Debunking The Most Common Tornado Myths

May is the month I worry about allergies, flash floods and Tornado Amnesia. "Paul, you have to understand, I live in the metro area. Tornadoes can't hit here!" I hear this a lot, and it's just not true.

Tornadoes can hit cities, cross lakes and rivers, even track across mountain ranges. If the circulation of heat and moisture swirling into a rotating "supercell" T-storm is strong enough, there is no reason why a large tornado couldn't hit a downtown. It's happened across the USA, multiple times.

On May 22, 2012 an EF-1 tornado packing 110 mph winds tracked 14 miles, from St. Louis Park to North Minneapolis. It was up to half a mile wide. It's good to be prepared (and perpetually paranoid).

A few T-storms mushroom to life today as a hot front pushes across the state. The dew point reaches drippy 60s today. Daytime highs brush 90F Saturday, with low 90s expected Sunday and Memorial Day. The timing is good - this will be a good weekend to go jump in a lake.

Any storms will be spotty; if one drifts over your house by Friday, be thankful. I'm increasingly concerned about a too-dry summer. 

Minnesota On Track for a Record Number of Tornadoes This Decade. No, it's not climate change, it's better detection technology, according to a post a Star Tribune: "There have been just over 400 tornadoes recorded in Minnesota since 2010 – four times more than during the 1950s. But this doesn’t mean tornadoes are happening more often. We’re just better at spotting them, thanks to technological advances. Still, limited record-keeping in the early years of tornado tracking means experts don’t have enough information to say whether climate change is influencing the frequency or strength of tornadoes, as has been documented with other dangerous weather like hurricanes. “With the changing climate, I think people really want to know what’s going on with severe weather, what’s going on with tornadoes … We’ve looked for trends,” said Kenny Blumenfeld, senior climatologist with the Minnesota State Climatology Office. “It just looks like what we call basic variability...”

Heat Wave Coming. Here's a special statement that the local office of the National Weather Service released yesterday. Yes, it's about to get (stinking) hot.

Best T-storm Chance Up North. Last night's 00z 12km NAM run from NOAA predicts a few inches of rain for northern Minnesota as hot, steamy air flows north, but very little rain over the southern half of the state. Nothing new there. Map credit:

Praedictix Briefing: Issued Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018:

  • We are watching a broad area of low pressure that will move into the Gulf of Mexico as we head into the second half of the week. This area of low pressure has a 40% probability of becoming a tropical/subtropical system in the Gulf of Mexico over the next five days according to the National Hurricane Center.
  • Whether or not this becomes a named system, the threat of heavy rain will once again spread across the Southeast as we head toward the end of the week and the Memorial Day weekend. The potential exists for at least 3-6” of rain across portions of the region through early next week, which could lead to flooding.

Watching A Potential Tropical System. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) has highlighted an area of low pressure east of Belize that will continue to move north toward the Gulf of Mexico through the rest of the week. While this system has a very low chance (0%) of becoming a tropical or subtropical system in the next two days, there is the potential it could slowly form into a system as it moves into the Gulf of Mexico. Due to that potential, this system has a 40% probability of formation in the next five days according to the NHC.

Heavy Rain Threat. Whether or not this system becomes a named tropical or subtropical system, another surge of deep tropical moisture is expected across the Southeastern United States for the Memorial Day weekend. This will lead to the potential of heavy rain across the region, with rainfall totals of 3-6”+ expected across parts of the central and eastern Gulf Coasts through Memorial Day. Especially across areas that have received heavy rain over the past 1-2 weeks we will have to watch the threat for flooding through the weekend into early next week.

Summary. While there is the potential of a tropical or subtropical system forming in the next several days in the Gulf of Mexico, the main story with this system will be a surge of tropical moisture across the Southeastern United States as we head toward the Memorial Day weekend. This will bring another round of heavy rain to the region, which could spark the potential of flooding. We will continue to keep an eye on this potential system, as well as the heavy rain and flood threat, over the next several days.

