From the ABC 7 Weather team

Archive for November 2011

Results from the town hall meeting on the Alabama tornado outbreak

November 11, 2011 - 06:00 AM
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Birmingham area tornado damage from aerialsouth.com

The picture above is from AerialSouth.com and was taken at 9:30 a.m., April 28, 2011, at 3,000 feet. Many thanks to Greg McNair for allowing use of this photograph as many people involved in the town hall meeting lived in the area shown.

We all remember what happened on April 27 through Alabama and much of the Deep South, but we still want to know how so many people lost their lives. An event was planned to look into this, with professional social scientists leading a town hall meeting during the National Weather Association conference in Birmingham, Ala. This was to gauge people’s reactions to what occurred that day and see what actions they took and didn’t take leading up to the devastating tornadoes. I have summarized the majority of the meeting and its results in this post.

Below is the official excerpt which was associated with the town hall meeting. You can also see the video in its entirety here:

NWA 2011 Town Hall from John Brown on Vimeo.

The National Weather Association hosted a town hall meeting on Tuesday, October 18, 2011 from 7-9 p.m. at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover. This event brought together professionals involved in the severe weather enterprise to listen to the thoughts and opinions of a scientifically chosen sample of everyday people who experienced that fateful day here in Central Alabama.

The National Weather Association chose two hundred people from a wide pool of applicants to participate in the audience and give input for scientific research into the severe weather warning process. Social scientists and a professional moderator lead a focus group of ten audience members on the stage while the remainder of the group answers multiple choice questions utilizing handheld audience response devices.

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WATCH: Bumbling NASA astronauts trip, fall down on the Moon

November 11, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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Anybody who believes the Apollo missions were faked needs to consult this hilarious footage of astronauts tripping all over themselves on the Moon. Would the U.S. government allow these AFHV-quality outtakes to exist if it was trying to maintain the appearance of a highly sophisticated space program? Doubtful. As one amused YouTube commenter notes: "haha they almost look like babies learning how to walk."

(Hat tip to the Atlantic's Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg for posting this perennial favorite, and to Joel Ivy for compiling it.)

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Turkey earthquake takes down occupied Bayram Hotel (VIDEO)

November 10, 2011 - 03:25 PM
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(Courtesy of the BBC)

After the 7.2-magnitude earthquake shook the Turkish city of Van last month, aid workers and journalists flocked to the epicenter to see what they could do to help and document. Unfortunately, where several of them flocked to was inside the Bayram Hotel, a building that beat out 2,000 other buildings by not collapsing in the initial quake... but apparently not without incurring structural damage.

Late Wednesday night, the lights in Van flickered briefly as another, 5.6-magnitude quake began to rock the streets. The Bayram and several other buildings went down in heaps of dust and rubble. Eight people are thought to have died in the hotel collapse and several others were, or are, texting for help while lying under the debris. This report from the BBC says that government officials had allowed people to move back into "safe" buildings in Van, despite the fact that many had been weakened by the Oct. 23 tremor.

This video purportedly shows the scene outside of the Bayram as the quake hit. A handful of people, perhaps reporters filing stories from the hotel lobby, made it out before the entire structure fell like a badly stacked house of cards. The safest place to be in Turkey nowadays? That would seem to be inside one of the innumerable "Mevlana prefabricated houses" distributed by the Turkish Red Crescent Society:

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Tropical Storm Sean making pathetic attempt at hurricane

November 10, 2011 - 12:59 PM
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If Tropical Storm Sean, currently lurking far off the East Coast, wants to become a hurricane it better get on that soon. The storm is sitting on water that is just warm enough to give it some kick, and the wind shear has not yet picked up enough to blow its top off. But a trough zooming over the United States will convene with Sean in the next day or so, moving it far into colder northern waters. That will effectively slam the storm's gear into extratropical transition, and it's goodbye to Hurricane Sean.

Want to know what propels storms like Sean? A vast natural "engine" in the core of the system provides much of its oomph. Swirling winds near the eye wrap warm air into immense corkscrews that reach higher than the realm of jet liners. These so-called "hot towers" distribute energy through the system and allow storms to intensify into hurricanes. Here's a good hot-tower explainer from NASA:

While Sean's screaming winds are too far off to be heard in the U.S., they are having an effect on us land mammals. There are High Surf Advisories up and down the Florida coastline for "long-period ocean swells," energetic upsurges driven by strong winds, pushing waves as high as 7 feet onto beaches. The turbulent waters are eroding beaches and pumping up the risk of dangerous rip currents near "groins, jetties and piers." Only the foolhardy would swim in these bone-crushing breakers.

