Great Blizzard pounding Chicago; extremely dangerous Cyclone Yasi nears Australia

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:31 AM GMT on February 02, 2011

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The Great Groundhog's Day Blizzard of 2011 is wreaking havoc tonight from Texas to Michigan, and is poised to spread dangerous winter weather eastwards to New England during the day Wednesday. Four states have declared states of emergency—Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, and Kansas—and the National Guard has been called out in Illinois and Missouri. Up to 1/2” of ice has caused power outages in Indianapolis, and blizzard conditions have engulfed Chicago, where heavy snows of up to two inches per hour are falling in high winds. Winds tonight at Chicago's Calumet Harbor were tropical storm force, 39 mph, with gusts to 49 mph. Winds gusts of 60 mph were occurring at the Chicago buoy, 10 miles offshore in Lake Michigan.

The storm will probably be Chicago's biggest blizzard since January 2 - 4 1999, when a storm dumped 21.6" of snow. With tonight's snowstorm expected to have very unstable air aloft, "thundersnow" with snowfall rates of 4 inches/hour is possible, and there is a chance today's blizzard could rival Chicago's greatest snow storm of all time, the blizzard of January 26 - 27, 1967. That immense storm dumped 23 inches of snow on Chicago, stranding thousands of people and leaving an estimated 800 Chicago Transit Authority buses and 50,000 automobiles abandoned on the city streets and expressways. Twenty six Chicagoans died in the blizzard, mostly due to heart attacks from shoveling snow. Strong winds in Chicago today are expected to generate 14 - 18 feet waves on Lake Michigan, with occasional waves up to 25 feet. A significant coastal flooding event is possible for the city, with beach erosion and flooding along Lake Shore Drive. I'll have a full update on the great blizzard in the morning.


Figure 1. Satellite image of the Groundhog's Day Blizzard of 2011, taken at 8pm EST February 1. Image credit: NASA/GSFC.

Category 4 Tropical Cyclone Yasi nearing Queensland, Australia
Tropical Cyclone Yasi continues to intensify as it speeds westwards towards vulnerable Queensland, Australia. Yasi, now a Category 4 storm with 140 mph winds, is under light wind shear of 5 - 10 knots, and over record warm ocean waters of 29°C (84°C). Low wind shear, record warm sea surface temperatures, and favorable upper-level outflow should allow the cyclone to maintain Category 4 strength until landfall Wednesday evening (local time.)

The Austrailian Bureau of Meteorology had this to say about Yasi in their latest advisory:

YASI IS A LARGE AND VERY POWERFUL TROPICAL CYCLONE AND POSES AN
EXTREMELY SERIOUS THREAT TO LIFE AND PROPERTY WITHIN THE WARNING AREA,
ESPECIALLY BETWEEN CAIRNS AND TOWNSVILLE.

THIS IMPACT IS LIKELY TO BE MORE LIFE THREATENING THAN ANY EXPERIENCED DURING
RECENT GENERATIONS.

On Wednesday morning at 9:30am local time, Yasi hit tiny Willis Island, where a minimum pressure of 938 mb and a peak wind gust of 115 mph was observed before Yasi cut communications and damaged the radar.

Queensland faces three major threats from Yasi. The cyclone will bring torrential rainfall to a region with saturated soils that saw record flooding earlier this month. The latest rainfall rates in Yasi's eyewall as estimated by microwave satellite imagery are 20 mm (0.8") per hour. The GFS model is predicting that a wide swath of Queensland will receive 5 - 10 inches of rain over the next week, due to the combined effects of Yasi and a moist flow of tropical air over the region. Fortunately, Yasi is moving with a rapid forward speed, about 21 mph, and is not expected to linger over Queensland after landfall. The heaviest rainfall will miss Queenland's most populated regions to the south that had the worst flooding problems earlier this month, including the Australia's third largest city, Brisbane.

Yasi will bring highly destructive winds to a region of coast south of the city of Cairns (population 150,000.) Townsville (population 200,000) is farther from the expected landfall of the eyewall, and should see lesser winds. Strong building codes have been in place in Queensland since the 1960s, which will help reduce the damage amounts. The fact that Yasi's eyewall will miss these two major cities is lucky, since the coast is less populous between the two cities.

A dangerous storm surge in excess of ten feet can be expected along the left front quadrant of the storm where it comes ashore. The tidal range between low and high tide along the coast near Cairns will be about 2 meters (6 feet) during the evening of February 2. Yasi is expected to hit near midnight, halfway between low and high tide. Thus, the inundation from the storm surge will be about 1 meter (3 feet) less than it would have been had the storm hit at high tide.

