Category Archives: Hurricanes

National Weather Service: Isaac’s remnants may bring heavy rains to Wichita this weekend

Residents of Kansas should pay attention to what Isaac does this week, a local weather official said, because the storm’s remnants could unload on the Sunflower State by this weekend.

One forecasting model has the storm pushing up into eastern Kansas, bringing potentially flooding rains to the Wichita area, said Chance Hayes, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Wichita. Another has the rains missing Kansas but reaching Kansas City.

“Keep an eye out,” Hayes said.

If the computer model proves accurate, he said, the remnants of Isaac should reach the Wichita area by Friday or Saturday.

AccuWeather Vice President Mike Smith is skeptical that Isaac will affect Kansas.

“Atlantic hurricanes don’t get us,” Smith said.

The jet stream routinely pushes the remnants east before they get far enough north to reach Kansas.

“Our far better chance is a hurricane that comes up in the Baja (of California) and then into Kansas,” Smith said. “That’s where we get our hurricane rains.”

Smith said updated computer models indicate Kansas won’t see rain from Isaac, and he’s convinced later models will merely reaffirm that forecast.

Kansans keeping an eye on Isaac

Wichita residents may have seen a familiar face on television over the weekend.

James Williams, spokesman for the Midway Kansas chapter of the American Red Cross, was interviewed on the Weather Channel about preparations being made for the imminent arrival of Tropical Storm Isaac in Florida.

Williams was sent to Miami last week as part of an advance public relations team to let media around the world know what the Red Cross is doing to assist those affected by the storm. He told me he’d be there for about a week. He shared this photo from Key West, where Isaac struck over the weekend.

This isn’t Williams’ first brush with a tropical storm/hurricane. He was sent to the East Coast last fall to assist the local Red Cross when Hurricane Irene struck the Northeast.

“It was an eye-opening experience that helped me prepare for the public affairs demands during and after the Wichita tornado” in April, Williams said in an e-mail response to questions.

He’s packed a smartphone with GPS, a DSLR camera, a flip cam and laptop with Skype. But he also added wet wipes, in case the water went out, and granola “if you’re stranded without a meal,” he said.

“These are incredible adventures,” Williams said. “It takes a great deal of flexibility, but from the moment you arrive they’re some of the most rewarding 14-hour days of your life.”

Local storm chaser and extreme weather photographer Jim Reed will be documenting Isaac with Dag Kittlaus, cofounder of Siri – the voice iPhone users hear when they ask for directions or assistance. They left for the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday with assistant Katelyn Pfeister.

Death toll from Hurricane Irene rises to at least 35

As the Northeast reels from the damage and flooding wrought by Hurricane Irene, the death toll continues to climb.

As of early Monday afternoon, the total was 35 in 10 states. Here’s an account of the fatalities, provided by WAVY-TV in Portsmouth, VA.

Hurricane Irene could cripple New York City, weather official says

But here is the sobering bottom line: Katrina turned out not to be the worst case. She weakened before she hit land. Had she maintained Category-Five strength, the flooding in New Orleans would have been quicker (due to additional breaches, likely resulting in more deaths), the impressive storm surge in Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana would have been higher (likely resulting in more deaths) and the inland wind damage would have been worse.

New York City has been hit by hurricanes and will be again. The Baltimore-Washington area is vulnerable if a major hurricane moves up Chesapeake Bay. Andrew did not hit the heart of Miami; a direct hit will be far worse. Houston-Galveston is a huge, growing and vulnerable population center. And there’s one area few people have considered: while rare, hurricanes have and do hit California. There are zero plans in place for when a hurricane returns to the West Coast. We must not become complacent: there are many possible “Katrinas” lurking.

- “Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather, by Mike Smith

As Hurricane Irene strikes the East Coast, Mike Smith finds himself particularly worried about New York. The city has had one of the wettest Augusts in its history, he said, so it will be especially vulnerable to flash flooding from the heavy rains and storm surges of Irene.

“The ground is absolutely saturated – you put another 5 to 10 inches on top of that…,” said Smith, founder of Wichita-based WeatherData, Inc., which this week was renamed AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions.

With such wet soil, trees will be more easily uprooted by hurricane-force winds, bringing down power lines and blocking streets. That will complicate and slow down power restoration, Smith said.

There’s more.

“There are unique hurricane hazards to New York City,” Smith said.

If the hurricane comes through New York Harbor or Brooklyn – as forecast models were predicting Friday morning – Lower Manhattan will flood.

The city’s skyscrapers could see “cascading glass breakage” as flying debris breaks windows and then shifting internal air pressure within the buildings forces tens of thousands of additional panes to shatter.

“Some of these buildings have literally thousands of windows,” Smith said. “You can’t use the building if the windows are broken…you could have a large number of important buildings that are going to be unusable for months.

“Nobody’s sitting around with 1,000 custom-cut panes of glass,” he said. “It has to be manufactured and installed.”

In short, he said, New York City could be crippled by Irene.

