Tornado Warnings: Psychology or Meteorology?

1993-2012 Average Number of Annual Tornado Watches – National Weather Service

According to the National Weather Service, over the past 30 years, tornadoes have been the third-most deadly weather phenomena in the United States, averaging 70 fatalities per year.

However, in the past 10 years, despite exponential increases to both scientific and media-based technology, tornadoes have escalated to the second most deadly weather hazard with 110 average annual fatalities, a 157% increase from the 30-year average.

Clearly, it doesn’t seem to be a lack of scientific understanding of tornado forecasting leading to an increase in tornado fatalities, so it must be something else, either:

  1. Tornadic Activity increased drastically in the past 10 years (and it hasn’t substantially, see below)
  2. Tornadoes have targeted more populated areas and/or less well-built structures (possible, but unlikely to remain consistent from year to year)
  3.  A decrease in notice of Tornado Warnings (yes, according to this article)
  4.  The American population is not heeding Tornado Warnings (yes, according to this article).

Historical Annual Count of Tornadoes – National Weather Service

It turns out that there is quite a bit of psychology involved in Severe Weather Warnings – including Tornado Warnings.

In the eyes of the National Weather Service, the goal is to preserve life and property by conduit of Weather Watches, Warnings, and Advisories.  This alerts are intended too persuade the end user – the general public – to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves and their property against inclement weather.

Observed Tornado Track Map (1950-2015) – National Weather Service

A 157% increase in annual-average tornado-related fatalities – in the age of smartphones and social media – means that a Tornado Warning is simply just not enough persuasion to take cover for a chunk of the general public.  Even Jason Samenow, the author of this Washington Post article, eludes to the fact that although the National Weather Service has scaled back it’s rate of issuing Tornado Warnings (and therefore provides less or no notice), they have done so based on a psychological risk vs. reward basis. This means that the meteorology behind tornado warnings may take a back seat to the psychology of the warning intent itself.  After all, if no one takes action on a Tornado Warning, the Tornado Warning obviously did not meet it’s intent, even if it was meteorologically justified.

Average Annual Tornadoes vs. Annual Average Fatalities – National Weather Service

This introduction of the hemorrhaging importance of psychology in Severe Weather Warnings introduces an interesting paradox – risk versus the reward – and sometimes what I conclude with, “sometimes, you can never win”.

Simply put – if the National Weather Service “cries wolf” on a potential tornado that never occurs, then they loose credibility. If they do not warn of a tornado that does occur (and may look nearly identical on weather radar to the one that did not occur), then lives could be lost along with a major decrease in credibility.  Being too cautious leads to high false-alarms, and not being cautious enough could be deadly.  High amounts of false alarms decrease public trust, while so does frequently not warning for actual tornadoes.  While saving lives is obviously more important than a hit to credibility – a hit to credibility may lead to less lives saved in the future.

Likewise, too much prior notice of a tornado can be dangerous because it does not communicate urgency to the general public and results in an increase of “crying wolf”, too little prior notice can be deadly (for obvious reasons), but decreases the “crying wolf factor”, which would likely maintain (or possibly increase) credibility when no tornado occurs.

Tornado Warning Psychology Paradox

Will there ever be a perfect warning system for tornadoes?  Probably not.  Like Molly Cochran from Accuweather stated, there is already some distrust in the system, and this has made the general public rather desensitized to Tornado Warnings (partially thanks to her own organization, frankly).

Tornado Warnings are often issued across several miles, while Tornado Watches are issued encompassing several counties or even entire states.  Actual tornadoes, on the other hand, are typically much less than a mile wide – and can often occur in rural areas with no one to actually observe it, leading to the “crying wolf syndrome”, justified or not.  Combined with the overall increased hype and commercialization of tornadoes and tornado warnings from media such as The Weather Channel – Molly asserts that many Americans actually want to put “eyes on” the tornado before they concede to the warning.  This is especially dangerous at night when pitch-black darkness conceals tornadoes (and many tornadoes occur at night).

Tornadoes By County – National Weather Service

Overall, I believe the key is to not overuse the term “tornado”, and limit the scope of Tornado Watches and Warnings to become more specific.

For example, a California resident, where tornadoes are rare, will heed the same warning for a tornado much differently than an Eastern Colorado resident will – because the Eastern Colorado way of life is tornadoes.  Tornadoes are mentioned frequently in Eastern Colorado, and therefore, the general public in Eastern Colorado has become slightly more immune to hearing the word and taking little to no protective actions, while a Californian will likely do one of two things – either not believe it (because tornadoes “never happen in California”), or take big-time precautions “just in case” – but they likely will not simply ignore it without at least giving it a thought.

But, if a confirmed tornado was on the ground and a Tornado Warning was issued, a California resident (less immune) would likely immediately take cover, while an Eastern Colorado resident (more immune) would likely be more inclined to self-verify before making a sheltering decision.

  • Meteorologist Dan Schreiber
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From Man to Machine (Part III): Cloud Types – Old School Meteorology?

Was I privileged as a home-schooled student?  Over the past few months I’ve been doing a lot of show-and-tell with 7th Grade Texas Public School students.  I’ve showed – and told – over a hundred of these students – the vast majority who really just didn’t look the least bit interested (kids these days).  Their teachers, however, were fascinated.

