Sunday, May 24, 2015

Winter 2014-15 Roundup

This is a quick review of the Winter 2014-15 Outlook.

the title "No Guts, No Glory" was indicative of my excitement heading into the season. Even though expected public school disruption goals were met, winter failed to deliver on my hype. 

 What went Right?

Our region finished colder than average despite a mild December: The cold came as advertised. For reasons discussed in the next section, we were not as cold as expected:

Cold persisted into March and became so severe in the US Northeast that ice still exists in the Great Lakes today.  Note how the same map run Jan 1 to March 30 depicts a deepening of the cold anomaly that delayed the onset of real spring in most of the East.

Therefore the idea of Eastern US Cold was numerically correct overall but the coldest anomalies further NE than expected.

What went Wrong

The short technical reason for what went wrong is the +NAO despite a cold North Atlantic Tripole.   In plain English:  A feature that normally correllates with warmer, drier winter conditions dominated.   In fact, regionally, the big driver of the cold was the mega-High that is fueling the drought in the far West.  Cold air was literally pushed SE by that feature leading to overwhelm of what could have been warm.

Snowfall results north of I-40  in the RDU area were above average. However, icy conditions were the bigher story because ideal snow conditions did not materialize.  It was frustrating to see how often warm air would overrun the cold and lead to storms not living up to expectations.

There is a oscillation of winds in the Stratosphere called the Quasi-Biennial Oscillation (QBO).  Ordinarily it would be considered a minor player.  This past season it reached record negative (weak warm signal).  Perhaps the record strength made the minor influence, a major player?   

How Did I Do?

Feedback has been mostly postive.   I rate myself a C+ because of wanting the technical details to have been as expected.  Even a few instances of North Atlantic blocking (-NAO) could have led to spectacular winter weather.   That being said ... all of us were beyond ready for Spring when April warmth began to take over.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Quick Lunchbreak 5 Mar 2015

  1. Unbelievable temperature differential!  AT 1 PM it is 39 near RDU Airport and 81 NW of Wilmington, NC.   Down East ... It is 81 in New Bern and 45-50 across the Pamilico River.    
  2. As stated yesterday, cold is King,  we are already observing some ice mixed with rain near RDU Airport.   Growing concerned that Winter Precip may take over between  3-4 PM instead of later.
  3. Arctic Blast tonight and tomorrow yields to moderate but gray dismal weather next week.
  4. Want more Winter?  We are not done yet but finally starting to see its ammo run low.
  5. Celebrate Spring Now!  - Why wait until March 21st.   You can be officially in Spring RIGHT NOW :>)   All you have to do is repeat after me:  "I <Your Name> am a Weather Enthusiast".     "Weather Spring" started March 1st....

That's all for today....   BYE


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Quick Lunchbreak 4 Mar 2015

  1. Next 10 days is looking SAD as in Seasonal Affective Disorder.  We are not going to see the sun very much :>(
  2. Freezing Rain/Sleet tomorrow night?  Normally, I would downplay the possibility ...but...   it is a bad idea to bet against a winner...    The Cold has been winning lately....
  3. Yes ... we will make it to the mid-70's today ... then catch the flu tomorrow when record lows are reached that are 50+ degrees colder.

That ends this SAD Lunchbreak ..... BYE.....

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Winter 2014-15 Outlook: No Guts No Glory


Part of posting a forecast publicly is the combination of wanting to be right (even though details are general) and the fanfare that comes with it.  Let's be real...  No one wants to be wrong or experience the shame of apologizing to the audience.

The theme of this winter is "No Guts, No Glory" because my expectations are high based on the evidence.  I believe that concern is warranted.  Our region is surprisingly vulnerable to being shutdown and grocery stores being wiped out.  The fact is that the gaps between severe winter events are far enough apart that authorities seem to not be interested in improving winter storm recovery procedures.
This forecast is not intended to be overly technical.  You will get more facts and technicality than provided by the local media and learn a few things about the weather.  The objective is to inform and educate.

Now... On with the program...

Are the Stars Aligned?

