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Nov. 23, 2017
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Glenn Burns weather


Winter prediction: Warmer and drier than normal  

After the record high temperatures last month and the air that came from the tropical rainforests of Central America, courtesy of Hurricane Nate, I bet you thought we would never see any cool weather last month. We did of course and now everyone is asking what the weather will be like this winter. NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) issued its winter weather outlook and it looks like we’re going to see a very typical La Nina pattern. We are currently in a La Nina Watch.  In the simplest of explanations, La Nina is part of a cyclical pattern of ocean warming (El Nino) and ocean cooling (La Nina) in the eastern or central equatorial Pacific Ocean. If you’re asking what ocean temperatures in the Pacific Ocean has to do with our winter weather, the answer is: A lot! This pocket of cooler sea-surface temperatures off the west coast of South America along the equator disrupts global wind patterns. It forces the polar branch of the jet stream to stay farther north.  This will mean the southern states will generally warmer and drier than average. That being said, we will still see blasts of cold arctic air plunge into the Southeast from time to time. However, the overall average temperatures will be much warmer for us.
 
If you are wondering about snow, I think we should all be more concerned about ice. I have been forecasting the weather for north Georgia for the better part of 36 years. I have seen a thing or two. It has been my experience that we will see many more “Wedge” type weather events with a La Nina. The technical name for the wedge is CAD or Cold Air Damming. When an arctic high pressure systems breaks loose and drive across Canada into the northeast part of the country, the clock-wise wind circulation around the high drives a shallow layer of cold air south. The air is cold and dense and behaves much like water. The Appalachian Mountains act like a dam, funneling the shallow layer of cold air into north Georgia. The air is frequently coldest around Hall County. 
 
In a typical CAD event, winds above ground are coming in from the southwest at about 3,000 to 5,000 feet. This southwest wind is transporting moisture in from the Gulf of Mexico. The result is drizzle or light rain falling into the shallow layer of cold dry air. As the precipitation falls, some will evaporate. As we all know, evaporation is a cooling process. So the rain falling will make the surface air even colder. Now the problems will begin. We have the beginning of an ice storm. Accumulating ice will cause extremely hazardous driving, especially on bridges, overpasses, and elevated roads, not to mention massive power outages from the ice accumulating on power lines. Each La Nina is different but they all pretty much have the same basic characteristics. The good news is, we have the technology and experience to very reliably predict when they will occur, many days in advance.  
 
So, fasten your seatbelts, be ready for a warmer and drier winter and be on guard for those times we ice and cold arrive in northeast Georgia.
         
    

Glenn Burns is chief meteorologist for WSB-TV in Atlanta.







October 2017 column

My concern for hurricanes came true last month

I hope you read my column from last month. Now you know why I was so concerned about the ramping up of hurricanes in September. What an incredible month of storms! People have been asking me if it’s global warming making the storms more powerful. My answer has been 100 percent, “No.” In the Atlantic last month we had no wind shear from El Nino. We had no Sahara dust. We had very warm ocean temperatures but nothing extraordinary. When the tropical waves rolled off the west coast of Africa, they entered a perfect environment to become massive and dangerous hurricanes.

Hurricane Harvey was pushed farther west into the Gulf of Mexico. It was not an overly impressive hurricane but when we saw the environment over Texas, we began to worry. There were two massive high pressure areas over the country. One was in the West and the other in the East. Harvey was going to move in between them. We knew it was going to stall with nowhere to go. Indeed it did and more than 48 inches of rain caused flooding to 20 percent of the Houston metro area. Ten percent of the buildings and homes in the Houston metro had water damage. Gas prices still remain high but they are no doubt artificially inflated now.
 
After Harvey, along came Irma.  Another Atlantic crossing from West Africa into ideal conditions brought Irma to a strength rarely seen. The European computer models, the most reliable, was bringing the storm through the Caribbean, hitting just about every island possible. We knew it would eventually turn north but we did not know exactly when or where. That turn prediction was extremely important in determining the impacts on our local weather. With each model run that came in the center was being pushed farther and farther west.  North Georgia would now be on the northeast quadrant, the most powerful side of the storm, as the center moved into Alabama.
  
As wind and rain began to increase here, trees began to fall.  Hundreds and hundreds of them crashing onto buildings and homes.  During the height of the storm most of us were seeing winds of 30-40 mph sustained. However, the gusts were in the 50 mph range.  The two strongest wind gusts were 64 mph at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport and a 55 mph gust in Habersham County. Many people were without power for almost a week.
 
Then, along came Maria.  Winds sustained at 175 mph with gusts to 215 mph. It looked like a buzz saw cruising into the Caribbean. Puerto Rico took the brunt of the storm, knocking out power to the entire island of more than 3.5 million. Many nearby islands had catastrophic damage and nine people lost their lives.  This was the worst hurricane season since 2005.
 
We are not out of the woods just yet. Hurricane formation is now shifting from the Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico. You may remember hurricane Opal in 1995. That was a storm that really intensified in the Gulf of Mexico. As we head into October, maybe my favorite month of the year, the leaves will be changing and hopefully the temperatures will be getting a little cooler. Our long-range outlooks continue to hint at warmer than average temperatures through November.

