Glenn Burns weather
So what is the polar vortex?
Glenn Burns is chief meteorologist for WSB-TV in Atlanta.
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
November 2016 column
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.
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
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 formation. The Gulf of Mexico is the region where tropical systems like to form in the early summer. Some of the tropical experts believe the Gulf could be extremely active this year. Hurricane season begins June 1st.
Here are the names of the for the 2016 hurricane season: Alex, Bonnie, Colin, Danielle, Earl, Fiona, Gaston, Hermine, Ian, Julia, Karl, Lisa, Matthew, Nicole, Otto, Paula, Richard, Shary, Tobias, Virginie, and Walter. We are actually going to begin with Bonnie this summer because we have already had Hurricane Alex. When did that happen you ask? Alex actually formed last winter! Hurricane Alex was the first Atlantic hurricane in January since Alice in 1955, and the first to form in the month of January since 1938. Alex originated as an extratropical cyclone near the Bahamas on January 7, 2016.
While meteorological summer begins June 1st, the official Summer Solstice is on Monday, June 20th, at 6:34 pm. Happy Summer Everyone! Be safe out there!
May 2016 column
It's great to be back!
I want to begin this month’s column with a big thank you to everyone. I had open heart surgery to replace a faulty aortic valve last March 7th. I was off the air for about six weeks. During my recovery I received thousands of emails, cards, well wishes, and prayers. I am so grateful to our Lakeside News readers and WSB viewers for your concern. It really helped my recovery and words cannot express how grateful I am.
OK, on with the weather. You may recall my previous columns about the “Godzilla El Nino” that developed during the fall and continued right through the winter. It was supposed to wreak havoc across the country. California on the other hand, was hoping for the worst. As you well know, California has been suffering from a multi-year drought. While the Sierra saw some decent snowfall over the winter, southern California failed to get the frequent rains normally associated with a strong El Nino. The Rocky Mountain states had many major snowstorms. The skiing community loved that and ski resorts had a tremendous boost in revenues. The upper Midwest to Texas saw milder than average temperatures.
The Northeast and New England, buried by snow in the winter of 2014-2015, saw very little snow during the winter and extremely mild temperatures. Here in the Southeast, we had some cold snaps but they are very brief. We also saw a few brief snow threats but they sure did not amount to much. With an El Nino as strong as this one, a major ice storm around the Lake Lanier basin seemed very likely. In fact, the National Weather Service office discussions prior to the heart of winter suggested there could be multiple ice storms. As we all know, that did not happen either.
As we head into the heart of spring I am have been amazed at how much of an inactive severe storm season we have had. Granted we had a couple of scares but overall, it’s been quiet … too quiet. We can only hope it lasts.
The latest prediction from NOAA is for El Nino to continue to fade away and the pattern to become “neutral.” That means no Pacific Ocean cooling or warming through the summer. A neutral pattern means we are likely to have a good old-fashion Georgia summer. It will be hot and humid with that ever present chance of pop-up afternoon thunderstorms.
Of course, the most active month for the pop-up storms is July. NOAA is also suggesting we may go from the neutral pattern this summer to more of a La Nina pattern by fall. If that indeed happens, we might have an extremely warm winter. We will have a lot to talk about in the months ahead. For now, let’s just enjoy the beginning of the summer season.
April 2016 column
Thanks for well wishes during hospital stay
I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for the prayers and well wishes following my open heart surgery last month. Recovery is going well and the new aortic valve is doing its job. I spent five days in intensive care at Emory/St. Joseph’s hospital following the procedure. On my last night in ICU it began to rain. I could not sleep and the night nurse came in to check on me. She saw I was awake and asked if I was OK. I said yes and was hoping the rain would make me sleepy. I asked her if she ever got scared up the higher floors when the big spring storms rolled in.
She proceeded to tell me about the night of April 9th, 1998. I remembered that night all too well. Early that evening we saw a massive super cell drop an EF 5 tornado on Birmingham, killing 32 people. As the storm moved into the metro area a few hours later, two Cobb County police officers at Windy Hill Road got tangled up in the high winds and caught some dramatic video on their dash cams. My nurse said it was around midnight when she saw almost continuous lightning through the windows of the ICU. Doctors and nurses could feel and building begin to sway and could see the large plate glass windows “breathing” in and out with the extreme pressure changes. Everyone was throwing blankets over the windows. It was impossible to move patients very far but they did manage to move most toward the center of the building.
