Why did Hurricane Sandy take such an unusual track into New Jersey?

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 4:33 PM GMT on October 31, 2012

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We're used to seeing hurricane-battered beaches and flooded cities in Florida, North Carolina, and the Gulf Coast. But to see these images from the Jersey Shore and New York City in the wake of Hurricane Sandy is a shocking experience. New Jersey only rarely gets hit by hurricanes because it lies in a portion of the coast that doesn't stick out much, and is too far north. How did this happen? How was a hurricane able to move from southeast to northwest at landfall, so far north, and so late in hurricane season? We expect hurricanes to move from east to west in the tropics, where the prevailing trade winds blow that direction. But the prevailing wind direction reverses at mid-latitudes, flowing predominately west-to-east, due to the spin of the Earth. Hurricanes that penetrate to about Florida's latitude usually get caught up in these westerly winds, and are whisked northeastwards, out to sea. However, the jet stream, that powerful band of upper-atmosphere west-to-east flowing air, has many dips and bulges. These troughs of low pressure and ridges of high pressure allow winds at mid-latitudes to flow more to the north or to the south. Every so often, a trough in the jet stream bends back on itself when encountering a ridge of high pressure stuck in place ahead of it. These "negatively tilted" troughs have winds that flow from southeast to northwest. It is this sort of negatively tilted trough that sucked in Sandy and allowed the hurricane to take such an unusual path into New Jersey.


Figure 1. Inlet section of Atlantic City, N.J., after Hurricane Sandy. Image credit: 6 ABC Action News.

The 1903 Vagabond Hurricane
The only other hurricane to hit New Jersey since 1851 besides Sandy was the 1903 Category 1 Vagabond Hurricane. According to Wikipedia, the Vagabond Hurricane caused heavy damage along the New Jersey coast ($180 million in 2006 dollars.) The hurricane killed 57 people, and endangered the life of President Theodore Roosevelt, who was sailing on a yacht near Long Island, NY, when the hurricane hit. However, the Vagabond Hurricane hit in September, when the jet stream is typically weaker and farther to the north. It is quite extraordinary that Sandy was able to hit New Jersey in late October, when the jet stream is typically stronger and farther south, making recurvature to the northeast much more likely than in September.


Figure 2. The path of the 1903 Vagabond Hurricane, the only other hurricane to hit New Jersey since 1851.

The blocking ridge that steered Sandy into New Jersey
A strong ridge of high pressure parked itself over Greenland beginning on October 20, creating a "blocking ridge" that prevented the normal west-to-east flow of winds over Eastern North America. Think of the blocking ridge like a big truck parked over Greenland. Storms approaching from the west (like the fall low pressure system that moved across the U.S. from California to Pennsylvania last week) or from the south (Hurricane Sandy) were blocked from heading to the northeast. Caught in the equivalent of an atmospheric traffic jam, the two storms collided over the Northeast U.S., combined into one, and are now waiting for the truck parked over Greenland to move. The strength of the blocking ridge, as measured by the strength of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), was quite high--about two standard deviations from average, something that occurs approximately 5% of the time. When the NAO is in a strong negative phase, we tend to have blocking ridges over Greenland.


Figure 3. Jet stream winds at a pressure of 300 mb on October 29, 2012, as Hurricane Sandy approached the coast of New Jersey. Note that the wind direction over New Jersey (black arrows) was from the southeast, due to a negatively tilted trough of low pressure over the Eastern U.S. caused by a strong blocking ridge of high pressure over Greenland. Image credit: NOAA/ESRL.

Arctic sea ice loss can cause blocking ridges
Blocking ridges occur naturally, but are uncommon over Greenland this time of year. According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, blocking near the longitude of Greenland (50°W) only occurs about 2% of the time in the fall. These odds rise to about 6% in winter and spring. As I discussed in an April post, Arctic sea ice loss tied to unusual jet stream patterns, three studies published in the past year have found that the jet stream has been getting stuck in unusually strong blocking patterns in recent years. These studies found that the recent record decline in Arctic sea ice could be responsible, since this heats up the pole, altering the Equator-to-pole temperature difference, forcing the jet stream to slow down, meander, and get stuck in large loops. The 2012 Arctic sea ice melt season was extreme, with sea ice extent hitting a record lows. Could sea ice loss have contributed to the blocking ridge that steered Sandy into New Jersey? It is possible, but we will need to much more research on the subject before we make such a link, as the studies of sea ice loss on jet stream patterns are so new. The author of one of the new studies, Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers, had this say in a recent post by Andy Revkin in his Dot Earth blog: "While it’s impossible to say how this scenario might have unfolded if sea-ice had been as extensive as it was in the 1980s, the situation at hand is completely consistent with what I’d expect to see happen more often as a result of unabated warming and especially the amplification of that warming in the Arctic."

