Winter forecast, part III: the Old Farmer's Almanac

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:23 PM GMT on November 24, 2008

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Since 1792, the Old Farmer's Almanac has been issuing long-range seasonal weather forecasts. This year, the Almanac is predicting that winter will be colder than average for 3/4 of the U.S., and above average over just 1/8 of the country. Only the Pacific Northwest and the upper Midwest near Minnesota are predicted to be warmer than average. For the Appalachian region that includes the three woolly bear forecasts I discussed last week, the Old Farmer's Almanac is siding with Oil Valley Vick and Kelly the woolly bear, forecasting colder than average temperatures. The Hagerstown Woolly Bears and NOAA disagree, predicting warmer than average temperatures are more likely.

How accurate is the Old Farmer's Almanac?
The Old Farmer's Almanac claims to have a secret formula developed in 1792 based on sunspots and climatology, which gives their long-range predictions 80% accuracy. I've heard a number of anecdotal stories about how uncannily accurate their forecasts are, and have always felt a vague sort of anxiety that maybe I should be checking them out when someone asks me what the upcoming winter will be like. However, the Almanac does not post any verification statistics of their forecasts. It is not hard to do a simple check of their forecast accuracy, though. Unfortunately, the results of my check and those done by several others show that there is little reason to believe that the Old Farmer's Almanac forecasts are any better than flipping a coin.


Figure 1. Observed departure of temperature from average for the period Nov. 2004-Mar. 2005. Superimposed in bold text is the winter forecast made in the 2004 Old Farmer's Almanac for the same period. The Almanac got four regions correct and eight incorrect, with two too close to call.

For example, for the winter of 2004-2005 (Figure 1), the November 2004 version of the Old Farmer's Almanac made a simple prediction of "cold" or "mild" for sixteen separate regions of the U.S. The original forecast map they presented only labels the U.S. in fourteen places, and I've overlaid these predictions on a temperature anomaly map showing what actually happened during the winter of 2004-2005. If we assume that "mild" refers to an above average temperature forecast and "cold" refers to a below average temperature forecast, then the Almanac got four regions correct, eight wrong, with two too close to call. Admittedly, I've "eyeballed" this, and it is a subjective verification. Still, I don't see any way that this forecast could approach even 50% (chance) accuracy. Their precipitation forecast fared better, with seven correct regions, five incorrect, and two too close to call. I also looked at the Farmer's Almanac forecasts for the winter of 2006-2007. They did much worse that winter, with only three of sixteen temperature forecasts verifying, and five out of twelve precipitation forecasts verifying (four were too close to call). For these two winters, the Old Farmer's Almanac made a successful forecast just 37% of the time.

Studies by Jan Null
Jan Null, a meteorologist who founded the private weather consulting firm, Golden Gate Weather in California, has evaluated the Old Farmer's Almanac predictions for San Francisco for three separate years. His first study looked at the forecasts for 1999-2000. His conclusion: "Even trying to be objective and giving the benefit of the doubt to cases that were close, I found last year's forecast from the Old Farmer's 2000 Almanac for San Francisco to be laughable at best and abysmal at worst. The Old Farmer's Almanac was wrong on their monthly temperature forecast 8 out of the 12 months (67%) and wrong on their rainfall forecast 5 of the 8 months evaluated (63%)". His grade for the Old Farmer's Almanac winter forecast for San Francisco during 2006-2007 was a D+. He also evaluated the Old Farmer's Almanac for two separate summers and winters for all sixteen regions of the U.S., and found mostly poor results. For the summer of 2005, just one of the sixteen Old Farmer's Almanac regional forecasts got both the temperature and the precipitation correct. He plans to post a verification of their 2008 summer forecast sometime in the next week.

Weatherwise magazine study
In the October 1981 issue of Weatherwise magazine, pages 212-215, John E. Walsh and David Allen performed a check on the accuracy of 60 monthly forecasts of temperature and precipitation from the Old Farmer's Almanac at 32 stations in the U.S. They found that 50.7% of the monthly temperature forecasts and 51.9% of the precipitation forecasts verified with the correct sign. This compares with the 50% success rate expected by chance.

