Monday, February 28, 2011

Perfect timing ... severe weather threat

The first full-fledged severe weather threat of 2011 is possible this afternoon and evening in the Charlotte region, and fittingly enough, it comes on Severe Weather Awareness Week in the Carolinas.

Emergency management officials in both states will be calling attention this week to the safety procedures needed during severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. There could get some real-time drills later today, as a strong cold front advances.

South Carolina plans to hold a test tornado warning at 9 a.m. Tuesday. In North Carolina, the drill will be at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Those drills are a rite of spring in schools, where students and staff review what to do during a severe storm.

North Carolina had 26 tornadoes last year, and there were 25 in South Carolina.

An interesting fact ... there were nearly 900 severe thunderstorm events in North Carolina last year, and only Kansas, Texas and Nebraska -- three states in the Midwest/Southwest tornado alley -- had more.

Fortunately, there were no deaths last year in the Carolinas, but more than a dozen people were injured.

In the Charlotte area, there were tornadoes in Gaston and Rowan counties in March; Lancaster and Lincoln counties in July; Burke County in September; and Catawba, Iredell, Lincoln and Rutherford counties in October.

Stay tuned today. We'll keep you updated on weather developments.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Ice on Oscars' red carpet?

Wearing a strapless gown on the red carpet at Sunday night's Oscar Awards ceremony in Los Angeles could be a test of endurance for the actresses brave enough to try it.

An unusually cold air mass is filtering southward this weekend across California and then turning eastward into Nevada and Arizona.

A low pressure system ushered in the cold air, causing snow to fall at some very low elevations in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas. There was a threat of snow in downtown San Francisco early Saturday, but only a few wet flakes of the white stuff were reported in the city.

In Los Angeles, snow levels Saturday are expected to drop to 1,500 feet, and possibly even lower during the heavier snow showers. In fact, snow could fall in the area of that big "Hollywood" sign that we've all seen on TV and the movies.

Temperatures on Sunday evening in Los Angeles could be in the upper 30s, which is well below average for this time of year.

This outbreak of cold air will be more than just a curiosity piece, I'm afraid.

A freeze warning is in effect for the central valleys of California, with temperatures expected to tumble into the upper 20s in places like Sacramento, Fresno and Stockton. Agriculture officials out there fear the freeze could be damaging to budding trees, such as apricots, almonds, peaches and plums.

A hard freeze could send produce prices (which already have soared in recent weeks because of cold weather and skyrocketing gas prices) even higher.

Believe it or not, snow is not unknown in San Francisco and in southern California.

Snow has been reported several times in downtown San Francisco, but the most recent occurrence was 35 years ago. The record is 3.7 inches, which fell on Feb. 5, 1877.

And 3 inches fell in Los Angeles on Jan. 19 and 20, 1949.

Farther east, the storm system is expected to bring showers to Phoenix, which could mean trouble for the NASCAR Spring Cup race scheduled there Sunday. By the way, an inch of snow also is possible late tonight or Sunday in Tucson.

That storm is expected to move into Colorado and then into the Midwest later Sunday and into Monday.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Surprise! Joe Bastardi's gone

Just like that ... Joe Bastardi checked out of Accu-Weather.

The first word that Bastardi had left the Pennsylvania-based private meteorological company came about 4:30 p.m. Monday, in the form of announcements from Accu-Weather on various weather bulletin boards and the company's Facebook page.

Bastardi is one of those bigger-than-weather figures, like Jim Cantore at the Weather Channel, or even Steve Lyons, formerly of the Weather Channel.

Bastardi was chief long-range meteorologist at Accu-Weather, and he isn't afraid of controversy. Some might say he thrives on it. He's also seemingly never lacking in self-confidence.

His act doesn't play well with some meteorologists and weather weenies. But others enjoy it. And still others -- myself included -- might not like his style all the time but appreciate his effort to delve into a part of meteorology, long-range forecasting, that is avoided by most scientists. And he delves into it with passion.

Bastardi angers some with his belief that humanity's role in climate change might be superseded by that of natural changes in weather patterns.

