Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Large Hurricane Alex Aggrevates Oil Slick

Hurricane Alex is spinning its way closer to the northeast Mexico coast today and should make landfall somewhere near La Pesca late tonight.

The storm, just upgraded to a hurricane a little over 12 hours ago, has for several days been stirring up the waters of the southern Gulf of Mexico, and despite its long distance from the site of the Deepwater Horizon spill, large waves and choppy seas propagating away from Alex's center are already hampering oil clean up efforts.

Here's what's happening now...
  • Hurricane Alex is a HUGE storm! The outer bands of the hurricane are spreading out hundreds of miles from the center of circulation and are bringing with them to the northeast Gulf heavy rain and large waves as high as 12 feet.

  • In at least one area of coastal Louisiana, the waves were tossing oil-soaking boom around and forcing crews to take precious time putting it back in place. The fear here is oil crashing over the booms, therefore compromising containment.

  • Due to thunderstorms and high seas, all near-shore skimmers have been idled off the coasts of Florida, Alabama and Mississippi.

  • Although minimal, the winds from Hurricane Alex are causing oily waves to slam into Gulf coast beaches, washing away progress already made. Tar balls have reportedly popped up on Louisiana beaches that had been relatively oil-free for a few weeks.
Need I go on, folks? Keep in mind this category 1 hurricane is hundreds of miles away from the oil slick and weak in comparison to what could come closer in days, weeks and months ahead. If Alex is creating this many issues, just imagine what could happen when a much more significant storm heads that way!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

NEQ Spotlight: Saffir-Simpson

Throughout the next several months you'll hear the terms tropical depression, tropical storm, hurricane, major hurricane... and while we know the term 'major hurricane' refers to something we should probably be scared of, for those less versed in the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale, that term might have a different meaning. Well alas, today's NEQ Spotlight takes a closer look at the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale (formerly accounting for storm surge, hence the addition of the term wind), which separates hurricanes into five categories distinguished by the intensities of their sustained winds.

Developed in 1971 by civil engineer Herbert Saffir and meteorologist Bob Simpson, adopted by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in 1973 and updated in 2010, the
Saffir-Simpson Scale is now based strictly on wind speed and is meant to show on a scale from 1 (the weakest) to 5 (the most intense) the expected damage to structures as a result of a landfalling hurricane. The scale does not take into account storm surge, rainfall, barometric pressure or other elements of a tropical cyclone.

Within the scope of the
Saffir-Simpson Scale there is a subset of storms defined as major for those classified as category 3 or higher. A major hurricane is capable or producing extensive to catastrophic damage.

The graphic above defines the categories in the Scale, their associated wind speeds and the potential damage at landfall. With all eyes on a strengthening Alex this week, this scale will definitely be referred to and should be something you become familiar with – now and throughout hurricane season.

Thanks Saffir-Simpson for your contribution to meteorology and involuntarily offering yourself up to today's NEQ Spotlight!

1: See earlier blog post: New Hurricane Wind Scale for 2010 Season
Reference 2: Check out this transcript from a 1991 interview with Dr. Simpson

Monday, June 28, 2010

Hurricane Devin

Just a little fun today – something to help brighten up your Monday and have you think a little less of Alex and the oil spill...

Have a great week!

Friday, June 25, 2010

NEQ Friday Review, V.8

Here we are, the last Friday in June, which means two things: we're almost one month into hurricane season and it's time for the NEQ Friday Review. Today I'll review a new insight into hurricanes that may help forecasters predict the extent of damaging winds and waves as a result of the fiercest of tropical cyclones.

Two of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) researchers, Kenneth Oslund and Philip Callahan, have developed a technique using wave height measurements from satellite altimeters to study Atlantic v.s Pacific hurricanes. They did so by combining data from multiple satellite passes over a variety of category 3 or higher storms to create composite views, or templates, of 'typical' hurricanes.

The results of their efforts support that, although equally as strong, Atlantic hurricanes are generally smaller in size than their Pacific counterparts – a likely result of higher oceanic heat content in the Pacific. In fact, storm-generated waves from Pacific hurricanes extend, on average, a distance of over 120 miles further from the storm center than those of Atlantic storms.

