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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437. JRRP
7:44 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
ups
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 5076
436. Patrap
4:04 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
psst,psst,

new Blog entry
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125529
435. AussieStorm
4:02 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
This is very interesting.... Yasi went SW then W then WSW. Yasi tracks along S17 from E150 to E147 then heads WSW
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15749
434. Grothar
4:01 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 63 Comments: 23703
432. Patrap
3:58 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Dr. Masters NEW Entry
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125529
431. Skyepony (Mod)
3:56 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Windows flex, water rushes into safe haven
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 156 Comments: 36065
429. AussieStorm
3:54 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
I'm guessing land interaction cause the jump SSW just before landfall.
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15749
428. AussieStorm
3:52 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Storm tide currently at 6.5ft at Mission Feet.
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15749
427. Floodman
3:51 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Quoting AussieStorm:

Afternoon???? 2:42am here mate. I aint in UK mate. lol

I'm doing fine mate. Tired.


I'll bet you are...
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922
426. Floodman
3:50 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Quoting hurricanejunky:
Mornin' Flood...did you check back in with Tdude last night? I fell asleep!! DOH!


Nope...walked off and finished up some reporting and did what you did!
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922
425. AussieStorm
3:50 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Eye still holding together
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15749
424. AussieStorm
3:48 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Quoting AussieStorm:

I have read report there is 6 people in there 60's in Port Hinchinbrook, the rang Police asking for help to evacuate, This was at 10pm Qld time, 3hrs before landfall. Reports from a person that the eye of Yasi took 45mins to pass at Mission beach.
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15749
423. AussieStorm
3:48 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
I have read report there is 6 people in there 60's in Port Hinchinbrook, the rang Police asking for help to evacuate, This was at 10pm Qld time, 3hrs before landfall. Reports from a person that the eye of Yasi took 45mins to pass at Mission beach.
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15749
422. AussieStorm
3:42 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Quoting Floodman:
"The rain doesn't fall, it just comes in horizontally as the wind goes roaring past."

If you're high enough (second or third story), it even appears to go upward rather than down...interesting what rain will do when it's going 150mph

Morning, folks...Aussie, how are you this morning (afternoon)?

Afternoon???? 2:42am here mate. I aint in UK mate. lol

I'm doing fine mate. Tired.
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15749
421. 7080734
3:41 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
... Blizzard of 2011 officially one of the biggest snowstorms in
history...

As of 9 am this morning chicagos ohare international Airport has
officially had 19.5 inches of snow. This makes the February 1st
and 2nd 2011 blizzard the third biggest snow storm on record in
Chicago.

As of 6 am this morning Rockford has officially picked up 13.9
inches of snow. This makes this blizzard the 4 largest snow storm
in Rockford history.
Member Since: January 25, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 89
420. atmoaggie
3:41 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Quoting AussieStorm:

Mine is from Townsville. Cairns went offline for a few frames so i switched to get full view of the eye. Cairns Radar has to "see" throught alot of rain to see through.
Yeah, I caught what you were doing as soon as I posted that. Oops.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
419. hurricanejunky
3:40 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Mornin' Flood...did you check back in with Tdude last night? I fell asleep!! DOH!
Member Since: August 28, 2006 Posts: 6 Comments: 2895
418. AussieStorm
3:39 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Quoting atmoaggie:
Not sure why yours appears upside down, but I think Cairns simply switched coverage patterns for the radar.

They are getting more local detail, this way.


Mine is from Townsville. Cairns went offline for a few frames so i switched to get full view of the eye. Cairns Radar has to "see" throught alot of rain to see through.
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15749
417. hurricanejunky
3:39 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Quoting AussieStorm:

I was watching that, he even said Innisvale will experience storm surge. not when its on the northern side of the eye of a clock-wise turning Cyclone.


Maybe from the South? Wasn't listening to all of it...caught only part of it...what a horrific event this is shaping up to be...
Member Since: August 28, 2006 Posts: 6 Comments: 2895
416. 7080734
3:38 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Elk Grove Village 22.00"

Band of Lake Effect Snow moving through the city. Wind Chill Watch goes into effect later today.
Member Since: January 25, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 89
415. Floodman
3:38 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
"The rain doesn't fall, it just comes in horizontally as the wind goes roaring past."

If you're high enough (second or third story), it even appears to go upward rather than down...interesting what rain will do when it's going 150mph

Morning, folks...Aussie, how are you this morning (afternoon)?
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922
414. atmoaggie
3:37 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Quoting AussieStorm:


If Yasi didnt jump south, Innisfail would of coped it. Population 9000. Mission beach 3000, 99% evacuated.

Not sure why yours appears upside down, but You are plotting another site. Sry.

I think Cairns simply switched coverage patterns for the radar.

They are getting more local detail, this way.

Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
413. AussieStorm
3:35 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Sheets of roof torn from shopping centre

SHEETS of roof iron have been ripped from a Townsville shopping centre and locals have reported seeing metal awnings flying down the street as Cyclone Yasi batters the north Queensland coast.

Townsville Resident Stewart Mclean said he saw two sheets of roof iron being torn from the top of the Urban Quarter shopping centre in the city's CBD.

"They came off quite early, it got quite hairy there for a while," he told AAP.