That, of course, is politically loaded territory, putting Bastardi at odds with the Al Gore crowd and somewhat in the camp of the Rush Limbaugh conservatives.

Let's face it ... he's a lightning rod (I was waiting to use that one ... sorry).

But now he's gone, after 32 years at Accu-Weather, and it'll be interesting to see what happens next for the company and for Bastardi.

Accu-Weather has said several times since Monday that Bastardi was not fired.

The official statement, through spokesman Justin Roberti: "We wish him the best in his next endeavor, whatever form that might take."

And in answering comments on the Facebook page, Accu-Weather said Bastardi's beliefs about climate change had nothing to do with his departure. One person, posting a note on the website of the newspaper in State College, Pa., where Accu-Weather is based, said he works at the company and said Bastardi just wanted a change.

For Accu-Weather, its Pro website could take a hit. The company charges $24.95 a month or $249.95 a year for subscribers to get advanced-level weather information, and Bastardi's videos and columns were a big hit on that website.

Paul Pastelok has been named to replace Bastardi as chief long-range forecaster, and he wasted little time in making his presence known. Accu-Weather's website,, has a story Thursday from Pastelok, about weather for the coming month.

There was a ruffle -- although less intense -- when Lyons left his position as chief hurricane specialist at the Weather Channel last year and rejoined the National Weather Service at its office in San Angelo, Texas (interestingly, far inland).

Lyons, who became chief meteorologist at the office, said he wanted to return to his roots -- serving the public and forecasting weather.

Sometimes people need a change of scenery and want to try something different.

It'll be interesting to see where Joe Bastardi pops up next.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Is winter on the ropes?

Is it time to stick a fork in winter?

Well, it's never a good idea to declare winter finished, but let's just say it's time to open the silverware drawer.

After 10 weeks of temperatures that were well below average and several rounds of snow and ice, the weather pattern has changed dramatically in the last week. And there doesn't seem to be any sign of a return to the conditions we experienced earlier this winter.

Based on what I've seen and heard from a number of meteorologists, it appears as if any prolonged outbreaks of cold weather and snow will be relegated to areas north of the Carolinas. The consensus seems to be that the Great Lakes, Upper Midwest and Northeast will have a few more rounds with winter, but the area south of a line running roughly from Washington to central Kentucky to southern Missouri is in the clear.

Among the most bullish on this idea is Accu-Weather's Joe Bastardi, who said in an article on his company's website that "The back of winter is broken" in the Southeast. Dave Tolleris, another meteorologist who does some long-range forecasting, agrees.

The Climate Prediction Center, operated by NOAA, is less certain. For the next 6 to 10 days, it predicts warm weather for the Carolinas. In the 8-14 day period, the forecast is less-clear. The discussion is rather technical, but here's a link, if you're interested:

In the 30-day forecast, the Climate Prediction Center notes that the big unknown is the Atlantic Oscillation (AO). When it was negative, in December and January, the jet stream delivered cold wave after cold wave to the eastern United States. Now the AO is neutral. Will it stay that way in March? Forecasters aren't sure.

Here's a link to the 30-day forecast:

Every one of these long-range forecasters adds a warning ... there's still a chance of a brief outbreak of winter. That means for a day or two, or even three, we might have chilly weather.

In the foreseeable future, there is nothing but mild weather in sight. For the next 6 to 10 days, temperatures are expected to be at or above average. That would take us into the first week of March, and at that point, the Carolinas climate favors springtime.

Heavy snow has fallen in mid and late March, but it has a shelf life of a day or two. The high angle of the sun and the presence of warmth nearby usually melts the snow in a hurry.

And let's not forget the Easter Sunday a few years ago when Charlotte's temperature dropped into the lower 20s one morning -- in early April. That can happen again.

However, the big dip in the jet stream that brought arctic air funneling into the Southeast has relaxed. The pattern has become more zonal -- west to east.

If you are sick of this winter (and many people have written me to say that), you might be in luck.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What happens when the island melts?

My boyhood home was within walking distance of Lake Erie, and I spent many hours fishing in that lake.

