Autumn Outloook

The season of Fall begins very soon. September 23 is the start of Autumn and with the change of season, usually comes a change in weather. Climatologically speaking, September, October and November are considered the Fall months. What kind of weather can we expect this Fall?

As you can see from the images below, courtesy of the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center, many areas are expecting a warm Fall, with above normal precipitation expected for much of the mid-Atlantic and southeastern US.

Given that September has already started fairly warm and dry in the northeast, with some tropical rains in the southeast, it appears that these predictions look good for now. But these types of outlooks can change, so keep in tune with your local forecasts for the latest weather predictions.

Winter Forecast

With the holidays now behind us, we now have the rest of winter to look forward to. The question is often asked – how bad of a winter will we have? I personally like colder weather and snow except when I am stuck in it on the roads, so to me, a snowy winter is not a “bad” winter.

The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center released their latest forecast for the months of January, February and March recently. As you can see in the graphic below, most of the eastern part of the US is forecast to have even chances of being above or below normal in terms of temperature, so generally, I would expect fairly normal temperatures with some occasional swings. In terms of precipitation,  the graphic shows an expectation of above normal precipitation throughout the southeast and Mid-Atlantic states up to New Jersey. It is possible that we could see a few periods of colder weather and precipitation, resulting in snowfall, but so far this winter, warm weather has usually accompanied any wet weather we’ve seen.

JFM19JFM19 Precip

Stay tuned! If any significant winter weather is on the horizon, I’ll be sure to keep you informed.

The November 15 Snow Debacle

Central New Jersey receives, on average, approximately 30 inches of snow each winter. While all winter storms are dangerous, and every few years we are hit by a crippling blizzard, for the most part, New Jersey handles its winter weather well. Yet, on November 15, 2018, central and northern New Jersey and the New York City area received anywhere from 2-8 inches of snow and sleet, and it brought the entire region to its knees. Why? Surprisingly, I believe the blame should be assigned to – everyone. And I believe everyone has a role to play in ensuring it doesn’t happen again.

I have a degree in meteorology from Rutgers University. While I am not employed as a weather forecaster, I do produce an online daily 5-day weather forecast for central New Jersey each morning. As such, I am often asked about upcoming storms, and I do my best to give a forecast based on the current information I have. This storm was tricky. Earlier in the week, I suggested that there could be wintry conditions on Thursday but didn’t think it would be a major problem. But as the week went on and the forecast began to take shape, it did appear as though a more significant wintry event was likely. By Wednesday, at least to me, it became clear that we would begin to have snowfall by noon on Thursday, and that it would change to sleet and then rain by nighttime. Every forecast I watched or read suggested something similar. They all differed on exact intensity of snow, and most including my own, suggested 1-3” as the likely range.

This remained the case until the morning of the storm. When I did my forecast, my initial snow range that morning was 2-5” as the level of intensity had clearly increased, and the cold air was firmly in place. As I often do in winter storms, I checked the National Weather Service forecast before posting my own, just to make sure I wasn’t wildly off-base. When I saw that most of central New Jersey was still in a 1-2” range of snow according to them, with more sleet, I reviewed the weather model data to see if I had missed something. The only thing I could see was that the 500-850 millibar thickness, which is a measure of the warm air in the middle atmosphere, suggested that a significant amount of warm air would be present at those middle levels, which gave me pause. Would there be more sleet than snow? I didn’t think so. The depth of cold air at the surface seemed strong. But since the snow was falling during the afternoon (which tends to keep snow totals down), and the National Weather Service had a lower total, and because I figured that paved surfaces would all be well treated with salt and chemicals, I lowered my forecast to 2-3” of snow, with periods of sleet.

New Jersey officials including Governor Murphy, have largely blamed the disastrous conditions on weather forecasters. They have said that the forecasts were bad, and as such, they could not have been adequately prepared. This is nonsense. Even if our state only received 2 inches of snow and a layer of sleet and ice on top as the lower forecast suggested – if this fell on untreated surfaces, it would still create the nightmare we saw on Thursday. Any frozen precipitation that falls on untreated surfaces turn those surfaces dangerously slippery. Of course, since many areas received so much more snow and sleet than the lower forecast, the problems were compounded. The fact is: no storm can be taken lightly in the winter. There was no excuse for the New Jersey Department of Transportation to be as unprepared as they were. Roads were not treated, plows were not ready.

