Friday, December 16, 2005

14 comments:
AN EARLY CHRISTMAS PRESENT:
A NORMAL WEEK AHEAD


THE QUICK FORECAST..
1. No big storms next week, just cold weather
2. Xmas week...mix of cold/warm, some rain/snow
3. January disappoints with above-normal temps

Xmas Week 05



Dec 4A

For those of you who did not get the delay or closing you hoped, at least it is a "payday Friday" for many of us. Considering that the holiday vacation time is fast approaching, it is comforting to know that the Northeast will have a quiet week coming up. With people making travel and shopping plans, kids off the wall, parents getting frazzled, teachers ready for a break...at least the weather will not throw a monkey wrench in the calendar between now and next Friday. The GFS (Global Forecast System) map shown above is usually the forecast model of choice for the NWS, and the next storm progged for Sunday afternoon looks to skirt along the southern Mid-Atlantic. Following that, a period of below normal temperatures will set in for remainder of next week leading up to Christmas.

SO WHAT HAPPENED TO THE STORM?

Dec 3E

Blame the big time changeover to rain on simple physics. Counter-clockwise air rotating around the Low pressure center as it moved north along the I-95 corridor pulled in much warmer, moist air from the Atlantic. In fact, water temperatures along the NJ coast, Long Island and New England are above normal, while coastal areas along the DelMarVa and the Carolinas are below normal. This may be a factor behind the sharp temperature contrast shown above as the storm pulled north...southern and central Jersey had a nearly a 30 degree rise in temperature over 24 hours! I did not forecast for the I-95 cities in this storm because it looked clear from the beginning they would get more rain than snow. Philadelphia was the exception as they received snow where rain was expected first. My call for schools was off somewhat or at least reversed as I expected some closings and instead we had early dismissals. The graphic below from Accuweather.com illustrates the second phase of our storm as it heads north, giving Boston a taste of Baltimore weather... snow, then a period sleet and freezing rain, then rain.

Dec 3F

Thursday, December 15, 2005

31 comments:
WHAT'S THE FINAL WORD FOR FRIDAY ?
(THIS POST FOR DC-BALTIMORE-PHILLY-CENTRAL/EASTERN PA)

Dec 3E Radar

As of 4:00 PM, our storm is well underway and has wreaked havoc with everyone's Thursday program, however it was very helpful that schools gave parents a lot of advance notice to make arrangements for the EXTREMELY early closings (2 and 3 hour closings were widespread in central Maryland). It appears that the snow, started earlier than expected, and hung on longer. At present, the colorized radars are showing conflicting precip types, and in comparing the radars between Accuweather and Intellicast over previous storms, I tend to side with Intellicast as it more accurately depicts what is taking place in my backyard. At present I have moderate freezing rain and this has been going on for several hours now.

SCHOOL CLOSING SUMMARY

Yes, I know... the real reason you are here is to decide if you have to do lesson plans or homework for Friday. Well, just plan ahead, wear your pajamas backwards and put the snow shovel upside down and that'll jink the storm so you can sleep in tomorrow, right?

DC schools: Probably opening on time, changeover and melting will allow roads to improve over the next 12 hours. N. Virginia: At least a 2-hour delay if not closed due to a longer period of freezing rain.

Baltimore City and south: Delays likely, closings unlikely due to earlier changeover to rain. (I expect Anne Arundel to have perhaps a 1-hour delay but not closed, as they would have switched over to rain early tonight.)

Baltimore/Harford/Cecil Counties: Tough call here. I am going out on a limb and saying they are going to start with a 2-hour delay and then see how much melting/warming takes place. Obviously if we wake up and discover the temps rose to 40 overnight, then it's a no brainer, you'll be in on time Friday. The determining factor is to what extent the northern and western parts of those counties have more icing than south and east. If it becomes apparent that at least 1/2 of the county is has significant icing, power outages, downed trees and powerlines, they will close with no delay. Even if the temp rises to 33 or 34, that is not going to do much to melt 1/4 inch of ice in a few hours, especially when atmosphere is saturated and unable to soak up additional moisture.

Frederick/Carroll/York Counties and Southeastern PA Schools: Widespread closings and delays as these regions will be locked into the freezing rain for most of the night. 1/4 to 1/2 inch of ice will be common and some areas may see up to 1" which could bring down high tension transmission lines and damage towers.

ANALYSIS BEHIND THE FORECAST

Dec 3E Temps

The real issue is going to be this expected changeover from frozen to liquid precip in the overnight hours. I have some big problems with the plan being purported by the news and weather channel. News anchors always seem to overfocus on that magic 32 degrees, because they all report on it by saying..."So if we can jjuusstt get the mercury to creep a little but above 32, we'll be in better shape, right?" You know as well as I it is not that simple. Sure the 2 meter level temperature (what the temp is at 6 feet above the ground) might be 34 or 35, but without the sun in play and nighttime coming, bringing the air temp to slightly above freezing does not alleviate at all any significant icing problems. It will take a prolonged period of 6 or more hours with rising temps to get real melting in areas where you experience more than a light glazing of ice. This is why I firmly believe many Baltimore Metro Schools will be at least delayed 2-hours Friday and many northern areas may be closed. Take a look at the air temperature profile for Thursday afternoon. Another fun site to analyze current road conditions is the Maryland Dept of Transportation's interactive "Roadway Weather" which reports current roadway temps and status.

Brief update later tonight before bedtime, and I'll definitely be back online tomorrow around 6AM.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

8 comments:
THIS ICE WON'T BE NICE

Hey everyone I am sorry for the silence on Wednesday!! I am so frustrated. My blasted comcast cable modem was offline all day and I was totally disconnected from the internet. I had almost had seizures for being so unaware of the outside world, and The Weather Channel was not any help..the loca forecast seemed to conflict all day what the on air mets were saying. I am now clunking along with "super fast AOL 9.0" as a temporary backup at $6.00/hr. Hope to have problem fixed and a more detailed update out tomorrow, especially for readers from PA on north to MA. This post is primarily for first stage of the storm... in MD, VA and WV.

STORM SUMMARY REGARDING SCHOOLS: Most areas in central and western MD will see precip begin as snow between 8 and 10 AM, then quickly change over to sleet, which should continue for a long period... perhaps until 3 PM, when it will become freezing rain. The exception will be areas near the Chesapeake Bay. "Border towns" such as mine (Dundalk) that border water may escape significant icing, but travel just a few miles west of here and I think much of Baltimore City and Washington and all points north and west of I-95 will be a skating rink by Noon. Northern Baltimore County, Frederick, Carroll and even rural parts of Howard County are going to experience homeowner's insurance rate-busting ice accretion of 1/3 to 1/2 inch. Rule of thumb on this storm: It will get worse as day progresses.


I am still leaning toward a 4-day weekend for metro Baltimore schools, and this is NOT hype-casting or wish-casting. Most other districts in affected areas of PA, NY, and NE will be closed or delayed Friday only. This will be one of the toughest calls schools have faced in a long time. However, with half of Baltimore County under an "ICE STORM WARNING" (never seen that in my whole life) and even the Winter Weather Advisory sounds so scary I don't even want to venture out on my front step...Mother Nature might be making the decison for us. However, I see problems with the forecast and here's my concerns/scenarios:

1. First Scenario: As of 12AM Thursday morning, our storm is still way south and will take precip a while to reach and begin coating ground in Baltimore due to dry air factors. However evaporative cooling factor may impede a changeover to rain later in the day even for areas near the water. As a result, schools open on time, hedging against the hope that the atmosphere will warm enough to prevent an early dismissal before 2 PM, and hope that computer models overnight decide to back off the calls for 1/4-1/2 inch ice.


2. Second Scenario: However, an early dismissal would wreak total havoc with parents in that now they are fighting their frustration AND leaving work early AND icy roads AND bad traffic AND reduced visibility as conditions will be real bad county-wide by noon Thursday... and they'll ask "why didn't schools just close today."

3. Third Scenario: Tough spot for Districts ... but they "take one for the team" and close outright on the HOPE that the forecast for all this supposedly terrible ice coming our way actually shows up? Or will it be an embarrassing situation where schools close and the ice never materializes until...say 4 PM? (remember the dire Heavy Snow Warning of late Feb 05, the snow started at 10 AM, did not stick until 3PM). It is a difficult call to make anytime there is inclement weather as you WANT Mother Nature to make it obvious to everyone the basis of your decision. The hard part comes in trying to second guess as to what she will do in order to best protect your families, students and colleagues.


Based on the expected severity of this... I am leaning towards an all-out close for most of the Balto Metro area...incl the city, Howard, Frederick, Carroll, Harford. Cecil is not under a watch or warning so they might eek out a day. Then again, Howard County might just roll the dice like they always do. But I think districts will pull the trigger just for fear that students/parents/teachers may be caught in an ice storm on their way home..whether it is noon, 2pm or 4pm. Friday could end up being a 2 hour delay (expect for places like Frederick County MD on north to Bucks Co PA...you are certain to close on Fri). Read the text of the ice storm warning and it will terrify you if you have small children who normally walk home from school under trees or powerlines. I certainly hope that kids DO NOT go outside during the storm because real bad things can happen real fast in ice storms.

