From the ABC 7 Weather team

Archive for April 2012

The Latest Drought Index Is In -- Just How Dry It Is.

April 12, 2012 - 06:00 PM

Rain, Rain, Come Our Way -- That's the new rain song I'm singing.  It's been exceptionally dry across the region and there's no significant rain in sight.  Here are the latest numbers for 2012:

2012 Rainfall Deficit In D.C. 

The drought continues to expand across the region.  Near the end of March most of the area was already abnormally dry.  The latest update from the U.S. Drought Monitor now has the entire viewing area under abnormally dry conditions, with parts of the Eastern Shore of Maryland under a severe drought.  The moderate drought area has also inched West across the Chesapeake Bay for Eastern parts of Anne Arundel, Calvert, and St. Marys counties. 

U.S. Drought Monitor Index

 We're not the only one's dealing with the dry conditions.  Take a look at how much of the country is under a drought or severe drought.  The deep red color indicates areas that are under an extreme or exceptional drought.

Notice much of Western Texas and Eastern New Mexico, as well as parts of the Southeast are under these extremely dry conditions.  The latest forecast doesn't indicated any widespread rain in the D.C. area in the near future.  Our next chance for rain, in D.C., could be next Tuesday and Wednesday; however, rain chances, as of now, look to be slim with an approaching front. 

We'll keep you posted.  Until then, keep on singing with me - "Rain, Rain, Come Our Way". 

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2 to 4 feet of hail collected in Potter County, Texas (Video)

April 12, 2012 - 12:14 PM

The pictures from the hail storm yesterday in northern Potter County, Texas were unbelieveable. Literally, I didn't really buy it at first. Then I noticed that the picture I was looking at was from the National Weather Service office in Amarillo, Texas and started to think how that could even happen. Well thanks to Mid Atlantic Weather on Facebook I can tell you that it was from flash flooding which carried the hail to its resting spots. First, check out the picture:

Hail in northern Potter County, Texas

Here is another picture of the highways from the Texas Department of Transportation. Not the best quality but you get the idea. Vehicles were getting stuck in the multiple feet of collected hail.

DOT Camera Image

Amazing huh? I didn't really believe it either until I saw this video. You can clearly make out the flash flooding which caused this hail to accumulate. Wow.

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Take Me Out To The Ball Game: Washington Nationals Style

April 12, 2012 - 05:00 AM

So it's the big day in Washington for baseball fans and the weather is going to be quite pleasant.  I can picture it now... stadium full of people, excited fans, and, hopefully, a good game! 

The Nationals kick started the season last Tuesday in Chicago with a win against the Cubs (2-1).  Now it's time to play some ball right here in Washington.  The game starts at 1:05 PM against the Cincinnati Reds.  By the first pitch, temperatures will only be around 58°, but if you're in the sun, it will feel a good bit warmer.  It's also still going to be on the breezy side during the game with North winds between 10 and 15 mph, with higher gusts.  I'd probably bring along a light jacket.

So, does the weather have any effect on the outcome of the game?  Well that's difficult to quantify, but why not take a look at past Nationals home openers and see the comparison between the weather and the final score.

The Nationals first game as a DC franchise was on April 14, 2005.  They pulled off a win against the Diamondbacks (5-3).  That day the high reached 66 degress with no rain.  Take a look at the chart below that includes the date of the Nationals Home Opener, if the game was a win or a loss for the Nationals, and the high temperature and precipitation. 

Now this data is certainly not going to help in determining any correlation between the weather and a win or a loss.  It is interesting to look at, especially with such a variation of temperatures.  Last year (2011) was a chilly day with a high of only 42°!  On the contrary, the home opener in 2007 was a very warm day with a high of 82° and a little rain. 

Nationals Home Opener Dates & Weather 

Now weather does have a relationship to baseball, especially concerning how far a baseball will travel when it's hit.  Read more here to understand how air pressure, wind, temperature, and humidity all play a role in the distance a baseball can travel.  A little side note -- I have always been interested in this relationship after taking a meteorology course, in college, with Dr. Brent Skeeter (professor at Salisbury University).  Let's just say he's a *bit of a Baltimore Orioles fan.

At any rate the weather for the game tomorrow should be relatively nice with plenty of sunshine, highs near 60°, with a good breeze.  And lastly, did you know?  There's a connection to the Nationals and the StormWatch 7 weather team.  Our very own Devon Lucie played high school baseball with Washington Nationals' right fielder, Jason Werth.  How cool!   Let's Go Nats!


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Vote for your favorite Cherry Blossom picture! (Contest)

April 11, 2012 - 05:20 PM

This was one of the earliest blooms since prior to 2000 when they reached peak bloom on March 17th. We asked all of you for your cherry blossom photos and you responded by sending in tons of photos to the gallery above. Well it is finally time to vote on a winner.

