Tornadoes, floods, and fires continue to pound U.S.

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:13 PM GMT on April 27, 2011

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The nation's unprecedented April tornado-fest continued full force last night, with NOAA's Storm Prediction Center logging 57 tornado reports, 295 cases of damaging thunderstorm winds, and 254 reports of large hail. The 2-day tornado count from this latest huge April tornado outbreak is already 102. With another "high risk" forecast for tornadoes today, the tornado total for this week's outbreak may rival the April 14 - 16 tornado outbreak (155 confirmed tornadoes) as the greatest April tornado outbreak in history. It is unprecedented to have two such massive tornado outbreaks occur so close together, and the April preliminary tornado count of 654 is truly stunning. Even adjusting this number downwards 15% (the typical over-count in preliminary tornado reports) yields a probable April tornado total of 550. This easily crushes the previous April tornado record of 267, set in 1974. An average April has "only" 163 tornadoes, so we are already 300% over average for the month, and may approach 400% after today's outbreak. According to a list of tornado outbreaks maintained by Wikipedia, only two other tornado outbreaks have had as many as 150 twisters--the May 2004 outbreak (385), and the May 2003 outbreak (401). One positive note--there has only been one violent EF-4 or stronger tornado this year, despite the fact we've already had about 2/3 of the 1200 tornadoes one typically gets for the entire year. Over the past 20 years, we've averaged 7 violent EF-4 or EF-5 tornadoes per year, so we should have had 4 or 5 of these most dangerous of tornadoes so far this year.


Figure 1. Satellite image of last night's storm at 8pm EDT April 26, 2011. Image credit: NASA/GSFC.

Fortunately, no one was killed in last night's tornado frenzy, but four twisters caused injuries, with 7 injuries in Hesterman, Mississippi, and 3 in Beekman, Louisiana. Over 100 homes were damaged when a tornado struck Edom, Texas, approximately 75 miles East of Dallas. One woman was injured when her mobile home was destroyed. The only killer tornado of the current outbreak occurred on Monday night at 7:30 pm CDT when a 1/2 mile-wide EF-2 tornado struck the small town of Vilonia, Arkansas. Four people died in the town, where 50 - 80 buildings were destroyed. Tornado warnings were issued 30 minutes before the storm hit, contributing to the relatively low loss of life.


Figure 2. Storm chaser video of a tornado yesterday in Ben Wheeler, Texas.

Another very dangerous tornado outbreak expected today
The busiest April in history for tornadoes continues full-force today, as NOAA's Storm Prediction Center has issued their highest level of severe weather potential, a "High Risk" forecast, for Northern Alabama, Southern Tennessee, and adjoining portions of Georgia and Mississippi. This is the second day in a row, and third time this year, that SPC has issued a "High Risk" forecast. The devastating North Carolina tornado outbreak of April 16, which generated 52 confirmed tornadoes that killed 24 people in North Carolina and 2 people in Virginia, was the other "high risk" day. Numerous tornado warnings have already been issued in Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, Ohio, and Alabama this morning, but today's main action is expected to erupt late this afternoon as the cold front from a low pressure system currently over Arkansas moves eastwards over the "high risk" area. Strong daytime heating in a very moist, unstable airmass will allow a tremendous amount of energy to build up ahead of the front. The arrival of the cold front will force the warm, moist air upwards, allowing the pent-up energy to burst out and fuel supercell thunderstorms.

Related post: Are tornadoes getting stronger and more frequent?


Figure 3. Severe weather threat for Wednesday, April 27, 2011.

Unprecedented flooding predicted on Ohio River
This week's storm system, in combination with heavy rains earlier this month, have pushed the Ohio River and Mississippi River to near-record levels near their confluence. The Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois is expected to crest at 60.5 feet on May 1. This would exceed 100-year flood stage, and be the highest flood in history, besting the 59.5' mark of 1937. Heavy rains of 10 - 15 inches have inundated the region over the past few days, and one levee breach at Black River levee near Poplar Bluff, Missouri, has resulted in the evacuation of over 500 homes. Poplar Bluff has received 15.45" of rain since Friday morning. The greatest rain gauge-measured precipitation from the storm occurred in Springdale, Arkansas, where 19.70" inches has fallen since Friday morning.


