Extreme Drought to Extreme Flood: Weather Whiplash Hits the Midwest

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:42 PM GMT on April 19, 2013

It seems like just a few months ago barges were scraping bottom on the Mississippi River, and the Army Corps of Engineers was blowing up rocks on the bottom of the river to allow shipping to continue. Wait, it was just a few months ago--less than four months ago! Water levels on the Mississippi River at St. Louis bottomed out at -4.57' on January 1 of 2013, the 9th lowest water level since record keeping began in 1861, and just 1.6' above the all-time low-water record set in 1940 (after the great Dust Bowl drought of the 1930s.) But according to National Weather Service, the exceptional April rains and snows over the Upper Mississippi River watershed will drive the river by Tuesday to a height 45 feet higher than on January 1. The latest forecast calls for the river to hit 39.4' on Tuesday, which would be the 8th greatest flood in history at St. Louis, where flood records date back to 1861. Damaging major flooding is expected along a 250-mile stretch of the Mississippi from Quincy, Illinois to Thebes, Illinois next week. At the Alton, Illinois gauge, upstream from St.Louis, a flood height of 34' is expected on Tuesday. This would be the 6th highest flood in Alton since 1844, and damages to commercial property in the town of Alton occur at this water level. In addition, record flooding is expected on at least five rivers in Illinois and Michigan over the next few days. A crest 1.5' above the all-time record has already occurred on the Des Plaines River in Chicago. This river has invasive Asian Carp that could make their way into Lake Michigan if a 13-mile barrier along the river fails during an extreme flood. Fortunately, NPR in Michigan is reporting today that U.S. Army Corps of Engineers crews stationed along the 13-mile Asian carp barrier have seen no evidence of the fish breaching the structure, and it would have taken a flood much larger than today's record flood to breach the structure. A crest on the Grand River in Grand Rapids, Michigan nearly 4' above the previous record (period of record: at least 113 years) is expected this weekend. At this flood level, major flooding of residential areas is expected, though the flood wall protecting downtown Grand Rapids will keep the commercial center of the city from flooding.


Figure 1. The rains that fell in a 24-hour period ending at 7 am EDT Thursday, April 18, 2013 over Northern Illinois were the type of rains one would expect see fall only once every 40 years (yellow colors), according to METSTAT, Inc. (http://www.metstat.com.) METSTAT computed the recurrence interval statistics based on gauge-adjusted radar precipitation and frequency estimates from NOAA Atlas 14 Volume 2, published in 2004 (http://dipper.nws.noaa.gov/hdsc/pfds/.) METSTAT does not supply their precipitation recurrence interval forecasts or premium analysis products for free, but anyone can monitor the real-time analysis (observed) at: http://metstat.com/solutions/extreme-precipitation-index-analysis/

Damages from the April 2013 Midwest U.S. flood in Illinois, Michigan, and Missouri are likely to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Some of the impacts at the flood levels predicted include:

St. Louis, MO:
Major flooding begins. At this level the Choteau Island Levee, protecting 2400 acres, is overtopped. Also, Lemay Park just south of Lemay Ferry Road will begin flood

Cape Girardeau, MO:
Many homes in the Cape Girardeau area are affected and evacuations may be required. Over 100,000 acres is flooded. Numerous roads are closed.

Hannibal, MO:
The Sny Island and South Quincy levees are overtopped between River Mile 315.4 and 264.3, flooding 110,000 acres. The South River levee is overtopped between River Mile 320.5 and 312.1, flooding 10,000 acres.

Quincy, IL:
Missouri Highway 168 east of Palmyra near the BASF plant closes; Quincy Waterworks inundated.

Note that sandbagging efforts may be able to prevent some of these flooding impacts from occurring. Wunderground's weather historian Christopher C. Burt discusses the latest rainfall and flooding records from this week's epic storm in his latest post. He plans on an update Friday afternoon.


Figure 2. Water levels on the Mississippi River at St. Louis are predicted to crest at 39.5', near major flood stage, on Tuesday. This would be the 8th greatest flood in history at St. Louis. Records at the St. Louis gauge to back to 1861. Image credit: National Weather Service.