Interesting, the study also proved that a hurricane's strongest winds, those that create the highest waves, occur in the right front quarter of the storm
this, my friends, is also considered The Northeast Quadrant and is one of the roots of this blog's namesake!

Check out a more in-depth look into the satellite wave data project here.

Enjoy your weekend, and remember, the 2005 hurricane season, the most active in history, didn't spin up its first hurricane until July 4 weekend. Be ready!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Long-Lasting La Niña Poised to Control Weather

Earlier this month the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) announced that we officially moved into a La Niña pattern, and recent images from NASA's Jason-2 oceanography satellite verify. The opposite of El Niño, La Niña is the cooling of the equatorial Pacific Ocean.

El Niño and La Niña play a major role in global weather. During a La Niña, trade winds in the western equatorial Pacific Ocean are stronger than normal, and the cold water that normally exists along the coast of South America extends to the central regions. La Niñas are associated with less moisture in the air, resulting in less rain along the coasts of North and South America. They also tend to increase the formation of tropical storms in the Atlantic.

So what exactly does that mean for the United States? What impact can we expect?
  • An increase in the number of tropical storms as a result of La Niña boosts the chances that a storm (or hurricane) will enter the Gulf of Mexico, home to about 30 percent of U.S. oil and 12 percent of U.S. natural gas production, as well as the anomaly of an oil slick this year.

  • La Niña's cooling pattern often brings dryer, warmer weather to the southern half of the United States, thus increasing the wildfire threat in Florida and California.

  • During La Niña, the northern third of the United States often has colder winters.

  • Increased rainfall in the Pacific Northwest is also common during La Niña.
Experts expect the central equatorial Pacific Ocean to stay colder than normal throughout the summer and beyond, so the risk for long-lasting La Niña-type weather conditions to affect North America in coming months is quite likely.

Looks like next winter could be VERY different from last, which was largely controlled by
El Niño!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Weather Pattern Could Renew West Nile Conerns

What ever happened to the West Nile Virus? Remember that pesky mosquito-born illness that plagued the North American continent a few years back? The disease seemed almost non-existent last year with the Swine Flu outbreak stealing its thunder. But guess what? This year it could come back, and if it does, it could do so with a vengeance.

Because we are in a period of erratic weather patterns that could trigger more cases of West Nile Virus, researchers at Colorado State University are alerting the public to the potential of 'abundant cases.'

A very cold, moist winter followed by a record-setting hot spring, accompanied by high precipitation, and the expected continuing warming trend, could mean that mosquitoes carrying the West Nile Virus could be in higher numbers than last year when cool weather slowed the development of larvae, therefore causing female mosquitoes to diminish their efforts to bite humans and animals, specifically birds.

So far this year there have been no reported cases of the virus, but it's very early in the 'mosquito season.' So what's the big deal? Keep reading...

Only the female mosquitoes bite and transmit the virus. A mosquito lays her eggs in standing water and if the water sits for about five to six days, the larvae develop into adult mosquitoes. Some large areas of standing water can produce as many as 1 million new mosquitoes.

As complicated (or not) as the food chain, it's these pests that feed on birds, who end up carrying the virus after being bitten by an infected mosquito. They then pass the infection on to uninfected mosquitoes, thus helping spread the disease that in turn infect humans and other animals.

Yikes! I can't write anymore. I'm too grossed out and need go sit next to a citronella candle and cover myself with OFF spray!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Social Media's Influence on Storm Chasing (courtesy of

Earlier today, posted an exclusive video that featured The Northeast Quadrant and its blogger and manager, Devin Matthew Toporek.

The video tells the story of how social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter are allowing anyone to instantly broadcast weather-related information, and the idea that perhaps storm chasing be left to the pros... Or should it? You decide as AccuW
eather's Katie Fehlinger looks in-depth at how the ease of today's communication impacts news credibility.

The video is just over six minutes in length and worth the watch, but if you want to see just The Northeast Quadrant and Devin, scroll to minute 3:10!
View the video here.

NEQ Spotlight: Dr. Francis Galton

A new feature to the blog, the NEQ Spotlight will periodically draw attention to those who influenced and shaped the science of meteorology!

There's one weather pioneer who has fallen off the 'radar' and today, the inaugural
NEQ Spotlight pays respect to his can't-live-without meteorological breakthrough: the weather map! I'm talking about Dr. Francis Galton and his instrumental invention dates back to the mid-19th century and still today, is a standard tool in weather forecasting.

