Derecho Possible in the Upper Midwest Today

Severe thunderstorms are expected to erupt late this afternoon in the upper Midwest and, according to the Storm Prediction Center (SPC), they could organize into a single, large bowing line capable of widespread damaging winds called a derecho tonight. Last summer a very destructive derecho blitzed Iowa with wind gusts over 100 mph.

SPC Convective Outlook
SPC Convective Outlook

SPC’s Day 1 Convective Outlook has a large part of Wisconsin in a moderate risk of severe storms, with enhanced and slight risk areas surrounding it extending northwest into Minnesota and southeast into northwest Ohio. Supercell thunderstorms are expected to blossom across northern Minnesota late this afternoon with the threat of large to very large hail and tornadoes as well as damaging winds.

Storms then may grow into a derecho capable of producing a wide swath of wind gusts greater than 75 mph hurricane force as it races southeast across western and southern Wisconsin late today and overnight. Milwaukee is in its potential path and it’s possible the line may reach Chicago before it begins to weaken.
SPC has outlooked the moderate risk area with 45% odds of wind gusts exceeding 50 knots (58 mph), and surrounds that area with a 10 percent probability of wind gusts over 65 knots (74 mph) all the way into southwest Michigan and extreme northern Indiana.

While SPC notes in their morning discussion that there’s uncertainty how far southeast the danger will extend, “activity should expand into an MCS (mesoscale convective system) capable of severe gusts and tornadoes across … southern/eastern Wisconsin this evening, shifting into the southern Lake Michigan and lower Michigan vicinity tonight. A derecho may occur, with embedded channels of hurricane-force gusts.”

But just what exactly is a derecho? And can they be predicted? SPC notes in the same discussion, “Whether or not the timing/location of the upscale storm transition permits the event to be classified officially as a derecho in hindsight, there is strong concern it will have that kind of intense and destructive wind impact for at least a few hours.”

Defining Derechos Is Complicated–Even for Meteorologists, as we noted in a detailed blog post on The Front Page last summer after Iowa’s widespread and costly damaging wind event. They aren’t “inland hurricanes” as they are often described, the post explains, but they can mimic the type of widespread damage seen with hurricane winds.
In their midday Convective Outlook update, SPC cautions that while “most guidance suggests the MCS will weaken late tonight as it moves into a slightly less moist/unstable air mass over MI/IN/OH … if mesoscale organization is sufficiently high, the complex could persist longer than model depictions.”
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What If: Hurricane Michael's Extensive Wind Swath Would Devastate Houston, NWS says

“In summary, it’s going to be bad.”
That’s how Jeff Evans with the NWS in Houston/Galveston began Wednesday’s presentation, “What if Hurricane Michael Struck Houston? An Examination of Inland Wind Damage,” at the AMS 100th Annual Meeting in Boston.
He was boots on the ground after Hurricane Michael slammed the panhandle as a Category 5 with 160 mph winds on October 10, 2018, assisting the Tallahassee NWS office with surveying the widespread wind damage that extended well away from the coast. Because Michael was intensifying at landfall as well as accelerating, its extreme winds spread deep inland, across the panhandle and well into southwest and southern Georgia.
The Donalsonville, Georgia, airport northeast of Marianna, Florida, and about 90 miles inland, recorded a wind gust to 115 mph, while Marianna had a gust to 103 mph in Michael. Both as well as Blountstown, Georgia, suffered significant damage to structures as well as trees.

Track and power outage extent map from Hurricane Michael overlaying a map of Houston. What 95% of the Houston Metro area without power would equate to.
Track and power outage extent map from Hurricane Michael overlaying a map of Houston. What 95% of the Houston Metro area without power would equate to.

Evans overlaid maps of Michael’s track, wind swath, and areal power outages on Houston to show the extent of its damage potential. The entire Houston metro area with 7.1 million people would suffer; 6.9 million would lose power. And damage to homes and devastation to the landscape would mimic the widespread destruction he observed in the Florida panhandle and southern Georgia where entire forests were virtually flattened.
Evans said that as an NWS meteorologist responsible for warning the Houston area if such a scenario threatened he would have a lot of trouble following the standard hurricane mantra, “Run from the water, hide from the wind.”
Rice University in the Houston Metro area is about the same distance from the coast as Blountstown, Florida, which was blasted by Hurricane Michael.
Rice University in the Houston Metro area is about the same distance from the coast as Blountstown, Florida, which was blasted by Hurricane Michael.