Yasi is larger and more dangerous than Cyclone Larry of 2006, which hit Queensland as a Category 4 storm with 135 mph winds. Larry killed one person and caused $872 million in damage (2011 U.S. dollars.) Yasi will bring heavy rains to a region with soils already saturated from record rains, and may become a billion-dollar cyclone.


Figure 2. Tropical Cyclone Yasi as captured by the Willis Island radar, as the western eyewall of Yasi moved over the island. Image credit: Australian Bureau of Meteorology, and kindly grabbed for me by Margie Kieper.

Links to follow:

Live streaming video from Channel 9 in Cairns, Australia

Jeff Masters

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Quoting AussieStorm:
very nicely done... always good to see comparisons.. many have no idea how huge Australia is.
Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 236
Aussiestorm - Are you in harms way? If so, stay safe!
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Quoting Hurricanes101:


Tracy was only 30 miles in diameter, doubt any of those cyclones in that pic were of Tracy




Darwin after Tracy.
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15937
Quoting 1900hurricane:

Isn't there already a page here?


D'OH! *Facepalm*
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Quoting kellnerp:

As the ocean warms it can't radiate energy to space like land can
Well, not true. The oceans radiate just like land, only it doesn't result in a lower temperature as quickly. (specific heat much higher)

Just sayin, everything that has a temperature above absolute zero radiates just the same...
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
Quoting AstroHurricane001:


Remnants of Anthony still alive and headed for Victoria and New South Wales! Incredible.
I noticed that on a map a minute ago. BoM had flood watches still out for parts of the Darling / Murray watershed up to yesterday...
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Quoting WaterWitch11:
hi guys & dr masters.

i was just watching cnn and they had a live feed of chicago. there was lightening & thunder during the snow storm. is that something that normally happens?


Thundersnow
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
BOM says Willis Island observation station may have been destroyed. No data for over 40 minutes.
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15937
Quoting WaterWitch11:
hi guys & dr masters.

i was just watching cnn and they had a live feed of chicago. there was lightening & thunder during the snow storm. is that something that normally happens?
It's fairly rare, but happens somewhere a couple of times every winter, it seems.

All about it: http://www.theweatherprediction.com/habyhints/334/
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
Quoting AussieStorm:

It's Cyclone Tracy from 24 Dec 1974.


Tracy was only 30 miles in diameter, doubt any of those cyclones in that pic were of Tracy

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Watch live video from Cyclone Yasi - #bigyasi on twitter on Justin.tv
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15937
Quoting 1900hurricane:

Would that be Monica from 2006 instead of Tracy?

It's Cyclone Tracy from 24 Dec 1974.
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15937
Quoting AstroHurricane001:
I have just created a Wikipedia article on the Groundhog storm here.

I would like to request some help of any partially-experienced fellow Wikipedians on the following:

-Breaking news updates
-Useful links by NOAA showing constant updates
-Archived storm and warning information
-More details on closures and effects
-More text to the body of article
-Some images (upload first to Wikimedia Commons)
-Any new records of snowfall or ice accumulation
-All-time records
-Reports on storm surge and tornadoes

Thanks!

Isn't there already a page here?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Neapolitan:

True--but many big events of increasing frequency and intensity certainly do fit a certain widely-accepted climatological theory.

As the ocean warms it can't radiate energy to space like land can so the oceans depend on convection to do the job. The heating up of the ocean is the driver of GW. What is happening in Chicago is driven by heat carried up from the GOM and the Pacific Ocean. Frankly, we need the moisture up here.
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Quoting AussieStorm:
Comparison between TC Tracy(Dec 24 1974) TC Larry(Mar 20 2006) and TC Yasi (Feb 2 2011)



Cairns humor.
LOL

Would that be Monica from 2006 instead of Tracy?

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hi guys & dr masters.

i was just watching cnn and they had a live feed of chicago. there was lightening & thunder during the snow storm. is that something that normally happens?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
I have just created a Wikipedia article on the Groundhog storm here.

I would like to request some help of any partially-experienced fellow Wikipedians on the following:

-Breaking news updates
-Useful links by NOAA showing constant updates
-Archived storm and warning information
-More details on closures and effects
-More text to the body of article
-Some images (upload first to Wikimedia Commons)
-Any new records of snowfall or ice accumulation
-All-time records
-Reports on storm surge and tornadoes

Thanks!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Another picture from Wrigley off twitter:

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15937
Quoting AussieStorm:


Remnants of Anthony still alive and headed for Victoria and New South Wales! Incredible.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Comparison between TC Tracy(Dec 24 1974) TC Larry(Mar 20 2006) and TC Yasi (Feb 2 2011)



Cairns humor.
LOL
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15937
Quoting PcolaDan:


Ah, must be part of the grandstand area.


