Return to WordPress: A Personal Update

Wow, fellow weather bloggers, it has been a while since I’ve posted on here – almost choked on the accumulation of virtual dust. I’ve been on a hiatus, mainly because maintaining this blog was no longer a top priority *cough*or critical assignment*cough* and I have been busy with other things in my personal life and academic endeavors. Since my last post in early December of 2013, quite a few big changes have occurred; most for the better, but some not so great. Over the first few months of 2014, I was extremely busy putting together my applications for graduation from Chesapeake College and transfer admissions into North Carolina State University to OFFICIALLY declare my major in meteorology/atmospheric science. Accompanying this stressful time, a guy friend I had become acquainted with while at the community college began to get a bit too interested – and hello love life, I wasn’t expecting you to show your ugly face. I was accepted as a transfer student into NC State (the only admission application fee I paid, yay!), graduated from Chesapeake with top honors, and started a relationship with practically my best friend (some dorky music education/psychology double major who was feeling pretty darn brave). *It was totally all the weather talk that landed him, he’ll even admit it, so I don’t know why talking about the weather is considered a “turn-off” in the dating world.*

I’m not much of a pessimist, but with all this good stuff happening, there was bound to be a speed bump, right? Well, let’s try a brick wall from a cancer diagnosis. My father began to feel sick in May (or at least that’s when he finally told us). Doctor appointments galore and the conclusion was an ulcer – totally treatable, right? Well, it would have been if it was the correct diagnosis. More appointments, more tests, and more uncertainties lead up to August when we had enough and got him on the roster at Johns Hopkins. Mind you, right in the middle of this, I was also moving away, out of state, to begin at NCSU. Well, a few weeks and tests later, the diagnosis came on September 4th, stage IV esophageal/stomach cancer (resulting from nearly a lifetime in the fire department and fire protection). Needless to say, my first semester at NC State was extremely stressful and not my best, but I managed to rush home right after my last final and spend the last three weeks I would have with my father. He passed away on the morning of December 29th, 2014 – a day that the world just stopped, but also when I realized how much love can surround a person during a time like that, and how anomalous the healing process really is.

The following semester at NC State was mainly picking up the pieces and getting back into the rhythm of focusing on school. Nightly calls with the “Music Dork” (boy thing mentioned earlier) kept me sane as I frantically repaired that GPA as much as I could, as well as beginning to network with other meteorology majors on campus. Not living on/near campus made it a little harder to make the meetings for weather groups on campus, but still being able to tour the NWS in Raleigh as well as Raleigh’s largest broadcast station WRAL renewed that spark of passion that had gotten shoved to the back burner. Summer break came and went, as I returned home to my mom, sisters, and my boyfriend’s family and took two summer courses (no internships due to being a bit too occupied over the winter application period, but that’s okay). Now, I’m settling into what will be the beginning of my fourth week back in class, year two of three *hopefully* at State, and I actually had a little free time to consider blogging again.

That’s basically what I’ve been up to since my last blog post. I really have wanted to come back since last fall, because I love being able to focus on and write about a specific topic, but time has been an issue. I know that I still won’t have much time to blog due to school and my “adult life,” but a post here or there when I get inspired (or asked) to write about something usually doesn’t take too long. So, for those who actually read everything about my wonderful personal life, thanks – I’ll let you get back to your more important things instead of hearing my spiel. However, if you want to get more connected, I’m becoming much more active on my Twitter @ShaeWX (which is really all weather stuff – mainly for the Mid-Atlantic region with some sarcasm tossed in).

Advertisements

Monitoring Severe Weather Outbreaks Online

Fair warning; this is a VERY lengthy post. However, the information within this post is EXTREMELY important, especially for those who live in areas that are prone to severe weather. I do ask you to read through this post, as it breaks down the steps taken to monitor severe weather; using today’s (11/17/13) severe weather outbreak as an example. Additionally, some of the links may change following today’s event (they are “live” pages) – however, archived information can be pulled from the links by entering the date for Nov. 17, 2013.

First of all, in order for chasers and spotters to be activated by National Weather Service officials, there must be a considerable chance of severe weather. Many spotters and chasers analyze model imagery for elevated chances of severe weather. When the models begin to come into agreement, the potential of an event arises and usually, the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) issues a statement on the threat. These statements can be found on the SPC’s Convective Outlook, which are detailed for days 1 through 3, and threat areas mentioned for days 4 through 8. At the bottom of each image is a synopsis and analysis of the threat (although with the extensive meteorological jargon, it may be hard to understand for some). Today’s Convective Weather Outlook is a prime example of what the product looks like for an outbreak.