Old Farmer's Almanac climate forecast
It's also of interest to note that the Old Farmer's Almanac believes that sunspot cycles and other factors suggest that "a cold, not warm climate may be in our future". Their climate forecaster is Joeseph D'Aleo, who was the first Director of Meteorology at the Weather Channel. Mr. D'Aleo is now retired, and is often quoted for his skeptical opinions about climate change.

Conclusion
The results of my forecast verifications and those done by several others indicate that there is little reason to believe the Old Farmer's Almanac claim of 80% accuracy. These verifications attempted to be fair, but one can justifiably argue they were not objective nor complete. However, unless the Almanac posts some scientific evidence to the contrary, I won't believe their forecasts are any better than flipping a coin. One's best bet for the upcoming winter forecast is to use NOAA's prediction, which calls for an an above-average chance of a warm winter across the center portion of the U.S. If you live in Banner Elk, North Carolina, it might be wise to go with Kelly the Woolly worm's forecast of a cold winter, though, given the success of her predecessors!

Tropical disturbance near Costa Rica
An area of disturbed weather (96L) has developed in the extreme southern Caribbean, near the coast of Costa Rica. Wind shear is a hefty 20-30 knots over the disturbance, which will keep any development slow. The disturbance will bring heavy rains to Costa Rica and Nicaragua through Wednesday. If the center can stay off shore, this disturbance has the potential to develop into a tropical depression. NHC is giving a moderate (20-50% chance) that 96L will develop into a tropical depression by Wednesday morning. The GFDL model does develop 96L, but none of the other models do. I'll have an update on the system this afternoon if it gets more organized.

Jeff Masters

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Quoting CybrTeddy:

The worst Hurricane Seasons ever in my Opinions.
(the first two I can believe we all can agree.)
2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season
2008 Atlantic Hurricane Season
2004 Atlantic Hurricane Season
1999 Atlantic Hurricane Season
2003 Atlantic Hurricane Season

If I were to tell myself in 2007 how horrific this year would have been I wouldn't have believed it. 52 Billion dollars in damage, and the third most costly storm ever to hit the United states. 6 times in a row America was hit by a Tropical Cyclone. And we ended up with a Hyperactive season, 16 named storms.


Nope, I can't.

2005 is probably the worst. 2008 being the 2nd worst? Not in my opinion.

I don't believe the worst 5 seasons have come in the last 10 years. Yeah, they caused more damage in terms of money... but did they wreck more homes? No. Did they kill more people? No.
Did they end more livelihoods? No.



Member Since: August 23, 2008 Posts: 7 Comments: 5300
post 370. Sez who ??
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2009 is going to be so lame compared to this year
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369. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
sort of looks like it but the center is just north of Sri Lanka and east of Tamil Nadu over the Bay of Bengal still no overland India yet.
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evenin'

yo rob
He who rakes last,rakes least...lol
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10084

The worst Hurricane Seasons ever in my Opinions.
(the first two I can believe we all can agree.)
2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season
2008 Atlantic Hurricane Season
2004 Atlantic Hurricane Season
1999 Atlantic Hurricane Season
2003 Atlantic Hurricane Season

If I were to tell myself in 2007 how horrific this year would have been I wouldn't have believed it. 52 Billion dollars in damage, and the third most costly storm ever to hit the United states. 6 times in a row America was hit by a Tropical Cyclone. And we ended up with a Hyperactive season, 16 named storms.
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We're talking about 96L right?
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GFDL still taking 96L to hurricane status, and LBAR takes it to Haiti O_O. Also, look at the water north of Australia, that would take a small storm to a major hurricane quite quickly, as the water is 35C (96F). There's TC six near India, and that is about to make landfall and could cause flooding. By the way, Santa Catarina, the same state in Brazil where Cyclone Catarina struck in 2004, is getting severe flooding, and 70 people have died. Also, re comment 356, Nargis may easily be more than 7th deadliest, estimates are that around 300,000 may have died. The Irrawaddy Delta became so flooded that communities with former populations above 100,000 may be permanently underwater, meaning that future maps may need to be modified. As for us in S. Ontario, GFS gives us about 23 cm (9 in) of snow by December 6. Some places in SW Ontario, such as Arkona, have seen over a metre of snow! Also, (on a lighter note) if you're into astronomy, there's a triple-conjunction of Jupiter, Venus, and the cresent moon, neatly placed in a tight triangle, around the evening of December 1. If you live in Europe, then the trio will be the closest, and if you have a telescope you may be able to watch the occultation of Venus by the moon (the moon covers Venus) in the daytime.
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Quoting HadesGodWyvern:
Joint Typhoon Warning Center