Cirrus Clouds

Maybe it’s because I’ve always been science-minded, I don’t know.  But, I remember as a little kid sitting on my front porch in San Diego with a real cool National Geographic (before they went politically-haywire) centerfold of all the cloud types and trying to figure out which clouds that I saw overhead and what that meant for the forecast.  We didn’t have internet, smart phones, or even cable TV.  I did read the newspaper forecast, though – mostly because I was curious about the ocean water temperature and the wave height for surfing.  I wasn’t in 7th grade, yet.  But, I did know that clouds that brought rain also brought wind, bigger waves, and stormy waters.

Stormy Waves in Ocean Beach, California

Unfortunately these days, after speaking with several co-workers (with education from different states), some of them couldn’t ever recollect being taught cloud types in grade school.  What? Not Cirrus – the high wispy clouds?  Or Cumulus – the puffy clouds that make funny shapes?  Or Stratus? Nimbus?

Old-school meteorology has many sayings about cloud types and what weather they bring – long before advanced technology invaded the science and effectively granted meteorologists and technicians the right to not have to use their own brain to make weather forecasts.

Here’s some old cloud-related sayings:

Mackerel sky and mares’ tails make lofty ships carry low sails. (This discusses certain types of cirrus clouds that can be seen ahead of an approaching storm).

When clouds appear like rocks and towers, the earth’s refreshed with frequent showers. (This talks about cumulonimbus clouds which bring rain showers and thunderstorms).

Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.  (This discusses the position of clouds during sunrise and sunset that can dictate the position of oncoming or outgoing weather trends).

Evening red and morning gray. Two sure signs of one fine day. (Similar to the saying above).

Photo by Steven Wilson

Perhaps, unless school children have the interest in becoming a meteorologist or an airline pilot, it’s not a huge deal if they don’t learn cloud types in school.  I think it is, but I’m a little biased – so I’ll concede. Interestingly, though…while the United States is eagerly trying to run meteorological [weather] observers out of jobs and replace them with automated machines, Mexico, like many other nations, continues to see value in human weather observers – and in cloud types.  Here’s a report from Mexico City International Airport:

It’s coded, of course.  But it’s contents are very important, and I’ve highlighted in red what would not be included if there was no human weather observer present.

First, this weather observation says that the conditions are mostly cloudy, and that some of the clouds are “Towering Cumulus (TCU)”.  Towering Cumulus clouds are important for pilots because they can quickly develop into thunderstorms – and they show a great bit of turbulence.  No machine has the capability to report this.

Towering Cumulus Cloud (TCU)

Second, NOSIG.  NOSIG says that no significant changes are expected to the current condition in the next two hours.  Obviously, no automated machine would know this and be able to report it.

Third, 8/232.  The “8/” is a code that the human weather observer will discuss the cloud types of the low clouds, the mid-level clouds, and the high clouds.  The observer has already mentioned that some of the clouds are “towering cumulus”, but will further elaborate on the types in the following three coded numbers. The first “2”  states that the lowest layer of clouds is “towering cumulus“.  The “3” represents the middle clouds are “thin altocumulus“, and the last “2” represents the code for “dense cirrus“.  Obviously, this takes a trained eye, far beyond the capabilities of a machine.

Altocumulus Clouds

HZY is short for “Hazy” conditions, and in this case, the weather observer can see 6 miles in distance: “6SM“.

FU S LWR VSBY S” is only a capability a human can bring to the weather observing table.  This remark says that the human observer noticed “smoke (FU)” to the south “S” and that the “visibility is lower [than the 6 miles reported] to the south [because of the smoke]“.

Obviously, this adds a lot more situational awareness to meteorologists and aviators alike that would not have been possible with only a automated machine – kind of like what we saw at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona in this article.

Automated Weather Observing Systems (AWOS) do not have the capability of observing smoke – especially in the distance. Smoke here is seen near Bastrop, Texas in September of 2011.

So, while Mexico still believes that cloud types are important, especially ones that can rapidly turn into thunderstorms and bring severe turbulence that could be catastrophic for airplanes, the United States doesn’t seem to care.  

Altocumulus and dense cirrus, which were also reported have an important meaning – usually that turbulence is already occurring and that further thunderstorm development is likely (and it did indeed occur that day in Mexico City).

Computer-Generated Meteorological Forecast Code

So, my point is: Simply by looking at clouds and understanding the atmospheric dynamics that cause those clouds to exist, it’s possible to make a decent forecast without ever consulting modern technology.  For better or for worse, younger meteorologists are not trained extensively on cloud types, their reason for existence, and what impending weather they can imply.  Instead, they are trained as data-analysts that simply decode forecasting weather models and translate them into layman’s terms for their clients or the general public – without ever having to actually walk outside and look up at the sky.  Unfortunate, in my opinion.

Meteorologist Dan Schreiber

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2016 – The Warmest Year In Texas? Despite Reports, El Paso Only City in Texas To Record Long-Term, Reliable Data Point Supporting Global Warming

Perception versus Reality…it’s always good to analyze the facts, especially when one side is both politically and monetarily driven.  Sometimes, you have to dig deep to find the reliability in the numbers.

According to the National Centers for Environmental Information (NOAA-NCEI, formerly the National Climatic Data Center, NOAA-NCDC),  2016 was the warmest year on record (since 1895) for Texas, by way of Average Daily Minimum Temperatures – a common data point used by Climate Change sympathizers.

NCEI Map of 2016 Average Minimum Temperature Ranks

The Average Daily Minimum Temperature is found by recording the lowest temperature every day of the month, then finding the average for the month, then averaging all of the monthly averages through the year together.

