U.S. heavy precipitation events are increasing, but drought is not

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:12 PM GMT on January 25, 2011

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Yesterday, I introduced the National Climatic Data Center's Climate Extremes Index, which uses temperature and precipitation records to see if the U.S. climate is getting more extreme. Today, I'll focus on how the drought and precipitation extremes that go into the Climate Extremes Index have changed over the past century. The three precipitation-related factors to go into the Climate Extremes Index are:

1) The sum of: (a) the monthly percentage of the United States in severe drought (equivalent to the lowest tenth percentile) based on the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) and (b) the percentage of the United States with severe moisture surplus (equivalent to the highest tenth percentile) based on the PDSI.

2) Twice the value of the percentage of the United States with a much greater than normal proportion of precipitation derived from extreme (equivalent to the highest tenth percentile) 1-day precipitation events.

3) The sum of (a) percentage of the United States with a much greater than normal number of days with precipitation and (b) percentage of the United States with a much greater than normal number of days without precipitation.

Items 1 and 3 have shown no change in annual average value over the past century, but there has been a marked increase in the number of heavy 1-day precipitation events in recent decades. Thus, the record and near-record values of the Climate Extremes Index in recent years have been due to a combination of the increase in heavy 1-day precipitation events and an increase in maximum and minimum temperatures.


Figure 1. The Annual Climate Extremes Index (CEI) for heavy 1-day precipitation events shows that these events, on average, have affected 10% of the U.S. over the past century (black line). However, heavy precipitation events have increased in recent decades. The seven most extreme years since 1910 have all occurred since 1995, with 2010 ranking as the 5th most extreme year in the past 100 years. Image credit: National Climatic Data Center.

Heavy precipitation events
Global warming theory predicts that global precipitation will increase, and that heavy precipitation events--the ones most likely to cause flash flooding--will also increase. This occurs because as the climate warms, evaporation of moisture from the oceans increases, resulting in more water vapor in the air. According to the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, water vapor in the global atmosphere has increased by about 5% over the 20th century, and 4% since 1970. The Climate Extremes Index plot for extreme 1-day precipitation events (Figure 1) does indeed show a sharp increase in heavy precipitation events in recent decades, with seven of the top ten years for these events occurring since 1995, and 2010 coming in 5th place in the past 100 years. The increases in heavy precipitation events have primarily come in the spring and summer, when the most damaging floods typically occur. This mirrors the results of Groisman et al. (2004), who found an increase in annual average U.S. precipitation of 7% over the past century, which has led to a 14% increase in heavy (top 5%) and 20% increase in very heavy (top 1%) precipitation events. Kunkel et al. (2003) also found an increase in heavy precipitation events over the U.S. in recent decades, but noted that heavy precipitation events were nearly as frequent at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, though the data is not as reliable back then.

Drought and extreme wetness
Global warming theory predicts that although global precipitation should increase in a warmer climate, droughts will also increase in intensity, areal coverage, and frequency (Dai et al., 2004). This occurs because when the normal variability of weather patterns brings a period of dry weather to a region, the increased temperatures due to global warming will intensify drought conditions by causing more evaporation and drying up of vegetation. Increases in drought and flooding are my top two concerns regarding climate change for both the U.S. and the world in the coming century. Two of the three costliest U.S. weather disasters since 1980 have been droughts--the droughts of 1988 and 1980, which cost $71 billion and $55 billion, respectively. The heat waves associated with these droughts claimed over 17,000 lives, according to the National Climatic Data Center publication, Billion-Dollar Weather Disasters. Furthermore, the drought of the 1930s Dust Bowl, which left over 500,000 people homeless and devastated large areas of the Midwest, is regarded to be the third costliest U.S. weather disaster on record, behind Katrina and the 1988 drought. (Ricky Rood has an excellent book on the Dust Bowl that he recommends in a 2008 blog post).