Tropical Cyclone Warning #1 (2100z 25NOV)
==========================================
At 18:00 PM UTC, Tropical Cyclone SIX (NONAME) has sustained winds of 40 knots with gusts of 50 knots. The cyclone is located 245 NM east of Cochrin, India and is reported as moving north-northwest at 3 knots. Over the past 6 hours, recent animated multispectral satellite imagery and a 1415z SSMIS microwave image show deep convection wrapping into a well-defined low level circulation center, especially within the northern semi-circle. The initial intensity is 40 knots which is consistent with dvorak intensity estimates from PGTW and KNES. The satellite presenation,and topographical influences. Upper level dynamics are favorable for continued intensification with excellent radial outflow and low vertical wind shear, however continued land interaction will prevent significant intensification prior to making landfall. The cyclone is forecast to track slowly northwest trough the Palk strait and will make landfall with eastern coast of India within 24 hours. The cyclone will then weaken significantly as it transists across southern India. Current limited model guidance suggests that a weakened low level circulation center will track into the Arabian sea, though this scenario seems less likely given this forecast track duration overland.





that has to be a Hurricane.
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363. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
Joint Typhoon Warning Center

Tropical Cyclone Warning #1 (2100z 25NOV)
==========================================
At 18:00 PM UTC, Tropical Cyclone SIX (NONAME) has sustained winds of 40 knots with gusts of 50 knots. The cyclone is located 245 NM east of Cochrin, India and is reported as moving north-northwest at 3 knots. Over the past 6 hours, recent animated multispectral satellite imagery and a 1415z SSMIS microwave image show deep convection wrapping into a well-defined low level circulation center, especially within the northern semi-circle. The initial intensity is 40 knots which is consistent with dvorak intensity estimates from PGTW and KNES. The satellite presenation,and topographical influences. Upper level dynamics are favorable for continued intensification with excellent radial outflow and low vertical wind shear, however continued land interaction will prevent significant intensification prior to making landfall. The cyclone is forecast to track slowly northwest trough the Palk strait and will make landfall with eastern coast of India within 24 hours. The cyclone will then weaken significantly as it transists across southern India. Current limited model guidance suggests that a weakened low level circulation center will track into the Arabian sea, though this scenario seems less likely given this forecast track duration overland.



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360. Cotillion

Remember watching that one on sat and going WOW repeatedly. Wow got quite a bit of use this year.
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There should be a day dedicated to those who died not only in hurricanes but any other natural disaster not to offend anyone but we commemorate stuff that didn't do as much harm as natural disasters do monthly Nonetheless these tragedies are forgotten in time. Maybe if we ever did get such a day we might learn the lessons of those previous storms instead of forgetting those too
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Typhoon Jangmi, from earlier this year. Visually good enough to be in textbooks for the next 10 years.
Member Since: August 23, 2008 Posts: 7 Comments: 5300
Good post Cotillion. 356.
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DDR, spoke to the Met office. Very nice Lady forecaster. Did not get her name.
The Radar is up and running. The info. is only available to them !! I said that is BAD! She said if I wanted, I could make an appointment to go to Piarco to have a look at it !!
She also said that she would pass my request for access up the line. They MAY put a link to it on the Met Services website at some stage.
Give it a couple days, and call yourself, with a similar request. If they think that no one is interested they will never make it available. I did tell them that people on this blog are asking about it.
If we can get a few Foriengers asking, then they will do it.
How it go look ?.
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Quoting Cotillion:
My comment for the day:

2008 has been a terrible year for many. We talk about how Cubans and Haitians have especially suffered, with Haiti getting Fay, Gus, Hanna and Ike back to back. Cuba getting major after major. The United States Gulf Coast getting pummeled in two of its main weak spots.

