Extreme Drought to Flood in Georgia: Weather Whiplash Strikes Again

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:57 PM GMT on May 06, 2013

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The remarkable storm that brought record-breaking May snows and cold to the Midwest last week continues to spin over the Southeast U.S. The storm is unleashing flooding rains, bringing a case of "Weather Whiplash" to Georgia: flooding where extreme drought had existed just a few months ago. The storm formed when a loop in the jet stream of extreme amplitude got cut off from the main flow of the jet over the weekend, forming a "cutoff low" that is now slowly spinning down as it drifts east over the Southeast U.S. On Sunday, the storm dumped 3.4" of rain on Atlanta, Georgia--that city's sixth heaviest May calendar day rain storm since record keeping began in 1878. Remarkably, the rains were also able to bring rivers in Central Georgia above flood stage. This portion of the country was in "exceptional drought"--the worst category of drought--at the beginning of 2013.


Figure 1. The record May snowstorm that hit the Midwest U.S. on May 1 - 3, 2013, got cut off from the jet stream and was seen spinning over the Southeast U.S. on Sunday, May 5, in this image from NASA's MODIS instrument. The 3.4" of rain that fell on Atlanta, Georgia on May 5 was that city's sixth heaviest May calendar day rainfall since record keeping began in 1878.

Weather Whiplash
Weather Whiplash--a term originally coined by science writer Andrew Freedman of climatecentral.org to describe extreme shifts between cold and hot weather--is also a excellent phrase we can use to describe some of the rapid transitions between extreme drought and floods seen in recent years. I brought up a remarkable example in mid-April, when a 200-mile stretch of the Mississippi River north of St. Louis reached damaging major flood levels less than four months after near-record low water levels restricted barge traffic, forcing the Army Corp to blast out rocks from the river bottom to enable navigation. As the climate warms, the new normal in coming decades is going to be more and more extreme "Weather Whiplash" drought-flood cycles like we have seen in the Midwest and in Georgia this year. A warmer atmosphere is capable of bringing heavier downpours, since warmer air can hold more water vapor. But you still need a low pressure system to come along and wring that moisture out of the air to get rain. When natural fluctuations in jet stream patterns take storms away from a region, creating a drought, the extra water vapor in the air won't do you any good. There will be no mechanism to lift the moisture, condense it, and generate drought-busting rains. The drought that ensues will be more intense, since temperatures will be hotter and the soil will dry out more.


Figure 2. Weather Whiplash in Georgia, 2013: the center of the state was in exceptional drought as the beginning of the year, but heavy rains in February, March, and April busted the drought. Heavy May rains have now brought flooding. Image credit: U.S. Drought Monitor.

Weather Whiplash in the Southeast U.S. more likely due to an intensification of the Bermuda High
This year's "Weather Whiplash" in Georgia is the second time in the past decade the state has gone from exceptional drought to flood. In September 2007, Atlanta, Georgia was in the midst of a 1-in-100 year drought, and was just weeks away from running out of water. Yet just two years later, the drought had been busted, and a phenomenal 1-in-500 year flood ripped through the city, killing ten and causing $500 million in damage. According to a 2011 study by a Duke University-led team of climate scientists, "Changes to the North Atlantic Subtropical High and Its Role in the Intensification of Summer Rainfall Variability in the Southeastern United States", the frequency of abnormally wet or dry summer weather in the southeastern United States has more than doubled in recent decades, due to an intensification of the Bermuda High. The scientists found that the Bermuda High, which is centered several hundred miles to the east of the Southeast U.S., has grown more intense during summer and has expanded westwards over the past 30 years. Since high pressure systems are areas of sinking air that discourage precipitation, this has made abnormally dry summers more common over the Southeast U.S. However, in summers when the Bermuda High happens to shift to the east, so that high pressure is not over the Southeast U.S., the stronger winds blowing clockwise around the Bermuda High bring an increased flow of very moist subtropical air from the south to the Southeast U.S., increasing the incidence of abnormally wet summers. Thus, the intensification of the Bermuda High has made extreme droughts and extreme floods more likely over the Southeast U.S. Using climate models, the scientists determined that human-caused global warming was likely the main cause of the significant intensification in the Bermuda High. Thus "Weather Whiplash" between drought and flood will probably become increasingly common in the coming decades over the Southeast U.S.


