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Apr. 19, 2018
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Glenn Burns weather


Rethinking 'April showers' 

April in north Georgia. What stands out in north Georgia this month? Easter? The Dogwood trees in bloom? The pine pollen that covers everything in a film of yellow dust? For me, April is the driest month of the year. I know what you’re thinking. It’s spring and what about all the April showers? Based on the last 30 years of climatology, the average rainfall for the month is 3.36 inches, making it the driest month of the year.  If you are now wondering what the wettest month of the year is, you would have to look at July. We average 5.27 inches of rain in July.
 
If you are a golfer, then you know April means the Masters.  Augusta National is always a spectacle of color with the azalea’s and blooming trees. Even though April is the driest month of the year, there is a tendency to see stormy weather and even freezing cold temperatures, like last year. You may also remember April 3rd, of last year. Eight tornadoes hit north Georgia and caused widespread destruction. Then much of our peach crop was wiped out by the cold that followed.
 
What I am trying to point out is that even though April is the driest month, it is not necessarily the calmest month. We had supercell thunderstorms last month with three devastating tornadoes in metro Atlanta. It can and does happen in April too. We are still dealing with “weather wars” being waged in the atmosphere when cold air meets warm air. There is so much spin in the atmosphere in the spring from changing wind speeds to changing wind direction with height. I have seen just showers, without lightning, rotate and spin up small tornadoes. We all need to be weather aware, even during the driest month of the year.
 
I know we are all looking forward to the warmer temperatures this month. With the higher sun angle and more hours of daylight, our warming will surely continue.  However, I do see a pattern where we might see several more blasts of cold air. And don’t think it still can’t snow this time of year. Many of you may remember the six inches of snow that fell in our northern suburbs back in 1985. I am not saying we’re going to have a snowstorm this month but there have been years when some heavy April snows have occurred.  
 
You may remember the Climate Prediction Center Winter Weather Outlook I wrote about last fall.  With the cooler central Pacific Ocean temperatures firmly in place, (La Nina) the outlook called for our winter to be warm and dry.  Of course, as we all know, it turned out to be brutally cold with above average rainfall and two incredible snow storms. I was getting a little concerned through the early part of winter when it was so dry and then the heavens opened up and we’re in great shape. The lake is in beautiful shape and as we head into the driest month of the year, we can say, no worries!. 


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



  



March 2018 column

Recalling recent super storms 

On the night of March 14th, 2008, I was watching the radar.  There was a strong storm in Floyd County but that was about it. The storm continued moving to the southeast but showed no signs of weakening after 30 minutes.  
 
It was not your ordinary thunderstorm. It was a Supercell thunderstorm but there were no signs of any rotation just yet. In its 9 p.m. outlook, the Storm Prediction Center issued a slight risk of severe weather across portions of the southern United States from Oklahoma to Georgia, with a two percent risk area for tornadoes in north Georgia, including the Atlanta area. 
 
Around 9:20 I saw a little rotation on our radar and then a tornado warning was issued for Atlanta at 9:26 p.m. when the thunderstorm that caused the tornado was around five to six miles northwest of downtown area. No watches were in effect for the area due to the low probability and unusual isolated nature. Again, this was the only storm on radar at the time. The tornado moved to the southeast, which is also unusual, as most supercells generally move to the northeast along a cold front. As it continued move toward the downtown area, around 9:30 p.m., you could begin to see signs of rotation very well.
 
The NWS then issued a tornado warning. There was a lot going on in the city that night. The SEC basketball tournament at the Georgia Dome and the Hawks at Philips Arena. We had immediate reports.  A tornado was on the ground in the downtown area. It was causing widespread damage across downtown Atlanta, including to the CNN Center and to the Georgia Dome and the Omni Hotel, which was evacuated after many windows were blown out. The Westin Peachtree Plaza suffered major window damage. Centennial Olympic Park, SunTrust Plaza and historic Oakland Cemetery were also damaged.  
 
I can remember the video of all the gravestones that were blown over. One man was killed near downtown Atlanta and 30 others were injured. Two other deaths occurred on March 15 when larger round of severe weather and tornadoes ravaged the north Atlanta suburbs. In total, 45 tornadoes were confirmed over the 24-hour period from eastern Alabama to the Carolina coast, with most of the activity concentrated in the Metropolitan Atlanta area, the Central Savannah River Area and the Midlands of South Carolina.
 
