Category Archives: Research

Noted storm chaser and weather researcher Tim Samaras killed by El Reno tornado

Veteran storm chaser and weather researcher Tim Samaras, his son Paul and his longtime chase partner Carl Young were all killed in the El Reno tornado Friday night in Oklahoma. A total of nine people died in tornadoes that raked the Oklahoma City metropolitan area that night.

Samaras, 55, was among the most respected voices in the storm chasing community, and he was doing some of the most important research on violent weather.

He founded TWISTEX (Tactical Weather Instrumented Sampling in Tornadoes EXperiment) to pursue tornadoes and advance the research and warning available to the public.

And he was researching lightning with the fastest, highest-resolution camera in the world – work that promised to change our understanding of the physics of lightning. It was research that had the potential to save countless lives.

Tim Samaras and Carl Young were among those featured in the former Discovery Channel series “Storm Chasers.”

So how did forecasters do with Hurricane Sandy?

There were complaints that meteorologists were over-hyping the threat, that Sandy wouldn’t be that bad.

Nobody’s saying that any more.

Sandy is blamed for more than 60 deaths in the U.S. and the damage will be measured in the billions. Coastal cities are burning, and for some life will never be the same.

As clean-up and recovery begins, scientists are taking a look back at how closely reality matched the forecasts. According to one science blogger, the forecasters nailed it.

How’d the Farmers Almanac do in predicting the weather for 2012?

Are you among the folks who get the Farmers Almanac for its weather forecasts? You wouldn’t be alone.

There are those who swear by the almanac’s uncanny ability to forecast the coming year’s weather accurately. But those folks might be swearing for different reasons these days. A review of the almanac’s forecast compared to what actually happened shows the Farmers Almanac whiffed mightily on 2012.

The analysis was done by Jan Null of Golden Gate Weather Services.

This summer was third-hottest for contiguous U.S.

This was the third-hottest summer on record for the contiguous United States since record-keeping began in 1895, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center.

The average temperature for the “lower 48″ states between June and August was more than 74 degrees, more than 2 degrees higher than the average for the 20th Century. Only the summers of 2011 and 1936 had higher summer temperatures for the contiguous U.S.

How the warning system failed Joplin last May

Mike Smith wasn’t planning to write a book about the Joplin tornado. He simply wanted to find out why 161 people died in the deadliest tornado to hit the U.S. in decades.

But the more he researched, he said, the more he realized he needed to write about what he had learned.

The result is “When the Sirens Were Silent,” published by Mennonite Press. Smith is scheduled to discuss the book and sign copes at Watermark Books at 7 p.m. Thursday.

He’ll be appearing with reporter Denise Neil and photographer Jaime Green of the Wichita Eagle, who were in Joplin for a wedding and will talk about what they went through.

“Someone had to tell the story so this never happens again,” Smith said. “The story’s got to get out.”

Smith’s book includes tips on how to keep your family safe at home, school or work.

A mythology has blossomed about the Joplin tornado that so many people died because folks didn’t pay attention to the tornado warning that had been issued, he said. But that only accounts for a small part of the death toll.

Smith has decided four circumstances combined to make the warnings “less effective than they should have been.”

To begin with, the tornado was so rain-wrapped it was “completely and totally invisible,” he said.

Since no one could see it, they were completely dependent on the warning system.

“There were very intelligent people who actually drove into the tornado” when it struck Joplin at 5:45 p.m. last May 22, he said.

Three different times, the Springfield branch of the National Weather Service misreported the location of the tornado in a way that led Joplin residents to believe the tornado would pass north of the city.

Jasper County policy is to sound sirens over the entire county even if only part of the county is included, so sirens were sounded for three minutes that day when a tornado warning was issued for the northern part of the county but didn’t include Joplin. At 5:17, three minutes after the sirens were turned off, the weather service issued a tornado warning for Joplin.

“But because the tornado sirens had just been turned off and because the National Weather Service had said the tornado was going to miss the town, the decision was made not to sound the sirens a second time,” Smith said. “That meant the people of Joplin didn’t know a tornado warning had been issued unless they were watching TV or listening to radio.”

By the time sirens were sounded again, the tornado was already hitting Joplin – and by then folks had no time to react.

Ever since 1973, Smith said, Jasper County has sounded the sirens for both tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings if the storms featured strong winds. And the Springfield branch has a reputation for over-warning for tornadoes, he said.

In the last four years, Ottawa County – which is in Oklahoma just southwest of Jasper County and is handled by the Tulsa branch of the weather service – has been hit by two tornadoes, Smith said. The Tulsa branch has issued 7 tornado warnings.

Over the same time period, Jasper County has had two tornadoes – including Joplin – and issued 34 tornado warnings.

“What you had was a situation where people were being unwittingly trained to ignore the sirens,” Smith said.

Wichita’s warm, dry January earns place in record books

It’s been so warm in Wichita this January that only one day saw the high temperature stay below freezing.

