Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Highest Temperature on Record for Oklahoma In Jeopardy for Wednesday?

The Sooner State continues to bake in the heat this afternoon. As you can see on the image above, all but one station on the Oklahoma Mesonet (a network of 120 weather observing stations across the state) has reached at least 100 degrees this afternoon, and it is currently registering 99, with the century mark likely to be reached before the afternoon is over.

Computer forecast models suggest that the intense heat will peak across the state tomorrow.  One of the computer model forecasts of maximum temperatures for Wednesday is shown below, and 115-120 degrees is indicated over the darker purple shaded area just to the North of Oklahoma City and just to the West of Tulsa (as noted in white):  

If the upper end of the maximum temperature forecast for tomorrow verifies, the "all time" record high temperature for the state of 120 degrees could be in jeopardy.  The last time that 120 degrees was recorded in Oklahoma was in Tipton on June 27, 1994.

Either way, it's been a scorcher across the region for the last several days, and this is one heatwave that I'm sure Oklahoman's won't be forgetting for a long time.

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Tropical Atlantic Showing Some Signs of Life...

After a long period of quiet weather to start the hurricane season in the Atlantic Basin, there are currently two active tropical waves across the region this morning.

The first, circled in purple on the above satellite image, will produce widespread heavy rain across Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and other adjacent portions of the Caribbean for the next 24-48 hours.  Flash flooding and mudslides are possible, along with gusty winds.  This system is not expected to mature into a named storm or hurricane the way it looks right now.  Moisture from this system will begin to impact Florida late this week and into this weekend.

The second disturbance, shown in the yellow circled area, bears watching as it tracks slowly toward the West and eventually the West/Northwest over the next few days.  There are indications that it could become Tropical Storm Ernesto by the end of the week as it tracks toward the Lesser Antilles, and will need to be closely monitored as it moves West/Northwest from there toward the Caribbean Sea later in the weekend.

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Monday, July 30, 2012

Unusually Large Hail Fell on Parts of Italy Yesterday...

The above hailstones may not look all that impressive to an observer from the Plains of the United States, but for northern Italy, that's not too shabby!

A fairly extensive hailstorm struck the Refrontolio and Farria di Soligo regions of northeast Italy yesterday afternoon.  Most of the hailstones were quarter to golfball size, and some were dense enough to strip leaves off of some of the trees (as you can see if you look closely in the following video):

There was reportedly widespread damage to both agricultural lands and vehicles across the region.

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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Tornado Near Mt. Evans, CO on 7/28/12 a New Record High Elevation?

A tornado touched down close to Lincoln Lake near Mt. Evans, CO on Saturday afternoon, July 28, 2012. Mt. Evans is located in the Arapaho National Forest and is about halfway between Breckenridge and Denver.  The elevation at the summit is 12,500 feet above sea level.

The following photo was posted on twitter by John Hallan, but it does not say who shot the photo.  The tornado was quite picturesque, and looks somewhat like a waterspout in the photo:

Here's another photo, this one taken by Trish and Dan Ferguson:

...and another by Karen Goodwin:

Some additional photos of the tornado, taken by Chris Kirby (and at a much closer vantage point), can be found on his flickr stream.  On a related twitter post, he commented that the outside temperature was 40 degrees F at the time the tornado took place.

The preliminary local storm report for this event is shown below:

While the storm report doesn't hint at this, if the 12,500 foot elevation stands, I believe that the tornado will go down in the record books as the highest known elevation tornado in the U.S.  The previous highest elevation tornado took place at Rockwell Pass, California on July 7, 2004.  The elevation of the pass is 11,600 feet, and it is estimated that the base of the tornado was at approximately 12,000 feet.

If the 12,500 foot elevation of yesterday's Mt. Evans tornado stands, then it should take the record.  I'm awaiting "official" comment from the National Weather Service (NWS) in Boulder, and will post that as soon as it becomes available.