Not since the legendary winters of the late 70's have so many reasons supporting an exceptional season been in place.  The basics of a colder, eventful winter are:
  • Blocking: High Pressure dominating the Arctic. Systems over the Pole and near Greenland shunt colder air and the dominant storm track further south.
  • Tropical Forcing: Some episodes of storminess near the International Dateline is needed to connect with Polar Westerlies to transport heat towards the Pole and send the cold south.
  • Siberia/N. Hemisphere Snow Advance:  Above average buildup of snow across Siberia and the High latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere during October is well correlated with colder winters.
Note:  I did not list "El Nino" on purpose.  Weak/Moderate episodes based around the International Dateline help but are not officially required.  A non-Nino year can still contain the needed connection from the West Pacifc Tropics and the jet stream.

All 3 requirements are lined up to deliver a minimum of a colder, stormer Winter.  We also have the right type of El Niño as an added bonus.

What the Oceans tell us about the upcoming Winter.

I have seen very few of these perfect Maps in my weather lifetime:
Ocean Surface Temp Anomalies

Source: Plymouth Weather Center   
  1. Gulf of Alaska and East Pacific Warming:  This feature supports a Jet Stream alignment that maintains a ridge in the West and trough in the East.
  2. North Atlantic Cool Pool: An important difference from last winter.  The cool pool supports a Greenland High Pressure system also known as. -NAO.  Should this feature dominate as expected, extended periods of cold and snow/ice episodes will plague the Eastern Seaboard.
  3. El Niño:  The warm area is migrating towards the Central Pacific.  This feature is its weak/moderate state should add opportunities for Winter Storms.
Northern Hemisphere October Snowcover

The timing and area coverage of snow in October affect winter outcomes by coating vast areas with a layer of snow that would otherwise still be absorbing heat from the sun.  An extensive snowcover reflects heat back into space.  The resultant cooling distorts the Polar Vortex leading to downstream intrusions of cold that are already impacting us. Rutgers University Snow Lab statistics indicate historic snow advance: ( Data Collection began in 1966).
  1. Eurasia:  Sept and Oct were ranked 8 and 2! 
  2. North America: 1 and 8.
  3. Northern Hemisphere: 3 Both Months.
The build-up is snow is important due to its strong correlation to Central and Eastern US Cold:

Winter Correlation between Northern Hem. Snow coverage and Winter temperatures

What you need to Know.

I expect this Winter to rival the legendary winters of the late 1970's in terms of cold, storms, and overall disruption.  These are my lofty expectations:

  • Prolonged Cold: Temperatures 3-5+ degrees below normal. Expect the trend towards higher electric/gas bills to continue.  Packing an emergency kit in each car is recommended to ensure warmth and safety.   Being sure that your home has a backup source of heat is also recommended.
  • Snow/Ice:  Actual snowfall forecasts for this region are problematic because of ice not being included in long term totals.   1976-77, our coldest winter, recorded 3.5" of snow.   The prescence of El Nino should bend our Raleigh-Durham snow totals north of 1977-78 approximately 11" outcome.  This season will be remembered for the Nor'easter's. 
  • Closing and Delays:   Wake County Schools should expect 12-15 days of delays or closings.

We are overdue for a week+ disruption to transportation, food and grocery supplies.  I recommend the following:
  • Be Supplied: Maintaining a larger reserve of food and other necessities (like Toilet Paper) so that 5-7 day stretches can be managed comfortably.
  • Secondary Power/Heat: In 2003, a historic ice storm knocked out large stretches of the power grid for days.  We are overdue to a similar disruption.   Have a plan for what to do if electricity is knocked out.  How will you and your family keep warm?  Cell phone battery powered chargers are also very inexpensive.
  • Be Home: As recently as last year, horror stories about taking 4-5 hours to drive 2 miles were common during a storm that started in the Triangle around noon.  Keep the roads available for those who must work.  Work from home if possible.   Plan B would be to leave work before the first flake hits the ground.  People learned last year how quickly a few flakes progressed to snow covered roads.
  • Be Safe:  Enjoying a good snowfall is a lot of fun. Wear proper boots and gloves.  Avoid trees and other situations that snow or ice weight can lead to serious injury or death.  Know where your sled is going before finding out using the school of hardknocks.  Have fun but be smart...
Winter 2014-15 promises to be cold with plenty of opportunities for snow and ice.  The potential exists for Central VA through North Central SC to see the worst anyone can remember.  Even if we do not achieve those lofty expectations, a memorable winter period will be experienced nonetheless.  

