Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Media and Weather

The first deadly severe weather outbreak of 2012 occurred Sunday overnight into Monday in parts of Arkansas, Tennessee and the Gulf Coast states, an area known as "Dixie Alley". Already hearing reports of multiple EF-3 tornadoes and that total may increase as field analysis will be conducted over the next few days.
Whenever Mother Nature strikes, the media is sure to follow. Last night, ABC's national news began their coverage with this lead-in:

Video courtesy of Alabamawx.com

The lead-in is absolutely misleading. The wording of the script gives the illusion that forecasters in the region failed the public.  In NO way was this mini-outbreak a "surprise" event. I was aware of this event days before just by following social media posts of meteorologists who work in the area. Folks in the Midwest and South should naturally pay more attention to forecasts and warnings issued by their meteorologists. And for several days, this event was projected to happen. Look at this blog post by one of the top meteorologists in the Alabama, James Spann. Citizens in the impacted areas had at least 24 hours notice that a dangerous weather event could occur and areas under Tornado Warnings had at least 20 minuets of lead time, according to Spann.

Most people are aware of "Tornado Alley" where the highest concentration of tornadoes occur anywhere on Earth. What most people do not know is that there is a second "alley", known as "Dixie Alley" (Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia) that is just as dangerous. Within this region, a secondary tornado season exists during the winter months! Take a look at these graphs that compare Tornado to Dixie Alley:
Notice the spike of strong and deadly tornadoes in the winter months that occur in Dixie Alley as compared to the Plains (or Tornado Alley). A drastic difference. To compound the danger that Dixie Alley presents, take a look at this graph:

Late afternoon-evening-overnight storms add to the danger of Dixie Alley outbreaks. These tornadoes often strike while people are on their way home from work or sleeping. It's tough to follow storm coverage when your asleep. This is why Spann often promotes weather radios that allow emergency broadcasts to be issued when danger is on the way. A great tool to keep people safe when not near a television.

Tornadoes do not spawn randomly. A meteorologist that is worth his or her weight in gold can forecast the threat for tornadoes a few days in advance using weather maps. It is nearly impossible to forecast the exact track of a specific twister, however. But with ample warning time, it shouldn't matter.

Current and accurate weather information is important in any extreme weather situation, regardless of location. James Spann has perfected the art of T.V. meteorology with his policy of wall-to-wall weather coverage if ANY county within his stations' viewing area is under a severe weather warning (sorry, Judge Judy fans!). With coverage that extensive, there should be no excuse for saying these tornadoes struck "without warning"! So why does the media come out and state exactly that? Was it because people died? Or are certain media outlets just that lazy and decide to spin their own story out of what happened?

I've found in my time working in television that weather is often disregarded when it comes to accurately reporting on events. I have heard many stories on various news channels that incorrectly mention current or past weather conditions and events. Weather here in the Pacific Northwest is not as extreme as the weather in other parts of the country. We are not familiar with the severe weather that  the Plains and Gulf Coast South deal with on a seasonal basis. That is something I plan to fix!

I have worked with people who are familiar with weather and who REALLY do care about the accuracy of the story they are writing or giving. But there are times when I have to shake my head when I listen to an inaccurate report  I often encourage my co-workers to talk with me about current weather conditions if they are unsure of what to put in scripts or say on air when talking about a weather story. It is important to relay proper information to the public when it comes to watches and warnings. Not only from a meteorology standpoint as it could save lives, but also from a journalistic view as well. 

There are reports that meteorologist James Spann will be interviewed by ABC regarding the aftermath of the tornadoes. Hopefully he will set the record straight on national television, much unlike Diane Sawyer the night before. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Bowl Wrap-Up

Last night's snozzzzzzer capped the 2011-12 College Football post season. Over the span of nearly three weeks, teams seized the opportunity to close the season on a high note while others squandered their chance, some seemed to even give it away. Various teams showed up to play, others sleep-walked through 60 minuets of football. In my mind, this was the most entertaining bowl season in recent memory. Typically, the early bowl games can be duds. That was not the case this season, as some of the early games were among the best of the bunch. I'll recap my picks first, then give out some highly coveted awards...I see you moving to the edge of your seat.

My record for the 2011-12 Bowl Season finished at..... 25-10! Thank you! Thank you! Much improved over last seasons 20-15 record. What can I say? The games just seemed easier to pick. I actually took part in a cash pool that required selecting winners based on point spreads and over/under total points. I won that pool, and finished with a record of 24-11 in that pool. I never referenced my blog pick when choosing winners for the pool, the near-similar records were just coincidence.

