Flooding, heavy snow, ice storm, and fires hit the Western U.S.

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 12:39 PM GMT on January 20, 2012

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A state of emergency has been declared in Oregon and Washington, where a powerful winter storm brought deadly floods, heavy snows of up to 4 feet, a severe ice storm, and damaging winds Wednesday and Thursday. Heavy rains of 3 - 8 inches have fallen over a wide swath of Western Oregon since Monday, causing major to record flooding on multiple rivers and creeks. In Albany, Oregon, a family of four drove out of a supermarket parking lot and into a flooded Perwinkle Creek Wednesday night, and were swept away. Two people were rescued, but a 20-month-old boy and his mother drowned. The Marys River in Philomath rose to its highest flood on record yesterday, and will remain at major flood stage today before gradually receding tonight. The rains have tapered off over much of the region today, but renewed rains are expected later today and intermittently into early next week. The storm also brought strong winds to Reno, Nevada, fanning a brush fire that tore through the Reno area, destroying more than 20 homes and forcing thousands to evacuate. Reno experienced sustained winds of 44 mph, gusting to 70 mph, during the afternoon Thursday. The city didn't get any precipitation, and has received just 0.03" of precipitation this year. That fell on Monday, breaking a 56-day streak with no precipitation--the longest wintertime dry streak in city history. Strong winds gusting to 55 mph are expected during the day today, keeping the fire danger high, but heavy rain is expected tonight, which should ease the fire danger. The storm also brought a significant freezing rain event to northern Oregon and Western Washington yesterday, and up to an inch of ice accumulated in some areas, contributing to power outages that affected at least 275,000 people.


Figure 1. Satellite image taken at 7 pm EST Thursday, January 19, of the West Coast winter storm. A second storm, now approaching the coast, can be seen at the left of the image. Image credit: NASA/GSFC.

Some select snow amounts between 2 pm PST Monday January 16, and 1am PST Friday January 20, as compiled in the latest NOAA/NCEP/HPC Storm Summary:

...CALIFORNIA...
COVINGTON MILL 23.5
WEAVERVILLE 16.0
JUNCTION CITY 12.0

...IDAHO...
KETCHUM 22 NW 38.5
STANLEY 28 NE 32.9
BURLEY 30 SW 22.2

...MONTANA...
HERON 15.3
MISSOULA 15.0
COPPER CAMP 13.0
MANY GLACIER 13.0
HELENA 12.0

...OREGON...
MT. HOOD MEADOWS 50.0
TIMBERLANE 45.0
BEAR GRASS 32.0

...UTAH...
ALTA 16.0 9662 FT
SNOWBIRD 11.0 8100 FT
PARK CITY JUPITER PEAK 5.0

...WASHINGTON...
JUNE LAKE 31.0
SURPRISE LAKE 30.0
LONE PINE 25.0
OLYMPIA 25.0
TACOMA 11.1
SPOKANE 7.7
SEATTLE 7.1

...WYOMING...
OVANDO 24.0
JACKSON 16.2
AFTON 12.0
SOUTH ENTRANCE YELLOWSTONE 11.0

And some select rainfall amounts from the same time period:

...CALIFORNIA...
GASQUET 9.80
CRESCENT CITY/MC NAMARA FIELD 5.87
ARCATA AIRPORT 3.63
EUREKA 3.23

...OREGON...
SWISS HOME 15.50
PORT ORFORD 5 E 11.47
FALLS CITY 10.20
SILVERTON 9 SE 8.83
SALEM/MCNARY FIELD 6.82
PHILOMATH 5 SW 6.68
CAVE JUNCTION 2 N 6.25
N MYRTLE POINT 6.10
CORVALLIS MUNI ARPT 5.98
BROOKINGS 5 NNW 5.50
PORTLAND INTL ARPT 1.75


Figure 2. The Marys River in Philomath, Oregon crested at its highest flood height on record Thursday, and remains at major flood level today. Image credit: NOAA.

The short-term forecast
The storm door will remain open for California and the Pacific Northwest through the weekend and into mid-week, as two more moisture-laden storm systems pound the region. By the time the active weather pattern calms down by mid-week, rainfall totals of 10 - 20 inches are expected along the Oregon coast. Snowfall totals of 4 - 6 feet are likely in the Cascade Mountains of Washington and Oregon, in the Northern Sierra and Shasta/Siskiyou Mountains in California, in the Northern Wasatch and Uinta Ranges of Utah, and in the Northern Rockies from far eastern Idaho/Western Wyoming through Central and Northern Idaho, Northwestern Montana, and Northeastern Oregon. Damaging strong winds will affect the coast from Northern California to Northern Washington during the weekend and into early next week, as well.