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Alaskan 'super storm' brings 10 winters to U.S. at once (VIDEO)

November 10, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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Despite what that latchkey kid biking in the surf might suggest, the snowstorm that just hit Alaska was deathly fierce. In fact, the state hasn't seen anything like it since 1974, when a similar Bering Sea monster churned up a sea surge higher than 13 feet in Nome. That city is also ground zero for this departing storm, as well as a mysterious disease that causes the fur of seals to fall out in hunks, for what it's worth.

The National Weather Service has estimated that this system was as powerful as a Category 3 hurricane. Winds shooting past 90 m.p.h. pulled the roofs right off of buildings and fearless, frigid waters seeped into high grounds where they didn't belong. It was the kind of terrific Arctic storm in which furiously frothing waves as tall as 30 feet treated a multiple-ton shipping container like a rubber ducky, at least in the remote island of Little Diomede:

NWS meteorologists observed the frosty system on Tuesday via polar-orbiting satellite as it charged toward Alaska. Here's what the abominable snowbringer looked like, as seen through the dead eyes of NOAA's Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer:

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NASA releases movie of Earth-hugging Asteroid 2005 YU55

November 9, 2011 - 02:10 PM
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NASA's ground stations caught footage of Asteroid 2005 YU55 as it made a historic close approach to Earth last night. It kind of looks like a doughnut hole.

The video, which Internet commenters have already agreed is fake, incorporates the most detailed radar data in existence of a near-Earth asteroid. It was taken by the Goldstone Solar System Radar as the rocky stranger was riding into town at a distance of 860,000 miles. The asteroid swiftly closed the gap and buzzed the planet by just 200,000 miles around 6:30 p.m. The moon, in contrast, floats an average of 238,854 miles away.

The film uses six frames taken over the course of two hours. What does it tell us? According to SpaceWeather's account:

"The images achieve a resolution as fine as 3.75 meters and reveal a number of features that may be boulders on the surface, craters, and possibly ridges," says radar astronomer Lance Benner of JPL, principal investigator for the 2005 YU55 observations.

Say goodbye for now to YU55, the little asteroid that couldn't destroy the planet. It will return in 2041 for another shot.

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Oklahoma tornadoes drill the Plains; railroad cars overturned

November 9, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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There is no actual "tornado season." Twisters achieve greatest frequency depending on location, so while the Gulf states might have their tornado season in spring, the Southern Plains will typically witness peak activity from May to June.

Still, nature doesn't know to confine its violent thrashings into neat human categories. Thus this week's tornadic outbreak across Oklahoma and northern Texas. At least six of the deathly Dreidels leaped forth from a supercell "parent" storm, according to the National Weather Service's analysis, tossing buckets of hail at cattle and giving the ol' Dutch Rub to acres of harmless farmland. (Video below.) Says the NWS:

The system initially produced numerous thunderstorms, heavy rainfall and flash flooding over parts of south central Oklahoma during the late evening of November 6th and early morning of November 7th. Rainfall totals of 5-9 inches were reported across parts of Jefferson, Carter and Murray counties. The system then generated severe weather including tornadoes, large hail, damaging winds and flooding from the early afternoon of November 7th through the early morning of November 8th.

That is, in fact, a nice amount of rain. The weather agency tracked the tornadoes scoring the grassy plains amid the downpour; showing true pioneer spirit, the longest-lived one seemed to pass right through the Wichita Mountains:

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Asteroid 2005 YU55 about to smash into the Earth!! (Not)

November 8, 2011 - 03:19 PM
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Tonight around 6:30 p.m., earth's innerspace will be violated by a hulking asteroid called 2005 YU55. It will not hit the planet, but rather pass at just under 9/10ths the distance from us to the moon.

This momentous flyby marks  the "closest approach by an asteroid that large that we've known about in advance," according to NASA. At 1,300 feet across, the space rock is twice the size of the National Museum of American History. If it hit the Earth, which it won't, it would explode with the force of 500 nukes and create a tsunami that would crest above six-story buildings.

So where do you plan to be when civilization ends tonight? That's the message I'm getting from certain media outlets reporting about this astronomical event. They tend to lead their stories with a flurry of scary asteroid facts and then sidle into a big "But...." Who are the worst offenders of the YU55 fake-out lede? Let's take a look:

1st Place: The Daily Mail's Ted Thornhill

Words used before mention of the non-impact: 459, or nine paragraphs (and two images)

"The end of the world might not be that bad, as new model predicts fallout from meteorite strike"

It’s well known that a large meteorite hitting the Earth would not be good news, as it would cause earthquakes, tsunamis and firestorms.

