NOAA winter forecast: drought in Texas, wet in the Northwest and Ohio Valley

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 4:17 PM GMT on October 20, 2011

The Southern Plains should prepare for continued drier and warmer than average weather, while the Pacific Northwest is likely to be colder and wetter than average from December through February, according to the annual Winter Outlook released October 20 by NOAA. We currently have weak La Niña conditions over the tropical Pacific ocean, which means that a large region of cooler than average waters exists along the Equator from the coast of South America to the Date Line. Cooler than average waters in this location tend to deflect the jet stream such that the Pacific Northwest experiences cooler and wetter winters than average, while the southern U.S. sees warmer and drier winter weather. NOAA's forecast calls for a typical La Niña winter over the U.S.--warm and dry over the Southern Plains, cool and wet over the Pacific Northwest, and wetter than average over the Ohio Valley. According to NOAA's latest La Niña discussion, La Niña is expected to remain solidly entrenched throughout the coming winter and into spring.



Figure 1. Forecast temperature and precipitation for the U.S. for the upcoming winter, as predicted by the Winter Outlook released October 20 by NOAA.

Grading last year's forecast
Last year, NOAA predicted: "The Pacific Northwest should brace for a colder and wetter than average winter, while most of the South and Southeast will be warmer and drier than average". This forecast did not verify for Northwest, which had a winter with near average temperatures and precipitation. The South and Southeast were indeed much drier than average, as predicted, but the Southeast was much colder than average, in contradiction to the forecast of a warm winter. Last year's winter forecast was thus was a poor one. The reason for its failure was that it only took into account the impacts of La Niña on the weather--and not the Arctic Oscillation (AO), and its close cousin, the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO.)

What will the Arctic Oscillation and North Atlantic Oscillation do?
The North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) is a climate pattern in the North Atlantic Ocean of fluctuations in the difference of sea-level pressure between the Icelandic Low and the Azores High. It is one of oldest known climate oscillations--seafaring Scandinavians described the pattern several centuries ago. Through east-west oscillation motions of the Icelandic Low and the Azores High,the NAO controls the strength and direction of westerly winds and storm tracks across the North Atlantic. A large difference in the pressure between Iceland and the Azores (positive NAO) leads to increased westerly winds and mild and wet winters in Europe. Positive NAO conditions also cause the Icelandic Low to draw a stronger south-westerly flow of air over eastern North America, preventing Arctic air from plunging southward. In contrast, if the difference in sea-level pressure between Iceland and the Azores is small (negative NAO), westerly winds are suppressed, allowing Arctic air to spill southwards into eastern North America more readily. This pattern is kind of like leaving the refrigerator door ajar--the Arctic refrigerator warms up, but all the cold air spills out into the house where people live. Negative NAO winters tend to bring cold winters to Europe and the Eastern U.S., and the prevailing storm track moves south towards the Mediterranean Sea. This brings increased storm activity and rainfall to southern Europe and North Africa. It should be noted that the NAO is a close cousin of the Arctic Oscillation (AO), and can be thought of as the North Atlantic component of the larger-scale Arctic Oscillation. Since the AO is a larger-scale pattern, scientists refer to the AO instead of the NAO when discussing large-scale winter circulation patterns. The winter of 2009 - 2010 had the most extreme negative NAO (and AO) since record keeping began in 1950. The NAO index was -1.67, beating the previous record of -1.47 set in the winter of 1962 - 1963. The NAO and AO were again strongly negative last winter in December and January. These negative AO conditions were responsible for unusual cold weather and snows over Eastern North America and Europe the past two winters. Unfortunately, the AO is not predictable more than about two weeks in advance. Thus, the latest NOAA winter forecast warns: “The evolving La Niña will shape this winter,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “There is a wild card, though. The erratic Arctic Oscillation can generate strong shifts in the climate patterns that could overwhelm or amplify La Niña’s typical impacts.”

Winter and the sunspot cycle
Another major influence on the AO and winter circulation patterns might be the 11-year solar cycle. Recent satellite measurements of ultraviolet light changes due to the 11-year sunspot cycle show that these variations are larger than was previously thought, and may have major impacts on winter circulation patterns. A climate model study published this month in Nature Geosciences by Ineson et al. concluded that during the minimum of the 11-year sunspot cycle, the sharp drop in UV light can drive a strongly negative AO pattern: "low solar activity, as observed during recent years, drives cold winters in northern Europe and the United States, and mild winters over southern Europe and Canada, with little direct change in globally averaged temperature." The winters of 2009 - 2010 and 2010 - 2011 both fit this pattern, with strongly negative AO conditions occurring during solar minimum. The coming winter of 2011 - 2012 will have a much increased level of solar activity (Figure 2), so we may speculate that a strongly negative AO and a cold winter in northern Europe and the United States is less likely.


