Weather Wednesday: Super Bowl Blizzard Edition

Snowplow clearing highway

Rick Atterberry, EDEN Immediate Past Chair, writes about the weather.

Last week we talked about the definition of a blizzard and the difficulties inherent in forecasting winter storms.  This past weekend provided another concrete example of both in the form of the Super Bowl Blizzard of 2015 here in Illinois and surrounding states.

National Weather Service forecasters started looking at the setup nearly a week out.  But the computer models upon which they depend were all over the place early in the week of January 26th.  A very complicated scenario was developing, but forecasters approached the storm with caution because of relatively low confidence in any one computer model through midweek.

By Thursday, January 29th, it was apparent that there would be fairly heavy snow across parts of Iowa, Illinois and Indiana.  Initially, the thought was that the heaviest snow would be about 6 to 10 inches in an area north of Interstate 74 across the center of Illinois.  However, each ensuing model run moved the heaviest precipitation farther north.  Adding to the uncertainty was the fact that some of the area would see temperatures in the low to mid-30s during much of the event.  How much precipitation would fall as snow and how much as rain?  The forecasters were certain this would be an unusually long event.

Here at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign we had freezing drizzle and sleet followed by a period of snow followed by rain then more wet snow and finally drier snow overnight Sunday.  We ended up with about four inches of snow which quickly compacted to two inches during the rain and then added less than an inch as the event concluded.

The main snow event was located 100 to 130 miles north of us along the Interstate 80 and 88 corridors.   Each forecast from Saturday into Sunday added to the possible snow totals in the Metropolitan Chicago region.  By Sunday noon, the forecast called for 16 to 20 inches of snow in some spots and, indeed, that’s what happened.  In 30 hours between late Saturday night and early Monday morning, the official measurement at O’Hare Airport was 19 inches of snow…the fifth highest single event total in the city’s recorded history.  Thousands of flights were cancelled.  Chicago public schools closed on Monday.  Blizzard conditions…winds of 35 miles per hour or more and visibilities under ¼ mile…developed in the city and rural areas.

Here’s a time lapse video from Judy Hsu at WLS-TV.  Note the clock on the fence.

When the area of heaviest snow moved north to the Chicago area, Lake Michigan came into play.  When winds clocked around to the north-northeast, some snowfall amounts were enhanced by the lake effect.

“Heart attack snow”- Not only was the general snowfall in the region between 14 and 20-inches, the event began with heavy wet snow, the kind we call “heart attack snow” because of the physical demands of shoveling it.  Sadly, in DuPage County in suburban Chicago, three men died of heart attacks associated with shoveling the snow.  Cardiologists recognize the increased risk.

So, while it appears there were no fatalities from car accidents, falling tree limbs, structure fires, carbon monoxide poisoning or other threats often associated with cold and snow, heart attacks did claim lives.  Those of us who are 55 and older or with a history of heart disease need to proceed with caution.

Meet A Delegate Monday: Keith Tidball

Michelle Bufkin, AU Agriculture Communications Student/EDEN Community of Practice Social Media Assistant, recently interviewed EDEN delegate Keith Tidball.

1. How did you first get involved with EDEN? EDEN. Extension Disaster Education preparedness
I was approached in 2011 by the leadership of the extension service in New York. Our state program was in need of “tuning up” and I was asked because of my research and activities in the area of natural resources management in disaster. With my background as a leader in the military and later involvement as a USDA Foreign Agriculture Service international affairs specialist who dealt with disaster in the agriculture and natural resources sector, I jumped at the opportunity to engage with the NY Extension Disaster Education Network. After I attended my first national conference, I was even more excited and focused upon working to make the NY EDEN an example of what a state program can do if they take the ball and run hard with it.

2. What is your role for disaster preparedness within your state?
In New York State, we see the national EDEN as a platform upon which to build a highly effective and visible state program. In that sense, we work with our state agencies closely not only in preparedness, but in all phases of the disaster cycle. Thanks to the national EDEN, we can confidently say that we have the very best science from the best universities in the country, and we are ready to serve the public at all times. This we feel is in keeping with the land grant mission and vision, and is actually a way of reacquainting a whole new generation with the land grant idea and the idea of cooperative extension.

Our role is to work at all times with preparedness. We anticipate needs based on past experiences and future threats, and we either develop our own materials or publicize excellent materials from other land grants via our website, webinars, social media, and through traditional county cooperative extension channels. As a threat, hazard, or vulnerability emerges, we asses it, develop tailored materials to address it, and act upon it, using our cooperative extension networks and the networks of our partners to disseminate preparedness and readiness educational materials. Once a threat or hazard materializes, we then take on additional roles to compliment other state and federal efforts to prepare for and respond to an imminent event.

3. Can you explain your role with dealing with the recent snow and cave ins, in your state?
My role was to serve as the incident commander for the state land grant’s role in the event. As the event became imminent, I worked with the rest of our state EDEN program leadership to strategize for the event – this entails a quick anticipated needs assessment and a social media blitz of warnings and resources to get people ready to navigate the event as resiliently as possible. I make the decision to request activation of our relatively newly instituted Standard Operating Procedures for Disaster /All-Hazards Recovery which is either approved or denied by our state Director of Cooperative Extension. Once he or she approves this request, I implement a very involved set of actions that include experts on campus, liaisons to state agencies, and our regional and county extension personnel. Among many other things, we serve as the eyes and ears for the first hand real time ways in which the disaster is unfolding and having an impact upon the agricultural sector in particular. In this role, we work hand in hand with our state and federal agricultural agency partners to direct immediate assistance as quickly as possible to where it’s needed, and to assist with the longer term process of damage assessment and recovery.

