Nation Braces for More Severe Storms

Another Severe Storm on Deck

As much of the United States is still feeling the effects of the severe storms that distressed the country last week, the nation braces for another round of severe weather.  Quick on Winter Storm Jupiter’s coattails is another severe storm, which already has a name.  Winter Storm “Kori” is forecast to hit the west coast by mid-week, establishing yet another atmospheric river over the region. Multiple weather warnings have been issued well ahead of this storm as most of the Pacific Northwest prepares for flooding, ice, freezing rain, and high winds. Parts of the Portland metro area along with the Washington Cascades and the Columbia River Gorge will have the greatest chance for damaging ice accumulations as cold air and precipitation will linger in those areas the longest.

severe storms

Precipitation Forecast for the Next 7 Days.

The storm is expected to persist through the weekend as the front plows eastward. Meanwhile, a concurrent storm will have the Southeast experiencing waves of heavy rain.  Two converging fronts will cause warm, tropical air to be pulled up from the south bringing unseasonably warm temperatures and heavy rainfall over the majority of Appalachia. Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes are possible. It appears 2017 will start off the year with the vengeance that was expected–but didn’t materialize–from last year’s El Nino weather pattern.

Earlier Severe Storms

In previous weeks, western states received much needed rain, helping to alleviate concerns due to record warmth and prolonged drought. Parts of the Sierra Mountain range, under drought since December of 2011, are now buried under as much as 10 feet and have already doubled the average snow-pack for this time of year.  Similarly, the State of Colorado has already received 75% of its annual snow-pack and a staggering 400 avalanches have been recorded to date. Down in Texas, heavy rains drenched the state and at least four tornadoes were spotted late Sunday.

The Midwest, however, seems to have taken the brunt of the recent bad weather.  The ice storm pushed eastward leaving a swath of downed trees, power outages and traffic accidents in its wake. Freezing rain and ice accumulated on trees and powerlines across the heartland, causing them to collapse under the added weight. Multiple Midwest states reported power outages leaving thousands of customers without electricity.  According to the Associated Press, Oklahoma was especially hard hit with “tens of thousands of Oklahoma homes and businesses (reporting a loss of) power during Jupiter.”

severe storms

Over an Inch of Ice Accumulation Causes Widespread Power Outages.

The swift and frigid storm also made for extremely hazardous driving conditions which resulted in several road closures and numerous auto accidents.  Hundreds of injuries and sadly 7 fatalities were caused by the slippery surfaces.

 

Sources:

https://weather.com/forecast/regional/news/winter-storm-kori-snow-ice-atmospheric-river-west-northwest-california-oregon

http://www.wfaa.com/weather/storms-combine-to-create-tornadoes-home-damage-in-dfw-and-beyond/386368403

http://www.aol.com/article/weather/2017/01/16/deadly-ice-storm-spreads-into-midwest-targets-new-england/21655905/

https://weather.com/news/weather/news/winter-storm-jupiter-ice-storm-plains-midwest-latest-news

Atmospheric River Brings Heavy Snow and Rain to California

California started 2017 off with an extremely active weather pattern. Since January 3rd, an “atmospheric river” has brought heavy rain and snow to much of the state. Ski areas within the Sierra Nevada mountain range are reporting close to record snow totals (Mammoth Mountain 101″ of snowfall, Heavenly 114″ and Squaw Valley 94″).

The lower elevations are receiving significant rainfall as well, causing some rivers to overflow.  Area lakes are nearing capacity, prompting officials to expel extra water in preparation for runoff from higher elevations. Though Southern California has not received as much rainfall as the Northern portions of the state, they continue to see rainfall totals in the .5″ to 1.0″ range per storm. Winter storms have now accounted for 5 deaths in Northern California. The forecast calls for January 10th and 11th to be the heaviest snow and rainfall period of the recent storms.

atmospheric river

An atmospheric river is a narrow corridor or filament of concentrated moisture in the atmosphere.

Far-reaching Effects

Since January 1st, officials in Lake Tahoe are reporting a rise in water level of roughly 1 foot, which is equal to about 33.6 billion gallons of water. Down in the Sacramento Valley, the state Water Resources Division had to open the gates of a 100-year-old levee in order to alleviate rising water levels. This was no small task, as each of the dam’s 48 doors had to be opened up manually.

Officials are expecting numerous avalanches in prone areas due to new snowfall on an already heavy snowpack. Avalanche warnings currently extend from as far north as Mt. Shasta to as far south as Mt. Whitney.  Mammoth Mountain Ski area had to stop operations over the weekend due to blizzard conditions and thunderstorms over the ski resort which could have put patrons at risk.

