Paul Douglas is a nationally respected meteorologist with 33 years of television and radio experience. A serial entrepreneur, Douglas is Senior Meteorologist for WeatherNation TV, a new, national 24/7 weather channel with studios in Denver and Minneapolis. Founder of Media Logic Group, Douglas and a team of meteorologists provide weather services for media at Broadcast Weather, and high-tech alerting and briefing services for companies via Alerts Broadcaster. His speaking engagements take him around the Midwest with a message of continuous experimentation and reinvention, no matter what business you’re in. He is the public face of “SAVE”, Suicide Awareness, Voices of Education, based in Bloomington. | Send Paul a question.
65 F high in the Twin Cities Thursday.
71 F average high for May 23.
89 F high on May 23, 2012.
1.38" rain predicted for the metro area by Monday morning (00z NAM model).
Saturday: coolest day of the holiday, temperatures stuck in the 50s.
"...This is an uphill battle, but I'm sure that the market will ultimately find a way to meet consumer demand. Many industries over the years — from the stagecoach builders and saddle makers to those who made the eight-track tape and the Sony Walkman — didn't much like the change forced on them by the tide of history. Sooner or later, companies standing in the way today will face a similar choice: Meet consumers' demands or become obsolete." - Senator John McCain, arguing for a Television Consumer Freedom Act, in the Los Angeles Times below. Image credit: techcrunch.com.
Looks Like A Holiday. I'll be surprised if we get out of the 50s Saturday, rain early in the day tapering to drizzle and sprinkles - probably the worst day of the holiday weekend, although skies may brighten with drier conditions up north. Sunday brings 60s (and more showers and T-storms) with a shot at 70 Memorial Day. Cue the applause track. Of course we see 80s by the middle of next week. Lousy timing.
Atmospheric Tug-of-War. Warm air riding up and over a stubborn dome of cooler, drier air over the Great Lakes and Upper Midwest will spark periods of showers and T-storms over the weekend, the best chance of rain tonight and early Saturday; another round of showers and T-storms may push in on Sunday. Tomorrow looks like the foulest day; I don't expect an all-day rain on Sunday or Monday, but rather hit or miss showers and T-showers. I'm just the messenger.
Trending Warmer, But Still A Very Wet Pattern. GFS numbers show rain nearly every day during the first week of June; very warm air just south of Minnesota but a stubborn flow of Canadian air keeping a nearly stationary frontal boundary very close to Minnesota. Translation: showers and T-storms will be numerous the next 2 weeks; a few may be severe.
Moore Tornado Track Superimposed Over MSP Metro. A track from Edina to Maplewood? That's what residents of Oklahoma's southern suburbs, centered on Moore, enduring Monday afternoon, with patches of EF4 to EF5 damage (highlighted in red). Thanks to WeatherNation TV meteorologist D.J. Kayser for putting this story into local perspective. This is the kind of worst-case scenario that keeps me up at night. God-willing this will never happen, but we need to prepare for the worst, and hope for the best. An EF-4 can't hit the metro? Tell that to residents of Fridley.
Moore, Oklahoma: Before And After The Tornado. This ESRI URL shows the implications of an EF-5 tornado, with devasting detail that I haven't seen anywhere else.
Weather Service Systems Crumbling As Severe Weather Escalates. Failing weather satellites, NWS web sites going down in the south, the Chicago office of the NWS unable to issue severe storm warnings - what is going on? Here's an excerpt from The Washington Post's meteorologist Jason Samenow at The Capital Weather Gang: "As painfully obvious from the recent events in Oklahoma, tornado season is in full gear. Meanwhile, hurricane season is a week away. Yet budget woes and multiple system failures at the National Weather Service in the past week, not to mention staffing shortages, are raising concerns that its ability to warn the public of hazardous weather could crack at any time. In the past 5 days alone, a telecommunications outage near Chicago made it difficult for NWS forecasters to issue warnings, a major weather satellite failed, the website for the entire NWS Southern Region went down, and a NWS official in tornado alley declined to launch a weather balloon citing budget concerns. These problems are symptomatic of insufficient funding and dated infrastructure, advocates for more generous NWS budgets say. What follows is an overview of the problems NWS has encountered, just since Sunday..."
The timing of these technical malfunctions and NOAA budget challenges and proposed furloughs is unfortunate...
NOAA Predicts Active 2013 Atlantic Hurricane Season. We're in an ENSO-neutral period right now, no La Nina cooling or El Nino warming. El Nino also tends to turn on stronger winds in the tropics, which can deter tropical storm formation. It may be another very active season - here are a few excerpts from NOAA: "For the six-month hurricane season, which begins June 1, NOAA’s Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook says there is a 70 percent likelihood of 13 to 20 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 7 to 11 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 3 to 6 major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher)....