“Telling people inland to stay put in such extreme wind conditions is not something I would want to do,” he says.
But, he adds, telling them to get out could prove just as deadly in the mass exodus.
“When you start talking about storms, such as Rita, with 130 mph winds or higher, it’s a spontaneous evacuation.” More than 50 people died just from the evacuation of Houston ahead of that storm, he says
It’s been 37 years since a storm brought a significant wind threat to the Houston area. Hurricane Alicia in 1983 was the last. Hurricane Harvey in 2017 was a widespread catastrophic flood event. Hurricane Ike in 2008 was primarily a surge storm.
“The population in and around Houston has doubled during that time,” Evans says. A 2015 American Community Survey showed more than 130,000 people in just Harris county who live in mobile homes, with thousands more in the surrounding counties.
He conducted the research to raise awareness of a “Michael-like” storm and the immense challenges it would represent.

What If: Hurricane Michael’s Extensive Wind Swath Would Devastate Houston, NWS says

“In summary, it’s going to be bad.”

That’s how Jeff Evans with the NWS in Houston/Galveston began Wednesday’s presentation, “What if Hurricane Michael Struck Houston? An Examination of Inland Wind Damage,” at the AMS 100th Annual Meeting in Boston.

He was boots on the ground after Hurricane Michael slammed the panhandle as a Category 5 with 160 mph winds on October 10, 2018, assisting the Tallahassee NWS office with surveying the widespread wind damage that extended well away from the coast. Because Michael was intensifying at landfall as well as accelerating, its extreme winds spread deep inland, across the panhandle and well into southwest and southern Georgia.

The Donalsonville, Georgia, airport northeast of Marianna, Florida, and about 90 miles inland, recorded a wind gust to 115 mph, while Marianna had a gust to 103 mph in Michael. Both as well as Blountstown, Georgia, suffered significant damage to structures as well as trees.

Track and power outage extent map from Hurricane Michael overlaying a map of Houston. What 95% of the Houston Metro area without power would equate to.
Track and power outage extent map from Hurricane Michael overlaying a map of Houston. What 95% of the Houston Metro area without power would equate to.

Evans overlaid maps of Michael’s track, wind swath, and areal power outages on Houston to show the extent of its damage potential. The entire Houston metro area with 7.1 million people would suffer; 6.9 million would lose power. And damage to homes and devastation to the landscape would mimic the widespread destruction he observed in the Florida panhandle and southern Georgia where entire forests were virtually flattened.

Evans said that as an NWS meteorologist responsible for warning the Houston area if such a scenario threatened he would have a lot of trouble following the standard hurricane mantra, “Run from the water, hide from the wind.”

Rice University in the Houston Metro area is about the same distance from the coast as Blountstown, Florida, which was blasted by Hurricane Michael.
Rice University in the Houston Metro area is about the same distance from the coast as Blountstown, Florida, which was blasted by Hurricane Michael.

“Telling people inland to stay put in such extreme wind conditions is not something I would want to do,” he says.

But, he adds, telling them to get out could prove just as deadly in the mass exodus.

“When you start talking about storms, such as Rita, with 130 mph winds or higher, it’s a spontaneous evacuation.” More than 50 people died just from the evacuation of Houston ahead of that storm, he says

It’s been 37 years since a storm brought a significant wind threat to the Houston area. Hurricane Alicia in 1983 was the last. Hurricane Harvey in 2017 was a widespread catastrophic flood event. Hurricane Ike in 2008 was primarily a surge storm.

“The population in and around Houston has doubled during that time,” Evans says. A 2015 American Community Survey showed more than 130,000 people in just Harris county who live in mobile homes, with thousands more in the surrounding counties.

He conducted the research to raise awareness of a “Michael-like” storm and the immense challenges it would represent.

10-m Resolution Quarter-Trillion Gridpoint Tornadic Supercell Simulation Mesmerizes

An exceptionally high resolution simulation of a supercell thunderstorm fascinated conferees Tuesday at the AMS 100th Annual Meeting in Boston. Leigh Orf of the University of Wyoming presdented imagery and animations of the simulation that ran on the Blue Waters Supercomputer. With a 10 m grid spanning 11,200 X 11,200 X 2,000 (251 billion) grid volumes, the 270 TB subdomain contains the entire life cycle of the tornado, including 10 minutes prior to tornado formation.