In 2011, there was a “Super Outbreak of tornadoes. It was one of the costliest and deadliest in U.S. history. The hardest hit of our southern states were Alabama and Mississippi but it also produced destructive tornadoes in Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia, and affected many other areas throughout the Southern and Eastern United States. In Alabama alone, 238 tornado-related deaths were confirmed by the Storm Prediction Center and the state’s Emergency Management Agency. In total, 362 tornadoes were confirmed by the National Weather Service. That was an astounding number.
 
What did the tornado outbreaks of 2008 and 2011 have in common? Both were La Nina years, like this year. Am I predicting more super outbreaks like those years?  There is no way to predict such events. All I am saying is that this would be a year when I would be extra weather-aware. As we have seen in 2008, it only takes a single storm to wreak havoc. What I will be watching for is to see if the February warm pattern continues this month. If it does, then we could have some trouble as strong cold fronts move into the Southeast and wage their “weather wars.”  The Climate Prediction Center thinks it will stay warm.

February 2018 column

It's called forecasting for a reason 

I hope all of you are surviving this winter. The Climate Prediction Center Winter Outlook was for above average temperatures and below average precipitation. As you well know, it’s turning out to be one of the coldest and snowiest winters on record for north Georgia.
 
What has also been remarkable is that Atlanta has been consistently cooler than Anchorage, Alaska most of last month. When we had our second snow on January 16th and our temperature hovered in the mid 20s, Fairbanks was in the mid 30s! We have actually had more snow than Chicago this winter!  Yes, things are just a little out of whack.
 
Before our winter season began, broadcast meteorologists, national weather meteorologists, county emergency managers, GDOT officials, and school superintendents met at Georgia Tech to discuss the upcoming winter.  Meteorologically, we all saw the colder ocean temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, signaling the developing La Nina.  Without going into a bunch of meteorological jargon, the bottom line was a warm and dry winter.  However, our NWS meteorologists did say that, from time to time, we could see some severe ice storms.  That is what we all prepared for and we happily went on our way.
 
An epic early December snow storm gave us pause. Then the temperatures got cold and stayed cold through January. This is not our typical La Nina weather, to say the least. So, what is going on? There is a feature over the north pole called the Polar Vortex. You might have seen media reports like “Godzilla Polar Vortex to attack the Northeast.” That’s not entirely true!   The polar vortex is a prevailing wind pattern that circles the Arctic, flowing from west to east all the way around the Earth. It normally keeps extremely cold air bottled up toward the North Pole. Sometimes however, the  Polar Vortex weakens, allowing the cold air to pour down across Canada into the U.S., all the way down into Georgia. In addition to bringing cold, the air mass can push the jet stream, a river of wind that flows from the Pacific Ocean across the U.S., much farther south as well. If we get even a small weather disturbance, bringing Gulf moisture, it can fall as heavy snow, which is what happened here in December.
 
Why does the vortex weaken?  Some climatologists believe it’s because more Arctic sea ice is melting during summer months. The more ice that melts, the more the Arctic Ocean warms. The ocean radiates much of that excess heat back to the atmosphere in winter, which disrupts the polar vortex. Data taken over the past decade indicate that when a lot of Arctic sea ice disappears in the summer, the vortex has a tendency to weaken during the following winter.  Although the extent of summer sea ice in the Arctic varies year to year, overall it has been disappearing more and more over the past decade. Climate change scientists are forecasting the sea ice to continue to vanish even more in the years ahead. That could mean more trouble for the polar vortex, and more frigid outbreaks here in Georgia.
 
We have a nice tool that shows us when the polar vortex is set to unleash arctic air. It’s called the Arctic Oscillation Index and has been performing quite well this winter. I can actually see when cold arctic air will move in as much as a week in advance. 
 
The one thing I don’t want to see this month is my heating bill from January! I bet it will look like a second mortgage. Hopefully the weather will settle down a bit this month and no more thrills … chills … and higher heating bills.
 
Now we begin to move into severe storm season. We will chat about what to expect next time.  Stay warm!

January 2018 column

Ah, the joys of forecasting snow in Georiga


We have one month behind us in the meteorological winter and two months to go. If the first month is any indication of what we can expect this La Nina winter, we are going to have our work cut out for us!
 