Go through the photos and share your favorite to facebook to spread the word, then be sure to send an email to and tell us which photo you liked the best by emailing us the persons name.

The winner will receive a Cherry Blossom Festival prize package as well as a 100th Anniversary Cherry Blossom Festival poster signed by Peter Max. The winner will be selected on Friday and the picture will be shown on the 5pm and 11pm News. Good luck!

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An interesting look at the Dallas area tornado damage (Video)

April 11, 2012 - 04:31 AM

A company has created News Drones which are basically remote control helicopters with a GoPro HD camera attached to it. They used them after some significant events such as the Tuscaloosa tornado last April as well as Hurricane Irene and some wildfires in Texas. Remember the Forney tornado in Texas on April 3rd? This was rated an EF-3 tornado with winds up to 150 mph and a path of 8 miles. Here's a video of the tornado:

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Is The U.S. Falling Behind In Forecast Accuracy?

April 10, 2012 - 10:15 PM

This is another guest blog we will be featuring from time to time. Here is Cliff Mass's part 2 blog of his concerns about the heart of weather forecasting, numerical weather prediction, or NWP.  Here is the link to part 1.  We will next post a response from other scientists working in this critical field of weather forcasting.-Bob Ryan

In my last blog on this subject, I provided objective evidence of how U.S. numerical weather prediction (NWP), and particularly our global prediction skill, lags between major international centers, such as the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF), the UKMET office, and the Canadian Meteorological Center (CMC). I mentioned briefly how the problem extends to high-resolution weather prediction over the U.S. and the use of ensemble (many model runs) weather prediction, both globally and over the U.S. Our nation is clearly number one in meteorological research and we certainly have the knowledge base to lead the world in numerical weather prediction, but for a number of reasons we are not. The cost of inferior weather prediction is huge: in lives lost, injuries sustained, and economic impacts unmitigated. Truly, a national embarrassment. And one we must change.

In this blog, I will describe in some detail one major roadblock in giving the U.S. state-of-the-art weather prediction: inadequate computer resources. This situation should clearly have been addressed years ago by leadership in the National Weather Service, NOAA, and the Dept of Commerce, but has not, and I am convinced will not without outside pressure. It is time for the user community and our congressional representatives to intervene. To quote Samuel L. Jackson, enough is enough. (click on image to watch him say that famous line)

Enough is Enough! The U.S. Needs Better NWP

NCEP (U.S) Computer

The European Centre has a newer IBM machine with 8192, much faster, processors that gets 182 terraflops (yes, over twice as fast and with far fewer tasks to do). The UKMET office, serving a far, far smaller country, has two newer IBM machines, each with 7680 processors for 175 teraflops per machine. Here is a figure, produced at NCEP that compares the relative computer power of NCEP's machine with the European Centre's. The shading indicates computational activity and the x-axis for each represents a 24-h period. The relative heights allows you to compare computer resources. Not only does the ECMWF have much more computer power, but they are more efficient in using it...packing useful computations into every available minute.

The European Centre has a newer IBM machine with 8192, much faster, processors that gets 182 terraflops (yes, over twice as fast and with far fewer tasks to do).

Courtesy of Bill Lapenta, EMC

Recently, NCEP had a request for proposals for a replacement computer system. You may not believe this, but the specifications were ONLY for a system at least equal to the one that have. A report in a computer magazine suggests that perhaps this new system (IBM got the contract) might be slightly less powerful (around 150 terraflops) than one of the UKMET office systems...but that is not known at this point.

The Canadians? They have TWO machines like the European Centre's!

So what kind of system does NCEP require to serve the nation in a reasonable way?

To start, we need to double the resolution of our global model to bring it into line with ECMWF (they are now 15 km global). Such resolution allows the global model to model regional features (such as our mountains). Doubling horizontal resolution requires 8 times more computer power. We need to use better physics (description of things like cloud processes and radiation). Double again. And we need better data assimilation (better use of observations to provide an improved starting point for the model). Double once more. So we need 32 times more computer power for the high-resolution global runs to allow us to catch up with ECMWF. Furthermore, we must do the same thing for the ensembles (running many lower resolution global simulations to get probabilistic information). 32 times more computer resources for that (we can use some of the gaps in the schedule of the high resolution runs to fit some of this in...that is what ECMWF does). There are some potential ways NCEP can work more efficiently as well. Right now NCEP runs our global model out to 384 hours four times a day (every six hours). To many of us this seems excessive, perhaps the longest periods (180hr plus) could be done twice a day. So lets begin with a computer 32 times faster that the current one.