Figure 2. The number of sunspots from 2000 - 2011 shows that solar minimum occurred in December, 2008, and that solar activity has been rising sharply in recent months. The peak of the current solar cycle is forecast to arrive in May 2013. Image credit: NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center.

How will Arctic sea ice loss affect the winter?
NOAA's annual Arctic Report Card discussed the fact that recent record sea ice loss in the summer in the Arctic is having major impacts on winter weather over the continents of the Northern Hemisphere. The Report Card states, "There continues to be significant excess heat storage in the Arctic Ocean at the end of summer due to continued near-record sea ice loss. There is evidence that the effect of higher air temperatures in the lower Arctic atmosphere in fall is contributing to changes in the atmospheric circulation in both the Arctic and northern mid-latitudes. Winter 2009 - 2010 showed a new connectivity between mid-latitude extreme cold and snowy weather events and changes in the wind patterns of the Arctic; the so-called Warm Arctic-Cold Continents pattern...With future loss of sea ice, such conditions as winter 2009 - 2010 could happen more often. Thus we have a potential climate change paradox. Rather than a general warming everywhere, the loss of sea ice and a warmer Arctic can increase the impact of the Arctic on lower latitudes, bringing colder weather to southern locations." As a specific example of what the Report Card is talking about, Francis et al. (2009) found that during 1979 - 2006, years that had unusually low summertime Arctic sea ice had a 10 - 20% reduction in the temperature difference between the Equator and North Pole. This resulted in a weaker jet stream with slower winds that lasted a full six months, through fall and winter. The weaker jet caused a weaker Aleutian Low and Icelandic Low during the winter, resulting in a more negative Arctic Oscillation (AO), allowing cold air to spill out of the Arctic and into Europe and the Eastern U.S. Thus, Arctic sea ice loss may have been partially responsible for the record negative AO observed during the winter of 2009 - 2010, and strongly negative AO last winter. If the Arctic Report Card is right, we'll be seeing more of this pattern during coming winters--possibly even during the winter of 2011 - 2012, since Arctic sea ice loss this year was virtually tied with 2007 as the greatest on record.


Figure 3. Observed temperature and precipitation departures from average during December - February for the last three winters with a La Niña event in the "weak" category: 1984 - 1985, 1995 - 1996, and 2000 - 2001. These winters tended to be much colder than average over most of the country, particularly in the Upper Midwest. Dry conditions occurred over the Southeast and Pacific coast, and wetter than average conditions in the Midwest. Image credit: NOAA/ESRL.

What happened during the last three weak La Niña winters?
The last three winters with weak La Niña conditions occurred in 2000 - 2001, 1995 - 1996, and 1984 - 1985. These winters tended to be much colder than average over most of the country, particularly in the Upper Midwest (Figure 3.) Dry conditions were observed over the Southeast and Pacific coast, and wetter than average conditions in the Midwest. The winter of 1995 - 1996 featured a strongly negative NAO, and occurred during a minimum in the solar cycle. That winter featured many cold air outbreaks across the Eastern U.S., resulting in fifteen major cities setting new all-time seasonal snowfall total, including 75.6" at New York City's Central Park. A better analogue for the coming winter may be the winter of 2000 - 2001, since that winter occurred during a peak of the solar cycle, and Arctic sea ice loss was closer to what was observed this year. The winter of 2000 - 2001 had a negative AO in December, but positive in January and February. This led to very cold conditions with heavy snows in December, and relatively mild weather in January and February. Overall, the winter of 2000 - 2001 ranks as the 27th coldest since 1895.

Summary
I'm often asked by friends and neighbors what my forecast for the coming winter is, but I usually shrug and ask them to catch some woolley bear caterpillars for me so I can count their stripes and make a random forecast. Making an accurate winter forecast is very difficult, as there is too much that we don't know. I've learned to expect the unexpected and unprecedented from our weather over the past two years, so perhaps the most unexpected thing would be a very average winter for temperatures. The one portion of the winter forecast that does have a high probability of being correct, though, is the forecast of dry conditions over Texas and surrounding states. Extreme droughts tend to be self-reinforcing, by creating high pressure zones around them that tend to deflect rain-bearing low pressures systems. The unpredictable AO doesn't affect weather patterns that much over Texas, so we can expect that the fairly predictable drying La Niña influence will dominate Texas' weather this winter.

