November 18, 2015

Strong Fall Storm Spawns Tornadoes, Snow, Floods, General Malaise

A large storm system that continues to crawl across the United States this afternoon—officially known as Winter Storm Skittlebip III by the dennismersereau dot com naming and brunch committee—will herald the end of our unusually warm fall, bringing in colder temperatures to bathe the tornado debris, flooded roads, and generally miserable people.

Before growing into the mid-latitude beast it is today, this storm system came ashore on the West Coast as a trough that produced heavy rain, snow, and some thunderstorms in California. One of those thunderstorms went on to produce an EF-1 tornado in Denair, California, which unfortunately occurred without warning as the tornado was not detected on weather radar.

Once the low got its act together on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, it let loose in one of the most formidable severe weather outbreaks we've seen in 2015, which is not surprising given how this year is going. November represents a second peak in severe weather season as atmospheric conditions in the late fall are similar to what you might see in the early spring, but that severe weather is typically found in the Midwest or Deep South. This outbreak, while not unusual overall, is unique in that it was the farthest west we've ever seen a tornado outbreak this late in the year.
The Storm Prediction Center logged 43 tornado reports on Monday, November 16, all of which occurred from southern Nebraska through western Texas. While multiple reports exist for the same tornadoes, it's likely that the area saw more than a dozen twisters on Monday. The strongest tornadoes both occurred around Pampa, Texas, and both were rated an EF-3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale.

One of the more interesting aspects of the storm was that some areas slammed by severe thunderstorms were under a blizzard warning at the same time; as the low got its act together and wound its way toward the east, cold air filtered in and the rain changed to a heavy, driving snow. Much of eastern Colorado and western Kansas/Nebraska saw blizzard conditions on Tuesday and Wednesday. Denver saw about four inches of snow by the end of the storm, while communities to the south and east saw totals well over a foot.

For the rest of us, though, the news is heavy rain, lots of wind, and an eventual cool down.

It's going to take at least another day and a half to rid ourselves of this troublesome storm. The low pressure itself is moving very slowly toward the northeast—as of 1:00 PM EST, the low was right on the border between Minnesota and Ontario with a central minimum pressure of 979 millibars, which is pretty decent as far as lows go.

The cold front is the feature that's causing all of the problems now, as it's producing very heavy rainfall that's moving as a snail's pace. The front is crawling along because the jet stream (above) is practically parallel to it, so there's not much force to hustle it along.
A widespread area of three or more inches of rain has fallen over the past day or so in the center of the country, causing some flooding issues for vulnerable areas, but nothing on the scale of what we saw in Texas and South Carolina earlier in the year. Those of us stuck east of the Appalachians will get in on the heavy rain overnight and into the morning hours on Thursday; a general area of one to two inches of rain is possible, with a little more in the gauges if someone gets caught under a persistent band.

Toward the end of the week and this weekend, though, and we'll experience our first bone-chiller of the year. A burst of cold air from Canada will filter down behind a clipper system that promises to bring snow to the Plains and Upper Midwest, and this cold air will plunge temperatures ten or more degrees below average. The high in Chicago on Sunday might not climb above freezing for the first time since March 3, when the high was only 27°F. Places as far south as Montgomery, Alabama, could see highs struggle to climb out of the 40s on Saturday, and the chill envelops the eastern seaboard by Sunday and Monday.

Bring it on.

[Maps; Author | Model Image: Pivotal Weather]
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I graduated from the University of South Alabama in 2014 with a degree in political science and a minor in meteorology. I contribute to The Weather Network as a digital writer, and I've written for Forbes, the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang, Popular Science, Mental Floss, and Gawker's The Vane. My latest book, The Skies Above, is now available. My first book, The Extreme Weather Survival Manual, arrived in October 2015.


  1. The Vane is dead. Long live The Vane!
    Or Dennis Mersereau, anyway.

  2. The bright side of the Gawker mess - you don't have to deal with Kinja anymore.

  3. Dennis, always remember that I will blame you for the weather as long as we are in the same state.

    1. We can do this? Excellent I, too, am in the same state. Except I want cold. I want Mosquito Death. And snow.

  4. Wild weather in November? #ThanksMersereau

  5. I'm glad to see you carrying on in spite of everything.

  6. You're so Vane. You probably think this post is about you.

  7. I AM SO HAPPY DENNIS. Bookmarking!

  8. I am soooo happy, I do NOT want a winter without you.
    Team Skittlebip.

  9. Straight line winds are due to hit my town in 5 minutes (for realz, NE Ga) and I thought of you. Went back to The Vane for a sad last look at weather the way it used to be, but wait, your back!!!! Rotation be damned, I'm happy!

  10. I think all this winter's storms should be named Thurston Howell I, II, III etc as naming the storms is as loud and useless as he was.

  11. Too bad about the Gawker gig, but I'm sure there will be something bigger and better soon. Best of luck.

  12. Being in an area that has both a tornado watch and blizzard warning going at the same time is definitely on my bucket list!

  13. Wait. When and where does the brunch committee meet?

  14. 1) Funny how this is such an atypical El NiƱo pattern, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, where just before this, they were complaining about pretty serious drought conditions in the Cascade to coast region.
    2) You failed to mention how windy it was across parts of the Plains and the shadows of the Rocky Mountains. ABC News had a guy out there in winds that gusted to, by his account, 102 mph. I don’t believe it because had it been that strong, ABC would have created a search party for his remains. (For the record, his hand-held ammeter was registering gusts of 45 mph at the time of his recording. He implied that he was out there in 102 mph winds, which is kind of Brian Williams-ish, if you ask me.)
    3) Good to read you while you’re find your next gig.

  15. 500 Days of Weather!

  16. This is fizzling out in my area...typical considering the area of MD/VA has been pseudo drought recently.

  17. Virginia in VirginiaNovember 19, 2015 at 7:25 AM

    Hey, it's November 19th already. Where's today's forecast?