Thursday morning, provided I have been granted "extra time" to forecast, I will post a hourly precip estimate and storm track analysis for phase 2 of this event.. from PA to NE.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

14 comments:
4-DAY WEEKEND? DOES IT GET ANY BETTER?


Dec 3C

Special note to non-public school readers: Since certain schools block any blogspot.com sites, I am beginning to reorganize the content of this site under a new address: http://footsforecast.typepad.com. In honor of my hard-working school colleages, Each post is actually going to appear on that site first, then I will copy, paste and edit for this second. So if you want an updated scoop on the latest, go to the typepad.com address first. Eventually, once I get all the formatting changes transferred, which may take several months, I expect the blogspot.com site to be discontinued, but I will leave the new address listed prominently for anyone who does not check back frequently.


12/13 9:30 AM UPDATE: Computer models are indicating a slower onset of the precipitation in the Mid-Atlantic region Thursday morning, especially along the I-95 corridor. This means when the precip does begin to fall, it will have a deep layer of cold air to penetrate, and with many road and ground surfaces likely to be in the 20's by daybreak, several hours of snow and freezing rain are expected. Mixed precip should begin between 4 and 6 AM, continuing until at least 10 AM, followed by a gradual changeover to freezing rain, sleet and perhaps rain south and east of I-95 cities. Then as the secondary Low develops heading northeast toward New England, cold air will be drawn southward behind the storm and into the Baltimore-Washington area, turning any remaining moisture back over to a brief period of snow before ending, as well as freezing over what did fall during the day. Tonight, Winter Storm Watches will follow the current Special Weather Statements.


1. WHAT ABOUT SCHOOL? The situation presenting itself regarding school on Thursday will be one of either...


A) "Do we get them in before it starts?" (which is possible given that computers have continued to slow down the onset);


B) "Do we go with a 2-hour delay and then re-evaluate at 7AM?" (which might cause more problems than it would solve in that the later school starts, the more likely buses and walkers would be caught in a period of heavy freezing rain), or everyone's favorite default solution...


C) "Do we outright close because by 5AM it will be apparent that road conditions are going to deteriorate as the day progresses?"


Actually the most logical and scientifically appropriate choice is...

D) "Let's open 2 hours early to avoid the precip and the traffic!" I'm up for it, any takers? Either way you slice this storm, it will be a dicey call for administrators and commuters. If you must travel, plan on a lot of extra time as freezing precip is expected during the morning AND evening commute Thursday.

2. WHAT'S THIS ABOUT A FOUR DAY WEEKEND? I would be remiss if I did not give you the full story, and it is plain to see why this could happen if you simply consider the NWS forecast for, say, Towson, MD. Cold air sweeping in behind the departing Thursday storm will change any liquid precip in the air or on the ground back over to frozen, and overnight temperatures will drop low enough to produce a potential skating rink for Friday morning. Please understand this is not hype-casting or wish-casting.If anything I think many of us would wish for snow instead of ice (translate: you on the sofa with a heating pad and Ben-Gay after an hour of scraping 1/4" ice off your car). This same scenario happened in late January 2004, and many Baltimore area schools actually ended up with a 5 day weekend. Remember that one? It was the same time quarter grades were due. I'll bet dept chairs and administrators remember it better than teachers do!


3. WHAT'S THIS ABOUT SOME PRE-CHRISTMAS BLIZZARD? Not enough reliable information available at present to make a reasoned call, but yes, Virginia, there will at least be snow on the ground at Christmas. A developing story so check back later for updates on this.

Monday, December 12, 2005

5 comments:
AN ICE STORM COMETH?

Dec 3B

Forecasters and computer models are growing increasingly concerned over a complex winter weather situation developing in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast for the Wednesday night-Friday night time period. The most recent indication of this is a Special Weather Statement issued by the Baltimore/DC NWS Office Monday afternoon. Emphasis is on the word COMPLEX. Let me break it down for those of you wrangling over what this may mean for schools, especially in Maryland. (Please note that for the time being I will refrain from specifically referring to certain larger K-12 educational institutions in the post by name for fear that doing so may result in this website being rendered unavailable to you at a public school)

1. WHAT IS LIKELY TO HAPPEN. A multiple Low pressure system will approach the Mid-Atlantic at same time that a fresh supply of cold air is becoming available from Quebec, Canada. Recent snow cover will serve to reinforce this process. The two air masses will clash starting Wednesday night and produce a wide range of precipitation types, including snow, sleet, freezing rain, sleet, fog and rain. However, the orientation of the Lows is such that the I-95 corridor is likely to see precip begin as snow, sleet and freezing rain, then in the mid-morning hours on Thursday, it may change to plain rain as the Low(s) will pass close to or over major cities. The timing of this is critical as it relates to the Thursday morning commute. At present it is expected the cold air will retreat slowly, allowing for a slower changeover of the precip from frozen to liquid. This scenario would result in Maryland, WV and Western/Interior Virginia schools being disrupted on Thursday morning with at least a delay.

2. WHAT IS NOT LIKELY TO HAPPEN. The Lows take a more inland/southerly track that would not scour out the cold air prior to arrival, and what was going to be an ice/rain storm becomes a surprise snowstorm with 6-12 inches on Thursday. The dynamics of this storm are much different than Dec 9, so do not expect this to happen. Interior sections of PA, western MD and NY will see a moderate snowfall as depicted by the graphic above, but not the major I-95 cities.

3. WHAT IS THE HANGUP OVER THIS? If the frozen precip Wed night takes longer to changeover Thu AM, Maryland schools may be looking at a "2 hour delay...reevaluate at 7AM" situation which happened in late January 2004. Continue checking back on this developing situation, as further posts will elaborate and analyze the storm in more detail.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

8 comments:
LOOKING BACK ON A NICE STORM...

Dec 2D



15.1 Inches in Concord, NH as a reminder of why this powderhound just loves snow. Maybe not the "clearing off the car" bit, but there's something special about being taken captive by Mother Nature for a few hours in a big snowstorm. Neither the richest nor the most powerful person in the world can do anything about it, we're all in it together, so the best solution is to just revel in the beauty and enjoy the free time that some of us get when you see this out your window. I know I did, and in a few minutes I'm going out to do some more reveling "in it" with my daughter...literally. Credit for this photo goes to a meteorologist who posted it on the Eastern US Weather Forums, a great source of wide-ranging discussion on every aspect of weather analysis you could possibly imagine. I don't post on this forum, I just read it occasionally for reference and entertainment!


...LOOKING AHEAD TO THE NEXT STORM

Dec 3A
The pattern currently dominating U.S. weather is likely to produce one or two more storms, but they may not produce as much snow for the Northeast Corridor as some of us would like. At least we can enjoy the pre-storm analysis paralysis (or paranalysis for short). The first GFS incantation of the next storm looks to be a blase drifter to the East Coast with intermittent snows. For the Thursday 12/15 period, other models show a Great Lakes cutter, and still others point to an Appalachians runner. Let the speculation games begin!

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

36 comments:
THE FINAL WORD ON DECEMBER STORM # 2


(SUBTITLE: THE "ON AGAIN, OFF AGAIN SNOWSTORM")

FIRST GRAPHIC IS THE PROGRESSION OF ACCUWEATHER'S SNOW CALL OVER PAST THREE DAYS, SO YOU CAN SEE WHY YOU'VE BEEN GETTING WHIPLASH TRYING TO UNDERSTAND HOW MUCH SNOW IS SUPPOSED TO FALL.

Dec Storm 2A

SUMMARY: Winter Storm and Heavy Warnings blanket the Map from Ohio to New England, and all the elements seem to be in place for a quick hitting, fast moving Mid-Atlantic and Northeast Snowstorm. While this could end up a surprise 6-12" bonanza for the major cities, it may only come at the very last second and in the daybreak morning hours on Friday. Overall accumulations for most areas under currently under a warning will range closer to 6" than to 12". The snow will fall in a short time period, from midnight Thursday to 9AM Friday, and by afternoon, the sun should peek out before setting on a cold and snowy wind-swept landscape. Many schools will close as crews quickly discover how difficult it will be trying to keep up with snowfall rates of 1-2 inches per hour, and the morning commute on Friday will be very hazardous and nerve-wracking for those who have to venture out. Analysis follows below and snowfall accumulations to be posted this afternoon.


SECOND GRAPHIC PROVIDES A BIRDS-EYE VIEW OF WHAT IS GOING ON IN THE ATMOSPHERE TO GENERATE THE INGREDIENTS FOR OUR STORM

Dec 2B

WHAT FAVORS THIS STORM TO BE A BIG SNOW-MAKER:

1. Plenty of cold air in place. Lower than normal sea-surface temperatures off Mid-Atlantic coast helping to enhance and stabilize position of high.