Figure 4. The latest River Flood Outlook from NOAA shows major flooding is occurring over many of the nation's major rivers.

Extraordinary intentional levee breach of Mississippi River halted by lawsuit
In a sign of just how extreme this flooding situation is, yesterday the Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for flood control efforts on the Mississippi River, announced plans to intentionally destroy a levee protecting the west bank of the Mississippi River in Southwest Missouri. The destruction of the levee is intended to relieve pressure on the levees at Cairo, Illinois, at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Cairo is currently under a voluntary evacuation order. The levee to be destroyed, located at Birds Point, is called a "fuse-plug" levee, and was designed to be destroyed in the event of a record flood. The levee protects 132,000 acres of prime farmland along the New Madrid Spillway, which is designed to take 550,000 cubic feet per second of water flow out of the Mississippi and redirect it down a 3 - 10 mile wide, 36 - 56 mile long path along the west side of the Mississippi. An 11-mile long section of the levee upstream at Birds Point, and 5-mile long stretch at the downstream end, are set two feet lower than the surrounding levees and filled with holes to accommodate dynamite. These levees will be destroyed if the Army Corps has its way, but a lawsuit by the state of Missouri is currently blocking the way. The Army Corps has now agreed to wait until Saturday to decide whether or not to blow the levee. The Army Corps' website has an unofficial damage estimate of $100 million for destroying the levees and flooding the New Madrid Spillway. At least 100 people live in the spillway and have been evacuated, and it would likely take many years for the farms to recover after flooding. The levees have been blown and the spillway opened only once before, back during the record flood of 1937.

Midwest deluge enhanced by near-record Gulf of Mexico sea surface temperatures
The deluge of rain that caused this flood found its genesis in a flow of warm, humid air coming from the Gulf of Mexico. Sea surface temperatures (SSTs )in the Gulf of Mexico are currently close to 1 °C above average. Only two Aprils since the 1800s (2002 and 1991) have had April SSTs more than 1 °C above average, so current SSTs are among the highest on record. These warm ocean temperatures helped set record high air temperatures in many locations in Texas yesterday, including Galveston (84°F, a tie with 1898), Del Rio (104°F, old record 103° in 1984), San Angelo (97°F, old record 96° in 1994). Record highs were also set on Monday in Baton Rouge and Shreveport in Louisiana, and in Austin, Mineral Wells, and Cotulla la Salle in Texas. Since this week's storm brought plenty of cloud cover that kept temperatures from setting record highs in many locations, a more telling statistic of how warm this air mass was is the huge number of record high minimum temperature records that were set over the past two days. For example, the minimum temperature reached only 79°F in Brownsville, TX Monday morning, beating the previous record high minimum of 77°F set in 2006. In Texas, Austin, Houston, Port Arthur, Cotulla la Salle, Victoria, College Station, Victoria, Corpus Christi, McAllen, and Brownsville all set record high minimums on Monday, as did New Orleans, Lafayette, Monroe, Shreveport, and Alexandria in Louisiana, as well as Jackson and Tupelo in Mississippi. Since record amounts of water vapor can evaporate into air heated to record warm levels, it is not a surprise that incredible rains and unprecedented floods are resulting from this month's near-record warm SSTs in the Gulf of Mexico.


Figure 5. Departure of sea surface temperature from average for April 25, 2001. Image credit: NOAA/NESDIS.