Let's breakdown the gauntlet of games:
Most Exciting Game: This is a tough decision, so many good contenders. A great finish to the SDSU/Louisiana-Lafayette New Orleans Bowl which was decided by a last-second field goal. Toldeo-Air Force Military Bowl was a doozie, Air Force failed to score on a two-point conversion and lost by just one point in a high scoring affair. Utah mounted a ferocious comeback to beat Georgia Tech in overtime at the Sun Bowl. Michigan State and Georgia both proved there was no hangover from losing their conference championship games as it took 3 overtimes to settle the Outback Bowl. The Rose Bowl was an action-packed, high-scoring, record-breaking affair. Only to be followed by the Fiesta Bowl in which Oklahoma State and Stanford traded blows before the Cardinal's kicking game blew it. If you think points are exciting, then these last two games made you one happy sports fan! West Virginia racked up a all-time bowl record 70 points in their rout of Clemson. But hands down the most exciting game of the season was Baylor and Washington as the defenses basically stepped out of the way of each offense and let a track meet break out on a football field. 123 combined points, 1,397 combined total yards made the Alamo Bowl the most exciting bowl game of this season!

Most Boring Game: This is a tough one because the early bowls typically take this category but this year the early games were unusually entertaining. The BBVA Compass Bowl qualifies, as the game was all but over after three 1st quarter touchdowns by SMU. Oklahoma steamrolled Iowa in the Insight Bowl that really wasn't all that competitive. I'm trying not to let a bias get involved here, but the National Championship game was pretty dull. 21 total points, all scored by Alabama. But only one touchdown. It was another "field goal-palooza" of all intents and purposes. LSU didn't really play like they wanted to win. 92 total yards on offense? Georgia Southern put up more yards on Alabama than LSU did! I understand Alabama has a beast defense, but it isn't IMPOSSIBLE to score on them. And for the National Championship Game being a shut-out, congrats, you are the most boring game of the bowl season!

Best Bowl Win: I think West Virginia's win in the Orange Bowl was as big as it gets. Not only on the field, but off it too. The Mountaineers sent a statement to Clemson and to the Big East Conference by putting up 70 points in a dominant BCS performance. West Virginia is headed to the Big 12 Conference next season (at least THEY think so), and destroying their ACC opponent while headed out the pathetic Big East door give them a ton of credit and momentum heading into next season. Look out for the Mountaineers next season.

Worst Bowl Loss: Washington surrendered 777 yards of offense, including 482 of those rushing. Hands down the worst performance of this bowl season. It cost the Huskies Defensive coordinator his job.

Most Ironic Loser: Air Force in the Military Bowl
Most Deserving Winner: Florida Gators in the Gator Bowl
Dumbest Moment: Towards the end of the third quarter in the Capital One Bowl, star wide receiver Alshon Jeffery threw a punch at a Nebraska defender. Both players were ejected. At the end of the game, Jeffery was named Player of the Game. How can you give an award to a player who was KICKED OUT of the game! Doesn't matter that he caught a Hail Mary pass at the end of the 1st half for a touchdown.

The 2011-12 College football season was a great one! A lot of late-season drama spilled over into the bowl season. Can't wait for next year! As usual, too early to look ahead. Well, not really but I won't get into that.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Any Hope For Snow?

I posted last month about the possibilities of snow on Christmas. The holidays came and went, no snow. No "typical" winter weather to speak of at all. Just dull weather. A shower here and there. Fog most mornings and some decent stretches of sunshine. Will we transition into a more La Nina weather pattern which would yield a better possibility of snow? According to this morning's model run, it does not look good.

One of the four daily model runs occurs while I'm at work each morning. The 06z model runs are notorious for being "outliers" in comparison to their 00z and 12z counterparts. By the way, we use the postmark "Z" to denote "Zulu time". It is basically Greenwhich Mean Time, so 00z model run translates to 12 midnight in England. So, when this mornings 06z 850mb comparisons came out, it did not spark hope for a return to winter weather.
850mb Temperatures look boring
This is the GFS model run, just one of several separate models that Mets use to forecast. Within the GFS model, several different "perturbations" are played out. The graph above shows the 850mb temperature plotted out with each run. The 850mb temperature gives us temps at about 5,000ft elevation. We can use the 850mb temps to translate a surface temperature. Ideally, we like to see 850mb temperatures of at least -6 degrees Celsius in order to get excited about any possibility of snow in our area. The 06z run doesn't inspire hope. The green line is climatology, what we should expect. The red line is the average of all the models and the blue line represents the "operational" run, the actual model that we see each day. Just a week ago, the ensemble mean had temperatures down near -3 to -5 degrees Celsius, and I recall a few operational runs that dipped into -10 degrees Celsius last week as well. But that's life in the world of a weather forecaster. You get excited about a big arctic outbreak and 6 hours later...that model takes it away from you. I can almost guarantee that by the time I post this, the 12z model run will be drastically different!

I can tell you that this morning's 06z GFS 850mb map does not show much of anything below 0 degrees for the next 384 hours! The 7 day forecast looks nice, however. By mid-week, gusty east winds will help keep us clear of clouds and fog each morning. With the clear conditions, nights will be chilly. Lows may touch the mid 20's. Remember, peak snow season for Portland is right around the corner, so things can change in an instant!