Friday, May 31, 2013

Hurricane season begins Saturday

What is expected to be a busy hurricane season begins Saturday, and some of the computer models indicate we won't have to wait long for a system to develop.

The official season for the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico is from June 1 through Nov. 30, although most of the activity usually is sandwiched between Aug. 15 and Oct. 15.

However, if you believe some runs of the Global and European models, tropical weather is possible next week already.

The models hint at development of a tropical system in the southern Gulf of Mexico. Such a system would drift northward, according to the models.

Dan Kottlowski, senior meteorologist at Accu-Weather, says the period around June 7 and 8 could be most likely for a system to develop. Either way, there will be disturbed weather in the southern Gulf of Mexico next week, and that will bear watching.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Season's first hurricane makes some news

If Barbara is an example of what we'll get from the 2013 hurricane season, this will be an interesting summer and autumn.

Barbara was an Eastern Pacific Ocean storm that made landfall Wednesday on the southwest coast of Mexico as a minimal hurricane. Its top sustained winds increased to the hurricane threshold, 75 mph, shortly before it reached land.

The storm has dumped extremely heavy rain across southwest Mexico and parts of Central America, and that could cause life-threatening floods over the next few days.

But Barbara made news in two other ways.

First, it was the second-earliest named storm ever in the Eastern Pacific, beaten out only by Tropical Storm Bud, which formed on May 21 last year.

Of more interest to those of us in the Southeast is what happened to Barbara after it reached land. The storm quickly weakened to a tropical storm, and then to a tropical depression. But its center of circulation remained intact across Mexico and into the Gulf of Mexico.

Don't worry -- there's no chance of this system regaining strength and pushing to the northeast, threatening the Gulf Coast of the United States.

Chris Landsea, of the National Hurricane Center, says the circulation of Barbara was barely recognizable Thursday morning. Its trip across southwest Mexico had pretty much destroyed the storm's circulation, and forecasters don't expect Barbara to move very far into the Gulf before curving back toward the Mexican coast again.

In short, it will be a southern Mexican and Central American storm. But it's always a bit unsettling when the hurricane season starts this early.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Suddenly, we're dry ... but don't worry

After weeks of what seemed like nothing but cloudy, dreary conditions, we've suddenly broken into summer.

Temperatures are climbing into the middle and upper 80s every afternoon, and more of the same is predicted through Sunday.  The chances of rain, at least through Saturday, are nearly zero.

I've actually heard a few people in the last day or two mention the lack of rain. The concern was that we might be getting too dry at the beginning of the summer season.

There's no guarantee that we won't have to endure a dry summer, but the forecast doesn't point toward a drought.  And we won't be entering summer with a rainfall deficit.

For the year, precipitation at Charlotte Douglas International Airport is 2.14 inches above average.

For the month of May, we're a bit above average. With no rain expected Thursday or Friday, we'll finish the month with a small (0.18 of an inch) deficit. But that's deceiving. On May 19, only 0.02 of an inch fell at the airport. Elsewhere in the county, totals of 2 to 3 inches were common in Matthews, Mint Hill and some areas near Lake Norman.

So for many people, May has been a wet month.

That comes on the heels of an April that produced about 1.5 inches more than average of rain.

The Climate Prediction Center's forecast for the next two weeks is for a good chance of above-average precipitation in the Charlotte region. For the summer, government meteorologists give our area an even chance of above-average, average, or below-average rainfall.

So we've done well on rainfall so far this year, and forecasts indicate that trend will continue into the first 10 days of June.  That's a lot better than some other years.

Friday, May 24, 2013

On best beaches, hurricanes, and Memorial Day in Fairbanks

A little on various topics, heading into the Memorial Day weekend ... 

If you're reading this blog, you're probably a weather follower, and you also probably heard the forecast Thursday from the National Hurricane Center about the coming season in the Atlantic basin and the Gulf of Mexico.

There were no surprises.  Government meteorologists see the same data that their counterparts in private business see.  Surface water temperatures in the tropical Atlantic are warmer than usual, and there's no El Nino in the eastern Pacific to send a disruptive west-to-east wind across the southern United States.

So the Hurricane Center's forecast is for above-average activity this year.

The forecast always concerns me, because we can have a busy season of hurricanes without a single storm making landfall in the United States.  Meanwhile, a relatively quiet season can become memorable if a couple of stronger hurricanes hit the mainland.

But I've read a couple of forecasts that tie this season to 2004, and that's worrisome. That was the year where a seemingly endless string of hurricanes smashed into Florida and then curved inland across Georgia and the western Carolinas.

The Hurricane Center also released the list of names to be used for storms in 2013. It starts with Andrea, and is followed by Barry and Chantal, and then on through the alphabet.  I noticed the ominous name of Jerry lurking in the list.

Emergency responders in Charlotte who were here in the late 1970s might remember a Tropical Storm Jerry that dumped record rainfall on the city, causing devastating floods.