And that doesn’t even factor in the possibility of the subway system being flooded. Subway service has already been suspended from Saturday afternoon until Monday. Mandatory evacuations have been ordered for low-lying areas of Manhattan.

Smith is monitoring Irene’s path and forecasts closely on his blog, offering radar imagery and perspective among his musings.

Storm chasers blogging about tracking Hurricane Irene

Wichita-based storm chaser and severe weather photographer Jim Reed and his girlfriend, author and storm chaser Jenna Blum, are chasing Hurricane Irene along the East Coast.

They’ve started a blog about their experiences. It’s been going for a few days, but I’ve provided the link for Day 1.

Irene sets her sights on the East Coast

Hurricane Irene barreled out of Puerto Rico and moved north of the Dominican Republic into warm tropical waters this morning, where forecasters expect the storm to grow to Category 4 before hitting the mainland U.S. later this week.

Current path projections indicate it will strike the Carolinas late this week, though Florida and Georgia can expect to be affected as well.

WeatherData founder and president Mike Smith will be on Coast to Coast AM from midnight to 1 a.m. tonight to discuss Hurricane Irene. The program airs in Wichita on KNSS, which is at 1330 on your radio tuner.

What’s worse? A tornado or a hurricane?

One question I wanted to ask during my last weather web chat was which form of severe weather did readers consider worse – a tornado or a hurricane?

Officials would tell you a hurricane is typically worse than a tornado from a damage standpoint, because they cover a much larger area.

When it comes to the fear factor, however, I’d think tornadoes win hands down. They are far more unpredictable in their path and longevity than a hurricane. To put it another way, hurricane watches and warnings are put out days in advance. Tornado warnings are typically measured in minutes.

But what do you say?

Hermine is almost here

The remnants of Tropical Storm Hermine are closing in on Wichita, forecasters say, with rain already reported in Wellington and Derby.

Expect a light, steady rain to persist through dawn Thursday, forecasters say, with an inch or two falling in Wichita and heavier amounts south and east of the metro area.

“It does look like southeastern Kansas is going to get quite a bit more” rain, WeatherData meteorologist Phil Warren said.

Chanute, for instance, could get 6 inches of rain, he said. Butler County may receive 3 inches.

A trough moving east will be pushing the heaviest rain away from Wichita, Warren said, so the city could receive a welcome soaking rather than amounts that could induce flooding.

But the National Weather Service is keeping the flood watch through Thursday intact for the city because the storm’s remnants feature tight gradients.

That means the system is organized in such a way that two cities not that far apart on the map could receive significantly different rainfall amounts.

“We’re just on the western edge” of the heavier rain, said Chris Jakub, a National Weather Service meteorologist, so the flood watch for Wichita is being maintained as a precaution.

Local Red Cross volunteers placed on alert to provide help for Hurricane Earl victims

The American Red Cross Midway-Kansas Chapter has been put on standby to recruit local volunteers to assist after Hurricane Earl makes landfall at the end of the week, according to agency spokesman James Williams.

Depending on the hurricane’s path, the Red Cross could send numerous local volunteers to help families who have been displaced by flooding and wind damage.

We’ll let you know how many head to the coast after Earl has moved on.

Ignoring Katrina

Fellow McClatchy reporter Melissa Scallan wrote a story for the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina that captures a key reason I decided to start a weather blog for the Eagle.

Here’s the opening to the story:

BILOXI, Miss. —Robert Latham spent Aug. 27, 2005, riding along U.S. 90 from Jackson County to Hancock County along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, marveling at the number of people grilling, swimming and playing volleyball on the beach. They seemed oblivious to the monster storm that churned in the Gulf of Mexico, headed their way.

Latham, the director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, and other emergency officials monitored the hurricane advisories and knew Mississippi likely would take a big hit. What they didn’t know was how much of the coast would be wiped away in an eight-hour span.

“I will never forget coming along 90 on Saturday, and it was almost as if it were just another holiday weekend,” he said. “People were on the beach, and I remember seeing parties and bonfires and I thought this thing was setting up to be another Camille.”

Katrina wasn’t Camille, the legendary Category 5 hurricane that devastated the Gulf Coast in 1969. It was worse. The winds were a strong Category 3, but the storm surge topped 30 feet in some places, crushing tens of thousands of houses, churches and businesses and covering many more with water.

In all, Katrina killed 1,833 people in five states, including 168 in the three Mississippi coastal counties and 231 statewide. It’s considered one of the worst natural disasters ever to hit the United States. While most of the nation’s attention in the aftermath of the storm focused on New Orleans — whose levees collapsed after Katrina passed, drowning the city and unleashing death and devastation — Mississippi took most of the hurricane’s fury, with entire towns reduced to little more than piles of rubble.

It’s possible the folks along the beaches of Mississippi didn’t realize just how serious a threat Katrina was.

Perhaps they didn’t care.

I know I can’t control how people will react to news of an impending hurricane, tornado, blizzard or other weather crisis. The most I can hope for is to share information they find valuable in deciding how to respond.

Katrina was a crushing example of what can happened when people – and governments – are caught unprepared for a natural disaster.