Figure 2. The Annual Climate Extremes Index (CEI) for drought. The worst U.S. droughts on record occurred in the 1930s and 1950s. There has been no trend in the amount of the U.S. covered by drought conditions (blue bars) or by abnormally moist conditions (red bars) over the past century. About 10% of the U.S. is typically covered by abnormally dry or wet conditions (black lines). Image credit: National Climatic Data Center.

The good news is that the intensity and areal coverage of U.S. droughts has not increased in recent decades (blue bars in Figure 2). The portion of the U.S. experiencing abnormal drought and exceptionally wet conditions has remained nearly constant at 10% over the past century. A recent paper by Andreadis et al., 2006, summed up 20th century drought in the U.S. like this: "Droughts have, for the most part, become shorter, less frequent, and cover a smaller portion of the country over the last century. The main exception is the Southwest and parts of the interior of the West, where, notwithstanding increased precipitation (and in some cases increased soil moisture and runoff), increased temperature has led to trends in drought characteristics that are mostly opposite to those for the rest of the country especially in the case of drought duration and severity, which have increased."

Other portions of the globe have not not been so fortunate. Globally, Dai and Trenberth (2004) showed that areas experiencing the three highest categories of drought--severe, extreme, and exceptional--more than doubled (from ~12 to 30%) since the 1970s, with a large jump in the early 1980s due to an El NiƱo-related precipitation decrease over land, and subsequent increases primarily due to warming temperatures. According to the Global Drought Monitor, 98 million people world-wide currently live in areas experiencing the highest level of drought (exceptional).

References
Andreadis, K. M. Lettenmaier, D. P., "Trends in 20th century drought over the continental United States", Geo. Res. Letters 33, 10, L10403, DOI 10.1029/2006GL025711

Dai A., K.E. Trenberth, and T. Qian, 2004: A global data set of Palmer Drought Severity Index for 18702002: Relationship with soil moisture and effects of surface warming", J. Hydrometeorol., 5, 11171130.

Gleason, K.L., J.H. Lawrimore, D.H. Levinson, T.R. Karl, and D.J. Karoly, 2008: "A Revised U.S. Climate Extremes Index", J. Climate, 21, 2124-2137.

Groisman, P.Y., R.W. Knight, T.R. Karl, D.R. Easterling, B. Sun, and J.H. Lawrimore, 2004, "Contemporary Changes of the Hydrological Cycle over the Contiguous United States: Trends Derived from In Situ Observations," J. Hydrometeor., 5, 64-85.

Kunkel, K. E., D. R. Easterling, K. Redmond, and K. Hubbard, 2003, "Temporal variations of extreme precipitation events in the United States: 1895-2000", Geophys. Res. Lett., 30(17), 1900, doi:10.1029/2003GL018052.

A new Nor'easter for New England
A low pressure system currently centered along the Gulf Coast near New Orleans is bringing heavy rain to much of the south. Rains in excess of 3 inches have fallen over central Mississippi, and the rain is expected to change to snow over northern Mississippi, northern Alabama, and much of Tennessee late tonight. A swath of 2 - 4" of snow is expected in these regions, with higher amounts in the mountains. The low will move off the coast of North Carolina on Wednesday morning, then northeastward out to sea, potentially bringing heavy snows of 4 - 8" to inland portions of New England and the mid-Atlantic. At this time, it appears that the storm will track far enough from the coast and there will be insufficient cold air in place for snowfall amounts of a foot or more to fall. A nasty mix of rain, sleet, and snow is likely for much of the coast, with the heaviest snows expected to miss New York City, Washington D.C., and Boston (Figure 3.) As the low drags its cold front over Florida this afternoon, a slight risk of severe thunderstorms exists, and Florida could see a few tornadoes.


Figure 3. Probability of more than 8 inches of snow falling, for the 24 hour period ending 7am EST Thursday January 27, 2011. Image credit: National Weather Service HPC.


