Severe Thunderstorms: Watches vs Warnings

A severe thunderstorm is forecast for the New York City area on Monday afternoon. In addition to lightning, it could bring strong winds, heavy rain, hail, and the possibility of a tornado. Simply put, this is the type of weather that can cause property damage and loss of life. Therefore, it is important to understand the difference between the various alerts issued by the National Weather Service. They include advisories, watches, and warnings.  All should be taken seriously.

  • Advisory: Issued when significant, but not necessarily hazardous, weather conditions are likely to occur. Residents should exercise caution.
  • Watch: Issued when dangerous weather conditions are possible over the next several hours.  They generally cover a large geographic area.  Residents should be prepared to take action.
  • Warning: Issued when dangerous weather is imminent or already occurring.  They cover a smaller, more specific geographic area.  Residents should take action immediately.

Extreme Heat Can Impact Your Health

The second heat wave of the year is underway in the Big Apple. As temperatures soar, it is important to remember that intense heat can cause serious health problems.

According to the CDC, extreme heat – temperatures that are significantly hotter than the average local summertime high – is one of the leading causes of weather-related deaths in this country. Claiming hundreds of lives every year, excessive heat kills more people across the U.S. than hurricanes and tornadoes combined.

Extreme heat is deadly because it forces the human body beyond its capacity to cool itself. Linked to overheating and dehydration, heat-related illnesses can range in severity from mild to life-threatening.  Symptoms for each stage include:

Heat Cramps:  Painful muscle spasms in the legs and/or abdomen

Heat Exhaustion:  fatigue, weakness, clammy skin, and nausea

Heat Stroke:  rapid pulse, hot and dry skin, no sweating. This is a medical emergency

To beat the heat, the American Red Cross suggests:

  • Avoid strenuous activity
  • Dress lightly
  • Eat lightly
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Replenish salts and minerals lost through perspiration
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol
  • Stay out of the sun
  • Cool off in an air-conditioned building, when possible

2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook: Above Average

The number of hurricanes that develop in the Atlantic varies from year to year. For 2017, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting an above average season.

Tropical cyclones, known as hurricanes in the United States, develop around the globe at different times of the year. In this country, we are most impacted by the Atlantic hurricane season, which affects the North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico. It runs from June 1 through November 30.

Overall, NOAA predicts a 70% likelihood of eleven to seventeen named storms forming this season, of which five to nine could become hurricanes, including two to four major hurricanes. A major hurricane is one that is rated category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

The numbers for this season’s outlook include Tropical Storm Arlene, a rare pre-season storm that developed in April.

According to NOAA, “The outlook reflects our expectation of a weak or non-existent El Niño, near or above-average sea surface temperatures across the tropical Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, and average or weaker-than-average vertical wind shear in that same region.” El Niño conditions in the Pacific tend to cause increased wind shear in the Atlantic, which suppresses tropical development.

Regardless of the number of storms that actually form, it is important to remember that it only takes one land-falling system in your community to make it a memorable season.

Source: NOAA

Dressing for Cold Weather

When winter rolls around, I am often reminded of the old Scandinavian saying: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”

Since the weather is going to do whatever it is going to do, we all need to be aware of our environment and prepare for what Mother Nature throws our way. In winter, that means cold temperatures.

Extreme cold causes the body to lose heat faster than it can be generated. Prolonged exposure, according to the CDC, can cause serious health problems such as hypothermia and frostbite.

To stay safe this winter, remember to bundle up in layers and wear hats and gloves to minimize the loss of body heat.

Credit: NOAA

Credit: NOAA

GOES-R Satellite will Improve Weather Forecasts

Satellites have helped forecasters predict the weather for more than forty years. Now, they are getting a major upgrade.

Launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Saturday night, the GOES-R is the newest model in NOAA’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite series. It has been nearly a decade since the last upgrade and this one is loaded with new technology.

Carrying 34 different weather products, the main instrument is the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI). Essentially a camera that views the western hemisphere’s weather, oceans, and environment, it offers 3 times the spectral information, 4 times the spatial resolution, and temporal coverage that is five times faster than the previous GOES model. In other words, it will provide a clearer and faster image of what is going on in the atmosphere than ever before, allowing for better forecasts. This, in turn, means improved protection for lives and property, which is the main mission of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Other instruments onboard include a lightning mapper, which will continuously measure the lightning activity over both North and South America. This information is important because the rate of lightning is related to a storm’s updraft. Better lightning data can increase the lead-time for warnings on storms that could produce severe weather. Another important device is the magnetometer. It will monitor space weather such as solar storms  that produce the northern lights and can, when strong enough, disrupt power grids and telecommunications.

Once in orbit, GOES-R will become known as GOES-16 (letters are only used while it is in development on the ground). After a calibration and testing period of several months, its data will become available to forecasters. If all goes well, it should be online by next year’s hurricane season.

GOES-R satellite. Credit: NOAA

GOES-R satellite. Credit: NOAA

The Weather Gamut Becomes a Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador for NOAA

It’s official! The Weather Gamut is now a Weather-Ready Nation (WRN) Ambassador for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

As a member of the WRN Initiative, The Weather Gamut is committed to working with NOAA to help increase awareness and strengthen resilience to our nation’s increasing vulnerability to extreme weather and climate events.