What is and Atmospheric River?

Sounding like something out of a science fiction novel about time travel, an atmospheric river is a narrow corridor or filament of concentrated moisture in the atmosphere.  When these “rivers in the sky” make landfall, they often release this water vapor in the form of heavy rain or snow.  The most common of such meteorological phenomena is a Pineapple Express, the name given to the warm water vapor plumes that originate over Hawaii and follow the jet stream northeast toward California. Many of California’s major flooding events have historically been a product of an atmospheric river.

Sources:

 

Landslide Concerns in Fire-Ravaged Gatlinburg TN

While the community of Gatlinburg, Tennessee grieves their losses and starts planning how to recover and rebuild, a new threat confronts the area. An inch and a half of winter rain helped put out the horrific fire over the weekend, but as we’ve covered in the past, wildfire-scorched areas often have an increased risk of landslides and mudslides. Local fire crews have thus far reported several small landslides that are slowing their ability to access damaged areas.

wildfire landslides

Before and After Image of a Burn Scar from the Chimney Tops 2 Fire

How a Fire Can Increase Landslide Risk?

Depending on soil type and topography, vegetation and land cover have a significant impact on the stability of the soil. Under normal conditions, leaf litter and other surface vegetation slow the rainfall water moving down a given slope.  This allows much of that moisture to permeate through the soil and drain into the water table or aquifer below, leaving the surface soil relatively stable.  Even during heavy rainfall when surface soil becomes saturated, root systems from brush and trees help to keep the soil from moving downhill.

However, when vegetation is lost due to wildfire (or other reasons such as construction), the factors that keep soil in place are minimized, and there is greater risk that the soil’s surface tension in a given area is overcome by gravity and washes down the slope.

Gatlinburg is in the Great Smoky Mountains, a very old mountain range within the Appalachian Mountain region. Due to the age of the mountains and the region’s climate, the mountains themselves are very weathered, and have much deeper soils than the mountains in the Western United States. The region is also heavily wooded, so the roots of the dense vegetation help to stabilize the nearby soil. When the wildfires recently moved through the area, the vegetation and leaf litter was burned out, and the stabilizing root systems were compromised. Storms then came and assisted in firefighting efforts, but the lack of vegetation due to the recent burns caused a few small slides. Before winter brings snow to the normally wet area, an increased likelihood for flooding, mudslides, and landslides remains a worrying possibility. As of December 7th, there is little rain forecasted in the region for several days.

Visit ready.gov to learn about how to better protect yourself, your family, and your property from landslides and other hazards.

GOES-R Environmental Satellite Launched

On November 19, NASA celebrated the successful launch of its latest weather satellite, the revolutionary GOES-R (named GOES-16 once it is operational). This next generation Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) will deliver better weather forecasting, severe storm tracking, and space weather monitoring for Earth’s entire western hemisphere.

GOES-R Liftoff on November 19, 2016

GOES-R Liftoff on November 19

GOES-R_Spacecraft

GOES Mission Overview

Positioned roughly 22,000 miles above Earth’s surface, GOES satellites continuously monitor the Western hemisphere, including the United States, the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, Central and South America, and Southern Canada. GOES satellites fly in a geostationary orbit, meaning they rotate around the Earth at the same rate as the Earth spins, so their view of the Earth’s surface never changes. The coverage, along with the sensor suite, allows for constant, near real time coverage of Earth’s weather, climate, and large storm events. GOES also has sensors looking toward the sun and space, measuring solar and space weather.

Why the GOES-R Satellite is Significant

The most exciting update to GOES-R in relation to disaster intelligence is the updated Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI). The image above describes the improvements to the new sensor. Below are the benefits related to these improvements.

  • Improved hurricane track and intensity forecasts
  • Improved route planning for aviation
  • More advanced warning for severe storms
  • More advanced warning for air quality warnings and alerts
  • Better fire detection and intensity estimation
  • More and better quality data for long-term climate variability studies

This is only one of several next-generation advanced sensors onboard GOES-R. Other sensors will help researchers study tornado warnings, climate, and space and solar weather. It’s no wonder that people are excited about this momentous launch!

Source(s):

http://www.goes-r.gov/

https://www.nesdis.noaa.gov/content/6-reasons-why-noaa%E2%80%99s-goes-r-satellite-matters

Hurricane Matthew Brings Dangerous Conditions to the Coast

Hurricane Matthew Update:  October 7, 2016.