D.J. Kayser, Meteorologist, Praedictix

Lava Enters Hawaii Power Plant, Rising Deadly Gas Release. The Daily Beast has harrowing details: "Lava from Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano entered the grounds of a nearby geothermal power facility Monday, threatening the plant’s sealed-off wells and potentially triggering a catastrophic explosion and an “uncontrolled release of hydrogen sulfide or other potentially dangerous volcanic gases,” the Honolulu Star Advertiser reports. Workers were particularly concerned about a deep geothermal well that was difficult to seal off as lava advanced within a few hundred yards of a well pad area. Facility employees have been attempting to “quench” the wells—or pumping cold water into them to trap the gases—but the contents of one close to the lava were heating up despite their efforts..."

Photo credit: Handout/Reuters.

It's Been 5 Years Since the Last EF-5 Tornado Hit the U.S. The Weather Channel has details: "It's been five years since the last catastrophic EF5 tornado struck the United States, occurring in Moore, Oklahoma, on May 20, 2013. Tornadoes assigned an EF5/F5 rating have historically been rare, but when they do strike, the damage in the affected communities is devastating. Since 1950, a total of 59 tornadoes have been rated EF5/F5, an average of less than one per year, according to NOAA's Storm Prediction Center. The frequency has ranged from several tornadoes rated this magnitude in a single year to multi-year periods with none..."

Thomas Jefferson and the Telegraph: Highlights of the U.S. Weather Observer Program. A story from NOAA had some very interesting nuggets: "...The earliest known systematic weather observations in America were taken by John Campanius Holm along the Delaware River in the 1640s. Some of our earliest presidents also were avid weather observers. Thomas Jefferson bought his first thermometer while writing the Declaration of Independence, and purchased his first barometer a few days following the signing of the document. Jefferson maintained an almost unbroken record of weather observations until 1816. George Washington also took regular observations; the last weather entry in his diary was made the day before he died. During the early and mid-1800's, weather observation networks began to grow and expand across the United States. The Surgeon-General of the Army issued a directive to his Army surgeons in 1818 to record the weather and everything of importance relating to the medical topography of his station, the climate, and diseases prevalent in the vicinity. This was to help determine if there was a cause and effect relationship between climate and the health of the soldiers and to determine the occurrence of any change in the climate of a given district over time..."

Animation credit: "For more than 120 years, participants in the U.S. Cooperative Observer Program (COOP) have supplied daily weather data to the nation. This animation shows the locations of observers each decade from 1890-2009.  As far back as the 1890s, there were stations in places as remote as Hawaii and Alaska." NOAA animation, based on data from NCEI.

Reforming the National Weather Service, Part 1: Changing the Role of Human Forecasters. In a day and age of model ensembles is there still a place for human forecasters? Cliff Mass has some interesting data and food for thought; here's an excerpt of a recent post: "...Humans are needed as much as ever, but their roles will change.  Some examples:

1.    Forecasters will spend much more time nowcasting, providing a new generation of products/warnings about what is happening now and in the near future.
2.     With forecasts getting more complex, detailed, and probabilistic, NWS forecasters will work with local agencies and groups to understand and use the new, more detailed guidance.
3.    Forecasters will become partners with model and machine learning developers, pointing our problems with the automated systems and working to address them.
4.    Forecasters will intervene and alter forecasts during the rare occasions when objective systems are failing.
5.   Forecasters will have time to do local research, something they were able to do before the "grid revolution" took hold

NOAA GOES-17 Shares First Light Imagery from Geostationary Lightning Mapper. The lightning imagery is fairly mind-boggling; here's a clip from a NOAA post: "...The Geostationary Lightning Mapper onboard GOES-17, like the one on board NOAA GOES East, is transmitting data never previously available to forecasters. The mapper observes lightning in the Western Hemisphere, giving forecasters an indication of when a storm is forming, intensifying and becoming more dangerous. Rapid increases of lightning are a signal that a storm may strengthen quickly and could produce severe weather. During heavy rain, GLM data can show when thunderstorms are stalled or if they are gathering strength. When combined with radar and other satellite data, GLM data will help forecasters anticipate severe weather and issue flood and flash flood warnings sooner..."