While 6 of the Lower 48 States were cited as encountering the “warmest average minimum temperatures on record”, I’ve only concentrated on Texas – the second largest state in America.  The list also contained Montana, Nebraska, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Virginia. Alaska, the largest state in the nation, although not part of the Contiguous 48 States, also made the list.

NCEI Annual Average Minimum Temperatures For 2016 By Division

As seen in the maps above, the NCEI appears to cover much of the state of Texas in “Record Warmest” average minimum daily temperatures throughout the calendar year of 2016 – with a statewide average of 55.2*F.

NCEI Graph of Average Daily Minimum Temperatures in Texas from 1895-2016

After doing some local studies on Del Rio, Texas, and finding that 2016 WAS NOT the warmest on record for the area, it intrigued me to dive a little bit deeper into the entire state of Texas.  So, I analyzed 200 weather stations (I didn’t intend on 200, it just happened to be the amount of stations that made my list, by coincidence) with data from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service website itself.

The NCEI was very clear in it’s 2016 Annual Report that all temperature rankings referred to a 122-year period from 1895-2016, unless otherwise stated.  Then, they highlighted Texas as “Record Warmest” by way of highest minimum temperatures, which, since it wasn’t specified, would be assumed to be on record from 1895-2016.

But, it’s not.

First of all, of the 200 weather stations that I analyzed (you can see all the data in the map above), only 10 stations actually contained 122 years worth of semi-reliable data.  By semi-reliable, I mean that most of the monthly data through each year was recorded.  Of those 10 stations, only 7 actually had complete data for all 12 months of all 122 years, and only one of those stations (El Paso), recorded record-high daily minimum temperatures in 2016 within the 122-year period of record.

El Paso.  Not The Entire State of Texas.  Only The Westernmost Metropolis In Texas.

Now, my research may have been done a little differently than the NCEI.  For example, if I found unreliable data – as in data was missing – I didn’t use it.  Originally, my list of locations was much larger, but I could only find 200 reliable weather stations.  Why?  Looking back in history, many years only had recorded temperatures across certain months of the year – not the entire year.  Since we’re talking about an annual average, I need the entire year’s worth of data to be accurate.

For example, if in the old days, only winter months were recorded by Texas snowbirds, but after the introduction of air conditioning and year-round living, every summer month was recorded – it certainly would skew the average temperatures to appear on a rapid warming trend.  I did my best to avoid that scenario by using reliability statistics – a degree of certainty that the data used was complete and accurate.

Reliability is key.  It’s easy to skew numbers any which way if they are from an unreliable source.  So, when I mention “reliable weather stations” and “reliable years”, I’ve simply only included monthly and annual data that did not have missing or obviously incorrect data.  And, I didn’t change a single piece of data, as NOAA allegedly did.

Here’s some interesting discoveries:

As seen above, it doesn’t really appear that Texas was any record-breaker in 2016 – only one station – El Paso – reliably recorded a long-term, 122-year #1 average minimum temperature rank.

Any sharp-eye’d bird would use this opportunity to hit me here – when they look at 2016’s average minimum temperature across the state of Texas – either at 55.0*F which I determined in my study, or 55.2*F which NCEI determined – either which would still put Texas on top for the 122 years.  Part of this may be due to the fact that my data traveled back to 1875 (142 years, although only accounted for a few locations), not 1895 like the NCEI did (122 years). But, this figure is not very substantiated regardless.  As seen in the above numbers, there’s only an average of 52.2 years of reliable data, not 122 years as claimed by the NCEI.  And, of the reliable data that we do have, the numbers come out to a 200-station average ranking of between #5 and #6 warmest on record, not #1.

So, the credibility of the claim of being the “warmest on record” simply by way of a state-average based on unreliable data spanning an average of not even half of the claimed time span is quite deceiving.

But, there were a number of record-setters in Texas in 2016.  74 altogether, about half of them being somewhat reliable.  One-third (34%) of the 2016 record-breaking weather stations were placed in their locations within the last 20 years, while only 19 of the 74 (26%) record-breakers had been in place for more than 75 years – 47 years short of the 122-year time span.  Only El Paso actually recorded a reliable, true, full-length record.  Of the records – nearly 61% of the 33 reliable record broken occurred in and around large cities, such the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, where Urban Heat Islands are common.

So is Texas warming?  Sure, 2016 was a hot year.  2012 was equally, if not more, hot depending on the metric you use.  So, while there appears to be some unorganized warming trend in the most recent 20 years (likely caused by long-term climate fluctuations)  – and there is plenty of reliable weather data to support that claim – significant and rapid large-scale climate change is in no way imminent – at least using the deceptive temperature statistics that the NCEI presents.

Now there could be a case based on recent temperature trends for microclimate change – largely human-driven urban heat island effects.  Building more asphalt roads to absorb incoming heat and building more concrete skyscrapers to trap in radiation and pollutants could cause an increase in heating – or rather a decrease in cooling – through urban areas. That’s why 61% of 2016’s high-minimum temperature records were broken in large cities.

Meteorologist Dan Schreiber

 

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From Man to Machine (Part II): Air Force Automatic Weather Station Mis-Reports Thick Dust Storm As Rain

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a hard-and-fast, outspoken critic of automatic weather observing machines – or at least the trust that America puts on them.  Yes, they are great for the back yard or the farm, and even the remote areas that need to collect weather information without someone actually being present.  But, even then, they must be taken with a grain of salt.

