West Coast Storms and Hurricane #Rick #Mexico (Sunday 24 Oct 2021)

Only one tropical system of interest, Hurricane Rick (EP17) should hit the west coast of Mexico Monday (more below), but there are two big non-tropical storm systems impacting the US today. Here is the TAFB surface analysis this morning, showing Hurricane Rick off of Mexico, the tangled fronts and low pressure in the middle of the country, and the big Pacific storm system starting to stream moisture into California …

Click to embiggen

Two areas are of concern in the US – the first is in the middle of the country, where a complex system is likely to produce some strong thunderstorms today. But the big Pacific storm (just under the label in the upper left of this graphic) has been getting media attention with the usual breathless headlines like “Atmospheric river, high winds to wallop California and Pacific Northwest” and talk of “Bomb Cyclones.” The terms “Atmospheric River” and “Bomb Cyclone” both have specific meanings and really aren’t necessarily scary or destructive unless you say them in the right tone of voice.

The more accurate term for “Bomb Cyclone” is “Explosive Cyclogenesis.” There is in fact a technical definition, that a storm decreases in minimal surface pressure by at least (24 sin φ/ sin 60°) mb in 24 hours, where φ represents latitude in degrees. I never liked the term “bomb” as being overly dramatic, but it has been in used in meteorology for a long time. They do have the potential to cause a lot of damage – the one approaching the Pacific Northwest has winds of hurricane force and higher. In addition, a second phenomena called an atmospheric river (AR in NWS abbreviations) is setting up over California today. That stream of moisture will drop a lot of rain there, which has the potential to cause flash flooding and over a foot of snow at higher elevations since in combination with the approaching cold fronts (the saw-toothed lines in the upper left of the above map) there will be a big temperature drop because, well, WINTER IS COMING! This year there is another factor, the large burn scars from this year’s wild fires. That means the vegetation that normally helps slow down or hold back rain is gone, so the potential for epic mudslides is present. You can get accurate and relatively drama free (and totally advertising free since you already paid for it!) reporting on all this at the National Weather Service web site (link). The short range weather discussion is always a good place to check for the “big picture” …

Click to go to Short Range Weather Discussion.

For those in Mexico, here is the damage swath expected from Rick:

Click to embiggen

NHC’s Key Messages regarding Hurricane Rick caution that as is typical for landfalls in Mexico, inland flash flooding and mudslides in the mountains are always a risk with this storm in addition to the threat of storm surge and wind on the immediate shoreline.

Doomwatch, 15 July 2021

There’s lots of doom stalking the earth, but mostly of the “humans are their own worst enemy” variety. There is only one active tropical cyclone – Hurricane Felicia, off the west coast of Mexico and headed out into open water. The invest area in the Atlantic is nothing to worry about, probably just a bored forecaster. There is a more serious threat potentially developing in the West Pacific that some of the models forecast to be a major storm impacting Okinawa in four or five days before heading towards Mainland China. There has been bad flooding in Germany, and in the western US heat and wild fires continue to be a problem. And the usual scattering of earthquakes, including a swarm on the California/Nevada border, and a half dozen or so volcanoes spewing ash, but none causing significant damage. Here’s a map of natural doom:

Hurricanes, Earthquakes, Volcanoes, other severe weather zones (blue/yellow) this morning (15 July)

In the “doing it to ourselves” category the SARS-COV-2 pandemic continues to do a slow burn through the population lacking natural or artificial (vaccinated) antibodies. It’s hard to get a solid handle on just how dangerous some of the new variants are. The majority of infections are now the notorious “Delta” variant (B.1.617.2 – here’s more about variants then you want to know). It does seem to have a much higher transmission rate – the variants making the rounds last year and this spring had an R of around 2, “Delta” is probably well over 3. What that means is that for the original virus, one person would infect on average two other people. “Delta” seems that one infected person can infect between 3 and 4 people. Of course that doesn’t tell you anything about the consequences of being infected – as we know, a lot of people are asymptomatic, others crash. The statistics don’t seem to indicate that conclusively, but the virus seems to be spreading within younger populations. Of course, that can be an artifact of testing bias, and that a lot of older people have had more of an opportunity to be vaccinated (or survived the virus). The research papers I’ve seen are mixed; some indicate that existing antibodies/vaccines aren’t as effective, some say it’s no big deal. The truth is probably both 😛 – there is some reduction, but it’s not increasing mortality.