***Update 7/29/12, 5pm:  The NWS in Boulder has not issued a revised or updated storm report or "public information statement" on the tornado, however a recent posting on their facebook page states that they used the photographer's position and extrapolated via Google Earth that the elevation of the base of the tornado was approximately 11,900 feet.  This would make it 100 feet short of the old record referenced above.  So, at the moment, the Rockwell Pass tornado record stands.

I have some personal reservations about a 100 foot difference being calculated via Google Earth, but "it is what it is..." I suppose.  I don't know exactly how the Rockwell Pass elevation was calculated back in 2004, as the available documentation states that they "estimated that the base of the tornado was at approximately 12,000 feet" so I think its safe to say both of these tornadoes were very, very close to one another insofar as elevation is concerned.

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Friday, July 27, 2012

The Tornado Chronicles: Elmira, NY Tornado of 7-26-12

A tornado and damaging straight line and/or downburst winds struck Elmira, NY during the late afternoon hours of Thursday, July 26, 2012.

According to the preliminary results of the National Weather Service (NWS) survey, the tornado first touched down at around 4pm EDT near Miracle Lane off of Route 352, just West of Elmira.  The tornado then tracked in a general Easterly direction on the North side of the Chemung River for approximately 9.7 miles.  This path took the tornado through West Elmira and into the downtown area along Church Street.

In Elmira, the damage path reportedly widened to around 600 yards between Route 14 and Route 17 in the downtown area.  The tornado then turned toward the Southeast and traveled in a path near Jerusalem Hill Road, before lifting near the intersection of Jerusalem Hill Road and Monkey Run Road.

The following maps are approximations as to the track, based on the NWS survey report:

Wide View of Entire Track

Closer View of Elmira

The following damage photos have come forth via twitter (original photographers unknown, except for photo #3, which was taken by an Associated Press photographer):

The following YouTube video of the damage has recently been posted.  It is rather lengthy and unfortunately the resolution (screen size) is not great, but some of the footage of the damage is very telling.  I listened to the audio of the entire tape, and I do not believe that there is any profanity:

The NWS survey has assigned a preliminary intensity rating of EF-1 for this tornado, with maximum winds estimated at 105-110 mph.  

Thus far, I have not seen any photos or video of the actual tornado itself.  This is not surprising since this type of tornado often takes place within a "rotating comma head" of a thunderstorm that is producing damaging straight line and/or downburst winds.  In this type of situation the tornado is often hidden by rain and is not visible to the naked eye (or camera).  There are several fake photos floating around on social media outlets that are clearly not the tornado in question.

Amazingly, there were no serious injuries reported, despite the fact that the tornado tracked directly through the center of town.

If you have an interest in this tornado event, please bookmark this post and check back for additional information, photos and videos over the coming days.

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"Tornado Drought" Continues Despite Yesterday's Activity...

There were two tornado reports yesterday in the Elmira, NY area. This brings the total (preliminary) number of tornadoes for July, 2012 to 15, which keeps us in record territory for an inactive July.

I suspect that once the storm survey is complete in Elmira it will be determined that this was really two reports of one in the same tornado (if that is in fact what it was and not just wind damage), which would bring the July total down to 14.  I'll have a detailed post up concerning the Elmira area damage later this morning or early this afternoon.

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Severe Weather Update - OH Valley / Northeast

The latest radar mosaic image above shows several lines of strong to severe thunderstorms across the Ohio Valley and Northeast. The most severe activity at this time extends along the two main lines, dissecting Pennsylvania from Northeast to Southwest, and across central and southern Ohio.  

Damaging straight line wind gusts are the primary threat in this region along and ahead of these storms, although some brief tornado spin-ups are possible with some of the more organized embedded storms.  Such storms are currently located over northeast Pennsylvania to either side of the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton areas.