Figure 3. Observed June-July-August departure of precipitation from average over the SE United States for a 60-yr period (mm day−1). Horizontal dashed lines represent 1 standard deviation of the summer rainfall. Note that summer precipitation extremes exceeding one standard deviation have more than doubled during the most recent 30-year period compared to the previous 30-year period. Image credit: Li et al., 2011, Journal of Climate.

New climate change blog at The Guardian
In these days of steadily decreasing media coverage of climate change (and all science, in general), its good to see a fresh new source of good science appear in a major newspaper. The Guardian, a prominent UK news source, has a new blog called Climate Consensus – The 97%. The primary authors are Dana Nuccitelli of SkepticalScience and John Abraham, Associate Professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. The first post at the new blog is titled “Why is Reuters puzzled by global warming’s acceleration?”

Related Links
Don't miss the summary post on last week's remarkable snow storm by wunderground's weather historian, Christopher C. Burt, The Phenomenal May Snowstorm of May 1-3, 2013

Extreme Drought to Extreme Flood: Weather Whiplash Hits the Midwest: my April 19, 2013 blog post.

Southeast U.S. drought: another Tropical Storm Alberto needed: my April 2012 post describing how 20% - 50% of all droughts in the Southeast U.S. are broken by tropical storms or hurricanes.

Study: Global warming is driving increased frequency of extreme wet or dry summer weather in southeast, so droughts and deluges are likely to get worse: October 2010 post by Joe Romm at climateprogress.org.

Jeff Masters

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Quoting Gearsts:
Isn't that area of low pressure always there?


Monsoon trough
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116. VR46L
Images from Rammb




Click on image to see loop



The big Picture in Water Vapour



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Cool satellite picture of the low over SE USA
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Quoting StormTrackerScott:
0Z Euro also showing lowering pressures across the Caribbean in 10 days. I suspect we will atleast have a invest to track in 2 weeks.

Isn't that area of low pressure always there?
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0Z Euro also showing lowering pressures across the Caribbean in 10 days. I suspect we will atleast have a invest to track in 2 weeks.

Member Since: February 28, 2013 Posts: 7 Comments: 3859
Fresh new county map.... Southeast rainfall reports
Source NOAA

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FLOOD ADVISORY
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE SAN JUAN PR
201 PM AST MON MAY 6 2013

PRC007-021-025-047-061-063-101-105-127-135-139-14 3-062100-
/O.NEW.TJSJ.FA.Y.0041.130506T1801Z-130506T2100Z/
/00000.N.ER.000000T0000Z.000000T0000Z.000000T0000 Z.OO/
BAYAMON PR-CAGUAS PR-COROZAL PR-GUAYNABO PR-GURABO PR-MOROVIS PR-
NARANJITO PR-SAN JUAN PR-TRUJILLO ALTO PR-VEGA ALTA PR-
AGUAS BUENAS PR-TOA ALTA PR-
201 PM AST MON MAY 6 2013

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN SAN JUAN HAS ISSUED AN

* URBAN AND SMALL STREAM FLOOD ADVISORY FOR MINOR FLOODING OF POOR
DRAINAGE AREAS IN
FOR THE FOLLOWING MUNICIPALITIES...

IN PUERTO RICO
BAYAMON...CAGUAS...COROZAL...GUAYNABO...GURABO...M OROVIS...
NARANJITO...SAN JUAN...TRUJILLO ALTO...VEGA ALTA...AGUAS BUENAS
AND TOA ALTA

* UNTIL 500 PM AST

* AT 200 PM AST...LOCAL EMERGENCY MANAGERS...SATELLITE IMAGERY AND
THE TERMINAL DOPPLER WEATHER RADAR INDICATED AREAS OF VERY HEAVY
RAIN WITH THE SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS NOW MOVING TOWARDS OR ACROSS
THESE AREAS. AT LEAST UNTIL 5:00 PM AST...SHOWERS AND STORMS WILL
CONTINUE TO DEVELOP AND AFFECT THESE AREAS. THE HEAVY RAINFALL WILL
LEAD TO QUICK RISES IN SMALL STREAMS...CREEKS AND MINOR FLOODING IN
POOR DRAINAGE AREAS.