Many workshops and meteorological meetings (such as one on improvements in model physics that was held at NCEP last summer---I was the chair) have made a very strong case that the U.S. requires an ensemble prediction system that runs at 4-km horizontal resolution. The current national ensemble system has a horizontal resolution about 32 km...and NWS plans to get to about 20 km in a few years...both are inadequate. Here is an example of the ensemble output (mean of the ensemble members) for the NWS and UW (4km) ensemble systems: the difference is huge--the NWS system does not even get close to modeling the impacts of the mountains. It is similarly unable to simulate large convective systems.


Current NWS( NCEP) "high resolution" ensembles (32 km)
4 km ensemble mean from UW system

Let me make one thing clear. Probabilistic prediction based on ensemble forecasts and reforecasting (running models back for years to get statistics of performance) is the future of weather prediction. The days of giving a single number for say temperature at day 5 are over. We need to let people know about uncertainty and probabilities. The NWS needs a massive increase of computer power to do this. It lacks this computer power now and does not seem destined to get it soon.


A real champion within NOAA of the need for more computer power is Tom Hamill, an expert on data assimilation and model post-processing. He and colleagues have put together a compelling case for more NWS computer resources for NWP. Read it here.

Back-of-the-envelope calculations indicates that a good first step-- 4km national ensembles--would require about 20,000 processors to do so in a timely manner--but it would revolutionize weather prediction in the U.S., including forecasting convection and in mountainous areas. This high-resolution ensemble effort would meld with data assimilation over the long-term.

And then there is running super-high resolution numerical weather prediction to get fine-scale details right. Here in the NW my group runs a 1.3 km horizontal resolution forecast out twice a day for 48h. Such capability is needed for the entire country. It does not exist now due to inadequate computer resources.

The bottom line is that the NWS numerical modeling effort needs a huge increase of computer power to serve the needs of the country--and the potential impacts would be transformative. We could go from having a third-place effort, which is slipping back into the pack, to a world leader. Furthermore, the added computer power will finally allow NOAA to complete Observing System Simulation Experiments (OSSEs) and Observing System Experiments (OSEs) to make rational decisions about acquisitions of very expensive satellite systems.

The fact that this is barely done today is really amazing and a potential waste of hundreds of millions of dollars on unnecessary satellite systems. But do to so will require a major jump in computational power, a jump our nation can easily afford. I would suggest that NWS's EMC should begin by securing at least a 100,000 processor machine, and down the road something considerably larger. Keep in mind my department has about 1000 processors in our computational clusters, so this is not as large as you think.

For a country with several billion-dollar weather disasters a year, investment in reasonable computer resrouces for NWP is obvious.

The cost? Well, I asked Art Mann of Silicon Mechanics (a really wonderful local vendor of computer clusters) to give me rough quote: using fast AMD chips, you could have such a 100K core machine for 11 million dollars. (this is without any discount!) OK, this is the U.S. government and they like expensive, heavy metal machines....lets go for 25 million dollars. The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is getting a new machine with around 75,000 processors and the cost will be around 25-35 million dollars. NCEP will want two machines, so lets budget 60 million dollars. We spend this much money on a single jet fighter, but we can't invest this amount to greatly improve forecasts and public safety in the U.S.? We have machines far larger than this for breaking codes, doing simulations of thermonuclear explosions, and simulating climate change.

Yes, a lot of money, but I suspect the cost of the machine would be paid back in a few months from improved forecasts. Last year we had quite a few (over ten) billion-dollar storms....imagine the benefits of forecasting even a few of them better. Or the benefits to the wind energy and utility industries, or U.S. aviation, of even modestly improved forecasts. And there is no doubt such computer resources would improve weather prediction. The list of benefits is nearly endless. Recent estimates suggest that normal weather events cost the U.S. economy nearly 1/2 trillion dollars a year. Add to that hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and other extreme weather. The business case is there.

As someone with an insider's view of the process, it is clear to me that the current players are not going to move effectively without some external pressure. In fact, the budgetary pressure on the NWS is very intense right now and they are cutting away muscle and bone at this point (like reducing IT staff in the forecast offices by over 120 people and cutting back on extramural research). I believe it is time for weather sensitive industries and local government, together with t he general public, to let NOAA management and our congressional representatives know that this acute problem needs to be addressed and addressed soon. We are acquiring huge computer resources for climate simulations, but only a small fraction of that for weather prediction...which can clearly save lives and help the economy. Enough is enough.

Cliff Mass's blog

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Monster hail in Woodward, OK yesterday (Video)

April 10, 2012 - 03:14 PM

Alright, this is just me but I'm not sure who would be walking down the street in a thunderstorm. Now add baseball size hail to the mix and you wouldn't see me outside until 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder. Check out this video, the guy walking down the street, and the deer bolting out of the woods as it dodges the giant hailstones.