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Preliminary Winter Outlook 2014-15


The Winter Season always has the most interest here in the VA/NC regions. Other seasons rarely contain events that shutdown schools and disrupt daily business as much as Winter. That being said... Central VA saw massive disruption in the 2000 and 2010's caused by:
  • Hurricanes, Isabel and Irene. 
  • A Summer Derecho wreaked havoc on the power grid. 
  • Tropical Storm Gaston (Honorable Mention) damaged areas due to flooding 

Winter 2013-14 featured harsh cold across the Eastern US and the more frequent forays into below 10 low temperatures than I remember as a child in the late 70's. Elsewhere, the Great Lakes still contained ice in the areas most hard frozen in JUNE. My theme last Winter was "Go Big or Go Home" based on that expected cold and associated disruption. At the weather level, many of you will know that these terms describe what kept temperatures so cold, so long : -NP, -EPO, +PNA, -AO. Those names describe observations made in the North Pacific, NE of Hawaii, Western US, Canada. Take note that the NAO (North Atlantic) was not a major player last winter.

Keep in mind the following principles:

  • This is October:  While changes are not expected, my final prognostication in late November is subject to change.
  • Weather is a designed mechanism:  The weather as a system that was designed by God.  This means that study of that system must include an investigation into the purpose of each system. How does a layman apply this?  Include economics in the process of observing weather.
Now, What You have been Waiting For...

What do the Oceans indicate about Winter 2014-15?

Note:  Australia's version is much better than the NOAA.   For some reason the chart published by NOAA/NESDIS was changed so that neutral values (-0.5 to +0.5) are 1/2 blue and 1/2 yellow.
  1. Warm Gulf of Alaska - Based on data in modern times, this is the key to every big winter in the NC/VA region.   People like to rave about -NAO but...  -EPO/+PNA is a stronger correlation to cold,
  2. Cool North Atlantic: This feature is a key reversal that is expected to introduce a dominant negative NAO into this season's weather equation.
  3. Developing El Nino:  Pacific and Indian Ocean weather patterns and ocean temps are indicative of a weak/low moderate episode of West Based El Nino (called "Modoki").  This situation provides enough El Nino to keep the mean trough mostly in the East but not so much that rainy cool weather dominates over cold.
  4. Warm Gulf of Mexico - Feeds Nor'easters and Nor'easter wanna be 's :>)

Winter Wild Card?  - What could this mean?

There is a relationship between October snow buildup in Siberia and the dominance of the -AO cold signal.  Data has been kept close to 50 years, not much in the History of the Weather Machine, but enough to raise some questions about how vulnerable we may be to rare weather extremes,

Talk about what apocalypse could massively disrupt society seems to be on the increase.  My greatest concern is being blindsided by a Killer Winter that leads to massive suffering caused by a combination of terrible cold.  The electric grid is known to have limits.  Natural Gas distribution system was near its limits last year in some regions of the US.  The observed impact of $400-$600 electric and heating fuel bills per month on middle class and poor families here in Central NC is huge cause for concern,  Being able to set a temperature that is comfortable has health care implications as well.  Is an energy policy that prices the poor and lower Middle Class out of reasonable comfort really save the environment or society?  

Let's talk Snowcover...

These chart from the Rutgers University Global Snow Lab seem to be telling a story.

Note the spike in snowcover preceding the legendary late 1970's winters
and the long steady uptrend channel since 1991.

Notice how the lowest lows were steady in the 1960's and the 1980s but were less prominent in the 21st Century.  The 2 distinct snow droughts correlate very well with ideas about the Icecaps allegedly melting and other "Global Warming" beliefs.   A good Scientist would warn against responses to to apparent weather until the longer term is better understood.

October snowcover better correlates with Winter Outcomes.
This data stops at 2013.  I can tell you that the month started
at +4 on the scale

Pay attention once again to the prominent snow drought period followed by a ramp-up that could partly explain the eventful winters of the early 2000's in our region,  Keep in mind that October 2014 is likely to be a very positive result.

My big question:  Did the huge circa 1976 spike in snow cover contribute to the legendary winters of 1976-79?