Figure 3. Water levels on the Mississippi River at St. Louis bottomed out at -4.57' on 01/01/2013, the 9th lowest water level since record keeping began in 1861, and just 1.6' above the all-time low-water record set in 1940, after the great Dust Bowl drought of the 1930s. Image credit: National Weather Service.

Flood-Drought-Flood Weather Whiplash
Residents along the Mississippi River have experienced a severe case of flood-drought-flood weather whiplash over the past two years. The Mississippi reached its highest level on record at New Madrid, Missouri on May 6, 2011, when the river crested at 48.35'. Flooding on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers that year cost an estimated $5 billion. The next year, after the great drought of 2012, the river had fallen by over 53' to an all time record low of -5.32' on August 30, 2012. Damage from the great drought is conservatively estimated at $35 billion. Next Tuesday, the river is expected to be at flood stage again in New Madrid, 40' higher than the August 2012 record low. Now, that is some serious weather whiplash. I'm often asked about the seemingly contradictory predictions from climate models that the world will see both worse floods and worse droughts due to global warming. Well, we have seen a classic example in the Midwest U.S. over the past two years of just how this kind of weather whiplash is possible. A warmer atmosphere is capable of bringing heavier downpours, since warmer air can hold more water vapor. We saw an example of this on Thursday morning, when an upper air balloon sounding over Lincoln, Illinois revealed near-record amounts of moisture for this time of year. The precipitable water--how much rain could fall if one condensed all the water vapor in a column above the ground into rain--was 1.62", just barely short of the Illinois April record for precipitable water of 1.64" set on April 20, 2000 (upper air records go back to 1948.) Thursday's powerful low pressure system was able to lift that copious moisture, cool it, and condense it into record rains. So how can you have worse droughts with more moisture in the air? Well, 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.

The new normal in the coming decades is going to be more and more extreme flood-drought-flood cycles like we are seeing now in the Midwest, and this sort of weather whiplash is going to be an increasingly severe pain in the neck for society. We'd better prepare for it, by building a more flood-resistant infrastructure and developing more drought-resistant grains, for example. And if we continue to allow heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide continue to build up in the atmosphere at the current near-record pace, no amount of adaptation can prevent increasingly more violent cases of weather whiplash from being a serious threat to the global economy and the well-being of billions of people.


Video 1. One person was hospitalized after a sinkhole swallowed three cars in the South Deering neighborhood on the Southeast Side of Chicago on Thursday, April 18, 2013. Witnesses said the hole opened up around 5 a.m. at 9600 South Houston Avenue, quickly growing from about 20 feet to about 40 feet. First two cars slid in, then a third as the hole widened, witnesses said. A fourth vehicle was towed from the edge as it was about to fall inside. The sinkhole was due to heavy flooding that broke a water main built in 1915.

Related Science
A 2010 study by Duke University scientists suggests that global warming is the main cause of a significant intensification in the Bermuda High that in recent decades has more than doubled the frequency of abnormally wet or dry summer weather in the Southeast United States. Thus, the Southeast U.S. may see greater than its share of "Weather Whiplash"--extreme droughts followed by extreme floods--in coming decades. Joe Romm at climateporgress.org has a post discussing the paper, with links to examples of how the Southeast U.S. has seen both extreme droughts and extreme floods since 2005.


Jeff Masters

Underpass flooding (aerojad)
Belmont St. at the Metra train station.
Underpass flooding

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Quoting Grothar:
Jet fuel in the in Eastern Pacific and the underarm of Africa.



Hi Gro. Here is the more focused temps in GOM, Caribbean,Western Atlantic and EPAC.

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Jet fuel in the in Eastern Pacific and the underarm of Africa.

Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Tornado activity in the USA in 2013 has been under half the average, with a confirmed tornado count of 167. There have been 213 reports of tornadoes compared to the short-term average of 432. Only 3 people have been killed as a result of twisters.