Fierce winds fan Texas, New Mexico fires
Fierce winds fanned raging fires across eastern New Mexico and Western Texas yesterday, thanks to a powerful flow of air feeding into the Midwestern storm system. Temperatures in the upper 80s and low 90s combined with humidities less than 10% combined to make yesterday a nightmare fire day for firefighters attempting to control the worst springtime fires in the history of the region. At 3:53 pm MDT yesterday in Carlsbad, New Mexico, the temperature was 87°F, winds were 38 mph gusting to 46, and the humidity was 8%--a perfect storm for extreme fire weather. In Fort Stockton, Texas near the huge Rock House fire, the temperature was 91°F, winds were 35 mph gusting to 44, visibility was reduced to 5 miles due to haze and smoke, and the humidity was 5% at 5:53pm CDT. According to the Interagency Fire Center, wildfires in 2011 have already burned nearly 2.3 million acres in the U.S. This is the greatest acreage on record so early in the year, and is more area than burned all of last year. The largest U.S. acreage to burn since 1960 was the 9.9 million acres that burned in 2007, so we area already 25% of the way to the all-time record fire year--with summer still more than a month away. The fire weather forecast for today is better then yesterday, with winds not expected to blow nearly as strong.


Figure 6. Major wildfires and smoke plumes as visualized using our wundermap with the "fire" layer turned on.

For those who want to lend a helping hand to those impacted by the widespread destruction this month's severe weather has brought, stop by the portlight.org blog.

Jeff Masters

Rare Sight (Freakofnature1)
I haven't seen a storm like this in quite some time. Still no rain in Seguin, Tx. Pic taken in Seguin storm near Martindale.
Rare Sight
Mississippi @ Burlington (BURGuy)
Seating along the shore
Mississippi @ Burlington
Base of Anvil Cloud 4/26/11 (HuskerMama)
Taken within minutes after the storm cell had passed directly overhead.
Base of Anvil Cloud 4/26/11
Southern Lightning (WeatherRose)
This is a shot of a lightning strike associated with some severe storms moving through this evening in Southaven, MS.
Southern Lightning

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Where did the severe for GA go? In my area it used to be a 90% chance of severe t-storms. Now it is a 40% chance of regular t-storms.
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Quoting FLdewey:
Sticking to the cloud thing eh? I think you're mixing up terms - there is no CDO. The cloud cover that is in place isn't going to cancel out the wind sheer, and the instability that is already in place.

Don't take my word for it... Judging by the PDS watch issued 15 mins ago I'd say the experts are still concerned.

Agreed. The instability isn't world-beating, but it'll still get the job done:



Besides, when the helicity values are this high, it doesn't take much CAPE to get things started. The storms in North Carolina earlier this month had similar helicity values to work with and much less CAPE (only around the 1000-2000 J/kg level).

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Barefoot, many situations, like being on the road as a tornado approaches, can be prevented if people pay attention to what is going on around them and make the necessary adjustments ahead of time.

Bless your heart. You just don't get it.
:)
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SPC 1130 Convective Outlook/Tornado with population areas superimposed.
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204.

Awe he was a good daddy as well as a hero. It's amazing how those little ones come along and for the first time in your life you absolutely know you'd take a bullet for them or step in front of train or shield them from a falling tree. It's not even a conscious thought you just know it. I guess that never changes. Mine are grown and I would still do that.
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I like how the green follows the outline of TX, uh oh gotta stay outta TX so they can burn up some more



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Yeah,,,desk casting is like that.


Moving on...
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I'm in reality all the time Patrick.
At my desk working.
My point is, many accidents can be avoided.
Member Since: July 11, 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11047


Man Chattanooga can not get a break today
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U know chicklit,,sometimes life is what it is,,,take a break and join reality will ya?

We all Love our families and this man gave the full measure that a Father could give,,



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That is awful. Why was he camping with his daughter when these storms were forecast ahead of time?
Member Since: July 11, 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11047
"Please do not engage in personal attacks or bickering."
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Covington Police lieutenant killed saving daughter in Mississippi storm

The head of Covington Police's criminal investigations unit was killed Tuesday night as he shielded his young daughter from the violent storms that ripped through Mississippi, authorities said.