Image created with VAPOR3 of a 10-m supercell simulation. (a) Volume rendered cyclonic vertical vorticiy, highlighting the 3D structure of the tornado shortly after formation.
Image created with VAPOR3 of a 10-m supercell simulation. (a) Volume rendered cyclonic vertical vorticity, highlighting the 3D structure of the tornado shortly after formation. The 2D surface field traces the maximum surface cyclonic vertical vorticity, providing a representation of the tornado’s path. The view is following the tornado’s path. (b) As in (a), but later in the simulation when the tornado exhibits a multiple vortex structure. (c) Volume rendered cloud mixing ratio, with parameters chosen to present a quasi-photorealistic view of the cloud field. The 2D surface field traces the minimum pressure found in the tornado’s path. (d)  As in (a) and (b), but a different, wider view and utilizing different opacity and color map choices. The vortex to the left, which merges with the tornado later in the simulation, is weaker than the nascent tornado as evidenced by the vortex’s more transparent and darker visual presentation and path.

 

Students Converse with Air Force Hurricane Hunter Flight Meteorologists, Tornado Field Researcher

Saturday’s Student Conference at the AMS 100th Annual Meeting kicking off in Boston featured a series of Conversations with Professionals to gain insight into a variety of career choices, the work these professionals in our field currently do, and how they got where they are today. This year’s series, in which short introductions are followed by a Q and A session with students, included two meteorologists who fly into hurricanes with the Air Force 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Wing and another who helps c0-operate the Doppler on Wheels radar for tornado field research.

Below is a sampling of questions students asked Lt. Col. Ryan Rickert and Maj. Jeremy DeHart with the AF Hurricane Hunters as well as Karen Kosiba of the Center for Severe Weather Research. The answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q (Hurricane Hunters): Can you tell us a little about your backgrounds in the Air Force?

A: (Lt. Col. Ryan Rickert) “Meteorology degrees, with active duty [13 years], go to a weather tech school to learn how to deal with military weather, and then pretty much start with your track—go to a main [Air Force] hub weather regional center to learn how to do big, broad forecasting, then … to a different place and forecast for an airfield so your supporting aircraft at the field. But there are different paths you can take: Science, modeling, Army support, Air Force support, many different ways that you can go.

A: (Maj. Jeremy DeHart) “Yeah, I agree. A lot of people think Air Force, military, and are like ‘Oh, I want to do research … it’s not really my cup of tea.’ but there are so many different tracks you can take, and you’re not going to get the breadth of experience you will in the Air Force doing the jobs we did while on active duty. I have a masters degree and they sent me to California for two years [while on active duty], and I was a full-time student and was paid full-time to go to school. And they’ll do that for your Ph.D., go teach at the Air Force Academy … so don’t be scared off by [military] operations.

Lt. Col. Ryan Rickert (r) and Major Jeremy DeHart at Saturday's Conversations with Professionals series.
Lt. Col. Ryan Rickert (r) and Major Jeremy DeHart at Saturday’s Conversations with Professionals series.

Q (Hurricane Hunters): How do you adjust when a hurricane is rapidly intensifying?

A: (Maj. Jeremy DeHart) You’re always adjusting, because it’s never what you exactly expected. We maintain a pressure altitude of 10,000 feet flying into and through the eye of a hurricane. By the time you’re in the eye, in the stronger storms you’re down to 8,000 feet. In Hurricane Wilma, which set a low pressure record, they were flying at 5,000 feet because they didn’t expect it to be that strong, and by the time they got [in the eye] it had bottomed out and the plane flying a 5,000-foot pressure … was down to about a thousand feet and had to pull up.”

A: (Lt. Col. Ryan Rickert) “We don’t do that anymore. We now go in higher. … When we’re briefing we’re changing things. And even in the execution of the mission we constantly have to adjust. … Constantly changing our pattern if there’s a really intense area [of convection] that doesn’t look [on radar] like it’s safe to go through.

Q (Hurricane Hunters): What do you do in the off-season?

A: (Maj. Jeremy DeHart) “We go to a lot of airshows.”

A: (Lt. Col. Ryan Rickert) “We give talks at conferences, promote what we do, find out what kinds of new instruments we want to put on our airplane, things like that.”

A: (Maj. Jeremy DeHart) “A lot of people don’t realize we have a winter storm requirement as well. … We’ll fly a synoptic pattern and just pepper a big storm with [dropwindsondes]. We’ll fly higher, like 30,000 feet or so, and just carpetbomb the whole thing with instruments.”

Q (Tornado Research): What made you target research versus academia on your career path?