Truly EPIC. Check out NASA's EPIC imager - with unique views of our home.

Sea Level Rise in the San Francisco Bay Area Just Got a Lot More Dire. Here's a clip from an analysis at "If you move to the San Francisco Bay Area, prepare to pay some of the most exorbitant home prices on the planet. Also, prepare for the fact that someday, your new home could be underwater—and not just financially. Sea level rise threatens to wipe out swaths of the Bay's densely populated coastlines, and a new study out today in Science Advances paints an even more dire scenario: The coastal land is also sinking, making a rising sea that much more precarious. Considering sea level rise alone, models show that, on the low end, 20 square miles could be inundated by 2100. But factor in subsiding land and that estimate jumps to almost 50 square miles. The high end? 165 square miles lost. The problem is a geological phenomenon called subsidence. Different kinds of land sink at different rates. Take, for instance, Treasure Island, which resides between San Francisco and Oakland..."

Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory.

EPA Bars AP, CNN From Summit on Contaminents. AP has the latest: "The Environmental Protection Agency is barring The Associated Press, CNN and the environmental-focused news organization E&E from a national summit on harmful water contaminants. The EPA blocked the news organizations from attending Tuesday's Washington meeting, convened by EPA chief Scott Pruitt. EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox told the barred organizations they were not invited and there was no space for them, but gave no indication of why they specifically were barred. Pruitt told about 200 people at the meeting that dealing with the contaminants is a "national priority." Guards barred an AP reporter from passing through a security checkpoint inside the building. When the reporter asked to speak to an EPA public-affairs person, the security guards grabbed the reporter by the shoulders and shoved her forcibly out of the EPA building..."

Photo credit: Andrew Harnick, AP.

What Happens to the Plastic We Throw Out. We've outsources our plastic problem to China (and the middle of the Pacific Ocean) according to an interactive post at National Geographic: "...Direct dumping contributes a significant portion of plastic litter in rivers, but land-bound trash also can make its way to water. Rainwater ushers mismanaged waste from land into local waterways, which feed into larger tributaries and rivers, which in turn empty into oceans. In this way, plastic from far inland can travel many miles to the coastline. Polluted rivers are pumping the world’s plastic into the oceans—bringing a significant portion of the estimated 9 million tons of plastic that end up in the ocean annually. That corresponds to five grocery bags stuffed with plastic trash for every foot of coastline..."

Breakthrough Solar Panel Can Harvest Power From Raindrops - Day or Night. ThinkProgress documents some amazing breakthroughs: "...For instance, China has developed “double-sided” solar panels that can generate power from light that hits their underside. That can enable a 10 percent boost in output, especially if you put the panels on a roof or other area that is painted white to help reflect the suns rays. Bloomberg New Energy Finance projects these panels could capture a remarkable 40 percent share of the market by 2025. In another remarkable advance, researchers at China’s Soochow University have demonstrated a solar cell that can generate electricity from falling rain. A recent article in the American Chemical Society’s nanotechnology journal Nano describes the innovation in an article titled “Integrating a Silicon Solar Cell with a Triboelectric Nanogenerator via a Mutual Electrode for Harvesting Energy from Sunlight and Raindrops...”

This Physicist's Ideas of Time Will Blow Your Mind. Here's a clip at Quartz: "...He makes a compelling argument that chronology and continuity are just a story we tell ourselves in order to make sense of our existence. Time, Rovelli contends, is merely a perspective, rather than a universal truth. It’s a point of view that humans share as a result of our biology and evolution, our place on Earth, and the planet’s place in the universe. “From our perspective, the perspective of creatures who make up a small part of the world—we see that world flowing in time,” the physicist writes. At the quantum level, however, durations are so short that they can’t be divided and there is no such thing as time..."

Photo credit: "Time is the space between memory and anticipation." (EPA/Ralf Hirschberger).