However, when aviation is involved, the United States Federal Aviation Administration, among other Federal Agencies, seems perfectly comfortable allowing automatic airport weather systems to falsely report weather information – broadcasting it to anyone who has an internet connection, and any pilot in the air.  In fact, the FAA continues to take aim at slashing human weather observers [at air traffic controlled airfields] and replace their jobs with machines – or just an over-tasked air traffic controller that already has enough on his or her mind.  You can read my rant on this here.

But today, I’d like to pinpoint a case in which I was actually present and witnessed exactly what would happen if the FAA were to continue down this mislead idea that trained humans can simply be replaced by machines.

Southern Arizona Radar Images on May 9th, 2012

In this specific case, on a balmy day in early May of 2012, a strong gust of wind originating from a thunderstorm in the mountains surrounding Tucson, Arizona caused a very thick dust storm to impact the city – and both Tucson International Airport and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.  I remember this day clearly – because I spent hours cleaning the back yard swimming pool afterwards (I will never have a pool again!).

Since Davis-Monthan AFB and Tucson International Airport are only four miles apart, their weather is nearly always the same – and it was no different this day – they both saw the dust storm.

Map of Tucson International Airport and Davis-Monthan AFB

At Tucson International, a human weather observer correctly reported the dust storm in detail, giving visibility reports both horizontally and vertically, and even mentioning the thunderstorm in the far distance that cause the strong gust of wind to pick up all the dust off of the valley floor to begin with.

Loop of Dust Storm on Radar moving through Tucson (seen as a bow of red color moving from southwest to northeast through Tucson)

Meanwhile, at Davis-Monthan AFB, weather observers failed to step outside and report any useful information.  Rather, the automatic weather station on the runway did the reporting – haze, incorrect clouds (in some automatic reports), no thunderstorm in the distance, no dust storm, and even calculated the dust-grain accumulation and incorrectly reported it as rainfall accumulation (while also reporting clear skies, at that instance) – over an inch or [not] rain, when it was all said and done!

Not only were these reports from Davis-Monthan AFB broadcasted to the aviation world (and your smart phone, if you were in close proximity), they also went home in climatological history as fact, even though they were incorrect.

Comparison of Davis-Monthan AFB and Tucson International Airport Coded Aviation Weather Reports on May 9th, 2012

I don’t know about you, but if I trusted the automatic Davis-Monthan Air Force Base weather report, I’d be in trouble if I was a pilot of an aircraft!  But, if I was smart enough to listen to the human weather observer at Tucson International Airport, I’d be very well informed!

Davis-Monthan AFB automatic weather sensor incorrectly reported dust as rainfall at this time – with the nearest rain storm over 30 miles away

So why didn’t the human weather observers at Davis-Monthan AFB step outside and change the automatic report?  I’m not sure – I thought that’s what they were employed by our tax dollars to do.  But, at whatever rate, just sounds like someone there simply just didn’t feel like it was important enough to report (or correct, after the fact, for that matter) – and it could have potentially been deadly (dust storms are real bad for aviation).

So, next time you see a weather report – you may want to lick your finger and check the sky yourself.

Meteorologist Dan Schreiber

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Heat Wave: Thermometers Soaring In Great Plains, Midwest, Southeast

Observed Daily High & Low Temperatures and Corresponding Anomalies

It’s feeling a bit like summertime, especially through the Southern Plains. But, disguised under more mild temperatures, cities like Hastings and Grand Island, Nebraska are setting all-time record high temperatures – in the mid-70’s – nearly 30*F above normal.

Not to be outdone, while setting all-time record high temperatures at roughly the same temperatures – towns like Lexington, Kentucky are also boasting record warm daily minimum temperatures as well – in the mid-50’s – roughly 25*F above normal.

Why all this warm air?  Well, it’s not warm everywhere.  In fact, as seen in the temperature images above, portions of the west are cooler than normal.  Portions of the Northeast Pacific offshore of the West Coast are several degrees cooler than normal.  So, while much of the eastern two-thirds of the Continental United States is quite warm, there’s a tax on the West Coast (in more ways than one…it’s expensive!).

Jet Stream Position on February 23rd, 2017

Temperature discontinuity across the mid and high latitudes has caused steep fluctuations in the Jet Stream – deep troughing and steep ridging.  Troughs generally bring cool air, while Ridges bring warm air – and we can notice a presence of both over the United States this week.

Northerly flow on the West Coast, upwind of the base of the trough, has kept the region cooler than normal.  While, east of the Rockies, combined with a strong down-sloping wind off of the mountains and High Plains, distinct ridging aloft (seen by southwesterly flow) has introduced High Pressure, and warm, dry temperatures.

Wildfire Conditions on February 23rd, 2017

All this dry, warm air combined with gusty winds from a strong, dry cold front transiting the Southern Plains has caused an extremely critical wildfire weather threat.  Since it’s the dry season through this part of the country, there is plenty of dry and dead foliage for wildfire consumption. I said “dry” a lot in this paragraph.  Dry air is easier to warm than moist air, so it all makes sense.  You get the picture.

The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center’s Forecast valid for Late February through Early March

While I’m not a big fan of the Climate Prediction Center (CPC), largely because their long-range forecasts have been inaccurately (and somewhat disastrously) aligned with flawed Federal agendas on climate change, it seems as though in their most recent short-term outlook (seen above) that there is some acknowledgement that parts of the country will be much cooler than normal during late winter.  On the flip side, the eastern two-thirds – especially the Southeast – may carry the burden of an early summer (bummer, beach weather in March?).