Lt. Wade Sharp was in a tent at a campsite on the Natchez Trace in Choctaw County with his daughter, who is about 8 years old, when the storm rolled through the area, Covington Police Chief Richard Palmisano said. Sharp apparently heard the high winds snap a tree, and he rolled over on top of his daughter to protect her, Palmisano said.

The tree struck Sharp in the back of the head, killing him on the scene, Palmisano said. His daughter was not injured, the police chief said.

"He was a hero all the way through his whole career, and was a hero to the end," Palmisano said.


Sharp was one of three people killed in Mississippi by the powerful storms and tornado's that have ravaged the area.

Sharp's daughter was able to call her mother immediately and was found by other people at the campground after the storm had passed, Palmisano said.

Palmisano said Sharp's death was consistent with a 19-year career during which Sharp has saved at least three lives. The chief described him as a "cornerstone of the department."

"People always requested to work for him or with him. He was an enjoyable person to be around," he said.

"Right now I think the big thing is for everyone to keep in their hearts and their prayers the family, especially his children and his wife," he said.

Covington Mayor Candace Watkins said the Police Department and City Hall were reeling Wednesday as news of Sharp's death spread.

A shaken Watkins said Sharp was a "strong leader and a really good officer.''

"It's a huge loss for us,'' she said. "He meant a lot to that department. He was extremely valuable to the department.''

Watkins said Sharp on Tuesday had posted on his Facebook page photos of the campsite he and his daughter had set up. She said his daughter likes to camp and that Sharp had told friends he was looking forward to spending time with her.

"It's really, really sad,'' Watkins said. "This will not be an easy one to get over.''
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If pattern doesnt change for TX, were screwed dry and fried. Think the same exact thing is coming Monday of next week, everything statying north and pounding the ArkLaTX
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Barefoot, many situations, like being on the road as a tornado approaches, can be prevented if people pay attention to what is going on around them and make the necessary adjustments ahead of time.

Statement as of 2:46 PM EDT on April 27, 2011
... A Tornado Warning remains in effect until 315 PM EDT/215 PM CDT/ for Marion and Hamilton counties...

At 241 PM EDT... National Weather Service Doppler radar continued to indicate a line of tornado producing storms. These tornado producing storms were located along a line extending from 7 miles northwest of Middle Valley to Red Bank to Lookout Mountain... or along a line extending from 10 miles southeast of Dunlap to Chattanooga to Rossville... moving northeast at 70 mph.

Locations in the warning include...
Soddy-Daisy... Harrison... Shady Grove... East Brainerd... Sale
Creek... Ooltewah... Collegedale and Birchwood.

Precautionary/preparedness actions...

The safest place to be during a tornado is in a basement. Get under a workbench or other piece of sturdy furniture. If no basement is available... seek shelter on the lowest floor of the building in an interior hallway or room such as a closet. Use blankets or pillows to cover your body and always stay away from windows.

If in Mobile homes or vehicles... evacuate them and get inside a substantial shelter. If no shelter is available... lie flat in the nearest ditch or other low spot and cover your head with your hands.

A Tornado Watch remains in effect until 500 PM EDT Wednesday afternoon/400 PM CDT Wednesday afternoon/ for southwest North Carolina and central Tennessee.
(i.e., that means find a safe place to be ahead of the storm...this is the line that was over by Huntsville maybe an hour ago).
Member Since: July 11, 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11047
200. srada
Quoting DestinJeff:
srada!

it has been too long.


Heyyy!!

Yes it has!
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Quoting 1900hurricane:
Ummm... Yeah.....