Three climate factors that strongly control Atlantic hurricane activity are expected to come together to produce an active or extremely active 2013 hurricane season. These are:
Moore Tornado Recovery Efforts Signal Long Road Ahead. Here's an excerpt from a story at Huffington Post: "...Early estimates indicate the tornado caused more than $2 billion of damage in Moore. Whole subdivisions in the fast-growing community of 56,000 people were destroyed. Authorities estimated that as many as 13,000 homes were damaged or destroyed and 33,000 people were affected – an especially traumatic toll for a city that had already suffered three other tornados since 1998. Two elementary schools were hit – one was leveled – by Monday's tornado. Candelaria was one of seven children who perished at the Plaza Towers Elementary School, a one story building with barely a wall left standing. Altogether, 10 children were killed in the storm, including two infants..."
Photo credit above: "The sun rises in the distance as a morning thunderstorm moves over homes damaged from a tornado in Moore, Okla., May 23, 2013. With authorities saying they have likely recovered all the bodies to be found beneath the rubble left by the Category 5 tornado Monday, the focus turned to the long and expensive path of recovering from one of the most catastrophic storms in Oklahoma's history." (Eric Thayer/The New York Times)
What Happens When A Tornado Hits? Here's an excerpt of an interview I gave to Chris Hayes on MSNBC Monday evening, describing the dynamics of an EF4/EF5 tornado.
A Tornado Isn't An Object, But Rather A Process. Tuesday night I had a chance ot explain how tornadoes form, the physics able to translate spin around a horizontal axis into a vertical axis (with the help of some great special effects). Here's the video clip from "All In With Chris Hayes" on MSNBC. My segment is about 8:00 in.
When Tornadoes Are A Way Of Life. Here's an excerpt of a radio interview I gave to Jennifer Ludden at NPR's Talk of the Nation on Tuesday: "...I think one of the issues that we have in this country is a certain degree of tornado fatigue. Seventy percent of all tornado warnings, Jennifer, are false alarms, you know? Nobody wants to get caught with their Doppler down. So any time we see rotation in a thunderstorm, the temptation is to issue the warning. But in the process, we're all kind of bombarded with warnings. You start to tune out. And on a day like yesterday, you need to break through the clutter and the apathy and the cry-wolf syndrome and shape people viscerally and emotionally. And the words that you chose - I think any sociologist will tell you the words you choose are critical in conveying that level of risk. At one point, Mike Morgan actually said: If you don't have an underground shelter, this tornado is unsurvivable. Get into your vehicle, try to drive away - which you never, ever hear. And yet, that was the magnitude of the tornado threat yesterday. The problem is with tornados, we don't know right away if it's an EF1 or an EF4..."
Tornadoes And Urban Sprawl: How Long Until A Major City Is Hit? Oklahomans know exactly what to do when a major tornado is approaching, living at Ground Zero of Tornado Alley. But what happens when a similar (extreme) tornado hits a major city or densely populated suburb? We're not even close to being ready for that scale of weather disaster. Here's a link to a video from WeatherNation TV: "Meteorologists Paul Douglas and Susie Martin look at the severe threat for the coming days, as well as the statistics and the role urban sprawl has when it comes to the risk of a strong tornado hitting a major city."
Lessons From Moore Tornado Disaster. In today's edition of Climate Matters I take a look at some of the implications of the Moore EF-5 tornado, including situational awareness, multiple information safety nets, and why you need to REALLY pay attention the next time a "Tornado Emergency" is issued for your area.
The Rise Of DIY Tornado Shelters. Do you really need to spend thousands of dollars to retrofit a closet into a steel and concrete-reinforced "safe room", able to withstand even an extreme tornado? There may be some things you can on your own. Here's an excerpt of a timely story from AccuWeather.com: "...Homes without storm cellars or basements offer little protection from a tornado. While windowless rooms and closets offer more safety than other parts of the house, people are still left vulnerable to tragedy when storms strong enough to level entire structures come through. Storm shelters are built to withstand winds that standard household rooms are not equipped to handle. There have been cases of safe rooms remaining completely intact, protecting the people inside, as the entire building around it crumbles to the ground in a tornado. As people try to prepare for the worst, companies that produce do-it-yourself storm and tornado shelters are reporting a sharp increase in sales..."