But in my nearly three decades living up there, I never went ice fishing. I never saw the attraction, to be honest. It's cold enough in northeastern Ohio, just going from buildings to your car. Why sit out there on a frozen block of ice and shiver, just to catch the same fish you can catch in July?

Not everyone share my feelings, though, and thousands of people go ice fishing annually on the Great Lakes. Of the five, Lake Erie is the most popular, because it's the shallowest of the Great Lakes and, therefore, tends to freeze quicker and more completely.

Another reason why I didn't go ice fishing is because I don't like to swim in 33-degree water, and that's a threat on Lake Erie, when strong winds break the ice into floes and trap fishermen.

This is the time of year when it tends to happen. By late January or early February, the ice buildup has reached its peak.

Take a look at this link to the National Weather Service website in Cleveland. At the top of the page, you'll see a link to a series of satellite photos of Lake Erie, showing how the ice coverage increased in January.

It's been plenty cold in that part of the world this winter, with temperatures in Cleveland, Buffalo, Detroit and London, Ontario, averaging about 4 degrees below average from Dec. 1 until early February. The result: the lake was nearly frozen over earlier this month.

Warmer temperatures and gusty winds this week will threaten to break the ice, sending floes moving out into the lake, and forcing authorities to rescue fishermen.

The most-publicized case happened Feb. 7, 2009, near Toledo. Winds blowing 35 mph from the southwest caused a huge chunk of ice -- more than 2 miles wide -- to break loose and begin floating toward deeper water. The U.S. Coast Guard and local sheriff's offices used air boats and helicopters to rescue more than 130 people.

"I was told the lake was frozen all the way across," said one 51-year-old angler who was plucked from the floating ice.

Stories at the time told of one fisherman who fell into the water and died. As it turned out, that man, 65-year-old Leslie Love of central Ohio, actually died of a heart attack and never fell into the water.

But it was a massive -- and costly -- rescue.

"We get people out here who don't know how to read the ice," Ottawa County (Ohio) Sheriff Bob Bratton told the Associated Press. "What happened here today was idiotic."

The whole episode was costly to some of those who were rescued, too. They went onto the ice with their ATV's, but in some cases, they left in a Coast Guard helicopter. Their ATV's floated out into the lake and eventually went to the bottom when the ice melted in the spring.

Nope. Not me. If I want perch or walleye, I'll get it at the restaurant.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

This is nice. How long will it last?

The sun is shining, and temperatures are climbing into the upper 50s and 60s for the next several days.

After the cold and snow of December, January and early February, this is a nice change. Do you expect it to last? I mean, is winter over?

Anyone who's lived in the Carolinas for at least one winter knows the answer to that last question. March is an incredibly unpredictable month around here, equally capable of producing 80-degree days or heavy snow.

The good thing about heavy snow in March is that it doesn't last long. With a relatively high angle of the sun and milder temperatures ready to move in, warming trends usually follow any frozen precipitation at that time of year.

Anyway, I doubt that you'd find a meteorologist willing to predict that winter has ended in the Carolinas.

But we're at least getting a 10-day break.

The jet stream is switching to more of a zonal flow, in which air masses will move generally west to east, with none of that dropping-from-the-Yukon stuff. When we have a zonal flow in winter, our temperatures are mild.

Highs on Saturday should reach the middle 50s, and then the lower 60s Sunday. Monday should be quite mild, with highs possibly hitting the upper 60s. We'll fall back a bit Tuesday, after a dry cold front passes through. But after a couple days in the upper 50s, we'll return to the 60s by Thursday.

The mild weather should continue through next weekend.

After that, it gets a bit hazy.

The Climate Prediction Center, operated by NOAA, seems to think it'll stay warm for the next two weeks. You can check out the Center's various products at (check out the 8-14 day temperature forecast).

The two major commercial weather services differ a bit. The Weather Channel's ( 10-day forecast shows mild weather through Feb. 21 (a week from Monday). Accu-Weather ( predicts a return to chilly conditions Feb. 21 and 22, with a high of only 48 degrees for Charlotte on the 22nd.

