“It’s all about the updraft”

College of DuPage meteorology professor Dr. Paul Sirvatka presents at the DuPage County Severe Weather Seminar, March 11, 2017
College of DuPage meteorology professor Dr. Paul Sirvatka presents at the DuPage County Severe Weather Seminar, March 11, 2017

The title of this post is one of the main points of a presentation I heard at the DuPage County (Ill.) Severe Weather Seminar March 11. College of DuPage meteorology professor Paul Sirvatka reminded spotters that the key to spotting a tornado in a classic supercell is knowing where the updraft is. As Dr. Sirvatka put it, a tornado is a “big sucky thing” that forms under an updraft.

Unfortunately, updrafts are not always easy to find. Depending on your location, important storm features can be obscured, making spotting difficult. And the closer you get to a storm, the more difficult it becomes to identify the important features.

Continue reading

135 Attend Ft. Wayne SKYWARN storm spotter training

135 people attend SKYWARN storm spotter training presented Feb. 21, 2017 by meteorologists from the Northern Indiana National Weather Service office at the Public Safety Academy in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

This is a “reprint” of an article I submitted to the March issue of Allen County HamNews, the monthly newsletter of all three Fort Wayne-based ham radio clubs.

An unusually large crowd of 135 people attended SKYWARN storm spotter training at the Public Safety Academy on the south side of Fort Wayne Feb. 21. That compares to 87 in 2016 and 91 in 2015.

This year’s presentation included video and images from the Aug. 24, 2016 tornado outbreak. Some interesting tidbits from the presentation included:

Continue reading

Top 5 ways to get severe weather warnings

Indiana map showing Risks of severe weather between 9 a.m. ET Thurs., April 20, 2017 and 8 a.m. the following day. Source: National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center
Risks of severe weather between 9 a.m. ET Thurs., April 20, 2017 and 8 a.m. the following day. Source: National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center

This post was updated at 9:40 a.m. April 20, 2017

A large part of Indiana has a level two (out of five) risk of severe weather today (April 20, 2017) and this evening, according to the National Weather Service (NWS) Storm Prediction Center. The primary threat today is damaging straight-line winds or gusts of 58 mph or greater, but an isolated tornado cannot be ruled out in much of northeastern and east-central Indiana.

That makes now an especially good time for Hoosiers (and everyone else who lives in an area that ever receives severe weather) to make sure they have good ways to know about any warnings their local NWS offices issue.

So, here’s my list of the best ways to get tornado, severe thunderstorm and flash flood warnings. Continue reading

A chat with the creator of the weather podcast genre

For 11 years, Alabama broadcast meteorologist James Spann (ABC 33/40, Birmingham) and several of his friends in the weather enterprise have produced a weekly podcast (internet talk show) called WeatherBrains. It was the first in what has become a group of weather-related podcasts that are jointly celebrating the first-annual National Weather Podcast Month in March.

The weather brains normally record WeatherBrains on Monday evenings. Audience members can watch the discussion live on YouTube, watch it later on YouTube or download the program as an audio recording for listening at their convenience.

W9LW’s Ramblings had chance to talk to Spann about the show that started the weather podcast genre and now has an audience in the tens of thousands. Watch the 14-minute interview on YouTube or read it below. The transcript includes a few helpful notes and hyperlinks.

W9LW’s Ramblings: What prompted you to get into the podcast business? Continue reading

NWS plans website changes March 7 — Bookmarks must change

The National Weather Service (NWS) plans to change its website, www.weather.gov on March 7. When the change takes place any bookmark you’ve created to a specific forecast will no longer work. You’ll have to go to the home page at the URL above, enter the location for which you want a forecast and create a new bookmark for the page that appears. For more information, see the message below that the NWS sent to all Weather-Ready Nation ambassadors.

Dear Weather-Ready Nation Ambassadors,

As part of our continued effort to modernize weather.gov, the National Weather Service (NWS) is upgrading our point forecast, zone forecast, and product pages. Once these changes go live on March 7, all existing bookmarks to forecast.weather.gov will change. Links to a forecast page will display an error message that includes a URL to the new location. You will need to update your bookmarks to continue to access our forecasts quickly after the upgrade. After March 7, the new URL can also be found by searching for your location from forecast.weather.gov or www.weather.gov. These changes will not impact office pages located at www.weather.gov

If you run an automated process to get NWS data from forecast.weather.gov, you will need to switch to the new developer API by March 7. Specifications for the new API can be found here.

