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 Niño-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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Quoting reedzone:
SPC has increased wind potential for the storm, but keeps tornado possibility at 5%.. This is somewhat better, but the tornado potential should be increased to 10% with a 5% of hail where in even their new outlook, there is no potential of large hail... Even though we are seeing indications of hail in the storms...



Tornado Watch 7 Watch Hazard Probabilities

Tornadoes
Probability of 2 or more tornadoes
Mod (50%)

Probability of 1 or more strong (F2-F5) tornadoes
Low (20%)

Wind
Probability of 10 or more severe wind events
Mod (40%)

Probability of 1 or more wind events > 65 knots
Low (20%)

Hail
Probability of 10 or more severe hail events
Low (<5%)

Probability of 1 or more hailstones > 2 inches
Low (<5%)

Combined Severe Hail/Wind
Probability of 6 or more combined severe hail/wind events
High (80%)

I'm not sure if these probabilities are the same as for the SWO's, namely the probability of an event occurring within 25 miles of a point - or whether these are the probabilities of an event anywhere in the watch area.
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It appears that Jacksonville will not see the wrath of the storms. The line should move south of the city.. However, St. Augustine and southward will get the brunt of the line.
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thanks dewey- I been practicin'
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230. beell
Quoting cchsweatherman:
Very impressive sounding numbers coming in from Miami. May see a more significant severe weather threat down in South Florida than originally though. Supercell Index at 6.2.





May want to look at that one again.
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You all need to be told this - there is a likihood of damage from these storms in Florida tonight with the wind and possible tornadoes and hail.
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Cell Y3 Showing 1.25" Hail

[Mesocyclone] Y3 61 dBZ 35,000 ft. 53 kg/m² 60% chance 100% chance 1.25 HAIL in. 33 knots WSW (237)

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129424
10 points aqua
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Quoting twincomanche:


Forget the bashing what would the cost of this be?

Probably trillions if we start now. Or tens of trillions if we wait a couple more decades. The thing is, even if you dismiss GW entirely, easy and cheap oil and coal aren't going to be with us much longer, so we're going to have no choice but to do something along these lines whether we want to or not. Unless, that is, we choose to go back to living in huts.

Personally, I think it would be better to do it now before our hand is forced. But that's just me...
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Quoting Jedkins01:


Agreed, the wind gust potential should be increased to 75% if you ask me, I just heard a dang transformer blow in my neighborhood, and that's just the inflow winds! Its been gusting well into the 45 mph at times, although the overall average is about 40 mph.


The tornado threat should be increased to, the line is growing stronger, almost the entire line has cells between 55 and 65 DBZ, that's the classic sign of s severe line approaching. Not too mention the strong dynamics we have will enhance any storm that is already powerful.


Kind of reminds me of the 1993 squall line, not the storm, just the severe storms..
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224. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
Tropical Cyclone Warning Center Perth
Tropical Cyclone Advice #14
TROPICAL CYCLONE BIANCA (12U)
3:00 AM WST January 26 2011
=======================================

At 2:00 am WST, Tropical Cyclone Bianca, Category One (990 hPa) located at 17.8S 120.8E, or 155 km west of Broome and 360 km northeast of Port Hedland has 10 minute sustained winds of 40 knots with gusts of 55 knots. The cyclone is reported as moving southwest at 12 knots.

Gale Force Winds
=================
40 NM from the center

Dvorak Intensity: T3.0/3.0/D1.0/24HRS

Tropical Cyclone Bianca is developing as it moves to the southwest over open waters west of Broome. The cyclone is expected to intensify further as it moves steadily parallel to the Pilbara coast today and on Thursday.

Gales are no longer expected on the coast between Cape Leveque and Bidyadanga however gales are possible for a period between Bidyadanga and Port Hedland this morning extending to Karratha tonight and then to Coral Bay on Thursday.

Heavy rain is expected in coastal parts between Cape Leveque and Port Hedland, extending west later today and on Thursday. Localised stream rises are likely but widespread flooding is not expected.

Tropical Cyclone Warnings/Watch
================================
A Cyclone WARNING is current for coastal and island communities from Bidyadanga to Coral Bay.

The Cyclone WARNING from Cape Leveque to Bidyadanga including Broome has been cancelled.