A: (Karen Kosiba) “Sometimes when you’re deep in academia you don’t think there’s anything outside academia. I was getting ready to graduate and I had done tons of field research but also applied for jobs in academia, in government … and I got many of those jobs. So I picked what I liked. But even if you don’t know what you’re doing you visualize that you’ll try a little of everything. … When I first started working with the Doppler on Wheels I thought I was going to be a technician … but I started to enjoy some different things and it just ended up this way. Just because you get a bachelor’s, a master’s, a Ph.D., an associate degree—whatever you’re getting your degree in—doesn’t mean you can’t do different jobs.”

Karen Kosiba, with the Center for Severe Weather Research, answers students' questions Saturday at the AMS 100th Annual Meeting.
Karen Kosiba, with the Center for Severe Weather Research, answers students’ questions Saturday at the AMS 100th Annual Meeting.

Q (Tornado Research): Can you elaborate a little on graduate school and how you learned how to write grants?

A: (Karen Kosiba) “For those of you in graduate school, or going to graduate school, you usually work with a professor, and they’re trying to get grants, too. My professor said ‘Hey, you want to write a grant proposal?’ and I was like ‘Sure, let’s write a grant proposal.’  And you don’t really know much about how to write them in graduate school. You can just wing it, or you can have a good mentor, like I did. You know, [as an aside] you think your mentor should be someone exactly like you, and even though you can have someone who likes the same stuff as you, it can be advantageous to find a person who can help you meet your career goals. Someone who understands what you want to do and who you want to be.”

Q (Tornado Research): Do you have any advice for recent graduates who are interested in project-based research rather than forecasting? It seems like a lot of people just take the first thing out there, often university helper.

A: (Karen Kosiba) It’s true. But I think there are more opportunities out there than just waking up and taking those first opportunities. In my case not only did I shop for a mentor but also an advisor who could help me out in the field. Big universities often have big field projects, and they don’t always advertise them as well as they should. It can be tricky to get out and get that experience. But places like NCAR have programs getting [their] people out to do field projects. And the University of Wyoming, NSSL, will have projects going in and out. They’re out there and sometimes you have to do a bit of work to find them. Even if one professor doesn’t have anything, they might know someone who just got funded for a project. And once you’re in them take some responsibilities on … and become an active crew member and contributor to the project.

In Celebration: American Weather Enterprise Collaborating to Protect Lives and Property

By Mary M. Glackin, AMS President-Elect, and Dr. Joel N. Myers, Founder and CEO, AccuWeather

In his acclaimed book, The Signal and the Noise, noted statistician Nate Silver examines forecasts of many categories and finds that most forecast types demonstrate little or no skill, and most predictive fields have made insignificant progress in accuracy over the past several decades.  The one exception, Silver concludes, is weather forecasting, which he singles out as a “success story.” We quite agree.

The benefit of improved weather forecasting on human activity over the last 60 years cannot be overstated. As we approach in January the 100th Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society, the nation’s premier scientific organization dedicated to the advancement of meteorological science, it seems a fitting time to celebrate all that we have accomplished for the protection of life and property and the substantial benefits to people and business and contemplate the challenges ahead and the path forward to conquer them.

With technology and human knowledge increasingly transforming both weather forecasting and our relationship with it, our success will rest squarely on our ability to embrace transformational change and to recognize and welcome opportunities for collaboration between key facets of the weather enterprise – academic, government and the private weather industry.

The publicly funded National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plays a critical role in supporting the entire infrastructure of weather forecasting, which government organizations, such as the National Weather Service, the U.S. military, and privately held organizations rely on. This infrastructure includes observational systems, maintenance and support of numerical weather prediction models, and providing life-saving weather warnings.  Warnings, arguably, are the biggest payoff of weather forecasting with lives and property on the line.

The NWS analyzes and predicts severe weather events and issues advisories and warnings to the general public for their safety and protection. Warning services provided by NWS have improved over the decades. By design, NWS weather warnings cover a broad territory, intended for the widest possible public audience in a region.

While all government weather warnings reaching the public are produced by the NWS, increasingly in today’s digital age they are tailored and delivered almost entirely by private weather providers through news broadcasts and free, advertising-supported mobile phone apps and other digital sources of convenience.  The greatest challenge the weather enterprise faces is ensuring these life-saving weather warnings reach the greatest number of people potentially impacted by hazardous weather with enough advance notice to take proactive steps to remain safe and out of harm’s way. When seconds count in a weather-related emergency, this partnership example significantly extends the reach of the government for greater public safety.

