New England flooding, air pollution, and the season's first typhoon

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:05 PM GMT on May 15, 2006

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Major flooding has hit southern New Hampshire, southwest Maine, and northeast Massachussetts today, where more than 10 inches of rain has fallen in the past four days. The culprit is a "cut off low", a large low pressure system over the Great Lakes that got separated from the jet stream on Thursday, and has stayed almost stationary since since then, with no upper level winds to push it along. The counter-clockwise flow of air around the low has drawn copious amounts of moist oceanic air over New England. The rains from this moisture have brought the Warner river at Davisville and the Smith River at Bristol to flood stage this morning. With another 1-2 inches of rain expected across the region today, these rivers should crest several feet above flood stage, with moderate to major flooding. The cut-off low is expected to drift slowly northeastward today and get re-absorbed by the jet stream on Tuesday, which will finally bring an end to the worst of the rains. Howver, the weather pattern over the next week is expected to remain wet over the eastern half of the U.S., and more rain is expected in the Northeast later this week as the jet stream continues to remain in a typical Springtime active pattern.


Figure 1. Rainfall amounts for New England estimated by radar, ending at 8:30am EDT Monday May 15.

Air pollution season is here
May marks the beginning of air pollution season in the U.S., when summertime brings the hot temperatures, high amounts of UV radiation, and stagnant air that can trigger air pollution "Action Days". This week marks the annual observance of Air Pollution Awareness week, and at EPA's request, I will be writing several blogs highlighting air pollution. In particular, I'll discuss why one of NOAA's P-3 hurricane hunter airplanes will be in Texas for air pollution research this hurricane season, instead of flying hurricanes.

Quick intro on air pollution
Today, I'll present a quick summary of what pollutants we're concerned about. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calculates the Air Quality Index (AQI) for five major air pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act: ground-level ozone, particle pollution, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. Ozone and particle pollution are the two most serious pollutants in the U.S. Particle pollution alone has been estimated to cause over 20,000 premature deaths the U.S. each year, and 800,000 worldwide (although the exact mortality numbers and definition of "premature deaths" is controversial).

Ozone is a colorless gas composed of three atoms of oxygen. Ozone forms both in the Earth's upper atmosphere and at the surface. Where ozone forms determines whether it is helpful or harmful to your health.

Good ozone naturally forms in the stratosphere, a layer of air about 10 - 30 miles (16 - 48 km) above Earth's
surface. This protective layer shields us from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays. Without this layer, we would all be blinded and sunburned. Unfortunately, human-created chemicals are destroying this beneficial layer of ozone. Over the South Pole in springtime, the ozone loss is so severe that an "Ozone Hole" forms, letting significant amounts of harmful ultraviolet light reach the surface.

Ozone from the stratosphere sometimes gets transported to the surface, particularly in high mountainous regions. Hikers on Mt. Everest who don't use bottled oxygen can be at risk of death from breathing poisonous levels of ozone near the mountain's summit in some weather conditions.

Bad ozone forms near Earth's surface when the ultraviolet light in sunlight triggers a chemical reaction with "precursor pollutants" emitted by cars, power plants, and industrial sources. These precursor pollutants consist of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic hydrocarbons (VOC). Ozone near ground level is a harmful pollutant. Ozone pollution isn't limited to big cities like Los Angeles, Houston and New York. It's also found in smaller cities like Raleigh, NC and Cincinnati, OH. It can be a problem in rural areas, including some national parks. Ozone and the pollutants that react to form it (NOx and VOCs) can also be carried on the wind to affect air quality in urban and rural areas hundreds of miles away.

Particle pollution is a mixture of microscopic solids and liquid droplets suspended in air. This pollution, also known as particulate matter, is made up of a number of components, including acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals, soil or dust particles, and allergens (such as fragments of pollen or mold spores). Unlike summertime ozone, particle pollution can occur year-round. It is worst in summer, though, when winds are lighter and the air becomes more stagnant.

Particles come in a wide range of sizes. Fine particles are less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. How small is that? About 1/30th the diameter of the average human hair--so small, you'd need an electron microscope to see them.