2. Impressive southern jet stream tapping ample Gulf and Pacific moisture. Link.

3. Neutral NAO will allow storm to make a gradual East-Northeast jog as it moves toward coast, instead of bypass or get suppressed too far south. This kind of “slight ENE angling” is what we saw in the Feb 2003 blizzard and similar storms.

4. Fast moving storm will “moistent the column” overnight and by daybreak widespread heavy snow throughout region from Virginia to northern New Jersey, then moving toward NYC by mid morning and Boston by afternoon.

5. Terrible timing for Friday morning commuters…below freezing road surfaces given that snow will be falling in overnight hours means it sticks on contact, creating instantly slippery and hazardous conditions, as well as sharply reduced visibility for drivers in morning hours.

6. Perfect timing for students and teachers looking for a 3-day weekend. You can bet your boots this will close most schools from central and northern Virginia on north and east including the WV panhandle, central and eastern Maryland (Baltimore and DC Metros), Central, SE and Eastern Pennsylvania, the Philly Metro schools might be crazy enough to start with a 2-hour delay. NYC Schools will have a tougher call as snow is coming later in the day, they might end up with early dismissal.

7. Perfect timing for those who want Saturday to recover and dig out, as storm will be long gone by Friday evening, and sunshine and slightly warmer temps return Sat.

WHAT COULD PREVENT THIS STORM FROM BEING A BIG SNOW-MAKER:

Check the Baltimore/Washington NWS Forecast Discussion, they post a small list of criteria for your big time snowstorm, and sadly there are some elements in place to PREVENT this from being the storm you want it to be.

1. Placement of the High…is not to the North or West (as in the classic spot of southern Ontario or upstate New York. This kinds of High can drill a cold air damming situation in front of the storm. Granted we have cold air in place, but High is in the WRONG place.

2. There’ll be considerable mixing with and changeover to sleet/rain in southern parts of the storm, lower southern Maryland, eastern Virginia. This almost always robs a storm of energy which generally cuts down on snowfall for everyone.

3. Balt/DC NWS said it best…when there are multiple lows in play, this also reduces the likelihood of big snow because the energy required to concentrate on one big cyclogenesis is spread too thin among several systems.

4. Fast-moving storm will limit the amount of time it has to drop snow. That alone is going to knock a few inches of everyone’s 12 inch expectation.

5. Several low pressure systems have well over 1000 miles to cover between now and Friday morning, and must undergo a lot more transformation to become the blinding white snowmonster some are wishing. Granted you can see the moisture inflow from the Pacific and Gulf, but that moisture has to interact with the northern branch of the jet stream just right in order for those heavy snow warnings to materialize.

6. Low-level warming as a result of that return flow from the departing high I mentioned in earlier post. If we start to see southeast winds during the storm, this will first raise upper level temperatures, then surface, inducing a mix and changeover, which robs the storm of energy, cutting on accumulations for a large area. Also consider that snow-to-liquid ratios in the I-95 corridor will not be 20- or even 15-to-1 but more like 10-to-1, which means whatever the QPF (liquid equivalent forecast) is for your area, that's likely to translate pretty easily to the inches you'll see.

AFTER I RETURN FROM SETTING UP TODAY'S LESSON PLAN AT SCHOOL, I WILL POST MY ACCUMULATION FORECAST, AS WELL AS THE GRADE FROM LAST STORM.

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

26 comments:
THIS MIGHT NOT BE THE ONE!
UPDATED WED 6:30 am
Dec Storm 2


WEDNESDAY MORNING UPDATE:
Well lookey what we have here...last night, a potentially bigtime snowstorm was on the books. What one good night's sleep will do, huh? (for NWS forecasters, not me). It seems NWS has ramped the storm back down to earth overnight, and mostly removed words being used yesterday like,"dangerous, very significant, etc...6 or more inches." For example, Balt/DC NWS was really sounding the alarm last night, and now has an innocuous "light to moderate snow" Special Weather Statement. Cancelling the hype was a good idea, because there remains the possibility the Ohio Valley Low and the Southern Rockies Low never link up the way we want them to.. and the Mid Altantic High nudges offshore more than we want it to. Throw in the fact that this storm is moving faster, thus limiting time for it to drop precip. Result? Our big storm never materializes and we get KaDUDa # 2. That's why I and other online forecasters were hesitating. Granted Winter Storm Watches may still be hoisted for a large area, but we may very well see a repeat...as in Snow Advisories and a final tally around 4-5 inches. I'll bet when Accuweather updates this AM, they dramatically scale back the 6-12 inches they painted for the Mid-Atl and NE on Friday. You know I'm a born and bred powderhound, and I hate to be a party pooper, but I'm not going to get you all riled up for a storm that might not live up to the hype.

Let me add that while many areas may not get the 6-12 inches we hope for, the timing of this will be that even 5 inches occuring overnight from 9PM to 6AM will be just perfect to cancel many schools for Friday from Virginia to New York City and everywhere in between. Main reason is that this will be a quick snow, and crews will not be able to keep up, thus they will give up until it is over. Then you'll be able to roll over and go back to sleep. Now that's a Happy Friday! (Forecast note: I will be out the entire morning delivering a toddler to a grandmother, so no updates until at least 1pm.)


TUESDAY EVENING POST:
Already the drumbeats have started for another major winter storm and Special Weather Statements are starting to fly out the gate. I am still digesting and reviewing the previous storm to see what went wrong, as my grades are coming in about a D- average on snow totals (although I did score big time with Richmond, 4" forecasted and a result of 4.2" !). We have all seen the pre-storm hype end up bigger than the storm itself, so I am going to look over the data for this one more closely. The interesting thing favoring the powderhounds is that both Accuweather and the National Weather Service are sounding the trumpet for a potential major snowfall in the Mid-Atlantic and up I-95. Keep in mind the Dec 5 Dud did not officially qualify as an "I-95 Special" as no one along my favorite highway saw at least 6" (sorry, Ocean Twp NJ's 6.7" does not count). A true-blue I-95 Special is where all the megalopolis cities (and their surroundings counties) receive a good solid 6+ from DC to Boston. This storm appears to have the potential to deliver that as there will be plenty of cold air in place, and radiational cooling in advance of the storm caused by Storm 1's snowfall will help to keep temps down right up to the onset of snow Thursday night. I am not ready to issue preliminary accumulations as I have to review the QPF maps, but the elements are slowly coming together. In fact, before we go over the numbers on Storm 2, we will first discuss what are "the elements" required for a good shovel-smackin' snowstorm along the East Coast.

Some of the basic items I and every other serious forecaster looks for is the classic dome of High pressure parked over New England or New York. The current realm of blue skies shining above is that High, except that it is nudging far enough south to create the tell-tale "cold air damming" down the east side of the Appalachians. This bodes well for powderhounds in the southern portion of the Northeast Corridor (from Richmond to Philly). However, what concerns me is the trajectory of the storm, whose end game will be the combination of several Low pressure systems coming together by Friday morning. It is possible this storm will move just simply straight east, and though it will throw a big shield of snow out for hundreds of miles, it MAY miss the northern sections of 95 from Connecticut on north to Boston. Go run the computer models I have linked to the right to see what I am talking about. For those in interior sections, such as West Virginia, central Virginia, central and eastern PA, and especially the mountains of NC and SC, depending on your location, upsloping may yield higher snowtotals for you, along with a significant ice storm in the Carolinas.


All the way around, this storm looks to be a block/backbuster event, PROVIDING that the key element, that High Pressure dome, does not detach itself from the picture too soon, right? That would allow a return flow on the backside to link with the onshire flow of the approaching Low, and thus our storm starts as snow and changes to all rain for the big cities. I have seen that kind of situation before...we got all excited about a big storm coming from the MidWest, only to have our 4-5 inches get all washed away as the warm front passed over.
THAT's the piece I want to investigate further before I sound the trumpets on a 6-12" Early Season I-95 Kahuna. Yes, I am resurrecting that term because this may definitely qualify as a Big K.

Sunday, December 4, 2005

26 comments:
HAS IT FINALLY ARRIVED?
OR IS IT ABOUT TO LEAVE?

Dec Storm 1

12/5 LATE AFTERNOON UPDATE: Am back from doctor's visit and looking over update data now. What a puzzling storm! At 1:20 PM today we are in White Marsh, MD at our children's doctor office, and a nurse pokes her head in the door to mention to the attending nurse with us that schools are closing early. We quick glance outside the window wondering if something huge changed in the 2 hours since I had been at the computer. What do I see? NOT A FLAKE! So I think, "maybe just our area has no snow, and everyone else is being clobbered." I hear on the radio en route home something about "4-6 inches for Baltimore" then I hear on a different station something about "1-3 inches by tomorrow morning." My wife, who is from northwestern Pennsylvania, often kids me about how ridiculous all this really is...NOT EVER would have her schools (Crawford County) near Erie closed early for no snow in the sky. So in a futile attempt to put some science on the face of this storm, I will soon explain the graphics I assembled above and try to make sense out of a seemingly senseless snowstorm. I admit we will have a long way to go to reach verification of the amounts I predicted, but we'll just let it go for now and see what happens. For those who check-in frequently, please post your local observations in the comments.