The primary focus of the upgrade is to make the forecast pages more reliable during weather events, but there are some new benefits of new forecast pages that include:

  • Addition of 7-day hourly forecast information to the point forecast page
  • A new mobile-friendly landing and graphical/tabular forecast page
  • Low-bandwidth optimization for all pages, on a partial roll-out at launch
  • Option to automatically detect your location on a mobile device
  • A new widget mode that allows you to customize the information on the point forecast

We overhauled the architecture of our application platform to provide a more stable and consistent service to meet the demand of severe weather events. The platform also introduces a modernized API that will make it easier for web developers to create high-quality applications and services to share NWS data. The updated web site now provides a complete mobile-friendly experience with optimizations for low bandwidth and customized weather widgets. We also have new data centers located in College Park, MD, and Boulder, CO, to provide 100% backup capability for the operational data used within the forecast process.

We look forward to providing you with useful and timely information using our improved connectivity and new design.

For more details, please read our Service Change Notice.

Georgia tornado relief volunteer need increases

Operation Blessing Albany, Georgia tornado relief
Operation Blessing photo

The people of Albany, Georgia continue to need volunteer assistance to recover from last week’s tornado outbreak. One of my favorite relief organizations sent today the email message below, which explains why the need for volunteers from outside the area has increased. Please share this information with any congregations or others who might be interested in helping.

Operation Blessing International Logo

IMPORTANT: Please note that if you need lodging, please do not leave your home until you have received a CONFIRMED RESERVATION. Our field team cannot accept anyone who does not have a CONFIRMED RESERVATION

DEAR OB VOLUNTEERS,
As we move into “Week 2,” we often refer to it as “Phase 2,” because the local volunteer response begins to drop dramatically as businesses reopen, schools reopen and residents return to work. These factors significantly lower our volunteer numbers, which means that we need out-of-town volunteers even more now. We are writing you today to ask you to consider bringing a team to help us help these precious residents over the next 2 – 3 weeks.

VOLUNTEER INFORMATION:
Operation Blessing is accepting volunteers daily at 8:00 AM (Monday – Saturday) at New Birth Fellowship Church in Albany, GA. We have two orientation times each day. Orientation begins at 8:30 AM and 1:00 PM. Operation Blessing will provide everything you need – work assignments, tools, and lunch. All we ask is that you provide your own transportation to and from the work sites. No reservations are needed for daily volunteers.

New Birth Fellowship Church
2106 Radium Springs Road
Albany, GA
Onsite Volunteer Line: 757.374.0944

Volunteer Housing NOW OPEN (CONFIRMED Reservation is Required): Operation Blessing provides FREE volunteer housing in Albany. Operation Blessing will provide your lodging, meals, tools and work assignments, free of charge. All we ask volunteers to provide is their own transportation to and from the worksite each day. Volunteers must be 18 years old or older and serve in teams of at least 2 people. To get more information and to register for volunteer housing, please contact our National Volunteer Manager, Trudy Rauch, at 757.226.3407 or send your name, phone number, date you would like to come and number of volunteers in your team to volunteer@ob.org. We will call you back within 24-48 hours. We require that all volunteers needing overnight housing register 24-48 hours in advance. Please make sure you receive your email confirmation before heading to Albany because our field teams will not be able to accept anyone who does not have a CONFIRMED RESERVATION.

Volunteer Opportunities: Volunteers are needed to help residents sort their belongings to keep what is salvageable, help with debris removal (a lot of wheelbarrow work), chainsaw crews, serving and preparing meals in our mobile kitchen and installing tarps on damaged roofs.

Please feel free to call me with any questions you have and to register your team for overnight volunteer housing.

Sincerely,
Trudy

Trudy Rauch
National Volunteer & U.S. Programs Manager
U.S. Disaster Relief
Operation Blessing International
977 Centerville Turnpike | Virginia Beach, VA 23463
office: (757) 226-3407|
fax: (757) 277-0231 | web: www.ob.org

Operation Blessing International
977 centerville turnpike virginia beach, va 23463
office: 
(757) 226-3407| fax: (757) 277-0231 | web: www.ob.org

 

Indiana ham radio SKYWARN net changes name, scope

Allen County, Indiana SKYWARN net operations manual cover thumbnailThe amateur radio SKYWARN net based in Fort Wayne will undergo slight changes, effective Feb 1, 2017. Formerly known as the IMO SKYWARN Quadrant Two Net, it will now be referred to as the Allen County SKYWARN Net. The net will continue, however, to accept and relay reports from spotters outside Allen County, including stations in places like DeKalb and Defiance County, which were not officially part of the former quadrant net’s responsibility. Continue reading

Believe it or not, some snowstorm forecasts on Facebook are bogus!

