Imperfect Meteorology – But Fewer Surprises
”Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence” said Vince Lombardi. We want perfection in an imperfect world. Meteorology is no exception. Forecasts are far from perfect but we experience fewer (unpleasant) surprises than we did 50 years ago.
How so? From floods and hurricanes to major tornado outbreaks, forecasters do a demonstrably better job setting consumer expectations. Fewer reports of “It came without any warning!”
Technology, including Doppler radar and weather models, are improving. NOAA just launched an upgrade for its global GFS model that could make it more competitive with the European model (ECMWF). Baby steps.
More Early May Than Early April. There will be chilly relapses, but I don’t see any cold fronts of note shaping up in the near future for most of the U.S. Colder than normal weather lingers for the Pacific Northwest, but a persistent warm ridge is forecast to linger east of the Rockies.
Briefing: Issued Wednesday, March 24th, 2021:
- NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center has issued a MODERATE RISK of severe thunderstorms for parts of the Southern US and Gulf Coast States, which is a 4 out of 5 on the severe weather scale.
- A potential outbreak of severe storms including several long track strong tornadoes, large hail and damaging winds will exist Thursday into Thursday evening.
- A Flash Flood Watch has been posted across parts of the Gulf Coast States through Friday morning, where 4 to 6 inches of rain could be possible.
MODERATE RISK of Severe Thunderstorms on Thursday (4 out of 5 on Severe Scale):
According to NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center, there is a MODERATE RISK of severe thunderstorms on Thursday, which is a 4 out of 5 on the severe scale. This means that there is an elevated risk of large hail, damaging winds and even tornadoes within the red shaded area below. There is also an ENHANCED RISK of severe thunderstorms (in orange), where there is also an elevated potential of large hail, damaging winds and tornadoes. While the severe thunderstorm risk is a little lower in yellow and dark green shaded areas, the risk of strong to severe storms stretches from the Gulf Coast to the Ohio Valley.
Elevated Tornado, Large Hail and Damaging Wind Risk:
According to NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center, there is an elevated risk of large, long track tornadoes in the red shaded area below, which also correlates with the Moderate Risk of severe thunderstorms mentioned above. The risk of large hail, damaging winds and tornadoes will exist through the day Thursday and into Thursday night.
Simulated Radar 12PM Thursday
Simulated Radar 3PM Thursday
Simulated Radar 6PM Thursday
Simulated Radar 9PM Thursday
Flash Flood Potential Through AM Friday
According to NOAA’s National Weather Service, there is a FLASH FLOOD WATCH in place across parts of the Gulf Coast states through AM Friday. Multiple rounds of showers and thunderstorms will be possible across parts of the region, which could lead to widespread heavy rainfall amounts of 4” to 6”. This could lead to flash flooding and rapid rises along rivers, streams and creeks in the area.
Heavy Rainfall Potential
Here is the rainfall potential through 7PM Friday, which shows widespread heavy rainfall across parts of the Gulf Coast States and into the Tennessee River Valley. There appears to be a large swath of 1” to 3” rainfall tallies across much of the region, but there could be some 4” to 6”+ tallies as well. Another area that will have to be monitored for flash flooding will be in areas across northern Mississippi and Alabama, north to Tennessee and Kentucky.