Over one thousand people have died in the Atlantic alone. Over $50 billion damage caused.

Even 19 fatalities and millions worth of damage in the East Pacific.

So far, over 1,700 people have died in the Western Pacific. Over 3 billion damage has been caused there this year as well.

Other seasons also begin, such as that in Australia where we have heard and read stories of how places like Queensland are suffering.

Though, the story which has dominated this year is that of Cyclone Nargis. Even now, the place is devastated. The death toll could even exceed 150,000 people.

The 7th most deadliest cyclone in recorded history. Of the whole world. Even the top 10 most fatal cyclones in the Atlantic could not equate to that much destruction.

While every death is a tragedy especially in such a natural disaster, don't forget those on the other side of the world. Some people there may not even have another family member left alive.

We are right to help those in need, even in rich countries. Those on the Texan gulf coast do need help, and it will take some time for that area to be cleaned up. Parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are probably still reeling from 2005. Haiti, especially on the Northern coast near Gonaives, will be feeling 2008 for some years.

But they will recover. Recall the link I posted a few days ago pertaining Hurricane Mitch? Even ten years later, there are troubles. Entire towns remain wiped out, not being rebuilt. Some places in Myanmar may never recover.

We are all brothers and sisters in this, spare a thought for those next door, and those thousands of miles away.


I agree.. I think we should have a minute of blog silence on December 25th for them all....
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My comment for the day:

2008 has been a terrible year for many. We talk about how Cubans and Haitians have especially suffered, with Haiti getting Fay, Gus, Hanna and Ike back to back. Cuba getting major after major. The United States Gulf Coast getting pummeled in two of its main weak spots.

Over one thousand people have died in the Atlantic alone. Over $50 billion damage caused.

Even 19 fatalities and millions worth of damage in the East Pacific.

So far, over 1,700 people have died in the Western Pacific. Over 3 billion damage has been caused there this year as well.

Other seasons also begin, such as that in Australia where we have heard and read stories of how places like Queensland are suffering.

Though, the story which has dominated this year is that of Cyclone Nargis. Even now, the place is devastated. The death toll could even exceed 150,000 people.

The 7th most deadliest cyclone in recorded history. Of the whole world. Even the top 10 most fatal cyclones in the Atlantic could not equate to that much destruction.

While every death is a tragedy especially in such a natural disaster, don't forget those on the other side of the world. Some people there may not even have another family member left alive.

We are right to help those in need, even in rich countries. Those on the Texan gulf coast do need help, and it will take some time for that area to be cleaned up. Parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are probably still reeling from 2005. Haiti, especially on the Northern coast near Gonaives, will be feeling 2008 for some years.

But they will recover. Recall the link I posted a few days ago pertaining Hurricane Mitch? Even ten years later, there are troubles. Entire towns remain wiped out, not being rebuilt. Some places in Myanmar may never recover.

We are all brothers and sisters in this, spare a thought for those next door, and those thousands of miles away.
Member Since: August 23, 2008 Posts: 7 Comments: 5300
Quoting Cotillion:
Hmm. My football team (As in my football, not throwball) Plymouth Argyle are playing Southampton tonight.

On the Southampton bench, they have a goalkeeper called...

Link

What a shame he did not turn out to be a meteorologist.


Lol...
Its 0-0...
My 2 teams are:

Ipswich Town (Losing 2-0 against Birmingham)
and
Afc Wimbledon (not been playing alot of games in the BSS)
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354. DDR
Quoting pottery:
Hi DDR, hang on I will try to call the Met office.........

