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The Climate Lottery- Ranking Numbers of Boreal Fall 2011

The National Climatic Data Center has finished processing the rankings for Boreal Fall 2011 for the lower 48 states. So, for everyone who participated in my little contest, the lottery numbers were: 97/85/93 with an overall "power-ball" ranking for the season of 102. The data can be found at: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/national/2011/11

The winner was Florida Girl, who came closest to picking the correct numbers. Her picks were 90/86/94.

Well, my picks were too low. I wasn't trying to "sand-bag", but truly trying to make a forecast, which underestimated the overall warmth of the season. My ranking climate lottery forecast picks were 75/68/32 for SEP/OCT/NOV. What's alarming is that everyone who played the Climate Lottery (just for fun) had picks that were lower than what verified. Not even my predicted "cooling trend" verified. The season, as a whole, was above long term averages with no individual months below average; and thus, having above average rankings. I'll stress again that for an area of the globe the size of the continental United States it is becoming unlikely that temperature averages for an entire season will be below average, although at a state level there remains a lot of variability. In the future only volcanic eruptions might cool the planet off enough in order for entire seasons or years to be below average. I'll have more about that later in this post.


Here's a breakdown of the National Climatic Center's ranking numbers for each month of the fall:

In September the overall ranking for the lower 48 states was 97 (out of 117):

The ridge that produced the extensive heat wave in the Southern Plains and Texas over the summer retrograded to the West Coast during September, which allowed the heat wave to break. Those of you living in Mississippi and Missouri saw some relatively cool weather, while those of you living in Portland and Seattle had a toasty late summer, even though the bulk of the Pacific Northwest's conditions during the summer were cool. Overall though, September was much warmer than average for the entire contiguous United States.

In October the overall ranking for the lower 48 states was 85 (out of 117).

In October the western upper ridge remained in place from September. Colder than average air masses continued to penetrate the Southeast where below average temperatures were predominant, but the air masses weren't cold enough to give the northern tier of states colder than average conditions for the lower 48 states. Once again, the Climate Dice came up red in October.

In November the overall ranking for the lower 48 states was 93 (out of 117).
The overall ranking for boreal fall was 102 (the 16th warmest fall out of 117 on record).


The pattern reversed in November with the jet stream digging into the West where below average temperatures occurred. There was a lot of warmth in the East, however. The climate dice came up very red in the Northeast. The Hudson Bay low, which typically starts to form during the middle of the fall, is only now beginning to form in early December, but this feature is still centered, for the most part, north of the bay. The Hudson Bay low funnels polar air masses southward into the lower 48 states from mid-fall into winter. Another reason why the fall was mild was the fact that the North Atlantic Oscillation has been in a positive phase since August. Of course, the warming trend is due to increasing carbon dioxide interacting with the overall weather pattern to produce above average conditions. The warming trend has been so stark over the last decade that weather patterns have to be in nearly total alignment for the climate deck to be stacked towards cold conditions for an entire season.

It will be interesting to see if the overall warmer than average trend continues into boreal winter 2011/2012 in light of the fact that the last two winters have been cold for most of the United States. The biggest factor for the boreal winter of 2010/2011 being cold was a persistent negative North Atlantic Oscillation. The NAO remains positive in December 2011 as of this post, but will it remain positive all winter long? I'll ask everyone to come up with their picks for boreal winter along with a "power ball" number for the overall ranking of the season. This time around the highest possible rankings would be 117/118/118 for DEC/JAN/FEB with an overall seasonal ranking of 118 since there will be another year added to NCDC's statistics starting with January 2012. The coldest possible rankings would be 1/1/1/ for DEC/JAN/FEB with an overall seasonal ranking of 1. Just for kicks and grins, also try to guess the overall ranking for 2011. That number should be from 1 to 117; but here's a hint...It will be on the warm side. I'll judge who the winner is for the second contests from those who reply before midnight on 1/1/12. Again, you will need to hit the reply button at the end of the blog to make any picks. I'm not going to make any educated guesses this time in order not to prejudice picks.

You may ask why I am writing in this motif? The short answer is that as long as carbon is being pumped into the atmosphere, humanity is "gambling" with its future. I'm not the only person writing in the "gambling" motif when referring to the overall warming trend of the planet. Someone with far better credentials than little ole' me, Dr. Jim Hanson, has also put out an article recently, which is linked here:
http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/2011/20111110_NewClimateDice.pdf
In the article Dr. Hanson links global warming to the Texas heat wave of 2011.


Some of you asked why I didn't show rankings in the blog Climate Dice Two before 1980. Well, I was trying to be brief by just introducing the National Climatic Data Center's ranking concept. Also, people were wondering about my take on different variables in association with global warming. The following is the full Monty with all of the data since 1900 and a brief history of the ups and downs of climate changes and trends of the 20th century. To make the charts easier to follow trends, I've continued to color code the warm months and years in red (those that have rankings above 69) and color coded the cold months and years in blue (those that have rankings below 48). The near average months are shaded in black (+ 10 or -- 10 from the average value of 58.5).

The link for the National Climatic Data Center's Climate at a Glance Site where the rankings are archived is: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/research/cag3/cag3.html


The following are the rankings so far for the 2010's:


So far, the rankings for this decade are very similar to those of the 2000's.

The 2000's was the warmest decade since 1900. The rankings for individual months and years have verified the warming trend predicted by climate models; however, there continues to by enough individual cooler than average months into this decade to fuel the criticism of skeptics.

Notice that rankings did become more blue or black in 2008 and 2009. The planet and United States did cool off some due to a strong solar minimum that took place after 2007. Warming did occur after 2009 once the next solar cycle ramped up, which was correctly forecast by NASA. Solar irradiance is a minor factor, which will slightly affect the overall warming trend of the planet. (For more information see Dr. James Hansen's book Storms of My Grandchildren pages 103 through 107.)

The warming trend continued from the 1980's with one notable exception. In June 1991 Mount Pinatubo erupted. Roughly a year later, after Pinatubo's particulates mixed into the atmosphere worldwide, temperatures got noticeable colder. Note that rankings for the United States were, for the most part, below average from June 1992 to February 1994. The eruption was strong enough to temporarily cool the planet for a couple of years once associated aerosols mixed into the atmosphere. Volcanoes are the only natural variable which will temporarily cool the planet down significantly for a few years depending upon the size and location of the eruption. (Source: The Weather of the Future by Dr. Heidi Cullen pages 41 and 42.)

Another natural factor is the El Nino/La Nina Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which can either warm or cool global averages. For example, the strongest El Nino in recorded history began in the spring of 1997 and lasted well into 1998. Worldwide averages spiked in 1997. The subsequent leveling off of global averages until 2005 became a point for contrarians to argue that the planet was not warming due to carbon pollution, but the cooling was due to the end of the strong El Nino. Note that rankings in the U.S. were very red in 1998.


After several relatively cold decades a warming trend commenced during the 1980's. The summers of 1980 and 1988 were particularly hot. Dr. James Hanson gave his testimony before Congress warning of the dangers of carbon emissions in the hot summer of 1988.

The 1960's and 1970s's were two of the colder decades of the 20th century for the U.S. It was during the 1970's that some climate scientists were thinking that the world was headed towards a new ice age. After doing more research climate scientists changed their minds and correctly forecast a warming trend for the late 2oth century.

