November 17, 2022

Buffalo Could See 4-5 Feet Of Snow Through The Weekend, As One Does


Oh dear. 

A vigorous lake-effect snowstorm is about to get underway in western New York, where the National Weather Service expects 4-5 feet...feet...of snow to fall across the Buffalo metro area by Sunday.

This will be a lake-effect event for the ages, so long as "the ages" stop back in 2014, when a very similar setup resulted in 65 inches of snow falling south of Buffalo in a couple of days.

NWS Buffalo

We're witnessing a classic event that'll probably land in some meteorology instructor's PowerPoint slides one day.

Cold winds blowing across the Great Lakes behind a cold front are setting the stage for ripping bands of snow to develop across the eastern Lakes.

These southwesterly winds will align perfectly along the length of Lake Erie to instigate the development of a long, steady band of snow that'll train its fire on the Buffalo metro area. The band of snow will pick up in earnest overnight Thursday into Friday, continuing into the day Saturday for many areas.

The band will ultimately wobble a few miles to the left and a few miles to the right, but forecasters are confident that this will be a high-impact storm that'll smack Buffalo one good.

NWS Buffalo gives the city a 99% chance of seeing at least 18 inches of snow over the next couple of days, and the office's official forecast casually paints a bullseye of 48-60 inches of snow over the city.

NWS Buffalo

What's behind this? Much like thunderstorms on a warm day, lake-effect snow forms through convection. The lakes hold on to their heat really well even as the air turns bitterly cold, setting up a sharp temperature gradient between the lower levels and the upper levels.

The warm lakes heat up the air directly above them, allowing the air to rise and trigger snow showers. Winds organize the showers into bands. A scenario like the one we're seeing now—a great temperature difference combined with winds perfectly aligned with the length of Lake Erie—will lead to...well, the road-glaciating event we're about to witness.

Buckle up, western New York. This'll be one you talk about with the gusto of a shipwreck survivor when the south falls apart in two inches of snow in a few months.

[Top image created with WSV3]


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November 9, 2022

Hurricane Warnings Continue As Sprawling Nicole Nears Florida Landfall


Nicole is on the verge of hurricane strength this afternoon as the storm steadily pushes west through The Bahamas. Forecasters expect then-Hurricane Nicole to make landfall along Florida's east coast on Wednesday night, gradually pushing across the peninsula through the day on Thursday.

This is an odd storm compared to most tropical systems that Florida is used to dealing with. It's late in the season, for one, and Nicole didn't start its life as a purely tropical system. The storm's subtropical origins made it a very large system, so it's swirling toward land as a sizeable storm with a footprint to match.


Nicole's tropical storm force winds extend almost 500 miles from the center of the storm, so this system will have far-reaching impacts regardless of where the very center of the storm makes landfall. The National Hurricane Center expects Nicole to emerge in the eastern Gulf of Mexico on Friday, making its final landfall on the Panhandle before racing inland through the weekend.


Hurricane warnings are in effect for much of eastern Florida ahead of Nicole's landfall on Wednesday night. Tropical storm warnings blanket most of Florida, all of coastal Georgia, and reaching coastal South Carolina about halfway between Charleston and Myrtle Beach. A wind advisory is in effect for much of interior Georgia, and it stands to reason that more wind advisories will pop up over the next 24 hours. 

Again...big storm.


Widespread gusty winds will lead to downed trees and power outages across the southeastern U.S. over the next couple of days. There were only about 6,500 power outages across Florida by noon on Wednesday, but that number will tick upward as the core of the storm draws closer through the day. The storm's effects won't stop at the coast, of course. Nicole's size and path will make power outages and spotty wind damage likely throughout inland sections of Georgia and the Carolinas.

Storm surge warnings are in effect for much of the coast ahead of Nicole's landfall. The NHC's latest forecast calls for up to 3-5 feet of storm surge along most of Florida's east coast if the peak surge coincides with high tide, with up to 2-4 feet of storm surge possible up to Charleston, S.C., in the same scenario.