Interestingly, Galton never held any academic or professional post. Instead, he did his experimenting at home or during his travels. His earliest research had to do with meteorology, and in his 1863 book,
Meteorgraphica, he devised the weather map (
which first appeared in the London Times in 1875), and he also proposed a theory of anticyclones - and the hugely important role they play in weather movements and conditions. He also was the first to establish a complete record of short-term climatic phenomena on a European scale.

The invention of the weather map was obviously incredible, but why is the anticyclone such a big deal? This invention greatly increased the scientific understanding of how weather systems work.
Whereas cyclones rotate counter- or anti-clockwise in the northern hemisphere, the anticyclones rotate clockwise. Both rotate in the opposite direction in the southern hemisphere. One of the most famous anticyclones is the Bermuda High.

In addition to these great inventions and discoveries, Galton was also instrumental in establishing the Meteorgraphica Office and the National Physical Laboratory in London.

Hats off to you Dr. Galton! Thanks for the weather map... and anticyclone!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer Sun, Something's Begun...

It seems we've been experiencing "summer-like" weather for weeks now, but alas, you can finally stop saying "summer-like" and just call it "summer!" That's because two minutes ago at 7:28 a.m, the northern hemisphere officially entered into the summer solstice – and the longest day of the year – okay, maybe not the longest but you do have more daylight today than any other day of the year!

During the summer solstice, the sun angle reaches it's highest point on the horizon as it hovers above the tropic of cancer located at about 23.5 degrees north.

Much like The Northeast Quadrant reported on the vernal (spring) equinox, throughout history, man has marked the onset of summer in different ways:
  • The Chinese marked the day by honoring Li, the Chinese Goddess of Light
  • The Celts & Slavs celebrated the first day of summer with dancing around bonfires to help increase the sun's energy
  • The Druids' celebration of the day as the "wedding of Heaven and Earth", resulting in the present day belief of a "lucky" wedding in June
  • The English celebrate the day at Stonehenge and Avebury, where thousands gather to welcome the sunrise on the Summer Solstice
As for me and many others, we'll be celebrating summer by vacationing, heading the beach, lying out in the sun, enjoying the outdoors, playing sports, and most importantly, tracking hurricanes!

So in conclusion, stay cool, enjoy today and enjoy summer! Starting tomorrow through the first day of Winter on December 21, there will be a gradual lengthening of nights and shortening of days. But that doesn't mean it'll get cooler
– climatologically, the hottest part of the year is yet to come... we'll look towards the last week of July/first week of August for that!

Friday, June 18, 2010

NEQ Friday Review, V.7

In the past week we’ve watched a hopeful tropical cyclone (92L) get ripped apart in the Atlantic and saw two depressions flare up in the eastern Pacific, one of which became the second named tropical storm of that basin’s hurricane season.

92L didn’t do much but cause some hype and get us even more excited for an intense Atlantic season ahead, and when things really do get going, you can bet the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron Hurricane Hunters will be on top of the storm (no pun intended). This week’s NEQ Friday Review takes a look at how this recon team makes calculated risks to help save lives and protect property.

These hurricane hunters are the only operational unit in the world flying weather reconnaissance on a routine basis. Airborne in a tropical cyclone for hours at a time, the crew consists of a pilot, co-pilot, navigator, flight meteorologist and weather-reconnaissance loadmaster. Slicing through the eyewall of a hurricane, buffeted by howling winds, blinding rain, hail, and violent updrafts and downdrafts before entering the relative calm of the storm, the team works together during their mission to continuously collect critical weather data and send it directly to the National Hurricane Center (NHC) via satellite communications.

Initial missions are flown at low levels, between 500 feet and 1,500 feet. As the storm strengthens, the hurricane hunters enter higher altitudes, where, when the storm is strong enough, they’ll make several passes through the eye.

Among a wide variety of tools hurricane hunters use and deploy on their mission, are GPS-enabled dropsondes, which they release into the eye of a storm to obtain measurements of pressure, humidity, temperature, and wind direction and speed, therefore providing a better idea of a storm’s structure and its intensity.

