While colleges pre-COVID-19 were already designing and implementing courses for online instruction, the pandemic has pushed entire academic course offerings into this rapidly evolving virtual environment. A new article in the Bulletin of the AMS about an online climate science course for undergraduates, which was developed, offered, and honed to near-perfection based on postcourse surveys before coronavirus, provides this tip for virtual success: Have students engage each other often, one-on-one, in a discussion forum. The result, the instructors are finding, is improved comprehension, with a high percentage of students successfully absorbing and accurately communicating course material.

The online course is titled, “Climate and Climate Change,” and has been offered through the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (AOS) at the University of Wisconsin—Madison since 2013. “Students enrolled in this course learn the physical principles governing Earth’s climate and climate change within the broader context of societal impacts and global political considerations,” writes lead author Andrew M. Dzambo and colleagues in the article.

The goal, they write, is to improve student science literacy and address misconceptions by implementing a key learning tool: “the weekly discussion forum where students engage with each other while testing their own knowledge.” The result is an increased knowledge of climate science and the Earth-climate system, as the surveys showed.

The course—AOS 102—has been improved since its inception, and it grew in popularity when it was moved to summer semester in 2016. It expanded its capacity in 2018 to accommodate a growing waitlist of interested students. The course is delivered through weekly worksheets, quizzes, and a final project, but it’s the weekly forum discussions that instructors credit with students’ retaining and being able to discuss climate science.

In their article, the authors present a template of the course for implementation with other atmospheric or Earth-related science coursework:

Although the discussion forums were monitored by course instructors, every student engaged other students at least once a week and freely expressed their own fact-based feedback to one another. By having the majority of the weekly course grade centered around discussion forums and worksheet assignments, complemented with weekly quizzes and an independent final project, the majority of students leave the class with a fundamental understanding of climate science (as evidenced by the course surveys) and with the confidence that they feel well informed about climate change.

Syllabus

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With Hurricane Delta poised to strike Louisiana today, the risk of embedded tornadoes will increase as rainbands spiral ashore, along with the primary threats of storm surge and damaging winds. Delta is forecast to plow well inland Friday night into the weekend, continuing a low risk for tornadoes, some of which could occur at night in Alabama, Mississippi and into southern Tennessee. The threat is more than a bit worrisome as new research in BAMS finds through phone surveys and followup interviews in Tennessee that people are woefully unprepared for nocturnal tornadoes.

In their article,” Kelsey Ellis and colleagues found a host of poor practices by residents when it comes to tornadoes at night. The authors recommend forecasters narrow their messaging about nocturnal tornadoes in the Southeast to a single important message to limit confusion.

Almost half of Tennessee’s tornadoes occur at night, as in other Southeast states with large numbers of nocturnal tornadoes, and are two-and-a-half times as deadly as daytime tornadoes. This creates detection, warning, and public response challenges. Yet, respondents in the western part of the state overestimated tornado occurrence at night while those in the east substantially underestimated the number.

Additionally, nearly half of participants in the survey say they rely on sirens to receive tornado warnings. This is despite the fact that sirens are not designed to warn people inside nor be loud enough to wake anyone up. Instead, Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) “should be a constant,” the authors say. Also, people mentioned they rely on TV and social media for receiving warnings even though generally neither will wake you up.

The authors felt it was “dangerous” that even the more tech savvy and tornado aware respondents answered they were compelled to look outside for evidence of a tornado—even in the dark. Interviewees explained they were “checking for sounds instead of visual cues.”

NWS forecasters were also surveyed about nocturnal tornadoes. The forecasters mentioned the lack of ground truth and fear for public safety among challenges to the nighttime warning service. They noted few spotter or social media reports inform them if “the storm is actually showing the signs on the grounds that radar is indicating aloft.” Forecasters said they felt “fearful, worried, or nervous for the public during nocturnal tornadoes because fatalities ‘are a given.’”

The survey responses moved Ellis et al. to recommend a single-emphasis message be presented to residents to combat the nighttime tornado problem:

One strategy that may improve public safety during a nocturnal tornado event, and which addresses the forecaster challenge of communication prior to and during an event, is to develop “One Message”—a consistent message that EMs and the media use throughout broadcasts, briefings, and social media. Examples of messages could be: “Nighttime tornadoes expected. Sleep with your phone ON tonight!” or “Tornadoes will form quickly! Make plans now where you will take shelter!” or “If you live in a manufactured home, you may not have much time to seek shelter tonight!” One Message may decrease confusion for receivers, making them more likely to make safe decisions. Messages could similarly be used to dispel misconceptions about local geography in ways relevant to the specific listening area, for example: “You are not protected by nearby hills. Seek shelter immediately!”

With Hurricane Delta’s nighttime tornado threat ramping up, the authors suggest people use multiple ways to receive warnings, keeps phones on and charged, don’t rely on tornado sirens, and if possible relocate ahead of the weather from “particularly vulnerable” situations, such as mobile homes and vehicles.