Jeff Masters

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Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125540
Wow, the bowing in that squall line in the Gulf is getting really nasty-looking! There is a lot of energy out there and the amount of lightning is quite unusual for this time of year.
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Does anyone know of a weather warning APP that warns you on your phone if there is a watch or warning in your area? I am going to be away from my computer later and do not want to be caught off-guard by a tornado!
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Quoting nrtiwlnvragn:


On the same page is the info by state of strong to violent tornados.



That puts Florida in good competition for violent tornadoes with much more "traditional" tornado states, such as Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin and Nebraska.

I get the impression that the general public is almost wholly unaware of the tornado threat in Florida, because they tend to think of Florida as a state where hurricanes happen, as opposed to tornadoes. This is most likely true not only for those who live in faraway places but also even Florida residents. It is one of those false impressions, with the implication that you cannot have both types of extreme weather in the same place or that if a location, such as Florida, is famous for tropical cyclones then that somehow cancels it out as a location for twisters.

Even some meteorologists in other parts of the country may not tend to think of Florida in association with violent tornado outbreaks. But that map and other meteorological records prove that this widely held impression is not especially accurate, in my view.
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I will remove my Radar as stacking loops dont do well
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125540
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9625
178. Jax82
I imagine there will be lots of yellow on this map by days end.

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NEXRAD Radar
Tampa, Base Reflectivity 0.50 Degree Elevation Range 124 NMI
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125540
Electrical storm out in the Gulf, turn off appliances such as TVs, computers, and AC when storms get close tonight
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9625
#168 WX
Thanks I live right where 4 of those counties come together -Alachua, Bradford, Clay & Putnam.
Heads up today.
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Tampa to Florida Keys and Miami are gonna get walloped
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9625


SEL7

URGENT - IMMEDIATE BROADCAST REQUESTED
TORNADO WATCH NUMBER 7
NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER NORMAN OK
210 PM EST TUE JAN 25 2011

THE NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER HAS ISSUED A
TORNADO WATCH FOR PORTIONS OF

MUCH OF THE FLORIDA PENINSULA
COASTAL WATERS

EFFECTIVE THIS TUESDAY AFTERNOON AND EVENING FROM 210 PM UNTIL
900 PM EST.

TORNADOES...HAIL TO 0.5 INCH IN DIAMETER...THUNDERSTORM WIND
GUSTS TO 70 MPH...AND DANGEROUS LIGHTNING ARE POSSIBLE IN THESE
AREAS.

THE TORNADO WATCH AREA IS APPROXIMATELY ALONG AND 85 STATUTE
MILES EAST AND WEST OF A LINE FROM 40 MILES SOUTH SOUTHWEST OF
AVON PARK FLORIDA TO 15 MILES NORTHWEST OF ST AUGUSTINE FLORIDA.
FOR A COMPLETE DEPICTION OF THE WATCH SEE THE ASSOCIATED WATCH
OUTLINE UPDATE (WOUS64 KWNS WOU7).

REMEMBER...A TORNADO WATCH MEANS CONDITIONS ARE FAVORABLE FOR
TORNADOES AND SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS IN AND CLOSE TO THE WATCH
AREA. PERSONS IN THESE AREAS SHOULD BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR
THREATENING WEATHER CONDITIONS AND LISTEN FOR LATER STATEMENTS
AND POSSIBLE WARNINGS.

DISCUSSION...SQUALL LINE NERN GULF WILL BE MOVING ONSHORE INTO AN
INCREASINGLY FAVORABLE AIR MASS FOR SEVERE STORMS AND POSSIBLE
SUPERCELLS. MLCAPES HAVE CLIMBED TO AOA 500 J/KG ALONG WITH STEADILY
IMPROVING SHEAR PROFILES WITH APPROACH OF STRONG UPPER TROUGH AND
SURFACE LOW. IN ADDITION TO POTENTIAL SEVERE INCLUDING ISOLATED
TORNADOES WITH THE SQUALL LINE...MORE DISCRETE CONVECTION IS NOW
DEVELOPING IN WCENTRAL FL AND WILL POTENTIALLY DEVELOP INTO LOW
TOPPED SUPERCELLS/POSSIBLE TORNADOES AS THEY TRACK NEWD ACROSS
CENTRAL AND NERN FL AHEAD OF THE SQUALL LINE THIS AFTERNOON.