Forecast and Intensity
=======================
12 HRS: 18.9S 119.0E - 50 knots (CAT 2)
24 HRS: 19.7S 116.7E - 55 knots (CAT 2)
48 HRS: 21.9S 111.7E - 75 knots (CAT 3)
72 HRS: 26.1S 108.4E - 60 knots (CAT 2)

Additional Information
========================

Broome radar shows improving definition of a small circulation, now over open water and intensifying. Despite competing peripheral convection and lack of persisting convection over the centre in the last 12 hours, recent imagery shows deep convection about the centre.

Dvorak curved band analysis ranges from 0.4-0.7 wrap, with the higher range chosen using a tight curvature. This suggests a DT=3.0 and given the system was land affected 24 hours ago, FT/CI is 3.0 and hence cyclone intensity is reached.

Further intensification is forecast given the ongoing low vertical wind shear [currently 10-15 knots] and high ocean heat content [SST >30C]. On Thursday it is likely to reach severe cyclone [hurricane] intensity. Weakening is then likely from late Friday or Saturday as the system moves over cooler SSTs and then later experiences increasing shear.

The system is expected to be steered steadily towards the west southwest by a strong mid-level ridge until late Friday when an amplifying trough will result in the system being steered towards the south. On Sunday the remnants of the system will experience very high shear as a strong surface ridge pushes in beneath the mid level trough.

The next tropical cyclone advice on Tropical Cyclone Bianca will be at 21:00 PM UTC..
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Quoting reedzone:
SPC has increased wind potential for the storm, but keeps tornado possibility at 5%.. This is somewhat better, but the tornado potential should be increased to 10% with a 5% of hail where in even their new outlook, there is no potential of large hail... Even though we are seeing indications of hail in the storms...



Agreed, the wind gust potential should be increased to 75% if you ask me, I just heard a dang transformer blow in my neighborhood, and that's just the inflow winds! Its been gusting well into the 45 mph at times, although the overall average is about 40 mph.


The tornado threat should be increased to, the line is growing stronger, almost the entire line has cells between 55 and 65 DBZ, that's the classic sign of s severe line approaching. Not too mention the strong dynamics we have will enhance any storm that is already powerful.
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Very impressive sounding numbers coming in from Miami. May see a more significant severe weather threat down in South Florida than originally though. Supercell Index at 6.2.


Member Since: April 14, 2007 Posts: 8 Comments: 5169
Make sure you take precautions for hail...windshields, glass tables..ect....looks like a lot of hail in the line to me....
Member Since: September 16, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1496
LOL... the hubris is blinding.
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College of DuPage Meteorology
Severe Weather and Flash Flood Warnings
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129424
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Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129424
SPC has increased wind potential for the storm, but keeps tornado possibility at 5%.. This is somewhat better, but the tornado potential should be increased to 10% with a 5% of hail where in even their new outlook, there is no potential of large hail... Even though we are seeing indications of hail in the storms...

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32 Doppler Radar Detected Storms
ID Max Top VIL Severe Hail Hail Max Hail Size Speed Direction (from)
1 [Mesocyclone] Y3 64 dBZ 35,000 ft. 50 kg/m² 60% chance 100% chance 1.25 in. 35 knots WSW (238)


Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129424
I gotta go Julia, we got cows.
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Quoting FloridaHeat:


How
Top, middle of this page. Drop down menu, select "My Mobile Alerts"
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
Afternoon all. Looks like some severe weather moving into the big bend area....
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YEA beell! Hi and here I was sitting in my living room going back and forth from radars to here thinking I was invisible :)
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Quoting atmoaggie:
You guys know you can get email and text notifications right here, at WU?

And you can pick and choose what you want to get.

(For example, I enable "Special Weather Statement" and get a little more info, directly, even when a storm is just under worth calling a warning for.)


How
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209. IKE
Hello fellow bloggers.