12-5 LATE MORNING UPDATE : I have a strong suspicion the storm is coming farther north and west than anticipated, and the cone of heavy snow will be shifting to include the I-95 cities of DC, Baltimore and Philly. Not because I like to wishcast, but in looking at the water vapor imagery loop it is clear the Eastern Mid-Atlantic is fully enveloped in the bright white, and the overall tilt of the moisture riding up from the Gulf and Pacfic says to me that the moisture stream is exerting more of an influence than the dry slot behind it. I think the Snow Advisories will be changed to Winter Storm Warnings and amounts will be upped a few inches, probably settling on 4-8" for metro areas. I am going to leave my amounts in place for now until I can get more data. Have a double doctor appointment for both childs at 1:15 PM so no updates until late late this afternoon, probably not before 5 PM. Overall this means that WV, most of VA and south central PA will be in on the action, as will metro PHL and NYC. As for Boston, we'll see how the secondary forms and what it does before I go out on a limb there. Central NJ...sadly but if the action shifts N and W you might get the sleet/snow mix which will cut down on your accumulations. Will be a fun storm to watch. I will take kid pics in the snow and post here. Will also be revising portions of earlier post...


WILL IT BE A "THREE-PEAT" ?


Two of the last three years have featured significant snows occuring within the first 7 days of December across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. I use the Baltimore Metro region as my point of reference because that's where I have lived since 2001. Consider:


DEC 5-6, 2002: DC, Baltimore and Philadelphia, among many other areas, receives 7-9 inches in a blockbuster first snowstorm of the season that closes all area schools for 2 days (Thu and Fri). This storm kicked off a very productive and snowy season that culminated in the February 2003 Blizzard. This month was a classic example of the saying, "What happens in December, Winter will remember."




DEC 6, 2003: Baltimore and the Eastern-Mid Atlantic in general receive for a second year in a row (on the same exact date), a season opener significant storm delivering 6-7 inches. The main event of the winter (in Baltimore) was a 3-day ice and snow storm in late January 2004, and rest of the season was punctuated by several mini-snows causing a higher than normal number of 2-hour delays for schools due to icy conditions.


DEC 2004: The opening storm of the month was initially thought to be snow and turned into an all-rain Nor'easter event. The rest of the winter for most of the Mid-Atlantic was very disappointing, except for two major storms. The January 21-23 Blizzard was the most notable event of the winter, covering a large area with 6-30 inches from Washington, DC to northern new England. The last week of February was the second major event for the Baltimore area, delivering 4-6 inches in a first round, followed by a few more inches in a second round several days later. Overall, last winter was more remembered for the extraordinary snowfall in New England as that regon received the brunt of most storms throughout the season.


WHAT IS THE POINT OF REVIEWING STORM HISTORY ON THE EVE OF THE FIRST BIG STORM OF THIS SEASON? I think it is important to see the pattern that has been developing the past few years, especially when you factor in the influence of the recent hurricane season. Elliot Abrams of AccuWeather posted on his website last winter a study he conducted of first snowfalls in Philadelphia. He discovered that in seasons where the first snowstorm produced 7 or more inches of snow, the remainder of the winter (in that region of the Mid-Atlantic) saw frequent and productive snowstorms. In seasons where the first snowstorm was less than 7 inches, the remainder of the winter was lackluster and disappointing (at least for powderhounds.)



What I'm getting at is that if history is an accurate guide, this storm had better:
A) live up to the billing it's received so far, and deliver 6-8 inches for BAL and PHL
B) Change the trend so that the first storm does not serve as an indicator of future storms
C) Fizzle now while we are still ahead of the game, so we can try again next week
I have read through all the models, discussions and predictions for this storm all across the internet, and a few things stand out that are the basis of my forecast. I want very much to back up my analysis with detailed links and reference to all the sources I've used thus far. However that will have to wait until later Monday. For now I will just give you the First Call and then refine it with analysis tomorrow.



1. JUST THE FORECAST


This projection assumes a snow onset by 12 noon Monday. in all areas under Winter Storm Watches or Warnings. In Northern VA, DC and Baltimore Metro areas, schools WILL be in session Monday and are NOT LIKELY to have an early dismissal UNLESS it becomes apparent the storm is moving in faster than anticipated. Unless there is a major change in track or eventual intensity of the storm, I expect most schools in the Watch area to be CLOSED TUESDAY, and reopening Wednesday with a 2-hour delay, depending on the amount of snow. 8 or more inches is going to guarantee schools close for 2 days due to time it takes to clear parking lots, and just the shock of the first major snow arriving so soon.


STORM GRADE ACCUMULATIONS (BY 6PM Tuesday 12-6, verified by NWS Spotter reports and official measurement sites.)



VIRGINIA: Roanoke...9 / Richmond...4 / Charlottesville...7 / Washington...5





MARYLAND: BWI airport....5.5 / Towson...4 / Columbia...6 / Dundalk....5




PENNSYLVANIA: PHL airport...6 / Paoli...4 / Bucks County...5 (will add more later)




NEW YORK : Central Park...5 / JFK airport...4


NEW ENGLAND: Logan Airport...7 / Woburn, MA...6 / Taunton, MA...7


(I will add more tomorrow. If you want your location include, request such in the comments.)


2. ANALYSIS BEHIND THE FORECAST


3. PHILOSOPHY AND RATIONALE

Saturday, December 3, 2005

32 comments:
BORN ON THE LAST DAY
OF HURRICANE SEASON?
Am I talking about Hurricane Epsilon...
the 14th named storm of this record-smashing season?

Epsilon

(Actually, no...I am really referring to:)
THE LATEST LITTLE FOOT
Johns Hopkins University's Bayview Hospital
Baltimore, Maryland

100_1318


Now you know the reason this site has been offline for so long. I apologize to all the loyal readers out there whom have put up with my silence and lack of communication or forecasts for over a month now. As you can imagine, we have been heavily immersed in baby preparation, and it paid off. Mommy had an emergency C-section, but all went well and we have a beautiful baby girl, to complement our already darling first little girl who is thrilled about her new baby sister.

101_1257


Everyone is home now and resting peacefully after 4 days in recovery. Those of you with several children know better than I how challenging it can be to keep sane in a busy home full of rambunctious kids. But at least for this holiday season, we will be thoroughly enjoying the relative calm of a 2-year old and a 1-week old. As I write this, I am blessed to have both children asleep, as well as Mommy napping too! (I'm sure that will change very soon.)

100_1312


Kaselyn proved to be the catalyst I needed to get the forecast site back on line. Now I am slowly finding out that we (as in the I-95 corridor and interior PA, VA, WV) might have our first big snowfall of the season on December 5-6. So I am very excited to have all my ladies back home, but equally as excited that we might get to have a real snow at a time when I can enjoy it while I am off for school. Jayla, (my first daughter) has her first Christmas program this evening, and after that it will be an early bedtime for everyone. I usually get more motivated to begin forecasting again when it becomes more evident that MY FAMILY will be among the happy recipients of a snowfall significant enough to close school. The double bonus right now is that a snowday while I am on my 2-week paternity leave does not count against my leave time, nor do I have to write lesson plans for the substitute! I can just stay home, enjoy the snow, take pictures, and spend quality family time. We feel truly blessed and my best wishes to your families that you will feel these same kinds of blessing this Christmas season.


NOW, with no further delay... I return to the job you've all been waiting so patiently for. SNOWSTORM FORECASTING. I am looking into the latest computer model projections for this apparent new storm on the docket for Sunday night into Tuesday. While I am out this evening, take a look at the latest QPF maps for Sat-Sun and Mon-Tue as well as the latest round of Special Weather Statements to see why I think it looks good for the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast to get their first I-95 special of the year.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

13 comments:
WINTER STORM WILMA?

