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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Quoting RandomText:
I agree with Jeffs.

I tend to think that river levees cause more catastrophic flooding than they prevent.

People could build in more reasonable locations.

When a river floods without a level, it comes up slowly and spreads rather shallowly over a large areas.

When it is in a levee and the levee breaks, all hell breaks loose and it pours into somebody's back yard at a high velocity and demolishes the area.
One other item to mention... the flooding is why the valley is so fertile. Take away the flooding, and the nutrients get drained from the soil. (which requires more fertilizers, causing more cyclical growth patterns, which causes more erosion, etc.)
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Lawdy,,thank goodness we dont have Bloggers for Civil Engineers,,,

LoL
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Check out Huntsville, AL radar.

Link
Member Since: July 11, 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11178
On "Levee's and The Big Muddy.

The Mississippi River
and Tributaries Project
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Quoting Neapolitan:

Of course the actual numbers will be adjusted downward for the month's tally, but it's still a fairly safe bet to say that a monthly record will be set. By the time the day is over, the preliminary count should be somewhere around 700 or so. The most in a previous month was 267 (1974), so the SPC would have to reject around 430 or so (over 61%) of the preliminary reports for this month not to beat the 1974 record.

Click for larger image:

Appropriate tropical weather-related image.
I'm finding it interesting that many of the reports are coming from outside the normal "Tornado Alley", and focused largely on the SE.
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Quoting ShenValleyFlyFish:
Re flooding on Mississippi Drainage. I wonder what the flooding would look like were there no levies. Anyone know of any information on this?
It would honestly probably flood LESS without extensive levee systems. Most mature river basins (such as the Mississippi) naturally flood annually, but these annual flood events serve to define the normal floodplain, which acts as a buffer for major floods. With many of the levee systems, we have nearly eliminated the natural floodplain, which means that floodwaters have no option except to go faster and higher, since they can't go out.
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Quoting SeALWx:

Just want to point out, Masters points this out frequently as well, preliminary reports are NO LONGER purged. I agree that this has been an extremely active spring severe season, but the reporting structure has been altered significantly for this season. We need to wait for final numbers before making historical claims.

Of course the actual numbers will be adjusted downward for the month's tally, but it's still a fairly safe bet to say that a monthly record will be set. By the time the day is over, the preliminary count should be somewhere around 700 or so. The most in a previous month was 267 (1974), so the SPC would have to reject around 430 or so (over 61%) of the preliminary reports for this month not to beat the 1974 record. [Edit: I see that beell said pretty much the same thing before me.]

Click for larger image:

Appropriate tropical weather-related image.
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Re flooding on Mississippi Drainage. I wonder what the flooding would look like were there no levies. Anyone know of any information on this?
Member Since: September 9, 2007 Posts: 36 Comments: 4687
#88

Had the same thought... *snicker chuckle snort*

But of course it's all still part of some grand conspiracy...

EDIT: And just wanted to mention that today was the first morning in over a week that we did NOT have a fresh dusting of snow on the ground in Nederland, CO. I think that's an early sign that the weather pattern that has brought so much misery to the central and southern portions of the country is finally about to break (though it looks like it'll take a day or two for this nastiness to finally be swept off our U.S. weather maps...)
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46 Hours to Jazz Fest,,Weather expected to be "perfect" here Friday.
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108. JeffMasters (Admin)
Quoting beell:
Dr. Masters,
From your post this morning:

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...

...Even adjusting this number downwards 15% (the typical over-count in preliminary tornado reports) yields a probable April tornado total of 550...

Were the 52 confirmed tornadoes for the entire multi-state outbreak or only those that were confirmed in North Carolina?


Raleigh, NC April 16th Tornado Summary

click for storm reports


Please note: On March 8, 2011, the proximity space/time rule is no longer being utilized to de-duplicate events and minimal filtering is now applied to the decoded reports. All comments/remarks in the LSRs are captured on the raw files and the users can decide, for their own purposes, the best way to remove duplicate reports from the LSR's.
SPC Storm Reports

If the 52 confirmed tornadoes represent a total for the entire one day outbreak, the preliminary count would have to be reduced by about 63%.


I used the confirmed tornado count from the Wikipedia page on the outbreak, for the one single day the NC tornadoes hit. The confirmed count will likely continue to rise. It will be interesting to see what the new adjustment factor needs to be to convert preliminary counts to confirmed counts. Somewhere between 15% and 63%, it seems!

Jeff Masters
Quoting Chicklit:
My main question is, do the higher SSTs have any correlation to systems actually developing in the GOM?