From Chicagobreakingnews.com:

Due to the high winds, a portion of a structural panel above the press box at Wrigley Field "broke away" tonight, scattering debris outside the ball park, officials said.

Chicago police cordoned off streets and sidewalks around the park, while Cubs officials worked with the city to monitor the situation and ensure there weren't any public safety issues, Cubs spokesman Peter Chase said.

No injuries were reported from the falling panel made of fiber board.
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YOWZA!

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Quoting atmoaggie:
That's what I was wishing for.

Not impossible that it's still collecting, but comms were lost...such as a little satellite dish on a roof. Possible, anyway.
Yah. It would be great if the data collection continued, even if we don't get to see it ... would be vastly useful.

I'm still arguing that the next major advance in wx accuracy [i.e. forecasting] has to come via more durable instrumentation for storm situations. I'm including satellite instrumentation in this.
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Link


Link
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15937
Quoting Neapolitan:

I'm not certain, but I believe so long as there's no break in precipitation greater than one hour, any rain/snow that falls will be considered part of the same event. Sounds about right; wouldn't it be difficult to tell which snowflakes came from the storm, and which came from the lake? ;-)
*Some* of the moisture is coming from the lake. Now.


(Best viewed full size)


NE winds, like someone from Indiana already said. (Which is, itself, not very common, or Chicago's normal winter snowfall would rival Buffalo's)
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
Quoting weatherboy1992:
Thanks Neapolitan. I think it would be cool if Chicago did break their single snowstorm record but right now I doubt it. They could get lucky with NE lake effect tomorrow--but would that count as part of the storm?

I'm not certain, but I believe so long as there's no break in precipitation greater than one hour, any rain/snow that falls will be considered part of the same event. Sounds about right; wouldn't it be difficult to tell which snowflakes came from the storm, and which came from the lake? ;-)
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13549
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15937
Quoting spathy:
Whats the best est. on where Yasi makes landfall?
Tully heads area?
Whats the population density there anyone know?
Looks like most of the coastline there is parkland.
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Willis Island's last radar loop before getting knocked out
Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 236
0 UTC NAM just coming out...same solution as 18 UTC.

Starts with snow from NOLA to Mobile at 15 UTC, Thursday.

Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
Click for larger image:

Appropriate tropical weather-related image.
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13549
Quoting kellnerp:

This is what I grew up with in the '60s. Ho hum. Blizzard, cold weather, gets warmer, blizzard, cold weather, warms up. I miss the 2 weeks of -20F in January though.

Big events do not a climate make.


but multi world wide events occurring at a rate that should be seen once every hundred years means nothing

yep move along nothing to see here it was only fireworks

in the end you will proably be one of those that will likly not make it good luck
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Hope Australia doesn't have as many deaths as they did during another Cat 5 in their past:

There, they had 400-410.

Struck Bathurst Bay, Australia.

http://www.ask.com/wiki/Mahina_Cyclone_of_1899

Mahina is currently listed as the worst cyclone to hit Australia.
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Quoting kellnerp:
Big events do not a climate make.

True--but many big events of increasing frequency and intensity certainly do fit a certain widely-accepted climatological theory.

I realize it's coming at the expense of everyone else, but the current ten-day forecast here calls for mid- to upper-70s every day, with only one sub-50 night in store, so I'm good. It's 71 now; I've got the house fully opened, and there's a very nice breeze blowing through... ;-)
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13549
Quoting AussieStorm:

That would of told the real story of how powerful really is.

Watch live video from Cyclone Yasi - #bigyasi on twitter on Justin.tv

PSSSSSSSTTTTT. Dr Masters, your Channel 9 Cairns link is not working.


Its working, but it keeps in replaying the same thing over and over.
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The Impact is going to be catastrophic.


Funktop Image



Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128636
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Quoting BahaHurican:
Looks like Willis Island is well into the back eyewall right now.... man, the data one could have picked up if that station was still fully operational.....
That's what I was wishing for.

Not impossible that it's still collecting, but comms were lost...such as a little satellite dish on a roof. Possible, anyway.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
Quoting weatherboy1992:
Thanks Neapolitan. I think it would be cool if Chicago did break their single snowstorm record but right now I doubt it. They could get lucky with NE lake effect tomorrow--but would that count as part of the storm?

I think it could, since the lake-effect would be caused and steered by the storm's circulation. That's just my take though and I'm not really sure.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Was out to shovel out the doors. Pretty windy. The snow, when it drifts, gets tight or packed on the surface. We haven't had much snow 60 miles ESE of Chicago. Looking at possible freezing rain later on the radar. That will bring down trees and power lines.

Wind is from the NE which is unusual for storms in this area (Northern Indiana)
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TC Yasi Floater - Rainbow Color Infrared Loop

TFP's are available
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128636

Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology
Queensland
Tropical Cyclone Warning Centre

Media: Transmitters serving the area between Cape Melville to Sarina are
requested to USE the Standard Emergency Warning Signal before broadcasting the
following warning.