Jeff Masters

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Quoting tazmaniad:


Incorrect. Apple trees are hermaphroditic. The difficulty of growing apples in Florida has to do with the lack of cool winter temperatures, which are needed for blossoms to form.


Yep...they grow like mad here in the UK, and even young trees will have loads of fruit on them. They were all over the place around Seattle when I loved there too.

I grew up in the desert with loads of citrus trees in the yard and date palms, though couldn't try to harvest them as too tall.

I would love mango, banana and avocado trees though! But I hate humid hot weather...so apples it is :P Blackberries grow like weeds here too, can pick them all over the place this time of year
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Quoting Jedkins01:



They aren't messy around here, maybe because they don't actually grow real bananas here in Central Florida, it's not quite tropical enough I guess. I personally love how they look, I like tropical plants in the yard.


I could see how a lot of over ripe bananas laying around fermenting in yard could get nasty though lol.
I get fruit out here on the coast in Satellite Beach. Some relatives of bananas are grown for their tropical look and foliage but do not produce bananas.

I know that in the Orlando area there a plenty of winters were the bananas get burned to the ground by cold weather and have to start all over in the spring. That could keep them from fruiting, since the most fruitful sword-leaf babies get to feed off of the mother plant for their first several months.

PS. I never leave the bananas for rats or other critters, I pick'em first while they are green and full. They naturally emit ethylene gas to ripen, so just put them in a paper bag for a day or two right before you are ready to eat them.
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Just wanted to give props to the NHC for handling Sandy's path and intensity so well. The image below is from late Thursday night, nearly four days before the storm made landfall:

Sandy

There are still questions and complaints about the lack of coastal hurricane warnings, but so far as where she'd go, when, and how strong she'd be, the NHC pretty much nailed things early on.
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Quoting BILOXIPAT13:
Long time lurker who very seldom posts. Has anyone heard how washington115 made out in the storm? Also, for those affected, hang in there! We here in Biloxi rebuilt after Katrina and you will rebuild after Sandy. My thoughts and prayers are with you.
I'm doing just fine.The kids costumes look adorable and just finished taking pictures.Trees are down but we'll avoid them by taking the car.
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#209 continued

... On the coastal fringes of Lower Manhattan, residents from housing estates are pumping sludge water out of basements and running short of food—most shops are still closed. As the week drags on, there are fears of a full-blown public health crisis in one of the wealthiest districts in the world.

Mind you, the situation is worse for many outside of Manhattan. On Tuesday night, as I tumbled out of the cab and groped through my satchel for a flashlight, the cab driver, an immigrant from Somalia, offered to lend me his. I declined, and for good reason. His house in Bayonne, New Jersey was without both power and water. He has two young children at home. “Just thinking about it right now makes me want to stop, turn around and go straight to them,” he said with a sad smile. Whole stretches of Long Island, New Jersey and adjacent states will likely be without power well into next week.
Member Since: July 12, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 6064
Long time lurker who very seldom posts. Has anyone heard how washington115 made out in the storm? Also, for those affected, hang in there! We here in Biloxi rebuilt after Katrina and you will rebuild after Sandy. My thoughts and prayers are with you.
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A City of Light and a City of Darkness: How Sandy Created Two Manhattans
By Ishaan TharoorOct. 31, 2012

In more than two decades of living in New York, I am not sure I experienced a moment stranger than what happened during a Tuesday night cab ride home from work. We were driving downtown on Fifth Avenue, past shuttered boutiques and crowds of meandering pedestrians, when, almost imperceptibly, everything went dark. At each corner, the ubiquitous streetlights and flashing walk-signs winked no more. Instead, a city of shadows loomed on all sides, illuminated only by whirring police sirens and the spectral glow of red flares planted in the ground by local authorities. The sidewalks emptied out. My cab driver, who had been speaking to a friend on his Bluetooth, made a startled laugh and lifted up his phone. His reception had vanished. I checked my gadgets and found them all equally useless.