The tornado once again began to gain more strength. Winds were howling at 150 miles per hour as it moved from Fulton into Dekalb County. St. Joseph’s was spared any major damage. As it moved into Dunwoody shortly after midnight, it devastated that community, causing $100 million in damage, killing one person. Seeing the video coming in the next morning was astounding. I was shocked even more people were not killed. People were, needless to say, in shock. It was one of the worst tornadoes to ever hit the metro area. I could not imagine how the doctors and nurses must have felt on that horrible night.
The second strongest El Niño on record was in 1998. This year’s El Niño is the strongest on record and it will continue through spring. Let’s hope history does not repeat itself.
March 2016 column
The time for 'Weather Wars' is here
What do the years 1982-1983, 1997-1998, 2007-2008, and 2015-2016 have in common? During those years we had significant tornado outbreaks. All of those years featured extremely strong El Ninos. I remember the spring of 1982 where we had several tornadoes in north Georgia. Damage was minor and there were no injuries.
However, in the spring of 1998, tornadoes were devastating, most notably, the Dunwoody tornado. The tornado touched down at 11:30 p.m. on April 8, just northeast of Perimeter Center and moved through Dunwoody. Its intensity increased to high-end EF2 strength with winds up to 150 miles per hour and its width to nearly a half mile damaging thousands of homes and downing tens of thousands of trees. Hundreds of homes had major damage, a few dozen were obliterated and had to be completely rebuilt. Significant damage also occurred to Georgia Perimeter College. The storm continued into Gwinnett, somewhat weakened, but still causing extensive damage in the Peachtree Corners area. It then crossed the county line one mile west of Norcross, skirting downtown and traveling parallel to Old Norcross Road at F2 status. The twister continued to Duluth, crossing the center of town and lifting briefly, shredding shingles off the roofs of houses in downtown Duluth. Many more trees were snapped along Old Peachtree Road near I-85. The tornado finally weakened and lifted five miles north of Lawrenceville. The total length of the path was 19 miles!
I remember March 2008 like it was yesterday. It was the worst outbreak I have ever seen. It was March 14. In their 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 2 percent risk area for tornadoes for the Atlanta area. There was one massive storm that appeared to be a supercell near Rome, in Floyd County. As the storm approached Atlanta from the northwest, a tornado warning was issued for Atlanta at 9:26 pm when the thunderstorm that caused the tornado was six miles to the northwest of the downtown area, although no watches were in effect for the area due to the low probability and unusual isolated nature. The tornado drifted southward as it moved eastward, whereas most tornadic storms have a strong northward component along (or ahead of) a cold front. It also was unusual because it was not associated with such a squall line at all, but was an independent supercell drifting well ahead of the main storm system. Damage in Atlanta was massive. There was one fatality.
A second tornado outbreak struck Georgia the following day. A moderate risk for severe storms was issued early in the morning, and maintained through the afternoon. There were at least 10 tornadoes that afternoon and several fatalities. Checks that were in a strong box in a couple’s home in Cedartown were found two days later in Blairsville! I was on the air for more than 10 hours with continuous coverage.
So this brings us to present day. The strongest El Nino ever recorded continues and, to say the least, I am more than a little concerned of what the warmer spring temperatures doing battle with approaching cold fronts will bring. Spring is the time for “Weather Wars.” Let’s all get prepared and make sure you and your family members know what to do and where to go when the time comes.
February 2016 column
El Nino is now upon us
Happy El Nino everyone! Wow, that was some interesting latter half of January. This El Nino winter has brought some wild swings in weather across the globe. I know on the news you see stories about floods, bitter cold, incredible mid-Atlantic snowstorms. However, you might be surprised at the actual benefits we are also seeing across North America.
Let’s begin in Canada, where temperatures, especially in western Canada, have been unseasonably warm this winter. Residents are very happy about the milder temperatures. As you know, California has been in an absolutely horrible drought over the past five years. Californians have seen storm after storm coming in off the Pacific Ocean, bringing good rainfall and heavy snow to the Sierra Mountains. This is exactly what they were praying for. Ski resorts in many Rocky Mountain states that have been in a snow drought for the last couple of years have seen incredible snowfall. Some ski areas have seen 10 to 15 feet of snow this winter!