We had high SST's last year but ULL's kept shearing stuff apart and also other factors kept the storms moving more west across Yucatan and into Mexico.
Good response. A lot of people concentrate on just one part of the equation.
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Quoting cat5hurricane:

Not sure which imagery you're referring to, but the visible picture I posted depicts a rather low to mid-level alto-cumulus/alto-stratus base with an embedded cirrus layer lying above. If these clouds hang around long enough till around 3 or 4pm for much of that stretch from Birmingham northward to Cullman, Muscol Shoals, Huntsville, and Decautor, that would be good. If these clouds clear out or dissipate, look out.
Yeah, I was going by how the clouds were moving, and their streaked look. I just added some corrections to my original post.
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104. Jax82
Kaboom

Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 1261
My main question is, do the higher SSTs have any correlation to systems actually developing in the GOM?

We had high SST's last year but ULL's kept shearing stuff apart and also other factors kept the storms moving more west across Yucatan and into Mexico.
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June Primary Tracks







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Quoting Chicklit:


Yeah, you don't want to be one of those people who as last resort are hunkering down in a ditch with their hands on their heads. (This is Option #3.)


I know somebody yesterday who was about to do Option #3 but couldn't due to 4 feet of water in the ditch. Fortunately the tornado didn't get close enough to him.
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Quoting beell:
Even adjusting this number downwards 15% (the typical over-count in preliminary tornado reports) yields a probable April tornado total of 550... If the 52 confirmed tornadoes represent a total for the entire one day outbreak, the preliminary count would have to be reduced by about 63%.


You make a good point, bl.

Sixty-four percent difference in reports and confirmed tornadoes in this instance. An apples and oranges situation comparing previous years' stats with the "New Age SPC" raw LSR data.

Not saying this April has not seen new record numbers. Possibly has. Just seems best to use the official numbers from damage survey confirmation for comparison.
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Quoting cat5hurricane:

However, like we say yesterday, that extension cloud cover may really limit the total amount of daytime heating and instability needed to fire up the tornadoes that would warrant such a classification.


AFAIK, many of those clouds over the highest development region are high clouds (cirrus and the like), and won't have as much impact on convective heating as a layer of low clouds (such as stratocumulus) would.

[edit: After checking, most of the clouds are low, but not terribly thick. I checked several cities on the Mississippi side of the highest chances, and their temps are solidly in the 70s and 80s, and dewpoints are VERY high - 65 . Based on that, and most of the clouds being between "few" and "broken", I think the SPC is right about the chances.]
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My brother who lives in Pell City, Alabama has minor tree damage from the storm which hit Pell City. Pell City is about 20-25 miles east of Birmingham. 2 people died from that tornado, one in Pell City and the other in Moody. The bad weather was not suppose to get there until this afternoon. A storm caused damage around Berry College in Rome, Ga.
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Quoting RandomText:



If the trend continues, and assuming all other variables are equal, then it would tend to increase the likelihood of storms holding their peak intensity closer to the coast and through landfall.


2C or 3C increase in water temperatures near the coast could make a 10m/s (22.5mph) difference in landfall intensity.

So add a full SSH category, or maybe a full T-number to the expected landfall strength of a typical storm under the otherwise identical atmospheric conditions.

Right, and this is assuming that a storm is developed outside the GOM. Once it reaches the gulf, with SSTs the way they are and the right conditions, it's almost a given that not only would it sustain, but rapidly intensify.

My main question is, do the higher SSTs have any correlation to systems actually developing IN the GOM?
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Statement as of 9:14 am EDT on April 27, 2011
... Record warm low temperature tied at Daytona Beach yesterday... The low temperature of 72 degrees on Tuesday April 26th at Daytona Beach... tied the warm low record for the date previously set in 1929.

It's 90 degrees here today just south of Daytona along the beach.


Member Since: July 11, 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11178
Quoting FatPenguin:


You have a valid point. However, the new record numbers are so substantial that it you could still take your factors into account and realize that what's happening now is extraordinary.

Just want to point out, Masters points this out frequently as well, preliminary reports are NO LONGER purged. I agree that this has been an extremely active spring severe season, but the reporting structure has been altered significantly for this season. We need to wait for final numbers before making historical claims.
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Quoting Chicklit:
Tornadoes, floods, fires, beetles...
anybody spot locusts yet?
Locusts are coming in 2012:)
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THE NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER HAS ISSUED A
TORNADO WATCH FOR PORTIONS OF

EXTREME SOUTHEAST ARKANSAS
NORTHEAST LOUISIANA
MUCH OF MISSISSIPPI

EFFECTIVE THIS WEDNESDAY MORNING AND EVENING FROM 1105 AM UNTIL
700 PM CDT.