Heavy rains will follow the storm inland through the weekend. There's a slight risk for flash flooding along the storm's path as it treks inland across the East Coast over the next couple of days. This isn't going to be a blockbuster rainfall event. We'll see a big swath of 1-3 inches of rain along Nicole's path, with locally higher amounts possible. Some flooding issues are possible in vulnerable areas. Leaves clogging storm drains could lead to additional flooding on some roads and parking lots.

There's also a risk for severe weather across eastern sections of Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas. As with any landfalling storm, the eastern side of the system is ripe for rotating thunderstorms that could produce quick tornadoes. Tropical tornadoes happen quickly and with reduced tornado warning lead time, so make sure you have a way to receive warnings the moment they're issued.

Once Nicole (and the cold front sweeping it along) clear away from the East Coast this weekend, it's going to be a much quieter—and much colder—pattern settling in next week. Daytime highs only reaching the 40s will dip deep into the southeastern states. Gotta love late fall.

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November 6, 2022

A Tropical Disturbance Could Bring Foul Weather To The East Coast This Week


You didn't think we'd get off that easily, did you?

After a rough round of severe weather this week broke a remarkable stretch of dulcet autumn weather across the United States, the tropics felt the need to get the last word.

A tropical disturbance in the southwestern Atlantic Ocean has a decent shot at becoming this hurricane season's 14th named storm, and it could have its sights set on Florida and the East Coast in the days after this week's election.

Possible Mid-Week Headache


It doesn't look like much on satellite right now—it more closely resembles a gallbladder than a tropical system this evening—but environmental conditions will gradually become more favorable for development over the next few days. The National Hurricane Center gives the disturbance a 90 percent chance of turning into a tropical or subtropical storm by the middle of the week.

Regardless of its ultimate development, most models bring the disturbance and/or system into Florida before it interacts with a cold front and turns north to track up the eastern seaboard.

Some models are developing the system more than others—the GFS model, for instance, is trying to turn it into a strong tropical storm or even a hurricane before hitting southeastern Florida on Wednesday or Thursday. Even though that's probably an outlier at this point, there's a growing consensus that we'll probably have a named storm on our hands before long.

Tropical vs. Subtropical: What's The Difference?

Honestly, just as an aside, I can't stand talking about "subtropical storms" because the term becomes a distraction. Everyone loves a good process story (me included!) and it sometimes crowds out the actual impacts of the storm.

The distinction between a tropical system and a subtropical system is mostly technical. It's helpful to think about low-pressure systems as existing on a spectrum instead of fitting into neat little boxes. A subtropical system has characteristics of both a tropical cyclone and an extratropical cyclone, or the 'everyday' type of low-pressure system we deal with on a regular basis.

A tropical cyclone features warm air throughout the storm and it derives its energy from thunderstorms packed around the center of the cyclone. An extratropical cyclone, on the other hand, features cold and warm fronts, and typically gathers its strength from upper-level winds. 

Subtropical cyclones sort of meet in the middle—there's some cold air in there, it's a little asymmetric, it gets some of its energy from thunderstorms and a touch from upper-level winds. Again, it's mostly technical! But the bottom line is that a subtropical storm is indistinguishable from a 'normal' tropical storm when you're in the thick of it, so the NHC issues forecasts and warnings on it just the same.

Lots Of Rain From Miami to Moncton


If you live along the East Coast, it's a good idea to check if you've got supplies to deal with power outages. It's also important to mentally review your plans for what to do in the event of flooding at home or if any of your daily routes encounter water-covered roads. The number-one danger in any landfalling storm is freshwater flooding from heavy rainfall. It only takes a little bit of water to lift up a vehicle and carry it downstream.

Taking a look at the Weather Prediction Center's 7-day precipitation forecast shows the potential for heavy rain up and down the East Coast over the next week. The system will interact with a Colorado low heading toward the western Great Lakes, helping to produce widespread rainfall across the eastern U.S. toward the latter half of the week. There's a chance we could see gusty winds and pretty heavy rainfall for parts of New England and the Canadian Maritimes by the end of the week.

You'll notice on that map a few sections up that there's another disturbance way out in the oceanic boondocks that could develop into a tropical storm over the next couple of days, but don't worry about it—it's only a concern for fish and ships.

