Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tropical Storm Katia Organizing Way Out in the Atlantic...

The above satellite image of Tropical Storm Katia was just taken a few moments ago. The system is currently located way out in the Tropical Atlantic, about 1285 miles East of the Leeward Islands, and moving toward the West/Northwest at 20 mph.

Maximum sustained winds were estimated at 70 mph, and the minimum central pressure was 29.23 inches of mercury (990 millibars), as of the 5pm EDT National Hurricane Center (NHC) Advisory.

The current "official" NHC forecast calls for Katia to become a hurricane later this evening or tonight, and to make a gradual Northwest turn by this weekend:

This forecast basically lies down the middle of the current computer model composites, which continues that general trajectory between Bermuda and Puerto Rico by the first of next week:

After that time, several factors will come into play, both at the surface and middle through upper levels of the atmosphere, which will impact the track of Katia.  At this time, those factors would tend to suggest curvature toward the Northeast before the system nears the U.S. Coast.  It's still too early to pinpoint this, but we'll have to keep a very close eye on Katia over the coming days until the future path for next week becomes more certain.

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Tropical System In the Gulf to Wreak Havoc on Forecasters...

In a post yesterday morning, I remarked that a tropical disturbance developing between the Yucatan and Cuba could bring some much needed rain to Texas and/or Louisiana by Labor Day weekend.  That system has since moved Northward, and is currently entering the Gulf of Mexico, as shown by the yellow circled area on the visible satellite image above.  It has since been dubbed "Invest 93" (meaning an area of worthy of "Investigation") by the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

The computer models are literally all over the place with this one, as you can see on the latest computer model composite track image below:

Some, like the GFS model (see image below), wobble the system around in the Northwest Gulf for a few days, then bring it onshore across the Northcentral or Northeast Gulf during the pre-dawn hours on Tuesday:

GFS Model Valid 1am CDT Tuesday, 9-6-11

By the way, if the above scenario comes to pass, then very heavy rain will gradually spread Northeast across areas battered by Hurricane Irene by the middle and end of next week.

On the other side of the track forecast spectrum, the European (ECMWF) model wobbles the system around the Northwest Gulf for a few days before moving it back to the Southwest and shows it making landfall in South Texas on Wednesday morning:

ECMWF Model Valid 7am CDT Wednesday, 9-7-11

Frankly, at this point, it's just too early to tell which scenario (or one of the many in between) will come to pass....

As I pointed out on yesterday's post, if you have travel plans for Labor Day weekend along the Gulf Coast, please keep an eye on the latest information regarding this system, which when named, will most likely be called "Lee".

Meanwhile, the cold front that I mentioned in yesterday's post will continue uninterrupted into the Southern Plains on Monday, as shown by the latest GFS computer model image (with my notations) below:

While we'll certainly take the cooler temperatures alone here in Texas, we'd love to get in on some rain from Lee as well.  We'll just have to see how that situation develops over the coming days...

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Relief Headed for One Form or Two?

After setting record high temperatures of 110+ in many areas (some of which were all time records, or tied for all time records) since Saturday, has the intense heat finally peaked in the Lone Star state this summer?  I think it may have (or it is in the process of, depending on exactly where you're located).

Today will be another scorcher, with high's of 100-105+ in many areas, and many records to be set again, but several changes are about to take place in the atmosphere that will lead to some temperature relief - and possibly some relief in the drought department, as well!

The above satellite image was taken just a few moments ago.  I have highlighted a tropical disturbance located roughly between Cuba and the Yucatan.  It is just drifting very slowly Westward at the moment, with not a lot in the way of organization taking place at the present time, however that is likely to change in a few days...

Below is a snapshot of the latest Global Forecasting System (GFS) computer model, valid 1am CDT this morning.  I have circled the aforementioned tropical disturbance in yellow on that image as well:

The same GFS computer model shows the disturbance becoming better organized out over the northwest Gulf of Mexico (yellow circled area again) in this image valid 7pm CDT this Saturday:

...and by 1am CDT Monday, Labor Day, morning, it is forecasting what looks like either a Tropical Depression, or perhaps even Tropical Storm "Lee" along the Texas or Louisiana coast: 

At the same time on the image above, I've noted a rather decent cold front that is forecast to be moving Southward into Texas.  A combination of cooler air behind the front, as well as increased cloud cover and possibly, dare I say it, rain from the tropical disturbance will lead to a dramatic cool down across much of the region by Labor Day.