Record dry spell ends for California and Nevada
In San Francisco, the first significant rains since November 20 fell yesterday, a modest 0.08". The two-month period November 20 - January 19 saw just 0.26" of rain fall in the city, making it the longest two-month winter dry period in the city since records began in 1850, according to wunderground's weather historian, Christopher C. Burt. More rain is expected Friday through Saturday.

The long-range forecast
A major atmospheric pattern shift is responsible for the big storm in the Western U.S. The ridge of high pressure that brought Northern California its driest two-month winter period on record Nov 20 - Jan 19 has retreated to the northwest towards Alaska, allowing the subtropical jet stream to dive underneath the ridge and bring a plume of moisture called an "atmospheric river" to the coast. This shift was possible thanks to a weakening of a pressure pattern known as the Arctic Oscillation (AO). During December and the first half of January, the AO took on its second most extreme configuration on record. The pressure difference between the Azores High and the Icelandic Low reached its most extreme value since records began in 1865, keeping the winds of the jets stream flowing very rapidly. This pattern bottled the jet stream far to the north in Canada, and prevented cold Arctic air from spilling southwards into the U.S . The combination of a near record-strength AO and a borderline weak/moderate La Ninña event in the Eastern Pacific combined to keep a powerful ridge in place over the Western U.S., deflecting all the winter storms into Canada and Southern Alaska. The AO index has become much less extreme over the past two weeks, though, and is now close to average strength. This has allowed the polar jet stream to sag southwards from Canada into the northern U.S., giving the northern tier of states their first real sustained winter-like weather of the season this week (it's about time!) However, the polar jet is expected to remain far enough north so that no major snow storms will occur in the U.S. during the remainder of January--except perhaps in the Pacific Northwest. It's likely that the lack of storms will make January 2012 one of the top five driest January months on record. This month is also likely to be a top-ten warmest January, but won't be able to challenge January of 2006 for the top spot. That January was an incredible 8.5°F above average in the contiguous U.S., and so far, we are running about 4 - 5°F above average. The AO index is predicted to remain near average or potentially change signs and go negative by the beginning of February, which would allow cold air to spill southwards into the U.S. bringing more typical winter-like weather.

It's too early to say what type of winter weather February might bring, but it might be instructive to look at the last time we had winter like this year's. Like the winter of 2011 - 2012, the winter of 2006 - 2007 started out exceptionally warm, with the AO index reaching its all-time most extreme positive value on record during December and early January. New York City hit 72°F on January 6, 2007, the city's all-time warmest January day. The rest of January 2007 saw a gradual lessening of the extreme AO pattern, much like we are seeing this year, and the AO returned to normal in February 2007. That month was a classic winter month, ranking as the 34th coldest February on record, with several notable snow storms.

Auroras possible this weekend
From spaceweather.com: Active sunspot 1401 erupted Jan. 19th, for more than an hour around 16:00 UT. The long-duration blast produced an M3-class solar flare and a Coronal Mass Ejection that appears to be heading toward Earth. Forecasters say strong geomagnetic storms are possible when the cloud arrives during the late hours of Saturday, Jan. 21st. High-latitude (and possibly middle-latitude) sky watchers should be alert for auroras this weekend.

Wunderground's weather historian Christopher C. Burt has a new post titled, The Pacific Northwest’s Greatest Storm: The ‘Storm King’ of January 1880.

Have a great weekend everyone, and I'll be back with a new post on Monday.

Jeff Masters

Not Good... (catilac)
...with high winds and extreme dry conditions. Fire crews from Reno and Carson City are battling a brush fire burning from 300 to 400 acres is threatening homes in the Washoe City area, centered at 485 Washoe Drive. Door-to-door evacuations are underway. The Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center is acting as an evacuation center for horses, as a result of the Washoe Drive Fire.
Not Good...
Christmas Tree Down (RenoSoHill)
I guess we were too slow so Mother Nature took it down for us. Winds approaching 100 mph - brushed our house - no damage - missed the truck by 3 feet. $20 porch light destroyed!
Christmas Tree Down
Mother Ship (RenoSoHill)
Another great cloud watching day as the storm approaches
Mother Ship
Snow in Federal Way (hniyer)
Snow clings heavily on trees in the town of Federal Way after the first snow storm of the winter dumped 6 inches of snow and turned the world white.
Snow in Federal Way
Bit of snow! (NicholasLee)
Measured exactly 1 foot of snow right before I shot this picture but its still snowing steadily so that now there's 16 inches of snow, with no signs of stopping! I love it!
Bit of snow!

