Thursday, May 8, 2014

My Day at the White House


On April 23rd my news director, Marybeth Jacoby, received an email from NASA stating that the 3rd National Climate Assessment would be released on Tuesday, May 6th.  She forwarded the email with a note “How can we make this BIG?”  I started thinking about how I would approach it.

I received a call from the White House just after our 7 p.m. newscast on Thursday, May 2nd.  It was Keith Maley, Regional Communications Director, and he was inviting me to the White House for the release of the 3rd National Climate Assessment.  I was being invited because of my work in educating viewers about how climate change was already affecting their lives and how it would impact them in the future.  WLTX-TV partnered with the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University and Climate Central to develop a program called Climate Matters.

The segments began airing in August 2010 and were highly focused topics used within the weathercasts.  Typically these segments ran from 30 to 60 seconds not including anchor interaction.

I was delighted to be able to accept their invitation.  What an honor!  As you can imagine there was a lot a planning to do at the last minute.  There was a scramble to book flights and hotel for an event taking place on Tuesday, May 6th.  I also responded to Marybeth’s email “It doesn’t get much bigger than a presidential interview. Mission Accomplished!"

My producer, Sharranda Neal, and I flew out of Columbia, SC, Monday morning and arrived in Washington, D.C., mid-afternoon.  We hit the ground running trying to shoot stand-ups for the evening shows and the morning show the next day.  There were a host of technical issues we had to overcome, but we managed to get the job done.

We returned to the hotel quite tired and prepared for the next day that we knew would be hectic.  We were not disappointed.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

"Years of Living Dangerously"

Climate change is a complex topic and even some of the experts have a difficult time grasping all of the implications.  As the climate changes so does the society and world in which we live.  The most recent findings of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) point out what the science knows and the risks ahead.

Now a documentary series tries to bring the knowledge of climate change to the ordinary person.  It does this by telling the stories of people affected by climate change.  How does degrading the environment affect the world and the food you eat?  How does drought relate to climate change?  What are the risks involved in our future?

These are some of the questions addressed in a new Showtime series airing Sunday, April 13, 2014, at 10 p.m. called “Years of Living Dangerously”.  It is a nine-part series that will address a number of topics related to climate change.

The first episode is already available on the internet at the website .  If you do not get Showtime, you can watch it here.  Below is a discussion on the documentary and climate change from two of the participants in the program on a recent Face The Nation on CBS:

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Time to Plant

I have been advising gardeners to delay planting tender plants this year due to a weather pattern that has been in place since late October, 2013.  The pattern made it more likely for a late freeze.  Normally the last freeze would occur in the Midlands by late March.  Most would simply wait until Easter, but Easter is quite late this year.  The latest freeze was on March 27th and it was a hard freeze with a low of 28° F.  It was very close to freezing on March 31st with a low of 33° F, but there was frost that morning.

Another cold, dry air mass is making its way south and computer models have been suggesting that a frost or freeze might occur on Thursday, April 10th.  High pressure will settle over the area with clear skies, light winds, and dry air for Thursday morning.  The forecast for Columbia is for a low near 40° F that morning, but outlying areas may drop into the mid 30s.  This would be enough for a light frost in low-lying protected areas due to radiational cooling at night.

This will likely be the last chance of a frost or freeze.  If it does not happen then the previous dates will be the last freeze or frost.  The chance of a frost or freeze on April 10th was strong enough to advise gardeners to wait.  The seven-day forecast reveals that it will be time to plant this weekend.

The 7-day forecast made Wednesday, April 9, 2014 for Columbia, SC.  Click on the image for a larger view.  Image Credit: WLTX-TV.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Normal Winter?

The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) released its analysis of the past winter today and the assessment for South Carolina? Near normal. The statewide average turned out to be the 66th coldest and 65th wettest winter on record.  The ranking was based on 120 years of data.

The statewide rank of temperatures (top) and precipitation (bottom) based on 120 years of records (since 1895).  A rank of 1 for temperature would be the coldest while for precipitation it would be the driest.  Click on the image for a larger view. Image credit: NOAA/NCDC.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Coming in the Back Door

This winter has been a wild one for temperatures in South Carolina.  There have been big swings from hot to cold and back again.  Now that meteorological spring has begun (March 1st) the pattern continues.

A dramatic change to our weather is about to take place.  Cold arctic air is already in place across much of the central U.S.  Normally a cold front moving in from the west would bring the cold air to our state.  However, occasionally it comes in through the “back door”.

High pressure builds east and the cold air slides down the eastern seaboard faster than it can come in from the west.  It becomes trapped between the ocean to the east and the Appalachians to the west.  The cold front that surges south is known as a “back door” cold front.

Typically a wedge of cold air stays in place until something comes along to move the cold air out, which is a very difficult thing to do.  The result can be days of overcast skies and chilly northeast winds.

This time the back door cold front will be accompanied by a dramatic temperature drop.  When the front passes the temperatures will likely drop 20-25° F in an hour or two.  The front will be preceded by a band of rain which will begin the temperature drop.  Winds will shift from a westerly direction to a northerly direction as the front passes.  The winds will increase and there will be a wind chill to worry about in the late afternoon.

The RPM model forecast for 1:30 p.m. EST on Monday, March 3, 2014.  This is from the 21z run of the model using the 12 km grid.  Click on the image for a larger version.  Image Credit: WLTX-TV\WSI.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

For Entertainment Purposes Only

For almost a week there has been a persistent rumor that another snowstorm is on the way.  I traced this back to radio spreading the rumor that Farmers’ Almanac had predicted the past two snowstorms and was predicting a third.  I was frequently asked if there was another snowstorm on the way, for which I answered no.  The response was almost always “Well, Farmers’ Almanac is predicting another snowstorm and it predicted the last two.” What?

So I investigated this claim.  First let me point out that there is a Farmers’ Almanac (dating back to 1818) and an Old Farmer’s Almanac (dating back to 1792).  It was Old Farmer’s Almanac that was predicting snow.  Second the forecasts are so vague as to be of little value.  Neither ever forecasted sleet or freezing rain and thus the ice that was so devastating.

Yet there were a few that were adamant that Old Farmer’s Almanac got it right.  If that is the case, then why ever watch the media.  Let’s explore the claim.

I do not have the forecast breakdown for January, but I did get it for February.  For the period of February 7-14, the forecast is for “periods rain and snow, then sunny, cold”.  It was during this period that the snowstorm occurred (11-13).  But, wait!  The forecast is for the entire region from south Georgia to southeast Virginia.  It also includes the Piedmont as well as coastal areas.

Does this forecast apply equally to all locations?  Are we to apply this with rain in the south and snow in the north?  If so, where is the rain/snow line?  Where is there any mention of ice?  Where does it even say snowstorm?  Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines snowstorm as a disturbance of the atmosphere marked by a heavy amount of precipitation in the form of small white ice crystals.  In their forecast how much snow will fall?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Remembering #WinterMess 2

Little did we know that the winter storm at the end of January would be the prelude to a bigger storm two weeks later (February 11-13).  A complex storm system came through South Carolina in two waves.  The first occurred on Tuesday with snow over the northern Midlands and rain/sleet elsewhere.  This was followed by the main batch of precipitation on Wednesday ending Thursday morning.

Most of the snow occurred over the northern half of the Midlands.  It was mainly sleet with some snow in Columbia, but the precipitation became more snow farther north.  The northern most counties of the Midlands saw a considerable snowfall.

Total snowfall as of 7 a.m. Thursday, February 13, 2014.  This is based on observations from the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Columbia, SC.  Image Credit: WLTX-TV.

South of Columbia it will a sleet/freezing rain mix.  The farther south you went the more freezing rain occurred.  The southern Midlands saw the greatest accumulation of ice as shown on the map below.

Total ice accumulation as of 7 a.m. Thursday, February 13, 2014.  This is based on observations from the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Columbia, SC.  Image Credit: WLTX-TV.

The Midlands ended up on the dividing line between snow and ice.  The northern half saw a snowstorm while for the southern half saw an ice storm.  Travel became difficult if not impossible through some sections.  The worst of the storm occurred over the southern Midlands with the accumulation of ice.  An estimated 350,000 people lost power at the end of the storm.  Some were without power for over a week.  Schools remained closed for Wednesday through Friday with some of the northern counties closing schools on Tuesday.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The #BigMelt

There is finally some relief after a week of snow and ice followed by an earthquake.  It was quite cold this past week following the 12th coldest January on record for Columbia.  It was the 11th coldest for South Carolina as a whole in January.  The weather warmed after the first winter storm at the end of January.  Little did we know that it was a warm-up act for the next winter storm.

Most of the snow and ice melted as the sun returned on Friday and a warming trend began.  A cold shot of air on Saturday only slowed the melt, but the warming trend continued on Sunday.  This week will be noticeably warmer this week.  In fact, temperatures will be in the mid to upper 70s by Thursday.

The 7-day forecast for Columbia, SC, for February 18-24, 2014.  Click on the image for a larger view.  Image Credit: WLTX-TV.

Monday, February 10, 2014

#WinterMess the Sequel

And this time she means business!

The big picture described in yesterday’s blog post is still on track, but the details are a little different.  This is based on the latest computer model runs.  Basically, an upper-level system now in the southwestern part of the country will combine with a disturbance moving in from western Canada and will intensify over the Southeast.  This will induce a surface low to form first in the Gulf of Mexico and then off the Southeast coast.  High pressure over New England will push cold air into the Carolinas setting the stage for winter precipitation.  It will be a “big ol’ mess” when all comes together.

A Winter Weather Advisory has been issued for the northern midland counties of Saluda, Newberry, Fairfield, and Kershaw.  This will be for an accumulation of snow and sleet mainly Tuesday morning.  The following is an update from the previous post.

As mentioned yesterday the forecast is a difficult one based on the timing and various forms of winter precipitation that will occur.  The Midlands will see it all; rain, freezing rain, sleet, and snow.  It appears that the onset of precipitation will be late tonight as rain moves into the area.  The rain will likely change to snow during the early morning hours for the northern part of the Midlands (Saluda, Newberry, Fairfield, and Kershaw counties).  There could be enough accumulation to cause travel problems, so travel through the northern Midlands needs to be monitored.  The snow will change to rain and taper off during the afternoon.  This will be the first surge of moisture into the region.

A computer model view (RPM) of precipitation at 6 a.m. Tuesday.  This is from the 21z RPM model run.  The bluish areas are snow and could contain sleet.  The green areas are rain.  The pink is for a wintry mix.  Click on the image for a larger view.  Image Credit: WLTX-TV.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Another #WinterMess?

Just two weeks ago a winter storm moved through the region producing a combination of rain, freezing rain, sleet, and snow.  Many thought this was it for the winter, but Mother Nature had other ideas.  Look here for a rundown of WinterMess #1.

Incredulously another winter storm is headed through the Southeast.  This time it will be a little different from the previous storm (i.e., no two storms are identical).  A complex weather pattern will develop over the Southeast with an upper-level disturbance moving east and helping to develop a low pressure system off the Carolina coast.  A surge of cold air will be pushing into the Carolinas ahead of this which will turn the rain into a wintry mix.

The models are a little better in converging on a solution.  There is still considerable uncertainty due to the tight area that the worst will fall.  A difference of just 20 miles can make a huge difference in the forecast even at this time range (less than 48 hours).

This blog post is designed to give you a heads up on our thinking and the time frame that things will occur.  There is only moderate confidence in the details, but the overall picture has good confidence.  The scenario and forecast that follows was derived from the 09z, 12z, 15z, and 18z runs of the WSI RPM model along with the 12z runs of the WRF, GFS, ECMWF, and GEM models on Sunday, February 9, 2014.  Each model is slightly different, but the details were mainly from the RPM model.  This represents my best guess at this point.