Climate scientist suspect that aerosols from industrial pollution were a major contributing factor to a slow decline in temperature averages from the 1940's through the 1970's, which offset warming by carbon pollution. (See Dr. James Hanson's book Storms of My Grandchildren pages 99-101.) After most industrial countries began to utilize cleaner factories after the 1960's and 1970's the effects of carbon became the dominant factor for controlling the planet's temperature trends towards more warmth. Also, carbon was steadily increasing in the atmosphere during the middle of the 20th century. The reason for the temperature trend from the 1940's through the 1970's is further complicated by the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and Atlantic Decadal Oscillation. There is a debate in climate science as to how much of a role both factors played into the cooling trend of the middle part of the 20th century.

The 1930's was arguable the warmest decade of the 20th Century for the United States, but the warmth of that decade was similar to that of the 1990's. The famous Dust Bowl occurred during the hot summers between 1933 and 1936.


There is also a debate among climate scientists that a warming trend had already commenced due to carbon release by the Industrial Revolution well before the start of the 20th century. The planet could have come out of what is described as the Little Ice Age due to increased carbon in the atmosphere. There was a warming trend from the dawn of the 20th century through the 1930's.


Well, that's about it this go-round. You can check any picks for each individual month of winter around the 8th of the following month. I will post the verification in "Climate Lottery - Ranking Numbers for Boreal Winter 2011/2012" around March 10th, 2012. Have a great winter and stay warm. Yes, there will be cold periods even if we have an overall mild winter across the United States.


Guy Walton, Lead Forecaster, The Weather Channel


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This Year's Tornadoes Some of the Worst

This is the second in a series of articles that seek to quantify just how bad this year's tornadoes were in a historical context. It wasn't just media hype!

In a previous article I wrote that the late April tornado outbreak was so severe that it merited the special name "Superoutbreak 2011." That's just the second time that a tornado outbreak has earned that title, the first being on April 3-4, 1974.

This article focuses on three of the individual tornadoes from the spring of 2011 that rank among the worst on record in the United States. Two of them came on April 27 during that Superoutbreak 2011: an EF4 tornado that hit Tuscaloosa and Birmingham AL along an 80-mile path, and an EF5 tornado that hit Phil Campbell and Hackleburg AL along a path that was over 106 miles long and continued into Tennessee. The third was an EF5 tornado that hit Joplin Missouri on May 22.

These were the three deadliest tornadoes in the United States since 1957, when radars began to be widely used for storm detection in the United States. At that time the National Weather Service was called the Weather Bureau, and the radars did not have any Doppler wind information. The Joplin tornado caused at least 159 deaths. The Hackleburg tornado killed at least 72, and the Tuscaloosa tornado killed at least 64. The Joplin tornado was the deadliest since a tornado hit Woodward, Oklahoma in 1947.The table below lists the 20 deadliest tornadoes on record in the United States. Joplin stands as the only tornado on the list since 1953, the year that the Weather Bureau began to issue tornado forecasts. The worst was the Tri-State (MO, IL, IN) tornado on March 18, 1925 that killed 695 along a 219-mile path, the longest on record.

In raw dollars (i.e., costs at the time that they occurred), these were also the three costliest tornadoes on record in the United States. Estimated costs from the Joplin tornado are $2.8 B (billion), $2.2 B from the Tuscaloosa tornado and $1.25B from the Hackleburg tornado. The previous record holder in raw dollars (not adjusted for inflation), was the F5 tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma and Oklahoma City on May 3, 1999, with loss of $1 B.

Of course, because of inflation it isn't fair to compare raw costs from a tornado today to one that occurred decades ago. For that reason, I've attempted to "normalize" the costs into 2011 dollars. To do that I've used economic statistical measures called "Fixed Reproducible Tangible Wealth" or "wealth" from 1929 to 1995, and "Gross Domestic Product" for years when "wealth" data weren't available. This is just one way to do it, but follows in the tracks of a
http://www.nssl.noaa.gov/users/brooks/public_html/papers/damage.pdf previous study by colleagues Harold Brooks and Chuck Doswell. Results are in the table below.

Even with the adjustment for inflation of older tornadoes, Joplin still ranks as the costliest tornado. With the dramatic effects of the adjustment for inflation, the St. Louis tornado of 1896 zooms from a raw cost of $12 million to $2.558 billion to take second place. The Tuscaloosa and Hackleburg tornadoes from Superoutbreak 2011 take third and thirteenth places, respectively. From the 1974 Superoutbreak, only the F5 Xenia, Ohio tornado cracks the top 25.

Combining deaths and damage to come up with a ranking of worst tornadoes is definitely a very subjective and arbitrary process. What I've done is to give the deadliest tornado (Tri-State tornado of 1925) 50 points and then scale other tornadoes on their percentage of that tornado's death toll. Similarly, I've given 50 points to the Joplin tornado for its 2.8 billion dollars in damage, and then scaled other tornadoes based on their adjusted damage cost values. There would be a maximum score of 100 if a single tornado had highest values in each category, which wasn't the case. Values and rankings are shown in the table below.

Using that ranking scheme, the Joplin tornado of 2011 winds up third-worst tornado on record in the United States. It follows the Tri-State tornado of 1925 and the St. Louis tornado of 1896. The Tuscaloosa tornado comes in fourth and the Hackleburg tornado comes in eighth.

An interesting result is that, despite earning the first classification as a "Superoutbreak", none of its tornadoes on April 3-4, 1974 ranked in the top 25 individual worst ones. By contrast, the 2011 Superoutbreak had two of the top 25 worst tornadoes. The 1974 Superoutbreak had more killer tornadoes, but the most deaths from an individual tornado were 34 from the Xenia, OH tornado. That death toll was so far down on the list (and not on the top table) that it kept it (and other tornadoes from 1974) off the "worst tornado" list.

In summary, 2011 brought one of the two worst tornado outbreaks on record in the United States and three of the worst individual tornadoes. It also brought six tornadoes (thus far) given the top rating of EF5. The only other year which had that many was 1974. 2011 truly was a remarkable year!


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Climate Dice- The Sixth Roll: Lottery Numbers For Summer 2012

The Power Ball (or overall National Climatic Data Center Ranking) number for summer 2012 came up as 116, the third warmest ranking on record for the lower 48 states for any summer. A ranking of 1 would have been the coldest possible ranking. The National Climatic Data Center has been ranking months, seasons and years from 1 to 118 since 1895 with 1 being the coldest possible temperature average ranking and 118 being the warmest possible temperature average. In the Climate Lottery game, I've defined each individual lottery number as rankings for each month for the lower 48 states, Power Ball numbers as those for each season, and Mega Ball numbers as those for each year. As we keep seeing over and over again the Climate Lottery game is rigged towards those higher number rankings. For everyone who participated in my fourth lottery contest, the numbers were: 105/118/103 for JUN/JUL/AUG 2012 with an overall Power Ball ranking for the season of 116. Just like summer and fall 2011, winter 2012, and spring 2012 not even one month was below average. Above average rankings have occurred for every month since (and including) June 2011. In fact, the lower 48 states have never had 15 straight months of above average temperatures since records have been kept in 1895... a phenomenon that I HIGHLY think is due to man induced global warming.

The winner was Buzz Bernard (again!) who came closest to picking the correct numbers. His picks were 118/115/100 with a "power ball" ranking of 114 for JUN/JUL/AUG 2012. Good going Buzz, we'll all have to look a little closer at the data to beat you next time. Buzz had previously won the contest for winter 2011/2012.

Well, let's play the lottery again. I wonder if we will ever see in the future a "gotcha" set of three months when temperatures are below average for an entire season across the lower 48 states. Just like last time pick three numbers between 1 and 118 (with one representing the coldest possible ranking and 118 being the highest possible ranking) for SEP/AUG/SEP 2012. Also pick a "Power Ball" or overall ranking number for fall 2012 between 1 and 118. Please give your picks in the reply section to this blog by October 1st. As usual, if you wait until just before October 1st to make your picks, you can get an educated guess as to what the ranking for September will be. I'll announce another winner shortly after the National Climatic Data Center processes fall averages and rankings on my next post around December the 10th, 2012. I won't be shocked, at all though again, if just like last summer, fall, winter, and this spring and summer not one single month of fall is below average.