The media is of course excited about Delta. For Chatham County, Georgia (Savannah Area) a reporter was breathlessly saying the community transmission index “doubled since the end of June!” Technically true, it has gone from 50 to 98 between June 30 and July 14, but let’s put that in perspective: In January it was over 600 … so while the trend isn’t great as “delta” moves into the area with both cases and CTI, this isn’t something to freak out over. If you have natural or artificial antibodies, you’re in good shape. If you don’t and are an adult, you should get vaccinated unless you have a solid health reason that makes it risky. It’s as safe as any other vaccines out there (which are pretty safe all things considered).

There are a lot of unsettling geopolitical developments that do not bode well for the upcoming weeks. The situation in South Africa is out of control. This has huge implications across southern Africa, as some of the logistics and food distribution facilities looted the last few days are essential not just in South Africa but across the region. There is unrest in Cuba – how much is natural, and how much astro-turf from Miami, and where it is going is debatable. Haiti continues to be in turmoil, and the web of involvement in President Moise continues to expand. NATO continues the risky game of “poke the bear”, conducting provocative exercises across the Black Sea at the risk of goading the somewhat unstable Ukrainian regime in to taking another action in Eastern Ukraine that will result in Russia being forced to respond.

But at least Brittany now has her own lawyer now, so that’s nice.

#Elsa evening update

NHC is still tracking Elsa as a tropical storm, but there have been no tropical storm force sustained winds in the last few hours. The center is over southwest Georgia now, and rain bands are being pushed up in to Georgia and soon SC … here is the regional radar composite:

MRMS Radar composite; click to embiggen

And here is the GOES East satellite view:

Satellite view; Infrared is on the left, Visual on the right as darkness falls …

Nothing has changed with respect to the potential hazards this evening – if anything, the wind damage risk is probably lower from the middle GA coast northward to Charleston. Still some chance for heavy rains, but I suspect totals will be under 3″ in most places. That can still cause some flooding (especially with saturated soils) so be careful if you have to go out in the storm path (and don’t if you can avoid it).

There are scattered reports of damage across North Florida, including a couple of tornado reports. In Georgia there was a radar indicated tornado in Bulloch County Georgia (Statesboro) and a funnel cloud seen from the same thunderstorm cell near Portal (Candler County). The low level velocity tracks are showing rotation, so there is definitely the potential for additional tornadic activity, and there is a watch in effect, so keep your weather radios armed. Otherwise, the earlier advice and forecasts are holding up well … see you in the morning!

#Elsa impacts moving in to coastal #GA, #SC

Radar from Hampton, SC – reflectivity on left, rotation/velocity on right, red box is warning area at 4:04pm

There is a tornado warning (in this case radar indicated rotation) in Bulloch County, near Statesboro. The entire area is under a tornado watch. While the overall risk is small, please keep your weather radio on this evening. Conditions aren’t expected to be too severe – winds, rain, etc. but these do spin up sometimes …

One Percent

Here is one last rant and some additional perspective on the sensationalist, fear mongering reports in several USA TODAY network newspapers this week. In 2019, 42 people died from tornadoes. That same year 47,511 committed suicide. In other words, reducing suicides by JUST ONE PERCENT would have saved ten times as many lives (475) as completely eliminating tornado deaths. On average, there are 132 suicide deaths PER DAY – more than the last two years of tornado deaths combined (117), and nearly twice the average annual tornado death rate (69/yr). Now, given that perspective, is this front page justified?