With today’s event, many NWS offices have activated their storm spotter networks. The individual NWS offices release statements, commonly in their Hazardous Weather Outlooks, that have a statement regarding spotter information. For an example, here is the Hazardous Weather Outlook for today’s event from the NWS office of Lincoln, IL. Additionally, the SPC will issue Public Severe Weather Outlooks (PWO) which is aimed at state and local emergency managers, along with spotters, chasers, and the general public. The information within a PWO is explained in terms that are easier to comprehend compared to the convective outlook discussions, and also provides a statement of precautions for the public to follow. I suggest to take the time to compare today’s PWO with the discussion of the convective outlook hyperlinked in the prior paragraph; can you tell the difference? Additionally, Severe Weather Specialist Dr. Greg Forbes of The Weather Chanel updates his Tor:Con for events such as these, with today’s highest Tor:Con value as a 9 for central and eastern Illinois and Indiana.

Now for the day of the potential severe weather outbreak, Mesoscale Discussions (MDs or MSDs) are issued by the SPC regarding the threat and potential for watch issuance. A national list of MSDs can be found on a branch of the SPC’s website. To view the MSD, simply click one of the red areas or one of the items on the list below. For an example of a MSD, here is MSD #2011 that was issued for much of IN, central/lower MI, and northwestern OH. Within the MSD discussion, the threat is listed and described (meteorological jargon, yet again), along with the probability of watch issuance and sometimes, even the specific type of watch (which for #2011, was 95% for a tornado watch).

Continuing on from Mesoscale discussions are the watches that are often issued shortly after the issuance of a MSD. Watches mean that conditions are favorable for the occurrence of a specific weather event. For this example, I want to focus on the tornado watches that have already been issued for today’s event. Additionally, I can take you a step further by introducing you to a rare form of a watch; a PDS. First, all active convective watches can be found on another branch of the SPC’s website. First example is of a regular tornado watch, TW #563; along with an evaluation of the threat, there are many other sections of information along with safety precautions within the watch page. I also suggest taking the time to flip through the different tabs at the top of the watch image to familiarize with the different information.

Now, for the introduction to the PDS watch. A PDS watch is issued when the threat is extremely high for significant severe weather and/or tornadic activity. PDS stands for Potentially Dangerous Situation, and although it can be issued as a severe thunderstorm watch (usually for a high probability of damaging winds or extremely large hail), it is most commonly seen as a tornado watch. For this example, I will use PDS TW #561 (which was the resulting watch issuance of MSD #2011, linked above). The information within the watch is similar to that of the normal tornado watch. However, there is a considerable difference regarding the risk evaluations.

Following the development of a thunderstorm, there is the potential for a warning to be issued. Warnings mean that the event is imminent or already occurring. Although you can find a list of warnings on a branch of SPC’s page, I prefer the self-updating warning page from the College of DuPage’s Meteorology department. Within the warning texts are reports, radar information, hazard information, location of threat, path of threat, and precautions for the public to follow. Something to always remember is to heed all warnings issued by your local NWS office!

The last topic I wish to touch is storm reports. Storm reports are very important when it comes to producing new warnings or analyzing an event. Even though most storm reports are relayed by emergency managers, state/county officials, and trained storm spotters and chasers, the public is also encouraged to make reports to their local NWS offices. The SPC keeps a current list of storm reports, which are separated into unfiltered and filtered categories. Often times, there is a statement within warning text on how to make a report to your local NWS office. First of all, here are the guidelines, events, and criterion for making a report. Additionally, if there is no information regarding how to make a report, different methods and instructions for making a report can be found here.

Thundersnow

We’ve heard plenty about thunder and lightning occurring during an ordinary thunderstorm, but did you know that it’s also possible to have thunder and lightning during a snowstorm? This phenomenon is commonly known as thundersnow. According to an article published by National Geographic in 2009, thundersnow is caused by an unstable air mass which is cold enough to produce wintery precipitation. The occurrence of thundersnow is also linked to heavier snowfall rates within powerful blizzards or heavy snow squalls.

The occurrence of thundersnow is relatively rare, proving to be the most common in strong squalls of snow. The amount of energy and atmospheric instability needed to create such an event is usually uncommon during the winter months due to cooler temperatures. However, with a strong burst of cold air that meets warmer air, it creates a typical “thunderstorm-like” environment that is favorable for lightning and thunder.