We had entered what is effectively Manhattan's deadzone, where hundreds of thousands of residents are now in their third full day without electricity. It's a vast swathe of New York's downtown that encompasses the city's financial district, its trendiest restaurants as well as the epicenter of New York nightlife. It's also where I - alongside my family and myriad friends and colleagues - live.

...


http://nation.time.com/2012/10/31/a-city-of-light -and-a-city-of-darkness-how-sandy-created-two-manh attans/
Member Since: July 12, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 6064
Quoting ncstorm:


They would have had to visit this blog and to do that they will have to hang outside of a starbucks but since over 8 million people dont have power, I think it will be kind of hard to cross their minds if they cant even read about it to know Artic Ice did them in..

Time to take the kids trick or treating! Happy Halloween Everyone!
Why would they have had to visit this blog? There are far more websites than this one discussing the role climate change played in Sandy's track and intensity.

Happy Halloween back at you, and stay safe...
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Quoting pottery:

A recent study has concluded that Bananas will probably become the staple food for everyone........ (BBC news)
I quite enjoy a banana, but as a staple diet I think it lacks a little something. Even with ketchup and mustard.
Most of the banana crop is plantains, the potatoes of the tropics.
Global Crop Diversity Trust:
"Bananas and plantains are grown in more than 130 countries across the tropics, and about 90% are produced on small farms and consumed locally. They are particularly important in East Africa where they constitute the main staple food for about 50% of the population. In this part of the world the annual consumption can exceed 400 kg per person. In terms of gross value of production, bananas and plantains are the developing world's fourth most important crop after rice, wheat and maize."
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Quoting washingtonian115:
Hello the kids will be going trick or treating.But we'll have to find neighborhoods with power in them to do it.One thing that I don't like is that global warmist will now use this opportunity to the fullest extent to to possibly shove this down our damn throats.Anyway have a nice day and a safe holloween.


All else aside: Safe halloween to you.

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Quoting clamshell:


Oh my goodness...

another bumpersticker person for sure.

You all know the one...

The AGW gang says its true, I believe them, and thats all there is to it.

The Chicken Little virus must be in full swing right now.


That was slightly amusing the first 90 or so times you posted it. But now it's grown tiresome; do you have anything original to add, or may I just safely place you on ignore now, knowing that this is the best you can come up with? ;-)
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Quoting kwgirl:
There are plenty of other types of tropical plants. I try to grow natives so I don't have to water. I had to cut down a beautiful coconut tree because it was becoming so big and producing so many coconuts that it was becoming a danger. What do you mean about real bananas? Do your trees fruit? If not, then it is something other than a banana tree.


Most of the banana trees planted in South Florida are actually plantains. I have usually 1-2 dozen growing in various places on my property. They do cause damage and grow like weeds but I like them anyway!

Giant plantain:
Link




My own biggest fruiting trees were all broken as Sandy passed:
Link

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Hello the kids will be going trick or treating.But we'll have to find neighborhoods with power in them to do it.One thing that I don't like is that global warmist will now use this opportunity to the fullest extent to to possibly shove this down our damn throats.Anyway have a nice day and a safe holloween.
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Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 26865
Quoting ncstorm:


They would have had to visit this blog and to do that they will have to hang outside of a starbucks but since over 8 million people dont have power, I think it will be kind of hard to cross their minds if they cant even read about it to know Artic Ice did them in..

Time to take the kids trick or treating! Happy Halloween Everyone!

I know a few people who said something about it around here.....
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Yea NLCS wasn't fun after game 4 ILwthr, went thru that in TLR's first year too ('96 - I was at game 5), so maybe that's a good omen for Matheny in the long run. At least we didn't lose three in a row at home.

I'd mowed leaves Mon. and could hardly tell it when got home yesterday, pretty good blow. Weird we're getting the dreaded NWern flow, but not supposed to be colder tomorrow a.m., guess that high is wrapping those warm TX temps around it.

Hope everybody has a safe and happy Halloween - also hoping those linemen get power back to most of those w/out soon.
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Quoting pottery:

A recent study has concluded that Bananas will probably become the staple food for everyone........ (BBC news)
I quite enjoy a banana, but as a staple diet I think it lacks a little something. Even with ketchup and mustard.