Meteorologist Dan Schreiber

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Severe Weather Forecast Misinterpretations: What You See vs. What You Hear

Yes, a lot of news media does tend to hype up the forecast.  In fact, straight from a TV meteorologist himself: “we have to lead them [viewers] on…I tease them that way they stick around for 15 or 20 minutes, that way they watch the newscast, see the advertisements, and we make our money”.  You can watch that entire shameful video here.

So yes, the media won’t necessarily be the most honest when it comes down to storm coverage.  Perhaps that’s why many people seem to blatantly ignore important weather warnings. 

One of the toughest parts of my job as a meteorologist is explaining that just because some sort of weather – especially severe weather – is in the forecast, doesn’t always mean that an exact location will be impacted – but rather the general area.

Accuracy: The degree to which the result of a forecast conforms to the observed weather event. Precision: The quality, condition, or fact of being exact.

You see, folks mistake accuracy for precision.  While meteorologists generally strive for accuracy – as in, forecast verification is determined by a percentage of accurate forecasts – society adds an equal value to precision.  Not only must the forecasted weather event occur within the time and area advertised, it must happen exactly wherever the end user is located – or else the weatherman was wrong.

In the graphic above, four frames are shown.  Each ring represents, say, 5 miles in distance from the bull’s eye.  The bull’s eye represents, let’s say, Larry’s Used Car Lot.  Larry wants  to have a clearance sale party on Saturday, but the weatherman said that it’s going to rain.

According to the first frame, if it rains on Larry’s Used Car Lot on Saturday as prescribed, Larry will probably gain confidence in the TV weatherman.  But, let’s say that it doesn’t rain at Larry’s Used Car Lot, but rather 10 miles away in every direction (top right frame), then Larry will probably be upset if he cancelled his party, because it didn’t rain at his car lot.  On the other hand – the meteorologist will probably say his forecast was pretty accurate, since there was rain all over the surrounding area.  In this case, it’s an easy conclusion to say that meteorologists shoot for accuracy – and as a result are generally accurate – while the end user, like Larry, also expect precision.  That makes a weatherman’s job very difficult.

National Weather Service Icon for Thunderstorms

So, what meteorologists have done is created a “probabilistic forecast” – one that appends the probability of weather occurrence to the forecast.  The problem is, many folks inadvertently dismiss the probability and jump straight to the event – like the above graphic.  While there is a 30% chance of thunderstorms,  there is a counter-forecast of 70% of no thunderstorms – in other words, the odds are in favor of fair weather.  This is naturally dismissed by most people, however, because the graphic shows thunderstorms, not fair weather.

Imagine if the forecast above showed “Partly Cloudy”, with a 70% appended to it.  What would the reaction be?  Likely much different than the reaction to the graphic above, even though they literally mean the same thing. Why is this?

Well, after reading what some psychologists had to say about graphics, it looks like we may have a clue.  Written information is processed by the analytical side of the brain.  Every human being can make a conscious choice whether or not to process that information.  But, graphics are processed immediately and involuntarily by the right side of the brain – and provide an initial impression regardless of the written content.

I believe this is why many people don’t trust meteorologists – and why many people don’t heed storm warnings.  In the case of the Thunderstorm Chance graphic above – if no thunderstorms are observed by the end user – which is a 70% chance – then the trust for the National Weather Service by that end user many suffer.  But, if the National Weather Service remains silent about the 30% chance of thunderstorms, and thunderstorms do in fact occur, then the trust also suffers.  Kind of a debacle.

I deal with this all the time…

National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center forecast for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, with observed events overlaid

In the above graphic from May 25th, 2015, the Storm Prediction Center highlighted areas across the United States that would see thunderstorms, and in some cases, severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.  These areas are in darker green, yellow, orange, and red, each with a corresponding percentage – or chance – of occurring.

Severe Weather Threat Categories

For example, a “Marginal” threat means that there is less than a 15% chance of a severe thunderstorm occurring within 25 miles of a point within the highlighted area.  In other words, “isolated”.  Likewise, “Slight” generally encompasses percentage of severe storms occurring between 15% and 30%, within a 25 mile radius.  And so on.

In the above May 25th, 2015 forecast, we can see that most of the severe weather reports occurred in the areas highlighted in orange and red – since these areas highlighted the highest potential.  However, there is also a noted large swath of area – like much of Deep South Texas and Louisiana and a good bit of the Central Plains – that didn’t receive a reported severe thunderstorm, despite being highlighted with potential.  Even parts of the orange (enhanced potential) and red (moderate potential) didn’t observe a severe storm, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the forecast was inaccurate.

A line of thunderstorms on May 25th, 2015, in an “enhanced” region (30-45% chance of occurring) of forecasted severe thunderstorms

The problem is, combined with media hype and a game of social-media gossip, 15% of severe storm potential (within 25 miles, mind you) – while literally meaning 85% chance of no severe storm – can be misinterpreted to “a severe storm is expected to occur”.  After time and time again of these misunderstood “false alarms”, folks loose faith, and may even disregard an imminent severe weather warning – like taking shelter for a tornado headed toward them.

I’m not suggesting that anyone should disregard low-end chances of severe weather!  All I’m saying is: Take the forecast at face value, read the description, and be aware of the potential.

-Meteorologist Dan Schreiber

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January 2017 Weather Roundup – What The Heck Happened?