WWUS40 KWNS 271843
WWP5

TORNADO WATCH PROBABILITIES FOR WT 0235
NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER NORMAN OK
0142 PM CDT WED APR 27 2011

WT 0235 PDS
PROBABILITY TABLE:
PROB OF 2 OR MORE TORNADOES : >95%
PROB OF 1 OR MORE STRONG /F2-F5/ TORNADOES : >95%
PROB OF 10 OR MORE SEVERE WIND EVENTS : >95%
PROB OF 1 OR MORE WIND EVENTS >= 65 KNOTS : >95%
PROB OF 10 OR MORE SEVERE HAIL EVENTS : >95%
PROB OF 1 OR MORE HAIL EVENTS >= 2 INCHES : >95%
PROB OF 6 OR MORE COMBINED SEVERE HAIL/WIND EVENTS : >95%

&&
ATTRIBUTE TABLE:
MAX HAIL /INCHES/ : 4.0
MAX WIND GUSTS SURFACE /KNOTS/ : 70
MAX TOPS /X 100 FEET/ : 500
MEAN STORM MOTION VECTOR /DEGREES AND KNOTS/ : 25040
PARTICULARLY DANGEROUS SITUATION : YES

&&
FOR A COMPLETE GEOGRAPHICAL DEPICTION OF THE WATCH AND
WATCH EXPIRATION INFORMATION SEE WOUS64 FOR WOU5.

$$

Hrm... <95% across the board - check
4 inch hail - check
Hurricane force gusts - check
50k storm tops - check
PDS - check

people freaking out here on the blog.. uh.. what? I'm shocked (and relieved) nobody is freaking out. Its been VERY calm here on the blog - like it should be.

Hopefully, people are remaining calm in MS/AL/TN, and staying safe.
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Quoting kwgirl:
It is a beautiful Boating day in the keys. Temp is 86 with a light breeze about 10-15 knots. Wish I had a boat I could use:)


Awe! Rub it in! Lol. Hubby works 4 on/4 off and every day of his last 4 off it was too windy to take our boat out fishing. We couldn't even fish from the pier unless we tied ourselves to it. Tempted to drive the boat down your way but with my luck I'd bring the wind with me. Lol. Enjoy the beautiful weather. :)
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Ummm... Yeah.....



WWUS40 KWNS 271843
WWP5

TORNADO WATCH PROBABILITIES FOR WT 0235
NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER NORMAN OK
0142 PM CDT WED APR 27 2011

WT 0235 PDS
PROBABILITY TABLE:
PROB OF 2 OR MORE TORNADOES : >95%
PROB OF 1 OR MORE STRONG /F2-F5/ TORNADOES : >95%
PROB OF 10 OR MORE SEVERE WIND EVENTS : >95%
PROB OF 1 OR MORE WIND EVENTS >= 65 KNOTS : >95%
PROB OF 10 OR MORE SEVERE HAIL EVENTS : >95%
PROB OF 1 OR MORE HAIL EVENTS >= 2 INCHES : >95%
PROB OF 6 OR MORE COMBINED SEVERE HAIL/WIND EVENTS : >95%

&&
ATTRIBUTE TABLE:
MAX HAIL /INCHES/ : 4.0
MAX WIND GUSTS SURFACE /KNOTS/ : 70
MAX TOPS /X 100 FEET/ : 500
MEAN STORM MOTION VECTOR /DEGREES AND KNOTS/ : 25040
PARTICULARLY DANGEROUS SITUATION : YES

&&
FOR A COMPLETE GEOGRAPHICAL DEPICTION OF THE WATCH AND
WATCH EXPIRATION INFORMATION SEE WOUS64 FOR WOU5.

$$
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watch # 235 is out and can you say ouch its other PDS too
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191. Skyepony (Mod)
Quoting winter123:


That looks like a TD forming east of Brazil!


Yeah I keep getting drawn back to it perusing the maps. They don't need the rain..



Tropically the world has really been quiet the last few days til now. 95B just got put up.
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Mobile homes, while I understand the purpose, seem to be tornado magnets. ANYONE who lives in or purchases a mobile home should be trained about what to do in a severe storm or tornado.
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Quoting MrMixon:


Ha! Yeah, I never forget about that teeny little time-bomb up there, but she's been pretty quiet this week:





Why do I get scared when major tectonic systems are "quiet"?