What some may not realize is that when severe weather threatens, companies, such as AccuWeather, pair a deep understanding of client operations with their team of meteorologists to provide vital services, such as custom site and operation specific weather warnings, to clients tailored to their risk thresholds.

recent Washington Post article mistakenly conflated warning services provided by NOAA with custom warning services provided to private clients.

In fact, with example after example, there is no doubt private companies, such as AccuWeather, which has received many AMS accolades for its warnings and expertise, can and do provide valuable warnings and services to private clients. It was unfortunate that a comment said on the fly was taken out of context. Both AccuWeather and AMS view the incident in this light and are continuing to build on their shared history of partnership. AccuWeather works closely with NOAA and NWS to make sure communities and businesses have the best information and warnings they need to stay safe. This partnership has never been stronger.

In fact, there has been a long history of cooperation between the public and private weather sectors.  National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHS), including the NWS, readily source data and intellectual property from private companies to support their mission of saving lives, protecting property, and enhancing the national economy.  This trend is likely to continue in the world of shrinking government budgets and resource allocation.  In turn, private companies leverage technologies, such as the many forecast models provided by NMHS, as the foundation to their own products and services.

As we look ahead to the next 100 years, many challenges impacting the future of the weather enterprise loom large, such as cost and financial pressures, the hyperbolic increasing rate of the capture, storing, processing and analyzing of data, emerging challenges of health and climate change and new accelerating technologies and platforms in the digital age, some of which we cannot yet even conceive.

These sectors of the weather enterprise have their own advantages and efficiencies and together we can most certainly succeed in furthering meteorological advancement if we capitalize on each other’s strengths and work cooperatively and decisively to achieve our larger mission of safety and protection.

All partners in the weather enterprise –government, commercial and academia —  in addition to the support and stewardship of important professional organizations, such as the AMS, the National Weather Association and the American Weather and Climate Industry Association – are essential to meteorological progress, and the sum of our value to the public and business can be far greater than the individual parts.

In the last six decades, each component of the weather enterprise has learned to better understand and appreciate one another and to communicate more effectively and to respect the important contributions of each in the true spirt of cooperation. The greatest example of this is the AMS-championed Fair Weather Report, a study funded by the federal government to generate more harmony across the entire weather enterprise.

Since we began our careers, we have had the privilege of seeing amazing progress in our ability to provide more specific, more accurate, and more useful weather forecasts and warnings, which extend further ahead and have saved tens of thousands of lives and prevented hundreds of billions of dollars in property damage.

With even more and better collaborations between the various facets of the weather enterprise, there is no question the public and our nation stand to benefit from greater safety and better planning. We look forward to continuing our work together to bring about more exciting innovations and enhancements to advance public safety.

Editor’s note: Mary M. Glackin is President-elect, American Meteorological Society. She was formerly the Deputy Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and a Senior Vice President of Science and Forecast Operations at The Weather Company (IBM). Dr. Joel N. Myers is Founder and CEO of AccuWeather