To be sure, any premature death is a tragedy, and weather causes a significant amount of death and destruction, a lot of it preventable. But we have made tremendous strides in warning and mitigation, especially in the area of hurricanes. The articles had some good points – but the melodrama and fear overwhelmed whatever valid points were to be made. I’ve made it my life’s work to try to reduce the impact of natural hazards, so obviously I think this work is important and valuable – but you have to keep it in perspective. Consider: over 6,000 Military Veterans are thought to die due to suicide every year – at least eighty six (86) times the annual average deaths from tornadoes. If I had the skills and knowledge to help reduce that horrific figure I’d drop what I’m doing in a second and change careers.

It’s important to realize that the most insidious and toxic thing about this kind of “reporting” is that factually the article is almost entirely “true” – as noted in the previous post, tornado activity might be shifting, and “The South” is more vulnerable than the Midwest. It just the reports lack context. I can do a screaming headline about “Every Surface In Your Home Is Coated in Bacteria,” show gross pictures of people with necrotizing fasciitis accompanied by sob stories from their families, and without any falsehoods make you afraid to touch your kitchen counter. But in context, all that bacteria isn’t really a major problem for most people with some common sense. I could have used many other examples of things more dangerous or impactful on everyday life than tornadoes, but I just got a note on Veteran suicide so it’s on my mind.

The bottom line is that while tornadoes are scary, by any rational measure we’re afraid of and worried about the wrong things – and “journalism” like this a big reason why.

More severe weather across the South

There are already severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings across Tennessee and Kentucky this morning … that should spread south into Georgia, Alabama as the day goes on.

For those in coastal GA/SC, the severe weather should stay inland, but there is a slight risk of a few storms reaching the coast late this afternoon and evening, so worth taking a look after 5pm or so …

Severe weather potential in coastal GA/SC today (Sat Apr 24)

For those in the coastal Georgia and South Carolina Low Country, while there is some uncertainty there seems to be two bands of potentially severe weather on the way today. The first is a Quasi Linear Convective System (QLCS), which is a fancy term for a line of thunderstorms, interacting with a warm front late this morning. The second is a squall line that is shaping up to push through during the peak energy time, late this afternoon and early evening. Overall, heavy rain (up to 3″ in the Savannah area, maybe near high tide, so expect street flooding!), gusty winds, and according to the Storm Prediction Center a 10% chance for a tornado … so keep your weather radios on and be aware we could get some heavy weather today. You can see stuff shaping up to our southwest in this radar composite as of 7:30am …

Click to embiggen; severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings in southern AL this morning

Cold Hard Cash: #cost estimate for the big freeze in #Texas

I’m starting to see a few estimates on the cost of this episode in the media, for what it’s worth here’s the Enki estimate … there is probably going to be on the order of $30-35 Billion in physical damage across the Southwest and Midwest, mostly in the form of water damage from busted pipes, of which about $20 Billion or so will be covered by insurance, making this a big but not catastrophic event for the suits. The economic hit on the other hand is probably another $40 to $55 Billion, making this a $80 to $90 Billion dollar episode when you roll together the physical damage, economic impact, and government budget hits. When you consider that a few hundred million dollars of mitigation efforts (efforts that were recommended as far back as 1989) could have prevented maybe all but about $10 Billion of that, not to mention all the human suffering and even loss of life, there should be a serious reconsideration of priorities and some well deserved finger pointing …

Still snow on the ground in the midwest as of Saturday afternoon …

About the #Texas #Outages

Lots of misinformation and spin going around about the ongoing wave of power outages in Texas. The TLDR is that 1) the systems in Texas are not properly protected from winter weather that it should be able to handle; 2) it’s mostly a natural gas problem; 3) the fact that a nuclear plant is offline, and renewables (wind, solar) are also offline due to weather isn’t helping. Here are some details …

Another wave of cold weather sweeping into Texas, Thursday Morning, 18 Feb 2021

The Texas grid -managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas or ERCOT – has around 84 Gigawatts (GW) of power available to it; winter peak demand is expected to be 67GW, and the peak demand earlier this week hit 69GW according to ERCOT. On Tuesday 16GW of renewables and 30GW of “thermal” sources (mostly natural gas) were offline. The biggest problem is that the natural gas system wasn’t able to handle the weather.