For further reading on the science behind the occurrence of thundersnow, here are some other studies that have investigated the topic:

Climatology of Thundersnow Events over the Contiguous United States

An Overview of Thundersnow

A Review of Thundersnow Events across the United States

Although the occurrence of thundersnow is rare, there are areas that have better chances of experiencing such events. Portions of the northern Midwest and Great Lakes regions have statistically seen more confirmed thundersnow events. However, thundersnow can occur anywhere, as long as the atmospheric dynamics are present.

So what exactly does a thundersnow event look and sound like? Well, it’s basically like a thunderstorm while it’s snowing. Usually, instead of seeing a bolt of lightning, the sky is illuminated by a flash. Not long after the flash of lightning, the thunder roars. An interesting fact also discussed in the above research is that the snow acts as a sound suppressor. Unlike being able to hear thunder from many miles away, the thunder that occurs in a thundersnow event is fairly localized.

I will leave you now with some examples of recent thundersnow events. Some of my favorite clips involve The Weather Channel Meteorologist Jim Cantore. Jim has had some major luck when it comes to having thundersnow interrupt his live and recorded broadcasts, and his reactions are priceless.

Jim Cantore; Harrisburg, PA; “Snowtober” 2011
Ginger Zee; Topeka, KS; 2-21-13
Jim Cantore; Worcester, MA; 12-7-96

Jim Cantore; Chicago, IL; 2-2-11 (best Cantore reaction!)

Kyle B. Swartz; Chicago IL; 2-2-11

On a personal note, I am asking of my followers and viewers to participate and share my survey regarding the use of social media to disperse vital news, weather, and emergency information. This survey is part of my research project for an honors contract at my college and I am hoping to collect at least 500 responses. The survey is a quick ten questions and should only take about two to three minutes. Thank you in advance!
Link to survey: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1hJ2SNBwvh_jPXQjJC2skbdhNXD5nTwr_xsG3CuPSm2I/viewform

Analysis and Comparison of The Weather Channel’s Storm:Con and Tor:Con

With the chance of severe weather this weekend for the eastern Midwest, I figured a quick analysis of The Weather Channel’s Tornado Conditions Index would be fairly on-topic. TWC’s Tornado Conditions Index, commonly known as the Tor:Con, was developed by TWC’s severe weather expert, Dr. Greg Forbes. As stated on the Tor:Con’s webpage, the Tor:Con serves as an estimate of the risk for tornadic development within a certain radius. The Tor:Con’s scale runs from 0 to 10, which when multiplied by 10, gives the percent chance of the development of a tornado within 50 miles of a location. When the Tor:Con value is zero, the index is suggesting a minimal to nonexistent chance of tornadic development. However, the higher the Tor:Con value, the higher the risk is for tornadic activity.

Although the Tor:Con is a fairly downplayed analysis of computer models, it does a decent job of describing the risk to the general public. The Tor:Con is very easy to understand, while some of the model imagery can be extremely confusing to those who are not used to such technologies. For example, please compare the following links below – then decide which is easier for you to understand. The forecasts are current as of Nov 15, 2013 for the possible severe weather event forecasted for Sunday, Nov 17th. As with anything in the meteorological world, they are subject to change.
TWC’s Tor:Con
Significant Tornado Parameter (STP)
SPC’s Convective Outlook

With the success of the Tor:Con, The Weather Channel debuted the Storm:Con in the winter of 2012. Storm:Con was one of the three winter-related products that were released by TWC in 2012, along with the controversial winter storm names. The Storm:Con focuses on the impact of a winter storm on major cities, while the Tor:Con was more of a regional analysis. Storm:Con has the same 0-10 scaled index and is also based on computer-generated models. However, the final index value is “adjusted by evaluating subjective factors that influence societal impact.” This makes the Storm:Con more of a human-assumption than a science-based model, which has also introduced controversy in the meteorological world.

With the comparison of the Tor:Con and the Storm:Con, many give the gold medal to the Tor:Con. The Tor:Con does a decent job of matching the actual models and focuses on regional risk instead of localized impact. The Storm:Con is biased towards large cities and impact on travel rather than a complete focus on modeled  precipitation, wind, and temperature factors. Additionally, with the difficulty of forecasting winter systems, the accuracy levels of the Storm:Con and Tor:Con are considerably different. Regardless of what the science says, it is up to the viewer to discern such information to their personal use and decision-making. Just as one would do for news, the more information that is examined creates a better analysis of the threat.

