PM Update: Some storms this evening, much cooler, windy Friday; updates on Moore, Okla.
10:30 p.m. update: An area of thunderstorms with very heavy rain is moving through much of the immediate metro area. A quick 0.5-1 inch of rain is possible, with locally higher amounts before the storms shift east and taper between 11:30 p.m. and midnight.
Radar & lightning: Latest regional radar shows movement of precipitation and lightning strikes over past two hours. Refresh page to update. Click here or on image to enlarge. Or see radar bigger on our Weather Wall.
From 4:30 p.m.: The same cold front that produced the violent weather in Oklahoma moves into our region this evening. No destructive storms here, but a few gusty ones with downpours are likely. It turns markedly cooler Friday and windy, with below normal temperatures.
Through Tonight: There's a slightly better than even chance of showers and thunderstorms (wherever you happen to be this evening). A few could be borderline severe, with strong winds and small hail. Storms decrease after sunset, but some tamer showers linger. Cooler air starts to work in towards morning with lows in the upper 50s most spots to low 60s downtown.
Tomorrow (Friday): Variably cloudy and, oddly, I'll describe the prelude to the Memorial Day weekend as blustery. Winds from the northwest at 15-25 mph, gusting over 30 mph at times usher in unseasonably chilly air, with highs only in the mid-to-upper 60s. A shower or two can't be ruled out in the afternoon (30 percent chance).
Update to Saturday forecast: The European model is no longer suggesting as gloomy a day as it was yesterday. It's come around more to the idea of other models of at least partial sunshine (especially by afternoon), though a bit breezy and cool, with highs near 70.
Pollen: Grass and tree counts are both HIGH.
Moore, Oklahoma tornado updates: I've come across a few interesting items today:
1) The National Weather Service office in Norman, Okla, which issued outlooks and warnings for Moore, prepared a briefing exhibiting how well the event was forecast: Briefing link
2) Mike Smith, a senior vice president at AccuWeather, posted a fascinating analysis on his blog: More Than 200 Lives Likely Saved By Moore Warnings
3) Google maps imagery shows the stunning extent of the devastation from the EF-twister around Moore. Follow this link: Moore, Oklahoma Tornado by Google Crisis Response
It's unanimous: NOAA calls for very active hurricane season, joining other forecasters
Prior to today's release of NOAA's hurricane outlook today, at least 8 independent groups had called for an active to extremely active Atlantic hurricane season. NOAA joined the chorus today, becoming the 9th group to forecast a busy year for hurricanes.
Its outlook calls for 13-20 named storms, 7-11 of which will become hurricanes, and 3-6 major hurricanes (category 3 or higher). (The 1981-2010 30-year averages are 12.1 named storms, 6.4 hurricanes, and 2.7 major hurricanes.)
"There are no mitigating factors that would suppress the activity," said Gerry Bell, lead outlook forecaster. "El Nino is not expected to develop this year. All factors point to an active or very active hurricane season."
Hurricane season spans June 1 to November 30. Factors in favor of a busy season include above average Atlantic and Caribbean ocean temperatures, lower than average pressures and wind shear, and a present multi-decadal pattern of elevated hurricane activity that commenced in 1995 (and expected to last 25-40 years) according to acting NOAA administrator Kathryn Sullivan, who unveiled the outlook.
NOAA's main climate models also predict an active season, Sullivan said.
Overall, NOAA's outlook calls for a 70 percent chance of an above-normal season, a 25 percent chance of a near-normal season, and just a 5 percent chance of a below-normal activity.
Will storms hit land?
Although some private forecast companies try to pinpoint sections of the coastline that might be susceptible to hurricane strikes weeks to months in advance, Sullivan said NOAA doesn't make landfall forecasts.
"It cannot be done," she said.
The U.S. hasn't experienced landfall from a major hurricane since Wilma on October 24, 2005 -- that longest major hurricane drought on record. Bell explained low pressure at high altitudes near the East Coast had kept storms offshore the last several years and reinforced Sullivan's point that preseason landfall forecasts are not reliable.
However, in its online materials, NOAA notes: " the historical likelihood for multiple U.S. hurricane strikes, and for multiple hurricane strikes in the region around the Caribbean Sea, increases sharply for very active (or hyperactive) seasons."
