It’s been an eventful week on the weather front, so let’s highlight a few points.
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.
In 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.
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.
And to top it all off, Tropical Storm Ana, brought gusty winds and copious amounts of rain to the Southeast.
The Climate Prediction Center recently issued its 90-day outlook for temperature and precipitation for the U.S. It also updated the drought monitor tool.
In general the outlook calls for the next three months to feature above normal temperatures in the western third of the country and in the far southeastern states. Alaska and the Pacific Northwest will also be warmer than usual. Below normal temperatures are confined to much of Texas and areas of adjoining states. Most of the country will see an equal chance for above or below normal temperatures.
Much of the nation may experience above normal precipitation from the southeast through the gulf states to the western plains and Rockies along with a good portion of Alaska. The above normal rainfall may bring drought relief to Texas and the four corners area. The Great Lakes states will see below normal precipitation and the potential of a developing drought. Lake levels and fire danger may be impacted.
The drought monitor shows little change in the near term for the hardest hit areas of the west, parts of Texas, and parts of the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Over the 90 day period of the outlook, the drought may ease in Texas and areas northwest of there. However, drought conditions may expand in the Great Lakes. Unfortunately, little or no relief is seen for California. Just this week water use restrictions of from 8% to 36% were enacted for some municipalities.
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.
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.