For reference the following are links to my first five posts:

http://www.weather.com/blog/weather/8_26573.html?from=blog_permalink_mainindex">http://www.weather.com/outlook/weather-news/news/articles/climate-dice-fifth-roll-blog_2012-06-25

http://www.weather.com/blog/weather/8_26573.html?from=blog_permalink_mainindex

http://www.weather.com/blog/weather/8_26573.html?from=blog_permalink_mainindex

http://www.weather.com/blog/weather/8_26102.html?from=blog_permalink_mainindex

http://www.weather.com/blog/weather/8_25602.html?from=blog_permalink_mainindex

http://www.weather.com/blog/weather/8_23192.html?from=blog_permalink_month


Once again, the summer season, as a whole, was above long term averages with no individual month below average; and thus, having above average rankings. I'll reiterate once more (I know that this is getting repetitive) that due to climate change it is unlikely for a land area the size of the contiguous United States to have below average temperatures for an entire season. I'm not going to state that there will NEVER AGAIN be another below average season for the United States, but due to man induced global warming, the chances for an entire season of below average conditions is becoming much less likely. The whole point of these posts is to demonstrate how skewed temperatures have become towards warmth due to climate change...and they were very skewed towards warmth this summer. As stated in my fourth post, only an increase in volcanic activity from what is presently occurring at the moment can significantly slow the overall warming trend of the planet. What has happened so far this year is yet more proof of the climate dice being loaded for warmth in the United States.

The summer heat got deadly this season. Over one hundred people were killed due to heat related issues in the United States. If this summer is any indication of what is to happen in the future, we will all be dreading the advent of the summer solstice and yearning for fall to come quickly. Going back to my first blog, I've been looking closely at temperature averages since my career began at TWC in the 1980s and record temperature data since the late 1990s. In fact, a log of record data that I started on 1/1/2000 led to a peer review science paper indicating that the ratio of record highs to record lows will increase with time during the 21st century should the pace of global warming continue as predicted by climate science's current models. For an overview and summary please see: http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2009/2009GL040736.shtml
The public doesn't mind if there is a record high of say 70 in New York City during the middle of January...in fact it may be welcome, but people do feel uncomfortable, and actually can die if a record high of over 100 occurs in that same city during the summer. Such was the case during the summer of 2012 when 9685 daily records were set, 358 of which were all-time records. For a horrifying preview of a world to come see the Rolling Stones post at: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719


Here's a breakdown of the National Climatic Center's ranking numbers for each month of the summer:

In June the overall ranking for the lower 48 states was 105 (out of 118):


The historic early heat wave of late spring/early summer started in the Inter-Mountain West. Colorado had its warmest June in recorded history. You can pick out the individual rankings for each state from each map that I will present. The devastating fires in Colorado were a direct result of the early season heat accompanied by drought. The Southeast started out the month on a cool note, but Atlanta, where I live, had an all-time record high of 106 on the last day of June. The heat from the Plains spread east by the end of the month. 343 all-time records were set from late June into July across the U.S.

In July the overall ranking for the lower 48 states was 118 (out of 118).


Oh my! July was the hottest July in recorded history for the lower 48 states. Not only that, it was THE WARMEST MONTH in recorded history. The previous warmest month was July 1936 during the height of the Dust Bowl.
It was only a few months ago that March 2012 also ranked at 118...remarkable! Again, the ranking for each month is not an average of the rankings for each individual state, but a comparison of the averages of all prior years since 1895 for the entire lower 48 states.

In August the overall ranking for the lower 48 states was 103 (out of 118).


In August the jet stream dipped southward into the eastern U.S. allowing cooler than average air masses to penetrate deep into the South; but high pressure aloft continued to cook the West and much of the Plains. It was still warm enough from coast to coast for August to be the 16th warmest August (out of 118) on record.

The overall ranking for summer 2012 was 116 (out of 118)...The third hottest summer on record.


Again, I am getting all of my ranking numbers from the National Climatic Data Center.
The link for the National Climatic Data Center's Climate at a Glance Site where the rankings are archived is: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/research/cag3/cag3.html

I'm keeping the format on all of my charts the same as on the last three posts. The average ranking for 2012 is
59 since the coldest ranking would be 1 and the hottest would be 118. I have color coded all rankings for this post at or below 38 blue and all those at or above 79 red with rankings + or -- 19 from the median value of 59 black.

The following are the rankings so far for the 2010's:


Also, for reference, the following are "Power-Ball" and "Mega-Ball" ranking numbers for 2000 to the present.
Please see my prior posts for more charts dating back to 1900. Seasonal or Power-Ball rankings for winter are those for DEC/JAN/FEB, spring are those for MAR/APR/MAY, summer is JUN/JUL/AUG, and fall is SEP/OCT/NOV. Also, keep in mind that NCDC rankings for seasons compare seasons and are not merely an average of rankings of individual months of a season or year.



Notice that since the start of 2000 only five out of fifty-one seasons have been below average or "blue". Thirty-six out of the fifty-one seasons since 2000 have been "red" or above average. Indeed, as stated in the last post, the climate dice are very much loaded for above average temperatures for the lower 48 states looking at recent history.
I hope that everyone will have a pleasant fall. Even if fall ends up being well above average, at least it will be cooler than what has occurred during this torrid summer.

Click here to leave a comment and play the climate lottery.

Guy Walton
Lead Forecaster, the Weather Channel


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April 2011 - The Tornado Numbers Are In!

The National Weather Service and Storm Prediction Center have now compiled and released the official counts of the actual number of tornadoes that occurred in April 2011. Until now there had only been preliminary counts, which often include duplicate reports of multiple sightings of the same tornado.

The actual number of tornadoes in April 2011 is a staggering 753! This is 2.8 times the old April record of 267 set in 1974 (which included the April 3-4 "Superoutbreak"). It's over 200 more than the previous record for ANY month, which was 542 in May 2003.

The table below shows additional statistics from the incredible April. There were 364 fatalities. That's the most for any month since April 1936 when there were 509 tornado deaths. There were four tornadoes rated EF5 (all on April 27). That's the most for any month (and any day) since 1974 when there were seven rated F5 on April 3 (by NWS; Fujita rated six of them F5).

April 27th brought the most tornadoes. The National Weather Service keeps records for calendar days using Central Standard Time (CST), and there were 202 on April 27, the most on record for any such day. There were 320 fatalities on that day, third deadliest in United States history and deadliest since March 21, 1932.

These new statistics update those from previous blogs, including one from June 13 and one on April 29. Stu Ostro also wrote blogs on May 2 and on April 18 about some of these tornadoes.

May 2011 was also an active tornado month, including the tragic Joplin, Missouri tornado on May 22. Then National Weather Service now lists 157 direct deaths from that tornado, plus additional indirect fatalities.

In all, 55 killer tornadoes have brought 546 direct deaths so far in 2011. My preliminary tornado count (including the actual tornado counts through April and my best estimates subsequently) is 1476 tornadoes through July 31. That's the most on record for the first seven months of the year, beating out 2008 which had 1397 in that period.

So we're still on a record tornado pace for the year, but the pace has fortunately slowed over the past two months. In an average year 348 tornadoes (27% of the yearly total) occur during the months from August through December. A substantial number of them typically come from tropical cyclones. Others come from frontal systems in the fall and early winter. No month is safe from tornadoes. Hopefully none will be as bad as what we've already seen this year!