What is Going on in Sweden? CNN has details: "Sweden's ready for war -- whenever it may break out. The government there is sending out "war pamphlets" to its 4.8 million households, informing them of the perils of battle. It's the first time Sweden's done this since the 1980s. Why now? Russia, apparently. The Russians have allegedly violated Swedish airspace and territorial waters, so there's serious discussion in the country about joining NATO. Sweden has also increased defense spending, reintroduced the draft and put troops on the strategically important island of Gotland..."

Amazon is Selling Real-Time Facial-Recognition Technology to Police for Wide-Net Surveillance. Big Brother, brought to you by Big Think: "The North Carolina Civil Liberties Union has obtained documents that show Amazon has been nearly giving away facial recognition tools to police departments in Oregon and Orlando in an effort to essentially beta test the tools, which live in the cloud via Amazon Web Services. The package is called Rekognition and has been deployed in some capacity—including alpha and beta testing—since late 2016. Today, a coalition of civil rights groups has jointly signed a letter that calls for Amazon to stop selling this technology..."

Image credit: "Amazon's website says: 'When using Rekognition to analyze video, you can track people through a video even when their faces are not visible, or as they go in and out of the scene.' (Image: Amazon)

A New Theory Linking Sleep and Creativity. A story at The Atlantic is a worthy read; here's an excerpt: "...Now, Penny Lewis from Cardiff University and two of her colleagues have collated and combined those discoveries into a new theory that explains why sleep and creativity are linked. Specifically, their idea explains how the two main phases of sleep—REM and non-REM—work together to help us find unrecognized links between what we already know, and discover out-of-the-box solutions to vexing problems. As you start to fall asleep, you enter non-REM sleep. That includes a light phase that takes up most of the night, and a period of much heavier slumber called slow-wave sleep, or SWS, when millions of neurons fire simultaneously and strongly, like a cellular Greek chorus..."

Photo credit: "A man naps at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics." Mike Segar / Reuters.

The First Holographic Smartphone Will Be Released Later This Year. Not sure I need that feature (yet), but under the heading of keeping an open mind, here's a snippet from "Sure, you have a fancy iPhone X or Pixel 2 that can take amazing photographs and handle even the most graphics-heavy games. But does it have holograms? AT&T and Verizon announced this week they will start selling a holographic smartphone later this year. The Red Hydrogen One smartphone is the first phone from video equipment company Red. The Android phone's killer feature is a "holographic display" that projects 3D images that can be viewed without special glasses. You will be able to view the images from the sides and behind, and interact with them using special hand gestures. It will also include cameras for capturing the custom 3D images..."

Photo credit: "The Red Hydrogen One smartphone will have a "holographic display" feature."

Stillwater Angler Hauls in Monster, Record-Breaking Sturgeon. Bring Me The News has the jaw-dropping details: "It took Jack Burke 45 minutes to reel him in, but it was worth it to claim a Minnesota record. The Stillwater angler was with his friend Michael Orgas on the Rainy River in Koochiching County, northern Minnesota, and they were having a fine time fishing for sturgeon. They managed to land 20 fish in three days, including six lake sturgeon over 60 inches. But Burke then landed something even bigger – a fish that at 73 inches is the biggest recorded catch-and-release lake sturgeon ever plucked from Minnesota's waters…He made the catch earlier this month, on May 4, around 11 a.m. using a muskie rod belonging to Orgas, with an 80-pound braided line rigged with a circle hook and crawlers..."

Photo credit: MN DNR.

Scratch and Sniff Stamps Coming Soon. Oh, thank God. USA TODAY explains:"Ah, the sweet smells of summer: freshly cut grass, barbeque on a grill, the beach and suntan lotion. Now add stamps to that list. The U.S. Postal Service said Monday that it will issue its first-ever scratch-and-sniff stamps that will aim to evoke the sweet scent of summer. The 10 different stamp designs each feature a watercolor illustration of two different ice pops on a stick. There will be one scent for all of the stamps and the secret smell will be unveiled when the Postal Service issues the stamps on June 20, according to U.S. Postal Service public relations representative Mark Saunders..."

Image: U.S. Postal Service.