...THIS IS A PARTICULARLY DANGEROUS SITUATION...

DESTRUCTIVE TORNADOES...LARGE HAIL TO 4 INCHES IN DIAMETER...
THUNDERSTORM WIND GUSTS TO 80 MPH...AND DANGEROUS LIGHTNING ARE
POSSIBLE IN THESE AREAS.

THE TORNADO WATCH AREA IS APPROXIMATELY ALONG AND 65 STATUTE
MILES EAST AND WEST OF A LINE FROM 45 MILES EAST SOUTHEAST OF
NATCHEZ MISSISSIPPI TO 50 MILES NORTH OF TUPELO MISSISSIPPI. FOR
A COMPLETE DEPICTION OF THE WATCH SEE THE ASSOCIATED WATCH
OUTLINE UPDATE (WOUS64 KWNS WOU2).

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

OTHER WATCH INFORMATION...CONTINUE...WW 229...WW 230...WW 231...
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Quoting Patrap:
If in today's watch areas,,take time now to prepare ones Tornado Plan as the foresight now will pay off then,if needed.

Stay up on the Local weather.

Know where to go in case a warning is issued or conditions warrant action.




Yeah, you don't want to be one of those people who as last resort are hunkering down in a ditch with their hands on their heads. (This is Option #3.)
Member Since: July 11, 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11178
The Tornado probabilities are up to 45%!!!

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National Weather Service issues "dangerous situation" tornado watch for parts of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi.

A "particularly dangerous situation watch" is issued when there is a high risk of multiple strong tornadoes.

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Seems the "cheese" has ripened to fruition...LOL
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It almost seems like a tropical system is around. Here is our current weather in Hattiesburg:

Temp: 84
Dewpoint: 70
Wind: South at 23mph Gust 40mph
Barometric Pressure: 29.68
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Quoting cat5hurricane:

I have an idea of where he's going with this.

It was only a matter of time before the agenda-driven, conspiracy theorist made his grand entrance belching yet more nonsense making a mockery out of science, weather, and climate. Sad. Pushing forward that agenda is getting very old. So today, we have this. More springtime weather in the U.S. as usual. And yet again, this is just being used as yet another pretext to push forward that agenda of his. I don't think he is fooling anyone anymore.


Um, do you ever read Dr. Masters' blogs?
Member Since: July 11, 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11178
If in today's watch areas,,take time now to prepare ones Tornado Plan as the foresight now will pay off then,if needed.

Stay up on the Local weather.

Know where to go in case a warning is issued or conditions warrant action.


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A very bad situation is setting up in Mississippi and Alabama today. Tornado parameters are off the chart. Could be the worst outbreak of tornadoes yet. Let's hope not because that would be saying something.
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Thx for the post Levi! Just added another bookmark.



All waters east, west, south and northeast of FL are all 1-2 degrees C above normal. Guh.
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Sacramento Levee Risk,a Disaster in waiting
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Quoting RandomText:
Yeah, the northern gulf is anywhere from 4 to 6 degrees CELSIUS hotter than 2005.

The area in the atlantic near Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina is hotter by 2 to 8 degrees CELSIUS.


Fortunately, most of the Caribbean is a degree or two cooler, except that one small hot pocket near Grand Cayman and Cuba.


Just my two pennies, but wouldn't that correlate into the possibility for increased storms to be developed in the GOM this year?
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Here's a question and answer interview from last eve on the levee situation.
Corps to blow Southeast Missouri levee to relieve surging river?

On Tuesday evening, Delta Farm Press spoke with Jim Pogue, the Corps’ Public Affairs Specialist for the Memphis District, about the levee set-up, expectations and the Corps’ utmost concern...

How is the levee set up and how this would take pressure off the river? I understand this was constructed purposely a long time ago.
“It was actually set up after the 1927 flood. It was only operated once, in 1937...

Puts me athought... the applicable regulations go back to 1928, the year after the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927.
As the flood approached New Orleans, Louisiana, about 30 tons of dynamite were set off on the levee at Caernarvon, Louisiana... intended to prevent New Orleans from experiencing serious damage, but flooded much of St. Bernard Parish and all of Plaquemines Parish's east bank. As it turned out, the destruction of the Caernarvon levee was unnecessary; several major levee breaks well upstream of New Orleans, including one the day after the demolitions, made it impossible for flood waters to seriously threaten the city.

Randy Newman, Louisiana 1927.
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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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