Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Year Of The Tornado (sunny Thursday, severe risk by Monday?)

64 F. high in the Twin Cities Wednesday.

.11" rain reported yesterday at KMSP.

1" rain at Rochester Wednesday.

Bright sunshine today - predicted high of 65, nearly 10 degrees cooler than average for May 26.

.38" rain predicted Friday night (NAM model).

Sunday: probably the nicer day of the holiday weekend, highs in the low to mid 70s with PM sunshine.

Slight severe storm risk on Monday.

76 More Tornadoes Wednesday. The good news: most of the reported tornadoes were relatively small, not the EF-3 to EF-5 monsters that dropped from Sunday through Tuesday. More details from SPC.

Off The Scale. This year's tornado death toll has been higher than any year since 1953. Graphic courtesy of the New York Times.

Redefining The Meaning Of A Severe Spring:
April 4: Most severe storm wind reports on record
April 26-28: Largest tornado outbreak on record
Month of April: Most monthly tornadoes on record
May 22nd: Joplin, MO Tornado: deadliest since 1947
2011: Most tornado deaths Since 1953

* statistics courtesy of Dr. Greg Forbes at the Weather Channel.

Minneapolis: A Dire Need For Homes. The Star Tribune has the story - thousands are still homeless after last Sunday's tornado: "Hundreds of north Minneapolis residents uprooted by Sunday's deadly tornado, most of them renters with little or no insurance, scrambled to find temporary quarters Tuesday as relief workers expanded cleanup efforts and officials declared a state of emergency for hard-hit areas. Braving long lines that sometimes strained already frayed nerves, more than 1,200 people picked up clothing vouchers, housing resources, financial help and counseling at an improvised service center for storm victims at the Minneapolis Convention Center. A new recovery center was set to open Wednesday at Farview Park on the North Side. There was still no official estimate of the number of people displaced by the storm, but some 5,000 to 6,000 people lived in housing with major damage, based on inspection checks. As of late Tuesday afternoon, about 7,000 homes and businesses were still without power, mostly in the areas hardest hit by Sunday's storm. Xcel Energy, reporting about 200 snapped utility poles, said that more than 400 workers were hoping to restore all power by Thursday."

More Details On Minneapolis Tornado. Rated a strong EF-1 (with pockets of potentially weak EF-2 damage) last Sunday's tornado was on the ground for 6.25 miles in Hennepin county, another 8 miles in Anoka and Ramsey county before dissipating. More from the local NWS office:



Rapid Tornadogenesis. Check out this video from Tuesday's outbreak near Chickasha, Oklahoma from Fox News. The tornado goes from a small, EF-1 rope to a huge ("stovepipe") wedge in less than 45 seconds, indicative of the explosive instability available to fuel this severe tornado.

A Potentially Deadly Encounter On The Interstate. One of the Oklahoma tornadoes captured by KOCO-TV in Oklahoma City Tuesday hit a semi. The driver was injured, but survived. The video from CNN is incredible; more details: Heavy storms hit three states, spawning a deadly tornado at least a half-mile wide in Oklahoma."

Nothing But Foundation. The same CNN video above had a section that made me catch my breath. Look at the photo above - the entire home was wiped off the pad, nothing left but the front (concrete) steps and the original foundation. This is what a rare EF-4 or EF-5 tornado can do. Unbelievable. This is why experts say that if a large/violent tornado is approaching and you can't get to a basement or below-grade shelter of some sort, your odds of surviving a direct hit are not very good.

Tornado Videos:

* Thanks to WeatherNation meteorologist Jason Parkin for sharing these video clips.