A Tornado Watch is in effect for this region until 9pm EDT, as shown in red on the image below.  Severe Thunderstorm Watches continue throughout the evening for the areas noted in blue on the same image:

In this type of situation, the highest tornado potential is along the rotating comma heads associated with bands or short lines of thunderstorms that produce strong, damaging wind gusts.  This type of tornado activity tends to be short lived, however if you happen to be unlucky enough to be in the path of one, it really makes no difference how long lived it is when its causing damage to your property.  The other bad thing about this type of tornado is that they tend to develop quickly and dissipate just as quickly, not allowing much time for radar detection (if any).

Here is an example showing the two storms that I referenced above to either side of the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton, PA areas.  The tornado warning areas shown in lavender, and you can see that they coincide with the location of enhanced signatures on radar near the bowing or "dog leg" segments of the line:

Thus far, no actual ground reports of tornadoes have been received with this activity, but that certainly does not mean that it hasn't happened or will not happen in the near term.

In this type of situation, damaging wind gusts may exceed 70 mph with severe storms across the Tornado and Severe Thunderstorm Watch areas this evening.  With that in mind, I highly suggest that folks in the path of these storms seek shelter as if there was a tornado, that way you are protected from both the potentially strong, damaging winds, as well as any brief tornadoes that may in fact spin up if you are in an area favored for such development.

Large hail is also possible, which can cause additional heavy damage when driven by strong wind gusts.

Based on the present location and movement of this activity, a threat of widespread severe weather will spread into the Philadelphia and New York City Metro areas by 7 to 8 o'clock this evening.  This timing could come an hour or so early if the storms suddenly gain forward speed over the next hour (which is possible as they intensify and produce strong outflow winds).

If you live across the region ahead of these storms, pay attention to the weather this evening and be prepared to move to shelter immediately if threatening conditions are observed or a warning is issued for your area.

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Widespread Severe Weather Likely From OH Valley Into the Northeast Today...

As we've been talking about for the last day or so, a widespread severe weather event continues to appear likely for much of the Ohio Valley, Northeast and southern New England today and early tonight. Above is the latest severe weather outlook from the SPC in Norman, OK. Severe storms are possible anywhere within the yellow shaded area, with the highest risk within the red shaded area on the image.

Thunderstorms continue from overnight activity across portions of the Great Lakes this morning.  New development of a more organized nature is forecast to take place along and near a surface frontal boundary from Indiana into Ohio by midday or early afternoon, with the activity then moving and/or developing East / Northeastward with time into the afternoon and evening hours.

Damaging wind gusts will be the primary threat across the region, some of which may become significant and/or widespread.  The greatest risk of damaging wind gusts will be within the red and lavender shaded areas on the following image:

The potential exists for some of the wind gusts to exceed 75 mph and cover relatively widespread areas within the black hatched portion of the same image.  This elevated risk of significant and/or widespread wind damage includes the cities of Cincinnati, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Scranton, the New York City area and Springfield, Mass.

Large hail can also be expected with some of the storms this afternoon and evening, especially within the red shaded area on the following image:

A few tornadoes are also possible, particularly with any storms that are able to remain relatively isolated and become well organized.  The highest chance of tornado development, at this time, appears to be located in a relatively narrow corridor extending from northeast Pennsylvania and far southeast New York, into adjacent portions of Connecticut and northern New Jersey, as shown by the brown shaded area on the image below:

If you live across the severe weather threat areas outlined above, please remain alert today.  Listen to NOAA Weather Radio, local media or another trusted source for the latest information, watches and warnings.  Be sure to identify your best sheltering options at home and work, and be prepared to move there quickly if threatening weather is observed or a warning is issued.

Elsewhere, a more isolated to scattered threat of severe weather is forecast within the yellow shaded area on the image at the top of the post.  This includes a narrow corridor from Oklahoma into southern Missouri, northern Arkansas and the middle Mississippi Valley region.  The potential exists for "pulse" type severe weather across this region, meaning that storms develop, intensify rather quickly, and then dissipate almost as quickly.  This type of activity can generate strong, damaging wind gusts especially as the storm peaks and then dissipates.  The primary threat across this area will take place during the peak heating of the afternoon and early evening.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Update on Severe Weather Threat for Thursday...