Some fine particles can be emitted directly (think of smoke from a woodstove). But most are formed secondarily from complex atmospheric reactions of gases such as NOx and sulfur dioxide (SO2), that are emitted from power plants, industries, cars, buses and trucks. These fine particles are the worst for your health, since their small size allows then to penetrate deep into your lungs.

Inhalable coarse particles are larger than 2.5 and up to 10 micrometers in diameter. Sources of coarse particles include crushing or grinding operations and dust stirred up by vehicles traveling on roads. These particles are not as injurious to your health, as their large size allows them to be filtered out more readily by your nose before they reach your lungs.

Typhoon Chanchu
The season's first typhoon, a Category 4 storm with 140 mph winds named Chanchu, has turned north, and is now threatening to strike Hong Hong on Wednesday. Chanchu briefly made it to supertyphoon status on Sunday, when it had 150 mph sustained winds and a 910 mb central pressure. This was good enough for a Category 4 rating on the U.S. Saffir-Simpson scale, but not Category 5--which starts at 156 mph. A supertyphoon is defined as any tropical cyclone in the Western Pacific that attains maximum sustained winds of 150 mph. It is not unusual to get a supertyphoon in May, and this last happened in 2004, when Supertyphoon Nida reached Category 5 status with sustained winds of 160 mph. I'll have more on Typhoon Chanchu tomorrow.


Figure 2. Typhoon Chanchu at peak intensity Sunday, with 150 mph sustained winds and a 910 mb pressure.

Jeff Masters

Spicket River Rises (sabre1100)
Prime water front property for sale...at a barbain price no doubt
Spicket River Rises
York Beach flooding (SkyLazaria)
Mothers Day flooding in York Beach, Maine.
York Beach flooding

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378. GPTGUY
3:24 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
hey Alec i hear that stormtop is still working on his probability and squall band chart lol
Member Since: August 26, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 391
377. louastu
3:20 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
MichaelSTL,

I understand that you are trying to keep others from getting annoyed, but the way you posted that came across as "would you please shutup?". It would have been better to simply ask him to stop, and explain that it could be irritating to others.
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376. TheLuckyTacoBlizzard
3:25 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
come to my blog so that Masters' blog is not filled up with off the topic talk any one?
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375. Alec
11:24 PM EDT on May 15, 2006
That stupid stationary system over the Great Lakes caused severe flooding in the NE!!!
373. ProgressivePulse
3:22 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
How about 3 or 4 inches, sounds like a good number to me.
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372. TheLuckyTacoBlizzard
3:21 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
: ProgressivePulse well you said FL need rain that would give them some rian
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371. Alec
11:20 PM EDT on May 15, 2006
Posted By: TheLuckyTacoBlizzard at 3:18 AM GMT on May 16, 2006.
Alec rain for FL coool whats give FL 5ft of rain

Actually getting 60 inches of rain would severely flood the state!
370. TheLuckyTacoBlizzard
3:21 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
no one home tonight
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369. ProgressivePulse
3:20 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
TACO, 5 ft sheesh most of South FLA is 4 feet above sea level, you have some dive gear handy?
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368. Alec
11:18 PM EDT on May 15, 2006
GPTGUY, looks like that low in the Gulf has taunted the NHC!LOL It wants to develop but it cant!!!
366. TheLuckyTacoBlizzard
3:18 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
Alec rain for FL coool whats give FL 5ft of rain
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365. ProgressivePulse
3:15 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
92.5W 24N area
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363. Alec
11:15 PM EDT on May 15, 2006
Posted By: TheLuckyTacoBlizzard at 3:13 AM GMT on May 16, 2006.
whats give FL some rain

lol Taco....just wrote about that!