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A Busy Weather Day for the Final Shuttle Launch

As the crew of the final space shuttle flight prepares to return home early Thursday morning, ground teams at Mission Control in Houston is preparing to support their entry and landing at Florida's Kennedy Space Center. Among the teams at Mission Control is the National Weather Service Spaceflight Meteorology Group (SMG), which has provided landing weather support for all 135 shuttle missions. After a behind the scenes look at SMG preparations several days prior to launch, The Weather Channel's Andy Cox traveled to Kennedy Space Center for the launch.

The first of several weather-related decisions had been made before I arrived at the Kennedy Space Center. Mission managers gave the "go" to begin loading more than 500,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and hydrogen into the shuttle's external tank after receiving a forecast update from shuttle Launch Weather Officer Kathy Winters.


As the sun rose on the final launch day of space shuttle Atlantis, clouds blanketed the area over Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Credit: Andy Cox)

The combined forecast team of Winters and the USAF 45th Weather Squadron (45 WS) at Cape Canaveral, and the Spaceflight Meteorology Group in Houston had not changed their outlook and were still forecasting a 30 percent chance of good launch weather in Florida.

For an overview of the two teams forecasting shuttle weather, see this overview.

Several weather balloons released during the pre-dawn hours from nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station showed that the expected moisture - more than two inches of precipitable water - was still in the atmosphere.

Conditions were ripe for showers and storms to fire up once the sun came up. Occasional scattered showers had already passed over KSC before dawn, twice briefly violating the shuttle's "flight through precipitation" rule between 5:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. EDT.

Clouds are often a bad thing for shuttle launches and landings because they can violate several criteria if they are low enough and too widespread. Clouds with enough electric charge to cause natural or rocket-triggered lightning can also violate launch criteria and scrub a launch.


Space Shuttle Launch Weather Officer Kathy Winters (left), Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach (center) and Shuttle Launch Integration Manager Mike Moses (right) prepare to brief the media prior to the May 2011 launch of Endeavour. (Credit: NASA)

Todd McNamara with the 45 WS monitored the radar data coming from Patrick Air Force Base. McNamara used a set of software tools that allowed him to "slice and dice" the data to evaluate the launch criteria.

McNamara also used these tools to evaluate the thick cloud rule from the Lightning Launch Commit Criteria, which are designed to minimize the risk of lightning strikes to space vehicles. The thick cloud rule basically says that flight is not allowed through clouds more than 4,500 feet thick with temperatures between -20 degrees C and 0 degrees C (-4 degrees F to 32 degrees F).

The thick cloud rule was in violation on four separate occasions on launch day, with the final "go" for launch weather given at 10:18 a.m. EDT, about one hour prior to launch.

While the weather Launch Commit Criteria monitored by 45 WS were eventually observed "go" at launch time, the weather flight rules for the emergency landing site at Kennedy Space Center were a different story.

Decision Point

For the final launch of the thirty-year Space Shuttle Program, NASA and local authorities expected up to one million spectators in the Space Coast area of Florida.

With the enormous crowds, and the accompanying traffic around the area, NASA managers were concerned that, in the event of a late launch scrub, launch team members would not have enough time to drive home, get enough rest, and return for another attempt the following day.

As a result, NASA managers had discussed using a rough milestone - about four hours before launch - to decide whether to delay for 24 hours or 48 hours in the event of a scrub. If there was a scrub before that milestone, there would be enough time to allow for a launch the following day. Otherwise, the next attempt would be Sunday.

Leading up to that four hour mark, Launch Director Mike Leinbach and Flight Director Richard Jones asked the weather teams to evaluate the forecast for the next few days. If the weekend looked better than Friday, and Saturday's forecast was better than Sunday's, they discussed scrubbing early enough to protect a 24-hour delay.

"We were talking about whether to press on with this launch attempt or whether it was time to stop and go home before traffic would prevent everyone from getting back the next day," said Winters.

"In general, most of the collaboration between SMG and the 45 WS is done prior to launch day," said Hoeth. "In this case, Kathy and I did coordinate after the tanking briefing because of the unique situation where they were talking about scrubbing the day before we even got into it."


Meteorologists Kurt Van Speybroeck, Tim Oram, Doris Hood, and Brian Hoeth (left to right) of the Spaceflight Meteorology Group monitor the weather about 90 minutes prior to the launch of the final space shuttle mission. (Credit: NASA)

"We were in agreement that there wasn't a whole lot of discernible difference between the days." Saturday looked drier, but the low pressure system was expected to remain. Moisture would remain Sunday, but the system was expected to leave. "It was kind of pick your poison," according to Hoeth. "Friday was not a complete washout. If we had thought that, we would have said let's not even try today."

"We had a decision point around 7:30 a.m. Eastern," Winters said. "We pushed it to 7:30 because we were going to get some more visible satellite shots and model data by that time. That was our last conversation about whether we should keep going with this weather scenario or not."

"It started looking good - or at least possible - around that time. We have enough breaks in this that we could get a launch attempt off today."

Winters said that with all of the times she's discussed weather with Leinbach - she has been the shuttle Launch Weather Officer since 2002 - that Leinbach has learned to listen to not only what she says, but how she says it. "He could tell by my tone that I was starting to feel optimistic about it."

Pressing on

After deciding to press on with the countdown, showers continued to form around and move through the 20 nautical mile radius around the shuttle runway used to evaluate the Return To Launch Site (RTLS) emergency landing criteria.

The cloud cover that normally causes problems for the shuttle was actually helping in this case. With the amount of moisture in the atmosphere, it wouldn't take much daytime heating for showers and storms to begin popping up all around the area.

As SMG and 45 WS were using all of the tools at their disposal to analyze the atmosphere and project that to launch time, astronaut Rick "CJ" Sturckow was flying over the KSC area in a Shuttle Training Aircraft evaluating conditions for both groups.


This view of the exhaust plume from space shuttle Atlantis over Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39A was taken through the window of a Shuttle Training Aircraft shortly after the launch of STS-135 on July 8, 2011. (Credit: NASA/Dick Clark)

Sturckow helped evaluate both the thick cloud rule for 45 WS and potential areas for popup showers for both weather teams. He also performed simulated landing attempts, or "dives," into the runway to assess conditions for an emergency landing.

Despite the delay in atmospheric heating, Hoeth was still concerned about the wet atmosphere and the potential for quick shower development.

Hoeth was assisted on launch day by Mark Wiley and Doris Hood. Wiley was the Transoceanic Abort Landing (TAL) forecaster, but with benign conditions at the three overseas sites, he was able to assist Hoeth with Florida weather. Hood forecasted upper level winds and served as the Techniques Development Unit (TDU) meteorologist.

What do TDU meteorologists do? Go behind the scenes with SMG to find out.

Deciding to "go"

In the absence of an exception or waiver, shuttle flight rules state that weather at the emergency landing sites (KSC and one of three TAL sites) must be both observed and forecast "go" for launch to occur.

"I was trying to bring that point home on the loops that I didn't feel like this was a stable situation," said Hoeth. "We were observed no-go for almost the entire countdown for showers within 20 (nautical miles). I was forecast no-go for the entire time - I never did amend my forecast."

While SMG continued to evaluate RTLS weather, NASA managers began discussing a waiver for the flight rule requiring RTLS to be observed and forecast "go."

Ascent flight director Richard Jones described how that flight rules, which are written during the between-mission periods, are evaluated based on the conditions of the day.

"The flight director has to think about it not only from a meteorological perspective, but also from a mission perspective, the crew's perspective - the bigger picture," said Jones.

"When you start weighing all of those things together," Jones added, "there are certain scenarios where there might be an imperfect day from a weather perspective but good enough for a mission success and safety perspective."