For more information
Golden Gate Weather has a nice set of imagery showing historic La Niña winter impacts, based on whether it was a "weak", "moderate", or "strong" event.

Francis, J. A., W. Chan, D. J. Leathers, J. R. Miller, and D. E. Veron, 2009: Winter northern hemisphere weather patterns remember summer Arctic sea-ice extent. Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L07503, doi:10.1029/2009GL037274.

Honda, M., J. Inoue, and S. Yamane, 2009: Influence of low Arctic sea-ice minima on anomalously cold Eurasian winters. Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L08707, doi:10.1029/2008GL037079.

Ineson, S., et al., 2011, Solar forcing of winter climate variability in the Northern Hemisphere, Nature Geoscience (2011) doi:10.1038/ngeo1282

Overland, J. E., and M. Wang, 2010: Large-scale atmospheric circulation changes associated with the recent loss of Arctic sea ice. Tellus, 62A, 1.9.

Petoukhov, V., and V. Semenov, 2010: A link between reduced Barents-Kara sea ice and cold winter extremes over northern continents. J. Geophys. Res.-Atmos., ISSN 0148-0227.

Seager, R., Y. Kushnir, J. Nakamura, M. Ting, and N. Naik (2010), Northern Hemisphere winter snow anomalies: ENSO, NAO and the winter of 2009/10, Geophys. Res. Lett., 37, L14703, doi:10.1029/2010GL043830.

A Western Caribbean disturbance worth watching
A large area of disturbed weather in the Western Caribbean is bringing heavy rains to coastal Nicaragua and Honduras. The heavy thunderstorms are in an area of weak steering currents, and will move little over the next two days. Wind shear is a high 20 - 30 knots in the region, but is expected to drop to the moderate range on Friday, and remain moderate through the weekend. This should allow some slow development of the disturbance, and the GFS, UKMET, and NOGAPS models all develop the disturbance into a tropical depression by Monday. The most likely areas to be affected by this hypothetical storm are Honduras and Nicaragua, but we can't rule out a scenario where the storm moves northwards and threatens Cuba late next week, as the UKMET model is predicting. NHC gave the disturbance a 10% chance of developing into a tropical depression by Sunday in their 8 am Tropical Weather Outlook.

Another area of disturbed weather near 12N 47W, midway between Africa and the Lesser Antilles islands, is also being given a 10% of development by NHC. This disturbance has a respectable amount of spin, but the heavy thunderstorm activity is minimal. The disturbance is under a moderate 10 - 20 knots of wind shear. None of the models develops the disturbance, and recent satellite images show that the disturbance appears to be getting sheared apart. I doubt this disturbance will be around on Friday.

If there's not much change to the forecast for these disturbances on Friday, I'll leave the current post up until Saturday.

Jeff Masters


The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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Hey Zoo... hows Snapper creek these days?
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Kman. Good to see you. The seas around you look active. Check wu mail
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12 days out (284hrs) the GFS predicts a pretty good storm just south of Cuba. Of course this it a long way out to worry about. Don't think any other models support this.

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Quoting Buhdog:


hey indian river guy! I have enjoyed ur posts over the years (especially when you and i talk Lake O releases) i am in ft myers the calusa side. I hear you on the brazil pepper and malelueca's. The pine though is a favorite of mine since its about the only tall trees we have in cape coral. Great observation on the non native killings.


didja know that Australian pine is actually an oak/hickory ...Mrs. Peters Smokehouse has been smoking with it for 40-50 years. It imparts a great flavor.

Great article today in the Stuart news about sugar subsidies. I just swapped mail with the author thanking him for writing it. Everyone should know about this issue, it affects... "costs" us all.
Time to end Farm Subsidies

I worry every time a big rain event dumps on Okeechobee Lake... hate the discharges.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting kmanislander:


Surface low developing.


I think so. Convergence tightening up, too.

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if 96L develops from this disturbance and moves toward Florida, the good thing is that waters around the Peninsula are much cooler now.
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88. indianrivguy

Yep

88. indianrivguy

And yep.
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XX/AOI/XX
MARK
13.23N/80.25W
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96L tonight IMO.
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61. red0

LOL. My bad.

No need to be an a-hole about it, though.

But, such is life.
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Quoting indianrivguy:


I am surprised at your winter losses. Here in Jensen it wasn't so bad at all last year, and the year before it was only bad for a couple days. Up here, setting aside the citrus interests, we could use a good freeze to kill off some of the exotics, like Brazilian pepper, malelueca and Australian pine. Move the invasion line south for a couple years.

Hydrus, the link worked fine for me bro, thanks!