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COVID-19 has upended air travel for now, but if the growth in global aviation resumes, one real drag on flying is going to be increasing energy needs due to global warming. New research published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society by Diandong Ren (Curtin University, Perth) et al. shows that Earth’s warming climate is going to have an often overlooked—but costly—impact on the fuel consumption of airplanes. The reason: increased viscosity, or “stickiness,” of the air.

For starters, a warming atmosphere will expand and become less dense, reducing the lift produced by aircraft wings, which means planes must increase speed and burn more fuel to maintain carrying capacity. This disadvantage counteracts any fuel advantages of flying in thinner (less resistant) air. There are other small effects on engine efficiency. In all, there is some ambiguity about the direct effect of the warming atmosphere on fuel needs at cruising altitudes. But Ren et al. point to a much larger fuel impact due to increasing atmospheric viscosity.

In a warmer world, more water can evaporate into the air. The extra molecules of water increase the drag on aircraft and that in turn will cause planes to fight harder to cruise through the air, requiring additional fuel. The increasing drag turns out to be the dominant issue—and could become very expensive.

Fuel increaseRen et al. use an ensemble of 34 climate models to project that aviation fuel requirements by the end of the century could be an extra 160 million gallons per year due to viscosity, approaching an extra $1 billion per year in costs more than today in a scenario in which fossil fuel use is basically unabated.

The findings take account of regional and altitudinal variations in warming for different projections based on different amounts of emissions predicted. They also take into account the most trafficked flight paths, based on recent airline data. For example, some high altitude cooling at high latitudes would mitigate the effects of drag in near-polar routes, but few jets fly these paths. Flights at mid- to low-latitudes experience the biggest increases in drag—less than 2% per century, but enough to have  consequences in fuel usage. Overall, an air viscosity increase leads to about a 0.22% increase in fuel consumption by the year 2100 over 2010.

While these costs are still a small fraction of the total aviation fuel usage, they are yet another incentive for the industry to mitigate global warming through emissions reductions, as well as to pursue adaptations and efficiencies in aviation technology.

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by Alan E. Stewart, University of Georgia

It is clear that Covid-19 will be with us for a while. So will the weather, however. We’ve been through flooding in Michigan in mid-May; an outbreak of 140 tornadoes from Texas to Maryland in April; a deadly and destructive derecho in Iowa; hurricane landfalls in Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida; and massive wildfires in the West. In other words, the weather, as always, just is—it exists and occurs as a series of events that intertwine with the activities and challenges of our daily lives. Here, I would like to borrow from dynamic meteorology and apply the concepts of the Eulerian and Lagrangian perspectives to discuss our experiential journeys through the weather and Covid-19. I also will query what this means for how we cope when severe weather threatens us during this pandemic.

From the Eulerian perspective, we depict the current weather or make a forecast for a given space (county warning area, city, state, region) for a time (6 hours, 12 hours, and so on). We concern ourselves with what will occur inside the grid boxes of a model—what is the flux of weather into and out of the area? Similarly, when we look out of the windows of our life-spaces we see and experience the weather. And what is so striking about what we see is that most of the time the weather seems within its usual seasonal limits—climatologically speaking. The weather is often pleasant. It seems not to have gotten the message about Covid-19.

How could it? The weather just is. Some people have told me that during the pandemic, the closures, and the quarantines, the weather is about the only thing that has remained normal in their lives—and this has provided some degree of comfort. But with a wildfire or a hurricane, this can change quickly. Some of the same states that are threatened by hurricane landfall already have been ravaged by Covid-19.

We can think of peoples’ paths through the meteorological and nonmeteorological events in their lives with the Lagrangian perspective—metaphorically speaking. Life is a journey, a narrative, a path or a force that moves forward in time; sometimes the trajectory changes unexpectedly. The Lagrangian perspective involves the accumulated experiences of the weather through the eyes of the perceivers— individual people. Such Lagrangian living with or “under” the weather builds a corpus of weather experiences that subtly or sometimes significantly changes peoples’ subsequent responses to the weather . All of us are, to varying extents, products of what we have experienced, including the Covid-19 pandemic. So many people—in Michigan, Iowa, California, Louisiana, and elsewhere—have experienced life with both Covid-19 and disaster and displacement.

In dynamic meteorology we learn to use both the Eulerian and Lagrangian perspectives; we segue between the two to build a fuller understanding of the atmosphere. What might we learn and what questions arise when we juxtapose my uses of these perspectives? These are timely questions to consider as we deal with hurricanes, winter storms, and other weather threats during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Trust of Message Sources: During the Covid-19 pandemic, different state and federal agencies often have issued confusing, sometimes contradictory reports and recommendations about the virus. How have peoples’ experiences of this messaging affected the ways that they may receive and act upon forecasts, watches, and warnings for severe/extreme weather? How might weather-related messages from local emergency managers or health departments be received? To what extent has the trust in the weather enterprise been affected by pandemic-related messaging?