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Climate Change-The Science-The Message and the Messengers

April 10, 2012 - 05:00 AM

Saturday March 31, along with a group of broadcast meteorologists in the mid-Atlantic area from Roanoke, Virginia to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania I attended a unique workshop on climate science. This workshop was a project of Climate Central in cooperation with  “The Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media”. The goal is a “full-day climate science “immersion” workshops designed to help meteorologists feel more comfortable with the increasing number of questions many are getting, on- and off-air, concerning possible connections between weather anomalies and a warming climate” The workshop included many questions and candid discussion between broadcasters and 5 eminent research scientists in climate, solar, atmospheric and environmental science. So with that quick intro here is a review of what these top scientists presented about the state of the science of climate studies, observations, projections, uncertainities and local impacts in our area, as well as a few points I made. Comments from some of my fellow participants very welcome. I've put together a gallery of many of the data, images and general science from the participants at the workshop I'll post in a photo galley soon.   First, this is how we look now, a composite of the new polar orbiting satellite the "Suomi" named after a pioneer of of satellite meteorology the late Vern Suomi. 


 So the first question many people often ask we meteorologists, just after, "Will it rain tomorrow" is this




  This is a slide I showed with measurements and proxy reconstructions of the earth's temperature going back millions of years.  The answer is YES, of course the climate is changing, it always has changed and will in the future.  





 Why does climate change?  Dr. Judith Lean, Senior Scientist for Sun-Earth System Research at the Naval Research Laboratory, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, showed this diagram of the earth's energy budget.  Imagine if you were trying to figure this out for your house.


 Another graph I showed.  Has the earth's surface temperature been increasing?  Again yes, especially during the last 100 years, but sure not in a straight line


 Dr. Anthony Broccoli of Rutgers University who's research is in climate measurement, modeling and forcing showed that long term trends do not mean there may not be steady or even cooling trends for decades.  What is the trend over decades or hundreds of years?  Climate does change but it is slow . . .so far. 


Judith Lean pointed out the spirted scientific debate about the reasons for the recent lag in the general warming trend over the last 50-100 years.  An example of science and discussion among scientists in action.


 Dr. Kerry Emanuel of MIT, a leading hurricane and cloud systems researcher and also a member of the National Academy of Science, showed the relation between recent increases in the Atlantic water temperature and the power of tropical storms.


 Dr. Broccoli's points on why global warming and climate change is so controversial





 Judith Lean's outline of the many causes of climate change.  Indeed science can be messy,





 Dr. Donald Boesch is President of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and professor of marine sciences showed the changes, due to warming waters on the Chesapeake Bay


And the expected changes in the decades ahead with continued regional changes

Dr. Keith Dixon  climate researcher at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton,NJ showed that almost all of the heat being added to the earth, in a warming world, is going into the oceans.  Not surprising - remember that the oceans hold vast amounts of heat and cover 70% of the earth's surface ZZZZZ  Judith Lean's diagram of the natural and human influence causes of climate change.  And finally few general "take aways" from this excellent workshop.









Judith Lean's research work for what might be ahead in the coming decades.












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A Record Warm March? Try One of the Warmest YEARS on Record so Far!

April 9, 2012 - 09:20 PM

Just out today from the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, NC: March 2012 will go down (at least preliminarily) as the warmest March ever on record for the Continental U.S.! What’s really significant, though, is that the beginning of the entire year of 2012 has been very warm when compared to other late winters on record. Meaning, from January through March much of the Central and Eastern United States experienced much warmer than average temperatures!

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We would welcome a rainy day!

April 9, 2012 - 10:12 AM

February 29! That was the last time we had a good soaking rain that totaled 1.44 inches. Since then there have only been two days when we picked up any “significant” rain was March 2nd and 25 when we received 0.34” and 0.20” respectively. I guess this recent dry spell may be my fault because back in early March I decided to level off an area in my yard and try to grow grass. Since then Mother Nature has pretty much turned off the spicket and I had to add watering the lawn to my daily chores.

Our forecast this week does include a couple opportunities for rain but unfortunately none of them will be a good soaking rain like we could use. Aside from giving the grass and plants a drink, some rain would also do wonders for those, like myself, who suffer from allergies as it would wash away some of the nasty pollen.

So we need some rain, but are we in a drought? The answer is actually NO. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor much of Maryland, Northern Virginia and Southeast Virginia are “Abnormally Dry.” According to the Drought Mitigation Center this means that we are dry but not yet in a drought. However, just across the Bay in far eastern Maryland they are in “Moderate Drought.” Below you can see the detailed numbers from our local airports and also the drought monitor maps for both Maryland and Virginia.



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Easter: The holiday of extremes

April 8, 2012 - 02:27 PM

The weather in the nation’s capital can change frequently. One minute it can be sunny and the next minute an Arctic front can be delivering gusty winds, falling temperatures and snow showers. This change can be just about as dramatic with the changing weather from one Easter to another.

