Friday, October 30, 2009

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"Break it down again"
Tears for Fears, from the 1993 album Element

SUN 11/01/09, 8:00 AM  SYNOPSIS and UPDATES:
- Significant winter weather in Mid-Atlantic between 11/15 and 12/5;
- Large pool of -30 C air building in Canada at 5,000 foot level;
- A southward push of air may accelerate forecast to before 11/15;
- Two computer models hinting at large coastal storm from 11/10-12;
- If scenario develops, 11/10-15 daytime highs in MD ~ 35 F or colder.

OVERVIEW: As we turn the corner into November, it is worth taking a moment to "break it down again" with regard to predicted timing of the early winter pattern, and the precise climate data sets. Eventually, both time and the data will support or refute my projection that winter weather arrives throughout the Mid-Atlantic region between 11/15 and 12/5. It should also be noted that my ideas do not assume long periods of below normal temperatures (ex. 1977-78), but rather short bursts of cold and snowy weather. I do agree with the ideas presented by some forecasters, including Meteorologist and DC Weather Examiner Allan Huffman. His professional and detailed analyses suggest a stormy but not extensively cold winter for the Mid-Atlantic due in part to warming influences a strengthening El Nino could produce, among other factors.

COMMENT COMMUNITY: If you are a new reader to the site, I extend a warm welcome to join our discussion community. At the bottom of each post, you will find a pleasant environment of weather enthusiasts where all viewpoints are respected, and healthy disagreement is treated as an important part of the public discourse.


1. BASIC PROJECTIONS: The current "lakes cutter" pattern I believe will shift back to the East Coast within two weeks. If this shift aligns with several climate teleconnections that suggest a return to cold EVEN BEFORE 11/15, the potential remains for a surprisingly early arrival of significant winter weather into the Mid-Atlantic.

2. GENERAL CLIMATE & WEATHER TRENDS: The fading and less-than-active hurricane season has permitted sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico and western Atlantic to remain at or above normal. This has enhanced warm moisture advection into developing systems. The biggest Colorado snowstorm in 12 years is continuing evidence of this trend, clearly demonstrating the influence a strong subtropical jet can have in delivering moisture from the the East Pacific. Other indicators:

- Recovery of Northern Hemispheric snow cover, notably in Eurasia;
- Strengthening El Nino signature (warming to 1.4 C in region 4);
- Favorable North Pacific ocean temp pattern (PDO:  0.09 in Aug / 0.54 in Sep);
- Solar cycle status similar to 1901-03, similar anomalous Autumn temps.
3. ANALYZING CLIMATE DATA IN 3 SPHERES: Using a global data approach from the Hydrosphere, Atmosphere and Cryosphere in order to tie together the concepts of large-scale teleconnections with winter patterns. For example, presenting in a concise and useful way indications revealed by trends in the QBO, PDO and ENSO cycles.

4. SO CONCENSUS IS: "Cold and snowy?"
I have not seen the Farmer's Almanac predictions, nor thoroughly read anyone's winter forecasts. I have glanced at one referenced earlier, and skimmed those produced by Accuweather and NOAA. Instead, I follow the data on my own, and check on analyses by other researchers on forums such as Eastern US weather. When citing their research in my work, credit to the source is routine, and there have never been accusations to the contrary. If my pattern ideas continue to play out, it could unfold in this manner:
  • 11/01-09: A mild to cool period then brief warmup;
  • 11/10-15: Possible outbreak of Arctic air on or before 11/15;
  • In same week, a "smackdown" storm with snow at the onset;
  • 11/15-25: "yo-yo" period of below then above-normal temps;
  • 11/25-12/5: Seasonal temps leading to kickoff event by 12/5.
CONCLUSION: Once the pattern shifts as outlined above, the Eastern US will be clocked with a fast-moving winter storm not unlike those which moved through Colorado this week and surprised central Pennsylvania in mid-October. Above-normal snow has also been observed in central Europe allowing many ski resorts across the Alps to open early.

ADDENDUM: Long-time powderhounds know my penchant for quoting Enya in times of snow and storms. I've maintained a position that the atmosphere is primed and ready to deliver, all we wait for now is "Only Time." I realize we haven't dug out the Thanksgiving decorations yet, but I can't resist the urge to tell you that before long, we will be reveling in the sight of "White in the Winter Night."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

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6:00 AM Friday, 10/30/09. [Supporting details added in conclusion] In continuing with our symposium on the upcoming winter pattern, this starts the second set of topics as outlined in the previous post (Part 2: Identifying the climate data ; Part 3: Laying out a storm projection calendar). For starters, we can ferret out some important FYI's for planning purposes:

1. HURRICANE RICK and the EARLY WINTER PATTERN: The Saturday 10/24 frontal passage, which delivered up to 1.5 inches of rain in a few hours across the Northeast I-95 corridor, was associated with remnants of once-Category 5 Hurricane Rick. Prior to making landfall along the Baja peninsula, Rick's maximum sustained winds were clocked at 180 mph for at least 12 hours, making this the strongest East Pacific Hurricane in 10 years. Why is that crucial to the winter forecast? I hypothesize that Rick's rapid intensification was driven by El Nino-influenced sea surface temperature anomalies SSTA's off the west Mexican coast. Both the hurricane and the system currently moving through the eastern U.S. featured rapid and expansive moisture transport from the eastern Pacific and Gulf of Mexico. There remain a multitude of other important climate influences driving the potential for a snowier winter in the Eastern US (including the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the Quasi-Biennial Oscillation, among others.) Effect of those indicators will be outlined in greater detail within the next several weeks.

As other forecasters and weather outlets have suggested, an active southern storm track combined with a below-normal temperature regime for December across the Eastern US increases probability the Mid-Atlantic experiences several large, disruptive winter storms. My analysis of the pattern evolution suggests that Hurricane Rick's October 20-24 impact launched a second 6-week pattern (as outlined in the previous post), which would conclude by December 5. I propose that at least one significant snow event occurs in the Mid-Atlantic and by 12/5, ending a stormy pattern and transitioning to a long period period of below normal temperatures for most of December.