Hey GPTGUY!!!
362. TheLuckyTacoBlizzard
3:15 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
hmm you are right there
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361. Alec
11:13 PM EDT on May 15, 2006
hope FL gets their fires quenched....completely...rain on the way!
360. atmosweather
11:14 PM EDT on May 15, 2006
I'm outta here before I get blamed or I annoy more people. Have a good night everyone
Member Since: September 24, 2005 Posts: 33 Comments: 9265
359. GPTGUY
10:14 PM CDT on May 15, 2006
what's up alec how's your evening been?
Member Since: August 26, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 391
358. TheLuckyTacoBlizzard
3:13 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
whats give FL some rain
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357. GPTGUY
10:11 PM CDT on May 15, 2006
i dont think Dr. M cares how many posts he has just as long as there is no bickering back and forth about coming to other peoples blogs its really not that serious
Member Since: August 26, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 391
356. ProgressivePulse
3:12 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
Micheal, just as he has the right to post, you have the right not to look or pay attention to them! If I see something I don't care about I IGNORE IT.
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355. ProgressivePulse
3:09 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
What I am going to do Weatherguy is take a mental note where the greatest convection was, may play a role in the coming weeks.
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354. TheLuckyTacoBlizzard
3:10 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
ok i post what evere i want
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353. atmosweather
11:09 PM EDT on May 15, 2006
I'm not trying to argue.
Member Since: September 24, 2005 Posts: 33 Comments: 9265
351. Alec
11:07 PM EDT on May 15, 2006
~*~*~*~*~*~*~*lets keep it civil in here=)~*~*~*~**hope everyone is enjoying your evening!
350. GPTGUY
10:07 PM CDT on May 15, 2006
guys can we talk about weather instead of bickering back and forth about a blog please
Member Since: August 26, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 391
349. atmosweather
11:07 PM EDT on May 15, 2006
No don't do that David. You post whatever you want.
Member Since: September 24, 2005 Posts: 33 Comments: 9265
348. TheLuckyTacoBlizzard
3:07 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
we can pick this up in my blog i do not think DR M would like it if we feel up his blog up with overe 400 or 500 post in one day
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347. TheLuckyTacoBlizzard
3:06 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
well that find by me i will not tell you to come to my blog any more MichaelSTL
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346. atmosweather
11:05 PM EDT on May 15, 2006
Ok then, so if you visit anyway, why are you worried about him asking nicely for others to post.
Member Since: September 24, 2005 Posts: 33 Comments: 9265
345. TheLuckyTacoBlizzard
3:05 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
ok
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343. TheLuckyTacoBlizzard
3:03 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
i am only asking nic if any one would like to talk in my blog one was the last time i had a good talk in my blog it was last week
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342. atmosweather
11:03 PM EDT on May 15, 2006
Yeah I'll be there in a few minutes.
Member Since: September 24, 2005 Posts: 33 Comments: 9265
341. atmosweather
11:01 PM EDT on May 15, 2006
Then don't post in his blog (which you do frequently) and flag his requests. You don't need to get annoyed and write a comment about it.
Member Since: September 24, 2005 Posts: 33 Comments: 9265
340. TheLuckyTacoBlizzard
3:01 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
the point
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339. TheLuckyTacoBlizzard
2:59 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
: atmosweather would you like to? we can talk about what evere it sould be fun
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337. atmosweather
10:58 PM EDT on May 15, 2006
Michael please don't do that. He is asking nicely. I have not had a comment for days but I don't mind.
Member Since: September 24, 2005 Posts: 33 Comments: 9265
336. TheLuckyTacoBlizzard
2:57 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
for get it then
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335. TheLuckyTacoBlizzard
2:56 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
sorry
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333. TheLuckyTacoBlizzard
2:53 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
any one like to come to my blog
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332. weatherguy03
10:52 PM EDT on May 15, 2006
Nothing up this way. I probably wont get any tomorrow. Oh well, I will be patient..LOL
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331. atmosweather
10:52 PM EDT on May 15, 2006
At least you got some!
Member Since: September 24, 2005 Posts: 33 Comments: 9265
330. ProgressivePulse
2:50 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
Well if it is anything like today it won't be. 1/2" of rain here so far, had a meaty storm approaching tonight and fell apart when it hit the metro area. I am speaking of West Palm, I know others got soaked.
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329. weatherguy03
10:49 PM EDT on May 15, 2006
Just alittle preview PP!..LOL Hopefully this will be the beginning of the rainy season..LOL
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About

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.