They need a little more taco sauce and peppers. Or, peanut butter. (Elvis Presley)
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Con Edison is distributing ice at six locations to customers who have no electricity

http://live.nydailynews.com/Event/Tracking_Hurric ane_Sandy_2
Member Since: July 12, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 6064
Quoting scooster67:


Apple trees need another tree for pollination.


Incorrect. Apple trees are hermaphroditic. The difficulty of growing apples in Florida has to do with the lack of cool winter temperatures, which are needed for blossoms to form.
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Quoting Neapolitan:
If they aren't ideologically blinded to science, I'm sure it's crossed their mind at least a time or two sometime over the past three or four days...


They would have had to visit this blog and to do that they will have to hang outside of a starbucks but since over 8 million people dont have power, I think it will be kind of hard to cross their minds if they cant even read about it to know Artic Ice did them in..

Time to take the kids trick or treating! Happy Halloween Everyone!
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Quoting kwgirl:
I am going to sign off now. everyone have a good evening.


I like that kwgirl, but I think she's an antibananaite.
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Quoting ncstorm:
I wonder if people in NY, MD, VA, PA, DC, NC, CT and NJ who have lost property and family members and currently without power care about the Artic Sea Ice?
If they aren't ideologically blinded to science, I'm sure it's crossed their mind at least a time or two sometime over the past three or four days...
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laters
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189. Gaara
Quoting ncstorm:


and you blogging without power? You are one of the lucky ones..stay safe!

From CNN:

Sandy knocks out 25% of cell service in its path


My company has a co-gen plant on site and is not reliant on the local energy grid. Go us!
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Quoting scooster67:


Apple trees need another tree for pollination.
haha that's a good piece of knowledge I was missing, but I don't think they would grow anyway.
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I am going to sign off now. everyone have a good evening.
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Quoting islander101010:
both isacc and sandy are going to be retired but for localized damage debbie is up there.


As is Ernesto - as in up there, he caught the Yucatan off guard when he exploded right before landfall.
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Quoting Gaara:


As someone from CT without power and with property damage, I do.

But, then again, I'm also a poster on this blog.


and you blogging without power? You are one of the lucky ones..stay safe!

From CNN:

Sandy knocks out 25% of cell service in its path
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Kwgirl - we call those bananas finger bananas... Everything else about the plant is spot on, which is why I do not have them at my current house.
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both isacc and sandy are going to be retired but for localized damage debbie is up there. cant be much worse than she was to central north florida i edited this yes ernesto
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The stalks have to live a whole year before they bloom and make bananas, if it freezes and kills the stalk before then...no bananas. They can resprout but you have the same year without a hard freese issue. You may need to be south of Orlando, in a protected valley, or near water (or a greenhouse) to stop the freeze back.

For apples, I don't think North Florida gets Cold enough.
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Quoting LostTomorrows:


I can barely read them... is there any way to enlarge?


right click the image, chose "view image" use back arrow to come back
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180. Gaara
Quoting kwgirl:
Stay strong and get in line asap with your insurance agent. Then look around. You will find someone else who is worse off. It will help you put things in perspective. When I lost a lot of things in Wilma, I learned that I really didn't need them. It uncluttered my life.


We will be fine. The damage wasn't catastrophic. Damage to some friends' homes along the shoreline was, however. I expect to have power back sometime this weekend. Thankfully, we can cook on the wood stove and the fitness center at work has showers.
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The NYC MTA has photos of subway flooding and their pumping operations at:


http://www.flickr.com/photos/mtaphotos/page2/
Member Since: July 12, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 6064
Quoting LostTomorrows:


I can barely read them... is there any way to enlarge?

Yeah, just click the image. It'll open full size in a new tab.
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Quoting FLWeatherFreak91:
No. I also have bananas trees and they produced fruit once. Little tiny bananas... The climate isn't right here.

I tied planting an apple tree too. The tree is beautiful, but it never produces. Our citrus trees on the other hand are totally loaded every year


Apple trees need another tree for pollination.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Since everybody else is sharing...I believe this season will end at 21-10-2. I'm in the process of writing my Tropical Cyclone Reports (they should all be on my blog by the start of Spring), but I already have all the intensity and duration changes ready below.

The pressure is in millibars and the winds are in knots.