There is also the other side of El Nino. Florida has been getting hammered with severe storms and tornadoes. They have not been the kind of tornadoes Floridian’s usually deal with. These are the “big boys,” the kind you would see in the spring in Oklahoma, EF3s and EF4s. Damage has been in the millions of dollars. El Nino is also affecting the California seal population. Normally, nutrient rich water with abundant populations of small fish populates the waters off California. This year, the water has been warmer and deficient in nutrients. The large schools of baitfish have avoided the warm water and the seals are having a lot of trouble finding food. In fact, there were many seal strandings as they went ashore looking for food, as far inland as city streets. Many of the seals were returned to the ocean. Many quickly returned to strand themselves. When they couldn’t be returned to the sea, many aquariums around the world began to adopt them, including our own Georgia Aquarium. I have seen a couple of them and they are doing extremely well.
February is here and the climatologists across the country all agree that El Nino will continue into the spring. This does not bode well for us. I can remember the El Nino of 1997-98. There was a powerful tornado that ripped through an area near Flowery Branch. Several people were killed and there was enormous damage. The tornadoes in Dunwoody were also related to El Nino. After meetings with our National Weather Service meteorologists, we are more than extremely concerned about the severe weather threat this spring. Severe storms during El Nino come in two forms, the squall line and the supercells. Both produce tornadoes, the most violent in the supercells.
This month, as we begin to move from winter into spring, the tornado season will begin erupting along the Gulf Coast and then spread northward. Stay tuned and be prepared. It is likely to be a very bad spring.
January 2016 column
El Nino affecting weather this winter
Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and are enjoying this “winter.” Yes, it’s winter believe it or not. I realize it was more than a little strange seeing folks Christmas shopping in shorts. Near record highs or actual record high temperatures were occurring for many people east of the Rocky Mountains. If you are asking if this was due to the current El Nino, the answer is yes.
El Nino is the warming of sea surface temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. Without boring you with meteorological jargon, the result is a change in the global winds patterns. This pattern change is what has brought badly needed rain and snow to California and the above average temperatures for much of the eastern half of the country.
I want to point out that El Ninos are like snowflakes. It’s all snow but each snowflake is unique in its own right. This current El Nino is certainly unique and has many forecasters scratching their heads in anticipation of what might happen this month. Let me break it down for you and tell you what I have learned. Our local National Weather Service office believes this month will be the month of changes. Wild swings in temperatures, possible severe storms and tornadoes, and the main concern: ICE.
Fortunately for everyone, we have a brand new technology we will begin using this month. It’s called the SPIA Ice Index (we’re calling it ICE TRACKER 2). We have it exclusively for WSB-TV. Up until now, forecasting ice has been, shall we say, challenging. With this new technology, we will be showing you a county map with where, when, and how much ice will accumulate. That in itself is something we have not been able to do with any degree of skill before. In addition, we will be able to make this prediction 72 hours in advance of an ice storm with tremendous accuracy. That is going to be a game changer. Imagine how much that kind of lead time will help in planning for power companies, road crews, and for you and your family. It has already proven itself in Oklahoma, where this technology was developed.
Now let’s move on to what the Climate Prediction Center has to say about this month. As far as precipitation, we are expected to have an above average amount. The CPC says there are too many variables in play to make a temperature prediction for north Georgia. Therefore, we have been given equal chances of above or below average temperatures. For the northern U.S. into New England, above average temperatures are being predicted. With above average temperatures to our north, there will likely be less snow cover. With less snow cover, cold fronts headed to the Southeast will have a good chance of moderating before reaching us. A large snow pack to our north helps keep cold air cold.
So in my opinion, I am leaning more toward a slightly warmer than average temperature pattern for us. We shall see. See you next month when we will likely be talking about the upcoming severe storm season and what El Nino means for February, March, and April.
December 2015 column
Conditions likely for 'wedge' to form this month
It is hard to believe that November has come and gone and we are heading into the homestretch of the holidays. November was quite a fascinating month. Temps were spring-like on most days with brief shots of cold air. As I have been speculating, the rain would pick up and get heavier with each passing weather system. We had several tornadoes in the middle of the month as we enter our cool severe storm season.
Yes, we have two severe storm seasons in Georgia. First and foremost is the main one in the spring. Wind shear (changing wind direction or speed with height) becomes a real issue in the fall. You don’t need much heat energy from the sun, just a little spin in the winds to crank up a tornado. I have seen tornadoes during the month of December but many more during the month of January.
El Nino has certainly made its presence known with the heavy rain events. I would expect Pacific storms to become more frequent this month. Above average rainfall can be expected.