However, scientists have created a new model for predicting the impact of such collisions that shows the devastation wouldn’t be anywhere near as severe as previously thought....

Research leader Matthias Meschede said: ‘After a meteorite impact, seismic waves travel outward across the Earth's surface like after a stone is thrown in water.....

(Blah blah blah... normally I wouldn't blockquote so much of a story, but I don't think the Daily Mirror could complain)

Mr Meschede’s team used their model to produce a fresh simulation of the meteorite crash that wiped out the dinosaurs 65million years ago and caused the huge Chicxulub crater, which can be seen from space.

The space rock was the mass of Mountt Everest – when its tip hit Mexico the tail was still 35,000 feet up.

It was the equivalent of two million hydrogen bombs going off – yet the Munich team have downplayed its effects, claiming that the tsunamis and earthquakes that resulted were enough to wipe out the dinosaurs, but the shock-waves' that caused them would have been weakened by the planet’s landscape.

Mr Meschede added: 'Our results go beyond Chicxulub. We can, in principle, now estimate how large a meteorite would have to have been to cause catastrophic events. Our model can be used to estimate the magnitude and effect of other major impacts in Earth's past.'

Tomorrow an asteroid the size of four football pitches called 2005 YU55 will pass between the Earth and Moon....

2nd Place: Roger Highfield, editor of New Scientist (really???)

Words used before mention of the non-impact: 231, or five paragraphs

"Are we about to be hit by an asteroid today?"

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Birds flocking form a 'murmuration,' or living cloud (VIDEO)

November 8, 2011 - 01:17 PM
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Is there a word in the English language more pleasurable than murmuration? Padded with onomatopoeic softness that hints at its original definition, a "low continuous indistinct sound," the term has since picked up a second meaning for birdwatchers. When you're out in the woods and your binoculars-toting friend shouts "Murmuration!," that's a signal to look up with eyes wide open (but not your mouth) for one of nature's most phenomenal sights: a flock of starlings swishing and swooping together like one living, breathing entity.

The incredibly beautiful and strange group behavior of starlings has recently received major Internet props thanks to London-based filmmakers Sophie Windsor Clive and Liberty Smith, who entered a short film depicting a murmuration to a World Wildlife Fund video contest. (Video below.) The film, titled (you guessed it) Murmuration, depicts a canoe trip that the duo took to Ireland's River Shannon. It appears to be a gray, dank slog until they were suddenly interrupted by a bio-cloud of starlings that performed a dance worthy of the Bolshoi Ballet. Despite appearances, this is unaltered footage: "I can assure you there is no animation/CGI/effects of any kind in our film," the filmmakers say. "You are seeing what we saw."

Murmurations got a bit of play this year in the film Take Shelter, in which a possibly deranged man is repeatedly visited by nightmarish flocks of birds doing bizarre pirouettes. Here's one scene:

But murmurations, while they appear to be the product of a paranoid-schizophrenic mind, are as real as charms of finches, bouquets of pheasants, sieges of herons, unkindnesses of ravens and other bird formations with charmingly archaic names. If you're wondering about why starlings gather in these odd flash mobs, Wired has a good breakdown of the physics and biology involved.

Now, gawk at the mesmerizing murmuration in Smith and Clive's film, and keep in mind this question submitted to Vimeo by one astute commenter: Did you end up with much poop on you?

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Radar shows birds, bugs flying away from the Okla. earthquake

November 8, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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Is monitoring the flight patterns of the birds and bees the future of earthquake forecasting?

Probably not! But it's a fascinating idea nonetheless, and one that scientists had a chance to study this weekend. Late Saturday night, as a magnitude 5.6 earthquake was shaking Oklahoma, meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Norman detected something odd spreading across their Doppler radar. It turned out the device's beam was encountering thousands upon thousands of birds and bugs flying around at low altitude. The critters apparently had been startled into the air when the quake struck near Shawnee, Okla.

When the major shaking died down, the birds and insects went back to roost for some shuteye. Here's what that looked like on the radar:

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Slippery bridge causes total automotive carnage (VIDEO)

November 7, 2011 - 01:31 PM
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The purported location of this footage varies from Russia to China to (now) Thailand, where people are dealing with historic flooding by making makeshift boats to float out of town, but the effect on the viewer is always the same: amusement tempered with dread upon realizing these cars are spinning on an overpass high above the ground. A curved roadway sited right after a tunnel exit doesn't seem like the best example of shrewd urban design to begin with. Add in a few inches of standing water or slush, to judge from the snow in the background, and you get the perfect setup for epic hydroplaning. These drivers are totally out of control from the moment they exist the tunnel until their wheels regain traction on the pavement, which usually occurs after the car dings off of a railing or stalled vehicle like a one-ton pinball.