For most across America, this winter hasn’t brought very normal weather at all.  From torrential rainfall to much of California, to heavy snow and much-below-normal frigid temperatures through the Mountain West, to tornado outbreaks in the south, even meteorologists are trying to figure out what card to play next in the seasonal forecasting game.

While climatologists at the Climate Prediction Center have noted that the 2016-2017 winter season is a La Niña season, recent observations show a trend toward a neutral season – neither a La Niña nor El Niño.  That makes the most sense right now, considering most of the weather we’ve seen over the past month or so doesn’t really seem to jive with either of the two regimes – it really just seems to have a mind of it’s own.

For example, of 365 major tornado outbreaks recorded since the 17th Century in the United States, only 14 (less than 4%) have occurred in the month of January.  This year was one of those 14 times.

Perhaps we need to start off with the Climate Prediction Center’s forecast.  Mind you, the CPC had an embarrassing mix-up for December’s weather – with an extremely liberal bias of warmer-than-normal temperatures throughout almost the entire United States.  This was quickly and quietly changed when plummeting, well-below-normal temperatures consumed most of the Northwest.  Of course, following our previous administration’s agenda for climate change, forecasts even 12 months in advance showed (and still continue to show, for the most part) no speculation of cooler-than-normal temperatures, but plenty of notions regarding warmer-than-normal trends.  At any rate…here’s what their idea for January 2017 was:

The Climate Prediction Center’s Forecast for January 2017. Temperature (Left), Precipitation (Right)

Following December’s trend, the Northwest was expected to stay cold, while much of the South and East Coast looked to be warmer than usual.  Following a somewhat La Niña-like pattern, the Northwest, Great Basin, and Mountain West was forecasted to be wetter than normal, as was the Southeast, while West Texas looked drier than normal.

Here’s what happened:

Temperature Anomaly Observations for January 2017, from the Climate Prediction Center (CPC)

January 2017 Precipitation (% of Normal)

Safe to say that “Global” Warming is not occurring out West…although the Eastern Half of the United States seemed to experience Summer in January (no complaints here).  What I think is more interesting, though, is the precipitation forecast versus the observed weather.  It rained and snowed A LOT…and higher accumulations seemed to appear in places that weren’t really highlighted (at least strongly) by the Climate Prediction Center.

For example, the Great Plains received nearly 500% of their normal January rainfall, while the CPC never really mentioned this.  Meanwhile the northwest was rather drier-than-normal  – not exactly what the CPC mentioned, either, and certainly not typical of La Niña.  California got hammered – and was only expected to receive “normal” precipitation values.  Believe it or not, California still has a drought, somehow – and so does the Great Plains.

Drought As of the End of January

But, this isn’t a bash on the CPC – they are certainly some fine meteorologists who do the best with what they’ve got.

My main point is that for some reason, the meteorology field is having a real rough time trying to make short-range monthly forecasts that support the previous administration’s climate change agenda, and be accurate at the same time.

We all hear the stories of “if we continue to warm at this rate, x, y, and z will happen”.  Let’s just be honest…even the experts at the CPC are having a rough time forecasting a month or two in the future following temperature and rainfall trends, so I really extend no credibility to any other multi-decade forecast.

Let’s just look at trends, for kicks:

Trending Average of El Niño vs La Niña Temperature & Rainfall Anomaly Normals for December, January, & February, from the Climate Prediction Center (CPC)

Straight from the CPC, we note that even the trending oscillations between La Niña and El Niño still bring both above normal and below normal temperature and precipitation values across the Contiguous United States.  Of course, this winter, none of these charts seems representative of the widespread current conditions.

And, if we were to simply stick with trends for climate forecasting, the CPC should take another look at their February 2017 Outlook (below) and compare it to January’s trends – I don’t see much of a resemblance.  – Meteorologist Dan Schreiber

The Climate Prediction Center’s (CPC) Temperature (Left) and Precipitation (Right) February 2017 Outlook

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Severe Weather Outbreak Down South – January 22nd, 2017

The Tallahassee, Florida Radar from 1:32PM on January 22nd, 2017, showing several severe thunderstorms (including tornado warnings) across the Florida Panhandle

I posted yesterday on DanielSchreiber.org regarding the very powerful, dangerous storm outbreak across the Deep South – you can read it here.   It appears as much of Winter has disappeared in to Springtime already across the Southern United States, and atmospheric conditions have continued to be ripe for severe weather from Texas to Florida for the past couple of weeks. Here’s yesterday’s (January 21st) severe storm reports:

Storm Reports From January 21st at 7AM EST until January 22nd at 7AM Eastern Time

So far, this multi-tiered storm outbreak had killed at least 15 people through Mississippi and Georgia – and my fear is that in the next 24 hours, there will be more names added to this list, especially after taking a look at the latest Storm Prediction Center (SPC) forecast, which rarely ever highlights regions of “Moderate” potential for severe weather, not to mention “High”.

The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center’s Convective Outlook From 3PM EST on January 22nd, 2017

The significance of the terms “Moderate” and “High” in an SPC Outlook is that it shows extremely high confidence in extraordinarily dangerous weather occurring in a particular location.  Really, only in historically significant, near-record tornadic outbreaks do you see a forecast of “High” probability for severe weather.

For instance, if you look above at the Tornado Forecast – You can see a black-hatched area through the “15%” and “30%” chance of tornadoes – indicating that not only is there a 15-30% chance of a tornado within 25 miles of any given point within the southern half of Georgia, the Northern half of Florida, and the Eastern half of South Carolina, there is at least a 10% chance that tornadoes will at least contain the strength of an EF-2 tornado – enough to be extremely destructive.