Bigger Question:  Since 2009 Severe Winter outcomes have evoked memories of the late 1970's and summoned historical reports from the early 1880's.   Must we consider the option that even more severe winter outcomes lie ahead if the trend continues?

Some are very excited about prospects for a cold snowy winter.  I would be excited as well ... except ... the snow data leads me to dig deeper into the potential for outcomes never experienced by the living generations.

My final outlook will be near or on Thanksgiving Day.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Midsummer Night's Summer Update

I cannot believe that once again it is time for the annual midsummer update.  Our weather has certainly started differently than the seemingly endless rain and cooler temperatures observed last year.  Let's review how the summer began and discuss where we are headed.


Image Source: NOAA Earth Science Research Laboratory

Noteworthy Features:

1) Warmest temperatures relative to average are in Northern Canada and to a lesser extent, he SW US and NW Mexico.

2) Bermuda High dominate the East with warm  not outrageously hot.  Here in NC, 90's in summer are expected even though late May and early June is more prone to the 80's for highs.

3) The cool high plains is somewhat La Nina-like.

4) Warmth NE of Hawaii is supportive.of the Bermuda High that dominated our June.

Ground Moisture

Image Source: NOAA Earth Science Research Laboratory

The wettest area in an almost La Nina fashion is the Midwest and Great Plains.  Severe drought in the Western US will certainly take its toll in the form of brutal heat (even by their standards) as their long term cyclical dryness feeds back.  Not evident on the big map is the mini-drought which I fully expect to reverse over the next few weeks.

The State of "El Nino"     

Data Source: The Long Paddock


My intention when seemingly poking fun at un-El Nino-like features when Ocean features and some atmospheric features indicate that one is making a good attempt to form is not to debate whether one is getting underway.  It is important to pay attention to the rest of the Globe as well in order to appreciate God's fantastic weather machine and anticipate the effects of features that are not yet cooperating with El Nino influences.

Oceanic features clearly indicate a forming El Nino.  The atmosphere is only partially cooperative.  An atmospheric index used over the long term to diagnose the state of ENSO called the Southern Oscillation Index has mostly been negative during the past 30 days yet the big positive spike and lesser one during  past few days contributed towards the running 30 and 90 day averages ing neutral.  Therefore we should not be surprised to observe weather outcomes that are not typical of El Nino.

Medium Range Outlook

Image Source:  University of Wisconsin SSEC

1) The Mega Ridge in the Southern Hemisphere is opposite of the summers of recent past when the feature was north of the Equator.  Dominance of that system over Australia IS a El Nino feature when present over the long term.

2) Typhoon Neoguri has turned NE as it approaches Japan.  This is a reliable 6-10 day predictor of a trough in the Eastern US.

3) Tropical energy surging towards a strong storm system that is traversing the westerlies.  The location of contact is important because  of  likelihood of building a Ridge west of Hawaii that reverses the +EPO that is involved in promoting the current Bermuda High.  

Based on the 3 features my expectation is to see a reversal of the heat and a dominance of 80's and increased precipitation here in Central NC and VA. in the 1-2 week timeframe.

Long Range - Through the end of Summer

1) Hottest part of the summer is over: Broadening wavelengths and the developing El Nino shift the mean trough towards the east coast.  Expect more 80's through the last 1/2 of summer.

2) Big SE Coast Tropical Threat:  Unless El Nino forces establish a full dominance ... warm SW Atlantic Ocean and an early summer tropical landfall in the same region are 2 predictors of late season trouble.

3) Big Winter ahead? -  In general, weak to moderate El Nino's bring persistent cold and more snow than usual to Central NC and VA.  If some other predictors line up ... then Winter 2014-15 would be very memorable.  That being said... we need to observe that El Nino succeeds and does not hard reverse like 2005-06 thus destroying winter.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Summer 2014 Outlook

A New Regime?

Our regional weather dramatically shifted in summer 2013 into a mild cool pattern that rained buckets.  Fall descended into Winter by the end of October.  Around Thanksgiving was our first foray into the teens, destroying my salad garden.  December - February was a roller coaster that averaged slightly below normal yet featured epic cold that we have not seen in 20 years.  The spring that followed was the coldest in history in many locales.  I had never seen so many episodes of snow and ice in March even growing up in VA!