Hurricane Matthew continues to push north paralleling the east coast of Florida.  The storm has yet to make landfall, but powerful wind gusts of over 100 mph have downed trees and caused power outages for nearly 1,000,000 people.  Bands of heavy rain currently stretch as far north as South Carolina with flash flooding likely across the lowland areas.  The hurricane has been reduced to a category 2 storm, staying just offshore, but the threat of storm surge flooding remains a critical concern.

Hurricane Matthew

Hurricane Matthew predicted path, as shown in the RZAlert Dashboard.

Unease Growing Over Storm Surge

The storm is currently off the northeast coast of Florida, dousing the coastal town of Jacksonville.  Storm surge flooding combined with heavy rain has already effected much of northeast Florida and Georgia, with–maybe–the worst conditions  yet to come.

In St. Augustine (FL), flooding preceded the storm inundating much of the city’s historic downtown with knee-deep water.  The storm surge in St. Augustine is projected to top 8 feet in some places as the water continues to rise. Nearby, the city of Jacksonville fears for an unprecedented event, warning residents of the potential for catastrophic damage. Officials are expecting storm surges as high as 9 feet and residents began evacuating days ago. According to the city’s mayor, anything over 3 feet is life-threatening.  A major tropical storm has not impacted the city of Jacksonville in over a century.

Charleston Susceptible

Fears are also mounting for the Charleston area where the eye-wall is projected to potentially center itself over the Coastal Carolina city come Saturday morning. Officials are worried the flood levels could be near or even surpass those experienced in the October 2015 flood event which set historic records in terms of damage and lives lost.  The nowCoast™ modeling of the potential storm surge by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows dangerous conditions far inland due to the numerous inlets and intercostal waterways. Interestingly, the storm is projected to move clockwise away from the Southeastern US coast and curl back around toward Cuba. Time will tell what else this storm has in store for an area that has historically escaped major hurricane impact.

Hurricane

Storm surge forecast for Charleston, NC.

Sources:

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/heres-hurricane-matthew-might-cause-worst-flooding/?utm_content=buffer1cf9c&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

https://weather.com/storms/hurricane/news/hurricane-matthew-bahamas-florida-georgia-carolinas-forecast

https://weather.com/news/news/south-carolina-historic-flood-rainfall-record-extreme

http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/07/us/hurricane-matthew-florida/

 

Unprecedented Rains Create Historic Louisiana Floods

While draught and high temperatures fuel large wildfires across much of the western United States this fire season, unprecedented rains in Louisiana have resulted in historic floods which some are calling the worst natural disaster since Hurricane Sandy.  The historic Louisiana floods began on August 10th with rains pummeling the Baton Rouge area.  By August 12th, flood waters had overflowed rivers and inundated the lowlands as rains continued to spread south and east across the state.  As the waters begin to recede, residents as well as local officials are beginning to understand the extent of the damage.

By comparison, Hurricane Sandy and the recent Louisiana flooding were pale in comparison to Louisiana’s other famous disaster, Hurricane Katrina, which hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005, killing over 1,800 people and causing over $100 billion in damage.

Louisiana Floods at a Glance

  • More than 60,000 homes have been damaged with some of the hardest hit communities reporting a total loss of 75% of their homes.
  • Flooding of this magnitude is only forecasted to occur once every 1000 years.
  • 6.9 Trillion gallons of rain fell in one week with some areas experiencing over 31 inches of rainfall in less than 15 hours.
  • The Amite River reached a new record high of 46.2 feet devastating the town of Denham Springs.
  • More than 30,000 people and 1,400 pets were rescued but tragically 13 Deaths have been reported as the result of the flooding and an unknown number of people still missing.
  • 20 parishes so far have been declared as disaster areas. Over 106,000 residents have registered for federal aid.
  • FEMA has approved more than $107 million is disaster relief grants. The Red Cross estimates their costs will rise well over $30 million.
Parishes Declared as Disaster Areas from Louisiana Floods

Louisiana Parishes Declared as Disaster Areas as of 08/23/2016.

El Nino to Impact US this Winter

Typical weather from El Nino could help both the Northern and Southern US this winter.

Shown below are the typical weather impacts from El Nino events for the months of January through March. The looming El Nino event should bring Late 2015/Early 2016 respite to the dry Southern US and bring a temporary halt to the bitter cold winters seen in the Northern US the last couple years.

Picture2

This could bring some respite to California’s bone dry areas and help restore reservoirs throughout the state.

Picture3

Today’s released Wildfire Potential Outook also stressed the impact that this coming El Nino could have on the dry fuel situation throughout the West and the predicted fire potential in the coming months. Read more about that at http://www.nifc.gov/nicc/predictive/outlooks/outlooks.htm.

 

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