2. THE TEMPERATURE YO-YO: The chilly, rainy period from October 15-18, which made Baltimore's daytime highs of 43-45 seem more like December set in motion the temperature pattern which continues to play out. This was followed by the seasonal to above-normal temperature regime of October 19 to 23 prior to Hurricane Rick's rain. This out-of-balance temperature activity may also have contributed to the pattern shift which I believe will bring winter weather to the Eastern U.S. more quickly than we are accustomed. A recent time frame for comparison would be October to December 2002 as one example of long-duration unstable temperatures during a moderate El Nino in Autumn. What followed was a December 4 to March 1 period delivering 55 inches of snow to the Baltimore region.

CONCLUSION: I believe residents of the Mid-Atlantic region have 3 weeks to complete their usual winterizing preparations (notwithstanding central PA of course). Time is getting very short to finish remaining outdoor/summer cleanup, winterizing the home, switching out your clothes, getting your vehicle and transportation procedures in order. I project the region's first winter storm arrives anytime after mid-November (11/15) to early December (12/5). I also expect this event to be significant, drop a lot of snow quickly over a large area, and leave a long stretch of very cold weather in it's wake. For reference, this first event may bear similarity with three early season Mid-Atlantic storms: the Veteran's Day Storm of November 1987, the White Thanksgiving of 1989 or the December 1992 Appalachian Storm. The 1989 event was followed by a multi-week Arctic outbreak which set many eastern U.S. records for one of the coldest Decembers. Additional sources: 2000 AMS Online Journal article, Data table. In deference to meteorologists and weather-enthusiasts whom follow this site, it should be noted that reference to these three storms does not imply this year's winter pattern will resemble the year in which they occured. Those events are provided for climatological reference for readers looking for comparison of current ideas with previous events. With a moderate-to-strengthening El Nino and an already active subtropical jet, Mother Nature is giving us a clear heads up that the game is about to begin. Is your team ready?

Note to new readers: This site is operated as an on-going symposium where teachers, meteorologists, snow enthusiasts, students and parents alike share or compare ideas on the analyses presented. Your input, for or against, is welcome anytime in the comment section below.

Monday, October 19, 2009

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Note to students: For this week's assignment, follow these links below. Stay focused, do your best, and if there are any questions about the assignment, I can be reached via this address: Sincerely, Mr. Foot


To get the current El Nino data for this week: click on the last link above, press the "page down" key on your computer until you reach page # 4. There you'll see the current data.


The Foot's Forecast Winter 2009 SYMPOSIUM

What does "December in October"
mean for the Mid-Atlantic region?

SUMMARY: The occurence of 20- to 25-degree below normal temperatures in October may have disrupted the seasonal pattern such that the Eastern United States may not return to long periods of normal weather for several months. The effect of this early cold period now may produce a brief warmup in November followed by a major cold outbreak and an inland snow event. A rapid onset of persistent and disruptive winter weather is expected by December 5. If this unstable pattern continues, as was observed in October-December of 2002, areas of the Mid-Atlantic region could experience widespread school closings for 2 or more days this December. This may equal or exceed the cold and snowy period observed in the Baltimore region from December 4-11, 2002.

PART 1: HYPOTHESIS. The stormy pattern along the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic was transitioned into place by three coastal storms including Tropical Storm Danny during Aug 26-29, rainstorms of 9/6-12 and 9/24-28. The absence of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico thus far, combined with a stable El Nino Cycle has produced warmer than normal sea surface temperatures over very large areas. Warmer seas can permit more rapid evaporation of moisture into developing low pressure systems tracking across the southwest and along the southeast. The October 12-13 midwest snowfall, and the October 15-18 Early Autumn storm are indicators of how climate teleconnections are interacting to produce unseasonal regional weather events.

PART 2: CLIMATE DATA Most of us in weather and climate community, either professional, amateur or the public, accept that we may never understand all the factors driving winter patterns. Each year on this website, I attempt to expand the dialogue on those factors based on knowledge gained from research, observations from readers, and simply tracking the data more closely. For this year, the monitoring criteria for a potentially significant winter is much greater than before - so the "laundry list" approach has to be employed for efficiency. Whether you are a frequent or new reader, this data list is designed to familiarize with the acronyms and definitions tracked here. I will be training my Science students to monitor the list in order to provide you with the most spot-on perspective on what may be influencing our weather over the next six months.

A) Hydrosphere Data (Tracking specific cycles, seasonal trends and indices about ocean temperatures and influence on atmospheric activity)

1) ENSO Cycle (+0.7 to +1.0 C as of 10/12/09): defined as current status of the El Nino Southern Oscillation Cycle as reported by the US Climate Prediction Center in a brief diagnostic discussion as well as the weekly ENSO update.

2) PDO Index (positive phase as of 10/8/09): The Pacific Decadal Oscillation is defined as monitoring the "leading principal component of North Pacific monthly sea surface temperature variability (poleward of 20N for the 1900-93 period)." Researchers at the University of Washington suggest that "combining ENSO and PDO information may enhance the skill of empirical North American climate forecasts." Sources: UWA, Climate Impacts Group.

1) SSTA (Data pending): Defined as sea surface temperature anomalies for the Gulf of Mexico and West Atlantic. The American Meteorological Society states in a February 2003 journal article that "Using a combination of statistical methods and monthly SST anomalies (SSTAs) from one or two ocean regions" there are strong correlations between sea surface temperatures and precipitation during much of the year in the United States."

2) 2009 Hurricane Season (Data pending): Defined as the frequency and track of tropical cyclones in the Atlantic basin. It is hypothesized for discussion that a less active hurricane season combined with a positive ENSO cycle may correlate to increased probability of significant winter storms in the Eastern United States in the following six month period from October to March. Historical data supporting this hypothesis will be provided.