Tornado Picks Up Truck With Man Inside. It sounds like something out of the movie "Twister", but it was a terrifying reality for a Kansas man on Wednesday, as reported by KCCI-TV in Des Moines:A man said that he was caught in his Ford F-150 pickup truck when the storm hit late Wednesday morning and lifted the truck into the air, reported KMBC-TV in Kansas City.
Dan Goff said he was heading down Highway 68 near Kansas City, preparing to pick his daughter up from school."I noticed that the rain and the clouds above me were moving really fast. No rotation or anything that I saw. But then, I started seeing debris, so I started slowing down. Next thing I knew, I was being toppled in the truck,” Goff said. “I didn’t even have time to really be scared.”He said the storm lifted his truck in the air and battered it for about five to 10 seconds.“I had to climb out of the passenger door because the truck (landed) sideways,” he said. “It smashed it on the front end first and broke the windshield.”A Kansas state trooper witnessed the incident."I said, 'I'm not sure what happened.' He said, 'I am. I watched it.'" Goff said. "He said, 'A tornado just flipped your truck over.' I said, 'That's what it felt like.'"

Joplin Tornado An EF-5: Costliest Tornado In U.S. History. Jeff Masters has an update on the super-tornado in his Wunderblog post: "The Springfield, Missouri office of the National Weather Service announced yesterday that storm surveys of the 7-mile long, 3/4 mile-wide path of damage carved by the Joplin tornado revealed that winds in the violent tornado exceeded 200 mph, making it the 4th EF-5 tornado of the year. The twister roared through Joplin beginning at 5:41pm CDT on Sunday, May 22. In nine terrifying minutes, the tornado killed at least 125 people, injured 750 more, and destroyed 2,000 buildings. NOAA's Storm Prediction Center (SPC) rates this year's Joplin tornado as the 8th deadliest U.S. tornado of all-time, and the deadliest since at least 1947, when a violent F-5 tornado hit Woodward, Oklahoma, killing 181. Catastrophe risk modeling firm EQECAT said yesterday that insured damages from the Joplin tornado could be between $1 billion and $3 billion dollars. According to NOAA's National Severe Storm Laboratory, the costliest tornado between 1890 - 1999 was the May 3, 1999 Oklahoma City tornado, which did $1 billion in damage (1999 dollars.) There were no tornadoes during the period 2000 - 2010 capable of causing $1 billion in damage; the only two EF-5 tornadoes during that period, the 2007 Greensburg, Kansas tornado and the 2008 Parkersburg, Iowa tornado each did less than $300 million in damage. Thus, with the possible exception of this year's Tuscaloosa-Birmingham tornado of April 27, the Joplin tornado is probably the most damaging tornado of all-time."

Two Tornado Surivors Found In Joplin Debris While Death Toll Rises To 123. The Breaking News Network has the details: "JOPLIN, MISSOURI (BNO NEWS) -- Search and rescue teams in the Missouri city of Joplin have found two more survivors after Sunday's devastating tornado which killed at least 123 people, officials said. Search and rescue teams which include more than 400 firefighters, emergency medical service personnel, and 200 trained civilian volunteers, have been searching debris left by the tornado since Sunday. Including the two people rescued on Tuesday, a total of nine survivors have now been located by those search and rescue teams. The teams are expected to search the entire area for a fourth time on Wednesday, and a fifth search following that is also planned. But officials also announced that the death toll rose to 123 on Tuesday evening, making it the deadliest single tornado since modern record-keeping began in 1950. It is also ranked 8th among the deadliest tornadoes in U.S. history. In addition to the fatalities, officials said a total of more than 850 people have been injured by the tornado. 750 people were treated at Joplin's two hospitals, while more than 100 others were treated at other hospitals outside Joplin. Many remain seriously injured."