AVIATION...TORNADOES AND A FEW SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS WITH HAIL
SURFACE AND ALOFT TO 0.5 INCH. EXTREME TURBULENCE AND SURFACE
WIND GUSTS TO 60 KNOTS. A FEW CUMULONIMBI WITH MAXIMUM TOPS TO
450. MEAN STORM MOTION VECTOR 24035.


...HALES
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125540
TORNADO WATCH EVERYBODY UNTIL 9 PM
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Quoting FLWaterFront:


This is all true but they are not mentioning to occasional major tornado outbreak, with potentially EF-3 and EF-4 signatures, that can and do happen from time to time in Florida. These are of no small significance. The best recent examples occurred in February of 1998 and February of 2007, if memory serves me right.


On the same page is the info by state of strong to violent tornados.

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Storms continue to intesify over the Gulf waters
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9625
Tornado watch in affect for Central Florida
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9625
Good Afternoon...

TORNADO WATCH OUTLINE UPDATE FOR WT 7
NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER NORMAN OK
210 PM EST TUE JAN 25 2011

TORNADO WATCH 7 IS IN EFFECT UNTIL 900 PM EST FOR THE
FOLLOWING LOCATIONS

FLC001-007-009-017-019-027-035-041-049-053-055-057-061-069-075-
081-083-085-093-095-097-101-103-105-107-109-111-115-117-119-125-
127-260200-
/O.NEW.KWNS.TO.A.0007.110125T1910Z-110126T0200Z/

FL
. FLORIDA COUNTIES INCLUDED ARE

ALACHUA BRADFORD BREVARD
CITRUS CLAY DESOTO
FLAGLER GILCHRIST HARDEE
HERNANDO HIGHLANDS HILLSBOROUGH
INDIAN RIVER LAKE LEVY
MANATEE MARION MARTIN
OKEECHOBEE ORANGE OSCEOLA
PASCO PINELLAS POLK
PUTNAM SARASOTA SEMINOLE
ST. JOHNS ST. LUCIE SUMTER
UNION VOLUSIA
$$
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Quoting aquak9:
ok ok ok

it's all cool- we all good

let's watch the weather!!!


Yes sorry I misunderstood thing I am afraid. Big development - a big orange box over the storms out in the gulf meaning marine weather better be careful and those storms will move on shore and they should watch very carfully!
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How's everyone today? Nice prespring type setup in the gulf today
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ok ok ok

it's all cool- we all good

let's watch the weather!!!
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Quoting aquak9:
Were you trying to call someone a name by using the words HoR?

no way....really?


I sent you an email. I am sorry it was a big misunderstanding. I see someone said he was saying House of Representatives. I thought he was trying to call Nancy Pelosi a bad name and that is why I took offence to it.
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Quoting aquak9:
Were you trying to call someone a name by using the words HoR?

no way....really?


bahahaha aqua don't be mean
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Were you trying to call someone a name by using the words HoR?

no way....really?
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Sunspot indices have been on a general decline during January. The activity out there is nothing more than anemic.