B) Cryosphere (Monitoring specific data sets about the frozen part of the northern hemisphere's polar water system)

1. Arctic sea ice (5.27 mil sq. km as of 9/28): Defined as the total surface area in million square kilometers of sea ice within the Arctic Circle as reported weekly by the National Ice Center.

2. N. Hemispheric snow cover (data pending): Defined as a visual interpretation and data on extent of snow cover across the United States, Canada, Russia, Northern Asia and Europe

C) Atmospheric Data (Monitoring quantitative indices which track variability in atmospheric teleconnective patterns, such as how might air pressure changes over Greenland affect the track of a US East coast storm). Note: Data and info for this section posted later Sunday.

NAO: North Atlantic Oscillation Index (my preferred "local teleconnection" that reveals much about current weather, upcoming pattern changes, storm tracks and cold outbreaks)
PNA: Pacific-North American Index
MJO: Madden-Julian Oscillation Index (wildly intriguing atmospheric hiccup that has been suggested by some is a major factor in the ENSO cycle-- details later.)
QBO: Quasi-Biennial Oscillation Index (interesting pattern relationships between easterly or westerly phase of this index, current solar cycle and latitude variation of North Atlantic winter storms.) Source: 1988 article in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
now this one's a toughie..
AAM: Axial Angular Momentun of the Atmosphere. (you better take some Tylenol before we go over this.)

D) Solar Cycle (data pending): Defined as the monthly mean, frequency and duration of sun spots as an influential factor in Earth climate)

PART 3: PROJECTED STORM EVENTS for November and December 2009. A prediction calendar to be posted here and in the sidebar links for those interested in tracking both the predictions and the progress of the data. In the spirit of our first annual "Winter Symposium," all appropriate and respectful input on this topic is welcome. All comments will be moderated before being posted to the public.

Mr. Foot
Science Teacher ~ The Crossroads Center
Baltimore County Public Schools

Sunday, October 18, 2009

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A snow-bound Beaver Stadium at Penn State University the day before Homecoming, October 2009. Photo credit: The Daily Collegian.

7:45 AM SUNDAY, 10/18/09. The earliest October snowfall in State College, PA since 1901 did not dampened homecoming spirits in Happy Valley. Although Beaver Stadium was snow-bound, the Penn State Nittany Lions emerged victorious from the 2009 snow bowl, with an ice-crushing 20-0 victory over Minnesota. Read all about the massive pre-game cleanup, the East Halls power outages, and snowed-out Paternoville at The Daily Collegian. Extensive tree damage and power outages continue across parts of the region as reported in the Centre Daily Times, State College, PA. Disclosure notice: Mr. and Mrs. Foot are Penn State graduates, class of 1996. We not-so-fondly remember the last snow bowl in November 1995, when Joe Paterno had to reprimand the student section for throwing snowballs into the field.

Friday, September 18, 2009

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(September 18-19, 2003)

Photo credit: NOAA


Baltimore Sun 9-18-09 Dundalk water break
Photo credit: 9/18/2009, The Baltimore Sun

This flooding was caused by massive break in a 72" diameter water main along the Broening Highway/Dundalk Avenue parallel across from Dunhaven Road, according to news reports. Approximately 72 square blocks have experienced flooding ranging in depth from 3 to 5 feet. You can follow the story in the Baltimore Sun, WJZ or ABC2News. Our prayers with the residents of this area and it is hoped that any damage to their homes or businesses will dealt with swiftly by state and county officials.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

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The Atlantic basin is entering the historical annual peak of tropical cyclone activity, represented by the two week period on either side of September 10.
Relatively few hurricanes in 2009 may have permitted areas of the western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico to experience warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures.
El Nino is present in the equatorial Pacific and expected for duration of the 2009-10 Northern Hemisphere winter.
These and other indicators may signal a snowier winter for the Eastern United States, concurrent with the possibility of an earlier than usual start to the winter storm season.

10:00 AM Sunday, 8-30-09 The Atlantic Basin is nearing the climatological "high water mark" of tropical cyclone activity, historically peaking on September 10. The next two or three weeks may turn out to be the most active period of the entire season. However, a strengthening El Nino signal in the equatorial Pacific may continue influencing westerly shear enough that any developing systems spend more time looking like a threat than turning into one. On the cautionary side, sea surface temperatures (SST) in the Gulf of Mexico are at or above the seasonal peak, with large areas 86 F or greater. All of us coastal-types are not only entering the school zone, but also the hurricane primetime zone. With the 4-year anniversary of Katrina a painful reminder, anything tracking across the Altantic for the next 2-3 weeks bears close monitoring.

For snow-starved powderhounds, the current SST trend is a strong indicator of what dreams may come this winter. I closely monitor Global SST anomalies in the fall as a key signal of what winter may bring. A prime example of this hypothesis is the winter of 2002-03. Hurricane Isabel was the only notable system to significantly affect the East Coast, during a weakening El Nino with Pacific temperature anomalies averaging 1.0 C. Moderate shear influenced by those Pacific anomalies finally relaxed in mid September 2003, permitting Isabel to make her unstoppable westerly beeline for the East Coast. This year, El Nino is stronger, with "sea surface temperatures across the equatorial Pacific .5 to 1.5 C above average," per the Climate Prediction Center's weekly report. The CPC goes on to say, "Current observations and dynamical model forecasts indicate El NiƱo is expected to strengthen and last through Northern Hemisphere winter 2009-10. For snow-starved Mid-Atlantic powderhounds, this could be a very good sign, and a source of my hypothesis.

This hypothesis is centered on two seemingly unrelated events: (1) A strengthening El Nino increases potential for disruptive westerly wind shear in the Altantic basin; and (2) Wind shear that reduces or deflects the impact of tropical cyclones near the coast permits SST's to reach warmer-than-normal levels in certain areas. Undeniable evidence is plain to see in the current Caribbean SST anomaly map as of 8/27/09, as denoted by the "blue swath" indicating the path Hurricane Bill followed in mid-August.