Photo credit above: "Robert Hanna, civil engineer, and Jeff Ice, quality assurance inspector, both from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, check out a tornado shelter." Photo courtesy of US Army Corps of Engineers
NOAA Satellite Malfunctions; May Affect Forecasts. This is not a good development. Meteorologist Andrew Freedman at Climate Central has the story; here's an excerpt: "As the weather system that spawned the deadly Moore tornado moves eastward, the main weather satellite used for observing and forecasting conditions across eastern North America and the Atlantic Ocean has gone offline. It's the second malfunction since September 2012, when a technical glitch was fixed by engineers working from the ground. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which operates the nation’s fleet of weather satellites, the satellite, known as GOES-13, initially malfunctioned at 11:40 p.m. eastern time on Tuesday. An initial recovery procedure was unsuccessful at restoring it to operation..."
Graphic credit above: "NOAA rending of a GOES satellite." Credit: NOAA.
GOES-14 Starts Service As GOES-East. NOAA is using a spare satellite to try to make up for the GOES-13 outage; here's an update from The University of Wisconsin CIMSS Satellite Blog: "At 1000 UTC (Thursday), GOES-14 imagery started flowing to AWIPS as the GOES-East satellite. Work continues on evaluating the status of GOES-13. GOES-14 remains at 105.5 West, and GVAR data are being broadcast directly from GOES-14. Updates on GOES-13 — and all satellites — can be found here."
John McCain: Cable TV, The Right Way. The Television Consumer Freedom Act? Here is a clip of an Op-Ed from Senator John McCain at The Los Angeles Times that caught my eye: "...The numbers are striking. According to the Federal Communications Commission, the price for basic cable has grown by an average of 6.1% a year over the last 16 years — three times the rate of inflation and far outpacing the average American's paycheck. Cable bills are projected to continue rising to an average of $200 a month by 2020. The 82% of American households that subscribe to cable or satellite television are stuck paying escalating prices for "bundled" packages of more than 100 channels, despite the fact that the average viewer tunes in to only about 18 of them. Reinforcing this fundamental unfairness is a federal regulatory and legal framework that tilts in favor of cable companies and television programmers at the expense of consumers..." (photo credit: readwrite.com).
From Here You Can See Everything. Enjoy binge TV viewing? Hooked on Netflix? So am I. Maybe that's not such a good thing, long term, as argued in this thought-provoking piece at themorningnews.org; here's an excerpt: "...I always binge on media when I’m in America. But this time it feels different. Media feels encroaching, circling, kind of predatory. It feels like it’s bingeing back. The basic currency of consumer media companies—Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, NBC, Fox News, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.—is hours of attention, our attention. They want our eyeballs focused on their content as often as possible and for as many hours as possible, mostly to sell bits of those hours to advertisers or to pitch our enjoyment to investors. And they’re getting better at it, this catch-the-eyeball game. Consider Netflix. These days, when one episode of The West Wing ends, with its irresistible moralistic tingle, I don’t even have to click a button to watch the next one. The freshly rolling credits migrate to the top-left corner of the browser tab, and below to the right a box with a new episode appears, queued up and just itching to be watched. Fifteen seconds later the new episode starts playing, before the credits on the current episode even finish. They rolled out this handy feature—they call it Post-Play—last August. Now all I have to do is nothing and moralistic tingle keeps coming...." (photo credit: wired.com).
The Suicide Epidemic. I've lost too many friends and family members to suicide. As a society we don't stigmatize people with diabetes, and yet another chemical imbalance, depression, is often brushed under the carpet. No, we can't possibly admit to that, as if it's a character flaw or genetic defect. But it's not. Depression is treatable, with medication and therapy everyone can be helped. We have to keep pounding home that message, to our friends, colleagues and family members, and if you suspect someone is in a dark place, don't ignore it - do something about it. Help them find the help they need. Read this article at The Daily Beast and then do something positive, like supporting SAVE (Suicide Awareness, Voices of Education), based in Bloomington with an international outreach. Their director (and a good friend of mine) Dr. Dan Reidenberg, has testified before Congress. SAVE has an amazing staff and volunteers working 24/7 to avoid senseless, horrific tragedies. Consider attending their annual Fashion Show to raise more funds to help more people in need - next Thursday, May 30, in Minneapolis. Details are here. I feel strongly about SAVE and it's mission - I hope to see you there.
Floating Research Station In Need Of Evacuation. A friend forwarded me this article late last night - a Russian research facility near the North Pole being evacuated due to unstable ice. In May? More evidence of profound changes at the top of the world. Here's an excerpt from The Barents Observer: "The scientific research station was placed on the ice floe in October 2012 and was planned to stay there until September. Now the floe has already started to break apart and the crew has to be evacuated as soon as possible. Russia’s Minister of Nature Resources and Ecology Sergey Donskoy has ordered that a plan for evacuation should be ready within three days, the Ministry’s web site reads. “A collapse of the station’s ice floe poses a threat to its continued work, the lives of the crew, the environment close to the Canadian Economic Zone and to equipment and supplies”, a note from the minister reads..."