September 2017 column
 

Atlantic waters are heating up

Can you believe it’s already September? I am already seeing pumpkin lanterns and other Halloween fare at local stores.  While many are thinking about cooler temperatures and fall color, my attention is still on the ocean.  The 15th of September is the peak of the Atlantic Hurricane Season.
 
We have seen an increase in tropical activity in recent weeks.  The Atlantic is boiling and sea-surface temperatures are at their maximum. The ACE index, Accumulated Cyclone Energy index, is also ramping up. The atmosphere is primed in the tropics. The point of origin for tropical storm and hurricane formation this time of year shifts to the eastern Atlantic Ocean. Waves of thunderstorms that form over Africa are swept out to sea. If conditions are just right, a tropical depression will form, the first stage in hurricane development. 
 
This is also the time of year for the “big ones.” Major hurricanes (Cat 3 and stronger) will form this time of year because of the heat, the hot ocean temperatures, and because they have a lot of ocean to cross with very little friction from land to hinder them. I always get a little nervous when I see the projected paths that bring them into the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane Katrina was one such storm that really gained a lot of strength after festering for a few days in the near 90 degree water temperatures.

From experience, I get just as worried with weak, slow-moving tropical storms. You may remember a fairly weak tropical storm named Alberto in 1994. As it turned out, Alberto was the costliest storm of the 1994 Atlantic hurricane season. The storm was the first named storm of the season. It hit Florida across the Southeast United States in July, causing a massive flooding disaster while stalling over Georgia and Alabama. Alberto caused $1 billion in damage, in 1994 dollars, and 30 deaths.  I have never ever seen flooding like that before or since. I remember our reporters showing caskets flowing down the some of the overflowing rivers in South Georgia.  
 
I just wanted to point out that is does not have to be a Katrina-like storm to cause massive damage. A slow-moving or stalled tropical system can cause the same type of devastation. In addition, we would also see many tornadoes with a land-falling tropical system in north Georgia. I will be glad when this season comes to an end.  NOAA keeps changing its forecast and the numbers of expected storms keeps increasing. We will keep you posted, as we always do. 
 
Some dates to remember this month: Fall officially begins on Friday, Sept. 22. The arrival of autumn is heralded by a Harvest Moon. The term “Harvest Moon” refers to the full moon that falls nearest to the autumnal equinox.  So, the Harvest Moon will be on Oct. 5.

 


August 2017 column

Great solar exlipse is finally here!

I have been waiting for August 2017 for a great many years. Ever since I broadcast the annular eclipse in 1984, I could not wait to see the total solar eclipse that will occur this August 21st.
 
Back then, here in Atlanta, 99.7 percent of the sun’s surface was covered. I remember broadcasting outside the WSB studios in midtown and I watched the street lights come on as skies began to darken some 20 minutes after noon. It was perfect timing as it happened during the noon news. I had a thermometer outside and actually saw the temperature drop five degrees.  The city was bathed in an eerie twilight. As I looked at the shadow cast by the leaves of the elm tree near the back patio of WSB, I saw what looked like little crescent moons, hundreds of them cast on the patio. It got as dark as the sky would in a massive thunderstorm. The darkness was over just about as quickly as it began. This was not a TOTAL solar eclipse. It was ANNULAR. The sun was never totally blocked from the sun.  I would have to wait until 2017. It seemed like an eternity but here we are.
 
So what can you expect to see?  If you stay around the lake or Atlanta, you can expect to see about the same thing we saw back in 1992. About 97 percent of the sun will be obscured by the moon. However, if you head just a little north, you will be in the path of totality. I assure you, it will be worth the drive. So where should you go? Rabun County in the northeast Georgia mountains is in the direct path of totality. It will begin just after 2:30 p.m. and last about two and a half minutes. However, you might want to consider another destination.  Climatology shows that 70 percent of the time skies are cloudy with storms at that time of day on August 21st. It is possible that we could have clear skies there, but I am not taking that chance. I am going to Charleston where the afternoon seabreeze will scour out the clouds from the coast. You can go on the Sky and Telescope web page and see the exact path. Personally I would not choose the mountains of North Georgia or the mountains of North Carolina.
 
So what is it going to be like in full totality? Nothing short of amazing. 
 
IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP: You will need your dark safety glasses to look at the approaching and departing eclipse. If you don’t use the glasses the radiation from the sun will literally cook your retinas! The first thing you will see is black sky heading at you from the west. The shadow of the moon will be traveling at you at better that Mach 2! It will first touch Georgia at 2:34 p.m. EDT and will depart the state at 2:40 p.m. EDT. For two minutes and 35 seconds, if you are in the center line, you may look at the total eclipse without safety glasses. You will not believe your eyes. It will be almost as dark as night. You will likely see “Bailey’s Beads.” I have only see pictures but I have heard from friends it is indescribable. As the moon “grazes” by the Sun during a solar eclipse, the rugged lunar limb topography allows beads of sunlight to shine through in some places, and not in others. Sunlight will be blasting through the mountains and canyons of the moon creating a halo around it that looks like shimmering diamonds. You will be able to see stars and planets like Venus. The moon will continue moving and the eclipse will gradually wind down.
 