Winter Storm Wilma


It now seems clear from the reports coming in around western Pennsylvania and West Virginia, as well as State College, northern PA, upstate NY and Vermont/New Hampshire that Wilma can be linked to the season's first significant snowfall. Is that not like the best orchestrated handoff you've ever seen...from hurricane season to winter storm season in one event. I know there are many more great pics out there of the recent snowfall from our western reporters, the ones above were from Snowshoe, WV. I am stunned and excited to hear Johnstown, PA apparently received 6-12" (that is just phenomenal....talk about an October surprise!) and that snow also fell at Seven Springs Ski Resort. I almost feel like the bi-polar forecaster, and I'm not talking about the North v. South Poles either. It is challenging to keep up with all the weather news, now that we have snow on the calendar, and on the mind, as well as Tropical Storm BETA in test mode down by central America, and possibly Gamma on it's heels in the Atlantic. Couple that with concern for another potential nor'easter early next week, and you can see how I have divided loyalties. The ultimate schizophrenic moment might come in November, when I will be faced with forecasting a major winter storm concurrently with another Gulf hurricane (remember Opal in Oct 95...Category 4 overnight? It can happen again). Pray that we get a nice long stretch of quiet, sunny weather and no tropical activity until December 1 so I have the chance to unwind without appearing out-of-touch and disinterested! I will post a discussion of this winter storm potential, and a rundown of Beta and Gamma once we get to the weekend.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

4 comments:
WINDS OF WILMA

Whether it is a cold, raw rain.. or strong gusts of wind, or the season's first snow...Wilma is the main weather maker for the entire eastern third of the U.S. today. Thankfully she will not make a third landfall in North America, however the side effects are still a raw deal for millions. It is interesting to consider that a departing hurricane would be responsible for the first snow of the season along the PA/WV border and in parts of central Pennsylvania. If there is any moisture leftover tonight, I expect that cold air draining south from Canada in the wake of this storm will changeover any rain to snow in many areas of upstate PA and NY. I believe Wilma and her preceding unnamed tropical monsoon makers are giving us a first glance at what the winter storm track may bring. For powderhounds it may be a delight, for educators hoping for another early end to the school year, it may be a drag.

Wilma 3

Wilma continues to confound computer model predictions, as she is still a strong Category 3 moving away. Makes you wonder what would have happened had she recurved into New England or the Mid-Atlantic. Earlier in the month, I did hint at the possibility of a "Hazel" like situation developing, with a late season major hurricane riding the East Coast. I'm just glad that forecast did not come true. Let's hope for everyone's sake and sanity that this will have been the last blast of the 2005 hurricane season, and nature will let us go quietly into the night... and the snow season.

Wilma 2

WICKED WILMA

Wilma 2
Infrared satellite photo of Wilma captured at 7:45 PM on Sunday.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

5 comments:
WILMA'S WARNING

Wilma 1


As you may already know, Wilma went from an 80-mph Category 1 on Tuesday afternoon to a monstrous Category 5 just 12 hours later. Never before in recorded history has a storm intensified so quickly, and has broken the 17 year record held by 1988's Hurricane Gilbert as the most intense Atlantic storm, dropping to 882 millibars overnight Wednesday. Having dropping from it's catastrophically fierce 175 mph, it is all but certain that Wilma will slowly weaken over the next 5 days, and may brush the Yucatan Peninsula at a Category 3 or 4 before taking aim on south Florida. The storm may also do a Lili or Isidore, and get hung up in the Yucatan, which would negate a lot of it's punch. The outcome hinges on the southeast movement of two upper-level low pressure troughs currently in the MidWest and Pacific Northwest, respectively. The real question becomes.. what can Wilma do if it crosses Florida and re-enters the Atlantic, even as a Category 1. Some computer model scenarios indicate the storm could hug the East Coast, and possibly even threaten New England by the middle of next week in a remake or hybrid version of the 1938 Hurricane. For now, Wilma is the 2005 version of the "October Surprise" and it is likely our expectations for this storm's path will continue to change by the hour. Wilma is warning us to stay on target.

With that in mind, I am back on focus with our storm after having bee remiss in updating this site for several days, so please accept my apologies. If you've been wondering the reason for my absence, let's just say I've been a bit pre-occupied following another big story that could far eclipse any natural event in our lifetime... the Bird Flu.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

2 comments:
WILMA?!
It won't be long before the media begins to coin the Flintstones with this storm. A more detailed update after dinner, but this one has the potential to become a major hurricane and may head for the Gulf early next week.

Wilma

Sunday, October 9, 2005

9 comments:
NOW THIS IS WILD

Vince

A very rare photo of a far eastern Atlantic HURRICANE believe it or not. This extremely bizarre storm formed in waters less than 80 F, strengthened to 75 mph, with gusts to 90 mph and is heading northeast on a path toward Portugal of all places. Read the MSNBC article on this storm. When in our lifetime have we seen such a weird situation? The only other candidates are a tropical cyclone which hit Brazil in March 2005, and a hybird hurricane like storm in the Mediterranean in 1995. If you know of other wild thing candidates, please let me know. Vince is likely to make landfall as a extra-tropical storm somewhere along the northern coast of Portugal by Wednesday.


BUT WAIT..THERE'S MORE


Atlantic 10-09

After the drenching downpours experienced by the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast this weekend, most are crying uncle and praying for the sun to return. The unfortunate news is that the sunny, dry pattern has finally been broken, and replaced with a tropical rain train that may very well deliver another super-soaker in the middle of the week. This pattern would be akin to September 1999, when Tropical Storm Dennis deluged North Carolina and Virginia, only to be followed within less than 10 days by Floyd. "Subtropical" Depression #22 looks to be the next rainmaker culprit, as the surface and upper-level lows are conspiring to deliver another round of unwelcome wetness to areas that now LEAST need it. The best news of the day is that despite all the tropical trouble, there is no "long-tracked" system moving in from the eastern Atlantic, but we will have to contend with home brew threats for the remainder of the month. With the letter "V" now taken, we've only got "W" to go and then the hurricane season will really start to talk Greek. Yes there are all kinds of other interesting weather events taking place...including a snowstorm in Denver, shrinking sea ice in the Arctic and dams breaking in New Hampshire. For now we will just continue to focus on the tropics. Winter storm season is not far behind.

Thursday, October 6, 2005

11 comments:
BUSY TIMES

Busy Times
My apologies to my frequent readers for being behind the eight ball in these busy times. It seems that when life, family and work get active, so does the weather. In one week, we've had two tropical cyclones form and make landfall, a heat wave and a blizzard in North Dakota, all on the same continent. Those of you in the eastern third of the U.S. are going to feel the air grow increasing tropical for early Fall, as the remnants of Tammy will surge northeast and help put a dent in the drought. October can be a bizarre month as opposing air masses are beginning to draw the battlelines for winter. There is still much to watch closely in the tropics, as two systems are approaching the U.S. and may post a threat of development in the next week to 10 days, especially a potential "long tracked system" from the east central Atlantic. Here's a hint...do you remember Hazel in 1954? As for winter, I will be soon releasing my forecast for the first half of the season, covering Nov 1 to Jan 1. I'll do the second half of winter once I see if my first half forecast verifies. I believe we may see some early season snow, similar to the 2002 setup where areas of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast say much above normal temperatures in October, followed by a mild November and then winter arrived with a vengeance in December and never looked back. I have evidence to backup this proposal, so stay tuned.

Sunday, October 2, 2005

41 comments:
STAN MEETS THE YUCATAN

Stan 1

But not for long. This hap-hazard looking system finally developed on Saturday into Tropical Storm Stan with winds of 45 mph, however it will be short-lived. Drifting slowly west-northwest across the Yucatan Peninsula, it is expected to be downgraded back to a depression until it reaches the Bay of Campeche. The NHC official forecast is for upper level shear to relax in the coming days, and an upper level high form over the cyclone. Combined with very warm SST's on west side of the Yucatan might just allow Stan to regenerate early next week back to a Tropical Storm, and quite possibly a Category 1 or 2 hurricane before a second landfall in central Mexico.

Elsewhere in the Western Atlantic, there has been continued concern of a "home brew" system developing in the Bahamas as a result of the big high parked over the Northeast. While nothing appears disturbed at this moment, it could be a different story within a 24 hour period given the right conditions. Convection appears to be increasing each day, and the NHC is beginning to take notice of the system.

In the far Eastern Atlantic, we do have tropical depression 19, but it has formed far enough north to prevent it becoming a much feared "long tracked" Cape Verde system which has given rise to many a destructive hurricane in the past, such as Floyd, Gloria and Ivan to name a few. In fact, some computer models show the system recurving back toward West Africa, which seems to be an unusual final destination.

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 26 UPDATE:
SOMETHING BREWING ?


Too early to tell if this system has the oomph necessary to become a named storm, but "home brew" (a tropical cyclone developing close to the U.S. mainland) has led to nearly all the landfalling storms this season. The eastern Atlantic is also flaring up, so both areas will be carefully watched for further development.

AL99

MANY THANKS

I extend my appreciation to Justin Berk and Tony Pann of Weather Talk Radio for providing me the opportunity to speak on their program at their request this past Sunday afternoon, 9/25. Justin and Tony's program airs every Sunday from 3:00 - 4:00 PM on Baltimore's AM 680 WCBM. The call in number is 410-922-6680, and you even may be able to listen in live on Windows Streaming Audio. When the weather situation warrants, I will probably call in again, and hope you will too. Here is a graphic posted on Eastern US Weather which shows the listening range of the station, covering most of the Washington to Philadelphia I-95 corridor, so you should be able to get it on your home radio.