Photo credit above: "
The Odds Of Disaster: An Economist's Warning On Global Warming. Here's an excerpt of a Paul Solman interview with economist Martin Weitzman at The PBS NewsHour: "...Once it is in the atmosphere, CO2 remains there for a very long time. Even if CO2 emissions were cut to zero at some point in the future (a very drastic assumption), about 70 percent of CO2 concentrations over the pre-industrial level of 280 ppm would remain in the atmosphere for the following one hundred years, while about 40 percent would remain in the atmosphere for the following one thousand years. This, along with the possibility of bad outcomes, is the argument for keeping CO2 concentrations from reaching very high levels. Most people do not realize how difficult it is to stabilize CO2 concentrations. It is not nearly enough to stabilize CO2 emissions, which would cause CO2 concentrations to keep on increasing at the same rate as before. (This is because changes in concentrations are proportional to emissions.) The problem is that if you want to stabilize CO2 concentrations, you have to make drastic cuts in CO2 emissions. This is no easy feat. Yet, unless it is done, we are liable to reach very high levels of CO2 concentrations. Global warming skeptics would dispute or minimize the link between CO2 concentrations and temperature increases. Here is yet another uncertainty -- are they or the mainstream climate scientists more right than wrong? But can we afford the luxury of assuming that a small minority of climate skeptics are more correct than the vast majority of mainstream climate scientists? What is the probability of that?..."
Photo credit above: "No one can say with any assurance what the dollar value of damages would be from the highly uncertain climate changes that might accompany a planet earth that is steadily warming.: PBS NewsHour.
Has Global Warming Stalled? Noted climate scientist Kevin Trenberth has some answers in a post at The Royal Meteorological Society; here's an excerpt: "Has global warming stalled? This question is increasingly being asked because of impressions about local weather being cool and wet, or because of impressions that the global mean temperature is not increasing at its earlier rate or the long-term rate expected from climate model projections. The answer depends a lot on what one means by “global warming”. For some it is equated to the “global mean temperature”. That quantity keeps going up but also has ups and downs from year to year. More on that shortly. Why should it go up? Well, because the planet is warming from human activities. With increasing carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, there is an imbalance in energy flows in and out of the top-of-atmosphere: the greenhouse gases increasingly trap more radiation and hence create warming. "Warming" really means heating, and so it can be manifested in many ways. Rising surface temperatures are just one manifestation. Melting Arctic sea ice is another. So is melting of glaciers and other land ice that contribute to rising sea levels. Increasing the water cycle and invigorating storms is yet another. However, most (over 90%) of the energy imbalance goes into the ocean, and several analyses have now shown this..."
* Trenberth's article at The Conversation, with additional graphics and imagery, is here.
Hot In My Backyard. This compilation of radio reports is worth a listen; here's an overview of the series from This American Life: "After years of being stuck, the national conversation on climate change finally started to shift — just a little — last year, the hottest year on record in the U.S., with Hurricane Sandy flooding the New York subway, drought devastating Midwest farms, and California and Colorado on fire. Lots of people were wondering if global warming had finally arrived, here at home. This week, stories about this new reality...."
Heat-Related Deaths May Increase With Climate Change. Here's an excerpt of a story from LiveScience and Fox News: "Heat-related deaths in New York City's borough of Manhattan may rise about 20 percent over the next decade, according to a new study. Researchers at Columbia University in New York analyzed the relationship between daily temperatures and temperature-related deaths across all seasons between 1982 and 1999 in Manhattan, which comprises the most densely populated county in the United States. The findings were published online May 19 in the journal Nature Climate Change..."
Tornadoes And Global Warming: Is There A Connection? Here's a good summary of the uncertainty involved in connecting the dots with climate change and tornadoes from National Geographic: "...Linking any particular weather event to climate change is always tricky, because weather is inherently random. But weather patterns can speak to a warming planet. Scientists can detect that extreme rain events, for instance, are already happening more often than they used to, and that a warmer atmosphere with more water vapor in it is making such events more likely. Tornadoes are different. Global warming may well end up making them more frequent or intense, as our intuition would tell us. But it might also actually suppress them—the science just isn't clear yet. Neither is the historical record..."
Photo credit above: "Scientists can't say yet whether global warming will increase tornadoes." Photograph by Carsten Peter, National Geographic.