The eclipse will begin in Oregon and then traverse the United States, departing across the Atlantic, a few miles north of Charleston, S.C. It is going to be worth packing up the car and driving a couple of hours north or northeast. Or, you could wait around for the next one … in 2024

July 2017 column

Be lightning aware this summer


It was certainly great to see above average rainfall last month.  Even though our Lake Lanier basin is relatively small, persistent, almost daily rainfall, has kept the lake levels from dropping too much this summer. I expect above average rainfall to continue during July with above average temperatures.
 
As we all know, July is the hottest month of the year. While it may be hot on the ground, it may not be the case well above ground.  I frequently see temperatures this time of year at the 15,000 foot level in the 5 to 15 degree range.  When temperatures get that cold with elevation that quickly, the atmosphere becomes very unstable.  Monster summer storms quickly evolve in this type of environment, leading to power straight line winds and large hail. While wind and hail are certainly formidable threats to your safety, it is the lightning in summer storms that proves time and time again, to be the most threatening.
 
Georgia Tech has been doing some amazing research on lightning and has now developed the Georgia Lightning Mapping Array.  Lightning and its behavior can now be tracked and portrayed in three dimensions and in near real time.  This lets us as meteorologists, correlate storm structure with lightning.
 
You might be amazed to know that a lightning bolt is about as big around as a piece of chalk. It looks much larger because it is so very hot, about 50,000 degrees! About 70 percent of all lightning strikes occur over land. However, only 25 percent of all lightning flashes are from cloud to ground. The rest are intra-cloud or cloud to cloud.  There are also two types of lightning. The most common is the negative lightning bolt that delivers an electric current of about 30,000 amps. Then we have the positive lightning strike. This is less common but mostly responsible for all the lightning fires we have every summer in north Georgia. What we are dealing with is an electrical charge of 300,000 amps! About 5 percent of all lightning is positive.
 
A negative lightning strike originates from the base of a thunderstorm. A positive strike originates from the top of the anvil-shaped cloud of a thunderstorm and can travel as many as 10 miles from the parent storm. Many times a positive strike will occur in areas experiencing clear skies or only slightly cloudy. This is called a bolt from the blue and can contain a billion volts of electricity! As a result of their great power and lack of warning, you can imagine why positive lightning is so dangerous. 
 
Objects struck by lightning experience heat and magnetic forces of great magnitude. The heat created by lightning currents traveling through a tree may vaporize its sap, causing a steam explosion that bursts the trunk. Lightning will also leap from a tree to your house.  Lightning also serves an important role in the nitrogen cycle by oxidizing nitrogen in the air into nitrates which are deposited by rain and can fertilize the growth of plants. It makes natural fertilizer.  That’s why a few days after a severe lightning storm, your lawn may look really green.
 
The bottom line is … be careful! Lightning is the most formidable aspect of summer storms. Be back to the dock before everyone else races back at the same time.  Use our weather app to track storms.

Our WSB-TV app also has a great lightning warning system. Be weather aware and be safe this summer. 

June 2017 column

June is a special month for me


June is one of my absolute favorite months of the year. It’s the official beginning of summer, that time of year when everyone stops complaining about the cold and begin to complain about the heat!  I am not trying to be humorous.  OK, maybe a little but it’s true! 
 
Summer officially begins at 24 minutes past midnight on Wednesday, June 21st. Do you remember the first day of summer last year and what happened?  2016 was the first time in nearly 70 years that a full moon and the Northern Hemisphere’s summer solstice occur on the same day. The 2016 summer solstice’s full moon rose just as the Sun set. We won’t see that again this time around but it will of course, be the longest day of the year.  
 
We have certainly seen some good rainfall this past spring, however the lake is still way down below full summer pool. For the next 90 days, we will see a lot of evaporation. I bet you have no idea how much water will evaporate from the lake on a single day of sunshine and 90 degree heat. How about more than 100 million gallons! If we get an extended period of dry weather, like we usually do in June, that could really add up.  
 
The 90 day outlook, issued by the Climate Prediction Center, gives us a high probability of warmer than average temperatures this summer. Rainfall however, remains questionable. There are too many variables, like the developing El Nino, Sahara dust coming across the Atlantic, and our own climate cycles to make a prediction. The CPC has given us a 50/50 shot of above or below average rainfall this summer. As for me, I am sticking with a “persistence” forecast. I believe we will see above average to near average rainfall. I hope enough to compensate for the evaporation with the warmer than average temperatures.  
 
One of the most wonderful things I have come to enjoy is being out on the lake at night and watching the June full moon rise.  It’s usually great night fishing on the full moon. At least it has been for me. This month’s full moon occurs less than one day after reaching lunar apogee, the moon’s farthest point in its monthly orbit. The moon will be in full phase on June 9. You might notice a small yellow star near the moon that night. That would be the planet Saturn. That is not however, what will make this particular full moon special. It will be the farthest and smallest full moon of the year. Some people call it the “Mini Moon.” No matter what you call it, enjoy the beginning of summer. 
 
June is a special month, for sure! 