Once the snow began falling, it fell heavy. By 2:00 or 3:00 pm, when so many offices and schools were closing, roads were becoming impassible. At that point, better communication of the growing disaster was needed. This is my only criticism of police and local officials. As I sat in my car for five hours, I desperately searched for information from local police on Twitter, Facebook and local websites. There was so little useful and current information, that I gave up. Now, to be clear, officers were certainly out on the roads, working their hardest, and putting their own safety at risk, helping clear the hundreds of traffic accidents that turned our highways into parking lots. I have no criticism of those hardworking officers. But I feel like our towns – either police, or other emergency officials – need to do a better job of communicating with the public about road conditions, road closures, and other facts using social media and their websites, in real time. I felt abandoned by those I expect to help keep me safe, as I sat there alone in my car in the dark.

And finally, everyone has their own roles to play in these events. First, keep up to date on weather forecasts. Don’t glance at your phone two days before a storm and expect that you know the latest information – weather is complex and dynamic. It changes from day to day, hour to hour. Be informed and then act accordingly. This might mean staying home when a storm is forecast. But, most importantly, it means driving carefully in wintry conditions. Obviously, if the roads are untreated, as they were in this case, then even driving on an inch or two of snow and sleet is extremely dangerous. Most people would not have expected the untreated surfaces, and were not as cautious as they should have been. Lives can be saved if we all are more careful.

Ultimately, what happened on November 15 is highly unlikely to happen again soon. But we can all ensure such a nightmare is avoided by taking precautions, being informed, making better decisions, and never taking any winter storm lightly.

Weather and Your Mind

Do rainy days depress you? Does excessive heat make you angry? Do humid conditions make you feel lazy and lethargic?

Several studies and articles over the years have looked into the connections between weather and mental symptoms and states. The data, not surprisingly, shows that although there is not a definitive, rock-solid link between weather and mood there are some clear patterns that emerge.

One research paper (Baylis P, Obradovich N, Kryvasheyeu Y, Chen H, Coviello L, Moro E, et al. (2018) Weather impacts expressed sentiment. PLoS ONE 13(4): e0195750. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0195750)  published earlier this year studied the effects of inclement weather on people’s posts in social media, namely Twitter and Facebook, between 2009-2016. While the authors point out that this type of data does have limitations, including the fact that social media can distort who the subjects are and the ways they express emotions, the data from this research does indicate a lowering of overall mood during periods of cloud cover, extreme heat or cold, precipitation, and high humidity.

Other recent articles have investigated similar ideas. An interesting article on the website PsychCentral, written by John Grohol, Psy.D. (https://psychcentral.com/blog/weather-can-change-your-mood/) commented on a recent blog post that reviewed some research showing a small impact on mood from weather. Dr. Grohol cited quite a bit of contrary research, showing that weather actually does have significant affects on mood including studies which show the largest impacts on emotion come from sunshine, temperature and humidity. In fact, quite a few studies seem to show negative impacts from high heat and humidity, including an increase in lethargy, aggression and violence.

Another, more light-hearted example of weather-mood research was a study done in France from 2013 (Taylor & Francis. “Feeling flirty? Wait for the sun to shine.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 January 2013. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130128081950.htm) which studies the effects of sunshine on flirting. A 20-year old male chronicled the success or failure he had of getting the phone numbers of young women he met on sunny days versus cloudy days and found more success (22%) on sunny days vs. cloudy ones (14%).

And yet another interesting article (http://theconversation.com/here-comes-the-sun-how-the-weather-affects-our-mood-19183) cites quite a few studies and reports showing all kinds of effects on mood and behavior from weather, including higher tipping on sunny days, greater contemplation and study on cloudy days, and increased verbal aggression in the heat.

Clearly, there seems to be something to the idea that people think, react and behave differently depending on the weather they experience. Obviously, those who have recently experienced a weather catastrophe are going to be affected by that situation.  And some people have a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) where they literally go into depression during periods of low sunlight. While more research is needed, there is no reason to believe that people are not mentally affected by weather.

