Weather Wednesday – El Nino and the Texas Floods

KHOU via USA Today
KHOU via USA Today

What caused the recent devastating and deadly flooding in Texas, Oklahoma and other states? One thought, advanced by Accuweather and others, is that the developing El Nino played a role. As we’ve written before, an El Nino is warmer than expected waters in the Pacific Ocean. El Nino events result in a split jet stream and it the southern stream likely contributed to the flooding in the South. Typically, heavier than normal rains occur in Spring, Autumn and Winter of El Nino years in a swath from California into the Mid-South.

EPA
EPA

Historically, even weak and/or developing El Ninos can cause the extreme precipitation witnessed in May. California largely missed out although the area around San Diego picked up record rainfall. In past El Nino events California received most of its precipitation during winter months. It remains to be seen if the current event will last that long.

In the meantime drought conditions have been greatly lessened in Texas, at least in the short term. Of course that came with a terrible price…dozens of deaths and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. The toll continues to rise and many rivers remain in flood.
EDEN Flood Resources:

Agriculture

Flood insurance

Misc collected resources

eXtension Flood Page

Weather Wednesday — The Week That Was

It’s been an eventful week on the weather front, so let’s highlight a few points.

KSFY_damage_van_kb_150511_16x9_992
-Damage near Van, TX — KSFY

What started out as a very quiet first quarter of the year as regards the number of tornadoes has become much more active since mid-April. There have been several widespread, damaging and deadly outbreaks, especially over the last ten days or so.

The organization U.S. Tornadoes has begun to compile a rolling list of the highest incidence of tornadoes in 2015. One can see that May is headed toward reversing the early year trend of below normal activity.

storm-thumb-051015In addition, the storms over the past weekend (May 9 and 10) included extremely high rainfall rates in some areas which led to flash flooding and necessitated swift water rescues. Some of the rescues were broadcast live by television stations in Dallas and retransmitted to the entire country via The Weather Channel.

2015-05-09_10-snowfall
— NWS

And if that wasn’t enough, a late season snowstorm on the same weekend buried parts of the Rocky Mountains into the Dakotas. The heavy, wet snow damaged buildings and had to be shoveled out of Coors Field before the Colorado Rockies could host their Sunday afternoon game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

tropical-storm-anaAnd to top it all off, Tropical Storm Ana, brought gusty winds and copious amounts of rain to the Southeast.

Weather Wednesday – First Tornado Captured by Radar

62 years ago this month, April 9, 1953, about 3 miles from where I am sitting, a tornado was caught by radar for the first time. Scientists and electrical engineers at the Illinois State Water Survey at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had modified a former WWII airborne radar for use in estimating amounts of precipitation falling from storms.

Don Staggs, an electrical engineer, was preparing the radar for later field tests. He started to notice what we now call “hook echo” returns in the scans of the storm. As afternoon turned to evening, a strong thunderstorm developed just north of Champaign, about ten miles from the radar site at the university-owned Willard Airport. The storm image included a pronounced hook on the bottom rear flank much as we see hook echoes on modern Doppler radar.

first radar image of a tornado
Illinois State Water Survey via The News Gazette

Still photos and a 16mm film of the images on the scope captured that moment. A team of meteorologists and technicians were able to study the image capture. Later, Dr. Ted Fujita the creator of the tornado strength measurement scale that bears his name, sketched over 200 of the frames of the film in his own hand. All of this can be seen in a terrific article from Colorado State University.  Note especially the photos of the tornado and the well-developed wall cloud.

We now know that the radar captured the early stages of an F3 tornado that eventually traveled about 160 miles and dissipated near Albany, IN. There were two fatalities and about $4-million in property damage in Illinois. The path of the storm took it across mostly rural areas.

Next week, we’ll discuss current use of radar and what may be the next generation of this important forecast tool.