Peer Review: A Foundational Component of Our Science

by Keith L. Seitter, CCM, AMS Executive Director
This week we join many other scientific publishers celebrating Peer Review Week to highlight the importance of high-quality peer review in the scientific process. The process of peer reviewing research results has been an indispensable component of the modern scientific enterprise: when scientists talk about having reached a consensus in some area of research, they mean that there is a consensus in the peer-reviewed literature. This week gives us an opportunity to focus on the importance of peer review while also recognizing the dedication of researchers around the world who make considerable commitments of time to ensure its continued success while usually receiving little or no explicit credit for those contributions.
When a researcher submits a manuscript presenting research results to a high-quality journal like those AMS publishes, the editor of the journal selects several experts in relevant specialties to review of the manuscript. These experts make sure the author(s) have carried out their experiments, observations, and/or analysis following sound practices and that their conclusions can be justified from the data and analysis they have provided. In their reviews, these experts identify weaknesses or flaws in experimental design or reasoning and suggest additional research and analysis that might be required, as well as other ways to improve the paper.
The editor collects these peer reviews and determines if the manuscript can be made suitable for publication. If the science is flawed and the paper cannot be made acceptable with a reasonable amount of additional work, the paper is rejected. More than one in three manuscripts submitted to AMS journals are rejected. The editor’s decision is provided to the authors, along with the full set of reviews with the names of the reviewers removed (unless the reviewer chooses otherwise), along with the editor’s decision. If the paper has not been rejected, the authors follow the guidance of the editors and reviewers to revise the paper, which then may face additional peer review under the editor’s direction. If the paper can reach the point that the editor is satisfied with the quality of the work, the manuscript is accepted for publication.
Peer review, even when implemented in the rigorous manner used by AMS, is not perfect, of course. Occasionally important research is initially rejected in peer review, or fundamentally incorrect research survives peer review to publication only to be shown later to be incorrect. Peer review done well, however, greatly reduces the chance of publication of poor or incorrect science, and experience has shown that overall the process is extremely successful. That is why scientists depend virtually exclusively on results presented in rigorously peer-reviewed journals and why major scientific assessments—like the reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—rely on peer-reviewed literature from well-established, high-quality journals like those published by AMS.
Astute readers will have noticed that I refer to “high quality journals” multiple times above. It is important to make that distinction because there are journals vying for authors’ papers (and the income they provide) that do not put the time or expense into doing peer review with the rigor employed by the AMS journals. Authors, and the scientific enterprise itself, are best served by those journals that invest the resources needed to do the peer review to the highest standards. AMS journals enjoy membership in the elite group of such high quality journals that serve the atmospheric and related sciences.
Let me close with note of appreciation for those who maintain the very high standards of peer review for the AMS journals.  While the professional staff at AMS does a wonderful job of ensuring smooth and expedient reviews, as part of a positive author experience that is among the best in scientific publishing, it is the volunteers who serve as chief editors, editors, associate editors, and reviewers who dedicate the time and energy to maintain the AMS journals as world-class publications. And the reviewers especially deserve credit given that their efforts are, by design, mostly done anonymously for the collective good of science. All of us owe these dedicated individuals our thanks.

Report: Hurricane Michael Upgraded to Category 5 at Landfall

2018’s devastating Hurricane Michael struck the Florida panhandle at Mexico Beach and Tyndall Air Force Base in October at Category 5 intensity with 160 mph winds, the National Hurricane Center announced Friday. That’s 5 mph higher than Michael’s wind estimate of 155 mph at the time of landfall.

GOES-16 Pseudo-color image or Hurricane Michael at 1730 UTC October 10, 2018. (Courtesy: NOAA NESDIS)
GOES-16 Pseudo-color image or Hurricane Michael at 1730 UTC October 10, 2018. (Image courtesy: NOAA NESDIS)

 
In its post-storm tropical cyclone report, released the same day, NHC stated it culled an abundance of wind data measurements not available in real-time to add the 5 mph to Michael’s wind intensity. The data came from aircraft reconnaissance, ground observations, satellite intensity estimates, surface pressures, and Doppler radar velocities from Eglin Air Force Base and the NWS in Tallahassee. The report goes in-depth with the data, explaining the observations and identifying those that were believable—a 152 knot (175 mph) aircraft wind measurement at 8,000 feet in the southeast eyewall that yields a surface wind of 137 knots (158 mph)—versus those that were suspect—a 152 knot (175 mph) surface wind measured by the stepped frequency microwave radiometer (SFMR) instrument aboard a different aircraft, deemed too high based on experience with such intense winds in hurricanes Irma, Jose, and Maria in 2017.
The upgrade makes Michael only the fourth Category 5 hurricane to hit the United States, joining a small, elite group of monster landfalling storms that include Hurricane Andrew (1992, 165 mph winds), Hurricane Camille (1969, 175 mph winds), and the Labor Day Hurricane (1935, 185 mph winds). Andrew plowed into South Florida, Camille landed on the Mississippi coast, and the Labor Day Hurricane devastated the Florida Keys.
A realty building destroyed by Hurricane Michael's winds on the east of Panama City, Florida.
A realty building destroyed by Hurricane Michael’s winds on the east side of Panama City, Florida.
(Photo courtesy: Chris Cappella [AMS])
 
Hurricane Michael roared ashore on October 10 as the strongest hurricane on record to strike the Florida Panhandle, with a storm surge around 14 feet above ground level, destroying Mexico Beach and much of Tyndall AFB, while tearing apart homes and businesses in Callaway, just inland, as well as in the eastern side of Panama City. Sixteen people died directly from the hurricane due to storm surge flooding and the intense winds, which blew down entire forests in the panhandle and destroyed crops across southern Georgia. Wind damage extended into the Carolinas.
Very few surface observations of the hurricane’s intense winds were made at landfall. The highest gust was 139 mph measured by an anemometer at Tyndall AFB before it failed. Two coastal monitoring program towers measured 129 mph and 125 mph, substantially lower than the upgraded wind speed at landfall. One of the towers was knocked over before the peak winds struck, and the other was outside the hurricane’s core. NHC notes that the sites “were likely not optimally located to sample the maximum winds, which is typical during landfalling hurricanes.”