The biggest tornado outbreak this year remains January 29-30, when 57 were confirmed, the third highest total for the month on record.
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We're still well to the left of the entire thing as it stands... Might as well go out and enjoy the relatively cool weather while it lasts, ;)
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So it's almost the end of April and we haven't even had 90L yet... BUST!!1!

just kidding, ;-)
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Quoting SFLWeatherman:
94 right now for me!!!!


I like low 80's in April, but I guess you can keep your 94 with 70 degree dew points, while I hate the cold by April, I'll take my current temp of 63 over that, lol.

We are supposed to have highs in the low 70's today, so it will turn out a nice day, the nasty part is mid 40's tonight, not looking forward to mid 40's come wake up tomorrow.
Thankfully we'll be back into nice and warm low 80's for highs and near 60 for lows in a couple more days, cause I honestly hate cold weather at this point, after such a cold March. I'll be happy to see cool temps again come next November of course, I like my changes in season, I just prefer a lot more warm weather, and shorter cold seasons.

In all honesty, I like the climate of North and Central Florida the most, we still get a nice taste of winter to bring a break from the warm weather, but not cold enough to hate, well normally, lol.

I probably wouldn't like the pure tropics simply because it is always endlessly warm, no refreshing changes. Well, actually, if you live in them mountains in tropical areas it is a different story.

My favorite climate I've ever experienced was the mountainous terrain in Central America, lush green jungles with frequent heavy thunderstorms without the muggy, sweaty weather of the lower terrain.

For example, in Guatemala City, highs range from mid 70's in the winter with lows in the 50's to low 80's in the summer with lows in the 60's. Despite these "cooler" temps, it never gets any cooler really, even during January, or much warmer, even during August. Strong thunderstorms are very common with day time heating during the long 7 month rainy season, and yet despite the Florida-like thunderstorms, you get nice comfortable breezes blowing and it isn't remotely hot or muggy at all. Be warned though, the sun can bring you sun burns really quick still.

The low lands were a different story, like a sauna full of bugs, lol.
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Quoting trHUrrIXC5MMX:


saw it and replied...thanks a lot..

I have hit 100 predictions! Thank you all!


Congratulations. If you hadn't gotten to 100, I would have gone on under my old handle and posted another prediction. :)
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Quoting Tazmanian:



wishcaster dont you think that may be a little two high?

Namecaller! Why are you being so rude, Taz?
You are one of the first to get onto people for stuff like that.

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TROPICAL WEATHER DISCUSSION
NWS NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
805 AM EDT SAT APR 20 2013

TROPICAL WEATHER DISCUSSION FOR NORTH AMERICA...CENTRAL
AMERICA...GULF OF MEXICO...CARIBBEAN SEA...NORTHERN SECTIONS OF
SOUTH AMERICA...AND ATLANTIC OCEAN TO THE AFRICAN COAST FROM THE
EQUATOR TO 32N. THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION IS BASED ON SATELLITE
IMAGERY...WEATHER OBSERVATIONS...RADAR...AND METEOROLOGICAL
ANALYSIS.

BASED ON 0600 UTC SURFACE ANALYSIS AND SATELLITE IMAGERY THROUGH
1045 UTC.

...ITCZ/MONSOON TROUGH...

THE MONSOON TROUGH EXTENDS ACROSS THE COAST OF SIERRA LEONE NEAR
8N13W AND CONTINUES TO 4N18W. THE ITCZ BEGINS AT 4N18W AND
CONTINUES ALONG 3N36W 2N53W. SCATTERED STRONG CONVECTION IS FROM
3N-6N BETWEEN 11W-20W...AND FROM 2N-4N BETWEEN 22W-26W.
SCATTERED MODERATE/ISOLATED STRONG CONVECTION IS FROM 3N-5N
BETWEEN 40W-42W...AND FROM 3N-5N BETWEEN 46W-52W.



...DISCUSSION...