Of course, we'll have to watch the progress of the tropical disturbance to see exactly what impact it may have, rain-wise or otherwise, on Texas and surrounding states, but at least we have something to look forward to, and the first decent looking chance of some widespread rain for at least part of the state in a long time.

I'm sure you also couldn't help but notice the large "blob" on the GFS model out over the Atlantic.  By that time we'll be dealing with Hurricane Katia, and likely a major hurricane at that.  The $64,000 question, of course, is whether she'll track more toward the West, the Northwest or turn out to sea as she approaches the U.S. East coast later next week (see notations on the image below, valid at the same time as the one above):

Stay tuned...we've got a lot to watch in the upcoming days!  If you have plans for this Labor Day Weekend (particularly the 2nd half of it) along the Texas or Louisiana coasts, keep a close eye on the latest updates...

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Hurricane Naming Trivia - Katia vs. Katrina

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls... it's time for another exciting round of "Tropical Cyclone Naming Trivia..."

I'll take "Tropical Cyclones that begin with the letter 'K' for $10,000..."

If you've been following the list of 2011 Atlantic Tropical Cyclone names, you already know that the next one in line is Katia (pronounced "kah-tee-ah").  

Take a closer look at that name:  Katia

Notice anything missing?

Kat_i_a guessed it: fill in the blanks with an "r" and an "n" and you get:  Katrina!

For some background:  those wild, wacky guys at the World Meteorological Organization rotate through the same list of tropical cyclone (tropical storm and hurricane) names every 6 years.  Since the name "Katrina" was retired after the devastating event in 2005, it had to be replaced by another female name that began with the letter K.  I guess the guys sitting around the poker (er, I mean, conference room) table at the WMO just figured it would be easier to drop a couple of consonants and whammo.... we have the new name "Katia".

All jokes aside, if what I think is going to happen is going to happen, then "Tropical Depression 12" will soon be named Katia.  Depending on how strong she gets, and exactly where she tracks, she may be no laughing matter, indeed...

Stay tuned for details!

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Was Hurricane Irene Really "Over-Hyped", or Did it Just Not Affect You?

Several of the "traditional" media outlets and tons of social media outlets (including bloggers) are out there today saying that certain factions of the meteorological community and related media "over-hyped" the potential impact of Hurricane (and later Tropical Storm) Irene this past weekend (some didn't even bother to wait for the storm to end before advancing that theory).

I'd like to ask those who believe that Irene was "over-hyped" a few questions:

If one of your friends or loved ones were one of the now 35 people that have been confirmed dead as a result of Hurricane Irene - would you feel that the event was over-hyped?

If you or your business were one of the 15 million that lost power at the height of the storm - would you feel that the event was over-hyped?

If you or your business were one of the 3.5 million - yes, 3.5 million - that still have no power as of this writing, and have been given an estimate of up to 2 weeks before power will be completely restored - would you feel that the event was over-hyped?

Power outages continue blue shaded areas

I realize those of you who are pro "it was hyped" are probably rolling your eyes and growing tired right now... but stick with me on this for just a minute...

If you or your business were one of the tens of thousands that currently reside within the flood zone of a bank-full river that isn't forecast to crest for up to a week - would you feel that the event was over-hyped?

There are many more examples, but as they say, a picture is worth 1,000  If you were walking along what used to be a state highway along the North Carolina coast that has now been reduced to rubble (like the gentleman walking in the picture at the top of this post) - would you feel that the event was over-hyped?

Common sense says that the answer to each of the above questions would be a resounding "NO" - but I realize that's not the society that we live in today.  In the always on, "it's all about me" world, many are only concerned with anything that's happening within a 50 foot radius (and that may be generous) of good 'ol NUMBER ONE.

Sure, Irene could have been much, much worse, and I for one am thankful that she didn't live up to her full potential.  While winds at the surface level were sustained at "only" 90 mph with gusts to 115 mph along the North Carolina coast (see image below), just a few hundred feet above the surface level the winds were howling at 130-140 mph - sustained!

Maximum wind gusts observed with Irene
Sustained winds were generally 75-80% of the gust values

Why the stronger winds just a few hundred feet aloft did not mix down to the surface level is just one of several questions that we have left to answer after an event such as Irene, but that's a good example of why myself and other meteorologists were warning residents and businesses in high-rise buildings that winds would be stronger above the 20th floor than they would be at the surface.

You see, in the weather business, you take the best information that you have available and pass it along in the best way that you know how.  Whether or not those on the receiving end of the warning choose to listen is out of your control to a great degree.  That is a personal decision that is made by balancing past experience with current information.  If the person being warned feels threatened, they'll probably act (to what degree depends on the person).  If they don't feel threatened they'll probably sit back and watch how things play out for awhile before deciding whether or not to take action.