MOST FLOOD DEATHS OCCUR IN AUTOMOBILES. NEVER DRIVE YOUR VEHICLE INTO
AREAS WHERE THE WATER COVERS THE ROADWAY. FLOOD WATERS ARE USUALLY
DEEPER THAN THEY APPEAR. JUST ONE FOOT OF FLOWING WATER IS POWERFUL
ENOUGH TO SWEEP VEHICLES OFF THE ROAD. WHEN ENCOUNTERING FLOODED
ROADS MAKE THE SMART CHOICE...TURN AROUND...DONT DROWN. MOVE TO
HIGHER GROUND.


&&

LAT...LON 1829 6600 1827 6606 1827 6619 1828 6620
1827 6623 1827 6637 1828 6639 1827 6640
1827 6644 1833 6645 1838 6627 1840 6606

$$
RAM

------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------
FLOOD ADVISORY
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE SAN JUAN PR
152 PM AST MON MAY 6 2013

PRC029-037-053-077-085-089-103-119-062045-
/O.NEW.TJSJ.FA.Y.0040.130506T1752Z-130506T2045Z/
/00000.N.ER.000000T0000Z.000000T0000Z.000000T0000 Z.OO/
CANOVANAS PR-CEIBA PR-NAGUABO PR-JUNCOS PR-LAS PIEDRAS PR-FAJARDO PR-
LUQUILLO PR-RIO GRANDE PR-
152 PM AST MON MAY 6 2013

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN SAN JUAN HAS ISSUED AN

* URBAN AND SMALL STREAM FLOOD ADVISORY
FOR THE FOLLOWING MUNICIPALITIES...

IN PUERTO RICO
CANOVANAS...CEIBA...NAGUABO...JUNCOS...LAS PIEDRAS...FAJARDO...
LUQUILLO AND RIO GRANDE

* UNTIL 445 PM AST

* AT 147 PM AST...LOCAL EMERGENCY MANAGERS AND THE TERMINAL DOPPLER
WEATHER RADAR INDICATED AREAS OF VERY HEAVY RAIN WITH THE SHOWERS
AND THUNDERSTORMS NOW MOVING ACROSS THE ADVISORY AREA. AT LEAST
UNTIL 4:45 PM AST SHOWERS AND STORMS WILL CONTINUE TO DEVELOP AND
AFFECT THESE AREAS. THE HEAVY RAINFALL WILL LEAD TO QUICK RISES IN
SMALL STREAMS...CREEKS AND MINOR FLOODING IN POOR DRAINAGE AREAS.

MOST FLOOD DEATHS OCCUR IN AUTOMOBILES. NEVER DRIVE YOUR VEHICLE INTO
AREAS WHERE THE WATER COVERS THE ROADWAY. FLOOD WATERS ARE USUALLY
DEEPER THAN THEY APPEAR. JUST ONE FOOT OF FLOWING WATER IS POWERFUL
ENOUGH TO SWEEP VEHICLES OFF THE ROAD. WHEN ENCOUNTERING FLOODED
ROADS MAKE THE SMART CHOICE...TURN AROUND...DONT DROWN. MOVE TO
HIGHER GROUND.

&&

LAT...LON 1837 6558 1839 6560 1835 6562 1834 6560
1836 6557 1832 6562 1831 6561 1832 6562
1827 6562 1825 6557 1822 6559 1819 6576
1821 6582 1818 6584 1817 6589 1834 6589
1840 6558

$$

RAM
Member Since: April 29, 2009 Posts: 75 Comments: 14570
Quoting StormTrackerScott:
Long Range GFS ensembles are beginning to show low pressure in the SW Caribbean in 12 to 14 days.