GULF OF MEXICO...
AN UPPER LEVEL TROUGH COVERING MUCH OF THE
EASTERN CONUS AND THE NORTHERN GULF OF MEXICO SUPPORTS A COLD
FRONT THAT CONTINUES TO SWEEP ACROSS THE BASIN. IT CURRENTLY
EXTENDS FROM CENTRAL FLORIDA NEAR 29N80W TO JUST WEST OF THE
YUCATAN PENINSULA ALONG 24N88W 18N91W...AS OF 0900 UTC.
SCATTERED SHOWERS AND POSSIBLE THUNDERSTORMS EXTEND UP TO 200 NM
WEST OF THE AXIS. A FEW WIDELY ISOLATED SHOWERS ARE ALSO AHEAD
OF THE FRONT ACROSS PORTIONS OF FLORIDA WITH MORE OFF THE EAST
COAST OF FLORIDA. STRONG NORTHERLY WINDS ARE WEST OF THE AXIS
REACHING UP TO 25 KT. THE GALE FORCE WINDS PREVIOUSLY IN THE SW
GULF HAVE NOW DROPPED BELOW GALE FORCE. A FEW 30 KT WINDS MAY
STILL BE PRESENT IN THE SW PORTION WEST OF THE FRONT. A SURFACE
TROUGH IS ALSO ALONG THE YUCATAN PENINSULA OUT AHEAD OF THE
FRONT SUPPORTING HEAVY SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS ACROSS THE
PENINSULA AND GUATEMALA. AN UPPER LEVEL RIDGE COVERS THE
REMAINDER OF THE SOUTHERN GULF OF MEXICO EXTENDING FROM A CENTER
SOUTH OF MEXICO WITH AXIS CONTINUING ACROSS THE YUCATAN
PENINSULA TOWARDS THE NW BAHAMAS. SURFACE RIDGING IS ALSO
BUILDING IN BEHIND THE FRONT CURRENTLY CENTERED OVER TEXAS AND
MEXICO. CLEAR SKIES ARE ALREADY BEING NOTED OVER THE FAR NW
CORNER OF THE AREA. THE FRONT IS EXPECTED TO CONTINUE MOVING SE
OVER THE NEXT 24 HOURS BEFORE STALLING OVER SOUTH FLORIDA.

CARIBBEAN SEA...
THE UPPER LEVEL RIDGE COVERING THE SOUTHERN
GULF ALSO SPREADS OVER THE NW CARIBBEAN ACCOMPANIED BY DRY AIR
ALOFT...WHICH IS PROVIDING FAIR SURFACE CONDITIONS ACROSS MUCH
OF THE AREA. AN UPPER LEVEL TROUGH COVERS THE REMAINDER OF THE
CARIBBEAN WITH AXIS EXTENDING FROM HISPANIOLA TO NICARAGUA.
MOIST SOUTHWESTERLY FLOW ALOFT COVERS THE EASTERN PORTIONS OF
THE BASIN. SCATTERED SHOWERS/POSSIBLE THUNDERSTORMS ARE OVER THE
NE CARIBBEAN FROM 17N-18N BETWEEN 63W-72W. TRADEWIND FLOW OF
MAINLY 20 KT IS ACROSS THE CENTRAL AND EASTERN CARIBBEAN. EXPECT
LITTLE CHANGE OVER THE NEXT 24 HOURS.