As dangerous (or exciting) as this seems, for most hurricane hunters, this is what they live for and are willing to die for. And guess what? It’s all for us – to improve forecasts and protect our lives and property.

Have a great weekend and be hurricane ready!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Social Media and the 2010 Hurricane Season

Hurricane season is here and with an extremely active several months expected ahead, you can be sure social media will play a huge role in disseminating critical storm-related information.

Social media has as history of helping people find friends and relatives after several high-profile disasters, such as the tsunami that struck Indonesia in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. And now in 2010, as millions upon millions of U.S. residents and tourists will at some point this season likely be in harms way as a tropical cyclone barrels itself towards our coastlines, everyone from emergency managers and hurricane forecasters, to traditional media and bloggers (such as
The Northeast Quadrant), will use these means to increase their reach.

In fact, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) plans, at the very least, to create a Facebook page by the end of this month. For those who sign up, you can expect to receive up-to-the-minute storm advisories, watches and warnings, as well as evacuation orders and safety tips. The page will also serve as a portal to post photos, videos and storm reports.

So what about Twitter? For the time being, the NHC says it is steering clear of it because the 140-character limit is not enough space to provide enough information (don't we all know that is true)!

Related blog spot:
Severe Weather with a Chance of Tweets!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Roaring 40s

This past weekend I watched a special on the Science Channel about the Roaring 40s (also known as the Furious Forties). A phenomenon I had heard about before but never paid much mind to, the Roaring 40s actually turned on my interest as I discovered more about it.

The Roaring 40s refers to the parallel latitudes between 40° South and 50° South, which happens to only pass through the countries of New Zealand, Chile and Argentina. Because of the very reason that prevailing westerly winds moving through these latitudes are hardly disrupted by land, they, and the choppy seas they churn up, have for years shaped the pelagic coastlines they batter.

Global wind currents like the Roaring 40s are influenced by the Earth's shape and spin, and by basic thermodynamics, such as hot air rising and cold air sinking. The great speed of their winds is produced because of the relative change in rotational speed of the land at the Earth's surface. Because of this, the Roaring 40s vary greatly from day to day, across the seasons, and also from year to year.

Anyway, you are probably wondering why I am so into this phenomenon, but if you saw the special you would know! You’d see jagged mountains, rugged coastlines, lush rainforests, exotic habitats, unusual wildlife, dramatic seas, and a magnificent take on one of the many natural features that shape planet Earth. I guess it's just one of those occurrences that make you feel so small and insignificant to the power of nature!

That is all…

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Miles of Gulf Pipeline at the Mercy of Hurricanes

As if the current environmental disaster in the Gulf is not enough, a new report published in the journal, Geophysical Research Letters, is highlighting the potential for a hurricane (or hurricanes) this season to create strong enough underwater waves to dig up and potentially sever oil pipelines that run across the ocean floor, therefore complicating the already compromising situation.

At least 31,000 miles of pipelines snake across Gulf and hurricanes have long been known to cause a range of damage to them. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 there were 299 reports of damage to pipelines, just to be followed by 243 reports later that season from Hurricane Rita – so there is clear evidence that not only could a hurricane exacerbate the current spill, it could cause another one.

How does it happen? Historically speaking, the howling winds of hurricanes can generate strong currents along the sea floor, therefore scouring the seabed, picking up sediment from some places and piling it up in others. This scouring of sediment has the ability to create underwater horizontal mudslides that could lead to the damaged oil pipelines.

The problem does not just lie on the sea floor, however. A strong hurricane along with its gusty winds and towering waves could also topple oil rigs that line the northern Gulf. After the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in April, it also toppled into the sea. Just something to think about…

Meanwhile, check out the above image of an oil rig beached in Dauphin Island, Alabama after Katrina!Found miles from its usual position in the Gulf, that rig in particular produced 40,000 barrels of oil and 60 million cubic feet of gas per day!

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Future of Harsh Winters Could Rule Mid-Lats

Despite global warming and climate change, recent statements by NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) point towards a future of more cold and snowy winters (in other words, the potential for patterns to evolve similar to that of this past winter) for Europe, eastern Asia and eastern North America.

Why the claim?
El Niño and the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) aside, the exceptional cold and snowy winter of this past year in the above-mentioned regions, is connected to unique physical processes in the Arctic. The Arctic is warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the planet. This is known as Arctic amplification, and these changes are happening a great deal faster than the scientific community expected.