What's the connection to a snowier winter? Just keep reading, we're almost there. But compare the Atlantic SST data to the Gulf of Mexico on that map. Notice that large areas of the Gulf are at or near 86 F (30 C). Whatever energy not removed from the water by tropical activity during summer may persist into winter. That energy can be tapped by developing winter storms crossing the southeast in the much the same manner of the President's Day Storm in February 2003. Although 60 or more days remain for the tropics to "stir things up," with some water temperatures already well-above normal, it will take several strong systems to put a dent in those levels. There are several more factors that must take their place in the "Circle of Life" as it pertains to a snowier signal for this winter, among them trends in the North Atlantic Oscillation, Northern Hemispheric snow cover, Arctic sea ice, and most importantly tracking the snowline descent from Canada each fall. The National Ice Center has links to useful daily imagery.

The long and short of it is this: I hypothesize a high probability winter 2009-10 in the Mid-Atlantic produces at least the climatological "normal" amount of snow (for example, a 30-year average of 19.2 inches at BWI). If the trends continue, perhaps we will see a whole lot more. The real answer that administrators and district-level employees seek is simply: "That's nice for the teachers, but will it be ENOUGH to close schools AND offices? ;-)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

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8:00 am Friday, 8-28-09. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, the Coastal Mid-Atlantic and Northeast for the second time in a 10-day period will face effects from a tropical cyclone. The primary impacts will be another frustrating weekend for beach-goers, boaters and lifeguards alike as Danny's passage will produce high surf conditions and dangerous rip currents. Luckily for coastal residents, this will not resemble the period of late August to early September in 1999, when Hurricane Floyd delivered 12 or more inches of rain on areas still saturated by Hurricane Dennis the week before. Residents of North Carolina can never forget the horrific aftermath of Floyd, with catastrophic flooding that destroyed millions of cattle and ruined thousands of square miles of agricultural land. While Danny is not likely to patch that kind of punch, it is worth noting from a climatological perspective two back-to-back tropical systems taking a similar path along the East Coast. With yet another area of disturbed weather in that critical "Cape Verde" region of coastal Africa, is Mother Nature hinting that Danny and Bill were sent just to lay the red carpet for... Erika?

WHAT WILL DANNY DO? By examining the historical tracking map (paths of previous August tropical storms), and compare that to the current computer model projected paths for Danny as of 7:00 AM Wed, there is comfort in the trends. Both historical data and model output suggest Danny DOES NOT make landfall along the Mid-Atlantic or Northeast unlike Floyd or Isabel (as shown by the StormPulse site). However, it goes without saying that lifeguards, boaters and beach-goers alike face . NOAA reconnaissance aircraft will continue to investigate the storm several times a day, and if the storm reaches Hurricane strength, you'll be among the first to know by monitoring the "Vortex Data Message" on the NHC site.

ON POST FREQUENCY For my colleagues in education, it comes as no surprise that with our return to school in advance of the students, the frequency of posts will be diminished for a time. To bridge the gap and maintain meaningful content, I have a report in development that discusses quantitative data of trends heading into the winter pattern. This post will likely have to wait until Danny has moved on, but in the draft version right now are four key climate indicators which will form the basis of my prediction for the winter storm season.

The four indicators:
(1) Impact of the Solar Minimum on atmospheric temperatures;
(2) Current state of El Nino and effect on North America this winter;
(3) Sea surface temperature anomalies in Gulf of Mexico, western Atlantic and central Pacific;
(4) Evidence of a "negative trend' for the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) for fall and early winter.

A majority of this report is written, and it will be presented as soon as time and school preparations permit, but not before the weekend. Until then, we have something new to talk about, so onward with the discussion topics, such as "What will Danny do?" or "Do you remember Floyd?" or "Will this affect the start of school?"

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

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In motion on the ocean...

Bill's current wave heights 8-19-09

9:00 am WEDNESDAY 8-19-09 Today's headline is straight from Enya's "Anywhere Is" in the 1995 album Memory of Trees and fits perfectly within several venues:

1. If your cruise ship is sailing East Coast waters this weekend, ocean motion may cause a few problems while completing the 1-2 "fun days at sea" en route to or from the Carribbean. Look carefully at the Ocean Prediction Center's map above, you'll notice the wave heights in and around Bill presently. See that number in the right corner? That's not a typo.

2. Coastals* may be in motion heading to the ocean, but by Saturday the best-laid plans could screech to a halt once reaching the beach. Dr. Steve Lyons of the Weather Channel suggested last night that wave heights of along the Carolina coast and near mouth of the Chesapeake Bay will build to the 6-9 foot range on Saturday. According to NOAA's WaveWatch, by Sunday morning, waves along the Maryland, Delaware and Jersey coasts could exceed 12 feet. Maybe boardwalk restaurants should offer special menu pricing and front row seating for weekend wave watching.

In using NOAA WaveWatch, to see projection, click the pull-down menu at "info page" and select "North Atlantic hurricane (reg.)" and click "go." Then you can scroll forward in time using the right arrows.

From the Wakefield, VA National Weather Service's 4:25 AM 8-19-09 Discussion for MD/VA Coastal areas:
* Today marks the introduction of this new Foot's Forecast term denoting those readers who count spending time at the beach of equal or greater importance as witnessing a heavy snowfall. Now all you powderhounds finally have an appropriate off-season identity. This is designed to provide you cover during those uncomfortable dinner-party moments in the summer when the topic of snow comes up, and while sweating on the portico sipping a mint julip, you fruitlessly explained to friends why just love heavy snow and cold weather. Example conversation:

Conditions: 94 F, humidity 86%, wind: calm. Location: Ocean city, MD beach at 120th street.