Risk Perception and Tolerance: People have dealt with multiple risks thus far during the pandemic: health, economic/financial, social, and psychological, among others. Have the experiences of these risks affected how people perceive additional risks from thunderstorms, tornadoes, floods, and hurricanes? Because people may have successfully survived an infection with Covid-19, does this affect how they perceive their risks to natural hazards? Do some people feel lucky? Because people may be more desperate for work or to keep a job, might they take additional risks to do their jobs during bad weather? Might some businesses take extra risks in bad weather to build a competitive advantage—to make up for past losses?

Preparation: As word of the pandemic spread, people in many places stocked up on consumables for daily living, leading to shortages of some items. Given how the pandemic has unfolded in different parts of the country, are people still prepared? Have they exhausted those supplies and are people fatigued from stocking up? Are suppliers ready for further waves of Covid-19 and/or a major hurricane landfall? Has stocking up and preparing made people more ready for severe weather? Is there a new appreciation for being prepared for the unexpected?

Sheltering in Place: Some severe weather events involve sheltering in place. Given the extensive sheltering in many places in the spring because of Covid-19, would some prefer to shelter in place rather than risk Covid-19 exposure elsewhere? Alternatively, would some be less likely to shelter in place because they are fatigued from it?

Evacuation Planning: Important questions involve what happens when evacuations are necessary: For example, how can the spread of Covid-19 infection be limited? Are separate shelters needed for those who are infected? How does social distancing work in the close quarters of a shelter? Are more shelters needed? Do the existing shelters have a supply of face masks and other personal protective equipment?

Interdisciplinary social and atmospheric science points to an ever-motivating realization: Often it is not simply a matter of providing a timely and accurate forecast, but it is what people do with the information they have that affects the outcomes. This is unsettling because it is often out of the direct control of the weather enterprise—much as epidemiologists and physicians cannot control how people deal with the risks of Covid-19. Efforts to communicate effectively, educate, and persuade stakeholders about the weather take on great importance. Forecasts and warnings are absorbed by people who have experienced the varying and cumulative effects of Covid-19. Being mindful of this reality may help us to better prepare people and communities.

 

 

 

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After a veritable flurry of storms in the Atlantic since August, the basin has gone quiet following the landfalls of Tropical Storm Beta in Texas, and Post-Tropical Storm Teddy in Nova Scotia. But late-season storms are quite common in the Atlantic, and as this hyperactive hurricane season combines with confirmed La Niña conditions, this year it seems almost like an expectation. And that means people on the coast need to stay alert to what’s going on in the atmosphere, but it also means there’s still promise for additional hurricane research this year.

Recent Octobers have seen a couple of very intense and even catastrophic hurricanes develop and make landfall. The last big one was Hurricane Michael, which slammed the Florida Panhandle in 2018. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew roared to life in the Caribbean, reaching Category 5 intensity on the Saffir-Simpson scale before crashing into Hispaniola as a Cat. 4, and then menacing the Florida coast for days and eventually swirling into the Carolinas.

Matthew turned out to be a late-season success for NOAA’s Sensing Hazards with Operational Unmanned Technology (SHOUT) project.  SHOUT evaluated the ability of observations taken by the high-altitude, unmanned Global Hawk aircraft to improve forecasts of high-impact weather events, which are “one of the most critically needed capabilities of weather services around the world,” write lead author Gary Wick and his colleagues in their article on SHOUT in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

NASA’s Global Hawk flew 15 missions sampling Hurricane Matthew and 5 other tropical cyclones as well as 3 winter storms in 2015 and 2016. Instrumented with GPS dropwindsondes and remote sensors, Global Hawk’s data were examined in real time by forecasters, assimilated in operational weather prediction models, and applied to data impact studies, demonstrating positive results.

BAMS asked Wick a few questions about his work and SHOUT in particular (for the full answers, see the print or digital edition of the magazine):

BAMS: What would you like readers to learn from your article?

Gary Wick: The primary message we would like to convey is that Global Hawk can provide highly useful observations of high-impact weather events that would be very difficult to obtain with any other
existing aircraft or observing system.  It was possible to consistently see the potential for forecast benefit across a wide range of models.

Gary_Wick-and-Global_HawkBAMS: How did you get into this focus on improving operational hurricane forecasts with unmanned aircraft?

GW: I was fortunate to have participated in both the NASA-led Genesis and Rapid Intensification (GRIP) and Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel (HS3) campaigns and was able to observe the potential application of the Global Hawk to tropical cyclone research.  The distinct goals of those campaigns, however, didn’t allow for a real focus on the operational hurricane forecasting problem.  We in the NOAA UAS Program were extremely excited when support from the Disaster Relief Act of 2013 gave us the opportunity to conduct a dedicated campaign to examine the impact of observations from the Global Hawk on forecasts of high-impact weather.

BAMS: What got you initially interested in meteorology?

