September 2, 2009

Study: "Increase" in Atlantic storms due to better detection

Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say their analysis of more than a century of Atlantic hurricane data suggests that an apparent increase in the number of storms since the late 19th and early 20th century is the result of better observations and better analysis of the storms as weather science and technology have improved.

The improvements have led to the detection of more short-lived tropical systems that were missed in earlier years, the researchers concluded in a paper published in the American Meteorological Tropical Storm ChantalSociety's Journal of Climate.

Storms lasting barely a day or two that would have gone unnoticed in past decades are now being picked up by satellites and other data collections systems, and better analytical tools are defining more of them as true tropical systems.

Some examples they cite include Andrea, Chantal (forming south of Nova Scotia in the image at left), Jerry and Melissa, in 2007, and last year's Arthur and Nana.  

Although the data do reveal "substantial multi-decadal variability" in the number of tropical storms, the long-term numbers are stable. "The study provides strong evidence that there has been no systematic change in the number of north Atlantic tropical cyclones during the 20th century," said Dr. Brian Soden, a professor at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School for Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.

The study's authors conclude that their findings are consistent with several recent global warming simulations. They note that while their work found no real increase in Atlantic storm counts, it did not address the argument by some researchers that global warming is increasing the intensity, if not the number of these storms, as well as the number that reach "major" hurricane status each year.

Here's more on the study.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:29 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Research

March 17, 2009

"Optimism bias" could kill you

Sun Photo/Karl Merton Ferron, La Plata 2002The National Weather Service is turning to social science research to figure out why people don't take their severe weather warnings seriously enough, fast enough.

A recent review on the forecast performance and public response during a severe tornado outbreak last year found that the weather warnings were issued in plenty of time for people to take shelter - 17 minutes on average. And there had been days of weather broadcasts about the potential for deadly storms before they finally materialized.

But 57 people died anyway, and 350 were injured. Property damage in the outbreak on Feb. 5-6, 2008 came to $400 million.

It was the second-deadliest rash of tornadoes on record in the U.S. A total of 82 twisters swept through nine Southern states. (The photo at right is from the 2002 tornado in La Plata, Md.)

In reviewing the aftermath, the NWS found that two-thirds of the people who died were in mobile homes, and 60 percent did not have access to a basement or a storm shelter. Some of the survivors interviewed said they discounted the danger because they didn't consider February to be part of the traditional "tornado season." Others said they spent time trying to confirm the tornado warning, and sought shelter only after they saw the funnel cloud coming.

Many others, the report said, minimized the danger they were in due to what sociologists call "optimism bias" - the tendency to be over-optimistic about the outcome of one's plans. Or, put another way, it's the belief that bad things only happen to "other people." That reminds me of the comment reporters often hear from survivors of violent crime or violent weather - "You read about these things happening to other people, but you never think it will happen to you."

Well, it can, and it does.

The post-storm assessment team recommended that the NWS improve the wording and "call-to-action" statements in their warnings to "more effectively convey the urgency and danger of the message. The agency will also continue using social science research ... to further understand people's interpretation of and response to severe weather situations and to improve public response..."

Perhaps that led to the language in the memorable warning issued last September when Hurricane Ike was approaching Galveston, Texas, with a predicted 20-foot storm surge:

"Persons not heeding evacuation orders in singe-family, one- or two-story homes will face certain death," it said.

Continue reading ""Optimism bias" could kill you " »

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:22 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Research

July 12, 2007

64 F today at Resolute

Devon Island

We weren't the only ones enjoying a gorgeous day today. Researchers with the Mars Institute's Houghton-Mars Project up on Devon Island, in the Canadian Arctic, were arriving for a summer of fun science under conditions chosen because they mimic those astronauts will find on Mars.  Except that the high temperature there today was an unexpectedly mild 64 degrees.

Here are the temperatures that NASA's Mars rover Spirit has encountered. Here is the weather report for nearby Resolute.

And here is a link to the Web site for the expedition. You can watch Web cams (the pictures look like those sent back by NASA's Mars rovers, except that the sky is blue, not pink), and follow the researchers' blog. They're even operating a greenhouse up there. Mars explorers will do better if they can raise some of their own food on the long adventure, and a little greenhouse warming would be a good thing on Mars.

Victoria crater, Mars - photo by rover Opportunity

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:35 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Research

August 3, 2006

How to cool a "heat island"

Most of the time, we ignore the temperatures recorded in downtown Baltimore. The National Weather Services decided back in 1950 that the thermometer readings they were getting from the instruments on the roof of the Customs House were unreliable, and not representative of the surrounding region. Rooftops are notoriously hot, and the brick and stone buildings, concrete sidewalks, asphalt roofs and streets, smokestacks and air conditioning exhaust all make cities hotter than their surrounding suburbs and countryside, especially at night.

So, in 1950, the weather service moved Baltimore's station of record out of the city, and established Friendship Airport - now BWI Marshall - as the spot where official "Baltimore" weather data has ever since been gathered.

In April 1998, the weather service decided that the roof of the Customs House was not even a good place to record urban temperatures. So, they built a new station beside the Maryland Science Center, and discontinued data collecting at the Customs House after nearly a century of continuous record-keeping.

Unfortunately, it wasn't an ideal choice. The spot is often sheltered from the wind by the Science Center itself. And, because the site isn't a priority station for the weather service, breakdowns aren't fixed quickly, and large data gaps crop up. The station does not report wind, visibility, and sky condition. Only temperature, dew point, precipitation and barometric pressure are reported. Temperatures there are usually warmer than at BWI, reflecting a continuing heat island effect. We've seen it again this week, with Inner Harbor highs breaking 100 degrees on Tuesday and Wednesday, while BWI highs lagged by a degree or two. But I digress.