But let's enjoy the coming week. This seems like a good time to get out in the yard and clean up the mess that winter left.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

How about some springtime?

OK, the massive snowstorm has moved away, and we're recovering from the onslaught of flurries that fell in the predawn hours Thursday.

Yes, you're right -- it was what is known in meteorological circles as a busted forecast. The prediction was for an inch of snow, and it didn't develop. Temperatures were a bit above freezing, and the amount of precipitation was small. Only a little snow fell, and most of it melted.

Since I wrote there might be an inch of snow, you can blame me. Guilty.

Now let's move on. How about some springtime weather?

We'll have to wait about 48 hours, but much nicer conditions are coming. And we could be looking at an extended period of milder weather.

High temperatures today will only reach the mid 40s, and it'll drop to near 20 degrees early Friday morning. Those readings are well below the average high and low at this time of year -- 55 and 33. Under sunny skies Friday, highs will reach the low 50s.

Then it really gets nice.

The large trough -- a dip in the jet stream -- that has governed our weather since early December is relaxing. Computer models indicate the new pattern will last at least two weeks, which takes us near the end of February.

Instead of arctic air surging southward, our pattern will be what meteorologists call "zonal." That means systems largely will be moving west to east. Our weather is a lot milder when that happens.

By Sunday, highs are forecast to reach the mid 50s. And then we'll have highs in the low to mid 60s for much of next week, if the forecast holds.

I would discourage anyone from thinking it's time to stick a fork in winter. As we all know, March is a very unpredictable month. It usually produces some warm weather, with a few days in the 70s and sometimes even the 80s. But March also has brought some of our heaviest snowfalls.

The Climate Prediction Center is forecasting average temperatures for the next 30 to 45 days, for what that's worth.

After what we've had in December, January and early February, average sounds just fine.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Snow in forecast again, but not much

It's been nearly a month since our last encounter with significant winter weather, but snow is back in the forecast this week.

At this point, meteorologists say, the snowfall likely will be on the light side.

This will be a week of rapid changes, none of them too drastic.

Today's weather will move quickly from sunshine to clouds, and a few hours of rain will cross the region later this afternoon and this evening. Temperatures today will be near average for this time of year, with highs probably in the lower 50s.

The system responsible for this evening's rain will move off to the east quickly Tuesday, leaving partial clearing, breezy conditions, and temperatures a few degrees cooler -- in the upper 40s for highs.

By Wednesday, a low pressure system is forecast to cross Texas and enter the Gulf of Mexico. Incidentally, that system will spread a couple more inches of snow in the Dallas area, where heavy snow fell last week in advance of the Super Bowl.

In the Charlotte region, look for clouds to increase and thicken Wednesday, with chilly highs only in the lower 40s.

Then snow is forecast to arrive Thursday morning. As of now -- about 60 to 72 hours in advance -- the snow is expected to begin sometime before daybreak in the Charlotte area. Robert Bruce, of the National Weather Service office in Greer, S.C., said the low pressure system won't bring much precipitation into the region. He said snowfall totals of 1 inch are likely in the Charlotte region.

A 1-inch snowfall won't cause huge problems in the area, but if it arrives shortly before the morning commute, there could be trouble. Snow and rain should end by late in the afternoon, with clearing skies predicted for late Thursday.

Temperatures will remain cold through Friday, but a gradual warming trend will begin next weekend.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Some sleet possible for us ... but Texas!!!

6:45 p.m. Thursday update ... The National Weather Service has issued a Freezing Rain Advisory for the row of counties north of Mecklenburg. Basically, it means light ice accumulations are possible early Friday in all Charlotte-area counties except Mecklenburg, Gaston, Lincoln, Cabarrus, Stanly, Union, Anson, Montgomery and Richmond in North Carolina; and all S.C. counties.

Areas in the advisory might get enough ice accumulation to cause slippery conditions on bridges and overpasses. Forecasters don't expect enough ice to cause power outages, though.

In the area not covered by the advisory -- that is, the immediate Charlotte area -- some sleet is forecast early Friday morning, but meteorologists don't expect the temperature to fall below freezing. Hence, no road problems are expected.