Hurricane Sandy Money for N.C.:  Officials in the state announced last week that North Carolina is getting another $17.3 million from the federal government to fix parks and refuges damaged last year by Hurricane Sandy.

Best Beaches?  The Weather Channel's annual reader poll on the best beaches around the country has been released.  The winner for the Southeast is Myrtle Beach.  I'm not knocking the choice, because I enjoy the attractions that Myrtle Beach has to offer.  And I'm sure it's No. 1 with many readers across the nation.

But I wonder what would happen if a poll were taken among Carolinas residents?  My preference is Sunset Beach, and I'll bet many of you have a No. 1 pick that isn't in Horry County.

The other No. 1 choices from around the country were Sanibel Island, Fla. (Gulf Coast); Ocean City, Md. (Mid-Atlantic); Hampton Beach, N.H. (New England); Sleeping Bear Dunes, Mich. (Great Lakes); and Laguna Beach, Calif. (West Coast).

You can read the survey results here.

Memorial Day in Alaska.  I was wondering earlier today about Memorial Day weather in Alaska.  We make a lot about this being the first holiday weekend of the summer season, and I was curious if it really felt like summer in the land of the midnight sun.

The forecast in Fairbanks for Monday is sunny with highs in the middle 70s. That's close to as warm as we'll be.

Have a great holiday weekend.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Hurricane Sandy survey ... some sobering results

Consumer Reports recently released results of a survey that delivers some sobering reality about the impact of hurricanes on peoples' lives.

Through its research center, Consumer Reports conducted in mid-March what it calls "one of the largest-ever reader surveys on a natural disaster." The organization asked its online members in three states -- New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut -- for responses to a number of questions about the effects of Hurricane Sandy last fall.

Sandy caused more than $50 billion damage and 139 deaths. It changed the appearance along parts of the Mid-Atlantic coast forever.

Consumer Reports says it received nearly 8,400 responses, and some of the findings are worth considering if you own property or live in a hurricane- or flood-prone area:

-- Nearly half of all insurance claims for $40,000 or more were still pending in March, according to respondents. That is more than 4 1/2 months after the storm battered the East Coast.

-- More than half the homeowners who responded said their property was damaged, and 10 percent said they experienced major damage.

-- Of those reporting major damage, about 20 percent said their homes were still uninhabitable in March.

-- Nearly 30 percent of homeowners who reported flood damage said they had no flood insurance.

With forecasts for above-average hurricane activity this year in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, a couple things are clear:

-- Buying flood insurance is probably a good idea.  Remember that flooding can take place well inland from the coast. Storm surge flooding is obviously the biggest threat, but there have been countless cases of severe flooding from tropical systems after they moved inland.

-- Consider options, when it comes to telephones.  A large number of those who responded to the Consumer Reports survey said they lost cell phone service for an extended period after the hurricane. Consumer Reports suggests having both cell and land-line phone service -- or going to the trouble of having cell phone service with more than one carrier.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Snow in Texas? In May? Welcome to Spring, 2013

By just about anyone's definition, this has been a lousy spring in the Charlotte region.

We've had a seemingly endless series of cloudy days, afternoon temperatures have been below average most of the time, and it's been wet.

At 3 p.m. Thursday, on the first day of the Wells Fargo Championship, at a time of year when we're usually enjoying sunshine and temperatures near 80 degrees, it was 60 degrees and raw in Charlotte.

For lack of a more scientific word, Thursday's weather was garbage.

But it could have been worse -- and, in fact, it was a lot worse to our west.

A May snowstorm, which is a full-fledged meteorological rarity, roared across the Midwest and even affected parts of the Southwest. Some snow was reported in Amarillo, Texas. Omaha got about 4 inches of snow -- its most ever in May.  A number of cities recorded snow for the first time in May.

And it's not through.  Cold air funneling southward around the low pressure system will bring chilly temperatures into parts of the South over the next few days.  Justin Roberti of Accu-Weather wrote Thursday afternoon that a few snowflakes could fall this weekend in the southern Appalachians.

We won't see snow here in Charlotte, but we also probably won't see anything warmer than the 60s until the early part of next week.

This pattern was set in place in late February, when a Greenland block became established -- high pressure over Greenland that stopped the typical west-to-east flow of systems across the United States. Instead, we got a steady dose of cold air pushed to the southeast out of Canada and Alaska.

In recent weeks, the persistent pattern has been cool high pressure over New England. That situation frequently has created cold air wedges in the Charlotte region, producing cloudy, chilly, damp days.

Meteorologists warned residents north of the Ohio River that late April and early May would not be fun. But that nasty weather pushed into parts of the South at times, too.

The only good thing is we've managed to avoid major outbreaks of severe weather this spring.

WCNC meteorologist Brad Panovich noted the other day that the busiest tornado month so far in 2013 was January -- in the heart of winter. The typically stormy months of March and April have been anything but.