December’s snowstorm was without a doubt, one of the most challenging forecasts in my 36 years forecasting the weather for north Georgia. When I was looking at the various models a few days before that Friday the 8th snow, the majority showed modest snow amounts of one, maybe two inches.  However, there was one model that was showing 6-10 inches! I thought that was just ridiculous. I also know we don’t really know what is going to happen when forecasting snow in north Georgia until the night before or the day of, the event.  
 
The night before the National Weather Service issued a “Winter Weather Advisory” for up to one inch of snow. That is what we went with during the 11 p.m. newscast on December 7th. I said again, it might not be until the morning until we actually had a good handle on things. Sure enough, models began to indicate more than an inch of snow. It now looked like we could get two to three inches of snow, possibly isolated higher amounts. So, the NWS then issued a “Winter Storm Warning” for the western metro counties. The fun and games began that morning and the snow came down at such a rate that 2-4 inch accumulations were being observed in less than an hour. When it was all said and done, snowfall, mainly along and west of I-85, measured six to 13 inches! 
 
I remember the Blizzard of ’93 very well. I made a perfect forecast on that storm, basically using stone knives and bear skin rugs, compared to the technology we have today. That was the most snow I have ever seen fall in north Georgia. However, this month’s storm result at my house: nearly 13 inches. I knew it was more than 1993. Sure enough, our December 18th, 2017 shattered snowfall records in some areas. For Cobb County and Carroll County, the 12-13 inches was the most snow since the NWS began keeping snow records in 1928!  
 
So here we are in January. It’s usually the coldest month of the year and presents its fair share of winter weather surprises. I will throw this out there. The last 10 out of 15 years when we have had a December snow, it never snowed again for the entire winter.  However, it is not the snow I am concerned with this month. It’s ice.
 
A La Nina weather pattern is notorious for bringing us ice storms. La Nina winters have brought catastrophic ice storms where power can be out for a week or more. This is the month it will most likely happen, according to climatology. I am not forecasting an ice storm but I will certainly be keeping my eye out for even a minor chance. This would be something you need a lot of lead time on. I would want everyone well prepared for long duration event. I will do my best to keep you informed. Maybe, just maybe, it will be one of those 10 out of 15 years where we don’t get any more frozen precipitation after a December snow. Prepare for the worst and we’ll hope for the best.
 
Happy New Year to you and your families and I hope 2018 is a wonderful year for you.

December 2017 column

Forecast calls for La Nina making a visit this winter

It’s pretty hard to believe that another year has come and gone, but here we are in December! We have certainly had another “interesting” year of weather, capped off by that insane hurricane season. After a fairly warm and benign October, November held few surprises as above average temperatures continued with a fairly dry pattern. We did have that nice cool blast just in time for Thanksgiving.  I think it felt a little more festive this Thanksgiving than last.
 
From what I have seen, we should be looking at yet another pattern change this month. I am seeing above average temperatures returning. However, we are in a pattern where we could see cold air damming. La Niña will frequently bring a shallow layer of cold air into northeast Georgia with Hall County the “bullseye.” It makes temperature forecasting much more challenging. While Atlanta could see temps near 70 in the so-called “cold air wedge,” Gainesville may be in the 50s.
 
Anyone who is involved with Lake Lanier is also tuned in to rainfall. We are all aware of the lack of rainfall we have seen in October and November. It now appears La Niña will keep us in below average rainfall this month too. Even my longer-range models taking us into spring, keep us drier than average. 
 
During the late fall and winter, we always see the Corps of Engineers draw the lake level down. This year was no exception, despite all the predictions of a drier winter. This is very concerning since we rely on the winter rain to replenish the lake. Going from a dry winter into an expected drier than average spring could result in the lake level remaining very low.  Summer is always hit and miss with rainfall so we could be facing drought conditions by June. Nothing is etched in stone but these are the trends I am seeing and these are the trends we have seen with past La Niña events.
 
As we head into winter, which officially begins on December 21st, everyone always wants to know if I think we will see snow. There is always that chance but my bet this winter is for ice. As I have explained, we’re in a La Niña, favorable for the cold air wedge. With a classic wedge, warm moist air is coming in with with southwest winds, over the top of the shallow cold air coming in with northeast winds. This gives us, more often than not, drizzle and mist. If the ground, or bridges and overpasses, are below 32 degrees, we will have ice. Downed trees and power lines will be the rule. You might want to prepare now and stock up on supplies, as power outages might last for days. 
 
We’ll keep an eye on the weather and I will have an update on any changes in our winter weather outlook next month.



November 2017 column

 

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.
         
    

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
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