In this skirmish of Humanity v. Weather, weather emerges laughing maniacally.

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Photos of Pleasant Grove, Ala., six months after the tornado

November 7, 2011 - 07:30 AM
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I went on a trip to Birmingham, Alabama a few weeks ago for a weather conference. I decided to take a trip out to see the tornado damage in Pleasant Grove which is about 20 minutes outside of the city. Here is a gallery of what I saw. For more information, check out my blog on the April 27-28 Tornado Outbreak here.

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Six months later; A look back at the April 27-28 Tornado Outbreak

November 7, 2011 - 06:15 AM
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Imagine driving into a small town within the Deep South. You’re surrounded by lush forest full of pine and oak, passing by some rustic auto repair shops and quaint one-story homes. You continue farther into town and notice there seems to be a clearing up ahead. Suddenly, you look up at those big trees around you and notice they have been snapped off and splintered at the top, twisted like a broken match stick. You look around in shock and awe as you drive another 100 yards and see what looks like prairie land all around you, though you know it shouldn’t be there. Everywhere around, you see damage that is unimaginable and completely disheartening. Concrete slabs that used to support homes, driveways leading to empty lots, and even a brick front stoop that leads to nothing. As you continue to drive, the width of this barren wasteland stretches for just under a mile. You get out of your car and look in all directions, and can clearly make out where the destruction came from and which way it went. You stand there and think about how crazy the world really is sometimes.

 

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Virginia man sees immense sunspots from backyard (PHOTO)

November 7, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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If your GPS device this week starts acting like Captain Jack Sparrow's compass, it could be because the Sun is machine-gunning space with hepped-up electrons and protons that mess with Earth's magnetic field. Or it could be AT&T's fault – that's also very likely.

In the past few days, the Sun has rotated toward earth to reveal the largest magnetically active region on its beaming face since 2005. Solar flares and coronal mass ejections use active regions for launchpads, and this supersized energy field, classified as NOAA number 1339, has already blown out an X-class flare that caused radio communications to go aj@#%laitq$#^98uzzzzz!! (Don't worry: Airline companies plan for these solar interferences.) The danger of more troublesome flares lasts until the region rotates back to the other side of the Sun, which could happen by next Monday or so.

Until then, this screaming hole from hell is providing mighty fine sky-watching for astronomers. Above is one example sent in by David Abbou from Stafford, Va. The gargantuan herd of sunspots is located at middle left. Kids! As pretty as the sunspots are, don't stare directly into them, no matter what the cool clique at school says. Here's Abbou's story:

I heard the largest sunspot group in several years was visible on the sun, so I took some photos of it through my 8" telescope and plain-old digital camera using a special filter which blocks most of the sun's light and damaging rays. The photo was taken on Sunday, November 6.

The sunspot group is supposed to be about 50,000 miles long and 25,000 miles wide. The Earth is about 8,000 miles wide, so several Earths could fit inside the sunspot group.

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2011 Taurid meteors peak on Saturday, Nov. 5: Where to look

November 4, 2011 - 03:11 PM
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The Taurid meteor shower is a little like the start of this season of Treme: slow and drawn out. The annual lightshow reaches its peak late Saturday/early Sunday, but the shower really stretches on for more than a week before and after that. The meteors are characterized by burning yellowish lines that seem to craaaawl across the sky in relation to their faster, zipping brethren.

These are pieces of interplanetary trash that are believed to have broken off of Comet Encke, a lonely traveler that orbits the Sun every three years and occasionally has its tail ignominiously blown off by the star's violent exhalations. A couple astrobiologists blame Encke, or whatever larger comet it broke off from, for exterminating the big mammals of North America about 13,000 years ago with an ungodly pounding of meteorites. That theory is certainly up for debate.

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Snow blankets Hawaii's Mauna Kea (PHOTO)

November 4, 2011 - 01:34 PM
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Mauna Kea: The defining peak of Hawaii's Big Island is a great place for many unique activities, from studying the habits of antifreeze-blooded Wekiu bugs to taking in star shows that will spin your brains like an electric egg beater. During these colder months it's also a prime place to make snow angels, thanks to wintry storms that coat the dormant volcano's bald head with white fluff.

The above scene was captured early on the morning of Nov. 2 by the webcam of the University of Hawaii's Hilo Physics and Astronomy Department (and posted by the great blog Pacific Island National Parks) It looks like much of the snow has since disappeared. While most of Hawaii's residents are basking in 70-degrees weather, up on the forlorn peak of Mauna Kea (elevation: nearly 14,000 feet above sea level) is a miniature north pole. As mentioned earlier, a little snow cap on the volcano is not an uncommon sight. A few adventurers even take to snowboarding its crumbling slopes.