Since Easter falls on the first Sunday following the first ecclesiastical full moon that occurs on or after the day of the vernal equinox (first day of spring), it can be in March or April. The date of Easter therefore varies between 22 March and 25 April. What are the extremes between these dates in the nation’s capital? Take a look below.

Easter Potential Extremes

Coldest Temperature: 15 degrees on April 1, 1923 (Easter Sunday)
Warmest Temperature: 95 degrees on April 23, 1960, April 18, 1976 (Easter Sunday), April 17, 2002
Most Snow: 11.5 inches on March 29, 1942
Most Rain: 3.04 inches on April 14, 1970

Top 2 Most Frequent Dates for Easter Sunday & Extreme Weather Occurrences on These Days

April 10: Coldest: 28/1997. Warmest: 89/1922. Snowiest: Trace
April 17: Coldest: 26/1875. Warmest: 95/2002. Snowiest: Trace

That said, the weather in the spring changes rapidly because it’s a transition season between the coldest and warmest part of the year.
Now, here is a look at the weather in D.C. during the past 6 years on Easter Day:

Past Easter Weather in D.C.
April 24, 2011: 85 degrees; 0.74 inch of rain
April 4, 2010: 77 degrees
April 12, 2009: High 56 degrees
March 23, 2008: 51 degrees
April 8, 2007: High 46 degrees

When will Easter be next year? 2013? What about Easter dates all the way through 2124? Find out here.

Have a safe and happy holiday!

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So much sun, but where's the rain??

April 6, 2012 - 10:30 AM

After a beautiful spring day Friday, with brilliant blue skies, and seasonable temperatures, it's hard to think about a rainy day.  But when you stop and think, when was the last time we had a grey, rainy day?  Well, we did have a little rain on the 1st and 2nd of the month, but less than a tenth inch of rain both days.  In fact, we've only had 3 days with over a half inch of rain in 2012 (Feb. 29 - 1.44"; Jan. 11 - 0.51"; Jan. 27 - 0.63") !   DC is already 3.88" below average for the year. 

Any significant rain in the forecast?  We aren't expecting any decent rain over the next 7 days  Take a look at our latest 7 day forecast.  The only day we could see a chance of rain is late Monday.  Even then, it doesn't look like we'll see more than a half inch. 

StormWatch7 7 Day Forecast

So does it look like there will be any change in the long range forecast?  Well, we it will certainly be a little cooler over the next week with highs in the upper 50s.  As for the rain, well, the good news is the Climate Prediction Center's latest 8-14 day precipitation outlook doesn't show us under abnormally dry conditions.  At the same time, it also does not show us receiving above average rainfall.  Here's the latest probability map for 8-14 day outlook. 

Climate Prediction Center

The wetter than average conditions are expected in the Southeast and the Pacific Northwest with drier conditions anticipated over New England and the Desert Southwest.  DC is sort of in the middle, so it may be a tossup as to what precipitation will be like over the next few months. 

So let the rain dance begin and until we get that much needed rain, enjoy the sunshine!

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Has the US fallen behind in numerical weather prediction: a response from a NOAA scientist.

April 5, 2012 - 05:00 AM

 Another guest blog courtesy of Thomas M. Hamill. The thoughts and views expressed in this blog do not represent those of WJLA & the StormWatch7 Weather team.-Bob Ryan 


Tom Hamill


Cliff Mass of the University of Washington posted part one of a two-part series on how the US has fallen behind in numerical weather prediction. I think he’s done a great service to our enterprise by reminding us of the importance of numerical guidance. You can look at a satellite image, but that depiction of the clouds right now will not tell you much about whether it will snow or rain tomorrow. For that you need data assimilation, whereby the satellite data is used to adjust our estimate of the current state of winds, temperature, and humidity. And you need numerical weather prediction, a codification of our understanding of how the basic laws of physics such as Newton’s laws apply to the atmosphere. Those satellites and radars can be very expensive, and they’re just the first step in making a forecast for you. Thanks to Cliff for reminding us of the rest.

I’d like to add to the debate that Cliff started about the state of numerical weather prediction in the US. While I am a NOAA employee, this is my own opinion and doesn’t reflect the opinion of NOAA, the Department of Commerce, or the administration. Like Cliff, I’ve worked in this field for several decades, and like Cliff, I itch to see more rapid progress, to see the US become world leaders in weather prediction once again. A better weather prediction pays for itself many times over in improved decisions and saved lives and property.