May 2017 column

El Nino likely to develop this summer


I hope everyone is enjoying our spring weather. This past winter felt more like spring and our spring feels more like summer! So, are we going to have another extremely hot summer like we did last year?  That’s the question everyone is asking.
 
From what I have seen, we may have more of a typical north Georgia summer. If you’re wondering what “typical” means, I do believe most days will be in the 80s with our fair share of 90s through July. I do not expect record setting consecutive days of 90 degree heat. We have been very fortunate, so far, at avoiding major severe storm outbreaks this spring.  We have seen more rain events that have been more typical of July.  Slow-moving storms, large hail, and gusty winds have been the rule in a large majority of our spring storms.
 
Climatologists are now forecasting a weak El Nino developing right now. With that in mind, we may have more clouds than usual during our summer days. That will certainly help block the intense summer sun. As with most El Nino episodes, our rain chances will be a little higher than usual. This leads me into writing about a subject you may not want to read about but needs to be said.
 
OK, here goes. Do you remember those two days back in April when we had some very heavy rain from slow moving storms? In the days following, the water quality in the Chattahoochee became horrible. At one point, there were something like 8,000 to 10,000 colonies of E coli bacteria per three ounces of water! Needless to say, when the National Park Advisories were issued, no one went near the Hooch. There are no water monitoring stations – recording E coli data – that I know of on Lake Lanier. We have the same run-off, only on a much larger scale, in the Lake Lanier basin. The slow moving storms produce enormous run-off into creeks and feeder streams.  That run-off contains animal feces, pesticides, and all kinds of garbage that can make some people extremely ill. So, just a word to the wise. You might want to avoid swimming in the lake for two to three days after a big gully washer to be safe.  
 
Our lake, river, and stream water quality continues to decline and will no doubt be getting worse in the years ahead. Our population continues to increase at a rapid pace and home building has been skyrocketing. Shopping areas have also been expanding to support the increased housing. This means we have so many more non-porous surfaces like roads, parking lots, driveways, and so forth that there is simply nowhere for the water to go. It does not get absorbed into the ground and underground water supplies. It just runs off and takes terrible things with it. It’s not just bad for humans to come in contact with that kind of pollution. It’s also bad for your pets. My vet actually told me he’s seen a huge increase in illnesses in dogs as a result of the water pollution.
 
I know it’s a difficult subject and not something we want to hear about or deal with. However, it’s a health concern for us all now.  
         

April 2017 column

A most unusual winter is now history


After celebrating 35 years here at WSB-TV, I can honestly say the winter of 2016-2017 was one of the most unusual winters I have ever seen. We had a record number of 70 degree days in January, which ultimately led to a devastating tornado outbreak in Albany, Ga. February, according to the Climate Prediction Center, was the warmest since weather records began in the late 1800s! 
 
As we moved into March, I saw a massive area of high pressure build in the eastern Pacific. I knew trouble would follow. The high pressure actually originated in the south Pacific and moved toward the western U.S. As it did so, it pushed the jet stream farther north. The jet stream is a river of air that circles the globe and separates cold air from the north and warm air to the south.  The greater the difference in the temperatures, the faster the jet stream winds.
 
As we all learned in Physics 101, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. As the western U.S. jet stream was pushed north, above British Columbia, the jet stream over the eastern U.S. was forced south, all the way down to northern Florida. This allowed all the cold air that was pooling up on northern Canada to plummet southward. We here in north Georgia actually saw some of the coldest temperatures of the winter the week before spring! It could have been worse.
 
Here in Severe Weather Center 2, we were all looking back in time at the anniversary of the Blizzard of the Century on March 13th, 1993. At the same time, pieces of atmospheric energy were beginning to flow southbound, eventually moving east toward the mid-Atlantic coast. A nor’easter was forming and was about to lock horns with the arctic air exploding into the Great Lakes and Northeast.  Another major blizzard has formed on the anniversary date of our storm 24 years earlier. As it turned out, it affected more than 60 million people and dumped snow measure in feet. It turned out to be the biggest storm of the 2015-2017 for many areas of the Northeast.
 
As we head into April, one of the driest months of the year, I think we should have a pretty decent month. We got rid of most of the pollen in February and March. We should have another brief shot of cooler air, called “Blackberry Winter” but nothing major. Above average temperatures are predicted and that is always a concern. When cold fronts arrive and encounter the warming spring temperatures here, we can and do have “weather wars.” 
 
We will watch the skies and hope you do too, BEFORE you head on the lake.
     


March 2017 column

What the warm winter could mean for spring


It was late last summer when our team of meteorologists here in Severe Weather Center 2 began looking at some of the data coming in from the Climate Prediction Center. The data concerned the cooling of sea surface temperatures off the west coast of South America in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. The winter of 2015-16 was historic because of the extremely strong El Nino. Many times a strong El Nino is followed by La Nina. So we go from extremely warm sea surface temperatures to extremely cool sea surface temperatures as we go from El Nina to La Nina.
 
Each episode of La Nina can bring unique weather events to all parts of the world. However, for the most part, it would mean a winter that would be drier than average and also much warmer than average. That certainly proved to be the case for Georgia. In addition, I have seen what a La Nina means for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes across the country and here in Georgia over my 35 years of forecasting the weather. We all saw the devastation from the more than 13 tornadoes to rip across south Georgia in late January. Seventeen people died and more than 25 others were injured.