GW: My path to this project was really quite indirect.  My interests growing up really centered around planes, due in part to living close to the old Denver airport.  As a kid, I would frequently ride my bicycle out to the end of the runway and watch planes take off and land.  These interests led me to study Aerospace Engineering as an undergraduate where I just happened to take a class one year in environmental aerodynamics taught by a scientist from a predecessor of my current NOAA laboratory.  This class introduced me to remote sensing and I ended up pursuing graduate studies centered primarily around satellite-based remote sensing.  The work with UAS in general and this project in particular allowed me to come full circle, in a sense, combining my many interests in aircraft, remote sensing, and weather.

BAMS: What surprised you the most in the SHOUT project?

GW: As someone whose personal work hadn’t centered around atmospheric models, assimilation, and weather forecasting, it was surprising to me early on how providing weather models with more, high quality, direct observations wouldn’t necessarily improve the resulting forecasts and, in some cases, could actually degrade them.  One might naively think that better data could only lead to a better final product.  After gaining an appreciation of how challenging it is to achieve meaningful forecast improvements through addition of any data to our current observing and assimilation systems, I was
very pleasantly surprised that it does appear that the highly unique observations enabled by the Global Hawk still have the potential to help us improve our forecasts of high-impact weather events.

BAMS: What was the biggest challenge you encountered in the experiment?

GW: As with seemingly any field project, our biggest challenge was probably obtaining the weather events we were hoping to study during the necessarily limited duration of the campaign.  Through the multiple years of the GRIP, HS3, and SHOUT campaigns, the Global Hawk developed almost a reputation as a “hurricane repellent” due to the limited number of storms during the experimental periods.  Perhaps the most interesting storm sampled during the SHOUT campaign, Hurricane Matthew in 2016, actually occurred after the scheduled end of the experiment.  Fortunately, we were able to extend the campaign and collect some very valuable additional observations.

Matthew_GHBAMS: What’s next? How will you follow up?

GW: Several additional studies are underway to better evaluate the impact of all the different observations collected in different and the most recent models. NOAA is still working to evaluate and increase the number of UAS observations (particularly from smaller platforms) to help conduct our mission.

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by Tony Broccoli, AMS Publications Commissioner

The peer review process is essential for high-quality scientific publication. Most readers of BAMS are aware of this simple fact, but we often hear questions about the many volunteers who take part in the peer review process. What is the difference between editors and associate editors? How do we choose chief editors? To answer these and other questions as part of this year’s Peer Review Week, I will provide a quick look at the roles of volunteers who make the peer review process work.

TonyB

When a manuscript is submitted to one of the 11 technical journals published by AMS, it is examined by the chief editor of that journal. (Two AMS journals, Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology and Journal of Climate have two co-chief editors.) If the manuscript meets basic standards of clarity, language, and content, the chief editor will assign an editor to handle it. The handling editor’s area of expertise will typically be consistent with the topic of the manuscript.

The next step for the handling editor is the selection of reviewers for the manuscript. Reviewers are also chosen on the basis of their expertise because they are being asked to make a technical assessment of the manuscript under consideration. Most manuscripts are assigned to two to three reviewers, who are expected to return their reviews in a specified length of time.

Once the reviews of a manuscript have been received, the handling editor is responsible for evaluating them and deciding the outcome of the peer review process. The editor may decide to 1) accept the manuscript without revision (this is quite rare); 2) require minor revisions that will be judged by the editor without further evaluation by the reviewers; 3) require major revisions, after which the revised manuscript will typically be subject to another round of evaluation by the reviewers; or 4) reject the manuscript as unsuitable for publication. In making a decision, the editor is not simply tallying the recommendations of the reviewers, but instead using the reviews to make an informed judgment about the manuscript.

Thus the scientific publication process depends critically on many people who generously donate their time. Reviewers are at the heart of the peer review process; this army of volunteers provides a critical evaluation of each manuscript and offers suggestions on how it can be made stronger. Reviewers who have a history of providing excellent and timely reviews are often invited to become associate editors, who agree to provide more frequent reviews, review manuscripts on short notice, and advise the editors of challenging or difficult cases.

Editors are frequently chosen from the ranks of associate editors who have performed their duties with distinction. Successful editors have certain attributes: they are excellent scientists, they have good judgment, and they have superior time-management skills. Each of these attributes is important for making sound decisions about manuscripts, communicating with authors and reviewers, and managing the unrelenting stream of incoming manuscripts in a timely manner.

Experience and accomplishment in per- forming the duties of an editor are among the primary considerations in identifying candidates for chief editor. Although this may be the most visible position among the volunteers who contribute to the peer review process in AMS Publications, it is by no means the most important. Reviewers, associate editors, editors, chief editors, and the AMS staff who work with them are all crucial to the scientific publishing enterprise. Regardless of which of these roles you occupy, you are making an important contribution to an essential element of scientific research.

To get involved, please follow this link to the AMS publications website.