What can you do about this? I’ll take a look at some tips in an upcoming post.

Florence’s Floods

Hurricane Florence is nearing the coast of North Carolina, and should make landfall overnight. While Florence is far from the strongest storm we’ve seen in recent years, it nonetheless will bring many of the same risks that hurricanes bring – a massive storm surge along coastal areas, and strong winds over 100 mph are possible even inland. But the main threat from Florence will be catastrophic flooding.

Almost all of North Carolina will see at least 5 inches of rain from this storm. But, the eastern half of the state will most likely receive more than 10 inches, with many areas, particularly along the coast, seeing between 15 and 30 inches of rain! This is due to the expected slow nature of the movement of the storm, once it nears the coastline. The circulation is expected to meander southwest for a couple of days, before turning north.

Preparations for the storm should be finalized today, and anyone in flood-prone areas should be evacuating.

Florence and the Tropical Machine

The tropical Atlantic has moved into high gear this September with two current active hurricanes, and one tropical storm. The main story is Hurricane Florence, however, with a landfall in North Carolina late Thursday now looking likely. The track following landfall is still quite uncertain, with a good chance that the storm could linger over the Carolinas or Virginia for at least a day or two. This could bring catastrophic flooding to that area, along with whatever damage could come with wind and coastal storm surge.

Hurricane Lane, and Interesting Images

Hurricane in Hawaii

Hurricane Lane, while not making landfall directly on Hawaii, has certainly made a huge impact on the state with extraordinarily heavy rains and catastrophic flooding. Some areas of the island of Hawaii have received nearly 40 inches of rain, and mudslides have occurred in a number of locations. Tropical storm force winds have also affected several islands.

Although the storm’s effects have been significant, as can be seen in this story from weather.com, because the hurricane weakened as it approached Hawaii, the state was spared greater devastation and loss of life.

What’s in our air?

NASA’s Earth Observatory released pictures yesterday depicting some of what we are breathing in every day. From carbon in smoke from fires, to sea salt to dust and sand, there are many elements to our air than just air. It is a fascinating look at the different elements that arise, both naturally and unnaturally from events on the land and sea that influence the air we breathe and have impacts on health.

View the pictures at https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/92654/just-another-day-on-aerosol-earth.

Humid Pattern Continues

If you live in the Eastern half of the United States, you have certainly noticed by now that this summer has been conspicuously damp. A persistently humid pattern has stayed stubbornly rooted over the region, particularly along the coastal states. The meteorological culprit has been the presence of a blocked pattern in the atmosphere – high pressure out over the Western Atlantic Ocean ( a so-called Bermuda high, given it’s location) and low pressure over the Midwest – has caused a consistent flow of air from the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean over the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and New England.

As a result of this pattern, the kind of summertime weather conditions usually seen over the Southeast have prevailed over most of the Eastern US. The map below, courtesy of Intellicast (http://www.intellicast.com/National/Precipitation/Weekly.aspx), depicts the amount of rainfall received in just the past week, and shows the kind of “marbling” often seen in just the Southeast, where it is common for pop-up thunderstorms to develop and move slowly. This has happened more commonly this summer and over a larger area.

usa precip 85812

Many areas in the Eastern US have already received 30+ inches of rain for the year (https://www.agweb.com/weather/cumulative-rainfall/).

The persistently high humidity levels can have significant and dangerous effects on people. High levels of moisture in the air make it significantly harder for your body to relieve heat. Because your body has to work harder to sweat, high humidity levels cause tiredness and can lead to dehydration, muscle cramps, heat exhaustion and eventually, heatstroke. Take care in these conditions by spending as much time as possible indoors inside air conditioned rooms.

This pattern generally looks like it will last for at least another 10 days or more, but should begin to subside as we get closer to the end of August.

 

 

 

Connection Between Rainfall and Pain?

“I think rain is on the way… my back is acting up today..” Do you know anyone who has said this? Maybe you think your joints are more accurate that your nightly newscast at telling you tomorrow’s weather?