If you are new to Foot's Forecast, welcome! I invite you to participate in our respectful and courteous community of weather enthusiasts from across the East Coast, please consider joining the comments board. It does require you to establish an identity, a generic weblog title, and to login each time you post a comment. Although this website focuses primarily on storm forecasting, you are welcome to post any questions or comments you wish about weather or meteorology. Your comments are posted on the site, and emailed directly to me. I will either respond with a followup comment or compile a response to cover questions from several people. Our frequent participators include "fellow forecasters" from the Baltimore/DC area, western Maryland, central, south-eastern and east-central Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, New York City and the Boston area, as well as occasional participants from the Gulf Coast and Southeast. I hope you'll join us. If there is information you would like to see added to the links column, please let me know. Myself and others, use this site as a resource for personal or professional interests as for forecasting information, so your input will make it a higher quality product for everyone. Now back to the weather...


RITA'S REMNANTS COMING THIS WAY

Rita Track 3

This graphic is from the Colorado State University's Operational Tropical Cyclone Guidance Products page. I present this because it is most straight-forward format for displaying the "composite runs" of the major computer models. But without even looking at computer programs, the TV or internet, I'll bet you can already tell from the cloud changes since Saturday, and feel it in your bones that Rita's remnants are heading for the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Welcome rainfall it will be, a torrential tropical downpour it will not be. The risk of strong to severe thunderstorms can also not be ruled out, as daytime heating mixed with tropical moisture coul easily spark "popcorn variety" thunderstorms throughout the Eastern third of the country over the next 2-3 days, until Rita departs the East Coast. There is a more extensive analysis of this potential by professional meteorologist Larry Cosgrove on Eastern US Weather.


Then all eyes will quickly turn back to the tropics, because the Caribbean Sea and Western Atlantic still have plenty of untapped energy and lots of calendar left to go...unfortunately. Keep your eyes on a wave that is moving through the southern Caribbean, that could end up being Stan in the next few days. Let's also not forget that countless thousands in our country continue to suffer in the aftermath of the destructive 2005 storms, and many more are still recovering from the historic 2004 season. I encourage you to give to a reputable charity of your choice, or to the American Red Cross, because just one person can make a difference in the lives of others.

SATURDAY 9/24 EVENING UPDATE:
THE GULF'S BIG FOUR
A compilation of images from the four biggest storms of the season I designed from from NASA and NOAA satellite galleries. Do you know your 2005 major hurricanes? Will this image have to change in the weeks ahead, or are we on the downside of the season? I believe we'll have the answer to that question sooner than later.

The Big Four of 2005


NOW WHERE DOES SHE GO?
While Rita's winds and rains rage on in Louisiana and Texas, the worst and best of the storm's aftermath is yet to come. Read on to find out why.

Rita Track 2


Yes, I know that is a really cool graphic. Now don't get all excited about the pretty colors just yet and overlook the science behind it. This map reveals something very important for the parched northeast. I created this using Google Earth and some weather data overlays, not hard to do, and then click on the image above for a blog that has downloadable programs that will automatically load current storm data into your version of Google Earth, then you can manipulate it anyway you like. The important thing to notice on this graphic is that it shows the "Mean Steering Layer" of upper level winds that move weather systems across the globe. You'll also notice that the computer model tracks seem to indicate steering currents may take Rita toward the northeastern U.S. and not back into the Gulf of Mexico as I originally reported. From a personal observation, the air feels more tropical, looking at the upper level water vapor imagery shows Rita's northern outflow has been caught up in the jet stream, blowing it across to the east coast. It's one of those gut feelings again, that despite what the computers are saying, it now "feels" to me that Rita is coming this way, and can hopefully bring much needed rain to the Mid-Atlantic and other areas in need.
The next set of graphics I posted earlier Saturday afternoon, and the earlier thinking was into the Gulf, but now more models are showing a path more northeasterly.

Rita Track 1

SATURDAY 9/24 AFTERNOON UPDATE


Rita's winds are fading, but the real problems will become the inland flooding in the Southeast, and the new possibility that air masses moving across the U.S. are going to redirect Rita back into the Gulf! The earlier concern was a collapse of steering currents, allowing Rita to stall and dump flooding rains in the areas near and north of landfall. But looking at this new animation of the GFDL, makes you wonder if the laws of atmospheric physics are going to trump our best efforts to prevent further flooding in New Orleans. Watch closely in this animation as you see the decaying high pressure slide off the East coast, while a new ridge is building in from the west. Knowing that air flows clockwise around a high, although upper air wind systems move differently than surface systems, it is easy to see how the new western ridge could trap Rita. As this new high slides east, Rita gets pushed south, across eastern Louisiana and Lake Ponchartrain, and into the northern Gulf, with a 120 hour wind speed of 44 knots, clearly minimal tropical storm force. Then as this high continues to move east across the northern half of the country, the obvious next path for re-generated Tropical Storm Rita is to travel along the periphery of the high, just like she did this week...and the orientation of these two systems could even lead to a new landfall in the western Gulf, or Texas again. I know this sounds nearly ridiculous, but if you don't remember what Ivan did last year, take a glance at this chart. Ivan was ejected off the Mid-Atlantic coast as a tropical depression, producing massive floods in southeastern PA and central/southern NJ, before heading out into the Atlantic, being shunted south, crossed eastern Florida, re-emerged in the Gulf, and quickly re-generated, striking....you guessed it, the upper Texas coast as a 60 mph tropical storm, very close to Sabine Pass.


It happened before, it could happen again. I imagine the press will begin touting this story soon to hype the idea that New Orleans could be twice affected by the same storm. In closing, I am not going to claim credit for coming up with this scenario, I have merely noticed it mentioned on the Eastern US Weather discussion board, and have posted those ideas here for you to consider.
SATURDAY 9/24 MORNING UPDATE

THERE SHE GOES

Rita 16

Rita at landfall as a Category 3 with winds of 120 mphs. This is now the third major hurricane to strike the mainland U.S. in three months...Dennis in July, Katrina in August, and now Rita. What follows is a post that I prepared Friday to discuss how the situation would be changing once the storm made landfall.

FRIDAY 9-23 EVENING UPDATE: THE GOOD, BAD AND UGLY

It has been a horrible day for all of us looking to nail something good about this storm. Maybe the best thing to say right now is that there are no tropical systems of landfall concern elsewhere in the Atlantic basin. So here is the good, the bad, and the ugly…all mixed up and throw together just like the incomprehensible nature of this unfolding drama of humans vs. nature.

1. Levees breached anew. Seems as though we are on the losing side of this battle, at least for now. It’s anyone’s guess as to what will really happen to the levees, how much rain will fall over the God-forsaken Crescent City, how much inland flooding potential there is, how much water will make it back into Lake Ponchartrain, how long it will take to re-pump, how long before citizens can return, the list just goes on and on.

2. Weakening won’t look so weak when we see what 125 mph winds and a 15-20 foot surge will do. While everyone focuses on the weakening winds in the eyewall, remember the hurricane force wind field of 74 mph or greater is over 160 miles in diameter, and will likely expand further as the weakening continues. I have my doubts about the possibility of the eyewall “tightening up” as it reaches land, causing a sudden increase in winds. I believe enough dry air has mixed into the inner core of the system that the eyewall will be too disrupted to accomplish any more tightening at this point. However….even 100 mph winds can blow out windows and then lift off roofs. Also worth noting is that the higher elevation a structure has in face of the storm, the stronger those winds will be. Even it this drops to a 2 at landfall with 105 mph winds like Isabel, buildings 50 feet or higher will easily experience Cat 3 winds. Tall buildings 100 or more feet in height will sustain serious to near-catastrophic damage, much like what we saw with high-rise apartments along the Florida coast when Ivan and Dennis roared ashore.

3. Killed trying to reach safety. What can I say? Just horrifically tragic. An unfortunate and freak event, but in light of the deadly nursing home debacle, ironically named, “St. Rita’s” in the lower 9th Ward of East New Orleans, it makes you feel like we can’t win for losing. Keep the elderly there, they drown in a rising flood. Take them out of harm’s way days before hand, they die in a highway bus fire. I am not at all criticizing the care facility’s decision to evacuate those people. Leaving them in a part of Texas under the gun for a near-certain Category 4 Hurricane would have been just as bad as the St. Rita’s disaster. This terribly heart-wrenching bad news should not detract from the fact that many hundreds of elderly and critically ill patients were lifted to safety and are doing fine, albeit confused and out of sorts.

4. Inland flooding will be the bigger story. As is now being widely reported, the light steering winds responsible for guiding Rita into the Texas/Louisiana border will either collapse, allowing the storm to stall or drift aimlessly for several days. This region of "Terkarkana" may see 10 to 20 inches of rain or more, and much of that water will flow back down rivers previously flooded by storm surge. People who evacuated to hotels farther north may find themselves trapped by the very water they were trying to escape.