Improvement in forecasts expected
As part of the outlook release, NOAA's Sullivan described upgrades to NOAA's prediction technologies that should improve forecasts once storms start to form. These includes upgrades to its supercomputers running hurricane models, and enhanced data.
Specifically, data from a doppler radar aboard Hurricane Hunter aircraft will feed into forecast models for the first time.
"Injection of aircraft of data into real-time models may improve forecasts by 10-15 percent," Sullivan said.
Louis Uccellini, director of the National Weather Service, noted this data should make notable improvements in intensity forecasts, which historically have been less accurate than track forecasts.
A message of preparedness
Irrespective of how many storms form, it just takes one to have major consequences on life and property -- officials stress this point every year.
NOAA's Sullivan emphasized the importance of storm readiness for families, communities, and businesses, as did officials from FEMA.
"Preparedness today can make a big difference down the line, so update your family emergency plan and make sure your emergency kit is stocked," said Joe Nimmich, FEMA associate administrator for Response and Recovery.
Here are the forecasts for hurricane activity from other groups
Colorado State: 18 named storms, 9 hurricanes, 4 major hurricanes
WeatherBell (Joe Bastardi): 16 named storms, 12 hurricanes, 5 major hurricanes
NC State: 13-17 named storms, 7-10 hurricanes, 3-6 major hurricanes
TropicalStormRisk.com: 15 named storms, 7.5 hurricanes, 3.4 major hurricanes
AccuWeather: 16 named storms, 8 hurricanes, 4 major hurricanes
Penn State: 16 named storms (range 12-20)
Institute of Meteorology, Cuba: 17 named storms, 9 hurricanes
UK Met Office: 14 named storms (range 10-18), 9 hurricanes
Capital Weather Gang 2013 summer outlook: Less stifling than last 3 summers
This has been one of the nicest springs I can remember. Lots of crisp, sunny days and beautiful weekends. We will likely finish the March -- May period with near normal temperatures, and it turns out normal in spring here can be quite nice. Those who detest the quick jump from winter to summer have been rewarded this year.
While our periods of heat have been quite hot, they have been infrequent and brief. But summer can only be delayed for so long. Last summer, we were lulled into complacency in early June with beautiful spring-like weather before a significant late June heat sneak attack, commencing our third consecutive brutally hot summer.
This year the trend ends. We expect this summer to be quite pleasant in the scheme of things. All summers in D.C. have periods of uncomfortable heat and humidity. That is unavoidable. But given that context, we should mostly avoid the incredible heat that plagued the last 3 summers. We favor lots of days in the 86 -- 93 range with heat waves short-lived. Thus, we anticipate our coolest summer since 2009, and a 50-50 chance at our 2nd coolest since 2005.
The task of doing a summer outlook is no easy one.
First, with few exceptions, summer in the D.C. area is mainly hot. Do we really care if it's 88 and humid or 93 and humid?
Also, the weather varies less during the summer than it does the the rest of the year (especially compared to winter), with the vast majority of summer months finishing within a few degrees of normal. So, it follows that when putting together a summer outlook we're less likely to see the signals for extreme warmth or cold (relative to average) that we sometimes see in advance of winter. As such, our outlook is of low-medium confidence.
This kind of seasonal forecasting is experimental and large errors are possible. Nevertheless, we'll do our best to convey what we expect for summer 2013 based on factors we've analyzed
We expect that this summer will finish with temperatures closer to normal. Given that the last 3 summers averaged over 3 degrees above normal, normal will feel quite reasonable.
This Spring has been a tad dry here. We expect this trend to end and allow us to have a wet summer in contrast to last year's quite dry one.
August: 1 to 2 degrees above average
Overall: Average to 1 degree above average
Number of 90-degree days for June/July/August: 25-30 (Normal is 31)
Number of 100-degree days: 0
Longest Streak of 90+: 6-8 days
Somewhat above normal (125% of normal)
The main methodology for creating the outlook was the use of analog years. Analog years are past years in which conditions leading up to summer most closely resemble conditions leading up to summer 2013. Analog years are far from a perfect predictor due to the complexities of weather, as no two years are exactly alike. However, they can be of considerable value in giving us a general idea of what to expect.
The following factors were given the most consideration in preparing the outlook. It should be noted that any one factor does not necessarily correlate with a particular kind of summer (e.g., warm, cool, dry or wet).