Meteorologist Todd Nelson
Tornado Forecast: La Nina Year Could Bring Supercharged Season. A cooling phase in the Pacific has been linked to more severe tornado seasons downtown over the southern and central USA. NBC News has details: “After getting off to a relatively quiet start, tornado season in the United States is picking up steam, with experts predicting that conditions are ripe for a supercharged storm season. The forecast for an active tornado season is being driven by a strong La Niña, a naturally occurring climate pattern that creates favorable storm conditions across the southern U.S. This is of particular concern to scientists because some of the country’s most severe tornado outbreaks have happened during La Niña events, including the 2011 tornado season, which was one of the costliest and deadliest in recorded history…”
List of Hurricane Names for 2021. The Palm Beach Post has a timely post, here’s an excerpt: “…The World Meteorological Organization, which is in charge of hurricane names worldwide, announced that the Greek alphabet will no longer be used when a hurricane season runs out of names, like it did in 2020. Instead, once the official list of hurricane names has been exhausted, another list of names will be used. Hurricane season officially starts Tuesday, June 1, though the National Hurricane Center will start issuing regular storm forecasts for the Atlantic basin on May 15 this year due to six consecutive years of early tropical cyclones…”
NOAA Upgrades Flagship U.S. Global Weather Model. Will we be able to catch up to ECMWF (the “European model”) in overall accuracy. I’m hoping so, but verification data over time will tell the tale. Here’s an explainer from NOAA: “NOAA is upgrading its Global Forecast System (GFS) weather model to boost weather forecasting capabilities across the U.S. These advancements will improve hurricane genesis forecasting, modeling for snowfall location, heavy rainfall forecasts, and overall model performance. For the first time, the GFS will be coupled with a global wave model called WaveWatchIIIoffsite link which will extend current wave forecasts from 10 days out to 16 days and improve the prediction of ocean waves forced by the atmosphere. Coupling the GFS and wave models will streamline the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) production suite by consolidating atmospheric and wave forecast data and distributing them together. The GFS resolution will increase by doubling the number of vertical levels, from 64 to 127. Improvements to atmospheric physics will enhance snow and precipitation forecasting capabilities in this latest upgrade as well…”
U.S. Weather Model Upgraded to Better Forecast Extreme Events. I’m looking forward to a new, turbocharged version of NOAA’s GFS model. Phys.org has details: “The National Weather Service has turbocharged its lagging forecast model to better predict extreme weather events such as hurricanes, blizzards and downpours, as well as day-to-day weather. By including much higher layers of the atmosphere, increased factoring of ocean waves and other improvements, the weather service’s update to its Global Forecast System is trying to catch up with a European weather model that many experts consider superior. Tests for the past two years show the upgrade, which kicked in Monday, forecast heavy rains and snowfall 15% better five days out and improved hurricane and tropical storm tracks by more than 10%, better pinpointing storm formation five to seven days in advance…”
Skywarn Training. Doppler is great, but research shows the most reliable warnings result from a combination of man + machine, trained weather spotters who know what to look for. If you’re interested in becoming a Skywarn Spotter virtual training is coming up son. Click here for more details.
We Are Underestimating the Power of Tornadoes, Study Shows. Capital Weather Gang has a good summary of an eye-opening new reports: “…The findings suggest that the actual proportion of violent, Plainfield-like twisters is upward of 20 percent. Researchers show that the National Weather Service is underrating tornadoes that move through rural areas, leaving little wreckage behind. The study is part of an ongoing effort to update the tornado rating system. Because tornadoes are so short-lived, it can be difficult to measure wind speed in real time, so the National Weather Service infers wind speed from the damage tornadoes leave in their wake. It then assigns a rating, from 0 to 5, on the Enhanced Fujita scale of tornado intensity. An EF-0 could uproot a sapling. An EF-3 could tear the roof off a sturdy building. An EF-4 or EF-5 such as the Plainfield tornado could rip a house from its foundation. These are classified as “violent” tornadoes...”
Biden Team Prepares $3 Trillion in New Spending for the Economy. Here’s a clip from a New York Times story (paywall): “…Some White House officials believe the focus of the first package may be more appealing to Republicans, business leaders and many moderate Senate Democrats, given the longstanding bipartisan push in Washington for an infrastructure bill. That plan would spend heavily on clean energy deployment and the development of other “high-growth industries of the future” like 5G telecommunications. It includes money for rural broadband, advanced training for millions of workers, and one million affordable and energy-efficient housing units. Documents suggest it will include nearly $1 trillion in spending on the construction of roads, bridges, rail lines, ports, electric vehicle charging stations, and improvements to the electric grid and other parts of the power sector…”
Facing Sweltering Soldiers and Flooded Ports, NATO to Focus on Climate Change. Here’s a clip from The Washington Post (paywall): “Hotter summers in Iraq are blasting soldiers sitting inside armored vehicles. Flooding is threatening the world’s largest navy base. Russian submarines are prowling the melting Arctic. Now NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg wants to make global warming a major focus of the military alliance’s strategy and planning, pushing environmental issues to the center as a security threat. The new push at NATO, which was approved Tuesday by alliance foreign ministers at a gathering at the headquarters in Brussels, signals a significant shift for the organization, which has traditionally guarded against threats from Russia and other political actors around the world...”