5. Gotta love that dry air. Though many thousands suffered in unimaginably long traffic delays of 10-15 hours in stifling heat, it is possible to say that the parching heat and it’s accompanying dry air aloft is the very thing that may have saved Texans from a Houston-Galveston $100 billion catastrophe? We began to see dry air being entrained in the western flank of the storm, as is observed often in slower moving systems. This begins to disrupt the perfect symmerty of the inner core circulation, and allows the central pressure to rise. The storm also began a more northerly wobble, which appears to have spared Houston and Galveston the worst, for now.

6. Mr. Mayfield goes to Washington. As
Matt Drudge reported on Friday, Max Mayfield, Director of the National Hurricane Center, testified to a Congressional panel that the recent upswing in hurricanes could be a cyclical trend in the Atlantic that occurs every 25 to 40 years. The Atlantic and Gulf coasts have been on the lucky side of history the past 30 years, while supporting a massive building boom in hurricane-prone areas. It is a very positive step toward getting members of Congress to gain a better understanding of what is to come if our government is going to improve disaster planning and relief.

7. Far from the maddening crowd. Tornadoes, the smaller but no less wicked cousin that accompanies landfalling hurricanes, will no doubt unleash random destruction and take lives far from where the actual storm is located. The southeast to northwest spiral bands rolling over Louisiana have most likely spawned twisters in Katrina-ravaged areas. My concern is for evacuees still trapped on the highway unable to find safe ground, then feel the winds slowly pick up, the skies darken to their south, and look down a lone ling of cars thinking…”What am I going to do?” While we are not talking F-3 level tornadoes, F-1’s are certainly possible and could just as easily slice across a packed highway as smack a distant crop field.

Programming notes:

1. I'm having some formatting problems with the posts. Usually I create seperate posts for each topic or day. But recently, when I did that, it would disrupt the following posts and throw my links to the bottom of the page. Until I can find a solution, I have continued to update and add on to the main Rita post started last Saturday. If you have a suggestion on how to fix this, either email me (rdfoot@comcast.net) or post a comment.

2. If all goes as planned, I will be calling in to an AM radio program called weathertalkradio on AM 680 WCBM in Baltimore, MD on Sunday 9/24 at 3:00 PM. This was at the request of Justin Berk, a meteorologist with ABC2 News in Baltimore, and his colleague, Tony Pann, who conduct this program weekly. So if you want to talk weather, Rita and hurricanes, call in if you can. The showtime number is 410-922-9280. I will actually be out of the area and calling in by cell phone, if one of our trusty Baltimore area readers would be willing to somehow tape record the program, I would be very appreciative. I'd like to have this tape to let grandparents and other family members not in the listening area be able to hear the program later. Thanks for your support of Foot's Forecast.

FRIDAY 9/23 MORNING UPDATE

AS IF THERE'S NO PLACE TO HIDE

Rita 11

The preparation stage is coming to an end, and the survival stage is about to begin. From this point on, the storyline changes from a meteorological one to an unfolding massive human drama of unbelieveable porportions. A traffic backup for a hundred miles or more in stifling heat. People from Texas heading north or east thinking they are moving out of the storms path are encountering heavy traffic coming west from Louisiana as those residents flee the same storm since the path appears to be shifted. These drivers may be running out of gas, slowing down efforts to get out in time. So what we thought might be a heroic to save lives by getting people we hope will not turn into a deathtrap. Instead of people trapped in homes with rising water, I hope we will not see thousands of motorists stuck on roads in the storm's path with no fuel and nowhere to hide facing the exactly the fury they were trying to avoid.


Rita 12

Some points to consider as we head into this final day of "life before Rita."


1. The NHC official track has not changed much, and slight wobbles to the west or north have been replaced with a general WNW path. On the surface this would seem to take the storm to the north of Galveston Bay, and I have a sneaking feeling it will do just that. However the other concern is a sudden track-altering phenomena Accuweather has mentioned in the past, known as "frictional effects." When the Central Dense Overcast of the storm begins to interact with land, because it is moving so slowly, I wonder if there might not be a inexplicable left turn, taking the storm closer to Galveston/Houston by 30 or more miles. This can happen when the left quadrants of the storm begin to interact with the land, producing slight weakening of winds in one part of the storm, but leaving the wind field over the water intact. With left quadrant winds weaker, stronger winds from the 2 right quadrants have the net effect of driving the storm in closer to the coast.

2. My theory is that as this frictional effects phenomena is taking place, the storm is undergoing a slow weakening. The eyewall expands as pressure rises slowly, allowing the core of strongest winds to lessen by perhaps 10-15 mph in the first hour prior to and following landfall. As the core winds decrease, the storm slowly loses the tight grip it had on this strong core...and the wind field begins to expand in size quite rapidly. This could result in a much larger area experiencing hurricane force winds. At present the radius of 74 mph + winds is 160 miles (or 80 miles in any one direction from the center.) What we could see happen is in hour right before landfall, winds decreased to 130 mph, but hurricane force winds expand another 20 miles, and tropical storm force winds now extend out 205 miles from the center (or a radius of 410 miles), could expand to 220 miles.


3. As the Quantitiative Precipitation Forecast map shows above, computer project the storm to stall once inland, and rain itself out over the hapless people who thought they escaped the worst. Some other forecasters have already speculated that inland flooding may be responsible for more more deaths than might be caused by the surge and winds. This entire region of the Southern Coastal Plain and lower Piedmont is extremely flat as everyone knows, and while there is a drought with a rainfall deficit, 6-20 inches of rain will be more than the ground can handle. A saturated ground with persistent winds from a slow-moving storm will cause massive blow down of trees. Rapidly rising waters may occur in areas where people thought they had escaped the storm's wind and surge.


4. It is all but certain Rita has peaked in intensity, and will probably not regain Category 5 status. Another advantage of the current situation is that an eyewall replacement cycle could start in in the 30 or so hours leading up to landfall. This would weaken winds further, bringing the final landfall winds down to the original 130 mph I forecasted earlier this week.


5. Review local NWS office hurricane statements from the area to get a sense of the expected damage.

The on-going post for this storm, started on Saturday, 9/17, follows:
GOD HAVE MERCY

Houston 6

All those beautiful buildings, all that glass.

Rita 8

HOUSTON, WE HAVE PROBLEMS
THE SHORT BUT PAINFUL SUMMARY as of 6 PM Thursday
I expect this storm to be a Category 4 at landfall between Matagorda and Galveston with sustained winds around 140 mph. The official NHC track has been shifting gradually north, and as of this morning was going to bring the zone of highest winds and strongest surge right up Galveston Bay toward downtown Houston. Now that track has moved northward along the Texas coast toward Louisiana, and there's been widespread concern today that New Orleans and other areas not as well prepared may suddenly find themselves under the gun. Landfall storm surge will be in excess of 20 feet will flood 100 miles of coastline and damaging not just homes, businesses and cities, but also many oil rigs, platforms and critical gas refineries. Striking in such a populated area such as the Galveston/Houston metro area could result in economic losses of at least $100 billion, with several hundred thousand homes flooded or damaged by wind. Inland areas up to 100 miles away from the landfall zone will experience hurricane force gusts up to 80 mph. This storm is also targeting many large oil refineries in the region, and also at risk are also hundreds of underwater pipelines and the resulting supply disruptions could send gas prices skyrocketing to nearly $4 a gallon in many metro markets. The only good piece of news is that if the track has shifted toward Galveston Bay, perhaps this indicates the southern boundary of the high pressure ridge is decaying faster than expected. If this trend continues, Houston could end up on the left side of the eyewall, while still very damaging is a better place to be than squarely in the right front quadrant.

AN INTENSIFICATION CYCLE FOR THE HISTORY BOOKS
It would appear this storm has undergone a strengthening cycle not seen in recent memory. From my observations, in the 24 hour period starting at 10 PM Monday, Rita intensified from a middle Category 2 to a strong Category 5, and now has a central pressure lower than Camille and ranking as the third strongest storm ever in the Atlantic basin. I would have to do some checking of the facts, but I am not sure what storm other than the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane (which went from a 1 to a 5 in a short time), has demonstrated this level of intensification in such a short time period. While Katrina did have winds of 175 mph, it's lowest recorded pressure was 902, whereas Rita was at 897 millibars Wednesday night.