WEDNESDAY: Sticky, few T-storms possible. Winds: S 10-15. High: 84

WEDNESDAY NIGHT: Stray thundershower. Low: 67

THURSDAY: Muggy sunshine, few late-day storms. Winds: S 10-20. High: near 90

FRIDAY: Hot & stuffy, isolated T-storm. Winds: W 8-13. Wake-up: 68. High: 91

SATURDAY: Sunny and lake-worthy. Winds: NW 5-10. Wake-up: 67. High: 92

SUNDAY: Sunny, potentially stinking hot. Winds: W 5-10. Wake-up: 70. High: 92

MEMORIAL DAY: Not bad for a holiday. Feels like July. Winds: S 5-10. Wake-up: 71. High: 93

TUESDAY: Still tropical. Late-day T-storm? Winds: S 7-12. Wake-up: 70. High: 91

Climate Stories...

Water's Rising Because It's Getting Warmer. No, it's not rocks falling into the sea. Here's an excerpt from The Wall Street Journal: "Would the Journal run the op-ed “Objects Are Falling, but Not Because of Gravity”? That’s pretty similar to climate contrarian Fred Singer saying The Sea Is Rising, but Not Because of Climate Change” (op-ed, May 16). No, ice is not accumulating on Earth—it is melting. No, Antarctica isn’t too cold for melting—warming oceans are eroding the ice from beneath, destabilizing the ice sheet. And no, legitimate scientific conclusions are not reached in op-ed pieces, but through careful peer-reviewed research. That research shows that sea levels are rising and human-caused climate change is the cause. Don’t take our word for it; help yourself to the mountain of scientific literature showing as much. When water warms, it expands. When ice warms, it melts. To deny these facts is not just to deny climate change. It is to deny basic physics..."

File image: Peter Morgan, AP.

"Climate Change is Real", Carmakers Tell White House in Letter. Bloomberg has the story: "Automakers urged the White House to cooperate with California officials in a coming rewrite of vehicle efficiency standards, saying “climate change is real.” The plea came in a May 3 letter to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the industry’s leading trade group. It said carmakers “strongly support” continued alignment between federal mileage standards and those set by California. General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., Daimler AG and nine other carmakers are members of the Alliance. “Automakers remain committed to increasing fuel efficiency requirements, which yield everyday fuel savings for consumers while also reducing emissions -- because climate change is real and we have a continuing role in reducing greenhouse gases and improving fuel efficiency,” David Schwietert, executive vice president of federal government relations at the Alliance, wrote in the letter, which was made public Monday..."

Hurricanes, a Bit Stronger, a Bit Slower, and a Lot Wetter in a Warmer Climate. Here's the intro to new research at UCAR in Boulder, Colorado: "Scientists have published a detailed analysis of how 22 recent hurricanes would change if they instead formed near the end of this century. While each storm's transformation would be unique, on balance, the hurricanes would become a little stronger, a little slower moving, and a lot wetter. In one example, Hurricane Ike — which killed more than 100 people and devastated parts of the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2008 — could have 13 percent stronger winds, move 17 percent slower, and be 34 percent wetter if it formed in a future, warmer climate. Other storms could become slightly weaker (like Hurricane Ernesto) or move slightly faster (like Hurricane Gustav). None would become drier. The rainfall rate of simulated future storms in the study increased by an average of 24 percent..."

File image: NASA.

Florida Cities Are Most at Risk from Climate Change, Study Says. No kidding. Bloomberg has details: "The picturesque Florida cities of Miami Beach and Sarasota carry high investment-grade credit ratings and are popular travel destinations. They’re also two of the most exposed U.S cities to climate change in the country, according to a new analysis by advisory firm Four Twenty Seven. The Berkeley, California-based firm has developed an index surveying 761 cities’ and 3,143 counties’ exposure to sea level rise, water stress, heat stress, cyclones and extreme rainfall based on analysis of changes between current and future conditions. It found that communities in Florida are the most susceptible to climate change risks, with Miami Beach being the most exposed city and Manatee County being the most-exposed county..."

Photo credit: "Miami Beach, Florida." Photographer: Christina Mendenhall/Bloomberg.