New Western Storms Scale to Describe Intensity, Potential Impacts of Atmospheric Rivers

Hurricanes are classified by the Saffir-Simpson Scale and tornadoes by the Enhanced Fujita Scale, and now atmospheric rivers—those long, transient corridors of water vapor that fuel flooding rain events each winter in the West, especially California—will also be scaled to enhance awareness and bolster prediction.
The new AR scale ranks their intensity and potential impacts from 1 to 5 using the categories “weak,” “moderate,” “strong,” “extreme,” and “exceptional,” based on the amount of water vapor they carry and their duration. It is intended to describe the strength of ARs as beneficial to hazardous, aiding water management and flood response.
AR-Scale“The scale recognizes that weak ARs are often mostly beneficial because they can enhance water supply and snow pack, while stronger ARs can become mostly hazardous, for example if they strike an area with conditions that enhance vulnerability, such as [where there are] burn scars, or already wet conditions,” says Marty Ralph and co-authors in a paper appearing in the February 2019 issue of BAMS and posted online as an early release today. “Extended durations can enhance impacts,” he says.
Ralph is director of the Center for Western Water and Weather Extremes (CW3E) at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and a leading authority on atmospheric rivers, which were officially defined by the AMS in 2017. The new scale was created in collaboration with NWS meteorologists Jonathan Rutz and Chris Smallcomb, and several other experts. It marks two decades of intensive field research that involved establishing a network of dozens and dozens of automated weather stations to observe ARs in real time and flying research planes through them as they crashed ashore and up and over the mountainous terrain of California, Oregon, and Washington.
Atmospheric rivers are the source of most of the West Coast’s heaviest rains and floods—roughly 80 percent of levee breaches in California’s Central Valley are associated with landfalling ARs. Research shows that a combination of intense water vapor transport for a long duration over a given area causes the biggest impact. But ARs also are primary contributors to the region’s water supply.
The newly created scale is designed to capture this combination, accounting for both the amount of available water and the duration it is available. It focuses on a period of 24-48 hours as its standard measurement. When an AR lasts in an area fewer than 24 hours it is demoted by one category, and if it persists more than 48 hours, it is promoted by a category. Unlike the operational hurricane scale, which has been criticized for inadequately representing the increased impacts of slower-moving, lower-end hurricanes, duration is a fundamental factor in the AR scale. It also aims to convey the benefits of ARs, not just the hazards.
“It can serve as a focal point for discussion between water managers, emergency response personnel and the research community as these key water supply and flood inducing storms continue to evolve in a changing climate,” says co-author Michael Anderson of the California Department of Water Resources.
The scale ranks ARs in five categories:

  • AR Cat 1 (Weak):  Primarily beneficial. For example, a February 23, 2017, AR hit California, lasted 24 hours at the coast, and produced modest rainfall.
  • AR Cat 2 (Moderate): Mostly beneficial, but also somewhat hazardous. An AR on November 19-20, 2016, hit Northern California, lasted 42 hours at the coast, and produced several inches of rain that helped replenish low reservoirs after a drought.
  • AR Cat 3 (Strong): Balance of beneficial and hazardous. An AR on October 14-15, 2016, lasted 36 hours at the coast, produced 5-10 inches of rain that helped refill reservoirs after a drought, but also caused some rivers to rise to just below flood stage.
  • AR Cat 4 (Extreme): Mostly hazardous, but also beneficial. For example, an AR on January, 8-9, 2017, that persisted for 36 hours produced up to 14 inches of rain in the Sierra Nevada and caused at least a dozen rivers to reach flood stage.
  • AR Cat 5 (Exceptional): Primarily hazardous. For example, a December 29, 1996, to January 2, 1997, AR lasted over 100 hours at the Central California coast. The associated heavy precipitation and runoff caused more than $1 billion in damages.

When AR storms are predicted for the West Coast, the scale rankings will be updated and communicated on the CW3E website and its Twitter handle.
“The launch of the AR Scale marks a significant step in the development of the concept and its application,” Ralph commented in an e-mail to the AMS, “and caused me to reflect back a bit on where it came from. All the people and organizations who’ve contributed. The scientific debate around the subject. The creation of a formal definition for the Glossary of Meteorology. The creation of a 100-station mesonet to monitor them in California. The AR Recon effort underway in a partnership between Scripps and NCEP [now NCEI], and in collaboration with the Navy, NCAR, and ECMWF, as well as others.  A number of papers are already in the works using the scale, and we are hopeful that it will prove useful for the public and for officials who must deal with storms in a large area where scales for hurricanes, tornadoes and nor’easters are not very applicable.”