Rita 9

While residents of the Gulf coast are understandably not spending their time in meteorological wonderment over all this, the most stunning fact to consider is that in less than one month, we have witnessed with our own eyes TWO of the FOUR strongest hurricanes in the Atlantic basin, and Rita has tied with Katrina for wind speed, at 175 mph. With projected landfall winds of 155 mph, combined with a forward motion of 10-15 mph, this would essentially be a Category 5. Just like the New Orleans discussion of several weeks ago, I stated that it would not matter whether the storm is a 4 or a 5, we are talking absolute total devastation of all structures within a 40 mile radius of where this makes landfall extending inland for 20-30 miles or more. If this happens, it will far outstrip Katrina's damage path, and costs could exceed $200 billion. So for Alan Greenspan to think that the damage caused by Katrina would only have a "temporary" effect on the economy, I wonder what he will say when we have a combined economic toll of two hurricanes, including insured and uninsured losses plus rebuilding costs of over $500 billion? Maybe that would be just a "moderate problem." Or maybe Mr. Greenspan would consider me to be "irrationally exuberant" about the impacts of this storm.

Houston 7


Click on the image to get the latest map from the NHC
Rita 10

Considering the perpendicular approach of the storm to the cosat, some well-known private forecasters have pointed out that this track is especially problematic, as a slight change of a few degrees even hours before landfall could have disastrous and deadly consequences. We observed this in Punta Gorda, Florida when Hurricane Charley made a suddent right turn and charged up Charlotte Bay, catching many by surprise who thought the storm would go inland farther north of them.

Texas 1

Central and western gulf sea surface temps, as well as the "ocean heat potential" will be significant factors the strengthening of Rita over the next 2 days. (First graphic is current SST, second is Ocean Heat Potential...click on the image for their source.)

Rita 4

Note in the graphic below that the subsurface ocean heat potential is higher on the east side of the Gulf, where cooler SST's are, in contrast to western gulf, which has higher SST's but a lower heat potential. This may be why we have see Rita reach her maximum intensity earlier than anticipated, but we can only hope that it does not interact with the warmer patch of water farther west in the Gulf.

Rita 3

If current forecast paths holds true...one week from now the federal government will be faced with an unimaginable challenge: How to assist well over 1,000,000 residents from two different major metropolitan areas in reclaiming their heavily damaged cities. For those who believe I am simply hype-mongering, I have found a variety of sources in my research today that underline the reasons for extreme concern with a major hurricane strike in a place like Houston, starting with a major piece in the Houston Chronicle. Another telling article written in February 2005 outlines for Houston residents some of the same concerns that many had about New Orleans before Katrina came ashore. This report states that many residents in southeast Texas have never seen a major hurricane if they were not around for Alicia in 1983 or Carla in 1961, which came onshore near Corpus Christi.

RITA, TEXAS OR LOUISIANA…WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
UPDATE POSTED SUNDAY, 9-19
I will break down the possibilities into four scenarios, but only one will become reality. Note that I have written this section as more of a "docu-drama" to accentuate the differences of each scenario, not to hype it. As for the meteorology behind the predictions, I am working on that and you will observe more maps being posted with time. The question becomes…which scenario is most likely to come true? (scenarios originally posted on Sunday 9/18)

1. THE HOUSTON NIGHTMARE
image below is compiled from an interactive article posted at the Houston Chronicle. Click on the "storm surge" selection and follow the animation through to see the computer modeling impacts of a Category 4 surge of 19 feet in Galveston Bay and surrounding areas.

Houston 2

Click on the image to get a larger easier to read version

This rapidly developing storm defies all predictions… and becomes a Category 3 sweeping near the Keys, causing extensive damage, emerges in the Gulf as a strong 3, and churns toward Texas over 29 – 30 deg C waters. By Thursday the cloud field has grown to encompass most of the Gulf of Mexico, and tropical storm force winds extend out over 200 miles. Taking seemingly direct aim on Houston, nothing seems to be able to stop the maelstrom from growing into a Category 5 catastrophe producing monster, interacting with very warm water left mostly undisturbed for the summer. This sudden and overnight intensification spurns officials in the Houston and surrounding areas to "recommend" evacuations for most of the region south of Route I-10/90A… nearly 1 million people. Some residents flee knowing the fate of those who remained in New Orleans, but evacuation routes quickly get clogged. As with Katrina, the 5 day forecast error was off by less than 50 miles, and overnight Friday into Saturday morning, Rita roars ashore as the worst nightmare of Texas.. a 140 mph Category 4, sending a wall of water 20 feet high around the Galveston seawall at it’s northern inlet. High rise buildings in downtown Houston suffer incredible damage as 120 mph winds with gusts to 150 mph blow out thousands of windows, parts of Harris County are flooded by storm surge and throughout the metropolitan area, over 100,000 homes are severely damaged or destroyed. Several of the nation’s largest gasoline refineries are shut down and experience damage, disrupting pipelines to critical markets in the eastern and central U.S. Hundred of oil rigs are damaged and destroyed, as are major facilities in the port of Houston. Energy traders sensing new disruptions in the gasoline supply send wholesale prices soaring past $3 once again, and consumers begin to see overnight price spikes back towards $4 once again. The most horrible part of this scenario is a probable repeat of how the elderly and infirm will be left behind as they were in New Orleans, as Galveston and Houston city planners estimate up to 25,000 people have no transporation or ability to leave the area in an evacuation. First the Superdome, now the Astrodome? (actually the Astrodome is not built to withstand a strong storm, so it is being cleared out and closed as a shelter.)

Houston 5

With many Houston residents having little or no experience in a major hurricane, there could be a significant evacuation bottle neck and Houston-Galveston city officials and county emergency management offices throughout the metropolitan area were meeting at 4-4:30 PM Tuesday and probably got the word while in those meetings of the Category 4 forecast. No doubt one of their topics was how to prevent evacuation delays as shown below.

Houston 1

2. COME ON NOW, IT WON’T BE THAT BAD

While crossing the Florida straits, Rita undergoes rapid intensification to Category 3 due to influence of nearly 90 F water temperatures and favorable upper-air environment with low shear. The Keys are hit hard and a million people are without power in southern Florida. However, with the storm intensifying so rapidly, it begins one of several “eyewall replacement cycles” which produces fluctuations in strength as it moves west. While the timing and length of these cycles causes Rita to briefly touch Category 4, the final cycle begins 24 hours before landfall. As it does, the storm begins to “ingest” dry continental air from the southern Plains, producing a slow weakening trend with brings the tempest down from it’s destructive 4 status to a still dangerous but more manageable Category 2 as it makes landfall. The Galveston sea wall deflects most of the surge, and it does not travel around the end side. Winds in downtown Houston reach hurricane force, but buildings constructed to new codes after 1983’s Alicia are able to withstand the wind, and experience minor damages. While electricity is out for many thousands of people, it is a temporary disruption as transportation routes are open, including bridges. Pre-positioned stockpiles of food and supplies are delivered rapidly to residents. Damage to oil rigs and refineries are slight, and within a week most facilities are operating again. There is moderate urban flooding from the 6 inches of rain that fell during the storm, but utilities are able to restore services quickly. The state and federal government proclaim within a day that, “this time, we can say with certainty that we really did dodge the bullet.”

3. ALL THAT HYPE FOR NOTHING

While Rita strengthens into a hurricane overnight into Tuesday, it also makes an unexpected turn south toward Cuba. Frictional effects of the southern eyewall interacting with the mountainous terrain of this part of Cuba weaken the storm, and cause it to pull even farther south, making landfall near Havana as a 60 mph tropical storm. Getting “hung up” over Cuba, the storm parallels the coast for 12 hours, sparing the Keys from a direct hit, and then reemerges in the southern Gulf as TS/weak 1. The projected path and strength are considerably revised, and the storm takes 48 hours or more to reorganize, eventually reaching Category 2. With it’s northwestern route disrupted, Rita travels more westerly along the southern Gulf, grazing the Yucatan, and making landfall south of Brownsville, where Bret and Emily did earlier this season, dumping unneeded heavy rains on areas already strained by flooding.

4. NO NOT NEW ORLEANS AGAIN


(I highly doubt this scenario at all, but the press seems to want to create uncertainty when it is clear to most forecasters and enthusiasts following this storm that New Orleans is not going to be hit by Rita)


The computer model which accurately predicted a southeastern Louisiana landfall, the GFDL, once again takes the prize and shows Rita aiming for the central La. Coast as a major hurricane. Crossing the Florida straits as the expected Category 2, the storm begins a slow west-northwest, then northwest turn under a decaying high pressure ridge blanketing the region. Surprisingly, as the week progresses, computers begin an even farther turn to the east, bringing the storm in on a southwest to northeast angle, passing New Orleans to the west instead of the east. This westward path warrants the concerns about damage to the weakened New Orleans levee system, and even though the storm is a weakening Category 2, the combination of 6-10 inches of rain with a 10 foot surge is once again, destructive. Several different levees that did not breach in Katrina but were unknowingly weakened end up breaking. Water from Lake Ponchartrain floods parts of the city anew. The Army Corps of Engineers states that this new damage may require a “total reevaluation on the future feasibility of the New Orleans levee system.”

RITA'S NOT THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN, BUT LUCKILY
THE REST ARE STAYING FAR ENOUGH OFF THE FIELD

Atlantic 9-20