These are not official changes conducted by the National Hurricane Center and reflect my opinion only. Take it for what its worth.



I can barely read them... is there any way to enlarge?

Edit: You added that while I refreshed the page haha... and they already wrote the report for Florence and she stayed at 50 kt I think. And where is Tony?
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Thank goodness someone else is on the blog. I thought I was talking to myself there for a minute. Must be quitting time. Close to it here as well. I just hope I don't get banned for talking bananas. LOL
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Since everybody else is sharing...I believe this season will end at 21-10-2. I'm in the process of writing my Tropical Cyclone Reports (they should all be on my blog by the start of Spring), but I already have all the intensity and duration changes ready below.

The pressure is in millibars and the winds are in knots.

These are not official changes conducted by the National Hurricane Center and reflect my opinion only. Take it for what its worth.


(Click the image to enlarge)

Note: Yes, I realize TS Tony is not up there yet.
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Looks like the African waves are getting turned back.

ha haaa banana.

Between the panthers, chemicals, and downed power lines, floods, and snow, there are plenty of tricks out there. Hope you get treats.

Happy Halloween.

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Quoting FLWeatherFreak91:
No. I also have bananas trees and they produced fruit once. Little tiny bananas... The climate isn't right here.

I tied planting an apple tree too. The tree is beautiful, but it never produces. Our citrus trees on the other hand are totally loaded every year
Your banana tree could have been a hybrid or you needed to water it. There are countless types of bananas. In Key West we grow some that we call Cuban bananas or Hog bananas. I am sure there is a proper scientific name for them, but the banana's are short, fat and can be very sweet. The type you see in the store comes from one type of tree. I have never seen that type grow down here. So you probably just had a different type of tree. I believe apples need cold weather. Or they could be like the lime tree that has to mature to a certain age before they begin producing. If the apple tree produced blossoms and no fruit, then you have a pollination problem. Or maybe apple trees have genders as the Papaya tree does. You have male and female plants and they need to be in the vicinity of each other to produce fruit.
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It is funny and scary how dependent we are on electricity. Once the power is on, no matter how bad the damage is, people will feel better like everything is normal again. Unfortunately for a lot of people, the state of "normal" is a long way off.
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Quoting kwgirl:
There are plenty of other types of tropical plants. I try to grow natives so I don't have to water. I had to cut down a beautiful coconut tree because it was becoming so big and producing so many coconuts that it was becoming a danger. What do you mean about real bananas? Do your trees fruit? If not, then it is something other than a banana tree.
No. I also have bananas trees and they produced fruit once. Little tiny bananas... The climate isn't right here.

I tied planting an apple tree too. The tree is beautiful, but it never produces. Our citrus trees on the other hand are totally loaded every year
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Web cams showing power restored to eastern CT through Cape Cod, ferries running, things fairly normal aside from some south and east facing coastlines.
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Quoting LargoFl:
yes i planted two banana plants years ago, now i have six lol..my mango tree is doing great, took awhile for it to mature but last year finally got some good fruit off it
How do you contain them? Or do you just let them go? Mangoes are another tree that draws rats. At least the coconut rats down here. And they get so big you can't get up there to pick them. Make sure you keep it topped so it doesn't grow too tall. Edit: I meant the mango tree. Boy my structure is going to the dogs.LOL
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Quoting kwgirl:
You know what I mean! They grow, reproduce, die and put up a sucker to regenerate. Here in the Keys we call it walking. I also have a plant that walked itself out of it's pot and planted itself in the yard.
yes i planted two banana plants years ago, now i have six lol..my mango tree is doing great, took awhile for it to mature but last year finally got some good fruit off it
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Quoting dabirds:
121) That's a good one, especially being Halloween - Ben and his horde may be back! Seriously though, I can imagine that's another issue they'll have to deal with, as if they didn't have enough already.

ILwthr - 14mph from NW with 18 gusts in S C IL, have avoided the freeze so far, in town anyway.


Hey dabirds,

Oh my that NLCS had to be tough to swallow...guh! Still had to be a fun ride when no one gave them a chance to begin with ;).

Yes it was windy yesterday. Have lots of twigs and leaves to rake up. Waiting on a good rain, its been a while since we had some. Though the last few months have been gracious. Waiting for that snow now.

I have had 5 or 6 frosts already and 1 hard freeze.
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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.