It seems a warmer Arctic climate and a loss of sea ice is influencing the air pressure at the North Pole and shifting wind patterns, allowing
for the disruption of the memory and stability of the Arctic climate system. This will be an important driver of major change in the world's climate system in the years to come and will likely be seen first across the mid-latitudes.

Experts say that given the recent reduction of the area of multi-year sea ice and reduced ice thickness, it is unlikely that the Arctic can return to its previous condition.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Will 92L Become Alex?

All eyes this week will be on the central Atlantic and Caribbean Sea as disturbance 92L tries to spin its way up to the first tropical cyclone of the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season. Computer models vary on the future intensity of this system, but there are favorable indications that it will become a tropical storm, and perhaps in a few days time, a hurricane. If it does so its name would be Alex.

A could-be rare tropical event, only one named storm has ever formed this far out in the Atlantic during the month of June, and that was Tropical Storm Ana in 1979.

Working in the system's favor is very warm sea surface temperatures, good outflow, plenty of moisture and low wind shear values along its west-northwestward path. However, it should be noted that even if this entity does not become Alex, the long range computer models are forecasting plenty of activity across the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) over the next couple weeks, which, with favorable atmospheric conditions, could lead to additional tropical cyclone development in the eastern and central Atlantic region over the next 2 to 3 weeks.

As always, The Northeast Quadrant will keep you posted!

Friday, June 11, 2010

NEQ Friday Review, V.6

Hurricane season is upon us and with the highly-anticipated extremes we are likely to endure over the next several months, on the forefront of everyone's minds is... will it be a repeat of 2005 – the epic season that brought us hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma?

As the first of 28 tropical cyclones to form in 2005 didn't do so until early July, all we can do now is wait and be prepared. To that extent, in this week's NEQ Friday Review, I wanted to share with you an account of Hurricane Katrina, which I received this week via email from The Northeast Quadrant fan, Ricky Duncan.
With Ricky's permission, here it goes... Hold onto your hats, guys!

My wife and I decided to stay in our house during Katrina. It was a decision that would change our lives forever!

Living just 60 miles due north of New Orleans, in
Bogalusa, Louisiana, at the time of Katrina's landfall, we sat directly in the hurricane's path. The winds started blowing in the early morning hours and it was accompanied by a dramatic drop in pressure. The pressure fell so quickly that you actually felt the dip.

We have a room in the center of our house, which we called the safe room – it was a walk-in closet. This is where we would go if the roof started to blow off. My wife Linda had put a bunch of pillows and blankets on the floor to protect us. You see, we had prepared for hurricanes before, so we knew to do all the steps: buy batteries, fill the car with gas, fill the tub with water, etc. What we weren't expecting was the magnitude of this storm!

The winds increased with each passing minute. From window to window we gazed out at the trees in my yard getting blown over by the roots. There was even a huge live oak in my backyard and I watched as a third of it was split off the side, probably 6 foot in diameter. Sadly, this was the focal point of our 1 3/4-acre yard. Out of 14 oak trees I had on my property, now I have 7 left.

I started hearing something in our closed-in garage so I opened the door just to see the roll-up doors bowing in. When I walked back inside I saw water coming through the dining room ceiling. At that point I climbed up in the attic to see where it was coming from. Apparently the wind was blowing the back porch so hard that the nails were trying to back out of the rafters. We were officially at the height of the storm!

We had a pretty new home that had storm windows in it, and those windows looked as if they we bowed inward, but never broke. One tree, that we watched, had been blown back and forth so much that the roots had gotten a whole carved out under it, and when the rain would fill the hole and the wind blew it again, it shot the water up from the other side.

Finally, as the winds calmed down enough we could go outside and assess the damage, and the neighbors had the same idea. Normally, we would shake hands, but after we had been through the storm together, we hugged instead.

Trees laid across the road like cord wood and the smell of natural gas filled the air. Across the road from my house our neighbor had 3 large pine trees inside her house. It was an unbelievable sight!

Since Katrina, we purchased a camper and are now spending our summers off the Gulf Coast in the state of Michigan. The joy is in the journey not the destination, or as Linda says "We're not lost, just exploring!"