Lubchenco: Let's "Embed" Science in Society

In a “post-truth” world of contemporary politics and culture, “it’s easy to assume that science is really in trouble and everything is bad,” said Jane Lubchenco in her James R. Mahoney Memorial Lecture in Washington, D.C., last month.
In fact, science does have its image problems: most people don’t interact with science and don’t know scientists. A recent study showed that only 30% of Americans can even name one living scientist—and the most commonly cited name on that list last year, Stephen Hawking, no longer qualifies.
But the annual Mahoney lecture, hosted in part by AMS and NOAA, is now online, and you can see for yourself that even with a hard-hitting topic of “Science in a Post-Truth World,” Lubchenco was full of hope and practical advice about engagement, and ultimately about working toward a new paradigm of “embedding” scientists in society.

First of all, the vital signs of science are good. Public trust in scientific leaders has been stable for decades, even as it has plummeted for bankers and politicians. A majority believe science has been beneficial for society.
Lubchenco, a marine ecologist and now Distinguished University Professor at Oregon State University, has solid reason to think we can build on such durable trust. She has a history of commitment to communicating about science, as a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and later as the NOAA Administrator. She’s been involved in efforts to help scientists communicate better—for example as a co-founder of COMPASS, a group that among other things provides a handy online workbook for scientists engaging the public.
In part Lubchenco argues for better understanding of the rift between scientists and the public. She cites inequities and “powerful vested interests promulgating a self-serving, anti-science agenda.” She also notes the decline of media business models that has led to citizens individually choosing their sources of information. Meanwhile, people also tune out scientists who seem to have ulterior motives, or are all “doom and gloom.”
Lubchenco says part of the solution is simply putting a real human face on science. The fact that people don’t know scientists means we have “an incredible opportunity. We need more scientists who are seen as scientists by the general public.”
Lubchenco argued that this doen’t mean every scientist is suited to being a celebrity or even a regular public messenger. Research shows that people are considered trustworthy when they are competent—but they also need to be “warm.” Teachers and nurses rated highly in both; professors and scientists rated highly in competence, but were seen as “cold.”
“Part of that is the way scientists are trained to talk to people,” said Lubchenco. It’s the downside of a facts-only, no-stories scientific culture. Lubchenco urges good analogies and metaphors and above all, making a connection with audiences.  “Finding common ground and creating a shared value experience enables you to then pursue things that might be particularly contentious.”
While Lubchenco offered many tips on better communication—understanding audience, keeping messages simple, offering hope, showing value and successes—she went deeper, arguing that scientists need to be “physically and psychologically integrated” with society. She urged scientists to show who they are by working with society. One avenue is to enlist citizen scientists as well as a broader public in observing and other projects.
Lubchenco also wanted her audience to see beyond the dichotomy of applied and basic science—that we need more of the middle way of “use-inspired science” that has immediate relevance as well as prospects for advancing basic knowledge.
What are impediments? Science itself needs to reward its people who are good at outreach, Lubchenco said. They need training and recognition for it. They need to get involved, including running for political office. “I don’t think all scientists should be engaging… but they should all support their colleagues that do.”
There may already be progress in this direction, Lubchenco noted, moving first from an “ivory tower” model of science to a post-World War II “social contract” with the public, producing great benefits. “Now, I think we’re seeing another innovation from social contract to science embedded in and serving society—maybe.”
If people generally don’t know any living scientists, there’s one whose recent example can be an inspiration for Lubchenco’s vision of science more fully “embedded” in society: That would be the late Jim Mahoney, the NOAA Deputy Administrator, AMS president, and public health scientist whose memory this annual lecture honors. Said Lubchenco,

Science is indeed facing some major challenges. Maybe it’s not quite as bad as we thought, but we have unparalleled opportunities to serve society better and this is only going to happen if scientists take the bull by the horns and step up and make things happen.
I’d like to think we can do this in a way that is inspired by Jim’s example in confronting challenging times and figuring out how to navigate those. I would suggest that maybe if he were here, he would say, “It’s time for us to take back the narrative.” It’s time to write a new chapter in the relationship between science and society and for us collectively to have a quantum leap in relevance.”