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Hurricane Sally is inching ashore in southeast Alabama Wednesday morning and has started to flood parts of the central Gulf Coast with an expected 1-2 feet of rain, maybe more. With that much rain forecast, it seems likely to join other recent catastrophic flood disasters Harvey (2017) and Florence (2018) in ushering in a new era of rainier storms at landfall that bring with them an extreme rain and flooding threat.

Sally_rainfall-3

Recent research by NOAA’s Tom Knutson and a team of tropical weather and climate experts in the March Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society and blogged about here determined with medium-to-high confidence that more and more hurricanes in our future warming world will be wetter at landfall.

And with more wetter storms on the way, better communication about these potentially deadly impacts from copious rainfall is needed. Another BAMS article we blogged about addressed this by creating an Intuitive Metric for Deadly Tropical Cyclone Rains. Its authors designed the new tool—the extreme rainfall multiplier (ERM)—to easily understand the magnitude of life-threatening extreme rain events.

Co-author James Kossin explained to BAMS:

Water presents a much greater hazard in a hurricane than wind does, but the Saffir-Simpson categories are based on wind-speed alone. Salt-water hazards along and near the coast are caused by storm surge. Coastal residents are warned about these hazards and are provided with evacuation plans. Fresh-water flooding from extreme hurricane rainfall, however, can happen inland away from evacuation zones, and pose the greatest threat to life and property in these areas where people tend to shelter-in-place. Compound hazards such as dam failures and land-slides in mountainous regions pose additional significant threats. In this case, effective warnings and communication of the threats to inland populations is paramount to reduce mortality. This work strives to present a tool for providing warnings based on people’s past experience, which gives them a familiar reference point from which to assess their risk and make informed decisions.

Lead author Christopher Bosma:

We started out this project focused on analyzing the catastrophic and record-breaking rainfall associated with Hurricane Harvey. But, as we started to finish our analysis of that system, just a year later, Hurricane Florence brought devastating and torrential rainfall to the Carolinas, which forced us to go back and revisit some of our initial analysis. The fact that multiple major storms happened in quick succession grabbed a lot of headlines, but, from a research and scientific perspective, it also provided a chance to note how the messaging used to describe these systems had changed (or not) and think of other ways to use the metric we had developed.

ERM is not yet operational, but that is the researchers’ goal, to “convey effective warnings to people about fresh-water flooding threats,” Kossin says.

Hurricane Sally is one such extreme rainfall flood threat, with “significant to historic flooding” likely, the National Weather Service says.

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new survey by the American Geosciences Institute shows that recent graduates in the geosciences are finding employment at the same rates as before the COVID-19 pandemic, but a separate survey from Nature finds that amid tightening funding science postdocs are nervous about ongoing research as well as career opportunities.

The AGI survey covered graduates from the classes of 2018, 2019, and 2020, and found no “deviation from long-term employment trends of recent geoscience graduates.”

As of August 2020, 94% of geoscience graduates who earned their degree between 2014-2018 were employed, while 77% of graduates from 2019 and 44% of graduates from 2020 reported the same. For geoscience graduates who earned their degree this year, 16% of bachelor’s, 57% of master’s, and 91% of doctorates have secured employment.

For comparison, data from the 2013-2018 AGI Geoscience Exit Survey shows that 20% of geoscience graduates secured employment by the time they graduated. This data varied by degree level, with 12% of bachelor’s, 36% of master’s, and 56% of doctorates securing employment by the time they graduated. Only 1% of employed recent geoscience graduates lost their job since February 2020.

AGIfig1

While three-quarters of the still-unemployed graduates of the last three classes were still looking for jobs in the geosciences, half said they were instead, or additionally, now seeking employment outside the field. Of those seeking employment outside the field, more than 80% said this was due to lack of jobs in the geosciences, and about three-quarters felt they did not have sufficient training for the available jobs.

AGIfig22

The AGI employment statistics are provided by geoscience graduate job seekers, part of a series AGI is publishing on the effects of the pandemic in the geosciences. The Nature survey, by contrast, sampled views of postdocs worldwide and “paints a gloomy picture of job-loss fears, interrupted research, and anxiety about the future.” It finds that:

Eight out of ten postdoctoral researchers say that the global coronavirus pandemic has hampered their ability to conduct experiments or collect data. More than half are finding it harder to discuss their research ideas or share their work with their laboratory head or colleagues, and nearly two-thirds believe that the pandemic has negatively affected their career prospects.

The pandemic has shuttered or reduced the output of academic labs globally, slashed institutional budgets and threatened the availability of grants, fellowships and other postdoctoral funding sources. The fallout adds up to a major challenge for a group of junior researchers who were already grappling with limited funds, intense job competition and career uncertainties.

The Nature survey drew responses from 7,670 postdocs working in academia from mid-June through the end of July. Some respondents were selected for follow-up interviews, which “filled in an unsettled, precarious picture of postdoctoral research in the era of coronavirus.”