Pictures from Bogalusa, Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

NASA to Explore Arctic... By Sea, Not Space

Last year, a study using data from a NASA satellite showed that Arctic sea ice thinned dramatically between the winters of 2004 and 2008.

Now – a couple years later, in its first dedicated oceanographic field campaign, more than 40 NASA scientists are heading to the Arctic to further study the impact of climate change. Their five-week expedition, dubbed ICESCAPE (Impacts of Climate on Ecosystems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment), kicks off next Tuesday (June 15) aboard a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker, and will focus on how varying physical, chemical, and biological ice conditions affect the ecosystems in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. These Seas and the Arctic Ocean, unlike others, is almost completely landlocked, making it an ideal location to study ongoing climate changes in a marine ecosystem already heavily impacted by declining sea ice cover, ocean acidification, and an increase in incoming solar radiation.

NASA’s findings will ultimately help supplement the above-mentioned data that its satellites have for years collected on arctic ice (and ice-free) conditions.

A follow-up voyage is scheduled for the fall of 2011.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Tropical Storm Allison: A Lesson Learned

Nine years ago this past week, a mere, yet intense tropical storm battered the central coast of Texas after spending two weeks dancing across the Atlantic, into the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. The first of the 2001 season, the Tropical Storm was named Allison and it proved that storms need not be particularly strong or fast-moving to be deadly and destructive.

With hurricane season upon us this blog post looks back on Allison in an effort to keep you 'weather-ready' and 'tropical storm- and hurricane-prepared.'

Tropical Storm Allison made landfall near Houston, Texas late on June 5, 2001. After landfall the storm stalled and produced widespread flash flooding, which resulted in what became Houston's worst natural disaster in recorded history. Flash flooding continued for days, with rainfall amounts across the state peaking over 40 inches!

This long-lived storm didn't stop there! From Louisiana to southeastern Pennsylvania, Tropical Storm Allison was a major flood disaster all the way up to the Mid-Atlantic. It was not until June 18 that the remnants of the tropical storm were finally absorbed by a frontal boundary in the northern Atlantic, which ultimately led to the the cyclone's dissipation.

Throughout its entire path, Allison caused nearly $7 billion (2010 standards) in damage and 41 deaths.

Not too many tropical storm's identities, such as Allison's, go into the 'retired storm names hall-of-fame', yet "she" managed to do so! A storm for the record books, to say the least!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Readying Earth for 2013 Solar Storm

A report released a couple years ago by the National Academy of Sciences warned that a solar activity storm could could cause twenty times more economic damage than Hurricane Katrina.

A statement recently released by a representative at NASA states that the sun is waking up from a deep slumber, and in the next few years we can expect to see much higher levels of solar activity. That combined with our expanding sensitivity to solar storms as a result of our society becoming more technologically dependent, could create significant societal and economic impacts in coming years.

Solar storms occur when an eruption or explosion on the sun's surface sends radiation or electrically charged particles toward the Earth. Minor storms can interfere with radio signals. A large one can release as much energy as a billion hydrogen bombs. In fact, a large solar storm in May 1859 wreaked international havoc as telegraph wires spontaneously shorted out, causing numerous fires. The event even offered up an unexpected display of the Northern Lights as far south as Rome, Havana and Hawaii! Experts say the modern day equivalent of such a storm could leave millions of people without electricity, running water or phone service.

Well, there is hope...

The Space Weather Enterprise Forum kicks off today in Washington, DC and on the forefront of its agenda is the next peak of solar activity expected in 2013, and how planet Earth will respond.

The Forum, which is part of the National Space Weather Program (NSWP), falls beneath the overall national interagency initiative to prepare the country, and ultimately the world, to deal with technological vulnerabilities associated with the space environment. Some of the agencies involved include NOAA, NASA, USGS and FAA.

To help keep us safe and to avoid that which is stated above, the Forum will focus on critical infrastructure protection to improve the nation’s ability to prepare, avoid, mitigate, respond to and recover from potentially devastating impacts of space weather events on our health, economy, and national security.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Northeast Tornadoes Fail this Weekend. Why?