As mentioned in a post this morning, there is a threat of widespread and/or significant severe weather tomorrow across a large portion of the Ohio Valley into New England, including several heavily populated areas.

The afternoon update of the Storm Prediction Center's (SPC) outlook for tomorrow has upgraded part of the region to a "Moderate" risk of severe weather, which signifies a threat for widespread, potentially damaging storms.

The updated outlook map is shown above, with the highest risk within the red and lavender shaded areas on the image.  In addition, hail greater than 2 inches in diameter and wind gusts greater than 75 mph are possible mainly within the black hatched area on the same image.

This elevated threat of severe weather includes the cities of New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati.

The primary threat of severe weather will come during the afternoon and evening hours tomorrow, although some severe weather may occur as early as the morning hours, especially over Western and Northwestern portions of the outlook area.

Damaging straight line wind gusts and hail will be the primary threats, however a few tornadoes also cannot be ruled out.  At this time, it appears that the most favorable area for potential tornado development will generally be within a swath extending from southeastern New York state and into southern New England.

Folks living across this region should prepare this evening for the possibility of severe weather tomorrow.  Make sure to have a NOAA Weather Radio or other battery powered device available so that you can receive weather warnings even during a power failure.  Be sure to stock up on extra batteries for the device, as well as flashlight batteries, etc., just in case.

I'd also suggest reviewing severe weather safety tips so that you can identify and prepare your best sheltering option at home or work.

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Tornado "Drought" Continues Across U.S. - Going Crazy in Canada

I was rather amused by a tweet that I saw yesterday from a person that I follow here in the U.S.: "Dear Canada, can we please have our tornadoes back?"

I guess they're a little bored with July's pronounced lack of tornadoes and severe weather here in the states.  In fact, we're currently on pace to record the lowest number of tornadoes in the month of July since records have been kept in 1950.  So far this month, we've only had 12 tornadoes in the U.S. (preliminary number),  compared to 103 last year and a 3 year average of 122.  

Meanwhile, up North in Canada, it's tornadoes gone wild!  Yesterday was no exception, as shown by the following impressive photos and video taken near Balgonie, Saskatchewan by Greg Johnson:

You can see more on Greg's website, TornadoHunter.com.

As I always like to point out, it takes as little as 1 event to blow away a "trend" when it comes to severe weather, and the monthly tornado count is no exception.

Widespread severe weather is forecast across the Great Lakes today and the Ohio Valley into New England tomorrow.  While damaging winds will be the primary threat, there is also a chance of tornadoes.  It would take 12 tornadoes to prevent July 2012 from becoming the new "record low" tornado month.  The previous record low was 23 in both 1950 and 1951.

I digress, but I can't help but think of this funny story every time I hear the words "Saskatchewan, Canada".  I was chasing a severe storm with a tornado on the ground in the middle of nowhere in central Nebraska in June of 1990.  Myself and my chase partners were the only people in sight for miles, when all of the sudden an elderly man drove up in an older model 4 door sedan and asked "Pardon me, is this the road to Saskatchewan, Canada?".  I stopped taking pictures of the tornado (which I don't even think he noticed) long enough to pull out the road atlas (yes, kiddies, this was well before cellphones and GPS mapping technology) and confirm that yes, in a round about way, he would eventually make it to Saskatchewan on that road!

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Widespread Severe Weather Likely Tomorrow Ohio Valley into Northeast...

An outbreak of severe thunderstorms is likely tomorrow afternoon and evening across a large part of the Ohio Valley and the Northeast, including major population centers such as New York City and Philadelphia, among others.

Severe storms are forecast within the yellow shaded area, from southern Missouri into New England, with the highest risk of the most widespread severe weather expected within the red shaded area from Ohio into much of Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.