Snowfall forecast map from the European numerical weather prediction model run on Dec. 16, 2013 for the forecast period Dec. 22-23. What actually happened Dec. 22 and 23 wasn't even close to this!
Widely shared snowfall forecast map from the European numerical weather prediction model run on Dec. 16, 2013 for the forecast period Dec. 22-23. What actually happened Dec. 22 and 23 wasn’t even close to this!

Winter weather is just around the corner in Indiana, which means so are authentic-looking but bogus long-range snowstorm forecasts on social media.

It won’t be long before we see claims that a storm a week or more away will bring huge snow accumulations. Many will have official-looking forecast maps, like the one above (which turned out to be wrong, by the way).

But these posts won’t be the work of professional meteorologists. Many will be the creations of school kids, passing themselves off as weather experts.

This is Winter Weather Preparedness Week in Indiana, so it seems like a good time to prepare readers for the ominous-looking but unreliable snow forecasts they’ll soon see.

To understand what amateur weather enthusiasts put on social media, it helps to know something about the computer programs that professional meteorologists use to guide their forecasts. These programs are called numerical weather prediction models. They simulate Earth’s atmosphere by describing it in a complex series of very complicated mathematical formulas.

The programs built on these formulas run several times a day on supercomputers around the world. Much of the output of these programs is available on the Web, in both numeric and graphical form.

The output of computerized atmosphere models is inherently inaccurate for several reasons, including:

  1. It’s not yet possible to completely describe our chaotic atmosphere in mathematical equations and
  2. The programs don’t have access to enough data about what our atmosphere is doing at the time they run (e.g. what the temperature, wind speed and wind direction are 10,000 feet over any given part of the planet).

Nonetheless, these programs kick out predictions of what the weather might be at any location at any time, as far in the future as 16 days, despite that fact that no computer or human can reliably forecast the weather that far in advance.

Now, imagine a young weather enthusiast who craves attention and loves snowstorms (because they get him out of school). When he sees an indication of heavy accumulations in the output of a single computer model, he might paste that model’s map into a Facebook post in which he writes a dire forecast of impending doom. Such an amateur forecaster might not be aware of (or care about) the model limitations described above. But she’ll love all the “likes” and shares her post receives!

So how do I know what to believe? First, I’m automatically suspicious of any social media post that forecasts specific snowfall amounts more than a couple days in advance. Second, I ignore any forecast that doesn’t come directly from professional sources I trust, such as:

  • The National Weather Service.
  • Local, degreed broadcast meteorologists.
  • Certain commercial weather forecasting companies.

If that ominous snowstorm forecast didn’t come from one of the above, I won’t share it on social media. I hope you’ll join me in that practice.

Louisiana flood victims still need volunteer support

Damage in a Louisiana home from the August, 2016 flood. Operation Blessing photo
Damage in a Louisiana home from the August, 2016 flood. Operation Blessing photo

You might not have thought much lately about the disastrous flooding that hit Louisiana August 12-14. You might have assumed that now, three weeks later, the communities there have recovery pretty much in hand. You’d be wrong.

Operation Blessing photo
Operation Blessing photo

Today, Christian relief organization Operation Blessing put out a new plea for volunteer assistance in Louisiana. As you’ll read, the organization is even prepared to provide lodging for volunteers who travel from outside the area.

Please share this information with anyone you know who might be able to help.

Dear OB Volunteer:

More than 1,500 volunteers have already joined the effort to help and restore hope following the catastrophic floods in Louisiana this past month. With an army of faithful volunteers we have served over 13,500 meals, sent 5 semi-truckloads of emergency relief supplies, and have helped numerous homeowners clear away the flooded debris from their homes – giving them hope to start the rebuilding process. But there is still much more to do!

Volunteers are urgently needed to help sort through and salvage belongings, clear away flooded debris, and mud-out and gut homes – tearing out soggy sheetrock and flooring – so families can start the rebuilding process. Operation Blessing invites you to recruit a team and help restore hope to those who have lost so much.

Operation Blessing is sending volunteers out Monday – Saturday now through September 30. Volunteers who are local to the area (and do NOT need volunteer housing), can go directly to Volunteer Check-In each day at 8:30 AM or Noon. (Please arrive 15 minutes early to complete your volunteer registration.)  Volunteers should wear long pants and hard-sole shoes. Operation Blessing will provide tools, safety equipment, a safety briefing, t-shirt, and lunch.