“The [pandemic] has compounded the pressures that postdocs were already under,” reported one of the interviewees, Hannah Wardill, a cancer researcher at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute in Adelaide.

 

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Derechos are less common than Midwestern tornadoes, but occur almost every year in that region as well as other parts of the United States. Yet they remain exotic and mystifying. Even to meteorologists.

The reason appears to lie in the complex way the long-lived windstorms form. Derechos are often incorrectly referred to as inland hurricanes; their damaging winds can reach hurricane force, but they are straight-line in nature, rather than circulating around a common center. When people suffer, though, they can be forgiven for using the wrong windstorm term. By definition derechos have to meet specific criteria, such as causing damage continuously or intermittently in a lengthy line of at least 400 miles that’s at least 60 miles wide. But just like hurricanes, they come in a variety of intensities.

2020_derechoLast week’s derecho, roaring 750 miles from eastern Nebraska across Iowa, Illinois and Indiana, was particularly ferocious with winds in multiple swaths across Iowa gusting to over 100 mph. The National Weather Service found damage to an apartment complex in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, consistent with wind gusts of an astonishing 130-140 mph. But even these extreme winds and the severe damage they wrought don’t tell the whole story of the variation in these windy storms with the seemingly odd name.

Iowa_wind_gustsThe AMS Glossary of Meteorology states: “The term derecho derives from a Spanish word that can be interpreted as “straight ahead” or “direct” and was chosen to discriminate between wind damage caused by tornadoes, which have rotating flow, from straight-line winds.” It defines derechos as widespread convectively induced straight-line windstorms.

Specifically, the term is defined as any family of particularly damaging downburst clusters produced by a mesoscale convective system. Such systems have sustained bow echoes with book-end vortices and/or rear-inflow jets and can generate considerable damage from straight-line winds.

Two very different derechos: Base reflectivity composite radar data for (a) 2056 UTC 4 Apr 2011 and (b) 2234 UTC 29 Jun 2012, with surface observations plotted using conventional station plot format. Convective system in (a) is composed of a series of loosely connected, largely linear bands with low-amplitude LEWPs, whereas that in (b) consists of a single, intense arc of storms with a well-defined bow echo. Animated radar and satellite imagery for these events may be viewed at http://spc.noaa.gov/misc/AbtDerechos/casepages/apr042011page.htm and http://spc.noaa.gov/misc/AbtDerechos/casepages/jun292012page.htm.
Two Very Different Derechos: Base reflectivity composite radar data for (a) 2056 UTC 4 Apr 2011 and (b) 2234 UTC 29 Jun 2012, with surface observations plotted using conventional station plot format. Convective system in (a) is composed of a series of loosely connected, largely linear bands with low-amplitude LEWPs, whereas that in (b) consists of a single, intense arc of storms with a well-defined bow echo. Animated radar and satellite imagery for these events may be viewed at
http://spc.noaa.gov/misc/AbtDerechos/casepages/apr042011page.htm and
http://spc.noaa.gov/misc/AbtDerechos/casepages/jun292012page.htm.

 

This updated definition was the work of a team of meteorologists about five years ago who compared different straight-line windstorms—all meeting the damage criteria of derechos at the time but clearly having different mechanisms driving them. Their published paper in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society was “A Proposed Revision to the Definition of ‘Derecho’.” With it, the authors made the case to improve the definition of derecho to make it more physically based and more closely mirror other definable meteorological terms such as tornadoes, extratropical cyclones, and cirrus clouds.

While the paper had a positive effect among the meteorological community, a web search still turns up different definitions of derecho among meteorological websites, including within the NWS.

We asked the lead author of the BAMS paper, Stephen Corfidi (NOAA NWS, CIMMS, University of Oklahoma), for his thoughts on last week’s Midwestern derecho, to put it in perspective and also to help explain the reasons behind the difficulty with meteorologists not only defining but using the meteorological term differently.

BAMS: Was last week’s Midwest fast-moving line of severe thunderstorms with damaging winds a derecho? If so, did it fit the Glossary definition of a derecho?

Stephen Corfidi: Last Tuesday’s Midwest wind storm met the AMS Glossary definition of a derecho. Most significantly, it satisfied the criterion for the presence of “one or more sustained bow echoes with mesoscale vortices and/or rear-inflow jets.” A large mesoscale vortex, located on the north end of the larger-scale bow-shaped convective system from central Iowa to Lake Michigan, appears to have been associated with some of the strongest and longest-duration surface winds that accompanied the event. While the swath of organized damaging winds was not particularly long (on the order of 500 miles (800 km)) in comparison to some past events, the length well exceeded the somewhat flexible 400-mile (~ 650 km) cut-off used to distinguish derecho storms.

BAMS: Among derechos, how does this one rank?