Friend: "It's been such a strange summer, I wonder if this means we'll have the same kind of bizarre weather this winter. I've heard there are some really strange people on the internet that, like, follow this stuff 24-7."

You: (using your stained right sleeve to wipe away forehead sweat) "Well, I don't know anyone like that, but for me personally, I enjoy super hot weather, as long as I'm at the beach when it happens. But I also really look forward to those long cold stretches in the dead middle of winter-- you know when the ground is all covered in a pristine blanket of crystal white snow -- and (excitedly) and the sun has just come up, casting this beautiful bright fan of light across the landscape. So I call myself a "coastal" because I love hot weather at the beach, and cold, snowy weather at home caused by big coastal storms. Makes sense, right?

Friend: (period of silent perplexed look) "Uh huh. (Gets up) So anyone need another drink?" (Leans down to you and says) "As for more of that 'Ocean motion potion' bucko."

Monday, August 17, 2009

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Hurricane Bill 5:00 PM EDT 8-17-09

6:00 pm MONDAY, 8-17-09 This headline is a slight take-off of the 1988 pop hit "She's Got The Look" by the artist/group Roxette, but I think we can all agree Bill is starting to get "the look" himself. Recent NOAA satellite scans this afternoon suggest the hurricane is starting an eye-wall replacement cycle (ERC) which is usually followed by rapid intensification. Category 3 status seems very likely in 24 hours or less. All those with weekend plans for the coasts of the Carolinas, DelMarVa or New Jersey may be faced with a lot of unexpected beach closures. Yes, I know some of you made a deposit on that beachfront rental back last October. But Mother Nature is probably going to beat the Route 50 Bay bridge traffic Friday afternoon, and be waiting for you just across the dunes with a little surprise in big red letters: BEACH CLOSED.


7:00 am MONDAY, 8-17-09 With a rush of headlines and three storms forming in two days, it's apparent the Atlantic basin has awoken from a long summer slumber. The real questions for tropical watchers are simple:

1. Does Hurricane Bill pose a threat to the East Coast?
Early indications of the projected path suggest that Bermuda may feel more direct effects from this storm, whereas the US East Coast could experience several days of dangerous rip currents.

This week, two upper level features will be of primary influence to Bill's track: The 500 millibar Atlantic Ridge as shown on this forecast map from the Ocean Prediction Center (OPC), and an upper level trough sliding across the central US. While the hurricane travels around the southern pheriphery of the Atlantic ridge, it will enter a confluence zone created by the clockwise flow around that ridge, and the counter-clockwise southerly flow generated by the trough. The combined effect of these two features is likely to veer Bill from the current westerly track to more northwest as shown in the NHC graphic, and eventually north-northwest by the weekend. This expected turn is also reflected in the tropical cyclone early-track guidance provided by Colorado State University and depicted on the interactive site Based on this analysis, some media forecasters suggest that Bermuda is more likely to experience effects of this storm.

Kimberlain (2009): Hurricane Bill Discussion 8 from National Hurricance Center's 500 AM EDT 8-17-2009 update. Retrieved August 17, 2009 from

By Friday, rip currents and swells will increase along the southeast coast, and by Saturday affect the entire Eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine. This will pose a significant hazard to swimmers, beachgoers and lifeguards. You can monitor the progress of swell heights with the OPC's Wind/Wave Analysis. Hopefully local and national media will convey the shoreline's hidden dangers enhanced by a passing hurricane. Of particular concern will be ocean-going cruises departing from or returning to East coast ports. If you are among those hopeful travelers, be prepared for changes in the itinerary, or at least be cautious in how much you consume at the dining hall! (I assume you understand the connection.)

2. Do these storms signal the start of an active period heading into September and the all-important Labor Day Weekend? As you can plainly see from the StormPulse visible satellite image below, a series of tropical waves is in the queue ready to keep forecasters busy for at least the next 2 weeks.

African Waves 8-17-09

Answers to those in addition to your questions will be posted in the next day or two.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

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Big News, Little Time

TUE 19 MAY - 8:45 AM. The development of this year's first tropical system signals the annual shift on this site to tracking Atlantic basin storms. (5/21 Edit- "invest 90L" apparently dissipated but heavy tropical rains will affect Florida and the southeast coast all weekend.) To speed your access to relevant information, I have many improvements planned, and hope the tropics will permit time to complete the upgrades.

A larger issue looming on the climate analysis horizon is the start of a neutral to weak El Nino trend heading into summer. This shift will most certainly impact the outcome of Atlantic basin tropical systems. Long range projections suggest a weak to moderate Nino persists into the winter month. If this coincides with the slowly rebounding solar minimum, the Northern Hemisphere could be in for one heck of a blockbuster winter regarding coastal snowstorms and frequent cold spells.

Spread of H1N1 Influenza A remains a top concern with regard to the inter-disciplinary aspects of climate, weather and infectious diseases. Consider looking over this intriguing Accuweather report about the connections between El Nino and Influenza. The CDC believes cases among school-age children should decrease once summer vacation begins, but the increasing rate and severity of infections reinforces the uncertainty on what's really driving the virus right now. A separate website, called "Foot's Flucast" is being developed to monitor flu activity heading into our summer, and the southern hemisphere winter.

Frequency of posts will decline after June 29, as I am joining the Baltimore Ecosystem Study as part of a Summer Research Fellowship with Towson University. It will be an exciting time of hands-on field investigations throughout the Baltimore region, as I will assist a research scientist from UMBC in the areas of urban hydrology and geomorphology (that's the study of how ground water behaves in urban environments and landforms.) Where appropriate and approved by my mentor scientist, I hope to post an overview of the project later in the summer.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

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Humidity & Flu: A connection?