On a personal note, I am asking of my followers and viewers to participate and share my survey regarding the use of social media to disperse vital news, weather, and emergency information. This survey is part of my research project for an honors contract at my college and I am hoping to collect at least 500 responses. The survey is a quick ten questions and should only take about two to three minutes. Thank you in advance!
Link to survey: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1hJ2SNBwvh_jPXQjJC2skbdhNXD5nTwr_xsG3CuPSm2I/viewform

Weather Phobias: Why So Scared?

What are YOU afraid of? There are many known phobias, such as arachnophobia (fear of spiders), claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces), and for the Charlie Brown fans out there, pantophobia (the fear of everything). One could spend hours going through the list of phobias, but I wish to focus on weather-related phobias. Recently, AccuWeather, the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang, and other weather-sites have posted articles on the topic just in time for Halloween.

First of all, Dictionary.com defines a phobia as a persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that leads to a compelling desire of avoidance. As for weather-related phobias, the definition is a fear of a meteorological occurrence, such as rain, snow, thunderstorms, and hurricanes. The Weather Channel Meteorologist Kelly Cass is featured in a video that discusses weather-related phobias that was released this October. Additionally, humans are not the only sufferers of weather-related phobias. Many animals also fear specific meteorological conditions. For example, the company ThunderWorks sells products  that claims to soothe cats and dogs that suffer from Astraphobia (also called brontophobia), which is a fear of thunderstorms.

The Weather Channel put together a group of images with the definitions of 19 wild weather phobias. Additionally, The Weather Channel also posted an article on weather phobias.  Below is a copy of The Weather Channel’s table from that article:

Phobia

Fear of…

Lilapsophobia

Tornadoes or hurricanes

Brontophobia/Astraphobia

Lightning and thunder

Antlophobia

Floods

Chionophobia

Snow

Ombrophobia

Rain

Ancraophobia

Wind

Heliophobia

Sun

Thermophobia

Heat

Cryophobia

Cold

Homichlophobia

Fog

Nephophobia

Clouds

Pagophobia

Ice or frost

Cymophobia

Waves

Although weather phobias are treatable with psychiatric treatment or may resolve with time, those who suffer weather phobias require support during times of anxiety. For those with young children who suffer weather-related phobias, there are a few tricks to help soothe your child during such an event. Angela Hathaway has an article on Examiner.com that includes ten ideas to help children that fear the weather. Often times, distracting the child with a calm game, craft, or activity during the event will help. Some of these tips can also be applied to help those who are older cope with their weather phobias. If you are with someone who suffers from a weather phobia and the meteorological event occurs, the most helpful mechanism is to be supportive and remain calm. The goal is to make the sufferer feel safe and comfortable until the event has passed.

Weather phobias can be extremely debilitating, but for some, it results in fascination of the meteorological occurrence that initially caused the phobia. Many meteorologists, storm chasers, and weather enthusiasts are actual sufferers of weather phobias. AccuWeather’s meteorologist Heather Waldman cites a fear of storms as the reason she became a broadcast meteorologist in an AccuWeather article posted by Jillian MacMath. Stu Ostro, a senior meteorologist at The Weather Channel, also cited a fear of thunderstorms for initiating his passion for meteorology. CBS Minnesota also explored weather phobias and explained that some of the best coping mechanisms are researching the meteorological phenomena that initiate the fear. This research has led many sufferers into careers within the field of atmospheric science and meteorology.

Personally, I am a sufferer of astraphobia. I have had the debilitating fear of thunderstorms for as long as I could remember. As a child, I spent countless hours watching The Weather Channel and researching thunderstorms and tornadoes. I often tracked storms and read radar images to plan when I should play in our basement to avoid being outdoors or in my attic bedroom as the storm approached. During my middle and high school years, I began research into universities that offered meteorology degrees. Currently, I have an avid interest in weather photography, mainly severe cloud formations and lightning, which has brought me out of my fear. Eventually, I wish to move to Oklahoma for my career in meteorology, which I would have never thought I would do just a few years ago. My fear has transformed into a genuine passion for severe weather; I love the beauty, the power, and the exhilaration that a thunderstorm brings – if I am in a safe location.

Atlantic Hurricane Season

Good evening, fellow bloggers. It’s about time I got another post out! Since we’re just about to wrap up the Atlantic hurricane season, I figured that I should post something pertaining to tropical systems. Although tropical system develop elsewhere around the world, I will focus on tropical systems in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

First of all, for those unsure on what the “Atlantic hurricane season” is, According to the National Hurricane Center page “Tropical Cyclone Climatology”, it’s a time period (from June 1st to November 30th) where conditions are usually favorable for the development of tropical systems. Yes, it is still possible for tropical systems to form outside of that time frame. Most of these “non-season” storms form in May, but there are also a few throughout history that have formed in December.