SC: The Iowa-Illinois storm is certainly one of the most memorable of 2020—a year that already has seen other noteworthy events (e.g., those in Colorado, the Dakotas, and Pennsylvania in June). What made the Iowa-Illinois event especially noteworthy was the sizable number of reliably-observed significant surface gusts. There were numerous reports in excess of 80 mph (35 meters/second), and incidental evidence that some locations experienced speeds greater than 100 mph (45 m/s). The strong winds—likely enhanced by the presence of the mesoscale vortex—in some places persisted for more than 30 minutes. The vortex to some extent resembled the “warm-core” (hurricane-like) circulation that formed within the Kansas-Missouri-Illinois derecho of 8 May 2009.

BAMS: What made this one stand out?

SC: The duration of the storm’s high winds over eastern Iowa and western Illinois—again, likely due in part to the presence of the large mesoscale vortex—was certainly outstanding. This is quite a statement considering that the event occurred in a region known for its propensity for derechos (Recall that Gustave Hinrich’s nineteenth century studies of straight-line wind events were based in Iowa).

BAMS: Why are derechos so perplexing and difficult for meteorologists to acceptably define?

SC: There are several reasons why derechos are not only difficult to define, but also challenging to forecast. Unlike supercell thunderstorms that, in most cases, are well-delimited in time and space, broad swaths of damaging convective winds can arise in many different ways. Some of the processes involved in derecho development remain poorly understood and / or are only partly resolved by current observational platforms.

More significantly, unlike weather phenomena like supercells, derechos may or may not be accompanied by meteorological structures that readily are apparent to human observers. For example, most meteorologists recognize a supercell when one appears in the sky. But specific cloud formations are not associated with derechos, and the characteristic meteorological structures that do accompany many derechos (e.g., embedded vortices and rear-inflow jets) are too large or subtle to be recognized by human observers without the aid of remote-sensing devices such as radar and satellite.

These same aspects make derechos difficult to forecast. One can say that derechos arise when a unique combination of known and unknown necessary ingredients is present over a sufficiently broad area to support rapid, repetitive, downshear thunderstorm development. That said, applying this concept in practice presents a formidable challenge. In some cases, the known ingredients are present, but the extent of the favorable environment is too limited for derecho status to be realized. Conversely, expansive environments sometimes appear that are supportive of widespread destructive winds, but not those strongly dependent on the smaller-scale processes associated with rear-inflow jets and mesoscale vortices.

As with any weather forecast, when “missed” derecho events occur, the root causes can be traced to the existence of too many unknowns—both observational and theoretical. In the case of derechos, both unknowns, at present, remain sizable.

BAMS: What has been the impact of your 2016 BAMS paper and proposed new definition?

SC: It does appear that the updated definition proposed in the paper has been adopted to at least some extent in the severe weather community; the updated definition in the AMS’ Glossary likely abetted the effort. There is, of course, no “official” arbiter of general meteorological terms.  This explains, in part, the range of derecho “definitions” that appear in some sources. The lack of consistency in the use of the term “derecho” was, in fact, a motivating factor in drafting the paper. We’d like to think that the paper focused needed attention on the value of increased precision in meteorological terminology, but that is not something that is easy to measure. It is probably safe to say that the definition of “derecho” will continue to change as the underlying processes responsible for the most intense storms become better understood.

BAMS: What would you like readers of your 2016 paper to learn about and from the re-defining of derecho?

SC: I think perhaps the most important take-aways are that (1) the existing definition was outdated because of the significant changes that have occurred in observational data, record-keeping, and understanding since the mid-1980s, and (2) that if we are to better understand and forecast high-wind-producing convective systems, we need to first better classify those systems that are observed.

BAMS: You and your colleagues at NOAA-NWS-NCEP put together a comprehensive and impressive website About Derechos. How did you become interested in them?

SC: Convective systems, in general, are interesting because there are so many “moving parts” involved in their development, sustenance, and motion. It is especially challenging—but also rewarding—to try to assess the strength and likely longevity of those processes in real-time so as to prepare useful forecasts. Derechos are high-impact events; they are one area where society would benefit greatly from increased meteorological knowledge.

BAMS: What was the biggest challenge you encountered in your work to update the derecho definition?

SC: Having thoughts on introducing any new idea is one thing, but putting those concepts into words is another. Unlike most other papers in our “business,” in this one I felt we had to be somewhat persuasive. I was not at first comfortable with taking such an approach. But the contrasts presented by the two derecho events introduced in the first part of the paper furthered my conviction that persuasion was needed to both defend and encourage discussion on the definition topic.

BAMS: What got you initially interested in meteorology?

SC: My interest in clouds and storms goes back to my earliest days as a young kid growing up in a house kept super-clean by my mom. Because I was forbidden to play in the yard when the grass was wet (I’d track dirt into the house, of course!), I soon came to appreciate “Mr. Sun.” In particular, I noticed that I’d often not see the sun the next day if certain cloud formations had appeared in the sky on the previous one. A bit later, in first grade, my dad introduced me to weather books in the local library. Some had cloud pictures indicating which formations were “bad,” and which were associated with good weather. I was hooked! Thunderstorm days were always a favorite because the clouds on such days seemed to change the most rapidly—and provided the most surprises. I was very interested in things like rocks and plants, too—but weather was always #1.