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602. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
Seychelles Meteorological Services
Tropical Cyclone Advisory #17
CYCLONE TROPICAL FUNSO (08-20112012)
4:00 AM RET January 23 2012
=======================================

At 0:00 AM UTC, Tropical Cyclone Funso (968 hPa) located at 18.0S 39.1E has 10 minute sustained winds of 75 knots with gusts of 105 knots. The cyclone is reported as moving east southeast at 3 knots

Dvorak Intensity: T4.5/5.0/S0.0/24 HRS

Hurricane Force Winds
=====================
15 NM radius from the center

Storm Force Winds
=================
20 NM radius from the center

Gale Force Winds
=================
30 NM from the center extending up to 40 NM in the northern semi-circle

Near Gale Force Winds
====================
50 NM radius from the center, extending up to 60 NM in the northern semi-circle

Forecast and Intensity
=======================

12 HRS: 18.7S 39.4E - 85 knots (Cyclone Tropical)
24 HRS: 20.0S 39.1E - 90 knots (Cyclone Tropical Intense)
48 HRS: 22.2S 38.1E - 95 knots (Cyclone Tropical Intense)
72 HRS: 23.6S 38.1E - 110 knots (Cyclone Tropical Intense)

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

Funso continues to go slowly east-southeastward. Deep convection has well consolidated close to the center with very cold cloud tops and a warm point reappears on infrared enhanced pictures. System size is very small and mean sea level pressure has been revised higher. CI has been maintained at 5.0- in relationship with evident start of re-intensification. We can see strong convective activity far away east of the system.

Within the next hours, Funso is expected to remain under the steering influence of the near-equatorial ridge of mid-troposphere situated in the northeast, and should track slowly southeastward. Beyond, a ridge builds in the east of the system and the track might recurve southward and then south-westward. From j+3, a mid-tropospheric ridge rebuilds west of the system and a trough quickly transits south. Both contradictory steering flows might provide deceleration on southward track. An uncertainty exists for the final track and a westward recurve is not totally excluded (like ECMWF forecast) that should bring Funso toward the Mozambique coasts.

Upper level conditions are expected to remain good throughout the forecast period. Funso encounters again high energetic potential sea surface temperature (29C) and it should regularly intensify. At the end of the forecast period, system should weaken again as it will track over less warm waters by going down toward the south.

Inhabitants of the central and southern channel (including Europa island) should closely monitor the progress of this system.

The next tropical cyclone advisory from Seychelles Meteorological Service on TC FUNSO will be issued at 6:30 AM UTC..
Member Since: May 24, 2006 Posts: 50 Comments: 44849
Jeez, northern storm is really getting going.

Member Since: July 22, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 3841
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127636
Possibly three tornadoes in Arkansas, ones near Fordyce and another close to England, Arkansas, look to be in the EF3 range.
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156 knot couplet with the Bearden, AR storm...Likely an EF3/EF4 tornado on the ground.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 31537
Ouch...

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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

The scary thing is...The storms have just now started to enter the area most favorable for tornadoes.

Dew points, moisture, instability and strengthening, all will increase the next several hours.
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 20536
Quoting hurricanehunter27:
Someone post local news stream?

Here we go
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 31537
Someone post local news stream?
Member Since: July 22, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 3841
South Central Arkansas has two tornadoes, one right behind the other. Cant imagine being hit by one, and then 5 minutes later being hit with another.. Hope it does not happen.
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 20536
Bearden likely got hit by a potent tornado. Thorton, Fordyce and Kingsland is next.
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Now rotation is on the lowest level. Mostly likely a tornado on the ground now.
Member Since: July 22, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 3841
Praying for the people in Bearden, Arkansas. It looks like they just took a direct hit from a large and destructive tornado.

Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 31537
Bearden, Thorton, and Fordyce are in path. People in these cities and the surrounding area need to take cover.
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Quoting hurricanehunter27:
Starting to show very strong stacked rotation, has yet to show up on lowest level yet though.
Crap going to go right over Fordyce.
Member Since: July 22, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 3841
Member Since: August 2, 2010 Posts: 21 Comments: 9719
Starting to show very strong stacked rotation, has yet to show up on lowest level yet though.
Member Since: July 22, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 3841
Reed Timmer: Meteorologist and Extreme Storm Chaser:

"Nasty couplet on Calhoun-Cleveland, AR storm north of El Dorado moving northeast. Likely strong, damaging tornado on the ground"
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 31537
storm over Bearden is looking strong still... wow.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Ouch...Now I know this storm has a tornado on the ground.