ATLANTIC OCEAN...
UPPER LEVEL RIDGING OVER THE SE GULF OF MEXICO
CONTINUES IN THE FAR WESTERN ATLC PROVIDING MOSTLY FAIR
CONDITIONS ACROSS THIS AREA. HOWEVER...THE COLD FRONT OVER THE
GULF OF MEXICO IS BEGINNING TO EMERGE INTO THE WEST ATLC
CURRENTLY ALONG 32N78W TO 29N81W. SCATTERED SHOWERS/ISOLATED
THUNDERSTORMS EXTEND UP TO 90 NM EAST OF THE FRONT...AND
CONTINUE OVER FLORIDA. THE REMAINDER OF BOTH THE WEST AND
CENTRAL ATLC ARE DOMINATED BY A BROAD SURFACE RIDGE ANCHORED BY
A 1034 MB HIGH NEAR 41N47W. THE RIDGE IS SUPPORTED BY AN UPPER
LEVEL RIDGE CENTERED NEAR 32N58W. A WEAK UPPER LEVEL TROUGH IS
CENTERED TO THE SOUTH OF THE UPPER RIDGE FROM NEAR 21N68W TO
EASTERN HISPANIOLA AND INTO THE CARIBBEAN. FARTHER EAST...A
NARROW UPPER TROUGH IS ALONG 30N37W TO 21N49W. THE UPPER TROUGH
SUPPORTS A SURFACE TROUGH THAT EXTENDS ALONG 31N36W TO 25N41W.
ISOLATED SHOWERS ARE WITHIN 90 NM EITHER SIDE OF THE AXIS. A
SECOND SURFACE TROUGH EXTENDS FROM JUST SOUTH OF THE CANARY
ISLANDS INTO NW AFRICA ALONG 30N20W TO 22N13W. NO SHOWERS ARE
NEAR THIS AXIS. THE REMAINDER OF THE BASIN IS COVERED BY A BROAD
UPPER RIDGE WITH AXIS ALONG 14W.
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Quoting yoboi:



27-18-6



wishcaster dont you think that may be a little two high?
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Quoting VR46L:


You may get a harpoon instead of a rod or net ! LOL
At this rate we will be using trucks and augers to get to the fish instead of boats and motors. You can still easily drive your vehicle on it.
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475. VR46L
Quoting nymore:
I seen that in the forecast and we still have about 2 feet still on the ground. The fishing season (open water) opens May 11 the ice will still be on many lakes as it is still over 2 feet thick.


You may get a harpoon instead of a rod or net ! LOL
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Quoting VR46L:


Looks like another winter storm enroute .... I see Nymore is on ... Sorry Man
I seen that in the forecast and we still have about 2 feet of snow still on the ground. The fishing season (open water) opens May 11 the ice will still be on many lakes as it is still over 2 feet thick.
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Quoting VR46L:


Congratulations to you ! You have put in a great effort to get everyone predicting !


Im working on my new blog... give me about 2 hours.
Somethings are delaying me here
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471. VR46L
Quoting PedleyCA:


Loop

65.7 here, yesterday was 51.3/84.8, normal is 51/76 (corrected)


Looks like another winter storm enroute .... I see Nymore is on ... Sorry Man
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469. VR46L
Quoting trHUrrIXC5MMX:


saw it and replied...thanks a lot..

I have hit 100 predictions! Thank you all!


Congratulations to you ! You have put in a great effort to get everyone predicting !
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Quoting SouthernIllinois:


It's funny because I always used to think International Falls was the icebox of the Country. But it seems like each and every time I tune in, the town of Embarrass always takes the crown for the coldest state temperature. It must be it proximity to Lake Superior (far enough away inland) that keeps it ice cold.

Nonetheless, that's can't be fun for them. At least not in the middle of April!
No it is a low area with hills on the southern sides where cold air from the north dams up. It is up near Ely would be the easiest way to describe it to someone unfamiliar with the area. It is known and has been known for years as the coldest place in Mn. it is a very small town though and the records are not official.

Example: Tower, Mn holds the record for the coldest (official) temp in Mn but everyone around here knows Embarrass was colder (unofficial).
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Month-to-date USA temperature anomalies:



CONUS is -1.2C below the 1981-2010 average.
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Loop

65.7 here, yesterday was 51.3/84.8, normal is 51/76 (corrected)
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7 day Tampa Bay area....................
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Precipitable water anomalies have been pretty lackluster in the Atlantic for the first quarter of this year when compared to some of our analogue years for this upcoming hurricane season.

Probably doesn't mean much yet.

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Jedkins, get out the woolies tonight geez.......
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Quoting trHUrrIXC5MMX:


saw it and replied...thanks a lot..

I have hit 100 predictions! Thank you all!


No Problem, bud!
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Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting seminolesfan:

I gave you one on your most recent blog, FYI. ;)


saw it and replied...thanks a lot..

