Words on Weather

Words on Weather & Climate by Craig James, September 30, 2010

September 30, 2010 // 0 Comments

The Long Island Express  by CRAIG JAMES  In last week’s article I wrote about the extreme weather that occurred in 1888, 1896 and 1899. This week I want to take a look at the incredible hurricane that devastated New England on September 21, 1938. This is another amazing weather event most people have never heard about. Back in 1938, there was no weather radar, no satellites and no ocean buoys. Ocean weather observations came from ship reports and occasionally an aircraft. The U.S. Weather Bureau, now called the National Weather Service, knew that a storm had formed in early September just off the African coast. The storm had probably reached category five status as it passed north of the Bahamas on the 19th. Charlie Pierce, a young research forecaster for the Weather Bureau, concluded that the storm would not curve out to sea and miss the United States, as most storms in this area do, but would instead track due north. But as so often happens in many organizations, he was overruled by more senior meteorologists and the official forecast called for nothing more than cloudy skies and gusty conditions in New England. Because the official forecast contained no cause for alarm, even as the winds picked up speed and the waves rolled in, nobody realized that a catastrophe was only a few hours away. Instead of re-curving out to sea, the storm moved due north from off the coast of Virginia and accelerated in forward speed to 70 mph. In the history of hurricanes, this is the fastest known forward speed recorded. Because of its speed of movement, the storm became known as the “Long Island Express.” As residents of Long Island and southern New England looked off to the south, what they thought was a bank of fog moving north actually turned out to be the storm surge, or wall of water, over 15 feet high with waves of over 30 feet on top of the surge. Millions of tons of sea water swept entire homes and families into the sea. The impact of the storm surge was so powerful that it was actually recorded on the earthquake seismograph at Fordham University in New York City. The storm created a new inlet separating […]

Words on Weather & Climate — December 31, 2009

December 31, 2009 // 0 Comments

Is weather more severe? by CRAIG JAMES I had a good laugh a couple of months ago when the mayor of Moscow promised there would be no snow in that city this winter because he was going to have the clouds seeded, causing all of the snow to fall somewhere else. Well, his plan hasn’t worked too well so far. As of Christmas, about 20 inches had fallen on Moscow this season, with more to come. The first heavy snowfall was apparently way under forecast by meteorologists, which prompted one city official to demand “serious consequences” for the head of the city’s weather service. Sounds like a trip to Siberia to me. By the way, 63% of the United States had an inch or more of snow on the ground this past Christmas Day. The only states that didn’t have any snow were Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Oklahoma City received its biggest snowfall of record with 14.1 inches. There was apparently a problem with the article I wrote for the December 24 issue of this paper; half of it didn’t get printed. So here, hopefully, is the entire section where I take a look at whether tropical storms have become more numerous and more intense. Complete coverage of tropical storm activity across the globe has only been possible since 1979 when satellites began monitoring these storms. Between 1944 and 1978, in order for there to be an estimate of a tropical storm’s strength, a reconnaissance aircraft had to fly into the storm or a ship had to be near the center. Prior to 1944, there were no aircraft flights into storms, so the only reports came from ships or when a storm made landfall. The National Hurricane Center believes many storms were not recorded prior to these aircraft flights, and the peak intensity of storms out over ocean waters may well have been missed if there was not an aircraft or ship in the immediate vicinity at the time of the peak. Since we have been able to monitor these storms nearly continuously since 1979, we now have a 30-year very reliable record of whether there has been a trend up or down in tropical cyclone frequency or intensity. Ryan Maue from Florida State […]

Words on Weather & Climate

December 18, 2009 // 0 Comments

Storm facts by CRAIG JAMES Here are a few facts about the storm that affected much of the country Dec. 6-11. The barometer reading in Grand Rapids dropped to a record-low reading for the month of December at 28.86”. Some home barometers don’t even register that low. Readings below 29.00” are not uncommon in Great Lakes storms, but don’t happen very often in West Michigan due to the fact that the low pressure centers usually move either to the south or to the north of our area. This one went directly overhead. By the way, the lowest barometer reading ever recorded for this area was set in the blizzard of January 1978 with a reading of 28.68”. Technically, we never did reach actual blizzard conditions in Kent County from the storm. To officially be a blizzard, there must be sustained winds of 35 mph or greater with the visibility reduced to less than a quarter mile in snow and blowing snow. The highest sustained winds reported in Kent County were around 30 mph, but we did have many times when the visibility was less than a quarter mile. Many people don’t realize that the amount of snow is not considered when issuing a blizzard warning, just the wind speed and visibility. The worst of the weather, as usual, occurred to the north and west of the storm center. A state of emergency was declared in much of Wisconsin due to 10 to 18 inches of snow and wind gusts over 40 mph. However, Milwaukee only picked up 3 inches. At Marinette, in the northeast corner of the state, a wind gust hit 78 mph with widespread power outages and most roads drifted shut. Snow totals of 15-30 inches were common in the western half of the Upper Peninsula, which was a pretty significant snowfall even for those hardy folks. This was the same storm that earlier in the week produced wind gusts measuring over 100 mph in three western states. The highest gust of 116 mph hit White Sands, N.M. The Deer Valley Airport in Phoenix, Ariz., reported a wind gust to 75 mph. Wolf Creek Pass, Colo., received 5 feet of new snow from the storm. As bad as this system was, it wasn’t […]