City of Charlotte road crews didn't take any chances. They spread a brine solution on city streets Thursday afternoon.

We'll keep an eye on things later tonight and early Friday.

Earlier post ...

A low pressure system will spread a very chilly rain into the Charlotte region later tonight, and there's a chance of sleet falling with the rain for several hours Friday morning.

Meteorologists don't think temperatures will fall much below freezing in Charlotte, so they don't anticipate problems on area roads in the morning. We'll keep an eye on that this evening and let you know if the forecast changes.

But what's happening today and tonight in southern Texas is more amazing.

The same low pressure system bringing us rain into Saturday morning is expected to drop accumulating snow on some places that rarely see it.

How about 2 to 3 inches in Houston? Or an inch (and maybe more) in San Antonio and Austin?

Better yet, how about an inch of snow and some sleet in Brownsville, on the U.S.-Mexico border. And accumulating snow is expected south of the border, at sea level in Mexico.

Temperatures haven't risen above freezing since early this week across much of the Lone Star State. In fact, morning lows were below zero today in El Paso and across the Rio Grande in Ciudad Juarez. The thousands of people gathered in Dallas for Sunday's Super Bowl haven't seen temperatures above the 20s for several days.

Winter storm warnings for accumulating snow and sleet are posted Thursday evening and night from the Mexican-U.S. border, across southern Texas and southern Louisiana into Mississippi and Alabama.

It's a situation you don't see more than once every 20 or 30 years, meteorologists say.

Temperatures in Texas are expected to rebound into the 50s and 60s by the weekend, but another blast of cold air is coming next week.

And next week's arctic outbreak could affect the Carolinas -- unlike this week, when we escaped the worst of it.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Why is the big storm missing us?

"If it's snowing in Dallas, and it's going to be far below freezing there, why isn't it coming to the Carolinas?"

I've gotten a version of that question several times over the past 24 hours, and it's understandable that people might wonder how the big storm moving across the country will miss us.

First of all, it won't miss us.

A steady and fairly heavy rain will move into the Charlotte area sometime this evening, and it probably will be accompanied by some thunder in the overnight hours. Temperatures, which will remain in the upper 30s and low 40s much of the day, will climb into the upper 40s and lower 50s late tonight and early Wednesday.

And winds will increase later tonight. Even on Wednesday, when the sun breaks out by midday, we could be experiencing wind gusts of 40 mph. Those gusts will be part of the circulation around the strong low pressure system.

So we will get some impact from the storm.

But why not the frozen part?

(To those of you who follow weather closely, allow me to get un-scientific for a moment.)

Imagine the jet stream as a letter "U." For much of the past two months, the left side of the "U" has stretched from the upper Midwest down across Tennessee and Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. The right side of the "U" came up the East Coast. Here in the Carolinas, we were stuck inside the "U," near the bottom of it.

That "U" was the track that carried arctic air into the eastern United States. Occasionally, storm systems followed all or part of that track. They would cross Florida and then go up the East Coast.

But the jet stream has changed, at least temporarily. Now the really cold air is coming down across Colorado and New Mexico, into Texas. And the right side of the jet stream juts northeast, at something resembling a 45-degree angle. It crosses Arkansas, Kentucky, West Virginia, northern Maryland, and the New Jersey-Delaware area.

The center of the current strong storm system is following that track.

Areas several hundred miles north of the center are getting very heavy snow. Areas on the north side, but closer to the center, are getting sleet and freezing rain.

And places south of the center are escaping this time. That includes much of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, most of Tennessee, the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida. We're sitting this one out. Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes are possible from Louisiana to Alabama today, but wintry precipitation will not be a factor.

However, anyone planning to travel into the storm area from Charlotte can forget about it. Cities in that zone include Dallas, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, St. Louis, Kansas City, Chicago, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Columbus, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York and Boston. Washington will have a close call with icing problems.

Conditions will be at their worst today from Dallas to St. Louis and Kansas City; Wednesday from Chicago to Pittsburgh; and Thursday on the East Coast.