STS-135 ascent flight director Richard Jones (right) discusses weather and other issues during the launch countdown with astronaut Lee Archambault (center). Archambault served as weather spacecraft communicator (CAPCOM) for STS-135. (Credit: NASA)

Mike Moses, chair of the pre-launch Mission Management Team, praised the ascent flight control team after the successful launch.

"The team did an amazing job talking about what conditions we were truly facing," said Moses. One of the concerns that the shuttle, which lands essentially as an unpowered glider, would possibly lose energy while flying through rain and end up not being able to reach the runway at KSC.

Based on the assessment from Hoeth of a low to moderate risk of thunderstorms, flight controllers determined that the shuttle would have enough energy to make it through the expected lighter showers or have enough energy to use either end of the runway to avoid heavier showers.

As Leinbach performed the final "go"/"no go" poll about 15 minutes before launch, Jones asked to be polled again at the end. Once the waiver had been processed, the final go was given to launch Atlantis on the last space shuttle mission.

At the time an RTLS forecast would have been valid (25 minutes after launch), a small area of showers was within the 20 nautical mile radius, so RTLS conditions were observed "no go." As Hoeth noted, it is likely that those showers would have been acceptable under the rain shower exception in the flight rules.

Andy Cox covers space weather for The Weather Channel and weather.com. For the latest updates, follow @twcspacewx on Twitter.


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A Terrible Tornado Year

*** Note: This blog was updated on June 19 to reflect new data that has come in on the number of EF5 tornadoes and tornado fatalities ***

Unless you live under a rock, as the saying goes (as featured in a current commercial), you must be aware of what a horrific year it has been for tornadoes. Only the pictures of the death and destruction can give the full picture of just how awful it has been. But I thought I'd present a little data to tell the story in a less traumatic way.
The table below gives the preliminary tornado counts for the spring and year-to-date (through June 12). April was the huge anomaly. Its 762 preliminary tornadoes are over 200 more than the previous record for any month (542 in May 2003). The 1282 tornadoes through June 12 are as many as the United States had in all of 2010! Only six years on record have had more tornadoes for a full year. Thanks to April, we're on a record yearly pace. Fortunately, the pace in June has slowed down to well below average thus far. Springfield and other Massachusetts communities, unfortunately, weren't spared on June 1.

The pace in May was barely above average number-wise, but it featured the ultra-deadly EF5 tornado in Joplin Missouri on May 22 and another EF5 tornado in Oklahoma on May 24. This brings the number of EF5 tornadoes for 2011 to 6. Only 1974 had more. The Joplin tornado is the deadliest tornado in the United States since 1947.

The table below shows how violent and deadly 2011 has been relative to an average year. The 540 deaths are the most for a year since 1936. The 56 killer tornadoes are the most since 1974 and ninth-most on record since 1880. Prior to 1974, you have to go back to 1942 to find another year with more killer tornadoes than in 2011!

Following the April 26-28, 2011 tornado outbreak, I wrote a
blog pondering how many records set in the April 3-4, 1974 Superoutbreak would fall. While the totals aren't final or official, April 27 beat out the 1974 Superoutbreak in number of tornadoes, number of deaths, and number of tornadoes with widths of 400 yards or more. No wonder that some are calling it the "2011 Superoutbreak."

By my method of defining a tornado outbreak, there was a actually a 49-hour tornado outbreak from the afternoon of April 26 through the afternoon of April 28, 2011. This outbreak set new records for any known outbreak for numbers of tornadoes (at least 259), number of tornadoes with width of 400 yards or more (at least 52), combined tornado paths (over 2600 miles), and number of states hit (18).

The 1974 Superoutbreak still holds several records, including the numbers of tornadoes rated F2 and higher, F4 and higher, and killer tornadoes. Certainly these helped it to cause approximately the same number of deaths as in the 2011 Superoutbreak.

What has been most shocking to me is that 2011 has brought so many tornado deaths in this era of excellent Doppler radar-based tornado warnings, excellent advance forecasts, and multiple ways of communicating/receiving tornado warnings and weather forecasts. Yet the death tolls are like what took place before there was any weather radar; before there were any tornado warnings issued by the National Weather Service; before there were any computers! I never thought I ?d see these death tolls nowadays.

I suppose that the message from the deadly 2011 tornadoes is that warnings aren't enough when the tornadoes are violent with long and wide paths. That combination of path width and length gives so much area having winds in excess of 100 mph that too many homes get hit and destroyed. And when the path hits communities, the toll is high. Urban sprawl has increased the target areas of these metropolitan "bulls-eyes." The safety rules of going to the lowest, innermost location in your home raise your odds of surviving, but aren't absolute guarantees. There are few places that are safe in a violent tornado. Being in an underground storm shelter or a specially built in-home storm shelter is the only way to be absolutely safe.


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Climate Dice- The Fifth Roll: Lottery Numbers For Spring 2012

Oh my!...The Power Ball (or overall National Climatic Data Center Ranking) number for spring 2012 came up as 118...the warmest on record since 1895 for the lower 48 states. Just think about what the chances of that highest ranking are without the warming trend occurring across the planet...one in 118. A ranking of 1 would have been the coldest possible ranking. The National Climatic Data Center has been ranking months, seasons and years from 1 to 118 since 1895 with 1 being the coldest possible temperature average ranking and 118 being the warmest possible temperature average. In the Climate Lottery game, I've defined each individual lottery number as rankings for each month for the lower 48 states, Power Ball numbers as those for each season, and Mega Ball numbers as those for each year. As we keep seeing over and over again the Climate Lottery game is rigged towards those higher number rankings due to man induced global warming.

The National Climatic Data Center has finished processing the rankings for spring 2012 for the lower 48 states. So, for everyone who participated in my third lottery contest, the numbers were: 118/116/117 for MAR/APR/MAY 2012with an overall Power Ball ranking for the season of 118. Just like summer and fall 2011 and winter 2012 not even one month was below average.

The winner was Mark Couvillion, who came closest to picking the correct numbers. His picks were 115/112/110 with a "power ball" ranking of 114 for MAR/APR/MAY 2012. Good going Mark. Incidentally, Mark's guesses were the highest (warmest rankings) for the few people who made lottery picks.

Well, let's play the lottery again. I wonder if we will ever see in the future a "gotcha" set of three months when temperatures are below average for an entire season across the lower 48 states? Just like last time pick three numbers between 1 and 118 (with one representing the coldest possible ranking and 118 being the highest possible ranking) for JUN/JUL/AUG 2012. Also pick a "Power Ball" or overall ranking number for summer 2012 between 1 and 118. Please give your picks in the reply section to this blog by July 1st. I'll announce another winner shortly after the National Climatic Data Center processes averages on my next post around September the 10th. My forecast for this summer is for averages across the U.S. to continue to be warm but not as horrifically hot as they were the last couple of years. Also we are "due" to see at least one below average month during the summer. I won't be shocked, at all though again, if just like last summer, fall, winter, and this spring not one single month of summer is below average. The last few posts I have been way under forecasting the observed warmth across the U.S. each season...I guess I'm just an eternal optimist. There are indications that June will be warmer than average but not at the high end of the rankings.