After Missouri Tornado, Grim Search For Missing. The New York Times estimates that nearly 1,500 local residents of Joplin are still unaccounted for, a staggering number. Authorities hope that most of these missing are alive and well, the temporary confusion the result of communication problems (phone lines and cell towers are still down - people have no way to contact friends and loved ones): "JOPLIN, Mo. — The sun shone for the first time in days on this devastated city on Tuesday, illuminating the full extent of the damage as rescue workers performed the grim task of searching for survivors and victims in buildings leveled by the United States’ deadliest tornado since modern record-keeping began. At least 122 people died, a number that seems likely to rise. An additional 1,500 people remained on the official list of those who remained unaccounted for, which ballooned in a flood of worried phone calls but is gradually shrinking as the names of the living and the dead are scratched off. The police said two people were found alive Tuesday, in addition to seven found on Monday. Because cellphone service was knocked out by the storm on Sunday and remained spotty two days later, many residents were unable to contact friends and relatives who may still be alive. Residents’ frustration and fears grew as officials declined to share the names of the dead and the missing, and they have turned to local radio and Facebook. Meanwhile, bands of workers and volunteers — armed with crowbars, sledgehammers and chainsaws — continued to dig through the debris of wood, metal and plastic that blanketed the city. Their mission was still officially one of rescue, but those doing the digging worked urgently, with the knowledge that their task could soon turn to just recovery."

Joplin: Before And After The EF-5 Tornado. The New York Times has an amazing interactive graphic that shows the destructive fury of what happened last Sunday; well-constructed homes, nursing homes and businesses swept away. Virtually nothing left but rubble.

Rare California Tornado. Not to be left out of the tornado-mania, a twister was observed in northern CALIFORNIA late Wednesday, as reported by KCRA-TV in Sacramento: "Watch video from LiveCopter 3 HD of a tornado forming and touching down near Durham, Calif."

The Facts (And Fiction) Of Tornadoes. The New York Times takes a look at the science (and lingering myths) surrounding tornadoes. One big myth has been dispelled this year: the one about tornadoes not hitting big cities:

"Q:  How bad has this year’s tornado season been, relative to other years?

A: Extraordinarily bad, even by historical standards. The death toll, now at more than 480, is the highest since 1953, when an outbreak of twisters across the Midwest and the Northeast claimed 519 lives. The high death toll this year is all the more remarkable considering that early warning systems are in place throughout tornado country, made possible by the advent of Doppler radar. Many tornado experts believed that the advances in technology had greatly diminished the risk of mass tornado fatalities. “We never thought there’d be another year of deaths like this, with all our warning systems,” said Thomas P. Grazulis, a tornado historian. Since 1875, there have been just 15 years with more than 360 tornado deaths, and none since 1975. The single deadliest tornado year in the United States was 1925, with 794 fatalities. This year now ranks eighth on the list of deadliest tornado years."

The Tornado Project. This is an amazing site, a comprehensive database of 54,000+ U.S. tornadoes in the United States since 1950.

More Severe Tornadoes And Hurricanes Ahead: Be Prepared. CBS Moneywatch has some some advice about precautions we can all take to lower the odds of becoming a storm statistic this year: "The Sunday evening tornado that left more than 100 dead in Joplin, Missouri, is the latest tragedy that has already made the spring of 2011 the deadliest tornado season since 1953, with more than 480 deaths. And the forecast is for more high intensity storms today. The tornado devastation is obviously heartache enough. But of course it comes in the wake of the Japan earthquake, and amid continuing flooding along the Mississippi River. Moreover, next Wednesday is the official start to the hurricane season in the U.S. and Caribbean. The official forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is that 2011 hurricane activity along the Atlantic coast will be more severe than normal with the potential for three to six hurricanes rated at Category level 3, 4, or 5, meaning winds of at least 111 mph. Another respected forecast, from Colorado State University, puts the odds of at least one Category 3, 4, or 5 hurricane touching down along a U.S. coastline this season at 72 percent; the long term average is 52 percent. If ever there were a time to take a few hours to ensure that you and your family are as prepared as possible in the event a natural disaster hits close to home, now is it. No more procrastination and wishful thinking. Here’s a 4-step disaster preparedness checklist.

1. Bring your home insurance policy up to speed. If you live in an area prone to flooding, tornadoes, or hurricanes, I am going to assume you are well-versed in what isn’t covered in your standard homeowner’s policy, and what requires special riders and additional policies for wind damage.