Updated forecast for me....
Tonight
Mostly cloudy with a 20 percent chance of rain in the
evening...then partly cloudy after midnight. Lows around 40. Southwest
winds around 10 mph shifting to the northwest after midnight.
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Y3 the Bowing Couplet
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129424
207. beell
hi Ike, hi aqua, and of course, hi ic!
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17 Doppler Radar Detected Storms
ID Max Top VIL Severe Hail Hail Max Hail Size Speed Direction (from)
1 [Mesocyclone] Y3 67 dBZ 29,000 ft. 49 kg/m² 80% chance 90% chance 1.75 in. 33 knots

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129424


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hi ike, hi beell
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203. beell
Photobucket
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GOM Loop Current 120 Hour Surface Current Forecast Model
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129424
Quoting RipplinH2O:
Check your local county emergency management website. Santa Rosa County in the panhandle has just what you describe. As warnings are issued, they will be e-mailed to you.
You guys know you can get email and text notifications right here, at WU?

And you can pick and choose what you want to get.

(For example, I enable "Special Weather Statement" and get a little more info, directly, even when a storm is just under worth calling a warning for.)
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
16 Doppler Radar Detected Storms

ID Max Top VIL Severe Hail Hail Max Hail Size Speed Direction (from)
1 [Mesocyclone] Y3 64 dBZ 31,000 ft. 56 kg/m² 80% chance 100% chance 1.50 in. 35 knots WSW (249)



Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129424
Quoting FloridaHeat:
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!
Check your local county emergency management website. Santa Rosa County in the panhandle has just what you describe. As warnings are issued, they will be e-mailed to you.
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Quoting Neapolitan:
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.


Forget the bashing what would the cost of this be?
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197. IKE
57.2 at my location in the Florida panhandle. All of the rain is east and south of here.

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Quoting Levi32:
Also of potential concern is how the Loop Current has suddenly expanded northward during January. During most of last hurricane season and the beginning of this winter it was very small along the coast of Cuba, going through a weak phase. It is currently strengthening markedly.

That's within a month of isolating an eddy, I think.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
Quoting jwh250:
Is the world's largest super-volcano set to erupt for the first time in 600,000 years, wiping out two-thirds of the U.S.?

The super-volcano beneath Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming has been rising at a record rate since 2004

You know what's dumb about that article? They talk of toxic air, uninhabitable areas, grounding flights, etc., but no mention of the planet losing a considerable portion of it's most productive farmland for a long time, and much of the crops failing all over the northern hemisphere for at least one year. Millions of people starving to death.

But the flights being grounded are what seem to be truly important to the author...sheesh.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
Also of potential concern is how the Loop Current has suddenly expanded northward during January. During most of last hurricane season and the beginning of this winter it was very small along the coast of Cuba, going through a weak phase. It is currently strengthening markedly.

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10 Doppler Radar Detected Storms
ID Max Top VIL Severe Hail Hail Max Hail Size Speed Direction (from)
1 [Mesocyclone] Y3 62 dBZ 33,000 ft. 50 kg/m 60% chance 100% chance 1.25 in. 33 knots WSW (243)

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129424
Quoting FLWaterFront:


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 ;-)


That's true! And we don't even cover the exam practice test till tomorrow, the actual test isn't till Monday :)
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One can see the tropical moisture from the Caribbean swelling northward.

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Quoting FLWaterFront:


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.


I have had plenty of experience with tornado frequency since living in Florida, to the degree I haven't experienced in other states. Tropical cyclones can be hyped here sometimes, but severe weather, such as flooding, damaging winds and tornadoes, are highly overlooked despite how common they are here.
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Current PWAT values are now between 1.75 and 1.9, amazing amounts of moisture!

By the way, just got a gust to 43 mph! This isn't even from the thunderstorms...
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188. beell
A couple embedded areas of very broad, weak, (but persistent) areas of rotation heading for shore. Would not be surprised to see a brief spin-up if they hold together long enough to reach the beach. The southern one looks better, of course.

Photobucket
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Quoting FloridaHeat:
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!


You can get text and email alerts through the Weather Channel. The're actually good for something. Sometimes I get the text before my weather radio goes off.
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Quoting Patrap:


Notice the thunderstorms persistently trying to go off near 26N, 86-87W during the course of the loop. This is due to the low-level convergence zone moving over the very warm Loop Current, which is sticking out like a sore thumb relative to the rest of the gulf this winter.

As an aside, this also means the tropical Atlantic will stay fairly warm this hurricane season.

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Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129424

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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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