For reference the following are links to my first four posts:

http://www.weather.com/blog/weather/8_26573.html?from=blog_permalink_mainindex

http://www.weather.com/blog/weather/8_26102.html?from=blog_permalink_mainindex

http://www.weather.com/blog/weather/8_25602.html?from=blog_permalink_mainindex

http://www.weather.com/blog/weather/8_23192.html?from=blog_permalink_month

Once again, the spring season, as a whole, was above long term averages with no individual month below average; and thus, having above average rankings. I'll reiterate once more (I know that this is getting repetitive) that due to climate change it is unlikely for a land area the size of the contiguous United States to have below average temperatures for an entire season. I'm not going to state that there will NEVER AGAIN be another below average season for the United States, but due to man induced global warming, the chances for an entire season of below average conditions is becoming much less likely. The whole point of these posts is to demonstrate how skewed temperatures have become towards warmth due to climate change...and they were very skewed towards warmth this spring. As stated in my fourth post, only an increase in volcanic activity from what is presently occurring at the moment can significantly slow the overall warming trend of the planet. What happened over the winter and spring is yet more proof of the climate dice being loaded for warmth in the United States. On this blog I'll be a bit briefer than the last few posts. Essentially the meteorological reason for the warmth was a strong upper ridge persisting through much of the spring across the U.S. leading to anomalously warm conditions except along the immediate West Coast.


Here's a breakdown of the National Climatic Center's ranking numbers for each month of the spring:

In March the overall ranking for the lower 48 states was 118 (out of 118):

The only comment I'll write about this month is wow! I have never in nearly 30 years of forecasting seen such an anomalously warm month. Twenty-five states had their all-time warmest March. Many of you will recall how warm the month was with flora and fauna responding to the warmth by blooming too soon. Only the state of Washington was below average.


In April the overall ranking for the lower 48 states was 116 (out of 118):

Relative to March April was cooler, particularly in the Midwest; nevertheless, April 2012 was the third warmest April on record since 1895.


In May the overall ranking for the lower 48 states was 117 (out of 118) making that month the second warmest May in recorded history.

The overall ranking for spring 2012 was 118....the warmest spring in recorded history.

Thirty one of the U.S. states had their warmest spring in recorded history, which was simply amazing.

Again, I am getting all of my ranking numbers from the National Climatic Data Center.
The link for the National Climatic Data Center's Climate at a Glance Site where the rankings are archived is: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/research/cag3/cag3.html


I'm keeping the format on all of my charts the same as on the last three posts. The average ranking for 2012 is
59 since the coldest ranking would be 1 and the hottest would be 118. I have color coded all rankings below 49 blue and all those above 69 red with rankings + or -- 10 from the median value of 59 black.

The following are the rankings so far for the 2010's:

Also, for reference, the following are "Power-Ball" and "Mega-Ball" ranking numbers for 2000 to the present:

Please see my prior posts for more charts dating back to 1900 for reference. Seasonal or Power-Ball rankings for winter are those for DEC/JAN/FEB, spring are those for MAR/APR/MAY, summer is JUN/JUL/AUG, and fall SEP/OCT/NOV. Also, keep in mind that NCDC rankings for seasons compare seasons and are not merely an average of rankings of individual months of a season or year.

Notice that since the start of 2000 only four out of sixty two seasons have been below average or "blue". Fifty three out of the sixty two seasons since 2000 have been "red" or above average. Indeed as stated in the last post, the climate dice are very much loaded for above average temperatures for the lower 48 states looking at recent history

Well, that's it for this post. I just hope that summer 2012 is not as torrid as that of 2011, particularly in Texas and Oklahoma.

Click here to leave a comment and play the climate lottery.

Guy Walton
Lead Forecaster, the Weather Channel


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Climate Lottery- Ranking For September 2012

Blog: Climate Lottery: Ranking for September 2012

The lottery pick (or overall National Climatic Data Center Ranking) number for September 2012 came up as 96, the 23rd warmest ranking on record for the lower 48 states for any September since 1895. A ranking of 1 would have been the coldest possible ranking. The National Climatic Data Center has been ranking months, seasons and years from 1 to 118 since 1895 with 1 being the coldest possible temperature average ranking and 118 being the warmest possible temperature average. In the Climate Lottery game, I've defined each individual lottery number as rankings for each month for the lower 48 states, Power Ball numbers as those for each season, and Mega Ball numbers as those for each year. As we keep seeing over and over again the Climate Lottery game is rigged towards those higher number rankings due to global warming. So far, for the contest of fall 2012 Mike Bettes had the closest pick for September, which was 99...good going, Mike!

In September the overall ranking for the lower 48 states was 96 (out of 118):


The jet stream was oriented such that very warm weather persisted in the West with cooler than average temperatures occurring in the Midwest. Nevertheless the overall raking for the U.S. came up as 96...well above the average of 59 and very much in the red as far as rankings go. Looking at the map you can pick out each individual state ranking. Again the overall ranking of 96 is not an average of the 48 individual state rankings; rather the ranking is a comparison of temperature averages for the lower 48 states for September since 1895.

Again, I am getting all of my ranking numbers from the National Climatic Data Center.
The link for the National Climatic Data Center's Climate at a Glance Site where the rankings are archived is: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/research/cag3/cag3.html

I'm keeping the format on all of my charts the same as on my previous posts. The average ranking for 2012 is
59 since the coldest ranking would be 1 and the hottest would be 118. I have color coded all rankings for this post at or below 38 blue and all those at or above 79 red with rankings + or -- 19 from the median value of 59 black.

Something very interesting, statistically, is happening this year. Notice that all of the rankings for each individual month have been above 100, so far, except for the month of September in 2012. The probability of eight months in a row being ranked above 100 is extremely small and has never happened before since 1895. We finally had a ranking below 100 for one month of this year, which was in September.

For a more in depth look at temperature statistics see Jon Erdman's article at:

http://www.weather.com/news/drought/record-warm-year-us-september-20121009

For a reference to my last "Climate Dice" post see:

http://www.weather.com/news/climate-dice-sixth-roll-20120912

October 2012 has started out on the cool side. We'll see if this trend continues for the rest of the fall or if the overall warmth of this year continues.

Guy Walton...."That Climate Guy"
Lead Forecaster, the Weather Channel


View the original article here

Climate Dice- The Sixth Roll: Lottery Numbers For Summer 2012

The Power Ball (or overall National Climatic Data Center Ranking) number for summer 2012 came up as 116, the third warmest ranking on record for the lower 48 states for any summer. A ranking of 1 would have been the coldest possible ranking. The National Climatic Data Center has been ranking months, seasons and years from 1 to 118 since 1895 with 1 being the coldest possible temperature average ranking and 118 being the warmest possible temperature average. In the Climate Lottery game, I've defined each individual lottery number as rankings for each month for the lower 48 states, Power Ball numbers as those for each season, and Mega Ball numbers as those for each year. As we keep seeing over and over again the Climate Lottery game is rigged towards those higher number rankings. For everyone who participated in my fourth lottery contest, the numbers were: 105/118/103 for JUN/JUL/AUG 2012 with an overall Power Ball ranking for the season of 116. Just like summer and fall 2011, winter 2012, and spring 2012 not even one month was below average. Above average rankings have occurred for every month since (and including) June 2011. In fact, the lower 48 states have never had 15 straight months of above average temperatures since records have been kept in 1895... a phenomenon that I HIGHLY think is due to man induced global warming.

The winner was Buzz Bernard (again!) who came closest to picking the correct numbers. His picks were 118/115/100 with a "power ball" ranking of 114 for JUN/JUL/AUG 2012. Good going Buzz, we'll all have to look a little closer at the data to beat you next time. Buzz had previously won the contest for winter 2011/2012.