At the moment it appears that damaging winds (which may become widespread in some areas) will be the greatest severe weather threat tomorrow, although a few tornadoes are also possible, along with large hail.

If you live across this region, please be alert on Thursday.  Take the time now to review severe weather safety and preparedness tips and be sure that you have a plan of action ready if threatening weather is observed or a warning is issued for your area.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Book Review: "Joplin: The Miracle of the Human Spirit"

I was recently given a complementary copy of the book "Joplin: The Miracle of the Human Spirit" and asked to review it. It was my pleasure to read it, and I highly recommend the book to anyone with a specific interest in the Joplin tornado disaster, as well as weather related disasters (and managing and/or responding to them) in general.

The book was written by Mark Rohr, the City Manager of Joplin, and provides his own personal and professional account of the first 6 months following the disaster in Joplin.  An excerpt from the Introduction of the book describes it quite well:  "Based on a daily journal Mark kept from the beginning, the book gives the reader a behind the scenes glimpse into the priorities, the meetings, the proposals, the details, the inner workings of an organized plan to bring Joplin back even better than before."

As far as I'm concerned, the book starts off with a bang - and not one that you would expect (at least I wasn't expecting it).  From Chapter One, "A Third of Joplin in Ruins", came this revelation by Mr. Rohr (referring to that fateful day, Sunday, May 22nd, 2011):  "I had been home on the south end of the city, unaware of any threatening weather..."  Around 5:50 pm, Mr. Rohr received a call from the Fire Chief, informing him of the disaster that was literally unfolding at that time.

This revelation was incredibly disturbing to me.  I'm not blaming Mr. Rohr personally, but there was no reason that he should have been caught "unaware of any threatening weather" on that day.  Forgive me if I take this personally, but as regular blog readers know, it has literally been my business for the last 20+ years to make sure that folks in Mr. Rohr's position (as well as the public at large) are aware of impending severe weather situations so as to avoid tragic loss of life and other unfortunate outcomes.  In my opinion, the City of Joplin, including Mr. Rohr, deserved better than to have been taken by surprise by this event.  I am, of course, referring to what (again, in my opinion) was an overall poor performance by the National Weather Service on that fateful day.

Commercial Damage on Rangeline Rd. (Photo from the book)

For purposes of clarification, at no point in the book did I ever get the impression that Mr. Rohr was critical of the National Weather Service's actions on the day of the Joplin tornado.  The above opinions are mine and mine alone (and are by no means new to the regular readers of this blog).

There is one entry in the book where Mr. Rohr became agitated (again, my word, not his), by a statement from a National Weather Service employee following the event (and I believe very rightly so, as you will see below).

I almost fell out of my chair when I read this line, where Mr. Rohr was quoting the words of a member of the National Weather Service team charged with performing the post tornado "damage survey" and assigning the "official" intensity rating of the tornado.  The National Weather Service employee told Mr. Rohr (referring to the intensity of the tornado):  "I...believe it was an EF4...", and went on to say that "assigning a higher EF5 designation would be a political decision".

WHAT?????  Surely I misread that.  I reread the account at least three times, and my eyes were not deceiving me - that's what the man said.  Assigning a damage intensity rating to a tornado should never involve politics.  The pictures, videos and eye witness testimony of the damage will tell you how strong the tornado was, plain and simple.

I have long maintained that Dr. Ted Fujita, the pioneer of the U.S. tornado rating system and the world-reknowned master of performing tornado damage surveys is rolling over in his grave at the poor execution (which may be a charitable assessment) of today's National Weather Service tornado "damage survey" process.  This account only went on to confirm that suspicion in a major way.

While it is unclear what "political decisions" may have come into play, ultimately the National Weather Service rated the Joplin tornado the maximum EF5 intensity, which was overwhelmingly supported by all of the photos, videos and other ground damage survey information.

Whew.  Okay, I'll get off of my soap box, remove the blood pressure cuff and get back to the book review now...

