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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567. hydrus
4:39 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
Quite a trough..
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22263
566. Torito
4:15 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
94S looking good...





















Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
565. WunderAlertBot (Admin)
4:14 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
JeffMasters has created a new entry.
564. Torito
4:04 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
Quoting FunnelVortex:
The shear is also going down around that time


Yea... It may change the conditions for that disturbance from this unfavorable shear to the north to something favorable.

Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
563. FunnelVortex
4:03 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
The shear is also going down around that time
Member Since: October 20, 2012 Posts: 7 Comments: 2882
562. FunnelVortex
4:02 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
Quoting Torito:


I see that too, and i like it, because of this...





Thats for the next day or two.

The chart I posted was 5-10 days out. So the chance may increase
Member Since: October 20, 2012 Posts: 7 Comments: 2882
561. Torito
4:00 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
Quoting FunnelVortex:


I'm looking at the little pulse in the Carribean.


I see that too, and i like it, because of this... It may help this disturbance out :D



Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
560. FunnelVortex
3:58 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
Quoting Torito:


Looks good for the west pacific..


I'm looking at the little pulse in the Carribean.
Member Since: October 20, 2012 Posts: 7 Comments: 2882
559. Torito
3:57 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
Quoting FunnelVortex:
We may see a slight MJO pulse this month.



Looks good for the west pacific..
Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
558. FunnelVortex
3:56 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
We may see a slight MJO pulse this month.

Member Since: October 20, 2012 Posts: 7 Comments: 2882
557. Torito
3:55 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
Quoting FunnelVortex:
The models keep showing a wave that is locked on Africa that wont budge!



Maybe it will stay there and strengthen before going into the atlantic :P
Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
556. FunnelVortex
3:53 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
The models keep showing a wave that is locked on Africa that wont budge!

Member Since: October 20, 2012 Posts: 7 Comments: 2882
555. SFLWeatherman
3:53 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
DID you all see this Jun 1-5: Hurricane threat Forecast for Florida by the Farmer's Almanac and we are going to get a big MJO pulse so maybe!
Member Since: May 23, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 4981
554. Torito
3:49 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
Quoting FunnelVortex:


Storms coming off of Africa too.


I dont really watch those, whats going on there?
Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
553. FunnelVortex
3:45 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
Quoting Torito:


Convection above south america slightly weaker than yesterday, the Spin from the storm in the central U.S is dissapearing.


Storms coming off of Africa too.
Member Since: October 20, 2012 Posts: 7 Comments: 2882
552. Torito
3:43 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
Quoting Tropicsweatherpr:
TSR May forecast for WPAC=26/16/9


I really need to start looking at the satellites up there soon...
Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
551. Tropicsweatherpr
3:42 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
TSR May forecast for WPAC=26/16/9
Member Since: April 29, 2009 Posts: 75 Comments: 14761
550. Torito
3:42 PM GMT on May 07, 2013


Convection above south america slightly weaker than yesterday, the Spin from the storm in the central U.S is dissapearing.
Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
549. KeysieLife
3:38 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
I've been away for a while, but it's nice to see "Jason" still has a hobby. Looking forward to an interesting season...
Member Since: September 10, 2010 Posts: 3 Comments: 409
548. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
3:35 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
forecast highs 21z this afternoon 00z GFS

Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 176 Comments: 55532
547. Torito
3:32 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
finally, some rain falling here.

Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
546. Torito
3:30 PM GMT on May 07, 2013



More than 20% chance that those 2 invests in the indian ocean will become a TC.
Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
545. KeysieLife
3:29 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
Quoting ChillinInTheKeys:




Let's hope it stays looking that clean!!!



LOL - Looks like that may have been Dr. Masters dorm room?

Look at the socks in the last picture, priceless!
Member Since: September 10, 2010 Posts: 3 Comments: 409
544. Torito
3:28 PM GMT on May 07, 2013


Hmmm... Very slight chance that we may see an extremely rare storm in the southern atlantic... 1-2% tends to be very high for that basin.
Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
543. ChillinInTheKeys
3:26 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
Quoting stormchaser19:
NOAA43 (NOAA P-3) is empty upon returning from routine maintenance last week. Ms. Piggy's Hurricane instrumentation installation begins today!

We are preparing for Hurricane Season, are you ready??

The Atlantic Hurricane Season begins June 1.



Let's hope it stays looking that clean!!!

An incredible story by Dr Masters about his flight into Hugo for those might not have read it before.

Link









The cockpit G-meter, pegged at 5.6 G's and -3.9 G's. Some serious G's for a bird that size!!!
Member Since: August 18, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 695
542. Torito
3:26 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
look at the 60kt+ shear in the middle of the atlantic..
Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
541. Torito
3:24 PM GMT on May 07, 2013


Model data still supports a slightly more active season than normal.
Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
540. Torito
3:21 PM GMT on May 07, 2013


If something forms there, it probably wont last long nor get past depression/subtropical status because of the shear ahead of the "point of interest."
Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
539. SFLWeatherman
3:21 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
Member Since: May 23, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 4981
538. Torito
3:19 PM GMT on May 07, 2013


Small chance for a tropical system to develop below cuba this week.

1-2% chance above normal for that place.
Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
537. Torito
3:16 PM GMT on May 07, 2013


Chances of a hurricane forming here are about 1-2% higher than average right now.