THU 7 MAY - 10:00 AM. Loyal and new readers alike have been waiting patiently for a return to normalcy on this site. I have heard your pleas! To start the transition, I present this "bridge" topic to further our understanding of the synergistic relationships between climate and human health. A February 2009 report to the National Academy of Sciences raised intriquing theories about the apparent increased ability of viruses to survive and transmit among humans in cold and dry conditions versus that which is warm and wet. Talk about relevant weather and relationships to climate. Adding influenza to this mix creates an inter-disciplinary concept so big it's going to take some time to wrap my head around it! A direct quote from the article:
"It seems that the influenza virus' ability to survive and be transmitted person-to-person is greatly affected by how dry or wet the air is," says Jeffrey Shaman, Ph.D., an atmospheric scientist at Oregon State University in Corvallis, who specializes in ties between climate and disease transmission, and a co-author of the new study.

This introduces a whole new world of research possibilities that are just fresh out of the gate. I encourage any of you or your students to investigate, including:

(1) Cross-referencing spread of the H1N1 outbreak with April daily humidity data in Mexico, New York, Texas and California: what patterns or indications might this reveal?

(2) Comparing that data to climate norms: Was it more or less humid than normal at onset? Could this have influenced the March-to-April outbreak phase in Mexico?

(3) Real-time tracking of current humidity and temperature data as compared to spread of the virus in the Maryland or the eastern U.S. Has our recent washout slowed progress of the virus?

(4) Historical analysis of temp/humidity data in the fall of 1918: Did this influence velocity of the lethal second wave that swept the globe in two months (when trans-Atlantic travel alone took a week or more?) For a glimpse at early research on this very idea, review a 1923 report by the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Now that's what I call back in the day.

The organizing question going forward would be: Could weather data be used to predict how a reassorted virus might spread in a second wave this fall? Things that make you go hmmm....

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

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TUE 5 MAY - 10:00 pm. A sigh of relief is heard across the country as the CDC issues updated interim guidance on K-12 school closures. It would appear that while the virus remains high transmissible, it has a low infectivity rate, which is the technical way of saying: "Not everyone who gets exposed will get sick." There is much good news from this development, but health officials at the CDC and WHO remain very cautious about what may come this fall. It's just as important to recognize that Mother Nature has given the entire world a full dress rehearsal for how we might react in a severe pandemic. This is not to suggest the suffering of those whom lost loved ones is merely a statistic in order to better our lives through their pain.

On the contrary, all societies will stand to benefit from the volumes of knowledge disease researchers have gained the past few weeks. That knowledge will go on to save and improve lives this fall and beyond should H1N1 reassort in the southern hemisphere or elsewhere. All those who fell ill or passed away in this outbreak did not do so in vain. Their "involuntary participation" in an startlingly-fast influenza epidemic will serve the greater good of all humanity for a long time to come. The unfortunate news is that for public health professionals and governments alike, the real surveillance period has just begun. We're still at WHO Phase 5, signaling that a pandemic is imminent, and it may be some time before that backs down. In preparation for that day, the gathering of research continues.

Over the next week, the majority of flu monitoring links on this site will be transferred to a new website titled "Foot's Flucast" complete with it's own URL. From there you will continue to have quick glance access to the latest auto-updating features in order to track the H1N1 situation in the US and around the world. On-going research about this virus and the mitigation strategies for a secondary outbreaks will remain priority topics on that site.

To the many faithful readers, please accept my thanks and appreciation for your patience during this whip-lash of a topic shift from weather to influenza. I'm sure many of you are suffering from "flu fatigue" by now, and would welcome back the good old days of simply tracking hurricanes. That time will be here soon enough my friend, soon enough.

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TUE 5 MAY - 9:30 AM. I suppose that today is a happier "Cinco De Mayo" for some but not for others. Ten days into the world's first brush with a pandemic-like outbreak, it is encouraging to hear cafes in Mexico city are re-opening and some Queens, NY students are back to class. Still, doesn't it feel we're caught in some twilight zone of uncertainty? Many want to be cautious, but are not sure how to interpret conflicting expert opinions on where to go from here. If you find yourself in that grouping, good company abounds. For example, the Montgomery County, MD School superintendent is taking steps to challenge whether Rockville High School should remain closed. Signals from the CDC indicate the K-12 school closure guidance may be scaled down this week based on data and feedback. With statewide assessments and senior finals bearing down, a decision is eagerly anticipated.
This recent article by Time magazine appropriately captures our current state of "pandemiconium" yet reminds us all that viruses, a freak of nature to begin with, have one predictable constant: unpredictability. (Source: Atlanta Journal & Constitution article - 5/3/09)
Public health officials know that if history is valued for this situation, then we know two lessons about all pandemics since 1889: (1) more than one wave; (2) the second wave was not mild. Whether our society can truly internalize those lessons, only time will tell.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

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Containing the confusion

MON 4 MAY - 2:00 PM. Despite contradictory reports in the media, this virus could be noticeably present in the human population for the 6 to 18 months regardless of it's severity. While Mexico's outbreak should begin declining as this is near the end of their first six- to eight-week wave, the World Health Organization (WHO) cautions against complacency going forward. To that end, this is a unique opportunity to learn about the policies and rationales that now govern closing of schools in a pandemic, so you can be an informed observer of the situation.
To deepen understanding about this virus, the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) has published this excellent and in-depth "study sheet" on all available scientific knowledge on H1H1 at present. ProMED mail is a daily report from the International Society of Infectious Disease detailing all credible public health threats and providing extensive background or explanation behind data reported in regular media.
Consider these two issues below regarding the different environments this virus will encounter, and the natural human tendency to "let our guard down" at the first sign of improvement. In designing this site, the objectives are to you with provide authentic sources and credible reporting that emphasize scientific facts, not false hopes.
(1) THE HEMISPHERIC FLU SEASON PROBLEM: The seasonal flu period is about to begin in the southern hemisphere, and this introduces a new set of concerns. (Source: Google news article - 5/4/09). On the BBC world map, it is clear H1N1 is appearing below the equator in places like Colombia and New Zealand. This increases the likelihood over the next few months for this virus to infect someone already possessing seasonal human influenza. Would that not provide ideal opportunities for genetic reassortment and emergence of a novel strain that may be more lethal and transmissible? This is the prime reason why public health authorities across the globe are mobilizing their pandemic plans.
Highly regarded administrators such as Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General said in a weekend interview with the London Financial Times that an apparent decline in mortality rates outside and within Mexico does not mean the (epidemic) was ending. “We hope the virus fizzles out, because if it doesn’t we are heading for a big outbreak.” She went on to say: “I’m not predicting the pandemic will blow up, but if I miss it and we don’t prepare, I fail. I’d rather over-prepare than not prepare.”