I am not surprised lets keep watching it for the next 7-10 day if the main model pick up on it plus other models and them being consistent with developing the low then we will look more into it
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Quoting VR46L:


aye seems to be falling apart.....


alright, thanks :P
Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
Return flow off the gulf for TX getting ready to begin, note the thin arc of clouds across the entire gulf on visible loop, western side is washing out and return flow getting ready to return.
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Quoting nrtiwlnvragn:


Tampa area would include storms striking the East Coast of Florida and exiting on the West Coast.


I remember hurricane hugo, i stood outside and let the storm blow me around the porch for like 20 minutes..
Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
Quoting Jedkins01:


The hurricane return period for the Tampa Bay area and northeast Florida/South Georgia should be in the 25 to 50 year color coding.

That just doesn't seem right, there is absolutely no way the hurricane return period here around Tampa Bay is shorter than western Louisiana and is supposedly the same as the western Florida panhandle/Alabama/Miss coastline...


Tampa area would include storms striking the East Coast of Florida and exiting on the West Coast.
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105. VR46L
Quoting Torito:


The clouds, not the rain?


aye seems to be falling apart.....
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Long Range GFS ensembles are beginning to show low pressure in the SW Caribbean in 12 to 14 days.

Member Since: February 28, 2013 Posts: 7 Comments: 3859
Quoting VR46L:


Na Off the SC coast I beleive....:P


The clouds, not the rain?
Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
Quoting Grothar:


The hurricane return period for the Tampa Bay area and northeast Florida/South Georgia should be in the 25 to 50 year color coding.

That just doesn't seem right, there is absolutely no way the hurricane return period here around Tampa Bay is shorter than western Louisiana and is supposedly the same as the western Florida panhandle/Alabama/Miss coastline...
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101. VR46L
Quoting Torito:


aah its on the other side of NC/VA... And it looks like it will merge with the other storm that is stalled right now.


Na Off the SC coast I beleive....:P
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Quoting nrtiwlnvragn:



This Week

thanks
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Member Since: February 28, 2013 Posts: 7 Comments: 3859
Heading off to Orlando for a conference.......Stay Safe and see everyone on Friday............WW.
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Quoting VR46L:
This swirl has hardly moved in days..







Those are some squished looking swirls...
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Quoting VR46L:


You can kind of see it in this GFT ... but weaking as it moves up the coast



aah its on the other side of NC/VA... And it looks like it will merge with the other storm that is stalled right now.
Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
Quoting Torito:
What happened to the florida storm over the weekend then? it kinda just dissapears suddenly on the sattelite images...




It got pulled into the large circulation of the cutoff low and probably decoupled inland over the south somewhere. More than likely it helped provide moisture for the low to produce heavy rain as the cutoff low was initially moisture starved.
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Quoting ncstorm:
12z CMC-long range








Liking that low :P
Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
Quoting ncstorm:
12z CMC-long range








I have my doubts on that strong of a trough coming across the East going into mid May.


Member Since: February 28, 2013 Posts: 7 Comments: 3859
Quoting Torito:
What happened to the florida storm over the weekend then? it kinda just dissapears suddenly on the sattelite images...




You can kind of see it in this GFT ... but weaking as it moves up the coast

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12z CMC-long range






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Quoting StormTrackerScott:
I suspect most of this years tornadoes in the US will be from landfalling hurricanes.


And from sea breeze collisions over Florida lol.
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What happened to the florida storm over the weekend then? it kinda just dissapears suddenly on the sattelite images...


Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
Quoting StormTrackerScott:
Orlando


I'm going to be camping west of Orlando later this week on Wednesday through Friday with the family. I'm looking forward to it being a lot greener than it was when we went there last May!
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Quoting RitaEvac:
Actually you are witnessing ET over the CONUS, the 2 eyes and elongated head



LMAO!
Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
Quoting RitaEvac:
Actually you are witnessing ET over the CONUS, the 2 eyes and elongated head



LOL!!!!!!!!!


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Quoting GeorgiaStormz:


no this came out of the western and northern us.

thats why its now moving east from MS to AL to GA..