It’s been so dry in Wichita this month that measurable precipitation fell on just one day – and that was only .03 inches on January 24.

So it should come as no surprise that the month is poised to enter the record books in both categories. Based on forecast highs and lows through January 31, Wichita’s anticipated average monthly temperature will be 37.9 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. That’s 5.8 degrees above the normal average monthly temperature for January, which is 32.1 degrees. That would rank as the tenth highest average temperature for January in Wichita since records began in 1888.

This year will tie for the third driest January on record with 1994, according to weather service data. Only .02 fell in 1911, 1923 and 1961. No precipitation fell at all in January in 1914, 1919 and 1986.

Less than half an inch of snow has fallen in Wichita since Dec. 1. Wichita is more than 8 inches below normal for snowfall so far this winter.

The warm, dry month can’t be blamed on a stagnant weather pattern, weather service meteorologist Kevin Darmofal said. Fronts have been rolling through the Great Plains every few days, he said.

“We just don’t have the moisture” coming up from the Gulf of Mexico, he said. “It’s been pretty much cut off, or it gets shunted off to the east of us before it gets here.”

That pattern may finally break down by the end of the week, he said, when rain – and maybe some snow – is possible this weekend in the Wichita area.

New polar-orbiting satellite to offer more detailed data for forecasts

NASA sent a new satellite into orbit this morning, setting the stage for enhanced weather data meteorologists can use to develop severe weather forecasts days in advance.

The satellite launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California shortly before 5 a.m. Central Daylight Time aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. At about 5:45 a.m. CDT, the satellite separated from the rocket and began its orbit.

The satellite features five new instruments that will collect more detailed information about Earth’s atmosphere, land and oceans, NOAA officials say. NASA will use the satellite as a research mission, while NOAA will use the data for short and long-term weather forecasting and environmental monitoring.

“This year has been one for the record books for severe weather,” Dr. Jane Lubchenco, under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator, said in a prepared statement. “The need for improved data…has never been greater.”

The new satellite and “next generation satellite system” under development by NASA and NOAA “will enhance our ability to alert the public with as much lead time as possible,” she said.

The new satellite will orbit Earth every 102 minutes, flying 512 miles above the surface, monitoring atomospheric conditions below. The first data should become available in about 90 days, replacing data from the NOAA-19 satellite which passes over the U.S. during full daylight hours.

A summer for the ages in Wichita

No matter how you slice it, local weather officials say, this was a rare summer for Wichita.

And not just because 2011 broke a 75-year-old record for most 100-degree days. According to the National Weather Service, this summer also set the all-time record for average high temperature for the three-month period ending Aug. 31.

The average of 98.3 bested the previous mark of 98.1 set in 1980.

“These records go back a long ways,” to 1888, said Robb Lawson, a meteorologist with the Wichita branch of the weather service. “To attain any kind of record…is a pretty big deal, and it’s rare.”

At 85.2, this summer fell one-tenth of a degree short of matching 1934 and 1936 for highest average temperature. That figure combines the high and low temperatures for the day.

The previous record for most 100-degree days was set in 1936.

“That’s the interesting thing,” Lawson said. “There were years in the Dust Bowl that weren’t as hot as this year was.”

To set the record for most 100-degree days, 2011 had to first pass 1980 and then 1936 – and by one telling measure, those two summers still outpace this year.

There were 19 days this summer with temperatures of at least 105. While that number is substantial, Lawson said, it falls well short of 1980′s total of 29. There were 22 such days in 1936.

Put another way, 1980 had nearly a month’s worth of days when the temperature was at least 105.

“That’s a lot,” Lawson said.

One thing this summer demonstrated, Lawson said, is the amount of interest there is in climate data. The weather service fielded numerous calls and e-mails from residents interested in temperatures and other climate details.

“I didn’t realize there were that many,” he said, “but there are.”

A sizzling summer Sunday: 111 topples 1980 record

You know it’s hot when a record from the massive heat wave of 1980 topples.

But that happened Sunday, when the temperature in Wichita reached 111. The old mark for July 10 was 110, set in 1980.

“We may not be done yet,” National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Smith said. “We might make it to 112.”

Wichita hasn’t been this hot in more than 30 years, records show. The last time the temperature reached 111 was July 11, 1980.

Forecasters initially expected highs to drop a little from Saturday’s peak reading of 108, but Smith said so little changed in the atmospheric conditions overnight the stage was set for another scorcher.

Monday should be better – if only a little.

“We should see maybe a little cooling trend – if you want to call 100 degrees a cooling trend,” he said.

Highs will be about 104 on Monday and about 100 on Tuesday, forecasters say.

Wichita hits 100, melting a record

The mercury hit 100 at 3 p.m. today, shattering the record high for June 3.

The old mark of 98 was set in 1972.

The triple digits arrived on the first day of the Wichita River Festival, but forecasters say that doesn’t mean the festival can expect a steady diet of 100s over the coming week.