Be it hurricanes, tornadoes, snowstorms, heat waves, cold waves, drought, or flooding, every part of this country is subject to extreme weather. Therefore, it is vital that we, as a nation, improve our readiness, responsiveness, and resiliency to these environmental hazards that threaten lives and property.

Look for articles tagged “WRN” on our website to learn more about different types of extreme weather and climate events and how to prepare for them.

 For more info on NOAA's WRN Initiative: http://www.nws.noaa.gov/com/weatherreadynation/

Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador™ and the Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador™ logo are trademarks of the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, used with permission. For more information, click  here.

Why Hurricanes Hit the East Coast and Not the West Coast of the US

It is mid-September and hurricane season is in full swing in both the Atlantic and Pacific. With these mighty oceans bordering both sides of the US, have you ever wondered why hurricanes only make landfall on the east coast?

The answer is two-fold, involving the direction of prevailing winds in the tropics and the difference in water temperature in the two basins.

Hurricanes develop at tropical and sub-tropical latitudes in both the Atlantic and Pacific, where water temperatures are at least 80°F. This part of the globe is also where the Trade Winds prevail, flowing from east to west.

In the Atlantic, storms traveling west-northwest often run into the east coast or Gulf Coast of the US. There, the warm waters of the Gulf Stream that flow along the eastern seaboard sustain them as they move northward.

In the Pacific, storms tend to be pushed out to sea by the Trade Winds.  Any hurricanes that manage to move north quickly dissipate when they encounter the cooler waters of the California current that flows southward along the west coast from Canada.

Only two tropical systems have ever made landfall on the west coast of the US. A hurricane slammed San Diego, CA in 1858 and a tropical storm battered Long Beach, CA in 1939. That said, hurricanes and tropical storms generally have indirect impacts on the western states. When a named storm makes it as far north as Baja California, remnants of it can travel across the border and cause heavy rain and flooding in parts of the American southwest.

1851_2013_hurr

All North Atlantic and Eastern North Pacific hurricanes, through 2013. Credit: NOAA/NWS

What is a Heat Dome?

Summer is the season for warm weather. So, when temperatures reach 5°F to 10°F above average, it can be excessively hot. When this type of weather lasts for multiple days, it is usually the result of a phenomenon known as a “heat dome”.

Although not an official meteorological term, it does help paint a picture of what is happening. To start, an area of high pressure develops under a ridge in the jet stream. Acting like a lid in the upper atmosphere, it forces warm air that would normally rise to sink back toward the surface. As it sinks, it compresses and warms even further. Unable to escape, the hot air is remains in place until the ridge breaks down or moves.

Heat domes are not rare events, but when they produce extended heat waves and poor air quality, they can pose serious dangers to human health.

A Heat Dome forms in the upper atmosphere. Credit: NOAA

A Heat Dome forms in the upper atmosphere. Credit: NOAA

How Dangerous is Lightning?

Big summer thunderstorms are impressive to watch. However, they are also extremely dangerous.

According to NOAA, lightning is the second deadliest type of weather in the US after floods. On average, it claims the lives of 49 people every year in this county and seriously injures even more. This year, to date, lightning has killed 16 people across nine states. Two were struck just this week.  Sadly, this number will likely go up before the summer is over.

Lightning comes in variety of forms, but the cloud to ground variety is the most threatening to us at the surface. A typical bolt carries a current of about 300 million volts and can heat the air around it to 50,000°F. That is five times hotter than the surface of the sun.

Around the globe, lightning hits the Earth about 100 times per second. In the US, the odds of a person being struck by lightning in any given year are 1 in 960,000 or 1 in 12,000 during an average lifetime of 80 years.

So, to avoid becoming a statistic, follow the advice of the NWS – “When thunder roars, go indoors.”

Credit: NOAA

Credit: NOAA

thunderroars_goindoors

Credit: NOAA/NWS

2016 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook

The number of hurricanes that develop in any given year varies, and this year, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a “near normal” season in the Atlantic.

Tropical cyclones, known as hurricanes in the United States, develop around the globe at different times of the year. In this country, we are most affected by the Atlantic hurricane season, which impacts the North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico. It runs from June 1 through November 30.

Overall, NOAA predicts a 70% likelihood of ten to sixteen named storms forming this season, of which four to eight could become hurricanes, including one to four major hurricanes. A major hurricane is one that is rated category 3 or higher.

The numbers for this season’s outlook include Hurricane Alex, the unusual storm that developed in the eastern Atlantic in mid-January.

One of the main drivers behind this season’s average to slightly above average forecast is the diminishing presence of El Niño and the likely development of La Niña in the autumn. El Niño conditions tend to suppress tropical activity in the Atlantic while La Niña conditions do the opposite.

After three consecutive below average hurricane seasons in the Atlantic, a normal season will likely feel very active. But regardless of the number of storms that actually form, it is important to remember that it only takes one landfalling system in your community to make it a memorable season.

Source: NOAA

Source: NOAA