El Ni o/La Ni a
We are currently experiencing the neutral phase of this equatorial Pacific weather pattern. While this past winter was also technically neutral, it leaned much closer to a La Nina episode, when ocean temperatures are cooler than normal, than an El Nino, when they are warmer. It has been 3 years since we experienced official El Nino conditions. We expect neutral conditions to persist throughout the summer and perhaps beyond that as we head toward next winter.
This Spring has been quite unlike last year's record warm one, as the vestiges of winter hung around throughout much of March. While we were somewhat warmer in April thanks to a brief and anomalous heat wave early in the month, this was not true for much of the U.S. Very cold air masses continued to penetrate the northern Plains and spill into the heart of the country. The core of the cold has moved into Dixie this May where it has been markedly cooler than normal. We have had a variable May here, but cooler air masses have been legitimate when they have made their way into the mid-Atlantic.
Other factors considered
Both the PDO (Pacific Decadal Oscillation) and NAO (North Atlantic Oscillation) have varied between predominantly and somewhat negative the last few years, respectively. However, both are showing signs of more variability and less of a strong signal one way or the other for any extended period of time.
It has been wet in the Great Lakes and Tennessee Valley and the drought in much of the Plains is improving. This moisture will help to modify air masses a bit, and should eventually spill east to make us wetter than we have been this year to date.
Persistence. We can't ignore or pretend that we haven't had a slew of hot summers here for almost the last decade. Other than 2009, every summer since 2005 has been hotter than normal, and 19 of the 24 summer months have been above normal. Summer has momentum, and in weather, momentum is often very hard to reverse.
The analog years, or the years where the above factors were present to some extent, are: 1947 and 1951
The weather during these summers served as general guidance for our outlook.
After the last 3 summers -- the hottest 3 on record, we should finally get a tolerable one. While we can't avoid the heat in DC, we will likely get through summer mostly unscathed. Once we acclimate, those upper 80s to low 90s aren't going to feel that bad, and many of the nights might be quite comfortable compared to what we have endured in recent summers. Enjoy, since any given summer here is always vulnerable to being brutally oppressive. You never know when the next tolerable or intolerable one will come around.
CWG's 2012 summer outlook (post-summer evaluation)
CWG's 2011 Summer Outlook (post-summer evaluation)
CWG'S 2010 Summer Outlook (post-summer evaluation)
CWG's 2009 Summer Outlook (post-summer evaluation)
Weather Service systems crumbling as extreme weather escalates
As painfully obvious from the recent events in Oklahoma, tornado season is in full gear. Meanwhile, hurricane season is a week away. Yet budget woes and multiple system failures at the National Weather Service in the past week, not to mention staffing shortages, are raising concerns that its ability to warn the public of hazardous weather could crack at any time.
In the past 5 days alone, a telecommunications outage near Chicago made it difficult for NWS forecasters to issue warnings, a major weather satellite failed, the website for the entire NWS Southern Region went down, and a NWS official in tornado alley declined to launch a weather balloon citing budget concerns.
These problems are symptomatic of insufficient funding and dated infrastructure, advocates for more generous NWS budgets say. What follows is an overview of the problems NWS has encountered, just since Sunday.
Late Monday evening, just hours after the Moore, Okla. tornado carved a deadly, 17-mile path, a Verizon telecommunications outage occurred at a facility outside Chicago, affecting 6 forecast offices according to Chris Vaccaro, a National Weather Service spokesperson.
At the forecast office serving Chicago in Romeoville, Ill., when forecasters attempted to issue a severe thunderstorm and flash flood warning for the Windy City, systems went down. Forecasters were unable to disseminate the warnings according to Eugene Izzi, a forecaster at the office and also a representative of the National Weather Service Employees Organization (NWSEO), a labor union.
"We and our neighboring offices lost internet and we were unable to transmit any products, we only received some limited data (our own radar, but no other sites) and we were essentially left crippled," explained Izzi in a Facebook post.
The Romeoville office contacted its secondary back-up office in Milwaukee and, over the phone, dictated the warning information.
"Thankfully, it was a run of the mill ordinary marginal wind event for our county warning area," Izzi said. "Think of how close this was to being a catastrophe. If this had happened hours earlier during the Moore tornado, I shudder to think of the results."
The cause of the outage is unclear, but Vaccaro stressed it was "not related to any failure of NWS equipment."
Dan Sobien, president of the NWSEO, questioned why there was no back-up.
"If NWS has to rely on Verizon to get its warnings out, then it's doing something wrong," Sobien said.