Cliff is absolutely right to highlight the issue of NOAA’s restricted computational resources. Doing a back-of-the-envelope calculation, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), has 10-100 more CPUs humming than we do for their 1-day to 10-day forecasts. Time and again, we’ve learned the value of improving the “resolution” of our numerical models, say, describing the weather on a grid where the points are separated by 15 km instead of 30 km. But that’s computationally expensive; doubling the resolution in both the north-south and east-west directions increases the computations by a factor of eight, the extra factor of two coming from marching forward in time by steps half as long as before.

Typical GFGS Model Output

Still, there’s a lot more to improving the forecast than increasing the resolution. Typically when we increase the resolution, the change permits us to notice deficiencies in the model that we didn’t worry about before. Maybe at the coarser resolution we didn’t expect the model to get water-to-land breezes in the Chesapeake forecast very well. Then we up the resolution and we notice that, say, there is a sea breeze in the afternoon, but it’s too strong. That extra resolution may really show its full benefit after the model is re-coded somewhat, perhaps adjusting how the atmosphere interacts with the more carefully specified terrain.

This is a labor-intensive process, continually maintaining a weather forecast modeling system. To really understand what’s wrong with your model, you need a lot of people looking at its output. You need experts in land-atmosphere interactions to diagnose and correct those problems. You need experts in ocean-atmosphere interactions; in the way the clouds are predicted in the model, down to the level of ice particles and rain droplets. And these experts need to understand each other’s work, for perhaps the errors in land-surface interactions might affect the errors in predicting low cloud cover.

With so many talented scientists needed to maintain and improve upon a single modeling system, we in NOAA need to decide whether it really is in our best interest to continue to develop multiple independent modeling systems as we have done in the past. Just for our global prediction, we have GFS, NMM-B, FIM, NIM, and cubed-sphere models. The acronyms aren’t important, but that we are developing many instead of one or two models is important. Our precious computer power is split many ways to test and simply maintain many models. Our dwindling staff is asked to maintain and improve many models rather than one or two, and consequently the models are not generally state-of-the-art. This same proliferation of models occurs across agencies in the US government. The US Navy has its own set of numerical models. The National Center for Atmospheric Research has theirs. Ditto universities, NASA, and the Department of Energy.

In comparison, with so many people working on a common system, ECMWF staff can delve deeper into the guts of the model and how its components interact. Their staff is more focused on the intricacies of how to develop better methods for representing the weather that happens in between the individual grid points, or the methods for exploiting the satellite data as effectively as possible in the data assimilation process, or the methods for constructing ensembles of forecasts and probabilistic weather forecast guidance. As Cliff showed, the result is a better forecast, no matter whether you’re looking at the skill of extreme precipitation or surface temperature forecasts or hurricane tracks.

How did we in the US get so wedded to this multiple-model idea? First, working together on a common model is very difficult, especially when the collaborators are spread across the country. Configuration management of the forecast model’s code would be challenging, as perhaps dozens of groups would be trying to simultaneously improve different parts of it. Also, all things being equal, two good weather prediction models are better than one, for then you have two pieces of data to evaluate. Consequently, we convinced ourselves that we were better off with many models. However, our yardstick for measuring success shouldn’t be that models A and B can beat either A or B individually. Instead, our yardstick is what we might have done had the resources for A&B all gone into, say, model A (and ECMWF is a good surrogate for that).

The other reason for multiple models in NOAA and the US, I think, is our too-reductionist way of looking at the weather prediction process. Let’s say tomorrow there’s a record-setting flood somewhere in the western US, and none of the weather prediction models did a good job of forecasting it. If the past is a guide, what NOAA may do is to form a team to work on the heavy precipitation forecast problem in the western US. That team chooses a model and then focuses on how to make that particular model better at forecasting precipitation. In the end they may have a new model that does somewhat better at precipitation forecasting in the western US but which is no better for temperature or wind forecasting, or for that matter precipitation forecasting in the eastern US! But users clamor for a better western US precipitation forecast, so perhaps their new modeling system gets piled onto the suite of existing modeling systems. One more modeling system for NOAA to maintain.

What’s of course wrong with this way of thinking is that the weather is interconnected. Today’s eastern US heat wave may well have not happened were it not for unusually active thunderstorm clusters in the tropical Indian Ocean a week ago. Hence, focusing on local heat-forecasting issues may be wasted time if the real deficiency of your model is its inability to model those Indian Ocean thunderstorm clusters. When we split up our efforts by process and try to develop better hurricane models, better severe storm models, better precipitation forecast models, better aviation forecast models, our reductionist way of doing forecast model development may be self-defeating.

Here’s an interesting story. ECMWF’s hurricane track and intensity forecasts are currently the standard for the rest of the numerical weather prediction enterprise. I asked one of their staff a few years ago how many people they had working on improving hurricanes in their model. The answer, at least at the time: NONE. They had scientists working to improve the representation of thunderstorms in their one model, scientists working to improve the physical description of air-sea interactions in their one model, and so on. Working on these more general problems improved their hurricane forecasts, for (of course!) hurricanes are organized thunderstorms and hurricanes get their energy from the warm ocean. Like a dim star that’s more easily visible with peripheral vision, they were smart enough not to focus on hurricanes directly, smart enough to know that developing a separate new model for hurricane forecasting was counterproductive.