The above maximum wind gust map (which I compiled by utilizing the Iowa State University database that you can access here) only tells part of the story.  There were thousands of individual reports of uprooted trees which resulted in power outages without giving specific wind gust estimates.  The image below shows where those types of reports were concentrated, to the right of the red line:

While I can't speak for other weather-related bloggers or those in the media, the single most significant impact of Irene that we warned of on this blog was the possibility of widespread tree and powerline damage, which would lead to widespread power outages.  Whether or not you call that "over-hyping" is open to interpretation I suppose, but in the end, you can't argue with the facts.

Add to that the flooding that is ongoing or has yet to occur (because rivers are still rising and have not yet flown out of their banks in many areas) and Irene will top out as a storm causing damage in the tens of billions of dollars - one of the top 10 (and possibly in the top 5) costliest hurricanes in U.S. History.  That's not hype - that's a cold hard fact.

Let's look at Irene another way.  An EF-0 tornado has wind speeds of 65-85 mph.  Using that criteria, Irene was the equivalent of a nearly 200 mile wide EF-0 tornado that traveled along a path over 750 miles in length and inhabited by over 50 million people.  Let me ask you this:  if we could give advanced, track-specific warning on such a tornado event, would you want to hear about it, or would we be over-hyping the event?

Sure, the forecast may not have been perfect (and the degree of accuracy, as always, was highly dependent upon the source), but really, when was the last time you've been given 5 days advance warning of the equivalent of a 700+ mile long, 200 mile wide EF-0 tornado that was as accurate as the track forecast provided for Hurricane Irene?

Was it really over-hyped, or was it just inconvenient?

Putting all of the hype vs. reality arguments aside, the real question is this:  Will you be ready when the next hurricane approaches?  Perhaps more importantly, if you receive warning that your family is threatened by the storm, will you take action and move to a safe place in advance, or will you decide to stay behind and take your chances just because you felt (or were told) that Irene was over-hyped ("so this one must be too")?

After weighing the options as they relate to where you live and how the storm is forecast to come in, I hope that you'll choose the former option... because the latter one is a gamble that could end up costing you your life...

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Initial Summary of Irene Damage / Other Reports

As of this writing, 10 people have been confirmed dead and over 15,000,000 commercial and residential customers are without power along the East coast in the aftermath of Hurricane (and Tropical Storm) Irene.  

I'll be a bit more specific in a later post, however I wanted to give you a snapshot of some of the wind damage (mostly to trees and power lines as expected) and peak wind reports by region.  The images below start with reports in North Carolina, and then work Northward, ending in New England.  Flood reports are not highlighted here, only wind specific wind speed reports and wind damage reports.  There were thousands of reports, I tried to choose those which were representative of any given area on the images below:

Widespread flooding also continues in the aftermath of Irene, with rivers not even expected to crest for days or even a week before the waters subside.  The purple and red colored icons on the following images show where moderate to major river flooding is either underway or forecast this week:

The damage surveys have just begun.  When it's all said and done (including the flooding), damage will no doubt be in the tens of billions of dollars in association with Irene.  Thankfully, the death toll wasn't nearly as high as it could have been, particularly with 50+ million people being directly affected.  We certainly have that to be grateful for.  Of course, to those who did lose a loved one, that is little consolation, and our thoughts and prayers go out to them.

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Beautiful Image

Latest NASA full disc satellite image:

...same below with a few notations I've made (Irene, Jose, and Invest 92 - the next one????)

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Tropical Storm Jose Approaching Bermuda; Will Not Threaten U.S.

Tropical Storm Jose was located about 75 miles Southwest of Bermuda at midday, and was moving to the North at 15 mph. Maximum sustained winds were estimated at 40 mph, and Jose is forecast to remain rather weak as the center passes to the West of Bermuda later today.

Wind gusts to tropical storm force, along with 1-3 inches of rain, can be expected in Bermuda this afternoon and evening as Jose approaches.

Jose is forecast to weaken on Monday, and will be carried off to the East of the United States by upper-level winds if it does not dissipate completely before that time.

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Midday Irene Update...

Hurricane Irene made landfall near New York City at about 9am EDT this morning. Shortly after making landfall (at which time a wind gust to 91 mph was recorded over Long Island), maximum sustained winds decreased to near 65 mph (due to friction with the land, buildings, etc., as we would expect in such a large urban area) and she has now been classified as a Tropical Storm.