(2) THE WEAKENING HURRICANE PROBLEM: With the first inkling of a decrease in new cases within Mexico, US and British news media seem eager to sound the "all clear." Contrast this with the start of an exponential rise in new cases worldwide outside of Mexico, and we are encountering the same misconception epidemic that pervades hurricane season. Effect Measure, a forum operated by public health professionals, has a short but thought-provoking essay on this same topic.
Remember how the media seem to enjoy hyping up an approaching hurricane? Then, once the storm is actually a destructive Category 3 or above, and has slight decrease in it's maximum sustained winds, we start hearing: "it's weakening!" Even more deadly to some was that same misperception of risk when Hurricane Ike dropped from a catastrophic 4 to a just-as-destructive 3 prior to landfall? How many residents of Galveston, upon hearing the storm was weakening and would not hit them head on, decided to stay? How well did that work out for them?
In my opinion, we are watching an apparent mild "herald" wave of a pandemic unfold across the globe in real-time. Every global epidemic since 1889 resulted in 2 or 3 successive waves of infection over an 18 to 24 month period. (Source: CNN article, 4/30/09) As the number of cases in this "mild" outbreak continue to rise in the US and across the world, it is irresponsible to suggest the threat posed by this virus is "fizzling out" as has been implied by some. An analogy I believe best fits this situation is what happened with Hurricane Katrina. Imagine if the media and public officials had lead the public into believing evacuations were not necessary, because despite the storm's size and intensity, it was not clear where it would make landfall and how strong it might be upon arrival?
Closing statement: I hope these discussions and the straight-forward source material helps to contain your confusion. Granted, this is a hugely complex situation we're all in, so I understand and respect that many are beyond overwhelmed in how to deal with it all. This site is designed to arm you with hard facts and sound science, so that knowledge can be used to reduce uncertainty and increase informed decision-making.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

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SAT MAY 2 - 7:00 AM. (Updated 5/3/09) Whether this virus produces a pandemic occurs or not, the genetic material of 2009 H1N1 will eventually join the flu cocktails that routinely traverse the globe during seasonal influenza. While it may be good news in the short term that this flu causes just "mild cases," some infectious disease experts such as Dr. Michael Osterholm from the University of Minnesota view that data in a different light. Consider listening to this 4/30/09 interiew with him conducted by Minnesota Public Radio.

The unnerving part of how this virus performs is very similar to what happened in the spring and summer of 1918. You might cry foul with that idea, claiming: "What about technology and advances in modern medicine, surely we can do better than relying on data almost a century old?" To that I would respond by echoing what epidemiologists have said for years: The key to to understanding the next influenza pandemic is to study every available aspect of past ones. The situation now closely resembles that of the Spanish Flu and the Hong Kong Flu of 1968: A "herald wave" of a highly transmissible virus with low lethality. This enabled those viruses to spread quickly, infect a high number of hosts, and provide astronomical opportunities for antigenic shift, or reassortment of the recombinant DNA into another new novel strain.

What disease researchers hope will not happen is H1N1 infects a host (whether human, pig or bird) which has or may catch a pre-existing virus such as season human influenza A, (H3N2) or avian influenza subtypes (H5N1, H6N1 or H9N2). Update: Canadian farmer infects swine flock with H1N1. (Source: UK Times Online article - 5/4/09). This is why every health agencies around the world are working around the clock to glean as much data from this virus. Now the CDC has begun that drumbeat of concern for what may come this fall. (Source: Bloomberg article - 5/3/09)

Why would that be a problem? A long-studied theory is the idea of reassortment. Let's say today's virus reaches a host in Southeast Asia who has just been exposed to the bird flu, a virus with a 50% case fatality rate (421 confirmed cases, over 200 deaths). Inside that person's cells, both viruses exchange RNA and reassort into a completely new pathogen which retains the worse elements of both parents: Easily transmissible, highly lethal to certain populations. That is a snapshot of what may have happened in 1918: an entirely new strain that was so unusual, it even "tricked" the host's immune system into turning against itself. This describes the much-theorized "cytokine storm." (Source: Dr. Osterholm in Washington Post, 11/9/2005)
The result was that healthy young adults ages 15-34 experienced the highest mortality rate in the U.S. In extreme cases, some victims started their day with no symptoms, and by nightfall had drowned in their own blood-choked mucus as their lungs filled with fluid. Too alarmist for you? Then ignore history at your own peril. Remember the saying: "those who fail to understand history are" .... (you finish the sentence.)

Since we're on the cusp of WHO declaring a full-blown pandemic, it's time you come face-to-face with what it means. No doubt the parents and school community of Milford Mill Academy in Baltimore County are quickly finding out what it means to "shelter-in-place" or implement "social distancing." The best part about a mild case of pandemic influenza is those individuals might have a better shot at overcoming the virus should it reassort prior to a second wave this fall. I am not making this up, it is based on volumes of research into what happened with the three previous major global epidemics. Nature and science have given us fair warning, because this changes everything.