Well, let's play the lottery again. I wonder if we will ever see in the future a "gotcha" set of three months when temperatures are below average for an entire season across the lower 48 states. Just like last time pick three numbers between 1 and 118 (with one representing the coldest possible ranking and 118 being the highest possible ranking) for SEP/AUG/SEP 2012. Also pick a "Power Ball" or overall ranking number for fall 2012 between 1 and 118. Please give your picks in the reply section to this blog by October 1st. As usual, if you wait until just before October 1st to make your picks, you can get an educated guess as to what the ranking for September will be. I'll announce another winner shortly after the National Climatic Data Center processes fall averages and rankings on my next post around December the 10th, 2012. I won't be shocked, at all though again, if just like last summer, fall, winter, and this spring and summer not one single month of fall is below average.

For reference the following are links to my first five posts:

http://www.weather.com/blog/weather/8_26573.html?from=blog_permalink_mainindex">http://www.weather.com/outlook/weather-news/news/articles/climate-dice-fifth-roll-blog_2012-06-25

http://www.weather.com/blog/weather/8_26573.html?from=blog_permalink_mainindex

http://www.weather.com/blog/weather/8_26573.html?from=blog_permalink_mainindex

http://www.weather.com/blog/weather/8_26102.html?from=blog_permalink_mainindex

http://www.weather.com/blog/weather/8_25602.html?from=blog_permalink_mainindex

http://www.weather.com/blog/weather/8_23192.html?from=blog_permalink_month


Once again, the summer season, as a whole, was above long term averages with no individual month below average; and thus, having above average rankings. I'll reiterate once more (I know that this is getting repetitive) that due to climate change it is unlikely for a land area the size of the contiguous United States to have below average temperatures for an entire season. I'm not going to state that there will NEVER AGAIN be another below average season for the United States, but due to man induced global warming, the chances for an entire season of below average conditions is becoming much less likely. The whole point of these posts is to demonstrate how skewed temperatures have become towards warmth due to climate change...and they were very skewed towards warmth this summer. As stated in my fourth post, only an increase in volcanic activity from what is presently occurring at the moment can significantly slow the overall warming trend of the planet. What has happened so far this year is yet more proof of the climate dice being loaded for warmth in the United States.

The summer heat got deadly this season. Over one hundred people were killed due to heat related issues in the United States. If this summer is any indication of what is to happen in the future, we will all be dreading the advent of the summer solstice and yearning for fall to come quickly. Going back to my first blog, I've been looking closely at temperature averages since my career began at TWC in the 1980s and record temperature data since the late 1990s. In fact, a log of record data that I started on 1/1/2000 led to a peer review science paper indicating that the ratio of record highs to record lows will increase with time during the 21st century should the pace of global warming continue as predicted by climate science's current models. For an overview and summary please see: http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2009/2009GL040736.shtml
The public doesn't mind if there is a record high of say 70 in New York City during the middle of January...in fact it may be welcome, but people do feel uncomfortable, and actually can die if a record high of over 100 occurs in that same city during the summer. Such was the case during the summer of 2012 when 9685 daily records were set, 358 of which were all-time records. For a horrifying preview of a world to come see the Rolling Stones post at: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719


Here's a breakdown of the National Climatic Center's ranking numbers for each month of the summer:

In June the overall ranking for the lower 48 states was 105 (out of 118):


The historic early heat wave of late spring/early summer started in the Inter-Mountain West. Colorado had its warmest June in recorded history. You can pick out the individual rankings for each state from each map that I will present. The devastating fires in Colorado were a direct result of the early season heat accompanied by drought. The Southeast started out the month on a cool note, but Atlanta, where I live, had an all-time record high of 106 on the last day of June. The heat from the Plains spread east by the end of the month. 343 all-time records were set from late June into July across the U.S.

In July the overall ranking for the lower 48 states was 118 (out of 118).


Oh my! July was the hottest July in recorded history for the lower 48 states. Not only that, it was THE WARMEST MONTH in recorded history. The previous warmest month was July 1936 during the height of the Dust Bowl.
It was only a few months ago that March 2012 also ranked at 118...remarkable! Again, the ranking for each month is not an average of the rankings for each individual state, but a comparison of the averages of all prior years since 1895 for the entire lower 48 states.

In August the overall ranking for the lower 48 states was 103 (out of 118).


In August the jet stream dipped southward into the eastern U.S. allowing cooler than average air masses to penetrate deep into the South; but high pressure aloft continued to cook the West and much of the Plains. It was still warm enough from coast to coast for August to be the 16th warmest August (out of 118) on record.

The overall ranking for summer 2012 was 116 (out of 118)...The third hottest summer on record.


Again, I am getting all of my ranking numbers from the National Climatic Data Center.
The link for the National Climatic Data Center's Climate at a Glance Site where the rankings are archived is: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/research/cag3/cag3.html

I'm keeping the format on all of my charts the same as on the last three posts. The average ranking for 2012 is
59 since the coldest ranking would be 1 and the hottest would be 118. I have color coded all rankings for this post at or below 38 blue and all those at or above 79 red with rankings + or -- 19 from the median value of 59 black.

The following are the rankings so far for the 2010's:


Also, for reference, the following are "Power-Ball" and "Mega-Ball" ranking numbers for 2000 to the present.
Please see my prior posts for more charts dating back to 1900. Seasonal or Power-Ball rankings for winter are those for DEC/JAN/FEB, spring are those for MAR/APR/MAY, summer is JUN/JUL/AUG, and fall is SEP/OCT/NOV. Also, keep in mind that NCDC rankings for seasons compare seasons and are not merely an average of rankings of individual months of a season or year.



Notice that since the start of 2000 only five out of fifty-one seasons have been below average or "blue". Thirty-six out of the fifty-one seasons since 2000 have been "red" or above average. Indeed, as stated in the last post, the climate dice are very much loaded for above average temperatures for the lower 48 states looking at recent history.
I hope that everyone will have a pleasant fall. Even if fall ends up being well above average, at least it will be cooler than what has occurred during this torrid summer.

Click here to leave a comment and play the climate lottery.

Guy Walton
Lead Forecaster, the Weather Channel


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Weather phobias

[This is a repost of an entry which had outdated links. That original entry and reader comments are here.]


As is mentioned in my bio, my desire to become a meteorologist was rooted in a phobia of thunder and lightning. A lot of kids are scared of thunderstorms, but mine went way beyond a normal childhood fear. I was petrified at the sound of thunder or the flash of lightning, especially at night.

I'm not sure exactly how old I was, but probably sometime during elementary school age I snuck into my parents' room and hid under their bed all night because I was worried there MIGHT be a thunderstorm.

My father, upon awakening in the morning, couldn't find me. Finally he did. The subsequent exchange went something like this:

"What in the world are you doing under there?!"

"I was worried there'd be a thunderstorm."

"But Stu, there's not a cloud in the sky!"

That fright is what triggered my curiosity, fascination, and even obsession with the weather. It has lasted my whole life. Fortunately, my phobia has not, although in certain situations lightning still makes me more uneasy than most people. For awhile I actually went too far in the other direction and became a little too nonchalant ... until a couple of close calls jolted me (figuratively, fortunately not literally).

With that background, I was quite interested to hear about a new study on weather phobias (focusing specifically on severe thunderstorms and tornadoes).

There even used to be a website (now defunct) which was exclusively devoted to storm phobias, and I'm certainly not the only one who has experienced some of these phobic symptoms!


View the original article here

The Katrina of tornado outbreaks

Our thoughts at TWC are with those who have been affected by the recent siege of severe weather including twisters, wind/hail damage, and flooding.

Here are some thoughts about last week's catastrophic tornado outbreak ...


Terrible perfection

I posted that graphic last Wednesday afternoon on my TWC Facebook page. The ingredients were "textbook." I mean, literally what I learned from a textbook more than 30 years ago. The atmosphere was explosively unstable with summerlike heat and humidity, interacting with a classic wind shear setup as a strong jet stream and upper-level trough crashed overhead. Also, dry air aloft (dark red shades on the left image below) put a lid on things and allowed the energy to build up until it blew sky high.