Cool...thanks
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Hi DDR, hang on I will try to call the Met office.........
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LOL to that Rob. Saw it earlier. Cooking gives me big ROI. And shortly after eating, well, it's bed time.........
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N3EG, post 337.
I love it. heheheh
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350. DDR
Hi pottery,do you know when the cmo radar network will be up and running?
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Pottery, see #310 heheheh just received new mission.

344. 786 - I don't see that happening, but if it does it way to far out to say what if any effect it would have on FL...I wouldn't expect much, but never say never.

Being paged again, will catch up on your posts in a little while.
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OOOOOPS. Sorry Cot, I see Mr. Forecast is the Enemy. Put 5 past the scoundrel, if you would.
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Pottery, he's on the opposing team. ;)
Member Since: August 23, 2008 Posts: 7 Comments: 5300
Hi again. Got my list done, except for the cooking part. But I dont mind that.
Wonderful image of the weather station.
Cot, I hope that Mr. Forecast can keep a clean sheet for you today.
96L is in no danger of becoming a Trop. Storm, IMO, but it has already caused deaths and major mayhem in CostaRica. Probably in other areas as well. There have been deaths in Caracas, Brazil, Columbia recently from heavy rain. Dont need wind to cause deaths, as we know.

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LOL yea Rb nothing impressive at all but figured some would be on here going bananas over it.

Might just be I have them all on ignore and cant see it LOL

Watching the models in eager anticipation for a possible coastal storm up here just after Thanksgiving =) Looks like it might be a snow maker if it pans out
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344. 786
342. you forgot the part of it heading North toward FL
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343. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
India Meteorological Department
Tropical Cyclone Warning Number THREE
DEEP DEPRESSION BOB07-2008
20:30 PM IST November 25 2008
========================================

Sub: Deep Depression over Sri Lanka coast & adjoining southwest Bay of Bengal

Cyclone alert for Tamil Nadu coast (Yellow)


At 20:30 PM IST, The Deep Depression over Sri Lanka moved northward and lays centered over Sri Lanka coast and adjoining southwest Bay of Bengal near 9.0N 81.0E, or about 200 kms east-southeast of Pamban and about 240 kms south-southeast of Nagapattinam, and close to the northwest of Tricomalee (Sri Lanka). The system is likelyto intensify into a cyclonic storm and move slowly in a northwesterly direction and cross Tamil Nadu coast between Pamban and Nagapattinam by tomorrow night.
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Bone

everybody in wait and see mode. I don't think it's a threat to anybody but central america, unless there's a drastic change that I haven't picked up on, and it will soak them good. That's too bad. The biggest threat to them from most storms is the flooding rains, they're already getting that.

But yeah, let this thing turn into a TS and this place will be jumpin.
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341. 786
339. Just gotta say the conversation has been about everything but 96L...maybe if we start a discussion on it people will join in.

I do see 96L getting sheared, but this year has been full of suprises and shear is forecast to relax a bit. It looks like it may start moving N this weekend
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Hmm. My football team (As in my football, not throwball) Plymouth Argyle are playing Southampton tonight.

On the Southampton bench, they have a goalkeeper called...

Link

What a shame he did not turn out to be a meteorologist.
Member Since: August 23, 2008 Posts: 7 Comments: 5300
Hey Rob.

Yea work is busy today.

Surprisingly slow blog with an invest out there.
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Quoting NEwxguy:
afternoon,all,busy day today,thought I'd check in and see who's getting in trouble today


Everybody pretty much behavin'
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337. N3EG
Quoting txag91met:
NCDC site

Quoting txag91met:
Check out this site...an example bad placement of thermometers. And I know there is no way that NCDC checks the quality of this data.



Finally...proof that global warming is man-made...
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afternoon,all,busy day today,thought I'd check in and see who's getting in trouble today
Member Since: September 6, 2007 Posts: 878 Comments: 15737
Quoting Cotillion:


Lists? Do elaborate...