Making Sense Of The Moore Tornado In A Climate Context. Climate Central meteorologist Andrew Freedman does a good job connecting the dots; here's an excerpt: "...Tornado data does not reveal any clear trends in tornado occurrence or deaths that would suggest a clear tie to global warming, at least not yet. A recent paper published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society found that the occurrence of EF-1 and stronger tornadoes on the Enhanced Fujita Scale has shown no trend since 1954, which was the first year of near real-time data collection. Instead, an increase in tornado counts of EF-0 or stronger tornadoes has been attributed to an uptick in observations of very weak tornadoes. The Enhanced Fujita Scale measures tornado strength based on the extent and type of damage that they cause (no surface weather station has ever survived a direct tornado strike to take wind measurements from inside a twister)..."
Graphic credit above: "Probability of severe thunderstorms within 25 miles of a location as averaged from 1982-2011. This shows the highest odds of severe weather on Monday were in Oklahoma." Credit: Storm Prediction Center.
CBO: Carbon Tax An Option To Avoid "Catastrophic" Outcomes. Here's an excerpt of a story at The Hill: "The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) noted Wednesday that a carbon tax could generate “significant” revenues for the United States and avert “catastrophic” effects of climate change. CBO said in a new report that there are many uncertainties about how to design and implement a carbon tax, but waiting too long to curb greenhouse gas emissions would have clear results. “[D]elays would increase the expected damage from climate change by increasing the risk of very costly, potentially even catastrophic, outcomes. … In general, the risk of costly damage is higher as the extent of warming increases and as the pace of warming picks up; thus, failing to limit emissions soon increases that risk,” the report said...."
Seeking Clarity On Terrible Tornadoes In A Changing Climate. Here's an excerpt of an Andy Revkin article at The New York Times: "The vulnerability is almost entirely the result of fast-paced, cost-cutting development patterns in tornado hot zones, and even if there were a greenhouse-tornado connection, actions that constrain greenhouse-gas emissions, while wise in the long run would not have a substantial influence on climate patterns because of intertia in the climate system. Some climate scientists see compelling arguments for accumulating heat and added water vapor fueling the kinds of turbulent storms that spawn tornadoes. But a half century of observations in the United States show no change in tornado frequency and a declining frequency of strong tornadoes..."
Photo credit above: "Billy McElrath, left, sits on a 1968 convertible Corvette buried under rubble in what was the garage of his home in Oklahoma City on Tuesday, May 21, 2012. The residents of Moore, Okla., affected by a deadly tornado, are coming back to find their belongings scattered and their homes left in pieces." (AP Photo/Sean Murphy)
Why Rational People Buy Into Conspiracy Theories. I thought this was interesting - here's a clip from a New York Times story: "...While psychologists can’t know exactly what goes on inside our heads, they have, through surveys and laboratory studies, come up with a set of traits that correlate well with conspiracy belief. In 2010, Swami and a co-author summarized this research in The Psychologist, a scientific journal. They found, perhaps surprisingly, that believers are more likely to be cynical about the world in general and politics in particular. Conspiracy theories also seem to be more compelling to those with low self-worth, especially with regard to their sense of agency in the world at large. Conspiracy theories appear to be a way of reacting to uncertainty and powerlessness..."
Lessons From Moore
Remind me to never complain about a little cold or snow again.
Nothing like an EF-4 tornado hitting a major metropolitan area to put things into stark perspective.
In spite a warming Earth there's no conclusive, scientific evidence that we're seeing more violent tornadoes. There's more water vapor and instability to fuel severe storms, but in a warming world wind shear necessary for violent tornadoes should decrease over time. More research is needed, but I suspect the real culprit here is land use - suburban sprawl. The same monster tornado that hit farmland 20 years ago is now grinding into subdivisions and shopping malls.
Doppler radar can't always estimate the intensity of a developing tornado, and as a nation we suffer from tornado fatigue: too many warnings. Out of 10 tornado warnings only 3 will produce a tornado, and the ones that form are usually small and brief. This breeds apathy and cynicism, so when the big one, the nightmare ("Tornado Emergency") becomes reality - people are skeptical.
Review a Tornado Action Plan with your kids. Information is power.
A cool, wet Wednesday gives way to a partly sunny, lukewarm holiday weekend. As temperatures rise next week so will the risk of severe storms.
In the words of the Boy Scouts: "be prepared".
* photo credit above: "This Tuesday, May 21, 2013 aerial photo shows, from bottom to top, the path Monday's tornado took through Moore, Okla. The huge tornado roared through the Oklahoma City suburb Monday, flattening entire neighborhoods and destroying an elementary school with a direct blow as children and teachers huddled against winds." (AP Photo/Kim Johnson Flodin)
The Tornado Outbreak Of May 20, 2013. Here's the very latest from the National Weather Service in Norman, Oklahoma: "Damage survey teams are continue to survey the damage path of the Newcastle-Moore tornado that occurred on May 20, 2013. We will be adding more information to web pages for this event during the next few days.