Think back to the summers of 2007-12 when enbelieveable heat ruled the roost.  3 of 5 Winters were non-existent as well.   The reason for warmth domination was a warm NW Atlantic that concentrated heat along the Eastern Seaboard and wrecked all but 2 of the Winters.   Incidentally, the mega winters of 2009-10 and 10-11 were owed to energy being dissipated into space in the Arctic thereby tanking the Arctic Oscilation to unheard of depths.  Unfortunately, heat flooded the mid-latitudes the following summers.

Now, the Great Lakes still have ice in it, now Meterological summer has begun and lows are in the 50 's!  The big question is, what does the rest of the summer hold?  Are we truly in a new weather pattern or will the ways of the late 2000's return?  How about Hurricanes?  Except for Irene, NC has enjoyed a respite.

Summer points to ponder.

To El Nino or La Nada ?

El Nino has certainly gotten in the news. Some in the scientific community along with the media ran a hype machine that touted the expectant El Nino as becoming a El Toro.   However, the ELEPHANT in the room seems to be an empty hope for 1997-98 like warming instead of a truly scientific search for what is really going on.

The ocean temperatures seem to clearly indicate an attempt to generate an El Nino as all 4 zones have gone warm.  Take note of the dual feed of warmer than average water aimed at the Central Pacific while cold is squeezing the warmth in the east.  That alignment makes Winter's crystal ball turn white...

Image from Plymouth State Weather Center.

Some might point out the warm expanse across the region must mean that a strong El Nino is coming.  Take note of the source region of the warmth in 1997 in the EAST, not Central like this one is headed. Also note the cool Gulf of Alaska that served as a harbringer of the mild winter that swept much of the country.

Image from Wikipedia

IF El Nino was going to be strong then we would also be looking at persistent negative SOI.  That measure is used as a tool to determine the trend of the atmosphere.  Will it fight the warm water and squash the oscillation  2006 style?  Or will it eventually line up to deliver its weatger effects downstream into North America.   This graph uses data from The Long Paddock to illustrate what has occurred since Jan 1. 

Persistent negatives indicate an El Nino.  Note the descent that reversed in April, hit a quick low in May and now back in positive territory.  The sloshing back and forth is indicative of a Central and West Pacific based El Nino.  This final piece of evidence is very important.

Summer Weather Pattern and Temperatures

Ocean temperature and existing drought are often great predictors in our region of how the summer will play out.  Phenomena like El Nino and La Nina are capable of ruling the roost when strong and persistent enough but both are more influential in the winter when weaker.

Amazon - Shop. Connect. Enjoy. All from Earth's Biggest Selection.

The back and forth of weather virtually guarantees somebody is going to be hot/dry, another cool/wet, and often a mild region.   This drought map sends a loud and clear message about who will stay hot and dry, the Western US.  Due to ridging out West and over TX, it leaves us east of the Mississippi in the trough zone (on average).

The message of the Ocean has a sinister side to it.  A cooling North Atlantic does not promote large numbers of hurricanes nor persistent Bermuda Highs.  Sound good?  YEAH!!!  BTW:  I think that we in NC and VA are in the mild zone.  That being written ... warm water close to the East Coast loves hurricanes. This image is provided by the Plymouth State Weather Center.

An El Nino usually squashes Hurricane Season.  As previously discussed and ilustrated, this event is NOT strong and being west based tends to sway back and forth in terms of influence.  In my opinion, the door will be open for Hurricane development that would otherwise not be there in 1997-98 East based El Nino's.   An argument can be made any year for NC vulnerability.  The warmth close to the coast is double jeopardy  due to risk of Hurricane Fran-like strengthening upon approach to land. 

Brass Tax

1) Central NC and VA will be cooler than average by 1-2 degrees.

2) The back and forth nature of the growing west based El Nino should yield a period of upper 90's that would likely be provided by a cool High that overstayed its welcome.

3) Historically, coastal warm water brings bad news. In addition, TX ridging and a cool Gulf of Mexico lead me towards favoring the activity that is near or hits land to shift to the Eastern Seaboard.

4) I am having a hard time seeing next winter because the Crystal Ball keeps getting covered in frost and white inside. ..