From a friend's apartment in the Metro Quays building in central Townsville Mr Mclean also saw awnings and sheets of metal flying down the street.

"We've also heard a lot of glass shattering so obviously some businesses in the CBD have lost windows," he said.

He said the nearby Holiday Inn, known colloquially as the "sugar shaker" because of its shape, also appeared to have suffered some damage.
"There are curtains flapping out of windows and there's no way they'd be open so it looks like they've been shattered."

Castle Hill resident Wil Kemp described the conditions as "scary".

"It's dark outside so we can't see a lot but there a whole trees, big ones, which just aren't there anymore," he told AAP.

"The rain doesn't fall, it just comes in horizontally as the wind goes roaring past."
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15749
412. AussieStorm
3:30 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Quoting Grothar:


Good for some, bad for others. Hurricane Andrew did the same in 1992; straight line until the coast and drop South sparing a direct hit on Miami.


If Yasi didnt jump south, Innisfail would of coped it. Population 9000. Mission beach 3000, 99% evacuated.

Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15749
411. AussieStorm
3:27 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Quoting hurricanejunky:
Yasi made landfall between Innisfail and Cardwell...uh oh...Professor Johnathan Nott from James Cook University is on there talking about global warming and how storms are getting stronger because of it...

I was watching that, he even said Innisvale will experience storm surge. not when its on the northern side of the eye of a clock-wise turning Cyclone.
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15749
410. AussieStorm
3:25 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Quoting Patrap:
Sheeesh.

Retentive ,eh?

The Impact is over a wide area.


It's sucking in moisture from as far north as Papua New Guinea
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15749
408. Some1Has2BtheRookie
3:25 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
#394

Yes, just breezy, dry and cold for now. Thusrday night is suppose to bring the snow/sleet/freezing rain. Just more fun to come I guess.

I certainly hope that those being hit by Yasi come out of it well. My best to all of them. Yasi is a monster that I would not like to face.
Member Since: August 24, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 4728
407. Grothar
3:25 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Quoting AussieStorm:

Look at the big jump south


Good for some, bad for others. Hurricane Andrew did the same in 1992; straight line until the coast and drop South sparing a direct hit on Miami.
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 63 Comments: 23703
406. atmoaggie
3:24 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Quoting AussieStorm:
Cairns radar has just gone down... bugger

Eye is now fully over land.
That looks more like a processing error than having gone down. We'll see shortly.

(wonder if they have backup power...)
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
405. atmoaggie
3:22 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
24 hours of GOES water vapor over CONUS (WARNING: 20 MB image): http://cimss.ssec.wisc.edu/goes/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/110201_goes_wv_anim.gif
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
404. hurricanejunky
3:22 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Looking at forecast track it looks like Yasi will remain at Cat 1 or higher intensity for up to 1000 miles inland!!! Holy cow!
Member Since: August 28, 2006 Posts: 6 Comments: 2895
402. hurricanejunky
3:20 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Yasi made landfall between Innisfail and Cardwell...uh oh...Professor Johnathan Nott from James Cook University is on there talking about global warming and how storms are getting stronger because of it...
Member Since: August 28, 2006 Posts: 6 Comments: 2895
401. Neapolitan
3:20 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Chicago's O'Hare is officially up to 19.5". Hitting the big 20 should happen, then.
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13260
400. oddspeed
3:19 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 232
398. Patrap
3:17 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125529
397. AussieStorm
3:16 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Quoting Grothar:

Look at the big jump south
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15749
396. Grothar
3:15 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 63 Comments: 23703
395. AussieStorm
3:15 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Quoting atmoaggie:
Umm, that isn't getting dunked...

But maybe defoliated
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15749
394. oddspeed
3:14 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Quoting Some1Has2BtheRookie:
We have also had rolling blackouts this morning as well.
we just came out of rolling blackout here in west houston... no ice or snow within 200 miles, just kinda cold in the mid 20s
Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 232
393. atmoaggie
3:13 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Quoting AussieStorm:


Umm, that isn't getting dunked...
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
392. AussieStorm
3:12 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Dunk Island




Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15749
391. FFtrombi
3:12 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
The southern jog just before landfall probably saved a lot of damage. Not much data on damage yet, but tomorrow is going to be sobering.
Member Since: November 6, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 165
390. AussieStorm
3:10 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Quoting Beachfoxx:
Yasi --
I hope people were/are prepared.
I notice that most of the news statements include the following:
"People should be prepared to be self-sufficient for several days if the storm damaged roads and transport links".

People have been warned since last last week.
Very early reports of damage have started to come in. Building at Mission beach have some strutural damage, Roof's in innisvale have had there roof's peeled off. Tree branches coming through winds and walls. Trees down in cairns and Townsville. 250,000 homes now without power from Cairns to Burdiken.
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15749
389. 7080734
3:05 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
#3 now
Member Since: January 25, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 89
388. Orcasystems
3:05 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
Complete Update





Member Since: October 1, 2007 Posts: 81 Comments: 26493
387. hurricanejunky
3:05 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
In TC Yasi, 18 meter wave reading...they're now saying it's not accurate because the buoy is getting turned upside down...WOW!!!
Member Since: August 28, 2006 Posts: 6 Comments: 2895

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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.