Sunliner, I appreciate all the loops you post, thanks.


hey indian river guy! I have enjoyed ur posts over the years (especially when you and i talk Lake O releases) i am in ft myers the calusa side. I hear you on the brazil pepper and malelueca's. The pine though is a favorite of mine since its about the only tall trees we have in cape coral. Great observation on the non native killings.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Wow.


usually it's flat calm on this side of the island first Northwester of the season!... keeping an eye south of here also over the weekend
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its evident a surface low is forming shear is decreasing so we can get a storm to form question is is it a carribean island storm (cuba hati, dominican republic hati) or a central america mexico storm. either way lots of heavy rain. if orginization continues 96L will be designated
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Quoting ChillinInTheKeys:


That's another thing I love about this place. There're enough educated folks here to call out the garbage.


I doubt it was an intentional deception.. if I had not read, and then checked that it was false, I would have sent it out too. There are some schmart folks here... I've been a student of this stuff a long time and some here make me feel like a mental midget.. no offense to the height challenged.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting calkevin77:


That’s a very interesting thought. There's so much we just don't know or shall I say have a large enough sample of data to prove or disprove without a reasonable doubt how earthquakes are influenced by nature or human intervention. Anything is possible, after all, tectonics follow the fundamental laws of physics. Most things under stress will eventually have to release that energy and the ever-moving crust does that in form of a quake. There has even been speculation that the 2008 Schizuan quake in China was “helped” by the sheer weight of a local dam and reservoir water adding stress to an already active and overdue fault line. Having lived in both Northern and Southern California, quakes were a way of life. Now that I live in Central Texas its drought. So I must say with the drought there are quite a few areas of land around here that have dried out so extensively that 3-4 foot deep chasms have started appearing. While most quakes happen many miles below the surface, it does make one wonder if diminishing moisture in the ground has caused deeper fractures & will result in a quake or two.
this, and the mention of aquifer drainage, were the thoughts i'd considered. of course, Nea's mention of the existence, and extraction of oil resources is worth note. surely, the fault exists, and where there is one so too is the likelihood of an earthquake, given scopes of geological time... all so curious! large scale events being correlated with small scale events is of pique interest to me. (why i love weather and climate studies!!)
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Quoting BenInHouTX:
In the sunspot graph in the blog, it has the projected smoothed peak to be around 90, while the last peak smoothed value was around 120. Is there a reason that they are projecting a 25% drop-off from peak to peak?


Some scientists are predicting a sunspot drought after 1012!
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Quoting Saltydogbwi1:
George Town Grand Cayman 1/2 hour ago

img src="">

Wow.
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George Town Grand Cayman 1/2 hour ago

img src="">
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Quoting indianrivguy:
man, reading #61 redO broke my heart, I bought in hook line and stinker.



That's another thing I love about this place. There're enough educated folks here to call out the garbage.
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12 CMC


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man, reading #61 redO broke my heart, I bought in hook line and stinker.

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Quoting PolishHurrMaster:

NHC gave the WCar AOI 20%? By now,it looks rather bad for 20%.


The strong model support associated with it, could develop as soon as Sunday.
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Quoting kmanislander:


Surface low developing.


Looks like invest 96L will be up fairly soon.
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Quoting PolishHurrMaster:

NHC gave the WCar AOI 20%? By now,it looks rather bad for 20%.

I wouldn't really pay attention to its satellite appearance, at least, not now. CIMSS's vorticity product shows that the vorticity is strengthening and growing, a sign that the disturbance is gradually organizing.
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I think that a good area of low pressure has formed near some where near 14N 80W
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Most models carve out an intense trough for the East late next week/Halloween weekend. If this tropical disturbance forms during that, it'll go more towards eastern cuba/Bahama's.

If before the expected trough, south florida might get a shot. But regardless, the strong front by the 28th will shoot this thing northeastward!
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
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Quoting stormpetrol:


Definitely seeing low pressure forming in the Western Caribbean with broad turning evident not only in ASCAT imagery, but in RGB imagery as well.
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Quoting stormpetrol:


Surface low developing.
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Shear has significantly decreased in the past 24 hours.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Good afternoon.




NHC gave the WCar AOI 20%? By now,it looks rather bad for 20%.
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Good afternoon

Vorticity in the South central Caribbean is on the increase and expanding.