The damage was incredible from the long-tracked (70 miles long) tornado that ripped across Albany. This is what a typical La Nina pattern can bring. The silver lining to all this is that people with low or fixed incomes that usually have a tough time choosing between eating, health care, or home heating had it a little easier this winter regarding home heating costs. Out west, where California has been suffering from a five year drought, beneficial rains and mountain snows have been occurring on a regular basis. I will admit the rain has come a bit fast and furious at times, causing flooding and mudslides, but the overall impact to California has been positive. It’s been a while since residents actually saw green lawns or lush shrubbery.  
 
As we move into March and enter the peak of Georgia’s severe weather season, I am getting more and more anxious and concerned. I really have no idea what to expect regarding and elevated severe weather threat. La Nina is now fading away into the history books.  However, its effects do not come to an immediate halt. It takes a while.  We have seen the typical severe storms and tornadoes along the Gulf Coast last month. In March, the prime area for severe storms shifts northward to cover northern Mississippi, northern Alabama, and north Georgia. Will our severe weather season be enhanced by the fading La Nina? That is the question all of us who make our living forecasting the weather for our area are now dealing with. It’s a tough one. If you are looking for an answer from me based on what the usual La Nina’s effect on severe weather will be I would have to say it will be an active spring.  
 
However, and yes there is always a however, much of the country, not just Georgia, has seen abnormally warm temperatures this winter. Maybe, just maybe, there will be fewer “weather wars,” where cold meets warm in violent atmospheric conflicts. All I can say is, stay tuned my friends!


February 2017 column

Rainfall patterns are likely to change soon


After out little “snowstorm/ice storm/rain” early last month, we saw one of the most dramatic warming periods I have ever seen in January. For 10 consecutive days the temperature in Atlanta was at 70 degrees or above. People were asking on my social media pages if this was all due to global warming.
 
Remember the article I wrote last fall? I told you we were seeing a weak La Nina forming. La Nina is the opposite of El Nino. Instead of warmer sea surface temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, La Nina is ocean cooling.  El Nino causes wind patterns to change, bringing us above average rainfall. La Nina however, changes wind patterns in such a way that it brings is drier and warmer weather.  We certainly had the drier weather this fall and we are still in exceptional to extreme drought levels.  The warm temperatures last month was unprecedented. Or was it?
 
When was the last time we saw a string of such warm weather in January? You would have to go back to the year 1975. What was so unusual about the winter of 1974-75? It was a weak La Nina year, almost identical in strength and duration as the La Nina this winter.  All atmospheric and oceanographic “signals” indicate La Nina is now ending and we are about to go into “neutral” conditions. The atmosphere will not immediately respond to the end of La Nina so I would expect the drier than average weather to continue along with above average temperatures as we head into spring.
 
February is always an interesting month for us. We can and do see wild swings in temperature.  It’s pretty typical for the winter to spring transition months for that to happen. The “weather wars” begins as cold air meets warmer air, resulting in violent storms and tornadoes. This month, the weather wars begin along the southern Gulf of Mexico states. By March and April, the weather wars are over north Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. One day we can see a high temperature of 35 degrees and then three days later we will be in the 70s. February is that kind of month.  
 
I know many people reading this might be more than curious about our rainfall future. We certainly have a lot of rainfall to make up. Over the past 6 months our deficit is more than two feet!  OK, that’s the bad news. The good news is that La Nina is ending.  Atmospheric conditions are going to be more neutral. That means there will be nothing to stop those spring rains. So get ready for a dramatic shift in the weather from dry to wet. Great news for our favorite lake!
 
Happy Ground Hog Day everyone!
 


January 2017 column

So what is the polar vortex?


You have heard it described on many evening newscasts. Last year, it was said to be “devouring cities in the Midwest and Northeast” with cold and snow. It’s the next big thing in scaremongering and it’s called the “Polar Vortex.”
 
Despite some media hype, it’s not some monster coming out of the North Pole but rather a very real weather phenomenon. It is actually an area of low pressure in the upper part of the atmosphere and lies near the North Pole. (There is also one at the South Pole.) Below lies a large mass of cold, dense arctic air. The vortex weakens and strengthen from year to year. When it’s strong it is well defined, there is a single vortex and the arctic air is well contained; when weaker, which it generally is, it will break into two or more vortices; when very weak, the flow of arctic air becomes more disorganized and masses of cold arctic air can push southward, bringing with it a huge temperature drop. The polar vortex strengthens in the winter and weakens in the summer due to its dependence on the temperature difference between the equator and the North Pole. The vortices span less than 600 miles in diameter.
 
So how does this affect our weather? When the polar vortex is strong, there is a single vortex with a jet stream that keeps the cold air bottled up. However, when the polar vortex weakens, it separates into two or more vortices, the strongest of which are near Baffin Island, Canada and the other over northeast Siberia. This will send down a blast of cold air deep into the south toward the equator. We have seen this happen twice so far this winter. There are good “signals” computer models are now able to pick up on that and can tell days, weeks, or even a month ahead of time, when the Polar Vortex will weaken. I actually have seen signs it may be weakening for the third week of this month. I can we have seen a trend of above average temperatures this winter but that may be about to change.  
 