Upcoming Storm Could Make A Terrible Season 'Average'


The next two names on this year's list for the Atlantic basin are Nicole and Owen.

If either one of these systems develops, it would become the 14th named storm of the 2022 hurricane season, making this season exactly average in terms of number of named storms. A typical Atlantic hurricane season sees 14 named storms, 7 hurricanes, and 3 or 4 major hurricanes. As of this post, the current count is 13/7/2.

It's been a weird year. Just about all forecasters expected another very active hurricane season based on La NiƱa continuing in the eastern Pacific Ocean. Things didn't work out that way. It takes lots of ingredients for tropical cyclones to come together, and even though the overall pattern was favorable, individual ingredients kept misaligning and throttling most opportunities for storms to form.

We saw an unprecedented gap in storms between Tropical Storm Colin dissipating on July 3rd and Tropical Storm Danielle forming on September 1st.

Calling this season average feels like a grim understatement. The old mantra of "it only takes one" sure came through this year.

Hurricane Fiona smacked into the Maritimes as one of the region's worst storms in living memory. Just a week later, Hurricane Ian hit Florida as a high-end category four and the state's deadliest hurricane since the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, killing almost 150 people.

Mariah is on the radio and the stores are bursting with glittery decorations, but hurricane season doesn't 'officially' end until November 30th and we can even see the occasional stray storm wander into December. Don't let your guard down yet.

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October 23, 2022

U.S. Dryness Hits Highest Extent This Century Amid Very Quiet October


Hello. 

It's been a while since I've had to write anything around here.

It's kinda nice, isn't it?

We've seen an exceptionally quiet October across the United States this year. Hardly any big storms, no tropical systems making landfall, pretty much no urgent disasters for once. 

The pattern that's brought us such a serene October left its mark—even if it doesn't seem like it.


This week's update of the United States Drought Monitor found that 82.23% of the United States was either "abnormally dry" or mired in full-fledged drought conditions.

That's the highest level of dryness measured across the United States since the USDM began keeping track at the beginning of 2000. The previous high-water mark (er, low-water mark?) was 80.76% coverage just over a decade ago on July 17, 2012. 

Here's what the map looked like on that day ten years ago:


We're probably going to see some improvement over the next couple of days if current forecasts pan out.

A cold front stretching off a low-pressure system swirling into the Canadian Prairies will spark several opportunities for severe weather heading into the first half of the workweek. Much of the severe threat will target the southern states, bringing a risk for damaging winds, large hail, and possibly even a few tornadoes.

(As an aside, and no surprise here, but it's also been a very quiet month for severe weather so far. An average October over the past ten years sees about 575 reports of severe weather, while this month has only logged 237 reports through the morning of October 23rd.)


A new low-pressure system will develop along that cold front heading toward the middle of the week, enhancing rainfall totals over parts of the Plains and Midwest. Some areas in parts of Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas could even deal with localized flooding.

Farther west, a train of storms rolling in from the northeastern Pacific will bring drenching rains to the Northwest, where they could really use some precipitation after an exceptionally warm and dry fall. The Weather Prediction Center's seven-day forecast of 5+ inches of rain across much of the Pacific Northwest will put a dent in the ongoing drought across the region.

Elsewhere, though, it's going to be another unremarkable week in an otherwise unremarkable month.

Enjoy it while it lasts.

[Satellite: NOAA]


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September 30, 2022

Hurricane Ian Hitting The Carolinas With High Winds, Flooding Rains


Hurricane Ian made its third and final landfall near Georgetown, South Carolina, on Friday afternoon as an 85 mph category one hurricane. The system produced a top-three storm surge in Myrtle Beach, and 90+ mph winds in Charleston Harbor. Ian will steadily weaken as it pushes inland, but the high winds and flooding rains will push through the Carolinas into Saturday.

The hurricane hitting the Carolinas is a far cry from the hurricane that slammed into southwestern Florida on Wednesday afternoon. Ian made landfall on the verge of category five strength, with its destructive winds pushing a devastating storm surge into the coast. 