At 11am EDT, the center of Irene was located 10 miles West of Danbury Connecticut, and was moving North/Northeast at about 26 mph.  Maximum sustained winds are 60 mph, with a minimum central pressure of 28.53 inches of mercury (966 millibars).

The image below (click to enlarge) shows widespread high wind and wind damage reports from across the region overnight and this morning:

...and the same data is presented on the image below, but I've zoomed in to the NYC area and highlighted some of the more significant reports in the blue text boxes:

As expected, and as we saw further South on Saturday, widespread tree and power line damage has been the primary type of damage thus far.  Unfortunately, as you can see by a few of the highlighted reports, some folks were injured when outside and a tree fell, or even trapped in vehicles due to fallen trees.  I think if folks hadn't heeded the warnings in general, though, we'd be hearing of a lot more injuries, so that is certainly good news overall.  I'll make a separate post later today with a breakdown of reports all along the path of Irene, up through New England as stay tuned for that.

Sustained winds of 50-60 mph with gusts to 70 mph are spreading Northward through southern New England at this time.  Both sustained winds and gusts are 20-30% higher above the 20th floor of high rise buildings, so please keep that in mind this morning and early afternoon as Irene moves through the region.

The primary threat, wind wise, will continue to be the downing of trees and power lines which could result in widespread power outages up into parts of New England this afternoon and evening.

Once the center of Irene passes into Vermont and New Hampshire this afternoon, the winds will likely have decreased into the 40-50 mph sustained with gusts to 60 mph range, which will continue a possibility on up into Canada tonight.

Tropical Storm Warnings continue in effect all along the coast along and ahead of Irene's path (dark blue shaded area on the image above).

Gusty winds to tropical storm force are still being observed well South of the center, as far back as coastal Virginia, New Jersey and Long Island, which is why warnings continue for those areas as well.  Winds will taper-off from South to North across Virginia, New Jersey, Long Island and the New York City area during the afternoon hours.

Storm surge coastal flooding of up to 4-8 feet can be expected as Irene continues to pull water up over Western portions of Long Island Sound, Eastward along the Southern coasts of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.  This will especially be a hazard today near the times of high tide.  For more detailed information on potential for local storm surge impacts, please go to this link and select the NWS office nearest you.

Very heavy, potentially flooding rains will be the other hazard from Irene today.  Widespread amounts of 5-7 inches with localized totals of 10-12 inches can be expected along and ahead of Irene today and early tonight:

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Strong, Damaging Winds Heading Toward NYC / Long Island...

The above image shows the Northern bands of Hurricane Irene continuing to pummel Philadelphia and much of New Jersey. This activity is also advancing Northward into New York City and Long Island at this time.

Sustained surface winds of 30-40 mph with gusts to 55 mph can be expected to overspread the NYC Metro area as well as much of Long Island between now and Midnight EDT.  Winds will continue to pick-up after Midnight, with sustained winds of 55-65 mph and gusts to 75 mph possible (possibly even stronger out on parts of Long Island) by dawn.  Winds will be even stronger in high rise buildings, by some 20-30% as you go beyond the 20th floor.

A typically bustling Times Square is nearly dead at this hour - a good sign that folks are heeding the warning of the past several days:

Widespread tree and power line damage, with widespread power outages have been reported across southeast Pennsylvania and New Jersey this evening.  This same threat will overspread NYC and Long Island during the next few hours and continue overnight.

Very heavy, potentially flooding rains can also be expected across the region, with 10-12 inch accumulations not uncommon by Sunday morning.

Isolated tornadoes are also possible, and a Tornado Watch continues overnight for the region.

Please see my earlier detailed post for more information on what can be expected, and for how long, across the region tonight.  The post was made earlier this evening, but the forecast has not changed and is still very much on track this evening...

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We're Going 'Batty' In Austin....

A friend of mine sent me a picture of a bat that took up residence on his back porch this morning (see image below):

We both live near Kyle, TX, just South of Austin.  You may have heard of the "Batfest" that takes place in Austin every year, underneath the Congress St. bridge downtown.  In fact, it's going on this weekend.  When I got my friends picture, I jokingly said that the bat probably got lost on the way back from Batfest last night...

In the past I've noticed flocks of bats show up on the New Braunfels doppler radar, usually rushing out of some caves between here and San Antonio at dusk, so I thought it would be cool to watch the radar this evening and see them fly out of the Congress street bridge in Austin.  (Yes, what is "cool" to one may not be "cool" to another, but you've got to consider the source here).