Note: As of 2:50 PM CDT, the NWS survey conducted by several teams has now rated the Newcastle-Moore tornado as EF-5. The damage survey teams have also determined that the tornado began 4.4 miles west of Newcastle and ended 4.8 miles east of Moore, yielding an approximate tornado path length of 17 miles. The preliminary maximum damage path width is 1.3 miles. Crews will continue to sort through damage for a final intensity rating. The latest Public Information Statement issued by the NWS Norman forecast office can be found here.
Further updates and more detailed information of the tornado damage areas will be released later today and Wednesday. Below is a map with the approximate damage path of the Newcastle-Moore-South OKC tornado."
Photo credit above: "This Tuesday, May 21, 2013 aerial photo shows a residential area of Moore, Okla. destroyed by Monday's tornado. A huge tornado roared through the Oklahoma City suburb Monday, flattening entire neighborhoods and destroying an elementary school with a direct blow as children and teachers huddled against winds." (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez).
Tornado Tracks Streak Across Oklahoma. Here's an excerpt from NOAA's Environmental Visualization Laboratory: "The rotation of tornadoes creates a distinctive signature in radar data, and can be used to estimate the track that the system takes over land. This image shows the rotational velocity of the systems that passed over Oklahoma on the afternoon of May 20, 2013. A single cohesive structure can be seen to cut across seven counties, with Moore directly in the middle..."
From Alerts Broadcaster (issued Tuesday morning):
Our Worst Fear Confirmed: A Violent (Urban) Tornado. The tornado that formed west of Moore, Oklahoma yesterday went from EF-1 to EF-5 strength within 10-15 minutes, responding to favorable conditions aloft (powerful wind shear coupled with an explosively unstable atmosphere). Tornado Watches were posted roughly 2 hours ahead of time, Tornado Warnings issued by the OKC NWS at least 30 minutes in advance. The problem? If you don't have a basement or underground shelter the odds of surviving a direct hit from an EF-4 or EF-5 are small - even well constructed brick and mortar homes can be scraped down to foundation by an EF-5's 200+ mph winds.
* Death toll stands at 24, although I expect this to go up as recovery efforts continue today. Hundreds are injured; many residents still missing. As many as 20,000 residents of Moore may be homeless.
* 30 square miles impacted by moderate to extensive tornado damage.
* This may top Joplin as the most expensive tornado in U.S. history. The May, 2011 Joplin tornado came in at $2.8 billion. I expect the 2013 Moore tornado to be comparable, probably $2-3 billion in total damage. There's a good chance this will be America's most expensive tornado on record.
Moore Damage Path. Yesterday's mile-wide path is in green, the 1999 EF-5 path is in red, the 2003 tornado in blue. KFOR.com has a good interactive map here.
Close-Up Of Damage Path. Again, the green-shaded area shows yesterday's track, a wider path than 1999 and 2003. Thousands of homes and businesses were impacted. Fewer than 1 in 10 Oklahomans have basements or storm shelters - bedrock makes it costly to excavate. Some have storm shelters, steel and concrete-reinforced closets and garages, but an EF-4 can be unsurvivable if you can't get below grade, below ground.
Ground Zero. Here is an aerial map with path superimposed, showing where some of the most destructive (and deadly) winds hit, including Plaza Towers Elementary School, where loss of life was high. Photo credit: BBC, AP, Google.
Plaza Towers Elementary School. The before/after imagery is stark. This tornado will reignite the debate over school safety and the need for reinforced shelters in all public buildings. Photo credit: AP.
Moore Medical Center. Damage is significant at Moore Medical Center; most operations have been shifted to other nearby medical facilities. Photo credit: AP.
Damage Swath. Here are before/after aerials from subdivisions west of Santa Fe Avenue. Photo credit: AP
War Zone. As meteorologists we're trained to think clinically, like doctors. Look at the data, evaluate the models, make a prediction. Leave emotion out of the mix. But you can't look at these images (as a parent, as a human being) without being heartbroken. The damage is consistent with an EF-4 or EF-5 tornado. Photo credit: AP.
More Imagery. Here is a before/after comparison of homes in a neighborhood east of South Eastern Avenue.
* before the tornado hit several Oklahoma City TV meteorologists encouraged people in the direct path of this tornado to "drive away". The reality: if an EF-4 strength tornado is approaching and you don't have a basement or shelter your odds of survival are small. Statistically it's better to get into your vehicle and try to outrun the tornado. The problem: as good as Doppler radar is it can be difficult estimating the intensity of a tornado, even 10-15 minutes in advance. We can see rotation, even a hook echo, but is it an EF-1 or a monster EF-5? Unlike hurricanes, where we can see satellite imagery and estimate strength, tornadoes are much more difficult to predict in advance: track and ultimate intensity.