Temperatures on the other hand, are a little more tricky to predict. As expected with El Nino, we have a split flow in the jet streams. The cold northern branch has been riding high up along the Canadian border. It has really been bottling up all the cold polar air up in Canada. The southern branch, moving from the Pacific Ocean across the southern United States, continues to bring in clouds and moisture. The clouds will of course, keep us cooler during the day. However, at night, they trap the heat of the earth and keep us warmer. Every so often the cold air up in Canada becomes so thick and heavy that gravity takes over and drives it and the jet stream south. It’s very difficult to actually predict when that will happen. This has happened twice in the last two months.
Both instances eventually turned into a wedge of cold air across north Georgia. Lake Lanier is always in the core of the coldest air. What I am leading up to is something I fear most of all in the winter: ice.
When a “wedge” (officially called Cold Air Damming) develops we get an extremely shallow layer of cold air that moves down the eastern side of the Appalachian Mountains. The mountains act like a dam and funnel the cold air, just like water on the ground, into north Georgia. As I mentioned, the southern branch of our jet stream is coming in loaded with moisture. It will tend to go up over the cold shallow air. Rain will fall into a subfreezing ground and we end up with freezing rain. The Lake Lanier area is always one of the hardest hit areas in a major ice storm. I am not actually predicting an ice storm this month, however the parameters will certainly be in place.
I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful and prosperous New Year.
November 2015 column
October is, in a word, comfortable
October is usually one of the nicest weather months of the year for the Southeast. It turned out to be absolutely gorgeous but last month got off to a rather shaky start. It was indeed, the Perfect Storm.
When the first set of computer models came out early in October, they showed a developing tropical system over the Caribbean. A few days later, Hurricane Joaquin was born. Most all of the models, except for the European model, kept the storm out to sea. All the others brought it to the mid-Atlantic coast. Regardless of Joaquin’s eventual land fall prediction, our best models showed something I had not ever seen before. It was basically, an “atmospheric river” of moisture spinning off the hurricane and connecting with a massive low pressure in the upper atmosphere over the Southeast.
I immediately thought South Carolina and North Carolina were going to see some incredible rainfall totals. The model data coming out in the days ahead showed as much as two feet of rain in some areas. As it turned out, the upper level low over the Southeast was tapping into moisture from the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and moisture from Hurricane Joaquin. All of this moisture was flowing like a firehose into the Carolinas. In addition, we had a Supermoon. The moon was much closer to Earth at that time and its gravity was creating extraordinarily high tides. In the Carolinas, water runs downhill from the Piedmont and out into the ocean. With the very high tides, there was nowhere for the water to go. We all saw the devastating flooding. It was the perfect storm.
Hurricane season ends at the end of this month and now our attentions are turning toward winter weather. A couple of weeks ago I met with GEMA, and its new Director, Jim Butterworth. On hand were representatives from the National Weather Service and its Meteorologist-in-Charge, Keith Stellman. We all know we have a strong El Nino. If it mimics the 1997-98 El Nino, we can expect below average temperatures and very much above average rainfall. Should the polar jet stream drop south, (and it will from time to time) we could be in store for some hefty snows, especially in the mountains. According to MIC Keith Stellman, ice is likely to be a major concern as well.
I have been looking at the various global models and other factors, looking for some trends and patterns. Based on what I have seen, I think winter will have a slow start. I would expect above average rainfall beginning in early- to mid-November. However, I also suspect temperatures may stay near average to above average through most of December. Then I can see a very active January, both in terms of severe storms and tornadoes to ice and snow. Beyond that, I would expect February to be very cold. What I don’t relish is next spring. A strong El Nino is very conducive to major severe storm events.
Whatever happens, rest assured we’ll be geared up here in Severe Weather Center 2 with our five meteorologists keeping you ahead of the weather every step of the way.
October 2015 column
Formula is right for fall color
Can you believe it’s already October? I think fall is, by far, most everyone’s favorite season of the year. After that long and very hot summer, most people are enjoying the respite from the heat. However, according to the Climate Prediction Center forecast, October will be warmer than average. For you cool weather lovers, don’t panic! With the lower sun angle and fewer light hours, I don’t think we’ll see any 90 degree heat.
What I love most about the fall is the fall color. Last autumn the leaf color was little dull and did not last very long. So what do we need for descent fall color? According to the United States National Arboretum, the process that starts the cascade of events that result in fall color is actually a growth process.
