Category Archives: Information and Websites

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.

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.

US Hurricane Relief

No electrical power for light, air conditioning, refrigeration, and other daily needs. Fresh water is scarce. People are scrounging to find food and fuel. This is not the scene of some apocalyptic movie or a description of a developing country. This is happening in the United States, right now, in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. And there are still areas without power in Florida as well. Additionally, the recovery from flooding in the Houston area is continuing and it will take months or longer to fully rebuild the damaged areas.

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria have caused incredible devastation. Maria is actually still active and may threaten the US east coast this week. The death toll from these three storms is over 200, and countless others have lost their homes and have had their lives totally disrupted. These hurricanes have created health and humanitarian disasters right within our borders, and the people affected are in need of help.

Although many people need goods that were lost, at this point, money is most in need so that organizations in the areas can operate at full strength. Goods also cost money to ship, an issue that is even more difficult in Puerto Rico due to the Jones Act which requires American ships to deliver supplies.

What are some ways you can help? There are some well known international charities, but I’ve chosen 5 below that are ready to help right now and that you might not know about.

  1. ASPCA: aspca.org: Animals are often forgotten when natural disasters strike, but are often just as in need of assistance.
  2. United for Puerto Rico: unidosporpuertorico.com/en: This charity was recently established by the First Lady of Puerto Rico and already has many established sponsors working on the ground there to provide aid and support.
  3. US Virgin Islands Recovery: usvirecovery.org: Many people are unaware of, or have quickly forgotten, the damage done to the US Virgin Islands by Irma and Maria. This charity is focusing its efforts there.
  4. Direct Relief: directrelief.org: Direct Relief is a non-governmental, non-religious humanitarian aid organization with a mission to improve the health and lives of people affected by poverty or emergencies.
  5. GlobalGiving: https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/hurricane-maria-caribbean-relief-fund: GlobalGiving is a crowdfunding community which helps nonprofits all over the world access the tools, training, and support they need to be more effective and make our world a better place.

I hope you take the time and make the commitment to help fellow citizens in need.

Keeping Aware of Hurricanes

We’ve all witnessed the terrible devastation brought on by the flooding rains of Hurricane Harvey. As the remnants of Harvey are about to move off the eastern coast of the United States today, a new threat looms on the horizon with Hurricane Irma. Irma is a major hurricane with winds of 115 mph as of the morning of September 3, and for now, the forecast track pulls the storm towards a possible US landfall. It is too early to say, for now, if this will play out, but if it does there could again be a swath of destruction.

090317_5day_cone_no_line_and_wind

Courtesy of National Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/graphics_at1.shtml?cone#contents

While any impact from Irma is likely a week or more away, the National Weather Service has warned that the rest of this year’s hurricane season is likely to be an active one.

 

Hurricanes pose a grave threat to life and property. On average, these monster storms cause 60 injuries and 17 deaths in the United States per year, although with major storms these numbers can be much higher. At least 45 people have died as a result of Hurricane Harvey, and that number may yet increase.

What can you do to keep yourself and your family safe during hurricane season?

The first and possibly most important thing to do is to simply be aware of what is developing. There are many sources of information about what is going on in the tropics, and if there are storms that are currently posing a threat. Your local TV and radio stations can give you important information, but for larger-scale information, check out these sources:

The National Hurricane Center: www.nhc.noaa.gov: The mission of the National Hurricane Center is “To save lives, mitigate property loss, and improve economic efficiency by issuing the best watches, warnings, forecasts and analyses of hazardous tropical weather, and by increasing understanding of these hazards.” You can get reliable data about current storms, forecasts, and safety information from the NHC, and can also follow them on Twitter at @nhc_atlantic or on Facebook at @nwsnhc.

Weather Underground: A partner of The Weather Channel, Weather Underground (found at www.wunderground.com) has been in business since 1993 and presents a ton of information about weather including a page on current tropical systems: https://www.wunderground.com/hurricane. They can also be found on Twitter @wunderground, and on Facebook at @wunderground.

Tropical Tidbits: https://www.tropicaltidbits.com/storminfo: There are obviously many other sites you can go to for tropical storm information, but one I love is Tropical Tidbits, which is run by Levi Cowan, a graduate student at Florida State University. There is so much information available there, including computer model data. A great job by Mr. Cowan, and a great place to go for more information on storms.

As we are entering the height of hurricane season, how can you be ready when storms threaten? Tomorrow I will post information about storm preparedness.