This past weekend featured two solid days of severe weather in the northeast accompanied by torrential rains and scattered violent storms containing damaging winds, hail and even funnel clouds. That's right... funnel clouds! Tornado watches were posted for a good part of the day Saturday for New England, and those watches extended southwards into the mid-Atlantic on Sunday. But while tornado activity was heightened in the cornfields of the rural midwest this past weekend, not too much actually materialized for the hilly terrain of the northeast or along the city-sprawling I-95 corridor.

OK, why the descriptive detail? Well, I've been reading several blogs about the subject this weekend and even this morning, and I want to set something straight about the myth (yes, it's a myth) that tornadoes don't occur, or are hard to form, in both mountainous terrain and cities alike.

While topography does influence how often tornadoes form, other stronger atmospheric processes determine where and when tornadoes form, meaning even those is rugged mountainous terrain are at risk. Storm systems that generate tornadoes over the midwest often rely on large amounts of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and high quantities of atmospheric energy which aren’t always available once systems cross the Appalachians. However, if those systems remain intact, these areas, such as the Northeastern United States, are equally susceptible.

Tornadoes in cities? I can easily recall several U.S. cities being hit by a tornado in the last decade or so... Oklahoma City, Fort Worth, St. Louis, Miami... even Salt Lake (both urban and mountainous)! But in the northeast? Not so much. While it is possible, the atmospheric dynamics explained above typically do not support the development of tornadoes reaching cities like New York, Boston and Philadelphia, per se. However, the fact is tornadoes have a long history of hitting big cities and when they do, they usually cause a great amount of damage because a lot more debris is generated.

In conclusion, the severe weather threat is long gone now and the weather is gorgeous! Sadly, residents in Ohio and Michigan were not so lucky as tornadoes there as strong as EF-3, have caused extensive damage and loss of life.

Mild days and cool nights are the rule this week in the northeast... enjoy it!

Friday, June 4, 2010

NEQ Friday Review, V.5

There's been a whole bunch of talk about hurricanes recently and The Northeast Quadrant is no exception. But what ever happened to the good ol' fashion thunderstorm?

You do know it takes just one run-of-the-mill thunderstorm to multiply into hundreds which then transforms into thousands of organized clusters of storms that could develop into one intense low pressure center, which if in a favorable atmospheric and oceanic environment could become a tropical storm or hurricane, right?

Today's NEQ Friday Review delves deeper into the thunderstorm and explains a little more about them for those less versed in the science.

Thunderstorms generally form when moisture, an unstable airmass, and a lifting force all come together. Thunderstorms go through three stages, the developing stage, the mature stage, and the dissipation stage, and depending on the conditions present in the atmosphere, these three stages take an average of 30 minutes to go through.

There are four types of thunderstorms:

1) Single-cell thunderstorms are generally poorly organized and form when there is not much wind shear. These storms typically last less than one hour.

2) Multicell cluster thunderstorms occur when a group of cells move as a single unit, with each cell in a different stage of the thunderstorm life cycle. Multicell thunderstorms can produce moderate size hail, flash floods and weak tornadoes.

3) Multicell line thunderstorms consist of a line of storms with a continuous, well developed gust front at the leading edge. Also known as squall lines, these storms can produce small to moderate size hail, occasional flash floods and weak tornadoes.

4) Supercell thunderstorms (my favorite) is a thunderstorm with a deep rotating updraft (mesocyclone) that generally produces severe weather, including heavy winds, large hail, heavy rainfall, and sometimes strong and long-lived tornadoes. There are three types of supercells: classic supercells, HP (high precipitation) supercells, and LP (low precipitation supercells). A single supercell can last several hours.

Some of the most powerful thunderstorms on Earth occur right here in the United States as a result of frequently clashing air masses. Florida's Gulf Coast experiences the greatest number of thunderstorms of any U.S. location. On average, thunderstorms occur in the "Sunshine State" 130 days per year....

But if you want to see some really good, intense thunderstorms, head here in the month of May!

Have a great weekend and keep an eye to the sky!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Living With Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond

When Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi the morning of August 29, 2005, the storm caused absolutely devastating large-scale destruction. The levees failed and their collapse flooded 80 percent of the city of New Orleans. By the time the waters receded and the survivors regrouped, Katrina, and then Hurricane Rita, had claimed more than 1,400 lives and the dreams of hundreds of thousands.