Even though this isn't a powerful storm anymore, Ian is still a large and formidable hurricane. The footprint of its tropical storm force winds stretches more than 400 miles from one end to the other.


There's a lot of energy moving into the southeastern United States today, and judging by the lackadaisical view folks who live around here are taking with this storm, the extent of the winds and power outages may come as a surprise.

Hurricane Ian will be one of those storms that doesn't immediately wind down once it hits land. Tropical storm warnings and wind advisories stretch all the way to the Appalachian Mountains in anticipation of 40-50+ mph winds through Saturday. Winds this strong will lead to tree damage and power outages throughout the region. 


Flash flooding from heavy rain will remain a concern into Saturday morning for much of the region. We could see an additional 3-5 inches of rain in many spots, especially across South Carolina and the bulk of central North Carolina.

The system will be a mere ghost of its former might by Saturday, but its remnants will still linger around the Mid-Atlantic through the early workweek, bringing occasional bouts of rain to the region. We should see ex-Ian finally clear out by Tuesday, where it could seed the development of a weak nor'easter that heads toward the Canadian Maritimes.

[Satellite Image: NOAA]


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September 28, 2022

'Catastrophic' Hurricane Ian Making Landfall In Southwestern Florida


Hurricane Ian was one sneeze away from category five intensity as it careened into southwestern Florida on Wednesday.

The storm's rapid intensification over the steamy waters of the southern Gulf of Mexico saw Ian grow into a high-end category four hurricane with maximum winds of 155 mph. Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center (NHC) expect the storm to more or less maintain this strength as it pushes into the southwestern Florida coast through the day on Wednesday.


This is going to be a catastrophic storm for the region on a level that could easily surpass the devastation wrought by Hurricane Charley back in 2004. Former NHC Director Dr. Rick Knabb tweeted Wednesday morning that the entire extent of Charley's hurricane-force winds could comfortably fit within Ian's eye with room to spare.

Ian is a much larger and stronger storm than Charley was, and its destructive reach will spread over a much larger portion of Florida over the next couple of days.

Storm Surge

A devastating double-digit storm surge will push into southern Florida near where the hurricane makes landfall tonight. This is particularly terrifying for Charlotte Harbor and the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River, putting communities like Cape Coral, Fort Myers, and Punta Gorda at risk of a 12+ foot storm surge.

SOURCE: NHC

A storm surge on this magnitude will push very far inland, compounding the destruction. Thousands upon thousands of homes could be completely flooded out by this storm surge. Anyone who chose to remain at home (or didn't have the means to evacuate) will be at grave danger when the surge rushes in as Ian makes landfall on Wednesday night.

Flooding Rains

Hurricane Ian's ferocious winds are only part of this storm's danger. This will be remembered as a water storm as much as it'll be remembered for its destructive winds.

Florida will endure widespread flooding over the next couple of days as this slow-moving hurricane drops one to two feet of rain across the middle of the state. This much rain will inundate natural and man-made drainage systems, leading to flooding even in areas that don't typically flood during torrential rainfall.


The combination of wind damage, coastal storm surge, and inland flooding will stress local resources to their limit. Widespread water rescues are likely in the hardest-hit areas, and emergency officials may not be able to assist people whose homes are flooding during the storm's high winds.

The risk for flooding isn't just limited to Florida. Widespread heavy rain will push into the interior southeast as Ian pushes inland through this weekend.

As I explained in Sunday's post, Ian is encountering a complex setup that will allow the storm to wring out drenching rains on the southeast. We'll see widespread rainfall totals of 3-6+ inches across the region, which will lead to a risk for flash flooding as far inland as the Appalachians in Virginia.

Winds/Tornadoes

Storm surge and freshwater flooding from prolific rainfall will cause significant and costly damage to the region, but we can't ignore the risk for wind damage. The eyewall is scraping some heavily populated areas. We're going to see widespread structural damage, tree blowdowns, and heavy damage to the power grid as this storm pushes ashore.


The wind threat doesn't stop at the coast. Hurricane warnings span the Florida Peninsula, with hurricane conditions expected all the way into the Orlando metro area as Ian pushes inland.