Major weather observing satellite fails
On Wednesday, the weather satellite that keeps an eye on the sky over much of eastern North America and the western Atlantic ceased operating. The satellite, known as GOES-13, had failed one time earlier last fall and was restored.
As a temporary solution to the current outage, NOAA switched its other primary weather satellite, GOES-15, which focuses on the West Coast and parts of the Pacific, into "full-disc mode" to provide broader coverage and fill the gap left by GOES-13.
But meteorologists warned the quality of the substitute imagery would be compromised due to the larger viewing angle.
"The satellite coverage from GOES-15 results in distorted images of the eastern U.S. and the western Atlantic and would be a significant concern for forecasters and the public at large going into the Atlantic hurricane season," wrote AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.
NOAA said that a European satellite provides high quality substitute imagery in the gap region and it plans to turn on its backup satellite, GOES-14, today to resume dedicated coverage there.
But if GOES-13 cannot be fixed and GOES-14 encounters technical difficulties, there is no backup (aside from relying on European data) until NOAA's next generation weather satellite GOES-R is launched in 2015. And that launch has encountered delays.
In February, the Government Accountability Office classified the possible satellite gap among the top 30 challenges facing the Federal Government.
Southern Region websites down
Since Wednesday evening, National Weather Service websites for the entire Southern Region have functioned only intermittently. This has limited public access to forecasts and warnings. The Southern Region covers a huge area from Florida to Oklahoma including areas under a heightened risk of severe weather today in Texas.
Although the website operations have been spotty, the public can (and could) still access forecast and warnings for these areas from NWS' main portal, weather.gov.
Last fall, during and following Hurricane Sandy, the website for the Eastern Region of the NWS experienced an outage and was out of commission for several days. The NWS post-storm assessment recommended: "NWS needs to develop redundancies in web services prior to the 2013 hurricane season to ensure backup in case of equipment failure."
We are awaiting word from the National Weather Service on the cause of the current problem and the status.
(Update: The websites came back online late this morning and have remained in working order.)
Special weather balloon launch opportunity turned down
Just hours before several tornadoes touched down in Oklahoma on Sunday, the Midland, Texas, an official at the National Weather Service forecast office turned down a voluntary opportunity to launch a midday weather balloon to sample atmospheric conditions, citing budget concerns.
Morning and evening balloon launches are mandatory. Forecast offices may initiate "special" midday balloon launches when severe weather is expected in the region to provide additional data. Several offices in the Plains, including Norman, Okla., released special launches during the Sunday and Monday severe weather outbreaks, although Midland passed on the opportunity.
"Given our budget (cough) situation, I'll decline," typed Brian Curran, Science Operations Officer at the Midland NWS office, into the agency's internal chat system.
Midland was not in an elevated risk zone for severe weather at the time.
Chris Vaccaro, an NWS spokesperson, said the decision not launch the balloon had "no effect" on subsequent severe weather watches and warnings. He also stressed Curran's decision was a personal one and "not a direction."
But Dan Sobien, president of the NWS Employees Organization, said he thought the data would have been a useful input to forecasts and that to decline the request was unusual.
"I've never seen [a balloon launch request] shot down like that before," Sobien said. "Not for budget reasons."
In addition to these budget and technology systems issues, forecast offices are short-staffed. There is a 10 percent vacancy rate within the NWS, and hiring is frozen as a cost savings measure motivated by the sequester.
The Department of Commerce had also proposed four days furlough days for NWS forecasters, a move that was challenged by Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Va.) Wednesday.
"The severe weather events in Oklahoma this week have further convinced me that we should not take any chance that avoidable furloughs might result in a degradation of weather prediction and forecasting services," Wolf said in a letter to Rebecca Blank, acting secretary of the Department of Commerce.
The NWS Employees Organization has persistently voiced objections about vacancy rates, the furlough plan, hiring freeze, tight forecast office budgets and aging technology infrastructure.
"The NWS is falling apart, it's not funded correctly," said Dan Sobien, NWSEO president. "The NWS has been neglected for a decade."
Marshall Shepherd, president of the American Meteorological Society, used the Oklahoma twister's aftermath to express significant concerns about the various troubles facing the NWS.
"I, and other colleagues, have repeatedly warned that we are risking lives with bad decisions on weather funding, staffing, satellite capacity, etc.," Shepherd wrote on his Facebook page.