We will continue to watch the “signals” and wait for those subtle signs the jet stream is about to make a dive.  We’ve seen some incredibly cold temperatures in Siberia and Asia this winter. What goes around, comes around.
 
Hope everyone has a wonderful New Year and let’s hope that drought we began in 2016 is just a bad memory.  
 


December 2016 column

A quick flashback to this year's wildfires


The date was October 16th, 2016. An approaching cold front began to generate isolated thunderstorms as it clashed with warm tropical air over Alabama. A couple of these storms began to intensify.  As the front moved into north Georgia I noticed our lightning tracker showing about five strikes in western Fannin County over a 15 minute time period. After producing a tremendous amount of lightning in Alabama, the storms were weakening here in north Georgia. However, there was one lightning strike that hit tree sending sparks into the tinder-dry undergrowth. The ember was blown into flames by the strong thunderstorm wind gusts. 
 
I remember saying to my fellow meteorologists here is Severe Weather Center 2 that I had wished we would see some of that rain in the metro area since we had been so dry since late August. I did not think much more about it until the following day.
 
The Cohutta Wilderness area was on fire. It became known as the “Rough Ridge Fire” and Georgia Forestry officials told us it was nearly impossible to reach. In addition, fire hoses had to be hauled up hill and water does not produce much pressure going uphill. Helicopters tried to dump buckets of fire suppressant on the flames but the ground was too dry and the flames were too big. It was spreading and continued to spread. Forestry officials said after three weeks they had 10 percent containment. That containment was mostly the result of back-burning, starting fires to keep the main fire from spreading. It seemed to be working but had still consumed some 25,000 acres and it was still spreading.
 
To the east an arsonist thought it might be fun to set the forest on fire in Rabun County. It became known as the ‘Rock Mountain” fire. The lack of rain and tinder dry brush allowed several other smaller fires to flare up around the state.  Things were getting out of control fast. Firefighters were heading to Georgia from all over the country, some came from as far away as Alaska!  
 
Our primary wind direction through the first couple of weeks of November was from the north and northwest. Smoke from the fires in our northern counties moved down across the metro Atlanta area, as far south as Macon and as far east as the Atlantic Ocean, east of Charleston, S.C.  The smoke was choking and students were not permitted to practice afternoon school sports outside. There was no recess for many children for days on end. Code Red Smog Alerts were being issued. The smoke of course, was much worse near the source of the fires.  That meant no one was heading to mountains to see the fall color, enjoy the fall festivals, or spend money the vendors in these communities depended.  
 
We are currently in an “extreme” or “exceptional” drought across north Georgia. La Nina conditions continue to keep us warmer and drier than average and the long-range winter outlook shows the drought spreading to cover most of the state. I am not too hopeful for any drought-busting rains, as most areas need nearly two feet of rain just to get back to normal. 
 
Time will tell and our governor has asked us all to pray for rain.   

 
November 2016 column

The inside story of Hurricane Matthew


It came off the west coast of Africa as a large group of thunderstorms. There was no wind shear to rip it apart. The ocean temperatures were above 80 degrees. We began to take notice of what would eventually become Hurricane Matthew on September 25th.  
 
Initially, the consensus of models showed it would move into the Caribbean, gaining strength as it “fed” on the warm ocean.   By the time it reached Haiti and the east coast of Cuba, it was a powerful Category 4 hurricane. Winds topped 145 mph and 40 inches of rain fell in less than 24 hours. It spelled disaster with more than 800 souls lost. In its sights next were the Islands of the Bahamas. After people saw what happened in Haiti, tourists and residents headed to the middle of their islands and found shelter in the resorts. Damage was again, extensive
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Florida was up next and hurricane warnings went into effect just north of Miami, north through the Georgia coast. As it neared the northern Bahamas, I was finally able to see the Miami radar and peer inside to get a sense of the structure of the storm, which was constantly fluctuating. One of the great things about dual-pol radar is the ability to see non meteorological targets, like tornado debris.
 
I was more than a little puzzled by what I was seeing on the radar in the eye of the storm. How could there be tornado debris when the storm was out over ocean? I finally figured out what it was. In the eye of a hurricane the wind is very calm and the skies are sunny. It was a good place to take refuge … for thousands and thousands of sea gulls! We could see them flying in the eye of Hurricane Matthew.  They must have moved out of the storm when the eye passed over Grand Bahama Island, about 55 miles east of Palm Beach, Florida.  We saw very few after that.
 
The National Hurricane Center was predicting the eye of Matthew would move over the Cape Canaveral area as a Cat 4 hurricane, cause catastrophic damage.  But thanks to something called Trochoidal Motion, (you can look that one up for a look at how it works) the storm “wobbled” back and forth as it paralleled the Florida coast, never making landfall. Tons of rain and winds to about 50-60 mph pummeled the beaches. Georgia Governor Nathan Deal then ordered mandatory evacuations for the Georgia coastal areas. Then the problems began.
 