Around 1% less than average formation chance in the gulf of mexico right now.
Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
536. MNTornado
3:16 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
I like Jeff Masters term 'Wiplash' in describing this really wild weather we have been having the last year. In Minnesota we started out with a warm Winter leaving to believe we were going to have another brown Christmas. Then things started to cool off and we got what I like to call teasing snowfalls. Just enough snow to make one believe that we might yet get a reasonably normal Winter. That's what Jan. Through Mar. started looking like, then in April things started to get really wild. We talk a lot about wheat her April will come in like a lion and leave like a lamb or visa versa, but this year April came in like a lion and left like a raging lion with May being absolute bizzare. We got , I believe, more snow in May than in the rest of Winter with some areas in the Southern part of the state getting 18 inches of snow. Some posted an old photo from the year of one of our biggest snow totals showing a number of what appears to be gloved hand s sticking out of a large snow bank with the caption 'everyone in favor of it stopping snowing, raise your hands' which was the general consensus around here. A lot of Spring activities and start ups had to be delayed because of the strange May weather. Monday May 6 we finally got a real taste of Spring with temperatures in the mid 70's in the Twin Cities area. We are hoping we have seen our last cold and snow at least till November.
Member Since: July 1, 2005 Posts: 154 Comments: 19315
535. Grothar
3:13 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
Quoting CybrTeddy:


If you live in the middle of the Pacific you'll get a great view.


Or very wet. (hiya, Teddy)
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 27088
534. Torito
3:13 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
92B


94S
Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
533. stormchaser19
3:13 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
NOAA43 (NOAA P-3) is empty upon returning from routine maintenance last week. Ms. Piggy's Hurricane instrumentation installation begins today!

We are preparing for Hurricane Season, are you ready??

The Atlantic Hurricane Season begins June 1.

Member Since: June 20, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 2169
532. AussieStorm
3:10 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
Quoting CybrTeddy:


If you live in the middle of the Pacific you'll get a great view.

I'll grab some of the satellite frames from it like I did last year, Could clearly see the darkened area.

Goodnight all
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15962
531. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
3:07 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 176 Comments: 55532
530. CybrTeddy
3:07 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
Quoting AussieStorm:


Unfortunately not, Maybe get a partial like last years. Northern Queensland will get it once again.



If you live in the middle of the Pacific you'll get a great view.
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 24548
529. Torito
3:06 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
Quoting Grothar:


Sure :)


Haha i always get applebees ads :P
Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
528. AussieStorm
3:04 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
Quoting KeysieLife:
@Aussie,

Will you be able to see this?

"On Thursday and Friday (May 9 and 10), skywatchers in parts of Australia and the Pacific region will be treated to a spectacular "ring of fire" solar eclipse, in which the moon blots out all of the sun except for its outer edge."

http://www.space.com/20994-solar-eclipse-ring-of- fire.html

Should be awesome!


Unfortunately not, Maybe get a partial like last years. Northern Queensland will get it once again.



Photo Courtesy of Solar Eclipse Australia
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15962
527. Torito
3:03 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:



Nice globes.
Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
526. Torito
3:03 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
Largo, look at the forcast now... all thunderstorms xD

Link
Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
525. KeysieLife
2:54 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
@Aussie,

Will you be able to see this?

"On Thursday and Friday (May 9 and 10), skywatchers in parts of Australia and the Pacific region will be treated to a spectacular "ring of fire" solar eclipse, in which the moon blots out all of the sun except for its outer edge."

http://www.space.com/20994-solar-eclipse-ring-of- fire.html

Should be awesome!
Member Since: September 10, 2010 Posts: 3 Comments: 409
524. stormchaser19
2:53 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
The GOM is very cold right now,because of cut off low, the GOM is going to be dead for the beginning of the season, at least for june.......

The Atlantic MRD is warming,NAO is turning positive but is expect to go negative again....


Member Since: June 20, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 2169
523. SouthTampa
2:53 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
Quoting AussieStorm:

I didn't know about that one. I'll look it up. Thanks

Note: Just found out it's only for Mac OS
Oh man, that's too bad. It's a great plug-in. Try Flash Block (I think it works in Firefox and maybe Chrome).
Member Since: June 18, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 145
522. no1der
2:49 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
We also know that the basic physics of CO2-induced increased heat retention are inescapable.

Therefore, any alternative explanations (solar variation, cosmic rays, mysterious and/or magical natural cycles...) exist only in the psychological space unless they can both:

1) explain the warming

2) explain how the CO2-retained heat - which must exist - somehow doesn't matter.
Quoting goosegirl1:


Yes, very true. The simplest explanation still has to abide by the laws of the universe. If it doesn't, it's still... wrong. Thus, the best explanation for any question in science is likely to be a simple one that does not violate anything we already know to be correct.

Member Since: June 5, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 536
521. TropicalAnalystwx13
2:47 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
Quoting GeorgiaStormz:



hurricane season already?

Are you doing that green yellow red thing again this year?

No, but almost. And no.

This has been my avatar for a while now, lol.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32695
520. GeorgiaStormz
2:43 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:



hurricane season already?

Are you doing that green yellow red thing again this year?
Member Since: February 11, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 9746
519. AussieStorm
2:41 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
Quoting SouthTampa:
Second the Ad Block. Also throw in Click-to-Flash. I've kept a 10-year old computer running smoothly by blocking 90% of the crap most web sites attempt to load on one's computer.

I didn't know about that one. I'll look it up. Thanks

Note: Just found out it's only for Mac OS
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15962
518. AussieStorm
2:40 PM GMT on May 07, 2013
Not sure if this was posted as I haven't been around much the past few days, trying to "deal" with the big black cloud "over" my head which has been tough.

I saw this tweet....
HRD/AOML/NOAA ‏@HRD_AOML_NOAA
A new method to estimate the destructive potential of hurricanes highlighted in the Florida State University newspaper…

and I guess they are refering to the below article which I managed to find on the FSU News page.

Sandy inspires FSU researchers to develop new hurricane metric
Track Integrated Kinetic Energy tests destructive potential based on wind speed, size, structure.
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15962
517. TropicalAnalystwx13
2:40 PM GMT on May 07, 2013

Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32695

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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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