Now five years later a new, $7.5 million, 6,700 square-foot exhibit titled
Living With Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond, will tell the stories of real people caught in the hurricane’s wrath. It tells of their rescue, recovery, rebuilding and renewal in a way that is certain to move both those who survived the storms and those who watched them unfold on television.

The exhibit will have a series of galleries featuring sound, video and computer graphics, and it opens this fall (October 26) at the
Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans.

Check out this promotional, yet very moving clip of coastal Louisiana's history and the events that led to the idea as well a what to expect when you visit the exhibit.

For me this is an absolute must-see! I hope you'll also make it a point to visit the exhibit should your travels take you there.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Study Implicates Sunspots in Hurricane Forecasts

Sunspots may predict hurricanes as well as global warming and cooling, says a recent study conducted by Florida State University.

The study, which was presented to the American Meteorological Society and published in the scientific journal, Geophysical Research Letters, indicates the probability of hurricanes hitting the United States increases dramatically during low points of the 11-year sunspot cycle, such as we are currently experiencing.

Sunspots have long been implicated in the global climate. During periods of high sunspot activity, which occurred throughout the Medieval Warm Period, global temperatures rose. During the low points in sunspot activity, such as in the Little Ice Age, temperatures declined.

How does this affect hurricanes? Well, years with few sunspots and above-normal ocean temperatures, as is the case now, spawn a less stable atmosphere and, consequently, more hurricanes. When that happens, the differential creates more atmospheric instability and stronger storms, energizing what might otherwise remain tropical storms into hurricanes. Years with more sunspots but still above-normal ocean temperatures yield a more stable atmosphere and thus fewer hurricanes.

So here's the breakdown in numbers...
  • The chance of at least one hurricane hitting the United States spikes to 64 percent in the lowest sunspot years, compared to only a 25 percent chance in peak sunspot years.

  • Chances of three or more hurricanes hitting the United States increase from 20 percent to 40 percent in years when sunspots are in the lowest 25 percent, compared with years when they're in the highest 25 percent.
Interestingly, there are a whole bunch of predictors hurricane experts have been looking at when issuing their extreme forecasts for the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season, however, sunspots was not one of them. To that extent, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) is considering using sunspots cycles as a predictor in future forecasts as they continue to see more evidence.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Haiti vs. Oil Slick: The 'What If's' of Hurricane Season

Today is the first day of the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season and while currently there are no imminent significant tropical threats, on the minds of many is... 'what if' a hurricane does slams into earthquake-ravaged Haiti, and 'what if' one does in fact swirl through the Gulf oil slick?

While the likelihood of one or both of these scenarios playing out over the next 183 (or more) days is quite likely given their location and climatological history being affected by tropical systems, just a mere glancing blow could be devastating. But which is the bigger concern? Here are some of the facts...


Now more than ever,
an intense tropical system affecting Haiti could prove catastrophic, and such a situation could potentially complicate difficult humanitarian relief operations following the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake on January 12. As it stands now, vast swathes of Haiti are devoid of greenery, soil-holding roots, trees or grasses. Centuries of deforestation as a result of mother nature's beating has left the entire country a mudslide waiting to happen. Excessive rainfall could bring to the country an increasing threat of disease and mudslides, among other hazards to the 1.7 million Haitians currently living in tent cities after losing their homes in the quake. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) has already set up better communications with Haiti to alert them to possible threats, but they know it won't be enough because there is really nowhere for them to go if a storm should threaten.

Oil Slick

Although nearly 7 million gallons of oil have already spilled into the Gulf of Mexico, the oil isn't covering enough of the warm waters that feed tropical storms to alter their development, and therefore it is not likely to have a significant impact on hurricane intensity. If
a hurricane swirls through the slick it may help break up the oil, but if one were to make landfall just west of the spill it could drive the oil inland on surging seawater. On the same note, a hurricane passing to the east of the slick could drive the oil away from the coast. Additionally, the high winds and seas could mix and weather the oil, which could help accelerate the bio-degradation process. A hurricane could also disperse oil further than its current location. Because there's no record of a hurricane ever crossing paths with a large oil spill, nobody knows for sure exactly what environmental impact it would have in this situation, but one could imagine it would just add to the ecological misery already occurring.

Check out NOAA's oil spill response fact sheet [PDF].