So in the recent snow event in Western New York, we had 90 dead livestock animals,
80 damaged or destroyed green houses, 38 barns down or damaged, with over 65 total farms in 6 Western NY counties affected. Our Agriculture Sentinel capability was used to communicate emerging needs regarding snow loads, collapses, livestock in jeopardy in real time. We are never first responders, however, we are involved in communicating and disseminating information as it becomes available so that first responders can understand and react appropriately to unique ag related issues and emergencies. In one case in particular, I remember helping to direct New York National Guard to a barn threatening to collapse. Farmers often aren’t going to call 911 about these issues, but it is still an emergency, so we are a part of a coordinated state approach to fill this gap. We can help get information to the right people quickly. Meanwhile, our county extension leadership act as the field element in these cases and play a central role in initial situation reporting which is so crucial in these events, and of course later assessment once the actual event is over. I act to coordinate all of this communication, first and foremost to make sure our stakeholders get the service and assistance they need (an applied or engaged research and extension role), and secondly to position extension as a preferred source of evidence-based educational materials. A major extension education outcome of this work is educating policy makers and emergency responders in New York State about the agile, nimble state-wide system of cooperative extension that exists upon a foundation of extensive subject area expertise, all of which is an already existing and is an already paid for public good.

4. What advice would you give to people about disaster preparedness and recovery, after being involved in recovery from the November snow storm, Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and other recent natural disasters?
My advice is to extension folks who either have not embraced the idea of disaster education as a role or niche for extension, or to those who may understand the role of extension in disaster so far as developing and disseminating fact sheets are concerned, but shy away from further involvement.

Think of getting your hands dirty in disaster response and recovery as project learning, an important and accepted component of extension education. Experts believe that what takes project learning to the next level is when it’s real. We pride ourselves in extension on solving real problems we face in our world — problems that make the news and that our stakeholders really care about, giving them the power to turn their knowledge into action. I think that though some project-learning activities regularly miss the opportunity to be real life-changing experiences for learners in the extension system, people who get involved in EDEN in their state, these folks will experience tremendous satisfaction in their work because they will see that the extension educators they touch, the community members, the agency folks, all will be impressed by the resources available and the responsiveness of the extension system. But more important than being impressed, they will learn about what they can and should do in all phases of the disaster cycle and how extension can help.

Weather Wednesday: Arctic Clipper

Rick Atterberry, EDEN Immediate Past Chair writes about the weather. 

What’s with Weather Wednesdays?   Well, when my term as chair of the Extension Disaster Education Network came to an end in October of 2014, Virginia White asked me if I’d write an occasional blog post for EDEN and our eXtension Community of Practice.

Ever since I wrote a series of posts during and after the response to tornadoes in November of 2013 that affected Gifford, Illinois, which is in Champaign County where I serve as the volunteer Emergency Management Agency Public Information Officer and Washington, Illinois, where I grew up and have many family and friends, I’d been thinking about writing about the weather more regularly.

I hasten to add I am not a meteorologist.  Indeed we do have an actual meteorologist or two in EDEN, including Tom Priddy at the University of Kentucky who created our terrific Next 48 online dashboard tool.  I do have some formal training, but will, as any Extension employee would, rely on research.  Often, I’ll write about threats and best-practices.  On the other hand, some musings may be weather related, but not all that technical.

If you have topics you’d like to see addressed, let me know at ratterbe@illinois.edu .  In the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy this post about the dreaded “Alberta Clipper.”

What’s an Alberta Clipper?

Much of the continental United States occasionally shivers through a winter weather system known as an Alberta Clipper.  In fact, the first full week of January this year was a classic example with record and near record low temperatures in many areas east of the Rockies.

An Alberta Clipper is a low pressure area that generally originates on the lee side of the Rockies in Alberta, but can also start in Saskatchewan or even Montana.  The “clipper” part is considered a reference to the speeds of the clipper ships. As the cold air is caught up in the typical winter jet stream pattern, it can be pushed far south in the U.S.

Alberta Clippers are characterized by sometimes dramatically colder temperatures resulting in the temperature dropping 20 degrees or more in a relatively short time.  While there is snow associated with most clipper systems, it is usually light, maybe one to three inches, and often with very low moisture content so it is easily blown about by the high winds that may occur.  It is not unusual for an Alberta Clipper to result in a “ground blizzard” after the snowfall has ended.   A ground blizzard results when snow already on the ground or falling as post-frontal flurries is caught up in the wind making forward visibility difficult and resulting in snow drifts and icy patches on highways as was experienced recently.  During a ground blizzard it is often possible to look up and see the sky much more clearly than one can see forward.

While snowfall is limited in a clipper system, the colder temperatures can plunge far south which is certainly what happened this past week.  Some of the coldest weather experienced each winter is often associated with clippers and wind chills can typically reach 30 to 40 degrees below zero, or lower, in the North Central, Great Lakes and North Atlantic States.

Threats associated with clippers include difficult driving conditions; frostbite; frozen pipes; slips and falls; residential fires resulting from malfunctioning or improperly used furnaces, fireplaces and auxiliary heating appliances; cold weather hazards to pets and livestock; and mechanical difficulties with outdoor machinery.