Millenials Not Brainwashed on Climate Change. Here's an excerpt of an Op-Ed at Star-Telegram: "We’re teaching our kids negative things — we’re pre-biasing them.” Texas Railroad Commissioner Wayne Christian recently claimed the reason Millennials like me care about solving climate change and aren’t elbowing each other for jobs in the oil and gas industry is because our entire generation has been brainwashed. Brainwashed? If true, it’d be a national emergency. After all, who could so effectively organize such an epic conspiracy to brainwash the 91 percent of us who accept climate change is happening? Is it a plot by the Democrats? No doubt Democrats have packaged climate action into a basket of progressive issues. But before this became a polarized issue — a condition unique to U.S. politics — politically active conservatives were more likely than liberals to believe scientists about the human contribution to climate change..."

File image:

Here's How Big a Rock You'd have to Drop in the Ocean to See the Rise in Sea Level Happening Now. The Washington Post explains: "...Certainly 3.3 millimeters doesn’t sound like a lot of water to displace, and it does seem, to Brooks’s point, that it’s an amount — about 0.1 inch — that would be easy to displace with a cliff collapse near San Diego. The equivalent rise relative to surface area in an Olympic-sized swimming pool would be 0.0000000000114 millimeters. That’s not possible, though, since a water molecule isn’t that small. But when you apply 3.3 millimeters of rise to the entire ocean? We’re talking about a lot of water that’s displaced — 3.3 millimeters across about 362 million square kilometers of surface area. The total volume displaced, then, would be 1.19 trillion cubic meters of water...So to make the oceans rise 3.3 millimeters, we would need to displace that 1.2 trillion cubic meters of water upward by dropping in 1.2 trillion cubic meters of dirt or stone or whatever..."

Image credit: Google Earth and WaPo.

Shell Faces Shareholder Challenge Over Climate Change Approach. Here's an excerpt from The Guardian: "Royal Dutch Shell faces a shareholder challenge over climate change this week, as investors insist oil and gas firms should offer more transparency and action on carbon emissions. A growing number of pension funds have backed a resolution at Shell’s AGM on Tuesday that calls on the company to set tougher carbon targets that are in line with the goals of the Paris climate deal. The proposal has been backed by the Church of England, the Dutch pension fund Aegon and, most recently, Nest, the workplace pension scheme set up by the UK government, which has £7m invested in Shell..."

File image: Marco Brindicci, Reuters.

Ancient Rome's Collapse is Written Into Arctic Ice. I had no idea, but a good summary at The Atlantic opened my eyes: "...On Monday, scientists announced the discovery of an entirely new resource that has the potential to remake some of those centuries-old arguments over Roman politics and history. A team of archaeologists, historians, and climate scientists have constructed a history of Rome’s lead pollution, which allows them to approximate Mediterranean economic activity from 1,100 B.C. to 800 A.d. They found it hiding thousands of miles from the Roman Forum: deep in the Greenland Ice Sheet, the enormous, miles-thick plate of ice that entombs the North Atlantic island. In short, they have reconstructed year-by-year economic data documenting the rise and fall of the Roman Republic and Empire. The first news of the record was published Monday afternoon in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences..."

Image credit: Oskari Porkka / Gilmanshin / Shutterstock / Katie Martin / The Atlantic.

Climate Change, Crowding Imperil Iconic Route to Top of Mount Everest. Here's an excerpt from The Washington Post: "...Several veteran climbers and well-respected Western climbing companies have moved their expeditions to the northern side of the mountain in Tibet in recent years, saying rising temperatures and inexperienced climbers have made the icefall more vulnerable. Research by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development shows that the Khumbu glacier is retreating at an average of 65 feet per year, raising the risk of avalanche. “The icefall is obviously a dangerous place to be, especially later on in the season and with increased temperatures experienced in the Himalayas due to climate change,” Phil Crampton of the climbing company Altitude Junkies told the Everest blogger Alan Arnette earlier this year..."

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Sliding Into a Hot, Sticky, Thundery Pattern (90F Possible By Holiday Weekend)

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More 4th of July Than Memorial Day: 15-25F Warmer Than Average Into Next Week