* there is no evidence that we're seeing more EF-4 or EF-5 tornadoes, which comprise less than 1-2% of ALL tornadoes that strike the USA. A warmer atmosphere increases instability and buoyancy, but wind shear in a warming world should decrease over time. More research is needed, but we can't (yet) connect the dots and claim that there is causal connection. More research is needed.
Wednesday Risk. No moderate threat tomorrow, a slight risk of storms capable of hail and damaging straight-line winds from Detroit, Columbus and Cleveland to Pittsburg, State College, Buffalo and Rochester. An isolated tornado can't be ruled out in and near this region tomorrow, but probably not the scope and severity of the tornadoes that have struck the Southern Plains in recent days.
Summary: It's our worst fear as meteorologists: a large (urban) tornado. One glaring problem: "tornado fatigue". As a nation we are still issuing too many tornado warnings (at least that's the consensus among most private meteorologists I know). Nobody wants to miss a tornado - that's the cardinal sin, so NWS issues warnings on just about every rotating thunderstorm they find on Doppler. The FAR or false alarm rate is still hovering near 70%. Stated differently, 7 in 10 tornado warnings produce NO tornado. This leads to apathy ("they're crying wolf!") and when the big tornado does materalize, when our worst fears are realized, many residents simply aren't ready to take the measures necessary to protect their lives.
In a hurricane you have days to prepare; a tornado: 5-30 minutes. The average lead time, nationally, is 13-15 minutes. Last year I proposed new terminnology, leveraging "Alerts" (for rotation based storms) and "Tornado Emergencies" (for confirmed tornadoes on the ground moving into urban areas). This is a reflection of land-use trends and suburban sprawl. Tornadoes that would have hit farmland 10-30 years ago are now hitting subdivisions. As metropolitan areas expand the probability of a direct strike from major tornadoes goes up steadily over time. Last year I wrote an article for Huffington Post, recounting a severe storm conference, where a well-respected structural engineer/meteorologist predicted that, within our lifetime, a single U.S. tornado will hit an urban area, even a downtown, with over 1,000 fatalities from a single twister. Yesterday was a reminder (to me) that his prediction may not be as far-fetched as it sounds. It's land-use, statistics and probabilities, another unpleasant symptom of expanding metropolitan areas.
A Survival Plan For America's Tornado Danger Zone. Here's an excerpt of a timely story from The New York Times: "The horror confronting residents and emergency workers probing the tornado wreckage in Oklahoma is unimaginable for those of use elsewhere. Collapsed schools, disintegrated homes, crushed cars and more. The main focus should be on aid. But it’s worth beginning a conversation about ways to live safer in such hazard zones given that this storm season is just getting under way and that big regions of America’s tornado hot zone have deep vulnerability resulting from runaway growth and a human tendency to discount threats that have a low probability but disastrous potential. (The same issues are driving exposure to danger in hurricane zones.)..."
Photo credit above: "The rubble of a destroyed neighborhood lay mixed together where it fell Tuesday, May 21, 2013 a day after a tornado moved through Moore, Okla. The huge tornado roared through the Oklahoma City suburb Monday, flattening entire neighborhoods and destroying an elementary school with a direct blow as children and teachers huddled against winds." (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
What Happens When The TV Meteorologist Has To Take Cover? I've wondered this many times myself: "what happens if the tornado approaches the TV station?" Go down with the ship? Here's a clip from NBC News and mashable.com: "A massive storm generated several tornadoes on Sunday in the Midwest, hitting Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri. The tornado in Kansas got so bad that news station staff at the NBC affiliate TV station in Wichita, Kan. had to leave in the middle of a live broadcast to take cover. In the dramatic video, the channel's meteorologist JD Rudd is talking about the extreme weather in front of a radar image of the storm when, after a few seconds, producers tells him it's time to leave..."
Hurricane Season Comes With Plan For Better Forecast. This story comes as something of a relief; I'm sick of talking about the ECMWF (European) weather model. It's time for the U.S. to step on the gas and retake the lead in weather modeling. Here's an excerpt of a Jason Samenow article at The Washington Post: "...The summer and fall hold the possibility of big storms but also steps toward better forecasts. An infusion of Sandy-related dollars from Congress will help the National Weather Service upgrade two supercomputers that are used in virtually all U.S. weather predictions. That, in turn, could close what some have called an embarrassing gap between the primary U.S. and European computer models. The European model has generally been more adept at forecasting the paths and intensities of major storms, and that pattern held in October when the it projected the lethal westward turn by Sandy even as the early U.S. model showed it drifting to the east harmlessly, toward open ocean..."
