some reason, Twitter changed it to "DallasCowboys" and I didn't notice before hitting "send." 

As of 4:56 reflectivity and 4:57pm rotation, the hook appeared to be in its weakening stage (known as "occlusion") and the wind couplet is less defined as he greens and reds have a gray space between them rather than against each other. 

There is no question the FAA's TDWR outperformed the NWS's WSR-88D yesterday.

The National Weather Service issued its tornado warning for Dallas County at 4:57pm.

The NWS in Ft. Worth's survey teams found two tornadoes in Dallas County, both of EF-1 intensity.
Tornado paths are the thin green lines. 
The NWS tornado warning lead times were:
  • -10 minutes for Dallas County #1
  • -5 minutes for Dallas County #2
NWS tornado warning "lead time" -- the interval between when the tornado warning is issued and when the tornado touches down -- was +13.3 minutes from 2005 to 2011. Since 2011, the lead time has dropped  to +8.4 minutes for the years 2012 to 2020.

The "probability of detection" (the percentage of time a tornado warning will be issued before the storm touches down) went from 73.3% from 2005 to 2011 and then dropped alarmingly to just 59.1% from 2012 to 2020! Both tornadoes in Dallas Co. were "undetected." 

The goal of science is to progress, but, clearly National Weather Service tornado warnings have been less accurate over the past dozen years. Because this piece is already lengthy, I don't care to go into my speculation as to why. But, it has become clearly that external pressure on NOAA/NWS is the only way that change is going to occur. 

Global Warming and Sea Level Rise

Recent news stories about global warming have discussed sea level rise. Because they seemed wrong, I decided to do some investigation on my own. I live in Kansas, so I haven't spent a great deal of time on that aspect of climate change. 

My verdict? Sea level rise concern appears to be highly exaggerated. I think you'll find what I found interesting.

Below is a 1930 photo of what is now called Liberty Island. The date appears to be correct as the Chrysler Building (completed 1931) is under construction in the background. Note the water level at the base of the island.

The photo below is said to have been taken in the last three years. I chose it because it was the best I could find that shows the water level.
The photo was probably taken at low tide based on water stain on the tidewall. 

Here's the bottom line: there is little difference in water level in the 90 years between the two photos.

This is confirmed by the tide gage at The Battery, which is at the lower (south) tip of Manhattan. 
The amount of rise from 1931 to 2021 is 26 millimeters. That is 0.085 feet in 90 years. Or, 1.02 inches. While New York Harbor is not the open ocean, it is a tidal bay.

Why is this important?

The original, and by far the most quoted, global warming scientist-proponent (before his retirement), was Dr. James Hansen of NASA's climate group. He predicted the West Side Highway of New York's Manhattan Island would be underwater in 40 years. 

I met Jim Hansen, the scientist who in 1988 predicted the greenhouse effect before Congress. I went over to the window with him and looked out on Broadway in New York City and said, “If what you’re saying about the greenhouse effect is true, is anything going to look different down there in 40 years?” He looked for a while and was quiet and didn’t say anything for a couple seconds. Then he said, “Well, there will be more traffic.” I, of course, didn’t think he heard the question right. Then he explained, “The West Side Highway [which runs along the Hudson River] will be under water. And there will be tape across the windows across the street because of high winds. And the same birds won’t be there. The trees in the median strip will change.”
                                          -- Rob Reiss, journalist, 1988*

Forty years is 2028, just five years from now.
Google Earth, Arrow points to West Side Highway

Manhattan's West Side Highway is high and dry. 

In 1988, it was predicted by climate science that sea level would rise far enough to cut off all of the Maldives Islands' drinking water by 1992. 

And, here is the headline from 2021:
There is a great deal of nonsense in the media regarding sea level and global warming. The article at the beginning of this post is a perfect example. It makes it difficult to explain that global warming is a problem. But, while it is not an immediate crisis, we need to immediately wise up in our dealings with it. It is time to stop spending trillions of dollars on complete nonsense like changing the way doctors treat patients, wind turbines and others and start -- as quickly as possible -- work to decarbonize energy via nuclear and hydro. 

* At one point, Reiss misquoted Hansen's prediction as 20 years, not 40. The correct quote is highlighted above. 

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Hail in Oklahoma and Texas; Evening Wichita Snow

Quite a variety of weather in the central and southern Great Plains.

Here is a map of the hail tracks in southern Oklahoma and north Texas. 

Here is a path of the hail that fell in the DFW Metroplex. Unfortunately, the scale is in millimeters. Forty millimeters = 1.5 inches (about).
There were likely tornado touchdowns northwest of downtown Ft. Worth and just southwest of Irving. If there was damage, it was probably minor, but we don't know yet for sure. 