Forecasters expect Ian to reemerge in the Atlantic Ocean before making another landfall near the Georgia/South Carolina border.

This secondary landfall will bring tropical storm/near hurricane conditions to coastal sections of Georgia and South Carolina, where hurricane watches and tropical storm warnings are in effect. There's a chance Ian could regain hurricane strength before making landfall again on Friday.

Tornadoes are also a big concern for the Florida Peninsula and coastal Carolinas as Ian makes its way through the region over the next couple of days. 


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September 26, 2022

Hurricane Ian Could Send A Destructive Storm Surge Into Tampa Bay This Week


The only thing scarier than a strong hurricane threatening a major metro area is a strong and slow-moving hurricane threatening a major metro area.

Hurricane warnings are in effect for the Tampa Bay area this evening as Hurricane Ian makes a beeline for the area.

The storm is going to grow very strong by the middle of the week as it approaches Florida's west coast. As if that's not bad enough, the storm is also going to slow down to a crawl as it parallels the peninsula, prolonging the high winds, heavy rain, and storm surge to 24+ hours for many areas.


Hurricane Ian wound up in a hurry as it trekked through the western Caribbean Sea over the past couple of days. The storm is now a category two hurricane with maximum winds of 100 mph, and it's in a favorable environment for continued strengthening over the next couple of days.

The storm will make landfall on the western tip of Cuba overnight Monday before emerging in the southern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday.

Forecasters with the National Hurricane Center (NHC) expect Ian to rapidly intensify as the storm hits the steamy waters of the southern Gulf, with the official forecast strengthening Ian into a frightening category four hurricane by Tuesday night.

Then the storm is going to hit the brakes.

SOURCE: Tropical Tidbits

A strong ridge of high pressure building over the Great Lakes will act like a barricade that will slow Hurricane Ian down to a crawl.

This thing is only going to be moving a couple of miles per hour as it approaches Florida's west coast. The forecast icons are practically on top of each other by the time the core of the storm is close to Tampa Bay.

Storm Surge

It may seem like a good thing that the storm isn't going to haul into Florida at full strength, but all things are relative with such a strong storm in such a vulnerable area.

SOURCE: National Hurricane Center

If the current forecast holds, this would expose the Tampa Bay area to the strongest part of the storm for an entire day or longer, funneling a deep and persistent storm surge into the bay and directly into the city of Tampa itself.

The NHC's storm surge forecast at 5:00 p.m. on Monday called for a 5-10 foot storm surge across the Tampa Bay area if the strongest winds in the storm coincide with high tide. This would be a destructive storm surge for coastal areas, and a double-digit surge would push well inland from the coast in spots.

Flooding Rains

Flooding from heavy and persistent rains is going to be one of the biggest impacts from this storm as it makes landfall and pushes inland through next weekend.


We could see rainfall totals of 6-12+ inches across the Florida peninsula during this storm. That much rain will easily overwhelm waterways and storm sewers, leading to flooding in vulnerable areas.

The heavy rain isn't going to stay limited to Florida, though. After landfall, Ian and its eventual remnants will slowly make their way into the southeast, where we're likely to see widespread heavy rain starting at the end of the week and lasting into the weekend.

A surge of tropical moisture riding on the back of a remnant storm is enough to prompt flooding rains under normal circumstances, but that same high-pressure system that will slow Ian to a crawl is also going to lead to a significant cold air damming (CAD) event across interior sections of the southeast.

SOURCE: Tropical Tidbits

Cold air damming occurs when northeasterly winds blow cool air up against the base of the Appalachian Mountains. The cold, dense air can't ride up and over the mountains, so it pools up across the piedmont region. It's infamously stubborn and approaching storms have a tough time scouring it away—warm air winds up riding up and over this dammed-up cold air, triggering widespread rainfall. 

A persistent conveyor belt of tropical moisture flowing up and over that cooler air at the surface will lead to several days of heavy rain, which could easily lead to flooding in vulnerable areas. There's also the potential for landslides in some of the Appalachians.

Winds

Hurricane-force winds are likely across the west-central Florida coast. Widespread and potentially long-lasting power outages are likely for the hardest-hit areas, especially if 100+ mph sustained winds manage to move ashore.