Tropical Whispers. The GFS forecast, valid midday Wednesday, June 5 shows a possible tropical depression or weak tropical storm approaching south Florida. Confidence level: very low, but the models continue to hint at development in the tropics. We'll keep an eye on what may evolve into "Andrea". Image: WSI.
Sluggish Warming Trend. As much as I want 80s (like many of you), I'm starting to dread the warm fronts just a little, in light of the recent uptick in severe storms and tornadoes. After a very slow start tornado season is upon us, the weather we should have seen 2-4 weeks ago. Everything has been delayed, including (sustained) summer heat. A rainy day today gives way to comfortable sunshine tomorrow, more showers Friday night, and then a drying trend over the weekend. Memorial Day appears to be the warmest day of the holiday weekend, temperatures warming to or above 80 by the latter half of next week.
A Less Optimistic Holiday Weekend Prediction. I'm basing a partly sunny, dry Sunday and Monday primarily on ECMWF model data, but the GFS solution (above) is definitely wetter for Minnesota and the Upper Midwest Sunday and Memorial Day, especially southern Minnesota. I'm not buying this solution just yet, but it is a holiday (with high "bust potential"), so I'm not ruling it out either. What can go wrong, and what time?
Will Summer Stick This Time? I think so, but considering how erratic the jet stream has been this "spring" it's anyone's guess. GFS data shows highs reaching the 80s by the end of next week, a longer stretch of 80s to near 90F. the first week of June. We'll see.
Welcome To The Programmable World. When all our devices start talking to each other, watch out. I keep picturing The Terminator coming from the future to save us from ourselves. Connected, programmable devices are already here, and the trends are undeniable, as described in this terrific article at Wired; here's an excerpt: "...In this future, the intelligence once locked in our devices now flows into the universe of physical objects. Technologists have struggled to name this emerging phenomenon. Some have called it the Internet of Things or the Internet of Everything or the Industrial Internet—despite the fact that most of these devices aren’t actually on the Internet directly but instead communicate through simple wireless protocols. Other observers, paying homage to the stripped-down tech embedded in so many smart devices, are calling it the Sensor Revolution. But here’s a better way to think about what we’re building: It’s the Programmable World. After all, what’s remarkable about this future isn’t the sensors, nor is it that all our sensors and objects and devices are linked together. It’s the fact that once we get enough of these objects onto our networks, they’re no longer one-off novelties or data sources but instead become a coherent system, a vast ensemble that can be choreographed, a body that can dance..."
65 F. high in the Twin Cities Tuesday.
71 F. average high for May 21.
74 F. high on May 21, 2012.
.38" rain fell yesterday at Twin Cities International Airport.
Relapse. Yesterday was an acquired taste, weatherwise, cool, misty and gray. Don't complain about the chill, Paul. Got it. I'm talking to myself in print - not a good sign. Tuesday highs ranged from a brisk 46 at International Falls to 50 St. Cloud and 65 in the Twin Cities.
TODAY: "Drizmal". Light rain. Yuck. Winds: N 10-15. High: 57
WEDNESDAY NIGHT: Damp with drizzle tapering. Low: 48
THURSDAY: Partly sunny and springy again; dry for baseball game. High: 65
FRIDAY: Sunny start, showers late. Wake-up: 47. High: 68
SATURDAY: More clouds than sun. Wake-up: 51. High: 67
SUNDAY: Mix of clouds and sun, fairly nice. Wake-up: 54. High: 71
MEMORIAL DAY: Some sun. Few T-storms north. Wake-up: 54. High: 74
TUESDAY: Humid, more numerous T-storms. Wake-up: 59. High: 79
Are There More Tornadoes Because Of Global Warming? The short answer is "probably not", but the data set is somewhat unreliable (plenty of noise in the data). Increases in water vapor and instability in a warming world MAY be at least partially offset by a decrease in wind shear (as northern latitudes warm faster than southern laitudes), but the research is still preliminary. Dry areas are getting drier, wet areas wetter, with a causal connection to spikes in flooding rains and even hurricane intensity. But the link with (severe) tornadoes is not obvious, at least not yet. Minnesota climate scientist Greg Laden has more in this comprehensive post at scienceblogs.com: "There are good reasons to believe that global warming leads to more storminess, but the exact nature of that transition is unclear and hard to measure. Part of the reason for this difficulty is that a given type of storm may become more likely under certain conditions caused by climate change, while a different kind of storm may become less likely, with the “storminess” overall increasing but doing so indifferent ways across time. Also, the most severe, and thus possibly the most important, weather events are infrequent so it is difficult to see changes over time with any statistical confidence. I address many of these issues here and here..."
Image credit: this frame-grab from the 1986 Brooklyn Park, Springbrook Nature Center tornado courtesy of KARE-11 and tcmedia.com.