And hello :)


Too long, read-back!
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Quoting RobDaHood:
327. Bonedog

Hi Bonedog, guess things are busier on the outside...Pottery and I working on our "Lists"...Surfmom, back to the barn...(sounds like an album title)...RTLSNK: Going Medevial- The Spider Wars (look for it on Sci-Fi next summer)

Hope all is well with you

Hi Conchy, Cotillion, Ike, Skypony, and everyone else.


Lists? Do elaborate...

And hello :)
Member Since: August 23, 2008 Posts: 7 Comments: 5300
327. Bonedog

Hi Bonedog, guess things are busier on the outside...Pottery and I working on our "Lists"...Surfmom, back to the barn...(sounds like an album title)...RTLSNK: Going Medevial- The Spider Wars (look for it on Sci-Fi next summer)

Hope all is well with you

Hi Conchy, Cotillion, Ike, Skypony, and everyone else.
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so I guess we finally gave up on the disastrous gloom and doom hurricane predictions for florida this year?
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Quoting Skyepony:
Conchygirl~ for some reason I was thinking we are near nieghbors. Didn't realize you were in Melbourne too until I looked at your pics. Great, great weather - clouds rolling in now though. Darn work calling again!
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Quoting msphar:
Glad to see the season is finally over for the eastern Caribbean. Time to get some serious sailing at least planned, after paying tribute to the appropriate maintenance gods.


2003 had a storm in the Cape Verde islands in December.

A storm has existed in every month known, it's never absolutely over. It's just a probability chance. At the moment, we're in a favourable pulse of MJO. While it's not likely to find a 17th, still feasible.
Member Since: August 23, 2008 Posts: 7 Comments: 5300
Glad to see the season is finally over for the eastern Caribbean. Time to get some serious sailing at least planned, after paying tribute to the appropriate maintenance gods.
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328. Skyepony (Mod)
Conchygirl~ for some reason I was thinking we are near nieghbors?

Pretty interesting the weather stations, encouraging people to grab their cameras & visit their local. You would think there would be more. The burn barrel is pushing it (if it is actually used). The tennis court though.. do you propose we don't take temps in town? suburbs? at airports?
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hey folks =)

hows things in the sunny blogosphere?
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NCDC site:

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325. IKE
Quoting conchygirl:
Skye: Where are you located?


Their in....Melbourne, Florida
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
Skye: Where are you located?
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Quoting surfmom:
Do you think Jeff Masters realizes the networking that goes on here??? I often wonder if he reads our posts here & visits the blog board to see what we are up to & where we have the format he gave us.

Also wonder, if when he started WU, he fathomed such a "community" would evolve?

What continues to amaze me is that for all our diversity -- beside the commonality of Weather fascination -- there are a great many things we all resonant on. Socially -- i find the whole thing fascinating.... I have had the opportunity to meet more people of my genre here then in my town -- where often I feel like a stranger in a strange land. In other words, I find more "outside girls" here -- then I do in my community....
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322. Skyepony (Mod)
They took AF307 out today & chucked a sonde 132 miles (212 km) to the SSW (196°) from Pensacola, FL, USA. Look at the shear..

1024mb (Surface) 15° (from the NNE) 16 knots (18 mph)
996mb 20° (from the NNE) 22 knots (25 mph)
948mb 20° (from the NNE) 20 knots (23 mph)
935mb 10° (from the N) 16 knots (18 mph)
920mb 350° (from the N) 21 knots (24 mph)
890mb 325° (from the NW) 17 knots (20 mph)
850mb 320° (from the NW) 21 knots (24 mph)
793mb 310° (from the NW) 19 knots (22 mph)
769mb 325° (from the NW) 25 knots (29 mph)
718mb 305° (from the NW) 19 knots (22 mph)
655mb 315° (from the NW) 24 knots (28 mph)
603mb 300° (from the WNW) 28 knots (32 mph)
460mb 315° (from the NW) 38 knots (44 mph)
355mb 290° (from the WNW) 41 knots (47 mph)
313mb 280° (from the W) 56 knots (64 mph)
307mb 280° (from the W) 82 knots (94 mph)
299mb 270° (from the W) 57 knots (66 mph)
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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