One of the most important preparations you can make for an approaching storm is getting ready for power outages. You never realize how underprepared you are until the lights go out.

Actual flashlights and battery refills are crucial so you don't waste your cell phone battery feeling your way around the bathroom.

Non-perishable, ready-to-eat foods like canned ravioli and fruit cups are a lifesaver when there's no power. It's tough to cook without electricity and the burger joints and coffee shops won't be open if they don't have power.

Tornadoes

As with any landfalling tropical system, a risk for tornadoes will spread inland as the storm very slowly approaches landfall over the next couple of days.


Tornadoes are common in the right-front side of tropical cyclones because there's ample low-level wind shear to spark rotation in thunderstorms embedded in the storm's outer bands. Tropical tornadoes happen very quickly, sometimes only allowing forecasters to issue tornado warnings with only a minute or two of lead time.

Make sure you have a way to receive tornado warnings the moment they're issued, and have a plan to get to safety as quickly as possible if you hear that your location is under a tornado warning. Take a look at your cell phone now to ensure that wireless emergency alerts are turned on for tornado warnings. Lots of folks shut them all off after one ill-timed interruption for an AMBER Alert.

Tampa's Century-Long Lucky Streak Looks Finished

Tampa is one of the only major coastal cities in the south that's been relatively lucky when it comes to hurricanes. Plenty of storms have come close and even tracked over the area. Hurricane Zeta made landfall north of the bay area as a tropical storm in November 2020.

SOURCE: NOAA

The last time a major hurricane came close to Tampa Bay was an unnamed storm back in 1921. That storm caused widespread destruction across the region. Hurricanes tend to miss Tampa because prevailing winds tend to force storms to hit Florida from the east, and (with one recent exception) storms approaching from the south typically only clip the area on their way to the northern Gulf Coast.

Geography isn't protection. All indications are that Tampa's century-long lucky streak on missing strong hurricanes is going to fall this week. Please heed the advice and orders of local officials if you live in a vulnerable area, and please let your friends and family in the area know that this is a serious situation.


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September 24, 2022

Tropical Storm Ian Could Hit Category Four Intensity In The Gulf This Week


It only takes one. 

The slow start to this year's Atlantic hurricane season may not be what we remember about this season after all. We're staring down the prospect of tracking our second major hurricane in a week, and this one could be a doozy for the Gulf states.

Tropical Storm Ian is a fledgling storm in the southern Caribbean Sea tonight. The system is still pretty weak, packing maximum winds of only 45 mph. However, the system is gradually getting better organized on satellite imagery—it certainly has "that look" to it—and it's moving into an environment favorable for strengthening.

Ian is about to move over the warmest water in the entire Atlantic Ocean. Here's a look at ocean heat content, which goes beyond sea surface temperatures to show the pool of warm water a developing tropical system can tap into:

SOURCE: NOAA

These waters have been relatively untouched by tropical systems this year, giving Ian first dibs on tapping into an entire summer's worth of hot sunshine beating down on these tropical waters.


The latest forecast from the National Hurricane Center calls for Ian to undergo rapid intensification through Tuesday, growing into a category four storm as it passes the tip of Cuba.

There's still plenty of uncertainty in the forecast. Rapid intensification is tough to forecast; it can catch us off guard as easily as a hiccup in the storm's structure can prevent that sudden jump in intensity.

There's also greater-than-normal uncertainty with Ian's future track. Model guidance has slowly ticked the storm's track farther and farther west with each update, which puts more of the northern Gulf Coast in line for the storm.

It's still too early to tell where it'll make landfall, but anyone from Gulfport to Fort Meyers needs to have a plan in place to deal with a strong hurricane in the Gulf by the middle of next week.


Regardless of its precise track, a hurricane entering the Gulf will have far-reaching consequences that extend far beyond the coast. The latest rainfall forecast from the Weather Prediction Center shows a widespread swath of very heavy rain falling over much of the southeastern states over the next week. We could also see a risk for tornadoes with the storm's remnants when/if they push inland.


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