"We need a national response, sound policy/decisions, no posturing on sequester/budgets," Shepherd said.
D.C. area forecast: Muggy with off and on showers today, weekend much cooler
FORECAST IN DETAIL
Radar & lightning: Latest regional radar shows movement of precipitation and lightning strikes over past two hours. Refresh page to update. Click here or on image to enlarge. Or see radar bigger on our Weather Wall.
Today is unlikely to be a panacea for those seeking persistent, heavy rains as a widespread soaking is no guarantee. For the "I hate humidity" crowd, no luck either, but at least it's not quite as hot as Wednesday.
The real problem is what to do with Saturday. The European model is wrapping up an upper level storm in the vicinity that would keep us socked in with clouds and quite cool. Yuck! The American model is still bringing out the sun by Saturday, so fingers crossed.
I have a BeachCast at the end of this forecast, but with highs struggling to make 70, windy conditions and clouds slow to pull out, you may not want to read it!
Today (Thursday): The sun takes it time in making a morning appearance with lots of clouds. There is a chance for a shower at just about any time of the day, but the most likely time comes in the afternoon If the clouds break, allowing the atmosphere to warm and become more unstable, a few strong thunderstorms can't be ruled out. About 80 percent of the area should get wet before the day is done. Humidity is still palpable and with highs topping out in the low to a few mid-80s, cue the whining. Winds are brisk coming from the south at 10-20 mph. Confidence: Medium
Tonight: Showers and thunderstorms remain likely (90% chance) through the evening. Some may produce heavy downpours. Daytime and evening rainfall amounts will be highly variable depending on where localized downpours materialize, but should average out around 0.25 inches (locally heavier and lighter amounts are a given). Winds come from the southwest at 10-15 mph, gusting to 30 mph. Things quiet down after midnight with lows reaching the low-to-mid 60s. Confidence: Medium
For related traffic news, check out Dr. Gridlock. Keep reading for the forecast through the weekend
Tomorrow (Friday): Our weather world turns upside down with winds switching to come out of the north at 15-20 mph, gusting to 30 mph. Highs will struggle to make 70. A few lingering showers are still possible before noon under cloudy skies (40% chance). Breaks in the clouds are possible by late afternoon. Confidence: Medium
Tomorrow night: Clouds continue to fly by, winds continue to gust out of the north and temperatures take a fall. 60s in the evening should be enough of a shock but lows in the 40s promise to be an eye opener come Saturday morning. Confidence: Medium
A LOOK AHEAD
Saturday is when the forecast could go one of two ways: clearing and mild, or cloudy, showery, and cool. If you want the sun, root for the American model. The European is really wrapping up an upper level low pressure system and seems to present a worst case scenario. I am guessing the answer lies in the middle with frequent bouts of clouds but showers unlikely. Highs in the mid-to-upper 60s are probably the best we can hope for while overnight lows are again in the 40s. Confidence: Low
Sunday should start to break out of the clouds even in the worst case scenario as the "Nor'easter looking" storm moves up the New England coast if the European model is right. I would still not rule out a few banks of clouds in the morning but by afternoon, sun should dominate. Unfortunately winds still gust out of the northwest and temperatures are only in a slow climb. Highs should be upper 60s to lower 70s and lows fall to the mid-40s suburbs to lower 50s downtown. Confidence: Low-Medium
Memorial Day has more sun to offer and much calmer conditions. Highs should even make more respectable low-mid 70s. So fire up the grill and enjoy. Confidence: Low-Medium
Southern New Jersey Beaches look the worst with showers Friday, clouds likely to persist Saturday along with strong northerly winds and highs only in the low-to-mid 60s. Clearing and breezy Sunday with highs around 70. Sunny and calmer with lower 70s Monday.
Delaware Beaches are only slightly better with clouds and a few showers Friday, frequent clouds Saturday and strong northerly breezes both days with highs in the mid-to upper 60s. Sunday should clear but breezes are still brisk most of day and highs are in the upper 60s to lower 70s. Monday is sunny, calm and highs reach low-to-mid 70s.
Virginia Beaches have the best chance to be worth a trip to lay on the sand. Cloudy and windy on Friday with highs in the upper 60s. Partly cloudy, breezy on Saturday with highs in the low-to-mid 70s. Sunday and Monday could make the mid-to-upper 70s under sunny calm conditions.