RGB-Enhanced GOES-East Satellite Loop From January 22nd, 2017

Looking at the Damaging Wind Forecast, we also notice a black-hatched area, indicating at least a 10% chance of winds in excess of 75 mph – which, in reality, can be be more widespread-destructive than tornadoes.  When I see this, I immediately think of a Derecho – which is a line of very powerful thunderstorms – often containing tornadoes and large hail – that also moves at very fast speeds and have been known to cause winds in excess of 100 mph in isolated gusts.

Let’s just say…it would be difficult for the Storm Prediction Center to draw anything more dangerous today.

Surface Fronts on January 22nd, 2017

So what makes the Storm Prediction Center so confident in a widespread severe weather outbreak?
Perhaps part of it has to do with the past couple of days of severe weather across the Gulf States.  In the Science of Meteorology, understanding the past is key to forecasting the future (it’s kind of like having the answer key in front of you, but with some of the pages missing).

What has me concerned?  Well, I can’t speak for the Storm Prediction Center, but just a quick glance at the atmospheric conditions both at the surface and aloft certainly sheds some light in their forecast.

For example, Dew Point Temperatures over 70 degrees through the Eastern Gulf (yellow), and over 60 degrees through Southern Alabama and Georgia (light yellow) means that there is an excessive amount of moisture available for significant thunderstorm development (and heavy rainfall leading to flooding concerns).  A large amount of atmospheric instability is also needed, and we see that just ahead of the very distinct cold front seen below through Alabama and well into the Gulf of Mexico.

Four-Panel of Severe Weather Indicators – Dew Points, Instability, Lapse Rates, and Vorticity Mid-Day on Sunday, January 22nd, 2017

The Lifted Index above shows significant signs of atmospheric lapse rates far exceeding the atmospheric “normal”, meaning that the low and mid-levels of the troposphere are cooling with altitude much faster than under normal circumstances.  This opens a void of unstable air, which, in this case, is filled explosively with rich moisture and warm temperatures capable of severe thunderstorms.

Lastly, a quick look at mid-tropospheric vorticity, winds, and geopotential height above shows a prime environment for atmospheric lift and exhaust.  In layman’s terms, if the atmosphere wants to sustain severe weather, it must have a means of expelling spent energy while receiving a constant supply of new fuel.  The vorticity image above not only shows a strong, negatively-tilted trough of Low Pressure (which brings significant atmospheric instability), but also strong, curving, divergent wind flow over Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, which allows for strong wind shear capable of tilting and rotating severe thunderstorms.

Weather Balloon Data From Tallahassee, Florida on January 22nd, 2017 at roughly 1 PM (1800Z)

Weather balloons are, in my opinion, aside from satellite imagery and radar technology, the most important tool for meteorologists.  Abive, I’m included the fun that the National Weather Service Office in Tallahassee, Florida has been having this afternoon with their weather balloon – a special launch due to severe weather.

Unless you would like a semester-long seminar in how to read these, I’ll spare you the trouble.  But, take my word for it, the atmospheric profile taken by this weather balloon simply verifies the data from above, and validates the concern of the Storm Prediction Center Forecasters.

If you are in the South…or know someone in the South…be aware, be prepared, and know where to find shelter.

– Meteorogist Dan Schreiber

Originally Posted at SmalltownWeather.com

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Deep South Severe Weather Outbreak – January 21st, 2017

Water Vapor Satellite Image Over The Southeast During Mid-Day On January 21st, 2017

A very strong negatively-tilted trough and accompanied cold front are currently blasting through the Gulf States early this weekend – with widespread severe weather ongoing and expected to continue.

Global Forecast System (GFS) Jet Stream Depiction Of Mid-Day Saturday

The National Weather Service pegged this severe weather outbreak last weekend with high certainty – which is somewhat rare nearly a week in advance.  In this case, however, given the orientation of the Jet Stream and warm temperatures and moist air mass along the Gulf of Mexico, even a less-seasoned forecaster could have found some concern in this weekend’s weather through the Deep South.

What makes these two ingredients so special?  Well, the south-west to north-east orientation of the Jet Stream aloft – especially one containing very strong winds & bumps in the pattern (known as short-wave troughs) – creates a large amount of upper-level divergence (air that lifts through the atmosphere and diverges when aloft, kind of like a fountain of water).

Additionally, this specific orientation of the Jet Stream and mid-troposphere winds bring cold temperatures aloft, which create intense instability within the atmosphere.  Air cools with altitude at a given rate – and when this rate is increased more than the standard rate, instability is created which allows a void in the atmosphere to be filled.

Since the strong Jet Stream is aloft creating strong upper-level divergence (and thus lifting motion in the vertical profile of the atmosphere), this void is filled with the warm, moist air from near the surface of the earth in the Gulf of Mexico and nearby areas.  Since warm air freely rises if allowed to by the surrounding atmosphere (and in this case, the atmosphere is promoting it), then this warm, moist air can literally explode upward into the atmosphere.

As it does so, the strong winds aloft from the Jet Stream cause this updraft to tilt, which allows the abundance of the warm, moist air (which has been condensing into a monstrous thunderstorm cloud in the meantime) to separate from the downdraft of all the rain and hail the thunderstorm will produce – which allows the storm to continue receiving more and more moisture “food” while remaining extremely destructive – literally like putting diesel fuel into a powerful machine.