In late summer or early autumn, the days begin to get shorter, and nights are longer. Like most plants, deciduous trees and shrubs are rather sensitive to length of the dark period each day. When nights reach a threshold value and are long enough, the cells near the juncture of the leaf and the stem divide rapidly, but they do not expand. This abscission layer is a corky layer of cells that slowly begins to block transport of materials such as carbohydrates from the leaf to the branch. It also blocks the flow of minerals from the roots into the leaves.
Because the starting time of the whole process is dependent on night length, fall colors appear at about the same time each year in a given location, whether temperatures are cooler or warmer than normal. So, while you may have heard that frost or cold weather causes the leaves to change color, it is only one of many environmental factors that play a part. Temperature does however, play a role with the color and its intensity of fall foliage.
So what will this autumn’s fall foliage be like? You know we had a very hot and a very wet summer. The best weather for brilliant fall foliage is summer with a lot of rain followed by a dry, cool and sunny autumn with warm days and cool but frostless nights. So we did have a wet and warming growing season. We can put that into the plus column. When we have cool nights with a lot of sunshine during the day the red and purple pigments become brilliant. So, we can put that into the plus column.
What we don’t want to see are freezing temperatures, highs winds, or heavy rain. With the prediction of seeing near average or slightly above average rain this month, we can put that into the plus column too. October is usually one of the driest months of the year. So, based on all of this, I would say we are going to have an excellent fall color season this autumn. Only time will tell.
Have a great October and don’t worry about setting your clock back one hour to Eastern Standard Time until November 1st.
See you again next month when I expect El Nino to begin kicking into gear.
September 2015 column
An explanation of the upcoming 'Godzilla El Nino'
August began pretty much like it should have. It was dry and it was hot. Then in the middle of the month tropical rains began to fall for about a week. It was certainly great for those brown lawns and wilting gardens. Then the headline hit the news and social media. “Godzilla El Nino.”
The emails began coming and my social media pages on Facebook and Twitter were filled to capacity with questions from frantic people wanting to know what they needed to do to prepare. Obviously this was some type of scare tactic and media hype introduced to the public. So, let me set the record straight on this “Godzilla El Nino.” Back in 1997 through 1998, the ocean waters off the west coast of South America in the equatorial Pacific Ocean became abnormally warm. This is a natural cycle that occurs every 4-7 years. It can, and does, change global wind patterns and can change what we would consider “normal weather.”
During a typical El Nino winter we can expect mild temperatures across the northern Rocky Mountains, a very snowy Northeast, a brutally cold Great Lakes area, extremely wet conditions for central and southern California, and a very wet Southeast, including Atlanta south, into south Georgia. Northern Georgia, from a Rome to Gainesville line, tends to be drier. El Nino is also responsible for reducing Atlantic hurricanes by creating an environment of wind shear over the ocean, an environment that shuts down hurricane formation. It can also create intense rain-making storms for California, which would not be a bad thing, considering the severe drought conditions that state has been in place for the past three years.
I remember the strongest El Nino in my 33 years forecasting the weather for north Georgia. That 1997-98 fall and winter brought us a whopping half inch of snow for the entire winter. It also brought more than eight inches of rain above our winter average! There was considerable flooding most of that winter. The trees were dormant, no longer taking in the rainwater as they did in the warmer months. Run-off of the rain into creeks and streams was off the charts. Since that winter, the building across north Georgia has tripled non-porous surfaces. So many more parking lots, malls, driveways, and roads have been constructed that there will likely be tremendous flooding if this El Nino mimics 1997-98. Granted, no two El Nino years are ever the same so we will have to wait and see how this all evolves. There is one other “wrench in the works.” Off the West Coast of the United States there is an extremely warm eastern Pacific Ocean. No one really knows how this warm water will interact with all that is going on. This is new territory for us meteorologists.
So, with the impending “Godzilla El Nino,” let’s just remain calm and maybe Mothra will come to our rescue! I will have an update on what we have learned next month. Stay tuned!
August 2015 column
That was one tough month of July
I am so glad July is over! That was one of the hottest in years across most of north Georgia with daily highs in the low to mid 90s most every day. Those pop up afternoon storms were extremely fierce with that high heat too. We sure saw some impressive lightning displays almost every single day. I do believe temperatures will remain slightly above our average high of 88 through most of the upcoming month. August is also a fairly dry month and I expect to see an average of four inches of rain.