Volunteer Check-In
Monday- Saturday at 8:30 AM
Healing Place Church (Denham Springs Campus)
569 Florida Avenue SW
Denham Springs, LA 70726

Volunteer Housing: For volunteers traveling from outside the area, Volunteer Housing is available. You can request housing by sending an email to volunteer@ob.org. Please include your name, telephone number, the number of team members, and the dates you would like to serve. You can also call 757-226-3407 to reserve housing. Reservations must be made 48 hours prior to your requested arrival time.  Operation Blessing will provide your lodging, meals, tools, and make work assignments. All we ask volunteers to provide is their own transportation to/from the work site each day.

Please note: all volunteers must be at least 18 years old and serve in teams of at least two people.

Thank you for your support and heart to serve those in need. If you have any questions or would like more information, please call 757-226-3407 or email volunteer@ob.org.

God Bless,

Kerry

Kerry L. Dodson
National Volunteer & U.S. Programs Manager

U.S. Disaster Relief
Operation Blessing International
977 centerville turnpike virginia beach, va 23463
office: (757) 226-3407|fax: (757) 277-0231 | web: www.ob.org

How new friends changed my attitude about storm chasers

Storm chasers on a storm
Photo by Michael Enfield, used with permission

For some time, I’ve looked at amateur storm chasers with some disdain. I believed that too many were putting themselves into too much danger, just to see, photograph and/or video record tornados. I doubted that many chasers were truly motivated by improving public safety and even fewer were doing real science, no matter what they said. I was concerned that many chasers set poor examples for the general public and that their “antics” encouraged lesser informed people to take uneducated and unwise risks.

I’ve been a SKYWARN storm spotter for more than a quarter century. When talking to friends, family members and even journalists about my volunteer service to the National Weather Service (NWS), I was careful to make sure they understood that I’m not a chaser, like the people they’ve seen on TV or on the Web. My ultimate goal, I’d explain, isn’t to see tornadoes, it’s to help protect my community from possible storms by staying close to home and relaying valuable information to the NWS.

So it was with some trepidation that I attended an event in November, 2015 called INChaserCon, a one-day convention in the Indianapolis area for storm chasers. I’m glad I went. Some of the people I met there subsequently changed my thinking. They are admittedly driven by a desire to see tornadoes. But my subsequent experience with them demonstrated that they’re also very passionate about getting reports to the NWS.

After the chasers learned that I have access to NWSChat – a private, internet-based text chatroom run by the NWS – they invited me to join them on Zello, a smartphone app with which they communicate with each other—so I could relay their reports to the NWS via NWSChat.

That’s exactly what happened during the August, 2016 tornado outbreak in Indiana and Ohio. As a tornadic storm moved east from Kokomo into the county warning area of my local NWS office, storm chasers John Tinney, Eric Lawson and David Buell reported wall clouds, funnel clouds, etc. via Zello. I relayed those reports via NWSChat.

Then, a storm over my own home in Fort Wayne, Indiana received a tornado warning. Storm chaser Michael Enfield immediately headed toward that storm. Via Zello, he promptly reported a wall cloud, then funnel clouds and then a tornado for me to relay via NWSChat. The NWS survey report recorded the time of the tornado’s initial touchdown as 5:27 p.m. – the same time as Enfield’s report, confirming that he saw and reported the tornado when it first touched down. That storm eventually did EF-3 damage to a rural part of Allen County, Indiana.

Throughout the event, any time the chasers had something to report, if I wasn’t immediately available on Zello, they’d keep trying until I acknowledged their reports. Getting reports through to the NWS was clearly very important to them. By the end of the event, I had typed 50 reports into NWSchat. All but about 15 of those came from storm chasers on Zello. The rest came from storm spotters via ham radio.

By aggressively chasing storms, my new friends put themselves in positions to immediately report weather that was not near any traditional SKYWARN spotters at the time. By religiously reporting, they played significant roles in protecting people in the paths of the storms.

A Facebook post by Lawson sums up pretty well how this particular group of storm chasers sees things:

“I noticed a developing supercell heading towards Kokomo was looking really strong and rushed out the door. By the time I was on interstate 69 southbound the strong EF3 was already in progress and heading towards the town in which I have spent many days of my youth, and is home to many great friends and their families. Hearing reports of the devastation in progress on the radio made my heart sink. I was rushing south in horror wondering if anyone I knew had been hurt. This is the moment that things really changed for me, I felt less excited about seeing tornadoes, and much more concerned with providing accurate information to keep people informed.”

I have no doubt there are other storm chasers out there who rarely report their observations to the NWS. There are likely some that don’t care about anything but the excitement of seeing a tornado.

But I’m convinced that the storm chasers I know are not among these. They’ve changed my attitude about chasers.

%d bloggers like this: