After a start to a 2018 tornado season which has featured numerous tornadoes across the Deep South and even scattered tornadoes out West, but not a single tornado in Nebraska, Kansas or Oklahoma, it appears near certain the tornado drought for the Great Plains will come to an end early next week. Something which as been missing thus far…pattern favorable to severe for widespread severe thunderstorms across the Central and Southern Plains…will ramp up beginning Monday across the High Plains, shift eastward Tuesday with a peak higher-end risk for more widespread severe storms Wednesday. The jet stream, the river of air separating the cold Arctic from the warmer mid-latitudes will send a major trough of low pressure over the Western US, temporarily cooling that region down, warming up the Plains, bringing in greater moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and setting up the ingredients for multiple days of severe storms.
A brief review since it’s been forever since the Plains have had severe weather and there might finally be something in my neck of the woods. Severe weather is defined by the phenomena. In the US, the criteria, which weather warnings revolve around are 1) large hail of 1 inch or larger, 2) damaging wind gusts of 50 knots/58 mph or higher or 3) a tornado. Severe convection (thunderstorms) needs three major ingredients to maximize their potential. 1) Instability, 2) Moisture, 3) Wind Shear. Instability is positive buoyancy (tendency to rise). This is aided not only by heat, but also by moisture as moist air is less dense than dry air at the same temperature. Wind shear is the change in speed and direction of the wind with height. Winds which turn and increase in speed rapidly with height can promote storm rotation, allow them to form isolated cellular structures called supercells. These can be long-lived, self-maintained and produce the most intense severe weather.
Of the three days I’m most concerned about for severe weather this week, Wednesday appears to be the most serious for the Central/Southern Plains for significant severe weather. But let’s take a quick look at all three days.
Monday, April 30th-
The National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center has a Slight Risk of severe weather (2/5 on the scale) for much of the high plains from Texas through Kansas and then, extending farther eastward into Central/NE Nebraska into SE South Dakota. This covers a 15% chance of severe thunderstorms within 25 miles of a point. A more “Marginal Risk” exists surrounding it. This would be for the afternoon and evening hours as a weak disturbance moves out of the Rockies, increasing wind shear and temperature-based instability (upper-atmosphere cooling relative to warming near the surface…warm air rises into colder air) modestly for isolated severe weather. Large hail and damaging winds are the primary hazards, but moisture will be limited, keeping the event from being widespread.
Tuesday, May 1st-
Beyond Day 3, there are now categorical outlooks, only probabilities. A 15% chance of severe thunderstorms within 25 miles of a point exists over Eastern Nebraska, Western Iowa, much of northern and Central Kansas into Western Oklahoma. This will likely be a bit more vigorous event from Monday, with the Tuesday disturbance being stronger with better shear profiles, more low level moisture available, and the combination of abnormally warm temperatures and higher moisture will mean higher atmospheric instability for tall, intense thunderstorms with strong updrafts. The storms will likely begin as supercells across Nebraska and Kansas before merging in the evening into an organized structure known as a “mesoscale convective system”. Basically a larger scale complex which can bring locally heavy rain and extensive damaging wind gusts. The initial storms will form along a cold front and threaten damaging winds, large hail and an isolated tornado.
Wednesday, May 2nd-
Wednesday is currently the most serious day for severe weather, but some uncertainty still exists. A 30% chance of severe thunderstorms within 25 miles of a point exists from extreme SE Nebraska, across much of Kansas, into western and central Oklahoma. A greater 15% area extends beyond that, including my area of Lincoln, NE. Wednesday, the main upper-level trough of low pressure over the West (seen in the above map) begins to shift eastward and a surface mid-latitude cyclone sets up over the central and southern Plains. A dryline (boundary separating warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico to the east from dry desert air from the Southwest US) will be located north-south somewhere over central KS/OK with a warm front either over Southeast Nebraska or Northeast KS (this is in question). The ingredients overall suggest robust thunderstorms forming along the dryline and near the area of low pressure (at the the intersection of the dryline and warm front) either in the afternoon or early evening Wednesday which vigorous supercells capable of producing large hail, some significant, damaging winds and multiple tornadoes. A possibility exists for a few of the tornadoes to be strong (EF2+; see more about the Enhanced Fujita Scale) and because of the persistent upper-level dynamics and buoyancy, storms could last after dark, posing nocturnal hazards. Later, storms will eventually merge producing greater high wind and heavy rain threats. Isolated flash flooding could be an issue Wednesday night from any heavy rain events.
For me personally, the the greatest threat for severe weather Wednesday seems to be to my south, but given the lead time, I’m watching to see how the position of the warm front ends up. If it migrates northward in the forecast and my areas is more solidly in the “warm sector”, then we will be just under as much of a hazard as the current 30% area is now. However, I note from forecast experience that warm fronts in severe storm events are notoriously challenging to forecast for as even the day of the event as they can have difficulty moving as far northward as expected because of the cold air they must erode out ahead of them. Much can also depend on the storms the previous day and how they effect the overall regional environment (temperature profiles, areas of instability, position of fronts, etc). But Monday-Wednesday all have potential to be hazardous days with Wednesday being a more potentially significant tornado day after months of silence.
So stay tuned early next week. The weather will definitely be news yet again this Spring! Stay safe and be ready this week in these regions!
–Meteorologist Nick Humphrey
Friday Night, I’ll be interviewed on the internet live show Environmental Coffee House by host Sandy Schoelles. The show (started by a concerned non-scientist interested in the environment, science and technology) discusses a variety of environmental and climate issues. I’ll be brought on to talk about increasing extreme weather events, climate change and abrupt tipping points, and environmental destruction, including the 6th mass extinction. The show will be live streamed on Facebook and has thousands of followers. Give it a watch, it’ll be a serious discussion (maybe 30-40 mins), but should be fun.
Below are some articles which may relate to what we discuss in the interview. Almost all are VERY recent articles! (First three articles are technical peer-review papers, remainder are recent news articles for non-scientist consumption).
More science-y but still understandable for non-scientists. Presentation by Dr. Peter Carter on major threat to food production in the United States bread basket by extreme heat: YouTube Video (2017)
Not only is the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere on the rise, the rise itself has been getting faster — so CO2 concentration has been accelerating. A reader recently asked whether or not there’s any sign of its increase flattening out, or even stopping its acceleration.
Here’s the CO2 data from Mauna Loa:
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Explosive fires breaking out in Southern California right now. It’s usually the wet season by December but no rain in sight this week. Santa Ana winds instead are spreading violent wildfires which have destroyed dozens of structures and threatening thousands more. One person has died thus far. No relief expected this week as strong high pressure builds over the Western US (coinciding with the deep trough over the East).
Speaking of which, the weather has finally turned colder after very abnormally warm temps on the Plains. Traveling with my fiancé and son today to Minnesota from Nebraska to look for a new place to live. We are moving to St. Cloud January 1st so we can be closer to my family in nearby Minneapolis and I will start a second masters at St. Cloud State. Highs in Eastern Nebraska will be largely near normal today (near 40) before turning colder the rest of the work week. Central MN will see similar departures below normal…after much of the region had huge departures above normal (over 20 degrees in many cases) for days. A general pattern seen for much of the country in the month of November.
—Meteorologist Nick Humphrey
The World Series begins tonight in Los Angeles between the LA Dodgers and the Houston Astros. And it begins with record heat in Southern California. Today, in fact, downtown LA is setting a record high for the day and it is the warmest temperature on record for so late in the year. This was after a record high of 102 was set for downtown LA yesterday. So far it has reached 103 downtown and the official high may be higher before the day is done.
First pitch for the World Series is at 5 pm PDT this evening. While temperatures will decrease somewhat by that time, game time temperatures will be in record territory for a World Series Game (95-100 degrees F). The hottest World Series first pitch on record was from a game (cannot remember which) in 2001 in Phoenix when the NY Yankees played on the road against the Arizona Diamondbacks in a starting game temperature of 94 degrees.
In addition to heat, fire danger remains VERY high across Southern California as Santa Ana winds intensified today and will continue into tomorrow. RED FLAG WARNINGS are in effect for parts of SoCal. Gusts of 50-60 mph have caused problems for firefighters as they dealt with brush fires in Granada Hills this morning and Rancho Cucamonga this afternoon (LA Times).
Game 2 of the World Series (First Pitch at 5 pm PDT Wed) should be slightly “cooler”, but still quite hot…expecting temperatures to start the game in the mid-90s (92-97 degrees F). If you’re going to these games or doing any outdoor activity at all in Southern California…lots of water and be careful with anything that sparks or burns!
Enjoy the game! Go American League and go Astros!
–Meteorologist Nick Humphrey