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Quoting FloridaHeat:


Either I misunderstood you or something else. Were you trying to call someone a name by using the words HoR? If not then I apologize and will remove my FLAGED.


lol so if hes making fun of republicans its okay to bring in politics, but if he makes fun of your party it's not okay? lol way not to be biased...
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Quoting nrtiwlnvragn:


Thats part of ncdc thoughts

"In the United States, there are two regions with a disproportionately high frequency of tornadoes. Florida is one and "Tornado Alley" in the south-central U.S. is the other. Florida has numerous tornadoes simply due to the high frequency of almost daily thunderstorms. In addition, several tropical storms or hurricanes often impact the Florida peninsula each year. When these tropical systems move ashore, the embedded convective storms in the rain bands often produce tornadoes. However, despite the violent nature of a tropical storm or hurricane, the tornadoes they spawn (some as water spouts) tend to be weaker than those produced by non-tropical thunderstorms."


This is all true but they are not mentioning to occasional major tornado outbreak, with potentially EF-3 and EF-4 signatures, that can and do happen from time to time in Florida. These are of no small significance. The best recent examples occurred in February of 1998 and February of 2007, if memory serves me right.
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Quoting Neapolitan:

I was merely mirroring and expanding upon what the abstract said. No offense intended...


Either I misunderstood you or something else. Were you trying to call someone a name by using the words HoR? If not then I apologize and will remove my FLAGED.
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Quoting Jedkins01:
Good Lord it is hard to get Calculus homework done on a day like today, even more so when the homework is about derivatives and integrals, lol.


My personal philosophy in circumstances such as this was always the following:

Put the homework aside and enjoy the show. The adrenalin rush will always allow you to pull an all-nighter later on, if need be. The homework is going to suffer some anyway, what with the unfolding distraction.

Opportunities like this don't happen all of the time and you never know when they will happen. But homework can be done anytime. Just my own philosophy, for what it is worth ;-)
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153. JRRP
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Quoting FloridaHeat:


I do not think he should be bring politics into it because I am a democrat and do not appreciate.

I was merely mirroring and expanding upon what the abstract said. No offense intended...
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Quoting icmoore:
Hi Flood! I'm doing fine thanks! How about you and your lady?
Just sitting here with 3 snoozing dogs watching the weather. Doesn't get much better than that :)


We're good...just getting over having the creeping crud (or the abazooti, your choice)...
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Quoting Jedkins01:
Good Lord it is hard to get Calculus homework done on a day like today, even more so when the homework is about derivatives and integrals, lol.


My homework is all in 3-space now. Drawing in 3D is driving me nuts lol.
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Quoting DEKRE:


I assume you mean MW ?

Oops. Yes. I worked on an energy flyer this morning for a rush presentation in Curacao and still have my mind on milliwatts. Big difference... ;-)
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Quoting aquak9:


lay off, young man...Nea is wiser than you.

AND animate your radar- you've still gotta coupla hours at least- that line is moving NE, not due east.


I do not think he should be bring politics into it because I am a democrat and do not appreciate.
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NEA, that's better, lay off the gurble and charts and talk about solutions.
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9625
144. DEKRE
Quoting Neapolitan:


I assume you mean MW ?
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Quoting FloridaHeat:
141. FLAGED


lay off, young man...Nea is wiser than you.

AND animate your radar- you've still gotta coupla hours at least- that line is moving NE, not due east.
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141. FLAGED
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According to a newly-released study, the entire planet could achieve 100% clean energy by 2030. That is, if the planet were to completely move away from fossil fuels, and instead use electricity and electrolytic hydrogen (i.e. fuel cells) for all purposes.

Yes, 2030. And all we need are the following:

- roughly 3,800,000 5 MW wind turbines
- 49,000 300 MW concentrated solar plants
- 40,000 300 MW solar PV power plants
- 1.7 billion 3 kW rooftop PV systems
- 5,350 100 MW geothermal power plants
- 270 new 1300 MW hydroelectric power plants
- 720,000 0.75 MW wave devices
- 490,000 1 MW tidal turbines.

The study focused only on wind, tidal, solar, and geothermal energy sources, intentionally leaving out fossil fuels--which currently provide over 80% of the world's energy supply--biomass, and nuclear.