Visitors who want to sample this tropical powder should be aware that nobody just cruises up to the top of Mauna Kea. There's typically an adjustment period to account for altitude sickness. Here's what the University of Hawaii has to say about the summit's dangers:

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A victory for snow lovers

November 4, 2011 - 05:45 AM
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We won! Well, I consider it a win as we beat some stiff competition and placed better than most would expect all thanks to Dulles International Airport and our unusually early Nor’easter.

While chatting about snow on twitter a few weeks ago, I placed a friendly bet with a fellow meteorologist in Minneapolis as to who’d get the first measureable snowfall in our respective metro areas. I won as Dulles (IAD) measured a whopping 0.6” of snow on October 29th. Upon further review, I was curious as to which other cities we beat to the first measureable snowfall. This includes cities that are much farther north and traditionally colder and snowier than the D.C. area. I’m a snow lover, so to me it’s a race, and the winner is the first to receive 0.1 inches or more of accumulation, so just for fun I sifted through the data, and my unscientific results were impressive.

In order to simplify the process, I only considered weather reporting stations near the same latitude (38.96N) or farther north of Dulles and stations that issue preliminary monthly climatological data or what the National Weather Service considers a CF6 form. This includes all major cities and many regional airports across the nation. For example, these sites in the D.C. area include Reagan National Airport, Dulles, BWI, Martinsburg, Charlottesville, Hagerstown and the MD Science Center at the Inner Harbor.

After going through a few hundred CF-6 forms, I found that only a handful of reporting sites farther north beat us, and they have a lot more working in their favor. Sixteen sites beat us to the punch and most only by a few days. Not to mention twelve are situated 3,500 ft or higher, or what I consider cheating! This includes Casper, WY (5,348 ft) and Colorado Springs, CO (6,201 ft) to name a few. Anyway, Dulles beat such cold-core cities as Bismarck, Fargo, Duluth, Minneapolis, Marquette, Bangor, Detroit, Missoula, and Buffalo just to name a few. If I were to use elevation and latitude as the benchmark for comparison, only three of the sixteen cities that beat Dulles had elevation similar to or within a few hundred feet of Dulles (290 ft). And they were all in New England, so they should get measureable snow before us in the D.C. area.

It’s important to note that measurable snow likely fell in between some of the weather stations I looked at, but I simply don’t have the time to research the records for every square inch of the U.S. Going through the simple CF6 forms took several hours as is. Also, we need to keep in mind that a few cities well to our south beat us. For example, Amarillo, TX (35.23N) got 3.1 inches on October 27th, however, Amarillo averages 17.8 inches per year compared to Dulles’ annual average of 22.0 inches. Amarillo gets more snow than most of us would assume.

Lastly, this has no bearing on whether or not we will have a snowy winter. It’s simply just a win for the underdog when it comes to beating others to the first taste of winter. Though keep in mind my perspective as I am a snow lover. I do understand that some would consider this a loss rather than a win. Here’s Doug Hill’s winter weather outlook.

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Obscenely nice weather will last in D.C. until next week

November 4, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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A tightly wound and powerful low-pressure system is moving eastward over the country this morning. Flying with it is a rowdy band of thunderstorms and showers. They're dropping rain grenades so fast that some cities could get 1 to 2 inches of precipitation, enough to staple a mopey face on the most hardcore of Friday-night fun-havers.

The good news? Those cities in the storm's iron sights are mostly in South Carolina.

Take a look at the QPF (Quantitative Precipitation Forecast) up until Monday, generated last night by NOAA's dampness-fixated Hydrometeorological Prediction Center. The system seems to lightly graze our area...

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New feature on our weather page (VIDEO)

November 3, 2011 - 02:30 PM
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Check out the video below to show you where to head to find our latest model futurecast. I think it is looking good for tonight's forecast, let us know what you think!

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Alien storms: What's the weather like on other planets? (VIDEO)

November 3, 2011 - 02:09 PM
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Be thankful for the planet you live on, I believe is the message of this intriguing exploration of space weather. (No, not that kind.) Our haboobs aren't bad: Martian haboobs are bad. They might begin as a dust devil and then split and migrate until the horizon is obliterated by swirling tornadoes of red sand. The equivalent, as the video notes, would be our entire planet getting covered by one massive dust storm. And then there's the angry Red Spot of Jupiter, which if sized down to our scale would cover one-third of the Atlantic Ocean. The storm force of this thing would literally blow away buildings, Bruckheimer style. Remind me again why we want to go there?

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