The only thing that could change that would be a tropical storm or hurricane. At this time of year, we begin to see huge waves of thunderstorms roll off the west coast of Africa. The storm waves will move out into the open Atlantic. Most will fade away. Others will develop into the strongest tropical systems of the season. The reason: they have a large open expanse of warm water to cross. By the time they cross the Atlantic into the Caribbean, they can become monsters.
I know we’ve all heard it will be a quiet hurricane season. While I tend to agree, it only takes one big storm, like Hurricane Andrew, to wreak havoc on the U.S. Coast. There are a couple of reasons why we will have a quieter than average hurricane season. First and foremost, is El Nino. This eastern equatorial sea surface warming causes global wind patterns to change. During El Nino, strong westerly winds in the upper atmosphere are very strong. This wind shear tends to dissipate tropical systems before they can gain too much strength.
Second is the widespread African dust that is currently blowing across the Atlantic. I was fishing in south Florida last month and it looked like the smog capital of the world. It was extremely hazy every single day due to the African dust. Meteorologists and hurricane specialists analyzing satellite data from the past 25 years found that during years when the dust storms rose up, fewer hurricanes swept across the Atlantic, while periods of low dust storm activity were followed by more intense hurricane activity. Hurricanes are fueled by heat and moisture, and it’s theorized the dust storms help muffle the storms before they fully develop by cooling the Atlantic Ocean. I am waiting to see if the pattern of increased African dust storms will continue to have an effect on our tropical season.
I also wanted to mention this has been a horrible year for lightning fatalities across the country. So far, we have had 20 fatalities. With above average temperatures continuing this month, that means storms can be huge, creating intense lightning. These summer storms, as you well know, can fire up in a very short period of time. Lightning is going to be your main threat. Please monitor radar on your mobile device. So far, none of the lightning fatalities this year have been in north Georgia. Let’s keep it that way.
July 2015 column
So what will July bring, weather-wise?
July is here and I know everyone has been asking me if it will be as hot as June. July is of course, the hottest month of the year with an average high of 90. However, I am seeing some really crazy weather patterns as a result of the summer El Nino. (El Nino in its simplistic definition is above normal sea surface temperatures off the coast of Ecuador and Peru. It usually occurs in December.)
I remember Texas and Oklahoma last year. Several years of drought left the ground parched and dry. Crops were dead. Cattle ranchers were selling all their livestock because they could not feed them. The experts said it would take years to recover from a drought of that magnitude.
As it turned out, it took only five weeks. El Nino has disrupted the “normal” global wind patterns bringing Texas an enormous amount of rain. Then in mid-June, Tropical Storm Bill formed in the northwest Gulf of Mexico and brought another 6-10 inches of rain in just 36 hours. The ground in parts of northern Texas and Oklahoma just can’t hold any more water.
While Texas was getting slammed with flooding rains, our weather in the Southeast turned brutally hot. We never really had much of a spring, as you well know. We went from highs in the upper 70s to low 80 straight into the mid-90s.
I don’t believe in my 33 years forecasting the weather for north Georgia, I have ever seen Lake Lanier warm so quickly. One week the water temperature was 79 degrees and the next week it was 85. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to warm water like that.
So, let’s get back to the question everyone is asking. Will July be as hot as June? El Nino makes long-range forecast extremely challenging. From what I can see, I do believe we may begin the month with temperatures at or slightly below average. I say this because I am seeing the pattern of drier than average weather changing this month. I think with above average rainfall, we would likely see nothing too drastic early this month. By late July, we will likely see temperatures get really hot again. As always, time will tell.
Enjoy the lake and its warm temperatures and be safe. Always be on alert for those pop-up afternoon storms. You know how much lightning they can produce and how quickly they can form. Carry along our weather app on your mobile device and we’ll be here, always keeping you ahead of the storms.
June 2015 column
Get read for a 'fickle' month
June is here, and although we have seen extremely warm temperatures throughout much of May, Summer officially begins late this month: Sunday, June 21st at 12:39 p.m. So what exactly is the Summer Solstice? A solstice happens when the sun’s zenith (highest point) is at its farthest point from the equator. On the June 21st solstice it reaches its northernmost point and the Earth’s North Pole tilts directly toward the sun, at about 23.5 degrees. It’s also known as the northern solstice because it occurs when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer in the Northern Hemisphere.
June can be a very “fickle” month when it comes to rainfall. In looking over the data from the past 15 years, we’ve seen as little as inch of rain in June of 2000. In 2013, we had almost 10 inches of rain for the month. From the weather patterns that have been setting up the last two months, and with El Nino going strong in t