The peak of the Atlantic Hurricane Season is early September, followed by a smaller peak in mid-October. The most common tracks and points of development differ depending on the atmospheric conditions and portions of the season. Any coastal region is at risk for tropical system impact, although some locations are more prone than others. The Outer Banks of North Carolina and the southern tip of Florida have experienced higher tropical system return periods. However, the rest of Florida and the Gulf coast are not far behind with their return periods. Additional information about these topics can also be found on the National Hurricane Center’s Tropical Cyclone Climatology page.

After all of this overview, I wish to discuss the very quiet Atlantic hurricane season that occurred this year. The main culprit for the quiet hurricane season was the persistence of dry air over peak developmental areas, as shown in a graphic posted by the Capital Weather Gang in late September. With the lack of warm, moist air in peak developmental areas, tropical disturbances that actually developed quickly dissipated. While the 2013 season persists until the end of the month, it is safe to say that this year’s tropical development in the Atlantic will be below average. In conclusion, those who love the beauty and power of tropical systems had minimal satisfaction this season. However, those who live in high-risk areas (and their insurance companies) savored the hiatus.

Naming Winter Storms

Although it’s only the beginning of October, all of that snow in South Dakota and Wyoming has got me thinking about The Weather Channel’s thought of naming winter systems. Ever since last winter, The Weather Channel (TWC) has been naming every winter storm that has developed, regardless of how the storm “performed” with its precipitation. Although TWC promotes the idea, the same idea is frowned upon in much of the meteorological world. Additionally, the National Weather Service has even criticized the idea to name winter storms. This blog post is going to represent both sides of the debate on naming winter storms so that you, the reader, can make a decision whether the ides of naming winter storms should be promoted or thrown in the dumpster.

Let’s look through the perspective of The Weather Channel regarding the naming of winter storms. Citing the use of names by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) for tropical systems, TWC justifies the idea of naming winter storms as a way to “raise awareness.” An article published on TWC’s website in November 2012, “Why The Weather Channel is Naming Winter Storms” by Tom Niziol, explains the thought behind the concept of naming winter systems. TWC discusses the benefits of the idea will “raise the awareness of the public, which will lead to more pro-active efforts to plan ahead, resulting in less impact and inconvenience overall.”

Although it’s not entirely known what criterion is used by TWC to officiate the naming of a winter system, it is known from their press release that “naming will occur no more than three days prior to a winter storm’s expected impact.” They justify this limit by stating that it will “ensure that there is strong confidence the system could have a significant effect on large populations.” In a USA Today article written by Doyle Rice, there is a mention that the storm-naming criterion is also based on the National Weather Service’s thresholds for winter-weather warnings.

From their blog post earlier this month, the Capital Weather Gang (CWG), affiliated with the Washington Post, pointed out that The Weather Channel’s press release “makes the case for why it’s fit to effectively be the parent [of naming winter storms].” Additionally, CWG also points out the implication TWC makes that they are “as qualified as the National Hurricane Center (which names tropical storms).” Within this same press release, TWC states “The Weather Channel has the meteorological ability, support, and technology to bring a more systematic approach to naming winter storms, similar to the way tropical storms have been named.” However, with The Weather Channel, a mere media outlet, comparing itself to be on par with a government organization, this is where many of TWC’s opponents voice criticism.

From the opposition to the idea of naming winter systems, most cite the lack of criterion in order for a winter storm to “earn” its name. Another support of the opposing beliefs is that the National Weather Service voiced opposition and refusal to use the idea through an administrative message that was sent out during a nor’easter in November 2012. As meteorologist Brad Panovich of WCNC stated on his blog post, “since the NWS isn’t using the names, this means the Associated Press and many other media outlets will not be using the names either.” This brings up the slaying truth to TWC’s intended “awareness”, if they are the only media outlet to use it, how much awareness is the name itself generating compared to the mention of the storm, without a name, by all the other media outlets? Lastly, the third reason many cite while opposing the idea is TWC’s cravings for ratings. The Weather Channel, owned by NBC, needs the ratings, just like any other television station, to remain on-air. With much of the ratings leaving traditional television and moving to internet and social media, many tie the ideal of naming winter systems with the ease of internet tagging. Regardless of those who support or oppose the idea of naming winter storms, it will eventually come down to whether any more organizations, government or media, will adopt the new idea.

What do you think about the naming of winter storms? Leave a comment explaining why you agree or disagree with the TWC’s idea below!