Without Storm Sirens Greenbrier Hopes Alerting System Catches On. The CW Network in Arkansas has a story about a new warning system that utilizes automated phone calls to residents when a tornado is approaching - no more dependence on sirens: "GREENBRIER, AR - Against a backdrop of severe weather and possible tornadoes Wednesday, one Arkansas town is doing away with one of the loudest ways to let you know danger is coming. The tornado sirens in Greenbrier are silent. "The old sirens, half the people can’t hear them anyway and you'd have to own a bank to service them, cost so much to service them," Melton Cotton says. So Greenbrier mayor Melton Cotton pulled the plug on them last year. The new system is called Code Red. Administered by Faulkner County Office of Emergency Management, residents sign up online with voice notifications sent by phone. "I've got it on my phone here right now,” says Daniel Smallzy. Melton wants the word out, so the Code Red sign up is printed on every Greenbrier water bill and there's even a giant billboard on Hwy 65 south of Spring Hill advertising that the service is available. But from people we talked with today, clearly not everyone knows it is out there. "I don’t even know what it is,” Lisa Wilcox says."

Recent e-mail to the Star Tribune about weather apps:

"Paul Douglas said in his column that he has a good mobile app to give tornado warnings.  But I looked on his blog page and there aren't any specifics.  Can you post the address for the app?"
Hi Kris,

The weather apps I referred to on the weather blog are:
1). Radarscope. Best app for tapping into the NWS network of Doppler radars around the USA. It also shows where warnings are, in map-form (but no alerts to your phone).

2). My-Cast Weather Radar. This app allows you (for about $10) to upgrade to alerts, which sends advisories, watches and warnings to your iPhone. Not sure if there’s an Android version, but this is the best app I’ve found to get warnings on your Apple device. It also allows warnings to be sent to  your current GPS location – lightning alerts too (if there’s a strike within 5 miles of any of your favorite locations).

Hope this helps – good luck!
Paul Douglas
WeatherNation LLC

Air War: It's TV Vs. Phones In Washington's Explosive Broadband Battle. Adweek has the story of a Battle Royale brewing between phone carriers and broadcasters for the Ultimate Prize: communications spectrum: "It’s a battle that has it all: power, money, entrenched interests, and a fair share of snark. It’s the spectrum war, where two of the major sets of players in the media business—the broadcasters and the telecoms—are battling over how to divide a path to consumers that the TV guys have controlled for decades. The broadcasters are the ones carrying the scars, having already been forced two years ago to surrender 25 percent of the airwaves they held, when the federal government’s long-planned, long-delayed conversion from analog to digital TV finally went through. In this fight they, and their representatives at the National Association of Broadcasters, have been cast as the old guard, desperately trying to ward off change despite the fact that, thanks to the spread of cable and satellite, only about 40 million out of their 300 million-strong American audience comes to them exclusively via the airwaves these days. It’s almost an accident that the telecoms are the new wave here—after all, the two biggest companies, Verizon and AT&T, have roots reaching all the way back into the 19th century, when Ma Bell was born. But as mobile phone guys they’re the upstarts, embodying the future with their explosive growth and cool toys (the iPhone and iPad, the BlackBerry, the Internet itself). Their futuristic sheen makes them the favored industry of the moment for Obama, as well as at the FCC, where chairman Julius Genachowski has been a friend of the president’s since their days working together on the Harvard Law Review."

Unsettled Saturday. The heaviest rains should come late Friday and Friday night, a damp start Saturday giving way to intervals of sun. But a pocket of cold air aloft (vaguely similar to last weekend) may spark a few PM showers and T-storms - a few could be strong. The chance of PM showers Saturday will increase the farther north you go. The map above is valid at 7 pm Saturday evening, showing accumulated rainfall amounts for the preceding 6 hours, from 1 pm to 7 pm.

Better Sunday? This weekend won't be a weather-bargain by any stretch of the imagination, but the sun may be out midday and afternoon hours Sunday as the heaviest showers and T-storms push into Wisconsin and Iowa, highs in the mid 70s.

Severe Monday? It's still too early to say with any confidence, but we may have many of the ingredients necessary for a few severe storms close to home Monday: a warm frontal boundary over southern Minnesota, sufficient wind shear and an unstable airmass overhead. The way things are going this spring to our south I'm understandably nervous about 80 degree air and 65 degree dew points lurking just to our south. I still believe it's going to be another above-average late spring/summer for severe weather (and tornadoes) across Minnesota. Hope I'm wrong with that forecast.

Brisk Wednesday. The Twin Cities metro got nicked by the same southern storm that whipped up heavy rain over southern Minnesota (1" in Rochester) and tornadoes as close as Missouri. Clouds kept temperatures cooler, only 64 in the Twin Cities, 66 in St. Cloud - a brisk 49 at Grand Marais.

Paul's Conservation Minnesota Outlook for the Twin Cities and all of Minnesota:

TODAY: Bright sun, cool breeze, very nice. Winds: NE 10-15. High: 65

THURSDAY NIGHT: Mostly clear and chilly for late May. Low: 43

FRIDAY: Clouds increase, PM rain likely. High: near 60 (holding in the 50s most of the day).

SATURDAY: Unsettled, few PM showers possible. Winds: SW 10-20. Low: 52. High: 71

SUNDAY: (probably the better day of the holiday weekend). Wet start, PM sun possible. Winds: NE 5-10. Low: 57. High: 74

MONDAY: Scattered T-storms, some severe? Low: 62. High: near 80

TUESDAY: Clearing, turning less humid, still pleasantly warm. Low: 65. High: 81

WEDNESDAY: Partly cloudy, temperatures near normal. Low: 59. High: 78

Tornado Tales

There is no way to build a cost-effective tornado-proof home. However, making buildings more tornado-resistant is possible, but only for the smaller EF-0 to EF-2 twisters. Nothing will survive a direct hit from a mile-wide EF-5. Thankfully less than 1% of all U.S. tornadoes are EF-4s or EF-5s.

The #1 danger: flying debris. Seeking shelter under a table, beneath the stairs in your basement ensures your survival, even if the house caves in. The more walls between you & the tornado the better. A small room (bathroom or closet) on the ground floor offers some protection. People have lived through EF-5 tornadoes by hiding in their bathtubs (with helmets on!) I know, a crazy mental image, but if a 200 mph whirlwind is approaching you get creative in a hurry. Do NOT open up windows to try to relieve air pressure. This increases the risk of injury from flying glass and leaves your home more vulnerable to damage.

Severe sunshine returns today, a cool breeze - but no complaints. Rain is most likely late Friday & Friday night, again Saturday night. A stray shower is possible Saturday afternoon; the best chance of a few uninterrupted hours of sun Sunday afternoon/evening. We're due.

Are Tornadoes More Common Because Of Climate Change? The U.K. Guardian has the story: "As the city of Joplin deals with the devastation from Sunday's tornado, some people might wonder whether these extreme weather events are getting more common because of climate change. The answer is that no one really knows. A tornado is a rotating column of air that stretches from the bottom of clouds to the Earth's surface. They can occur in a wide range of shapes and sizes, typically manifesting as a funnel of condensation surrounded by a cloud of dust and debris. Wind speeds in an average tornado reach more than 100mph (160km/h) and the system itself is less than 100 metres across, but extreme events can be several miles across, with wind speeds of more than 300mph. It is difficult to relate any individual weather event to climate change and, unlike with hurricanes, there is little robust research on whether the warming planet is causing any noticeable effects. Grady Dixon, assistant professor of meteorology and climatology at Mississippi State University, told AFP: "If you look at the past 60 years of data, the number of tornadoes is increasing significantly, but it's agreed upon by the tornado community that it's not a real increase. It's having to do with better (weather tracking) technology, more population, the fact that the population is better educated and more aware. So we're seeing them more often."

Tornadoes! Floods! Droughts! Scientists Say Its Global Warming. A recent story from the Kansas City Star: "The deadliest tornadoes in decades. Severe flooding on the Mississippi River. Drought in Texas, and heavy rains in Tennessee. What's up with the weather? Scientists say there are connections between many of the severe weather events of the past month and global warming. "Basically, as we warm the world up, the atmosphere can hold more moisture in it," said Anne Jefferson, an assistant professor in the geography and Earth science department at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. "Weather patterns that used to be limited to the South move farther north now," she said. "Both of those things together will increase the frequency with which we see these big rainstorms, and those are likely to increase flooding in the future." Flooding on the Mississippi has become more frequent and more extensive since about 1950, Jefferson said. This year's huge flood was created by snowmelt and rain-on-snow in the upper Mississippi River basin, and very intense rain in its middle regions. "Climatically we have a higher frequency of rain-on-snow events, a real recipe for flooding," she said. "Also you're getting more warm moist air from the Gulf of Mexico farther north up the Mississippi. It's both a warming and, more so, the fact that the weather patterns have changed and are projected to continue to change, so the precipitation patterns are changing." All of these changes are part of the general shift in the world's climate known as global warming - primarily the result of billions of tons of heat-trapping gases released into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels, as well as deforestation. A report by the National Academy of Sciences on managing climate risks put it this way: "Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused primarily by the emission of greenhouse gases from human activities, and poses significant risks for a range of human and natural systems."

U.S. Extreme Weather Consistent With Climate Change. Is a warmer, wetter atmosphere super-sizing our storms? Is this just a symptom of a fading La Nina, or are other factors in play? More research is necessary - but climate scientists believe what we're seeing is consistent with what they've been predicting for the better part of 30 years. Voice of America has the story: "The powerful tornadoes and other extreme weather events that have cut swaths of destruction across the United States over the past month have prompted many to wonder if they are part of a new trend. Are these violent storms the result of climate change, or can they be explained as normal weather variations? This has been a record year for tornadoes in the United States. North America seems to be especially hard hit. "We have probably the most tornadoes when you think about the square mileage where we get them," says David Imy, operations chief at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center, "and also the more intense tornadoes and the reasoning happens to be the Rocky Mountains." According to Imy, the Rocky Mountain range prevents moisture from the Gulf of Mexico from spreading westward and forces it to concentrate over the midsection of the country. "Also it gives us dry air aloft that comes in and makes it more favorable for severe storms and tornadoes," says Imy, adding that the more than 200 tornadoes in the past month alone is an anomaly, "… compared to many other years that we’ve looked at. It’s hard to say that there is any trend in what we’re seeing this year. And so far we haven’t seen any differences in other parts of the world."

Skeptic Arguments And What The Science Says. Have a favorite climate denier in your life? Here is some scientific ammunition to debunk their favorite arguments, which continue to be regurgitated around the Internet, courtesy of "Here is a summary of skeptic arguments, sorted by recent popularity vs what science says. Note that the one line responses are just a starting point - click the response for a more detailed response. You can also view them sorted by taxonomy, by popularity, in a print-friendly version, with short URLs or with fixed numbers you can use for permanent references."

Gulf Of Mexico "Dead Zone" Larger Than Ever, And Growing. has a story about the troubling trends in the Gulf of Mexico - the result of warming water and pollutants emptying into the Gulf from Mississippi flooding: "If you enjoy breathing as much as I do, this story should be cause for concern. Toxins spilling into the Gulf of Mexico from the swollen Mississippi are choking off the water's oxygen at a record pace this spring, leaving a larger than ever oceanic "dead zone" of lifeless water. The toxins -- primarily agricultural chemicals such as nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides, as well as automobile exhaust and sewage runoff -- are killing tiny zoo- and phytoplankton (the little critters who supply about 70% of the earth's oxygen), and driving away larger sea life. According to a PBS report, this year's dead zone, already "the largest ever," is the size of the state of New Jersey and threatens further harm to the already distressed Gulf wildlife and economy: "Flooding could cause further injury to fisheries in the northern Gulf of Mexico, already reeling from last year's oil spill, Rabalais said. Dead zones alter the habitat for crab, shrimp, fish and lobster, often forcing them to shallow areas. This includes catchable seafood, like shrimp and snapper, which are vital to the area's fisheries."

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