The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center’s Outlook on Saturday, January 21st

Speaking from experience on this one – while “15%” doesn’t seem like a high chance…15% actually refers to the potential of occurrence within a 25 miles of any point within the specified area – and the same with 30% and 45% and so-on.  15% generally raises my brow…and by the time we start seeing the reds and pinks of 30% and 45%…I start getting real concerned because of the high probability of severe weather occurrence somewhere nearby.

The hashed-black color indicates potential for “Significant Severe” storms, which typically contain winds at least 75 mph, hail at least 2 inches in diameter, and/or EF-2 tornadoes and above.

Radar Loop From the Atlanta, Georgia Radar Mid-Day on Saturday, January 21st

In the above image, we note a line of strong storms along (just ahead of) a cold front barreling through Georgia, with several severe thunderstorm warnings (red boxes) and a few tornado warnings (pink boxes).  A few tornadoes were reported, and most of the severe thunderstorms were noted for their powerful wind gusts.

Another wave of severe storms is expected later this afternoon and overnight through the Lower Mississippi Valley as a strong mid-tropospheric trough ejects out of the Southern Plains (Primarily Texas) with an associated strong cold front.  By tomorrow, these dangerous waves on energy will bombard the southern Atlantic states – essentially from North Carolina (and even parts of Virginia) to Florida.

Meteorologist Dan Schreiber.

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2016 Temperature & Precipitation, & Severe Weather Statistics

These weather statistics are products produced by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information, formerly National Climatic Data Center.

According to the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), the year 2016, as a whole, brought the warmest national-average-minimum temperature on record (total of 122 years).  2016 had the third-warmest maximum temperature, and the second-highest average temperatures on record, out of 122 recorded years.  It also placed 99th (out of 122) as far as precipitation (122 being the highest).

The National Average Maximum Temperature for 2016: 66.69*F

The National Average Minimum Temperature for 2016: 43.13*F

The National Average Temperature for 2016: 54.91*F

The National Average Precipitation for 2016: 31.70 Inches

Let’s look at the States, each ranked as far as how they stacked against previous years, with 122 being the warmest (for temperature) or wettest (for precipitation), not including Alaska & Hawaii:

47 of the Contiguous 48 States recorded “Much Above Average” Maximum Temperatures across the year – meaning if you were to average every day’s high temperature, it was much warmer than the 122-year average.

Global Warming theorists make their money with the average minimum-temperature ranks – averaging all of the average daily lows together, reaching a record of warmest low temperatures in 122 years.  Still, across the Contiguous US, this only averaged a chilly 43.13*F (we’re not going to melt or vaporize anytime soon).  Nonetheless, this is 3*F above the 122-year average.

The Drought in the Southeast and Northeast did not help those states, especially Georgia, setting a new record for warmest-all-around.  Arizona, New Mexico, Mississippi, Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, North Dakota, Connecticut, and Rhode Island all came in as the second-warmest average temperature on record.

Speaking of droughts, Georgia recorded the 9th-driest year on record (122 years), and Alabama recorded the 11th-driest.  But, even worse off, was Connecticut, with the 4th-driest year on record, and Massachusetts with it’s 10th driest year.  Wisconsin and Minnesota, on the other hand, nearly set record wet records for the year.  Despite tragic rainfall and flooding in Louisiana, it was still 11 years off of it’s record.

As noted, while there were some high-temperature records for the year, the real record-setters came in with warm low-temperatures, as seen above.  Urban heat-islands could play a role in this (since many of these record-setting regions are observed in rapidly growing populated areas, which tend to trap daytime warm air overnight), but not entirely (like southeast Montana).

The above image shows where it rained the most (and least).  Not a very typical El Niño season, as there should have been higher amounts of precipitation through the southern half of the United States, including the record-setting drought area of the Southern Appalachians.

While only one Major Hurricane made landfall this season, there was still plenty of weather action, especially across the Southern and Central Great Plains, while severe drought caused big problems in California and the Southern Appalachians.

In many cases, warm land temperatures can be tied to warm ocean temperatures, so let’s have a look at those…

  

While the 1981-2010 30-year average does put the globe above-average, we also note significant cooling through Asia as of late, while North America stays well-above normal.  Ocean temperatures, while somewhat above normal as a whole, do not show any real startling signs of significant warming, except during the winter and spring of 2016, when one of the strongest El Niño seasons was recorded (similar to 1997-1998).

I think there are several factors to consider in these graphics.  

  1. 122 years of recorded weather information in the United States is not very much, considering the age of the earth (which I believe to be about 6,000 years old).
  2. 122 years ago, weather observing was not nearly as sophisticated or widespread as it is today.  There were no satellites, radars, computers, or fancy thermometers and rain buckets – so I take those records, what few their were, with a grain of salt.
  3. Heat, simply put, is caused by the sun.  Before we blame humans for warming temperatures, let’s look at the intensity of the Sun and the amount of radiation making it into the Earth’s atmosphere and being absorbed by the Earth’s surface (and oceans).
  4. These records do not take into account volcanic eruptions and clouds, which play an enormous role in most precipitation and global temperatures.

Just for kicks, we can see where we stand compared to the last 100 years or s

Mean Monthly Minimum Temperature Map – Click To See Larger

Mean Monthly Maximum Temperature Map – Click To See Larger

 

  • Meteorologist Dan Schreiber, with help from the National Centers for Environmental Information
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