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Through July, 2020 has been on almost the same track as 2016: the two years had the hottest first seven months in NOAA’s 141 year dataset of global surface temperatures (land and ocean combined). Since 2016 turned out to be the hottest year on record, it might seem as if this fast start puts 2020 on track to set a new record, too, or to be a near miss. NOAA says it’s already “very likely” 2020 will be among the five hottest years on record.

But in the strange reality of ever rising global temperatures, it’s not so much the first half of the year that puts 2020 on the verge of a record. It’s the underlying trend of warming: 2020 was already on the verge on New Year’s Day.

As the new State of the Climate in 2019 released last week points out, the six hottest years in the last century and a half were…exactly the last six years, 2014-2019. Due to global warming, practically every year’s surface temperature is going to be a hot one. Just by showing up at the starting line, every year is a serious threat to set a new standard.

A paper recently published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society puts this relentless streak of rising temperature expectations in terms of probabilities. There’s a greater than a 99% chance that most of the next 10 years through 2028 will be ranked among the top 10 warmest.

The study, by Anthony Arguez (NOAA/NCEI) et al. also finds an 82% chance that all years in the next decade will rank in the top 15 warmest years as global warming continues. Its authors suggest that record warm years are already “baked into the cake” of Earth’s global climate and that it would take “an abrupt climate shift for even a few years within the next decade to register outside the top 10 warmest years.”

To determine these odds, the researchers analyzed the monthly version of NOAA’s Merged Land Ocean Global Surface Temperature Analysis Dataset (NOAAGlobalTemp) to project annual global temperature rankings in the future. The ever-shifting expectations for global temperatures render the usual way of keeping tabs on the data—by comparing to 30-year normals—inadequate. So Arguez et al. formulated a new way to compare each year to surrounding years:

We introduce a “temperature score”  to help NOAA communicate the coolness or warmth of a given year relative to the long-term trend. We believe this is the first such projected ranking and temperature score currently produced operationally. Our objective is to use this tool to improve the communication of climate change impacts to the general public.

Top 10The temperature score from 1 (a very cold year) to 10 (very warm) is useful to distinguish between warmer and colder years relative to the long-term trend. As examples, the authors note that 2008 and 2011 were considerably cooler than surrounding years and below the overall trend, whereas 1998 and 2016 were not only the warmest years on record but were also notably warmer than surrounding years.

The study only includes average annual global temperatures through 2018. But as reported in the annual State of the Climate, 2019 ranks as the second or third warmest year on record (depending on your favored dataset), adding another year to the recent string of those warmer than any years back to the mid 1800s. The report notes that each successive decade since 1980 has been warmer than the previous. Arguez’ research suggests that not only will this continue but it will worsen dramatically.

This is a testament to the exceptional warmth experienced over the last few decades, punctuated by the last [5] years [2015–19], which have separated themselves from “the pack.”

We asked Arguez a few questions (more found in the latest print/digital issue of BAMS) about this work as well as about his background and what sparked his interest in meteorology.

Anthony_ArguezBAMS: What would you like readers to learn from your study of record global temperatures?

Anthony Arguez: I would like the general public to know that there is not a great deal of suspense that most years—if not all—over the next decade will likely register as top 10 years. In fact, the data suggest we should expect this, as it would likely take a pretty abrupt change to get us off this trajectory.

BAMS: How did you become interested in finding new ways to analyze the global temperatures and their trend?

AA: I feel like I’ve been staring at the annual global temperature time series continually over the past 15 years or so because it is just so interesting in many ways. I find it challenging and rewarding to develop methods to translate volumes of data into answers to specific questions posed by the general public. I’ve drawn inspiration from Nate Silver, whose penchant for expounding on and communicating the “signal” hidden in the “noise” informs the way I would like to see myself and fellow climate scientists communicate to the general public more effectively.

BAMS: What surprised you most in doing this work?

AA: I was very surprised that the ranking errors we found were so small! Before calculating the results, I had a gut feeling that these errors would be modest, but the mean absolute ranking error of ~2 spots a full 10 years out was well below anything I could have imagined. I clearly under-appreciated the predictability inherent in the observed upward trend when it comes to annual global temperature rankings.

BAMS: What was the biggest challenge?

AA: I think the biggest challenge we faced was that we were not aware of any similar operational products in existence (neither for projected rankings or global annual temperature scores), or of any papers that had characterized ranking errors in a similar fashion, so we were in uncharted territory to some extent.

BAMS: This isn’t the biggest climate challenge, or surprise, you’ve ever faced…

AA: I became interested in meteorology as a teenager in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew totaled my parents’ home in Miami, Florida.

 

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