Update: 7:09pm, video of an Irving car dealership that was damaged by the tornado is here

In Wichita, it has been a winter with less than normal snow. 
Above is a slow motion video taken at 6:35pm. 
So, we were pleased to get a little bit of snow this evening. 

Tornado Watch Issued: Tornado and Hail Threat Now Developing

Tornado Watch until 8pm.

Below is the 1:49pm radar. 
From my analysis, giant hail is likely in Oklahoma. Tornadoes will be more likely in Texas, especially  south and southeast of Wichita Falls, including the Metroplex. There are thunderstorms developing about 100 miles west of Ft. Worth. They have the potential to cause tornadoes and large hail assuming they continue to develop.

I'll have additional updates on Twitter @usweatherexpert. 

March 16 Drought Update

Here is the U.S. Drought Monitor with data to Tuesday morning (14th). The blue lines are major rivers.
Usually we use the Palmer Drought Index but so much rain has fallen in California since Tuesday (below) that the Palmer is already out of date. The drought has become so serious in Kansas and adjacent areas that much of the winter wheat crop is in "poor" condition. Unfortunately, little relief is in sight (forecast at bottom of this post).

Below is the two-day rainfall in California since Tuesday morning. 
I think that drought in northern California has been pretty well ended by these most recent rains. In fact, the opposite problem:
Wall Street Journal
Seven-day precipitation forecast.
California could really use a break from the rain and snow but another atmospheric river is forecast to arrive next week. While California is suffering from too much rain, the core of the winter wheat belt is expected to have little to no rain or snow. 

While I don't have a great deal of faith in the 8-14 day outlook, the general weather pattern supports it. 
So, the atmospheric environment of California receiving too much while the winter wheat belt stays dry is forecasted to continue, unfortunately. 

Today's Tornado Risk

The brown area has a significant tornado risk. 
The yellow area has an enhanced risk of tornadoes: It includes Dallas, Sherman, Paris and Hugoton. 

There is also a serious risk of giant hail. 
The yellow has a significant risk of hail. The red has an enhanced risk. The hatched area is where the hail could be larger than 2" in diameter.

I urge you to put your car inside along with lawn furniture and other items that can be blown about. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Forecast Snow in Great Plains and Midwest

Please check your local forecast for storm timing. 

7-Day Precipitation Forecast

Above is the forecast precipitation between now and 7am CDT next Wednesday. Unfortunately, more precipitation -- heavy in the mountains -- is likely in California. At the same time, drought conditions are likely in the heart of the winter wheat belt. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Latest Northeast Snow Amounts

Updated Snowfall Reports as of 5:30pm

--- original post below --
Here are the latest snow depth reports from the Northeast.

As of 5:28pm, here is the radar showing the snow continuing to fall.

There are also significant flight delays:
  • JFK, 77 minutes
  • Washington (Dulles), 69 minutes 
  • Sporadic delays due to deicing: Boston, Cleveland, LaGuardia, Pittsburgh, Teterboro
The high winds are causing power outages. Remember, the numbers at the bottom represent number for homes and businesses. To get the number of people involved, multiply by about 2.5. 

California Flood Forecast Update 1:45pm PDT

Power Outages as of 2:07pm PDT
The high winds (a gust to 71 mph at the San Francisco International Airport) are causing power failures and major flight delays. As of this moment, the flight delays 2.6 hours. 

Addition at 2:38pm.

Flood Forecast for Major Rivers
The red squares are where "moderate" flooding is expected on major rivers. If you live anywhere near the red or orange squares, you can go here to receive the detailed flood forecast. 

Northern California Precipitation
Below is the 7-day precipitation ending at 5am this morning. 
Please note the 20" total (white) over the coastal range near Eureka. There are numerous areas in the Sierra where more than 15 inches have fallen. 

Here is the precipitation that has fallen since 5am.
Note: There are currently 2.5 hour flight days at San Francisco International Airport. 

Southern California Precipitation
Above the the precipitation for the past five days ending at 5am. 

Here is the precipitation that has fallen since. 
UPDATE: As of 3pm, the Los Angeles office of the National Weather Service says the storm has been "underperforming" so far. In the City of Los Angeles, amounts to this point have been between 0.25 and 0.33 inches. 

Current Radar
Below is the radar from 1:44pm PST.
The heaviest rains in the state are now in the Southland. In northern California, the rains are starting to taper off. 

5-Day Precipitation Forecast
Here is the forecast precipitation for the next five days ending at 5pm Sunday.