The intensity forecast, issued by the National Hurricane Center, showed Matthew going from a Cat 4 to a Cat 2 or even a Cat 1 near the Georgia coast. Residents were breathing a sigh of relief. We were not. The winds in the storm were weakening for sure. However, an approaching cold front was bringing in cold air aloft to Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. I knew what this meant.

Extreme rainfall was going to be the main threat, not the wind.  Unfortunately, the threat for heavy rain and storm surge was apparently not communicated very well, especially to the residents of North Carolina, where 10-15 inches of rain fell, with isolated 20 inch totals.  
 
So what can we take away from this? When saying it will not be a “major” hurricane when it reaches the coast and hundreds of miles inland, does not mean the consequences of storm surge and flooding rain will not be as damaging as a major hurricane. 
 
The wind may not be as strong, but we all witnessed the flooding tragedy that might have been avoided with stronger wording and earlier warnings.     


October 2016 column

Weather service changes its mind about upcoming winter


As we all remember, as a result of El Nino last year, we had a very wet winter. As the sea surface temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean began to cool late last spring and summer, El Nino was coming to an end. Most climate scientists and meteorologists thought we were heading into a La Nina pattern this summer, which would likely continue through the winter months. La Nina winters here in the north Georgia are typically very mild and also very dry.  
 
Late last month NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) issued a major announcement.  There was no indication that La Nina was still developing. There was no indication of cooling sea surface temperatures in the Pacific.  This of course, was a major turn-around in the forecast. It meant we are going to have neutral conditions this winter.  
 
With El Nino or La Nina, we pretty much know what to expect.  With neutral conditions this winter, there is much more uncertainty. As you well know, we’ve endured a very hot summer which has carried over through all of September.  This is a fairly pronounced pattern and I think it will likely continue through October. We should begin to see our first significant cold fronts this month but overall, I think the above average temperatures will continue, along with the below average rainfall.
 
How long will we see these warm temperatures? That is certainly the question of the day. I know October is likely to be warmer than average but then the uncertainties come into play as we head into November and December. Nothing right now is standing out as a signal or indicator. But these signals and indicators actually occur around the globe.  Right now there is nothing that is standing out, going “look at me”! I will certainly keep you posted.
 
Aside from what our winter weather is supposed to be like, the second most asked question is about the fall color. Our fall color generally peaks around the last week of October through early November. I actually think we are going to have a very colorful, albeit brief, fall color season. It’s not the temperature that makes the leaves change, it’s less daylight and more dark hours. Dry weather tends to make great color while rainy weather tends to makes the leaves dull. 
 
That being said, the leaves are more fragile when it’s dry and therefore wind and rain can certainly take their toll. October is my favorite month of the year. No matter how it turns out, I hope it’s a great one for you too!


September 2016 column

Long, hot summer comes to close


As we all know, it was a long and very hot summer. 2016 may well turn out to be the warmest on record. However, this month we celebrate the arrival of autumn. I would not expect a big drop in temperatures this month to herald its arrival. For me, the signal that autumn has arrived is the Full Harvest Moon. The Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to the September equinox. The equinox takes place this year on September 22. So the closest full moon to the autumn equinox is on September 16 at 3:05 pm. There is nothing more beautiful than being out on the lake watching the glistening ripples of water as the moon rises above the eastern horizon. That my friends, is the beginning of fall for me.
 
As we moved into the last week of August, the questions began pouring in on my Facebook page. The questions I am referring to, of course, is what our winter will be like. There are some things I have been looking at that provide some signals or clues. You all remember last year we had a fairly wet winter but with above average temperatures. Our winter pattern was the result of El Nino. El Nino is when above average sea surface temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean change the global wind patterns, resulting in wet and cool winters for the Southeast.  There are signals right now that actually show a La Nina developing. This is where we see below average sea surface temperatures in the same area but the result is quite different. La Nina winters are generally warm and dry for the Southeast.
 
While we wait for patterns for emerge for the upcoming winter months, let’s not forget this is the most active month for hurricanes.  NOAA updated its forecast to say we have a high probability of an above average year. On average we see 11 named tropical storms, six of which will be hurricanes.  NOAA is predicting 12-17 named storms, 5-8 to become hurricanes, with 2-4 being major hurricanes.  This is the time of year when the big ones develop. They form from waves or clusters of thunderstorms coming off the west coast of Africa. The reason they can get so powerful is the ocean. They “feed” on the ocean and there’s a lot of ocean to cross before they get near the U.S. mainland. Where they go as they approach the mainland is largely dependent on the position of the Bermuda High. If it’s close to the Southeast coast the hurricanes will cross Florida in the Gulf of Mexico. If the Bermuda High is farther from the coast, near its usual position near Bermuda, the storms will hook around it and run parallel to the coast without too much impact. These storms do tend to hit the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  
 
We’ll keep our eyes on the skies and you can enjoy the Full Harvest Moon this month and hopefully, a little relief from the summer heat.


August 2016 column

There's something to this issue called climate change


As you well know, it has been an extremely hot summer. We are on target to have the warmest summer temperatures since we began keeping records back in the late 1880s. In addition, rainfall has been rather meager, keeping much of northern Georgia in a severe to extreme drought. Why are we having such hot weather? That is a question I have been asked over and over this summer. People ask if it’s global warming, climate change, or just a cyclical pattern.
 