Well, much to my surprise, not only did they fly out of the Congress street bridge at about 8:10pm, but also out from under a bridge a mere 1/2 mile from my house.  That explains the mystery bat, for sure...

Take a look at the radar images below.  I've circled 3 bat swarms on the images.  The first image was taken at 8:10pm, and the 2nd at 8:14pm: 

The phenomenon looks even better in an animation if you have GRLevelX or some other kind of radar software (the higher resolution the better - this stuff doesn't always show up on the mass-media radar loops).

The Northern-most swarm is the Congress bridge, the middle one is a bridge that goes over Onion Creek in south Austin, and the bottom one is the bridge near my house (Kyle Parkway bridge).

Doppler radar is sensitive enough, when other atmospheric conditions are right, to pick up things like bird (and bat) flocks, and sometimes even insects.

Hmmm....I might have found a business opportunity here.  "Kyle Bat Fest", here we come...

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Web Cams Bring Hurricane Irene Right Into Your Living Room...

**Update 7:40pm CDT 8/27/11:
Via e-mail, Chuck from Atlantic City sent me a link to the "Naked Cowgirl" webcam in Times Square. Sorry, Chuck, this is a family blog.  Besides, it looks like she took the night off anyway (had to check out his link for blog quality control, of course).

Merle from Philadelphia wrote:  "Why don't they put windshield wipers on some of those cameras".  I couldn't agree more.  Many of the department of transportation "traffic cams" have wipers, and some of the media sponsored ones as well, but the others are usually a sloppy mess once the rain starts.

------------------------------------Original post below:

If you're getting tired of listening to all of the talking heads on TV while trying to watch the storm (I don't know - maybe you don't like the shot they have framed up, or your mute button is broken, or a combination of the two), you can also watch Hurricane Irene live on the web!

Here are just a few of the thousands of live webcams with views in various areas that will be impacted this evening and into tonight:

"New York Live" cameras - various cameras positioned throughout the city

Midtown New York City cameras, including Empire State Building

5 different cameras positioned around Times Square

Link to numerous cameras around New Jersey

Link to various cameras around Philadelphia

Link to various cameras around Baltimore

Link to various cameras around Washington, DC

If you have a favorite webcam that's getting hammered this evening, please feel free to post it in comments or shoot me an e-mail and I'll update the post as time permits...

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New Tornado Watch Issued...Includes NYC Metro...

A new Tornado Watch has been issued to the North of the present location of Irene's center, valid until 5am EDT Sunday morning. This watch includes the NYC Metro area.

Several noteworthy (though brief) tornadoes have taken place today, and that's certainly another hazard that comes along with a tropical cyclone such as Irene.

For more details on the expected impacts to Philadelphia, New York City, New Jersey and Long Island, please see my earlier detailed post here.

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Center of Irene Back Out Over Open Waters...

The above radar image taken at 5:51 PM EDT shows the center of Irene 35-40 miles Southeast of Norfolk, Virginia, back out over open waters.

Please see the latest full update post for more information...

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Hurricane Irene Update - 5:35 PM EDT

The center of Irene is about to move back out over open waters, as you can see on the above radar image taken just a moment ago. As of the 5pm EDT National Hurricane Center Advisory, maximum sustained winds were 80 mph, with a minimum central pressure of 28.05 inches of mercury. Irene is moving North/Northeast at 15 mph.

The latest visible, infrared and water vapor satellite images of Irene are shown in sequence below:

Tree and powerline damage has been widespread (as feared) across eastern North Carolina and now southeastern Virginia.  Some of the more significant recent reports from Virginia are highlighted on the image below (click to enlarge):

...and below is a similar image from North Carolina earlier today (additional reports have been received since these, however they are still representative of some of the more significant reports in North Carolina earlier today):

The wind impact outlook that I posted earlier today is still looking on track for this evening and into tonight:

Please keep in mind that the above wind forecasts are for the surface level.  Winds will be even higher above the 20th-25th floor of high rise buildings, by some 20-30%.

I also recently made an impacts post specific to Philadelphia/New York/Long Island.  Please see that post for additional details on threats in that region.

In addition to strong winds downing power lines, trees and causing widespread power outages, the other primary threat from Irene continues to be that of very heavy, flooding rainfall.  Widespread amounts of 6-8 inches with local amounts near one foot can be expected across the region through tonight:

For specific information on mandatory evacuations, and tidal storm surge flooding potential in a given location, please go to this link and select the office nearest you for more information.

Irene is forecast to traverse the remainder of the East coast tonight and into most of Sunday.  The latest official NHC forecast track and watch/warning map is shown below:

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