Friday, May 1, 2009

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Balancing caution with consistency

FRI 1 MAY - 7:00 am. This issue is no doubt on the mind of Montgomery County, MD school officials, who temporarily closed Rockville High School starting today "until further notice." Many of us, from school officials to parents to teachers alike, are somewhat perplexed on how to remain consistent to our day-to-day priorities while addressing influenza concerns in a cautious, balanced manner. To that end, readers have forwarded these useful and appropriate links from Johns Hopkins University.

On this site, the approach remains the same, balancing accurate data without conveying undue alarm. The Centers for Disease Control are putting their best face forward in keeping us informed, yet keeping an eye on data such as the Case Fatality Ratio and the implications for all of us if the US ratio rises. If you want a serious look at CDC strategies for mitigation of a major epidemic, this 4/27/2009 report covers it all, from the simple to the scary. If anyone is interested in collaborating on identifying authentic research and information about all this, you can email me at
The next Q & A session will address these issues: (1) Effectiveness of N95 masks; (2) The difference between infection, contagion and incubation; (3) The flu and your house: what steps are worth taking versus what's over-kill? (4) Those "ity" terms: morbidity, mortality and why they are not the same; (5) The burning question YOU want answered.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

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TUE 29 APRIL - 4:00 pm. The World Health Organization held an emergency briefing in Geneva, Switzerland today at 4:00 PM EST, to raise the Pandemic Alert Level to Phase 5, indicating a "pandemic is imminent." President Obama will be holding a news conference at 8:00 PM EST today. The tone of officials today transitioned from "be cautious" to "strongly recommend contingency plans." Earlier today at a 3:00 PM news conference, the Secretary of Homeland Security advised all U.S. parents to begin contigency plans in the event their child's school was temporary closed if a suspected or confirmed case of H1N1 was identified in the student population of that institution. That has now come to pass in Maryland with six suspected cases in two counties: Baltimore Co. and Anne Arundel Co. Two of the six are school-aged children, and according to ABC2 News, neither child has been in school since last week. Please continue to post your questions or observations in the comments, as there will be no major updates until after the evening news.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

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WED 29 APRIL - 9:00 AM. Today's quick links: For a worldmap view of current confirmed or suspected cases, view this BBC report as of 6:30 AM 4/29. Educators and health professionals should find useful the following two documents from the CDC: a 1-page poster called "Ounce of Prevention" and a more specific brochure on Seven Keys to a Healthier Home. This third document is a much larger PDF file from the US Dept of Education, and thoroughly discusses all considerations for pandemic preparation in the school community.
1. How is pandemic flu different from seasonal flu?
Visit this pop-up from the US portal for quick definitions. As widely reported in the media, seasonal flu claims over 30,000 victims per year in the U.S. alone, but the vast majority of those cases are the very young, elderly and those with weakened immune symptoms or have a pre-existing illness. While this strain of influenza has not been confirmed as a pandemic, it is exhibiting similar characteristics. Those include a short incubation period (24-48 hours), most victims are healthy teenagers or adults ranging in age from 16 (the median age of infections) to people in their 50's. Seasonal flu traditionally follows the change of seasons, starting in the fall, reaching mid- to late-winter peak, and fading into summer. Pandemic flu can occur at any time of the year, and has historically traversed the globe in several waves in six- to eight-week periods each. It is uncertain at this time if we are currently experiencing the first wave of a possible pandemic.
2. Why is "washing hands" a good first line of defense? What about hand sanitizer?
According to WebMD, the physical and chemical interactions of soap, water and abrasion creating by rubbing your hands together not only kills most bacteria and viruses, it eliminates them from the surface of your hands. That's provided you scrub 20 seconds or more. Hint: Sing the Happy Birthday song twice, and the job is done! According to the CDC and the Mayo Clinic, hand sanitizers containing at least 60 percent alcohol are as effective as hand-washing.
3. Can I catch this virus from eating pork? Why did some countries ban pork imports?
A chorus of medical and agricultural professionals have made it clear the transmission pathways of viruses like these are NOT through handling or eating pork. For that to occur, the virus would have to somehow survive the slaughtering, processing and cooking. The CDC states "Swine influenza viruses are not transmitted by food. You can not get swine influenza from eating pork or pork products...Cooking pork to an internal temperature of 160°F kills the swine flu virus as it does other bacteria and viruses." The current strains of H5N1 avian influenza produce a different outcome, as we all heard reports of people in Southeast Asia and elsewhere falling ill from eating improperly cooked chicken. US and Mexican officials have expressed great displeasure at those countries whom have irresponsibly projected a link between swine products and suspectibility of the current influenza strain.
4. Does the appearance of "mild cases" in the US mean the worst has passed?
Historians and disease researchers alike point to similarities between this outbreak and previous global epidemics, and those indications tell us a trend could be developing. As Dr. Michael Osterholm from the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy said on April 25, 2009, "Milder cases, on one hand, are good, but that may mean little," Osterholm said, adding that, during the first wave of the 1918 influenza pandemic in the spring, many cases were mild, but by late July and early August, the virus caused widespread, severe illness. Source: CIDRAP.
5. How might this affect school schedules since we're so close to June?
President Obama is reported by Reuters as asking schools "to consider closing" if there is a confirmed or even suspected case. The short- and long-term impacts of these decisions are nearly imcomprehensible for most of us. But the Dept of Health and Human Services has a detailed links on strategies for preparation, mitigation and likely impacts of system-wide school closures. The MD Dept of Mental Health and Hygiene conducted a strategy session in 2006 on how to deal with these issues and it provides excellent insight on the challenges.
With increasing awareness of the rapidly evolving flu outbreak, we all will have many valid and sensible questions. This site has been redesigned to provide accurate, reliable information aimed at addressing those questions. We're all on a collective global learning curve, so the teachable moment for everyone is now. As time permits, you will notice answers being added to emphasize authentic scientifically-based or government-supported sources. Any of you are welcome to hunt down sources and references yourself and post in the comments. In addition, feel free to post new questions there or to me directly by email ( and we address those in upcoming Q & A sessions.