Damage to St. John's Hospital (Photo from the book)

"Making It Up As We Go" is the title of one the early chapters.  Mr. Rohr points out that there was no "instruction manual" available to him or his staff in the aftermath of the disaster.  According to Mr. Rohr, like most cities, Joplin's Emergency Operations manual "usually consists of no more than a contacts list".  He goes on to say "I'm pretty sure the officials that draft such documents never envisioned a catastrophe of the magnitude we were facing.  By sheer necessity, we would have to make up our response as we went."

Indeed, the Joplin tornado was a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions, at least in modern times.  One of the stunning facts pointed out in the book was that 3 million cubic yards of debris were removed from Joplin in just over (an astounding) two short months following the tornado.  In the 2001 World Trade Center disaster, 2 million cubic yards of debris were removed.  

The tornado did some amazing "debris removal" of its own:  29 manhole covers, each averaging 200 pounds in gross weight, were pealed away from the earth and tossed around like toys.

We all know the devastating human toll that the tornado also took on Joplin, with 161 people having lost their lives.  A somber appendix lists the names of each of the 161 victims of the tragedy, and throughout the book Mr. Rohr, the city staff and residents pledge to rebuild Joplin better than ever before, as a tribute to those who lost their lives.

The book details another tribute that is underway, in the form of a memorial at Cunningham Park.  I had the pleasure of visiting the park just 2 weeks ago, and found myself speechless standing there in that beautiful space while at the same time staring across 26th Street at the broken down shell that was once St. John's Hospital.  The contrast was striking, and no picture or video clip can do it justice.

Waterfall at the Memorial (Photo by Rob White)

The old hospital site is being leveled, and a brand new facility is under construction in south Joplin.  The process involved with selecting the site for the new hospital is outlined in detail by Mr. Rohr in the book.

From rebuilding the High School, to rebuilding a key retail district, to rebuilding single and multiple family residences, the book gives a detailed accounting of the process (and at times, the politics) involved with getting the job done.  As you may recall, over 7,500 homes in Joplin were impacted (of which 3,500 were destroyed or deemed uninhabitable), as well as over 500 businesses.

Numerous impressive facts (did you know that over 113,000 volunteers officially registered to help with the clean-up and recovery effort), are presented throughout the book, as well as in a "summary" near the end.

As a result of working (literally) through this tragedy, Mr. Rohr and his team have developed something that they refer to as "The 10 Tenets of Disaster Management".  He shares the 10 tenets and explains them in great detail throughout the book, citing the real life examples of how each were put into practice in Joplin.

As you can probably imagine, Mr. Rohr has become a sought after speaker and adviser on managing a disaster and coordinating a recovery effort, and he honors those requests as his busy schedule allows, always putting the citizens of Joplin first.  In fact, that is the basis of tenet #4:  "Don't get seduced by the limelight - stay focused on what is important."

Again, I highly recommend this book to a wide variety of readers.  Even those with little to no interest in the weather but an interest in disaster preparedness and management will find it a very interesting and informative read.

Entire Neighborhoods Were Destroyed (Photo from the book)

As you can imagine, the recovery and rebuilding of Joplin is an ongoing process that will not be completed in a short period of time.  For that reason, I would love to see a follow-up version of the book next year (even if just published electronically) so as to update everyone on the progress that has been made on several of the key fronts that are outlined in the book.  We can, of course, obtain some of this information from the media, however Mr. Rohr's perspective from the "front lines" provides a great deal of detail and background which a 1 minute and 30 second news story simply cannot accomplish.

A portion of the proceeds of the book will go to the ongoing recovery efforts in Joplin.  If you would like to contribute in other ways as well, several suggestions are offered, including a visit to www.rebuildjoplin.org, which is a reputable a site to which we have referred blog readers since last year.

You can purchase the book at most major sources, including Amazon.com.  There is also an e-book version available for Kindle, Nook and other readers at the publisher's website.

If you would like to read more about the Joplin tragedy as reported on this blog, please see the table of contents post here.

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