Yes, it is cold – but we have had colder events in the past. My quick-look analysis shows this is maybe a 1 in 15 year event, in the southern part of the state 1 in 25 or so. For “lifeline” infrastructure like the power grid, it should be able to handle a 1 in 50 event with intermittent outages. In 2011 there was a cold weather event that caused widespread outages. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) wrote a report about it with recommendations on how to address the problems. The report is pretty blunt, saying

The experiences of 1989 are instructive, particularly on the electric side. … investigated the occurrence and issued a number of recommendations aimed at improving winterization on the part of the generators. These recommendations were not mandatory, and over the course of time implementation lapsed. Many of the generators that experienced outages in 1989 failed again in 2011. … However, in many cases, the needed fixes would not be unduly expensive.

This 2011 report also points out “On the gas side, producers experienced production declines in all of the recent prior cold weather events.” and “It is reasonable to assume from this pattern that the level of winterization put in place by producers is not capable of withstanding unusually cold temperatures.

The report describes the causes and impacts of storms in 1989, 2003, 2011, and others. The 2011 report executive summary states:

This report makes a number of recommendations that the task force believes are both reasonable economically and which would substantially reduce the risk of blackouts and natural gas curtailments during the next extreme cold weather event that hits the Southwest.

Needless to say, this wasn’t done. Therefore it would seem that what happened in Texas this week was completely foreseeable, and not some freak of nature, but a direct consequence of natural gas providers and the electric utilities not taking recommended actions to protect the grid from infrequent – but not rare or terribly unusual – weather events.

Commentary: A lot of commentators and sources like those on Fox News with an ax to grind are saying that this is because the wind and solar sources are offline. True, that isn’t helping, and the increasing reliance of the grid on these sources will over time be problematic on a lot of levels. Likewise, CNN is actually blaming climate change! That too is a bunch of bull crap, even though anthropogenic climate change is a serious problem we need to deal with. But the simple truth is that the blame this time is firmly on natural gas providers being too cheap to winterize their equipment against an eminently foreseeable event. This can be attributed in part to deregulation, the way the capital markets work, and the prioritization of quarter over quarter profits against overall system reliability. There are other complexities here, such as the move to NG based electricity production to speed the shutdown of coal fired plants (a move pushed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that is much more complex and less effective than policy planners want to admit). In short, this is an economics and political problem, not an engineering or mother-nature-sticking-it-to-us problem.

The bottom line is that for lifeline infrastructure like electrical power, the current system is unacceptable. The problem is, given the politics and economics, it isn’t going to get any better, and while not responsible for this particular disaster, the push for the “Green New Deal” and elimination of nuclear and fossil fuel based energy production will make it worse, just as the push to deregulate set up the current situation.

PS – for some great discussions about the energy industry, follow Art Berman’s twitter feed and if you’re in that world his blog and consulting resources are invaluable.

US #Icestorm developing …

There is a huge frontal system slowly grinding to a halt across the US, with a low pressure system forming at the tail end over Texas. Here is the current synoptic weather map …

Synoptic weather map as of 7am ET with IR Satellite image

… and MRMS radar composite as of around 9:30am Thursday.

The low is expected to scoot up along the front, and over the next two days there is an increasing chance of a major ice storm event in an arc from Texas to the Northeast. In the this animation, the orange areas are areas where ice accumulation is possible:

GFS Simulated Radar and Precipitation Type for next couple of days (Thu/Fri/Sat). Click to embiggen.

Ice is a lot bigger problem than snow. Ice is a lot denser than snow, and tends to stick to and accumulate on things like tree branches and power lines (not to mention making roads just about impassible). The extra weight means branches and even whole trees breaking, and power lines coming down. So expect scattered outages across a wide swath of the US this New Years. The DHS/FEMA site has some advice on how to prepare for winter storms. So as you celebrate the new year, be careful!