World’s Biggest Coal Company Bets on Solar Power. Worldwide, coal consumption peaked in 2013. BBC News has details: “The world’s largest coal mining firm is to “aggressively” pursue solar energy and continue to close smaller mines. Coal India Limited (CIL) plans to invest in a 3,000 megawatt solar energy project in a joint venture with state-run NLC India. The company also wants to compete in India’s solar auctions and win projects by offering the lowest prices for clean power. It marks a major shift for the firm, which produces most of India’s coal...”
Lending To Fossil Fuel Cos. Increased After Paris Agreement: Climate Nexus has headlines and links: “The world’s biggest banks gave fossil fuel companies $3.8 trillion in financing in the years following the Paris Agreement, according to a new report. Even though 2020 lending was down 9% compared to the previous year, it was still higher than in 2016, when the Paris Agreement took effect, and lending to the 100 fossil fuel companies with the biggest plans to expand actually rose by 10%. American and Canadian banks accounted for 13 of the 60 banks reviewed in the report, with JPMorgan Chase providing more fossil fuel financing than any other bank. “Despite this significant drop from 2019 to 2020, the overall trend of the last five years is one heading definitively in the wrong direction,” the report said. The report comes as pressure is mounting on financial institutions to stop investing in fossil fuels driving climate change and multiple banks have touted promises to cut and offset their greenhouse gas pollution, including JPMorgan, HSBC, and Citigroup.” (The Guardian, Reuters, AFP, Bloomberg $, Morning Consult, CNBC, HuffPost) [This summary corrects the amount of money lent by banks to fossil fuel companies.]
Global Conservatives and the Myth of a Climate Change Debate. Acknowledging reality shouldn’t be a political football or talking point. Harvard Political Review has an interesting post; here’s an excerpt: “…If conservatives don’t get up to speed soon, they risk slipping further into the irrelevance of their old ways. The “debate” over climate change is a myth that conservative leaders must cease to perpetuate. Overwhelming scientific consensus affirms that the earth is warming at historic rates. Claims to the contrary are not a valid political opinion — they are an alternate reality that is incompatible with basic fact. The conservative talking point that recognizes rising atmospheric CO2 but rejects strong human influence on that rise is also factually incorrect. Groundbreaking studies on historic atmospheric carbon levels found that over the past 800,000 years, carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has never surpassed around 300 parts per million, even in Earth’s warmest periods. However, since 1950, CO2 levels have risen dramatically to over 400 ppm, levels never before reached in observable history...”
Youth Climate Activists are Back with New, Sharper Demands for Countries and Corporations. Vox.com has the post; here’s an excerpt: “…This protest outside the bank’s Manila offices was one of hundreds held in 68 countries on March 19, organized by Fridays for Future, the youth climate activism movement started by Greta Thunberg, an 18-year-old Swede. This time, kids, teens, and adults showed up on the streets and on screens to call out world powers’ “empty promises” to cut greenhouse gas emissions. In recent months, the activists have persevered through quarantines and Zoom fatigue, and while Friday’s turnout didn’t come close to the 4 million who participated in the massive September 20, 2019, climate strike, the strong coordinated effort suggested they are still a force to be reckoned with…”
“The Old American Dream,” a Trap As the Floods Keep Coming. What worked in the 1970s may not work in the 2020s and beyond, according to analysis from The New York Times (paywall): “…Residents were stuck in dark, unheated homes in single-digit temperatures, fingers tingling and words slurring from the intense cold. Yet it also plunged them into a familiar agony: no electricity, waterlogged homes (this time from burst pipes) and certainty that they faced more of a frustration they knew all too well from wrangling with bureaucracies for help that was rarely enough, if it ever came at all. As temperatures and sea levels rise, as wildfire seasons grow more intense, and as hurricanes have become slower and stronger, more and more communities are grappling with friction powered by climate change — between practicality and the comfort of the status quo, the pull of home and the fatigue from pushing against the momentum of nature to stay there…”