Yup has the donut of doom.
Member Since: July 22, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 3841
Quoting hurricanehunter27:
Thank god nothing has formed ahead of the lines yet.

The scary thing is...The storms have just now started to enter the area most favorable for tornadoes.

Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 31537
Thank god nothing has formed ahead of the lines yet.
Member Since: July 22, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 3841
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Uh-oh.

"WITH EFFECTIVE SRH NOW IN
EXCESS OF 500-600 M2/S2...EXTREME LOW-LEVEL SHEAR/VERY LARGE
HODOGRAPHS BREEDS HIGH CONFIDENCE IN SUSTAINED/LONG-TRACKED
SUPERCELLS CAPABLE OF PRODUCING SIGNIFICANT TORNADOES.
"
You could actually see it on the visible loops earlier..
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 20536
Ouch...Now I know this storm has a tornado on the ground.

Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 31537
Storm near Camden is still strong looking on NWS Little Rock radar... going into 3rd county. This is also going about 60-70 mph so that will give almost no time to take cover.
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Link

Central Arkansas emergency management live feed.
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Tornado warnings already being posted..It will be a long night for some folks..We have the slight risk area here on the plateau. I hope it stays that way..
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 20536
Rotation starting to become really pronounced now:

Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 31537
Anyone in this area should take cover now. Its really starting to shape up.
Member Since: July 22, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 3841
And Mother Nature decided USA didn't suffered enough from tornadoes in 2011... I mean, EF2 striking a small mountain town in North Carolina just few days ago? In January? That town is supposed to have snow on ground...
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I knew we were going to have a bad tornado season even though I wished we didn't .Damn.
Member Since: August 14, 2010 Posts: 10 Comments: 16437
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Uh-oh.

"WITH EFFECTIVE SRH NOW IN
EXCESS OF 500-600 M2/S2...EXTREME LOW-LEVEL SHEAR/VERY LARGE
HODOGRAPHS BREEDS HIGH CONFIDENCE IN SUSTAINED/LONG-TRACKED
SUPERCELLS CAPABLE OF PRODUCING SIGNIFICANT TORNADOES.
"
Really? THIS EARLY!!! Going to be a long year....
Member Since: July 22, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 3841
Quoting nymore:
using storm relative you can easily see two rotations in southern Ark


Yeah, on NWS site I can see 2 decent rotation in southern AR and a weak one to northeast of Little Rock in White County. Camden storm rotation is decent and it look mean.
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Quoting nymore:
lowest possible to see close to the ground, higher if you want to see middle or upper.


Ok, thank you :)

Rotation pretty decent near Camden, AR.
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Cabinet kept alarming nuke report secret
Fearful of scaring public, existence of document was denied for months

Kyodo Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012

The government buried a worst-case scenario for the Fukushima nuclear crisis that was drafted last March and kept it under wraps until the end of last year, sources in the administration said Saturday.

After the document was shown to a small, select group of senior government officials at the prime minister's office in late March, the administration of then Prime Minister Naoto Kan decided to quietly bury it, the sources said.

"When the document was presented (in March), a discussion ensued about keeping its existence secret," a government source said.

In order to deny its existence, the government treated it as a personal document of Japan Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Shunsuke Kondo, who authored it, until the end of December, the sources said.

It was only then that it was actually recognized as an official government document, they said.

"The content was so shocking that we decided to treat it as if it didn't exist," a senior government official said.

A private-sector panel investigating the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant intends to examine whether the government tried to manipulate information during its handling of the crisis.

The panel plans to interview Kan and Goshi Hosono, minister in charge of the nuclear crisis and Kan's former adviser, among others.

Kondo drew up the document at Kan's request and is dated March 25, 2011. The document forecast that in a worst-case scenario the plant's crippled reactors would intermittently release massive quantities of radioactive materials for about a year.

The projection was based on a scenario in which a hydrogen explosion would tear through the No. 1 reactor's containment vessel, forcing all workers at the plant to evacuate because of the ensuing lethal radiation levels.

The document said that in such an event, residents within a radius of 170 km of the power station, and possibly even further away, would be forced to evacuate. Those living within a radius of between 170 km and 250 km of the plant, including Tokyo, could chose to evacuate voluntarily. The wrecked power station is about 220 km northeast of the capital.

Kan admitted in September that a worst-case scenario for the disaster had been drawn up. After parts of it were leaked in December, his successor, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, decided to start treating it as a Cabinet Office document.

"Because we were told there would be enough time to evacuate residents (even in a worst-case scenario), we refrained from disclosing the document due to fear it would cause unnecessary anxiety (among the public)," Hosono, the nuclear crisis minister, said at a Jan. 6 news conference.
Ministry not keeping track

The health ministry has not been keeping track of radiation that workers at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant are exposed to while off-site or off duty, ministry officials said Saturday, prompting concerns that current systems to check exposure may be inadequate.