I believe it is certainly cyclical.  We have seen many hot summers over the years. However, I do believe the hotter than average weather may be enhanced by climate change. China is the worst polluter of any country in the world. The United States is second.  We have just not seen a major effort to curtail this. 
 
I’ll give you one good example. Here in Georgia over the past couple of years, we had a great rebate incentive to purchase electric vehicles. Many people took advantage of the rebate, so many in fact, the program was canceled. Now, if you purchase an electric vehicle, you will be taxed even more than if you purchased a gas powered vehicle.  Does that make any sense at all?  What motivation would a person now have to purchase an electric car?
 
Carbon emissions continue to rise globally every year. We can see evidence in a dramatic increase in carbon emissions in tree rings and ice core samples. The increase corresponds perfectly with the industrial revolution. That being said, the oceans and trees do make a difference by absorbing a great deal of carbon. However, the nations of the world are now producing more carbon than the oceans and trees can absorb.
 
I know there are many skeptics reading this. I was one of them. I have done a great deal of research into this because I know weather patterns are changing. I see stranger and stranger things happening every year. I know we have naturally occurring carbon dioxide in the air. However, the carbon dioxide produced naturally is not the same as what human activity produces. It has a different isotope and different signature. That’s how we know human activity is making things worse. That is what convinced me to take a closer look.
 
There are many global initiatives to try and mitigate the CO2 but we are also dealing with climate change as a natural process of the atmosphere. Snowless winters and hotter summers may be the new normal for north Georgia.  There are now think tanks and others who or leaning more toward a “how to deal with it” scenario rather than trying to stop a runaway freight train. I hope the horror stories I have heard from climatologists are not even close to being right.


July 2016 column

Is it deja vu as far as drought?


As I sit here in Severe Weather Center 2, looking at the latest U.S. Drought Monitor, I am getting some flashbacks from a decade ago. Moderate to severe drought conditions are continuing across north Georgia this month. Stream flows are extremely low, lake levels are continuing to drop, and top soil moisture is all but gone. It did not help the situation in that we had a very hot June. We were not setting any high temperature records but we were frequently very close to tying them. I am hoping we see a little pattern change this month. 
 
July is the wettest month of the year. We average nearly six inches of rain. These tropical afternoon pop-up thunderstorms however, are generally scattered about and do not bring steady uniform rains. In fact, more often than not, it can rain so hard and so fast, the ground cannot absorb the moisture quick enough before a large majority of it just runs off.  
 
Another concern I have for this month is the severe storm threat. I think we are going to have a better chance for afternoon storms. I also think we may have an above average number of severe storms. As you well know, June was a blistering month from Texas to South Carolina. I don’t expect anything to change as far as the temperatures. In fact, I expect our hottest month of the year to be even hotter than average. It’s this heat that drives bubbles of air from the ground to extremely high altitudes, creating massive thunderstorms. When you have extremely hot air surround by cooler air aloft, these updrafts can rise rapidly and to great heights. Eventually, you can get a thunderstorm cloud top to rise to more than 50,000 feet.  When the storm clouds grow that high, large hail is often the result.  When you have large hail, you are going to see intense cloud to ground lightning and straight line winds of 60 to 70 miles per hour! My educated guess is we are going to see numerous severe t-storms this month.
 
We have also seen a fairly early start with the Atlantic hurricane season. We had Bonnie and Colin.  Both did little to nothing to bolster our rainfall. July is not known for any significant tropical development so I would not expect much, if anything this month.
 
Our July full moon is on the 19th and it’s called the Full Buck Moon. 
 
Be safe this month. Be extra careful with your fireworks, as the ground remains tinder dry. Keep a watchful eye on the skies when you are out on the lake and we’ll take a look at some signals I am seeing concerning this fall and winter next month.
 


June 2016 column

'Godzilla' didn't show this winter


Last fall, when we saw this “Godzilla El Nino” predicted, we thought we would see some really major rainfall through the winter and spring. There were some days in the winter where we did see heavier rains, but not to the extent we thought we would see with that strong of an El Nino. We had an extremely early start to spring. We saw near record high temperatures in March and April. Consequently, trees and plants began blooming early, soaking up the moisture from the soil. I have really been monitoring the rainfall since March 1st, the beginning of meteorological spring. 
 
I began noticing below average rainfall totals week by week. During the middle of last month, the U.S. Drought Monitor came out and showed much of north Georgia in moderate drought conditions.  For now, the moderate drought conditions are not having an impact on lake levels. We are in great shape going into June.  However, June is generally one of our drier months. We are now going from El Nino into a La Nina pattern. Instead of ocean warming in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, we are going to get ocean cooling. The cooler than average sea surface temperatures will begin to alter the normal global wind patterns in such a way that we could be in store for a long, hot, and dry summer. The Climate Prediction Center is thinking along those lines as well.
 
The latest June outlook is calling for above average temperatures and near to below average rainfall.  While La Nina could reduce our normal summer rainfall, depending on how quickly it forms, it will also likely create an environment more conducive to hurricane
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