The problem--as the abstract points out--isn't technological or economic, but rather social and political. And with the current death grip the fossil fuel industries have over politicians--especially one particular party that just took control of the HoR--things sadly aren't going to change anytime soon.
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Is the red that can be seen from Tampa radar the squall line already? I thought they say it would be here late tonight and not so early. I am so confuse!
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Here we go!!!!

MESOSCALE DISCUSSION 0044
NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER NORMAN OK
1219 PM CST TUE JAN 25 2011

AREAS AFFECTED...CNTRL AND NRN FL

CONCERNING...SEVERE POTENTIAL...WATCH LIKELY

VALID 251819Z - 251915Z

SETUP APPEARS TO BECOMING INCREASINGLY FAVORABLE FOR TSTMS WITH DMGG
WIND AND POSSIBLY A COUPLE TORNADOES OVER PARTS OF CNTRL AND NRN FL.
A WW LIKELY WILL BE REQUIRED SHORTLY.

BROKEN CLOUDS HAVE ALLOWED SFC TEMPERATURES TO WARM INTO THE LOW TO
MID 70S ACROSS MUCH OF THE FL PENINSULA...SOUTH OF SLOWLY-MOVING
WARM FRONT NOW EXTENDING FROM NEAR KCTY TO NEAR KJAX. THE FRONT
SHOULD CONTINUE DRIFTING VERY SLOWLY N THROUGH LATE TODAY...WHILE
NE-SW ORIENTED QLCS...NOW LOCATED ABOUT 90 NM WNW OF KTPA...
CONTINUES E AT 40-45 KTS.

AREA VWP DATA SHOW AMPLE DEEP SHEAR TO SUPPORT SUSTAINED
STORMS/SUPERCELLS...WITH 30-35 KT SLY LOW LVL FLOW VEERING TO 40 KT
WSWLY AT 500 MB. OVERALL WIND FIELD GRADUALLY SHOULD INCREASE...AND
CURRENT WEAKNESS IN OBSERVED FLOW AROUND 700 MB SHOULD DIMINISH...AS
UPR IMPULSE/JET STREAK NOW OVER LA CONTINUE ENE THROUGH TONIGHT.

COMBINATION OF INCREASING WINDS...AMPLE MOISTURE /AREA PW AROUND
1.25 INCHES/...AND ASCENT WITH UPR IMPULSE SHOULD SUPPORT EMBEDDED
SUPERCELLS/SMALL LEWPS WITH DMGG WIND AND ISOLD TORNADOES AS QLCS
CONTINUES EWD. SOME POTENTIAL ALSO WILL EXIST FOR THE DEVELOPMENT
OF A FEW DISCRETE STORMS AHEAD OF QLCS...ESPECIALLY OVER ERN
FL...WHERE LOW LVL CONVERGENCE LIKELY WILL BE MAXIMIZED INVOF SEA
BREEZE FRONT. SLIGHTLY BACKED NEAR-SFC FLOW IN THIS REGION MAY
LOCALLY ENHANCE TORNADO THREAT EARLY THIS EVE.

..CORFIDI.. 01/25/2011


ATTN...WFO...MLB...TBW...JAX...TAE...

LAT...LON 28608316 29578348 30238275 30668183 30568125 29778092
29148076 28168064 27048155 26928255 28608316
Member Since: July 1, 2008 Posts: 13 Comments: 7334
Quoting clwstmchasr:
I'm surprised that they haven't issued some sort of watches (either severe storm or tornado) for some parts of FL.


They were probably at lunch but will assess the situation shortly I am sure.
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137. Jax82
Lightning all around now in Jax, its a rolling through.
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In this case, with the confirmed reports of greater instability it would be foolish for the SPC to not increase the probabilities.
Member Since: July 1, 2008 Posts: 13 Comments: 7334
Quoting atmoaggie:
That would be Presslord.

I don't mind snow, but I never learned a whole lot about winter weather and used it even less.
Lol...Sorry...I got da posts mixed up.
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About JeffMasters

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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