[Image source: NCAR/UCAR]


Not only were the elements perfect for a tornado outbreak, they were present to an extreme degree. The observed EHI ("Energy Helicity Index"), a measure which represents a combination of instability and wind shear, was extraordinary, higher than during the time of two notorious [E]F5s, the Moore, Oklahoma and Greensburg, Kansas tornadoes on May 3, 1999 and May 4, 2007, respectively.

Such a set of combustible ingredients, plus a remarkable number of supercells with hook echoes on radar and "ground-truth" observations of tornadoes, led Dr. Forbes and me to decide to up TWC's "TOR:CON" index to a 10 for northern Alabama, meaning a 100% chance of a tornado within 50 miles, the first time that's been done since the product was developed a couple of years ago.


Capricious

Many counties have been affected by the calamity, with the effects extending beyond just those people and locations struck directly by the tornadoes. Yet even with this widespread an outbreak, an extremely small percentage of the land area of northern and central AL was actually hit.

Above are screen captures from a video taken from a helicopter during Dr. Forbes' aerial survey of the damage. Tornadoes never cease to amaze me in their capriciousness, even in a situation such as this with relatively widespread devastation, leaving one part of a neighborhood unscathed while an adjacent one is in ruins.


Tornado Alley?

Last week's outbreak, and the past month of tornadoes, reinforce that "Tornado Alley" is *not* just in the Great Plains.

The first map below is one that in the past TWC has shown, and NOAA has graphics online depicting a similar area.

The second map plots all tornadoes in the official database which are [E]F 3 and higher on the [Enhanced] Fujita scale, those which account for approximately 3/4 of all tornado fatalities. IMO, true Tornado Alley is represented by the much broader area in which all those red lines are concentrated.


What about climate change / global warming?

What's needed relative to this question is an apolitical, non-reactionary, objective assessment. However, as soon as the extremity of last week's outbreak became apparent, there were, as is usually the case, reactions on two extremes. One headline on the web blared that hundreds were killed in "states represented by climate pollution deniers," while a high-ranking federal government official was reported to have dismissed climate change as a factor, quoted as saying, "Actually what we're seeing is springtime."

The former is obscene and the latter fails to represent what's happened weatherwise recently, which actually, no, has not been a typical month in spring.

On the one hand there is no decisive trend in overall tornado occurrences, and while in recent years there's been a rash of outbreaks which have been unusually far north and intense for the time of year (including the one in Wisconsin last month), the one last Wednesday was geographically consistent with April climatology.

On the other hand, this event needs to be considered in the *context* of the relentless series of severe thunderstorm and tornado outbreaks which started on April 4 and culminated on the 27th. The number of severe weather reports and confirmed tornadoes has been atypical even by April standards, shattering the previous records. Even taking into account limitations of the historical record, the numbers have been stunning.

As noted above, the combination of instability and wind shear was extreme even by classic tornado setup standards. The temperature in Laredo reached 111 degrees the day prior to the peak outbreak, the hottest on record at that location for so early in the season. Precipitation extremes have been extreme even by extreme precipitation standards, with April rainfall upwards of 20" in Arkansas and record levels on some rivers in the central U.S., juxtaposed with an exceptionally large amount of Texas being classified in extreme or exceptional drought. [Tue May 3 addendum: And the warmest April on record in the UK.]

And all of this is in the context of a relentless series of extreme weather events in the U.S. and other countries during the months preceding April, and many others worldwide during recent years which I've documented and which have had apparent a physical connection with a warmer atmosphere.

I've also read categorical statements assigning a one-to-one cause-effect attribution to La Nina. But while La Nina is present now as it was during the 1974 Superoutbreak, it was not during some of the other most notorious outbreaks of all time, such as the 2002 Van Wert / Mossy Grove, 1999 Oklahoma, 1991 Andover KS, 1984 Carolinas, and 1965 Palm Sunday outbreaks.

The atmosphere is extraordinarily complex, and ultimately what's happened the past month is probably a combination of influences, including La Nina, other natural variability, and anthropogenic global warming.


Bigger than the Superoutbreak?

Hanging on the wall of my office at TWC (low-res cellphone pic above) is an original map of the April 3-4, 1974 Superoutbreak, which I've had since the '70s (a high-res online map can be seen via this link). As Dr. Forbes said a few days ago in his blog about it, that event is the benchmark for tornado outbreaks.

As soon as the number of tornado reports from last Wednesday exceeded 148, the number of tornadoes within 24 hours in the 1974 Superoutbreak, there was talk about this outbreak being bigger than that one. I sent an email to the staff at TWC on this topic and provided commentary about it on camera, as I wanted to make sure that there was awareness of how extreme The Superoutbreak was and that the proper perspective is being applied in comparing the two.

That one had *thirty* F4 or higher tornadoes on the original Fujita scale. Communities were reeling from that level of damage in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio. Among those 30, six F5s occurred across five of those states. Tornadoes struck along a total path length of more than *2500* miles.

We'll need to await the final numbers before doing a final comparison, but with the latest information as of this writing, and even accounting for subjectivity and changes in tornado assessments over the years and decades as the Fujita Scale evolved into the Enhanced Fujita Scale, it looks like the April 27, 2011 outbreak will fall far short of some of those '74 numbers.

It's not just all about the total number of tornadoes, plus, despite definitive official statements about a total of 211 having occurred (and a report today that it's been raised to 312!), any such estimates are premature, as those are just preliminary *reports*, some of which were duplicates of the same long-track tornadoes.

That all having been said, no matter how this all shakes out in the end, the April 27, 2011 outbreak will go down as one of the biggest and worst on record. The amount of energy it unleashed is hard to comprehend.

By why do any of these such statistics even matter? Well, scientific assessments of ingredients and results help meteorologists understand the phenomena and factors and climatology involved, and apply that to forecasting future events.

But to people who have lost their lives, and their surviving family, friends, and colleagues, the meteorological statistics don't matter. Those folks are gone. And the latest death toll is now well over 300 and higher than that of the Superoutbreak and among the few highest on record in the U.S. from a tornado outbreak, and with many other people still unaccounted for.


The Katrina of tornado outbreaks

So that makes this the Katrina of tornado outbreaks, in the sense that it's a vivid and tragic reminder that although high death tolls from tornadoes and hurricanes are much less common than they were in the 19th and first part of the 20th centuries, we are not immune to them, even in this era of modern meteorological and communication technology.

Timely and accurate outlooks were disseminated in the hours and days leading up to the outbreak as well as short-term warnings once the supercells formed. This included "tornado emergency" level warnings by the National Weather Service; in fact, there were so many of those issued that it was mind-boggling.

I think I speak for all meteorologists/forecasters when I say that I/we are at peace with feeling like we did everything we could while also being heartbroken that it still wasn't enough. My heart sank as more and more reports of extreme damage came in that evening with a fatality count that has kept rising since then.

The power of the atmosphere is overwhelming, and how vulnerable we are to it has been reinforced yet again. Weather is as awe-inspiring, fascinating, mysterious, fearsome, and humbling as when I first became obsessed with it as a child. I wish it didn't have to have such tragic consequences.


[Image source: http://bit.ly/jlOpvd]


ADDENDUM 3PM EDT TUESDAY MAY 3, 2011

To follow up on some of the comments received so far ...

For those who do not understand why I chose Katrina as the hurricane to highlight, perhaps this will help. It illustrates what I was referring to in that portion of the blog entry, which is the death toll of tornado outbreaks and hurricanes in the era of modern technology vs. prior to that.




View the original article here