A five-year study published recently in the British Medical Journal looked into a belief that is taken as fact by many people. Can you tell whether rain is on the way by the amount of pain you are feeling? Many people swear that they can tell when the weather is changing by an increase in joint pain in their body. This study looked at senior citizens in the US over a 5-year period to find an association between rainy weather and pain conditions such as arthritis, disc problems and other similar conditions and could not find a correlation. In fact, the study showed a slight inverse correlation – there were slightly fewer incidents of pain-related doctor visits on rainy days, as opposed to dry days.

The study did include days leading up to, and after, rainfall, to take into consideration the changes in barometric pressure that precede and follow a storm. It took as a “rainy day” any day with at least one-tenth of an inch of rain. The researchers looked for correlations between these days, and outpatient visits for pain-related conditions.

This surprising result does not rule out definitively a link between weather and pain. It is possible that people who live with chronic pain do not necessarily visit a doctor or seek out clinical care simply because their symptoms have increased for a day or two. What’s more, if a person knows that their back or their knee tends to flare up when it rains, they will probably just wait until after the rain ends to see if the pain goes away. If it does, that would confirm their self-diagnosis that “rain equals pain” and they would not seek any further treatment. Additionally, since rainy days tend to depress moods, and pain can be affected by mood, it is entirely possible that there is an undetectable mood-based element to people’s pain for which this study cannot account.

Further study is certainly needed. But at the very least, the assumption that bad weather leads to pain should be looked at with a grain of skepticism.

Changing Seasons and Health

Maybe you love the return of the flowers and leaves in spring. Or maybe you enjoy the changing colors of the trees in autumn. Some people love all the outdoor activities they can do in the summer, while others prefer skiing and skating in winter. Whatever reason you have for your favorite season, people usually do prefer one over the others. What causes the seasons? And what are the effects of the seasons on health? Are there healthier seasons? Does the season of one’s birth affect their later health?

The Earth is tilted as it revolves around the sun. As a result, there are times when the Northern Hemisphere faces the sun more directly, and other times when the Southern Hemisphere is more directly in line with the sun. These differences cause the seasons, and are the reason why July is the hottest month in most of the Northern Hemisphere (when it faces the sun), but is the middle of winter south of the equator (pointed away from the sun).

seasons

On my Facebook page, I recently conducted a very unscientific survey of the seasonal preferences of friends and family. While the results were fairly mixed, overall there was a preference for autumn. However, recent larger surveys of Americans tend to affirm that the temperate seasons of fall and spring are favored, with a YouGov survey in 2013 showing fall as the favorite of more people, and a Gallup survey in 2015 showing spring as the favorite of the most people. Could the month of one’s birth have an impact on seasonal preference? While most report that their preferred season has the weather they enjoy most, this can differ from region to region. If you are from Florida, you might prefer winter, because a Florida winter is more temperate and most like spring or fall in the rest of the country.

Some scientific research shows that the season in which one is born might make a person more likely to be prone to mental illness. A study conducted at Vanderbilt University in 2010 demonstrated the so-called “imprinting effect”, at least in mice, in which the daylight one is exposed to during the early months of life has a lasting impact on the brain. This may help explain the greater levels of schizophrenia, depression and seasonal affective disorder in those born in winter. Conversely, babies born in May through June seem to be somewhat healthier overall.

Illness tends to rise during the autumn and winter months. In many cases, this is due to children returning to school and sharing germs with each other in close quarters, and then bringing those viruses back to home to families, who are spending more time indoors during the colder months. The drier indoor air during this time also makes people more susceptible to cold viruses. Flu tends to peak in winter as well for the same reasons. Regardless of the season, doctors insist that the best way to stay free of viruses is through regular hand washing, a good regimen of diet and exercise, and getting enough restorative sleep every night (usually 7-8 hours for most people).

And perhaps the sun itself plays a role in seasonal preference and health. Many people are deficient in vitamin D. The deficiency can cause a number of health problems, including muscle pain and fatigue, and may even play a role in multiple sclerosis and cancer. The easiest and most common way to increase vitamin D in the blood is through sun exposure. The body converts sunlight to vitamin D, which is then used for healthy muscle and bone. The active spring and summer months expose people to sunlight making these deficiencies decrease in summer and fall.

Whatever your favorite season might be, enjoy it!

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