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In the sunspot graph in the blog, it has the projected smoothed peak to be around 90, while the last peak smoothed value was around 120. Is there a reason that they are projecting a 25% drop-off from peak to peak?
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Quoting Minnemike:
i wonder if the effects of an extreme drought can systematically compound to put stress on the faults? an unlikely proposition, but there's so little we know... or maybe just so little i know :P


That’s a very interesting thought. There's so much we just don't know or shall I say have a large enough sample of data to prove or disprove without a reasonable doubt how earthquakes are influenced by nature or human intervention. Anything is possible, after all, tectonics follow the fundamental laws of physics. Most things under stress will eventually have to release that energy and the ever-moving crust does that in form of a quake. There has even been speculation that the 2008 Schizuan quake in China was “helped” by the sheer weight of a local dam and reservoir water adding stress to an already active and overdue fault line. Having lived in both Northern and Southern California, quakes were a way of life. Now that I live in Central Texas its drought. So I must say with the drought there are quite a few areas of land around here that have dried out so extensively that 3-4 foot deep chasms have started appearing. While most quakes happen many miles below the surface, it does make one wonder if diminishing moisture in the ground has caused deeper fractures & will result in a quake or two.
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Good afternoon.



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Quoting LargoFl:
thanks for posting this, could be interesting for us folks in florida come next week

but even more so for us here in Grand Cayman
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Quoting EasyRiderX:


Maybe an aquifer has been so drained that a subterranean collapse or roof calving has occurred.


I don't know enough about the subject but I did wonder if the drought could have some effect. Thanks for the response to my questions folks
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Quoting FtMyersgal:


I was wondering the same thing.. if the extreme drought in Tx contributed in any way to the quake.


Maybe an aquifer has been so drained that a subterranean collapse or roof calving has occurred.
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Quoting FtMyersgal:


I was wondering the same thing.. if the extreme drought in Tx contributed in any way to the quake.
probably more the turning of the earth, changing of seasons and the stresses that are involved that have more to do with quakes
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61. red0
Quoting Seastep:
Off topic, but someone emailed this to me and I thought it was awesome.

PDF:

3 Carriers Groups and new Stealth Fighter


Lt. Kara Wade lol

Not only is this off-topic, but it's stupid on so many levels. First, that's the plane from the movie Stealth. Second, that's the USS Abraham Lincoln, not the freakin George Washington. Lastly, all of this stupidity is wrapped in a 23 page PDF.
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Quoting nrtiwlnvragn:
HPC Extended Forecast Discussion

Excerpt:

CMC AND UKMET ALONG WITH A CONSIDERABLE NUMBER OF ECMWF ENS
MEMBERS INDICATE THE POTENTIAL OF TROPICAL DEVELOPMENT IN THE NWRN
CARRIBEAN NEXT WEEK. HAVE ADJUSTED SFC PROGS FOR THIS FEATURE
SLOWER THAN THE OPERATIONAL CMC AND UKMET APPROACHING WRN
CUBA/YUCATAN CHANNEL MID NEXT WEEK.



thanks for posting this, could be interesting for us folks in florida come next week
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My bad. LOL. Oh well.
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Quoting Minnemike:
i wonder if the effects of an extreme drought can systematically compound to put stress on the faults? an unlikely proposition, but there's so little we know... or maybe just so little i know :P


I was wondering the same thing.. if the extreme drought in Tx contributed in any way to the quake.
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wow just read that next week we having another cold front can get into the upper 30
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
HPC Extended Forecast Discussion

Excerpt:

CMC AND UKMET ALONG WITH A CONSIDERABLE NUMBER OF ECMWF ENS
MEMBERS INDICATE THE POTENTIAL OF TROPICAL DEVELOPMENT IN THE NWRN
CARRIBEAN NEXT WEEK. HAVE ADJUSTED SFC PROGS FOR THIS FEATURE
SLOWER THAN THE OPERATIONAL CMC AND UKMET APPROACHING WRN
CUBA/YUCATAN CHANNEL MID NEXT WEEK.



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Quoting TropicTraveler:


I wish you luck - maybe it's called girlfriend weather because it's so nice all the ladies are out on the beaches?


Thanks. Truthfully, down here, when it's like this, they complain it's too cold to go to the beach LOL
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Quoting Minnemike:
i wonder if the effects of an extreme drought can systematically compound to put stress on the faults? an unlikely proposition, but there's so little we know... or maybe just so little i know :P

Definitely something to ponder. Another probably very remote possibility: oil & gas drilling in the area. The epicenter of this morning's quake lies directly in the middle of the thickest concentration of wells is this map:

Click for larger image:
oil


Could be a cause and effect thing: maybe the quake didn't happen because of drilling, but there's ample oil and gas because of the underlying geology. Anyway, something to ponder...
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Cat 6 lead authors: WU cofounder Dr. Jeff Masters (right), who flew w/NOAA Hurricane Hunters 1986-1990, & WU meteorologist Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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