Climate scientists have done quite a bit of research on the impact of urban development on the micro-climate of a big city. For example, they've established that cities affect the weather. The extra heat rising from a city creates updrafts and convection that lift warm, moist air high into the atmosphere. There, it cools, the moisture condenses out as rain, and regions downwind of the city actually get increased rainfall.

This heat island effect also increases the misery and cooling costs of city residents, and that has prompted research into how the effect might be dampened by planting roof gardens, resurfacing rooftops in white instead of black, and simply planting more trees in our cities.

All of this brings me to a point where I can provide a link to an interesting discussion of some recent NASA-funded research into the issue. Here's the link. Be sure to follow the blue links at the bottom of each page. There's lots to read here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:55 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Research

May 19, 2006

Edmund Fitzgerald wreck weather re-analyzed

Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have re-analyzed the terrible weather that doomed the Great Lakes ore carrier Edmund Fitzgerald on Nov. 10-11, 1975. The ship's sinking was memorialized in Gordon Lightfoot's 1976 ballad "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."

Combining all the data available from the period of the ship's sinking with modern computer modeling, the researchers have produced the most detailed and reliable estimates to date of the conditions that beset the ship and its crew of 29 that night on Lake Superior. The results, published this month in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, are terrifying.

The 729-foot ship, which was churning south toward the shelter of Whitefish Bay, appears to have encountered winds up to 69 mph, and gusts to hurricane force. Worse, the wind probably produced 25-foot waves - rare for the lake - running west to east, directly broadside to the ship. The conditions persisted for up to six hours. Earlier than that, or later, and the ship likely would have survived the night, the researchers suggest.

For the full report, click here, then click on "Print Version."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:16 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Research

March 8, 2006

Antarctic ice mass shrinking

Two recent reports from NASA-funded scientists agree that, based on satellite data, the water ice locked up in Antarctica is shrinking as the global climate warms, contributing to the rise of sea levels around the world.

But one of the studies found that while glaciers at the edges of Greenland are also melting, the snow pack at the center is growing as snowfall increases - both effects predicted by global warming theory. On balance, then, the water locked up in Greenland's ice and snow gained slightly during the study period, but the net change for both ends of the planet combined, shows a net loss.

The scientists say glacial melt accounts for only a tiny fraction of the rise in sea levels. Most is due to the expansion of the oceans as the waters warm. And even that doesn't explain it all. Where the rest of the added water is coming from remains a scientific mystery.

Here is a news release on the first study, published last week. And here is the release on the second, just out.  Gentle readers, inflate your water wings.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:50 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Research

March 22, 2005

A 900-foot blimp for weather forecasting?

Scientists and engineers at Purdue University are developing an unmanned, helium-filled aircraft that would hover for a year above 65,000 feet to do survellance work and weather forecasting. The huge craft - four times the length of the Goodyear blimp - would run on solar power and fuel cells. (Purdue's prototype is just 19 feet long.)

Higher than airplanes, lower than satellites and more durable than weather balloons, such devices might provide meteorologists with data they can't get today. But can they hold their positions amid the harsh conditions and winds at such high altitudes? Here's the story.

Posted by Admin at 1:40 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Research

October 26, 2004

Can high tides trigger earthquakes?

Scientists at the University of California have found a link between high tides and earthquakes along certain types of faults. It looks like the added stress of high water can push an already-stressed fault over the edge. Read about it here.

Posted by Admin at 12:31 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Research

October 7, 2004

Drought in the West linked to climate warming?

Folks in much of the American West are suffering through their 5th year of drought. It may get worse. Scientists led by Columbia University's Earth Institute say the Western states may be particularly prone to drought during periods of warming climate.

Using tree ring data and other indicators of ancient climate change, the researchers studied cycles of aridity in the western U.S. over the past 1,200 years. They found a 400-year period of dry weather and extended drought in the West from AD 900 to 1300. That corresponded with the "Medieval Warm Period" which saw unusual warmth in much of the Northern Hemisphere. Their conclusion, to be published in the journal Science: "Any trend towards warmer temperatures in the future could lead to a serious long-term increase in aridity over Western North America."

Co-author David Meko, of the University of Arizona, said the lengthening drought in the West today "pales in comparison with some of the earlier droughts we see from the tree-ring record. What would really put a stress on society is decade-long drought." And that possibility becomes a potential reality in a world increasingly affected by greenhouse warming, the study said.

Maybe this is why Ted Turner has become Nebraska's largest landowner. Those vast tracts provide grazing for Turner's buffalo. But they also stand atop one of the world's richest deposits of groundwater - the Ogallala aquifer. Smart.

Posted by Admin at 4:39 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Research
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About Frank Roylance
This site is the Maryland Weather archive. The current Maryland Weather blog can be found here.
Frank Roylance is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He came to Baltimore from New Bedford, Mass. in 1980 to join the old Evening Sun. He moved to the morning Sun when the papers merged in 1992, and has spent most of his time since covering science, including astronomy and the weather. One of The Baltimore Sun's first online Web logs, the Weather Blog debuted in October 2004. In June 2006 Frank also began writing comments on local weather and stargazing for The Baltimore Sun's print Weather Page. Frank also answers readers’ weather queries for the newspaper and the blog. Frank Roylance retired in October 2011. Maryland Weather is now being updated by members of The Baltimore Sun staff

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