TOP PRIORITY
TROPICAL CYCLONE ADVICE NUMBER 13
Issued by the Bureau of Meteorology, Brisbane
Issued at 11:12am EST on Wednesday the 2nd of February 2011

A Cyclone WARNING is current for coastal and island communities from Cape
Melville to Sarina, extending inland to Croydon and Richmond.

A Cyclone WATCH is current for the remaining inland parts west to the Northern
Territory border and north of Winton.

At 10:00 am EST Severe Tropical Cyclone Yasi, Category 5 was estimated to be 445
kilometres east of Cairns and 455 kilometres northeast of Townsville and moving
west southwest at 30 kilometres per hour.

SEVERE TC YASI IS A LARGE AND VERY POWERFUL TROPICAL CYCLONE AND POSES AN
EXTREMELY SERIOUS THREAT TO LIFE AND PROPERTY WITHIN THE WARNING AREA,
ESPECIALLY BETWEEN CAIRNS AND TOWNSVILLE.

THIS IMPACT IS LIKELY TO BE MORE LIFE THREATENING THAN ANY EXPERIENCED DURING
RECENT GENERATIONS.

TC Yasi, CATEGORY 5, will continue to move in a west-southwesterly direction
during the day. The cyclone is expected to cross the coast in the Innisfail area
at about midnight.

Coastal residents within the warning area, and particularly between Cairns and
Ayr are specifically warned of an EXTREMELY DANGEROUS SEA LEVEL RISE [i.e. storm
tide] as the cyclone approaches, crosses the coast and moves inland. The sea is
likely to steadily rise up to a level which will be VERY DANGEROUSLY above the
normal tide, with EXTREMELY DAMAGING WAVES, STRONG CURRENTS and FLOODING of
low-lying areas extending some way inland. People living in areas likely to be
affected by this flooding should take measures to protect their property as much
as possible, and be prepared to follow instructions regarding evacuation of the
area if advised to do so by authorities.

DAMAGING WINDS with gusts to 90 km/hr that are currently developing on coastal
islands, are forecast to develop about the coast by late morning and about the
tropical interior overnight.

Between Cape Tribulation and Ingham these winds will become DESTRUCTIVE with
gusts in excess of 125km/hr during the afternoon and early evening and VERY
DESTRUCTIVE with gusts up to 300 km/hr between Cairns and Ingham during the
evening as the cyclone approaches and crosses the coast. These VERY DESTRUCTIVE
winds can also occur on the seaward side of hills to the north of the cyclone
and are also forecast to reach the Atherton Tablelands.

Winds are forecast to ease about the east coast during Thursday morning as the
cyclone moves inland.

FLOODING RAINS will develop from Cooktown to Sarina during the afternoon and
then extend inland overnight.
People between Cape Melville and Sarina, extending inland to Croydon and
Richmond should complete preparations quickly and be prepared to shelter in a
safe place.
- Boats and outside property should be secured.
- For cyclone preparedness and safety advice, visit Queensland's Disaster
Management Services website [www.disaster.qld.gov.au]
- For emergency assistance call the Queensland State Emergency Service [SES] on
132 500 [for assistance with storm damage, rising flood water, fallen trees on
buildings or roof damage].

People about the remaining inland parts west to the Northern Territory border
and north of Winton should consider what action they will need to take if the
cyclone threat increases.
- Information is available from your local government
- For cyclone preparedness and safety advice, visit Queensland's Disaster
Management Services website [www.disaster.qld.gov.au]
- For emergency assistance call the Queensland State Emergency Service [SES] on
132 500 [for assistance with storm damage, rising flood water, fallen trees on
buildings or roof damage].

Details of Severe Tropical Cyclone Yasi at 10:00 am EST:
.Centre located near...... 16.4 degrees South 149.9 degrees East
.Location accuracy........ within 30 kilometres
.Recent movement.......... towards the west southwest at 30 kilometres per hour
.Wind gusts near centre... 295 kilometres per hour
.Severity category........ 5
.Central pressure......... 922 hectoPascals


Please ensure that neighbours have heard and understood this message,
particularly new arrivals or those who may not fully understand English.

The next advice will be issued by 2:00 pm EST Wednesday 02 February.

This warning is also available through TV and Radio Broadcasts; the Bureau's
website at www.bom.gov.au or call 1300 659 212. The Bureau and the State
Emergency Service would appreciate this warning being broadcast regularly.
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ASCAT caught the western semicircle of Yasi just a short while ago:

Click for larger image:

Appropriate tropical weather-related image.
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13549

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About

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.