Hurricane Season Opens Today

If I were an avid hunter in Florida, I’d wish hurricane season meant you could buy a license, track them down and shoot them.  Ah, not the case.

Just as tornado season winds down, in blows hurricane season.  June 1st marks the start of the Atlantic hurricane season (May 15th in the Pacific) and both seasons run through November 30th.   That’s a long time to cringe waiting for a big blow-hard to come barreling in on your town.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center has issued its outlook for the upcoming Atlantic season, characterizing it as “above normal” with the following range of predictions:

  • 12 to 18 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which:
  • 6 to 10 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including:
  • 3 to 6 major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher)

Each of these ranges has a 70 percent likelihood.   The seasonal averages are 11 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes.

Hold onto your roofs.  With the extreme tornadoes still in our memories, extreme hurricane season is upon us.

Extreme Recipe for Extreme Weather

My oma had an “extreme” recipe for sauerkraut which called for burying it in the ground until fermented. We’d watch her dig it up and go “ick!” but the adults liked it.

Like Oma’s sauerkraut, extreme weather requires an extreme recipe consisting of natural phenomena gone wild.

Take the recent series of devastating twisters that racked up high winds and high death tolls.   According to Yahoo! News, scientists point to several large-scale climate extremes, some of which have been at work behind the scenes since winter.  (Read the full story here.)

Some of the blame for the wild tornado streak lies with La Niña, a cyclical system of trade winds that cools the waters of the equatorial Pacific Ocean. (El Niño is La Niña’s warm-water counterpart.)  This past year, we were under one of the most powerful La Niñas on record, then it made a sudden exit about three months ago, said Bill Patzert, a climatologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

That’s extreme ingredients one and two in the extreme weather recipe for disaster.

Another factor has to do with the jet stream, a high-speed,  high-altitude river of air running between cool, dry air to the north and warm, moist air to the south — two of the main ingredients for severe storms.

La Niña has a stabilizing effect on the jet stream, and pushes it to higher latitudes.  But with La Niña’s extreme exit, the jet stream “has gone rogue,” Mr. Patzert told OurAmazingPlanet. “This time of the year it should be farther north,” he said.

This left the jet stream draped across the middle of the country in April and May, where the two air masses on the extreme ends of the temperature scale collided.  Patzert said lingering effects of last winter’s record snowfalls and snow packs have kept northern air especially cold, and the strong La Niña fueled unusually hot conditions in the southwest.

Extreme ingredient number three.

Together these extreme ingredients provided the punch for the recent tornado outbreak, and chances are, more extreme storms are on the way.

Get Your Storm Warning Phone App Now

This year’s increase in severe weather across the nation’s midsection has given rise to a new type of warning system – storm warning apps that run on smartphones.

According to a story in USA Today (read it here), there’s been a marked change in how consumers choose to receive severe-weather information, including alerts and forecasts.  The apps combine National Weather Service data and radar images to give as close to real-time updates as possible.

“If that’s the way people are going to get their alerts, that’s great,” says John Ferree, Severe Storms Service leader for the National Weather Service in Norman, Okla.

A spokesperson for The Weather Channel said they have seen an increase in both app downloads and alert sign-ups for their weather app Max for the iPhone.   As many as 47,000 downloads a day were recorded after the latest barrage of tornadoes in Joplin, Mo. and Alabama.  Other apps have names such as StormTrak, Weather Alert USA and Storm Spotter.

Download a storm app now as more extreme weather is on the way.   I have mine.

Killer Tornado Season Could Be One for the Record Books

Locations of killer tornadoes so far in 2011It’s starting out to be an extreme year for tornadoes in the U.S.   According to the NWS Storm Prediction Center, lives lost due to tornadoes in 2011 has nearly equaled the deadliest year on record (1953) with 519 deaths through the month of May.  And the year’s not over.

The reason for this may be that tornadoes have increased in intensity this Spring, with 4 EF5 tornadoes (including the one in Joplin, Mo. last week) and 11 EF4’s.

To get an idea of where we stand so far this year, the following graph from NOAA shows that the maximum number of tornadoes in a year (red line – 1884 tornadoes) has a rise/run of 2/5 through May whereas this year’s graph (black line – 1133 tornadoes through most of May) shows a steeper rise/run of 3/5.  That may not seem like much, but 2011 started out slow and shot up in April/May with a rise/run of 3/2.

Granted, the graph tends to flatten out after June, but this year’s head start could put it in the record books if the upward trend continues.

Tornado count graph

Extreme Travel for a Tornado-Blown Receipt

This little tidbit of evidence proves that the EF5 tornado in Joplin, Mo., was as extreme as it gets.   According to USA Today, a receipt from a tire store in Joplin, Mo., turned up 525 miles away on a front porch in north-central Indiana, a record distance for apparent tornado debris to travel, a Purdue University storm researcher reports.

“This paper traveled more than twice as far as the longest distance recorded for debris from a storm,” said Ernest Agee, professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and tornado expert. The previous record was a canceled check that traveled 210 miles after the 1915 tornado in Great Bend, Kan.

Read the full story here.

Crazy Happenings in Aftermath of Joplin EF5 Tornado

In the wake of total devastation, the societal impacts of the EF5 tornado in Joplin, MO, are gathering like the storm clouds that tore through the city the other day:

  • One question people are grappling with in the aftermath of the tornado is where are the people that have vanished?  Amid the scattered rubble of destroyed neighborhoods, there isn’t a lot of room to hide the injured and dead.   Where did the people go?   My guess is they were sucked up into the tornado, spun around at 200 miles per hour and hurled away only to crash to earth far from home in a field or lake or wooden area.  Authorities will need to expand their search area to find some of the missing.
  • According to the Washington Post, the closest nuclear power plant to tornado-ravaged Joplin, Mo., is vulnerable to twisters.  Inspections triggered by Japan’s nuclear crisis found that some emergency equipment and storage sites at the Wolf Creek nuclear plant  in southeastern Kansas might not survive a tornado.  Reading between the lines, I think they especially mean an EF5 like the one that chewed up Joplin.
  • It requires up to 75 federal disaster mortuary specialists in six refrigerated trucks to identify the bodies of the Joplin victims using DNA testing, taking fingerprints and looking for tattoos, body piercings, moles and other distinctive marks on the bodies.  Residents are complaining it is taking too long to identify the dead, but the going is slow because authorities are trying to keep the next of kin from viewing the battered bodies in person.   And they want to be 100% accurate and avoid the situation that occurred right after the tornado in which a body was misidentified.
  • TV ratings (viewership) increased in the aftermath of the tornado for The Weather Channel and other local news stations.   Having in-depth coverage not only makes people aware of what happened but it raises extreme weather awareness and gives viewers information they can use in case the unforeseen happens in their neighborhood.
  • Can you imagine – Looters picking through the rubble to steal from those who have lost nearly everything?   That’s currently happening in Joplin.  It’s slim pickins but it’s enough to anger residents as much as the storm.  According to the NPR website, as of midday Thursday, Joplin police had arrested 16 people for looting and burglary and four for assault since the tornado hit.

We’ll relay more as we come across them.