So: it may be boring to repeat what has worked elsewhere, but we don’t need to be radical in the US to improve. ECMWF has showed us what works. Everyone pitching in, working on a common modeling system.

Why don’t we just buy data from the Europeans and be done with it? Save the US taxpayers a lot of money, right? Well, for a few reasons. First is that our government has an open-data access policy. Your taxpayer money paid to buy the supercomputers, the satellites and radars, paid our salaries, and the US government then makes sure that the weather data is freely available to all. ECMWF may share data with the NWS for internal use, but the US government can’t then share that data with the rest of you. All the TV stations out there, all the private value-added weather companies, all you internet surfers, right now you all get NWS data basically for free (having paid your taxes). In the brave new world, you would have to pay ECMWF for access to their forecasts, and we’re talking a lot of money, not pocket change. A second reason is national security. Suppose the Europeans didn’t approve of what the US was doing in some military operation and they remove US access to the ECMWF forecasts. Then where are we as a country, having let our weather-prediction capacity wither and die? So, we need a homegrown weather prediction capability. Every major country around the world recognizes this, from Korea to Brazil.

Let’s come back to the issue of NOAA’s limited supercomputing facilities. Why has it been so difficult for NOAA to upgrade? Part of this is a generally tight federal budget. Still, for the last five or so years, every other part of NOAA has been squeezed because of cost overruns in fielding a next-generation polar-orbiting weather satellite. While not having that satellite ready would be detrimental to NOAA, we need to learn a lesson from this and do better the next time. Before signing on to deploy complicated and expensive new satellites, we need to conclusively demonstrate that the data they provide will improve weather predictions in proportion to their expected costs. Similarly, we ought to be able to evaluate the return on investment from a much bigger supercomputer. Right now, the supercomputers are far, far cheaper and hence easier to justify. As Cliff mentioned, for perhaps a few percent of the cost of the new satellite, we could build back the computational capacity we need to compete with the Europeans.

NOAA Computer Facility

Let me finish by saying that despite the challenges that Cliff mentions, I’m extremely proud to work for NOAA. Bob Ryan and his team add a lot of value and context to what NOAA provides, but Bob can’t do what he does without us. Weather prediction is an incredibly complicated enterprise. NOAA deploys satellites, weather balloons, radar data, and more. Our data assimilation algorithms synthesize this data. Our models and our supercomputers crank out the numerical guidance 24/7. Our forecasters are always on the job and bust their humps in ways you could not believe when severe weather is on the way. All of this costs taxpayers pennies a day. And the data is free to all and free to you without advertising.

Thanks to Cliff Mass for his post and to Bob Ryan and the Storm Watch 7 team for the chance to contribute to this discussion.




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More videos of the Dallas area tornadoes

April 4, 2012 - 03:23 PM

I just wanted to throw in a few more videos that have come in on youtube from yesterday's severe weather. Remember this is severe weather season not only in the plains but also here in D.C. so be sure to have a plan. These tornadoes occurred while people were at work and school and the same can happen in the D.C. area. Get together with your family or even your friends and discuss what you would each do in a situation like this if it were to happen.

On another note, please do not go out filming if you're in the path of a tornado. The D.C. area isn't like the plains where you can see for miles. With tall trees and other things obstructing your view of the sky, it may be too late to take shelter if a tornado suddenly emerges in your vicinity. We will do our best to alert you of potential severe weather days so please do your best to listen for watches and warnings on those days. A NOAA weather radio wouldn't hurt either!

Blog: Severe Weather May be Right Around the Corner

Now, on to the videos!

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Tornadoes strike the Dallas/Fort Worth area (Video)

April 3, 2012 - 03:32 PM

A severe weather outbreak has taken place over parts of Texas today with numerous tornadoes reported along with extremely large hail. The set up for the region was very indicative having the chance for tornadoes as there was plenty of moisture and shear and enough instability with an outflow boundary lurking around the area

The Storm Prediction Center first put out a Severe Thunderstorm Watch this morning but upgraded it to a Tornado Watch about 30 minutes before the Tornado Warnings were issued. Pictures and videos have been streaming in throughout the day of the tornadoes but luckily so far I haven't heard of any reports of deaths.

Check out this crazy raw video from out of Dallas/Fort Worth. The images are crazy around 1:30-2:00 as you can clearly see tractor trailers being tossed around over a shipping yard.


Here are more videos of Tuesday's tornadoes from across the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

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How Does The Pollen Count Drop Without Rain To Wash It Away?