Quoting RitaEvac:
Worse case scenerio:

Tornados ravage the day, Levees break flooding towns, Texas goes up in smoke with heat and drought, power outages in TX cause plants and refineries to go offline, DOW plummets, Civil War and World War III begins in the Middle East, Oil goes thru the roof at $200 a barrel, and Yellowstone blows up.

Doubt it'll ever get this bad.

If that all happens at once, I'm hunting you down. Just sayin'
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Quoting Chicklit:
The options are according to NWS:
If in Mobile homes or vehicles... evacuate them and get inside a sturdy shelter. If no shelter is available... lie flat in the nearest ditch or other low spot and cover your head with your hands.

Sorry, it's if in mobile homes or vehicles and it's actually option #2.

Nastiness headed toward Chattanooga, East Ridge now.
Link


I was getting at preventive measures related to your original statement, Yeah, you don't want to be one of those people...

Mobile homes, yeah. MH parks could have community underground shelters. Many RV parks and even city or county lake camping areas in Oklahoma have those.

Far as the rest of it goes, people continue with daily life on issue of a tornado watch, even a PDS watch. Commerce does not stop. Interstates, local roads, businesses, and schools do not close, and churches generally do not cancel Wednesday night Bible meetings as they do in winter weather.

Point is, people will be on the roads when tornadoes happen and "you" could easily be one of those who finds all you can do is head for the nearest creek or ditch 'cause using option 2(3) is all you got.
:)

Have a nice day.
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Quoting RastaSteve:


You want hot well I got it for you 96 with a 70 degree dewpoint at 2:30pm here on the northside of Orlando. Anytime you think it's hot in Texas then just take a trip to FL as we have humidity to boot and 90 to 95 degree temps for 7 months out of the year.


We get the heat, too.. Trust me. I'm not griping about the heat. I'm griping about this...



90+ temps and <25% humidity = fire weather, and making the drought worse.

(Houston's summer is usually about May 1 - October 1, if you go by weather patterns and heat - it just started early this year)
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Worse case scenerio:

Tornados ravage the day, Levees break flooding towns, Texas goes up in smoke with heat and drought, power outages in TX cause plants and refineries to go offline, DOW plummets, Civil War and World War III begins in the Middle East, Oil goes thru the roof at $200 a barrel, and Yellowstone blows up.

Doubt it'll ever get this bad.
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Quoting RitaEvac:


Soon as you say this, Yellowstone BLOWS to your north


Ha! Yeah, I never forget about that teeny little time-bomb up there, but she's been pretty quiet this week:



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181. flsky
Quoting Chicklit:

What's painful is living through it.

Goes without saying....
Member Since: October 24, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1737
180. flsky
Quoting MrMixon:


:)

No problem...


Born in Denver - I do remember....
Member Since: October 24, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1737
Quoting Skyepony:


That looks like a TD forming east of Brazil!
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Quoting flsky:

I have to say it's getting PAINFUL reading this blog. ....

What's painful is living through it.
Member Since: July 11, 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11047
177. flsky
Quoting RastaSteve:


You want hot well I got it for you 96 with a 70 degree dewpoint at 2:30pm here on the northside of Orlando. Anytime you think it's hot in Texas then just take a trip to FL as we have humidity to boot and 90 to 95 degree temps for 7 months out of the year.

Seems weird to brag about worse conditions. haha
Member Since: October 24, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1737
This blog is making me scared for the hurricane season. And we had our first (well...) invest of the season last week! But look at last hurricane season. Maybe the high SSTs make fronts and high pressure over the east US stronger keeping all these storms away?
Member Since: July 29, 2006 Posts: 28 Comments: 1762
Quoting flsky:

Thanks for that brief respite....


:)

No problem...

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It is a beautiful Boating day in the keys. Temp is 86 with a light breeze about 10-15 knots. Wish I had a boat I could use:)
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173. flsky
Quoting RitaEvac:


Soon as you say this, Yellowstone BLOWS to your north

No, no, no!! Don't say that!!
Member Since: October 24, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1737

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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.