My bad... went through the past satellites and i see what you mean now, this is what i get for not being here for a weekend xD
Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
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Actually you are witnessing ET over the CONUS, the 2 eyes and elongated head

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Quoting wunderkidcayman:
hey guys I'm just wondering when is/was the Governor’s Hurricane Conference in Fort Lauderdale



This Week
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Quoting Torito:


Storm over florida. This storm is part of the remains of that storm.


no this came out of the western and northern us.

thats why its now moving east from MS to AL to GA..
Member Since: February 11, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 9737
hey guys I'm just wondering when is/was the Governor’s Hurricane Conference in Fort Lauderdale
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This swirl has hardly moved in days..





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I guess my hope that the blocking high over Greenland would help keep the arctic ice from melting so fast, was also wish casting.
http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/CT/animate.arctic.co lor.0.html
Member Since: December 28, 2006 Posts: 115 Comments: 1591
Quoting GeorgiaStormz:


we did?

I dont know anybody who did...


Storm over florida. This storm is part of the remains of that storm.
Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
Here are some unofficial since-Friday totals from the TN Valley. The embiggening of some of the big un's is by me, not NWS.

465
NOUS44 KHUN 061432
PNSHUN
PUBLIC INFORMATION STATEMENT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE HUNTSVILLE AL
924 AM CDT MON MAY 6 2013

…UNOFFICIAL TOTAL RAINFALL SINCE FRIDAY EVENING (MAY 3)…

A SLOW-MOVING UPPER LEVEL LOW PRESSURE SYSTEM HAS RESULTED IN SEVERAL PROLONGED PERIODS OF RAIN ACROSS THE TENNESSEE VALLEY SINCE FRIDAY EVENING /MAY 3/. BELOW ARE UNOFFICIAL 72-HOUR RAINFALL TOTALS TAKEN FROM A VARIETY OF WEATHER OBSERVING NETWORKS ACROSS
NORTH ALABAMA AND SOUTHERN MIDDLE TENNESSEE…AS OF 9AM CDT MONDAY MAY 6.

THE HIGHEST MEASURED RAINFALL TOTAL THUS FAR IS AT A COOPERATIVE OBSERVER SITE LOCATED 5 MILES SOUTHEAST OF DECATUR /MORGAN COUNTY/
WHICH HAS RECEIVED 5.28 INCHES.
…LOCATION… …TIME… …AMT…

…ALABAMA…

…COLBERT COUNTY…
1 ENE SHEFFIELD (548 FT)(COCORAHS) 800 AM MAY 6 2.31 IN
NORTH WEST ALABAMA REGIONAL (ASOS) 700 AM MAY 6 2.03 IN
MUSCLE SHOALS WATER PLANT (COOP) 706 AM MAY 6 1.98 IN

…CULLMAN COUNTY…
HANCEVILLE (590 FT)(COOP) 800 AM MAY 6 3.23 IN
4 W GOOD HOPE (562 FT)(COCORAHS) 700 AM MAY 6 2.68 IN

…DEKALB COUNTY…
BOAZ-MT VERNON (1070 FT)(UCOOP) 700 AM MAY 6 4.13 IN
GROVE OAK (1110 FT)(GOES) 600 AM MAY 6 3.46 IN
FORT PAYNE (917 FT)(COOP) 800 AM MAY 6 3.16 IN
IDER (1610 FT)(UCOOP) 700 AM MAY 6 2.81 IN

…FRANKLIN COUNTY…
RUSSELLVILLE NUMBER 2 (880 FT)(COOP) 600 AM MAY 6 2.23 IN

…JACKSON COUNTY…
HOLLY TREE (700 FT)(UCOOP) 700 AM MAY 6 3.59 IN
7 W SKYLINE (650 FT)(COCORAHS) 600 AM MAY 6 3.36 IN

…LAWRENCE COUNTY…
MOULTON 2 (622 FT)(COOP) 800 AM MAY 6 2.17 IN
BANKHEAD NATIONAL FOREST (970 FT)(GOES) 827 AM MAY 6 2.16 IN