I have hit 100 predictions! Thank you all!
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From yesterday:

Quoting BaltimoreBrian:


What will the economic cost of all this be?


Found a total...likely between $250-350 million.
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Quoting trHUrrIXC5MMX:


27 named storms and 18 hurricanes???
You're the 99th.

ONE MORE!

I gave you one on your most recent blog, FYI. ;)
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Wow 50's in N FL and 94 in S FL!!!
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Quoting yoboi:



27-18-6


27 named storms and 18 hurricanes???
You're the 99th.

ONE MORE! who wants to be 100! and reach my goal?!
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94 right now for me!!!!
Quoting Jedkins01:



It's still in the 50's right now in Tallahassee and I'm hating it!
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450. etxwx
Ongoing reports about the deadly Chinese earthquake here at:
China Daily

This would not make your wedding day memorable in a good way. Thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected.

Anchorwoman Chen Ying of Ya'an TV, who was getting married when the earthquake hit, reports in her wedding gown from the street. [Photo by Chengdu Economic Daily via Sina weibo]
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.NOW...
THROUGH 1 PM...A LINE OF SHOWERS WILL CONTINUE TO MOVE SOUTHEAST
THROUGH THE NATURE COAST AND THE ADJACENT GULF WATERS THIS
AFTERNOON. THE SHOWERS ARE EXPECTED TO MOVE SOUTH THROUGHOUT THE
DAY. EXPECT PERIODS OF MODERATE RAINFALL WITH REDUCED VISIBILITY
AND OCCASIONAL LIGHTNING WITH THESE SHOWERS.

$$

TF
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Quoting SELAliveforthetropic:



Ok, I'll go ahead and guess....

22/8/5


thanks, you're the 98th...
soooo close!
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Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
im sorry nws but you said that also yesterday..not a drop here..we'll see what happens tonight..send some rain HERE will ya! LOL.................................NWS Tampa Bay ‏@NWSTampaBay 23h
Scattered showers are developing over the region early this afternoon with additional showers and storms expected through tonight. #flwx
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Quoting Jedkins01:



It's still in the 50's right now in Tallahassee and I'm hating it!
71 here jedkins and solid overcast..pretty strong cold front for almost may huh
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gee all the rain headed northeast,no rain here by me...
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Quoting CybrTeddy:


I'm the only Floridian who you'll hear say this but I actually like the heat when it's seasonal for it. Somehow, rainy and cold Winter days make everything feel depressing.



It's still in the 50's right now in Tallahassee and I'm hating it!
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AREA FORECAST DISCUSSION
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE SAN JUAN PR
1146 AM AST SAT APR 20 2013

.UPDATE...SATELLITE AND RADAR IMAGES THIS MORNING DEPICTED ABUNDANT
CLOUDINESS WITH AREAS OF SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS MAINLY ACROSS THE
CARIBBEAN COASTAL WATERS SOUTH OF PUERTO RICO AND ACROSS ST CROIX IN
THE U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS. FEW SHOWERS WERE ALSO DETECTED OVER EASTERN
PUERTO RICO. THIS ACTIVITY WAS ASSOCIATED WITH THE COMBINATION OF A
MID TO UPPER LEVEL TROUGH AND PATCHES OF MOISTURE EMBEDDED IN THE
EASTERLY TRADE WIND FLOW. THIS FEATURES WILL COMBINE THIS AFTERNOON
WITH DAYTIME HEATING TO INDUCE THE DEVELOPMENT OF SCATTERED TO
NUMEROUS SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS MAINLY ACROSS EASTERN SECTIONS OF
PUERTO RICO. A SLOW IMPROVEMENT IN WEATHER CONDITIONS ARE EXPECTED
BY SUNDAY.

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I believe lots of record low temperatures were set in Minnesota last night. Coldest temp I can find is -14F in Embarrass, Mn. Minus 14F on April 20 for the love of god.
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I just walked over 2 miles from the library to get home in the mid to upper 30s with gusty winds. It wasn't that bad actually. I even got a picture of some snow that was still on the ground from last night.
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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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