April 3, 2012 - 01:26 PM

In a previous post I discussed the recent jump in tree pollen count on March 27th to the 28th that went from 568 Grains/Cubic Meter to 2124 gr/cubic meter. What I didn’t touch on though was the notable drop in the count the next day on March 29th when it fell back down to 350 gr/cubic meter. This significant drop left me not just scratching my eyes, but also my head. I went back and took a look at the official records from the all the area airports and found that the only recorded rain on March 28th was .03” at both BWI and Dulles and .01” at Reagan National. So suffice to say while there were a few showers, they were very light and may have been just enough to briefly wet the roads at best. Certainly that was not enough rain to aid in cleaning the air and washing the pollen away. So what other factors could contribute to such a drop? To find the answer I went back to my friend Susan Kosisky at the US Army Centralized Allergen Extract Lab (U.S.A.C.A.E.L) and here’s what she had to say.

“We like to say "Do a rain dance" help clear the air of all the pollen. Changes in temperature, humidity and even the amount of sunshine can also impact the amount of pollen that is released by our area tree species. As soon as the cooler air and clouds moved into the area, the pollen count did indeed drop. Warmer, dry days with plenty of sunshine and spring breezes facilitate the drying, cracking, release and dispersal of pollen from the anther sacs (pollen producing pouch). Cooler, cloudy weather (especially with dampness, higher humidity and rain) like we had at the end of last week and over the weekend slows up the release of pollen somewhat after a string of exceptionally warm sunny days.”

Today’s report from the U.S.A.C.A.E.L for April 2nd finds that tree pollen remains high at 308 gr/cubic meter. However Susan also commented today that, “There is some good news on the horizon....some of the area oak trees are already dropping those brown wormy looking catkins (the flowering parts that release the pollen into the air) along curbsides. This is a good sign as some of the oaks have finished flowering and their pollen has been released for the season.” 


Some additional good news is that we do have a chance for a few showers in the forecast tomorrow mainly during the afternoon and evening. So consider yourself lucky if you happen to find yourself under one of those showers as it will help to wash some of that pollen out of the air. 


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Sky-watcher’s scoping Saturn, its moons and more this month (VIDEO)

April 2, 2012 - 10:01 AM

NASA’s Jane Houston Jones at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California explains that “Saturn reaches opposition on April 15th and is now visible earlier in the evening and all night long. Through a telescope you’ll see the icy rings, Titan and –with a little luck – Enceladus. “

Titan is the second largest moon in the solar system with Jupiter’s moon Ganymede being the largest. Saturn actually has a total of 60 moons with 52 having official names. Most of the moons that orbit Saturn are tiny, just 2-3 km across, and would actually be considered comets if they didn’t orbit the planet. While 60 moons is impressive it once again is out done by Jupiter which has a grand total of 63 moons.

Houston also explains that Saturn and it’s two moons are not the only things to look for in the night sky this April. “Mercury is easy to spot this month. And we say goodbye to Jupiter for a few months, but not before a pretty crescent moon pairing on April 22.”

You can read more about ice in the solar system at

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A Prominent Republican Meteorologist Speaks Out on Global Warming

April 1, 2012 - 09:06 PM

I've know Paul Douglas for probably 35 years.  He is a great businessman, entrepreneur and a terrific meteorologist.  This blog was published a few days ago and has been picked up by many sites and generated a lot of attention and comments as well it should.  Paul has given me permission to reproduce it here, as it was first published here.  I think it is important and urge you to read it and share it with your children and maybe even grandchildren. Also  these are Paul's views and in no way should be taken as representing the views of anyone at Channel 7 or the Channel 7 and News Channel 8 weather team -Bob Ryan

A Message from a Republican Meteorologist on Climate Change
Acknowledging Climate Science Doesn’t Make You A Liberal

By Paul Douglas        ZZZZZ



I’m going to tell you something that my Republican friends are loath to admit out loud: climate change is real. I am a moderate Republican, fiscally conservative; a fan of small government, accountability, self-empowerment, and sound science. I am not a climate scientist. I’m a meteorologist, and the weather maps I’m staring at are making me uncomfortable. No, you’re not imagining it: we’ve clicked into a new and almost foreign weather pattern. To complicate matters, I’m in a small, frustrated and endangered minority: a Republican deeply concerned about the environmental sacrifices some are asking us to make to keep our economy powered-up, long-term. It’s ironic. The root of the word conservative is “conserve.” A staunch Republican, Teddy Roosevelt, set aside vast swaths of America for our National Parks System, the envy of the world. Another Republican, Richard Nixon, launched the EPA. Now some in my party believe the EPA and all those silly “global warming alarmists” are going to get in the way of drilling and mining our way to prosperity. Well, we have good reason to be alarmed.  





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