The health ministry also doesn't check radiation doses that workers are exposed to during decontamination efforts around the wrecked No. 1 plant.

The ministry currently only keeps track of radiation exposure for the plant's employees when they are engaged in work around the facility.
Link
Member Since: August 2, 2010 Posts: 21 Comments: 9719
Uh-oh.

"WITH EFFECTIVE SRH NOW IN
EXCESS OF 500-600 M2/S2...EXTREME LOW-LEVEL SHEAR/VERY LARGE
HODOGRAPHS BREEDS HIGH CONFIDENCE IN SUSTAINED/LONG-TRACKED
SUPERCELLS CAPABLE OF PRODUCING SIGNIFICANT TORNADOES.
"
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 31537
Storm near Camden is looking rather mean right now. Watch this one very closely.

Member Since: July 22, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 3841
Quoting Bluestorm5:
If I'm reading the radar right, there's rotation in White Co, Arkansas... right?
using storm relative you can easily see two rotations in southern Ark
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Quoting Bluestorm5:
If I'm reading the radar right, there's rotation in White Co, Arkansas... right?

Weak.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 31537

MESOSCALE DISCUSSION 0048
NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER NORMAN OK
0648 PM CST SUN JAN 22 2012

AREAS AFFECTED...CNTRL/ERN AR

CONCERNING...TORNADO WATCH 5...

VALID 230048Z - 230145Z

THE SEVERE WEATHER THREAT FOR TORNADO WATCH 5 CONTINUES.

SEVERE POTENTIAL CONTINUES TO INCREASE ACROSS CNTRL AR AND INCIPIENT
REGIONAL TORNADO OUTBREAK APPEARS TO BE UNFOLDING...WITH PROBABLE
SIGNIFICANT TORNADOES DEVELOPING ACROSS S-CNTRL INTO NERN AR.


AS OF 0045Z...LEAD BROKEN BAND OF TSTMS EXTENDED IN A NNE-SSW
ORIENTATION FROM RANDOLPH TO COLUMBIA COUNTIES. SEVERAL EMBEDDED
MESOCYCLONES CONTINUE TO INTENSIFY WITH INITIAL TORNADO WARNINGS
HAVING BEEN RECENTLY ISSUED ACROSS S-CNTRL AR. MODIFIED 00Z
LZK/SHV/JAN RAOBS SUGGEST MLCAPE OF 750-1250 J/KG IS PREVALENT AHEAD
OF THIS BAND FROM S-CNTRL TO E-CNTRL AR. WITH EFFECTIVE SRH NOW IN
EXCESS OF 500-600 M2/S2...EXTREME LOW-LEVEL SHEAR/VERY LARGE
HODOGRAPHS BREEDS HIGH CONFIDENCE IN SUSTAINED/LONG-TRACKED
SUPERCELLS CAPABLE OF PRODUCING SIGNIFICANT TORNADOES.

..GRAMS.. 01/23/2012


ATTN...WFO...MEG...JAN...LZK...

LAT...LON 33599294 34599229 35819144 36129113 36209053 35869026
34919056 33629133 33479170 33309213 33449260 33599294
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Probably the best free meteorlogical workstation on the net.


www.simuawips.com


You have to register to use it.
Ya'll gonna love it.
Member Since: July 25, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 553
If I'm reading the radar right, there's rotation in White Co, Arkansas... right?
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Quoting Bluestorm5:


Thank you. Which ° Elevation? I'm using both NWS Little Rock site and Wunderground radar to track this.

I can see 2 decent rotation on NWS site radar.
lowest possible to see close to the ground, higher if you want to see middle or upper.
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Not looking good.
Member Since: July 22, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 3841
Quoting bappit:
Don't forget the persistent cap over Texas. That helped send the fuel north and east.
Is that Capp gone????.Because Texas has been getting some rain relief lately.
Member Since: August 14, 2010 Posts: 10 Comments: 16437
Quoting nymore:
Storm relative if your looking for tornadoes (radial), Base if you are looking at gust fronts and such


Thank you. Which ° Elevation? I'm using both NWS Little Rock site and Wunderground radar to track this.

I can see 2 decent rotation on NWS site radar.
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Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127636
Tornado's at night equals bad situation.
Member Since: August 14, 2010 Posts: 10 Comments: 16437
Hook forming?
Member Since: July 22, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 3841
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 31537
New Tornado warning. Velocity shows some decent rotation.

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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.