…LIMESTONE COUNTY…
BELLE MINA 2 N (603 FT)(COOP) 700 AM MAY 6 3.89 IN
6 WSW HARVEST (735 FT)(COCORAHS) 700 AM MAY 6 3.48 IN
ATHENS (COCORAHS) 700 AM MAY 6 3.01 IN
PRYOR FIELD AIRPORT (ASOS) 700 AM MAY 6 2.98 IN

…MADISON COUNTY…
OWENS CROSS ROADS 3S (590 FT)(COOP) 600 AM MAY 6 4.70 IN
WHITESBURG, AL. TENNESSEE RVR (GOES) 830 AM MAY 6 4.69 IN
HUNTSVILLE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (ASOS) 700 AM MAY 6 4.02 IN
NEW MARKET (830 FT)(UCOOP) 700 AM MAY 6 3.50 IN

…MARSHALL COUNTY…
GUNTERSVILLE (578 FT)(COOP) 545 AM MAY 6 4.83 IN
CITY WATER PLANT (595 FT)(COOP) 700 AM MAY 6 4.74 IN
3 ESE GUNTERSVILLE (1063 FT)(COCORAHS) 600 AM MAY 6 4.03 IN

…MORGAN COUNTY…
DECATUR 5 SE (585 FT)(COOP) 800 AM MAY 6 5.28 IN
3 ENE DECATUR (564 FT)(COCORAHS) 700 AM MAY 6 3.55 IN

…TENNESSEE…

…FRANKLIN COUNTY…
4 SW COWAN (1028 FT)(COCORAHS) 700 AM MAY 6 4.12 IN
4 W WINCHESTER (1001 FT)(COCORAHS) 700 AM MAY 6 3.19 IN
ANDERSON (649 FT)(GOES) 830 AM MAY 6 3.18 IN
ANDERSON (649 FT)(COOP) 815 AM MAY 6 2.53 IN

…LINCOLN COUNTY…
11 SW PETERSBURG (738 FT)(COCORAHS) 700 AM MAY 6 2.64 IN
FAYETTEVILLE 8 WSW (840 FT)(UCOOP) 600 AM MAY 6 2.63 IN
6 NNW FAYETTEVILLE (811 FT)(COCORAHS) 700 AM MAY 6 2.52 IN

…MOORE COUNTY…
1 WNW LYNCHBURG (844 FT)(COCORAHS) 700 AM MAY 6 3.04 IN
CITY OF LYNCHBURG WATER TREATMT PLANT 700 AM MAY 6 2.73 IN

OBSERVATIONS ARE COLLECTED FROM A VARIETY OF SOURCES WITH VARYING
EQUIPMENT AND EXPOSURES. NOT ALL DATA LISTED IS CONSIDERED OFFICIAL. THE
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE THANKS ITS PRIVATE AND PUBLIC PARTNERS FOR
PROVIDING US WITH THIS DATA.
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Quoting Torito:


of course i am.... Im talking about the fact that we all thought it was going to do something at one point.


we did?

I dont know anybody who did...
Member Since: February 11, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 9737
Torito, that is a cyclone, however Hurricanes are tropical systems that form over warm water. All cloud swirls are not created equal. Their energy sources come from different places.
Member Since: December 28, 2006 Posts: 115 Comments: 1591
Quoting FunnelVortex:


Please tell me you're joking.


of course i am.... Im talking about the fact that we all thought it was going to do something at one point.
Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
Quoting sm0k3ymcl3ud:


My complaint is not with the link itself, but the manner in which it is presented. I thought I made that quite obvious. This is more suited for the "News" block on the left side of the page.

As I said before, misuse of the yellow alert header will desensitize people to the seriousness of it. The only reason I am making such a big deal about it is because this is something that Weather Underground just started. I hope one of the administrators reads this and takes note of my concern.


Thanks for taking the time to clarify your complaint. I agree that links to blog posts relevant to your area should be displayed with a different color or in a different section than links to severe weather warnings. Hopefully admin will consider this relatively simple change.
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69. JRRP
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Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 40995
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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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