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Giving thanks to the Hurricane Hunters and QuikSCAT scientists

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 7:54 PM GMT on November 21, 2007

Everyone knows that flying into hurricanes is dangerous work. The NOAA Hurricane Hunter aircraft have flown a number of dangerous flights over the years, most recently in Hurricane Felix on September 2 this year. NOAA P-3 aircraft N42RF (affectionately called Kermit), penetrated a rapidly intensifying Hurricane Felix as it approached Category 5 intensity. The aircraft hit four G's of acceleration in both the up and down directions in Felix's eyewall. Regulations require a flight to be aborted at that level of turbulence, and Kermit returned to base. A detailed inspection of the aircraft the next day revealed no damage, and Kermit returned to service for the remainder of hurricane season.

Figure 1. A NOAA P-3 refuels in Cold Bay, Alaska (left) on its way to the Aleutian Islands to fly a mission in the 1987 Alaska Storms Program. Right: The two NOAA P-3's get de-iced at Brunswick Naval Air Station, Maine, as they prepare for a mission into a 'Noreaster during the Experiment on Rapidly Intensifying Cyclones over the Atlantic (ERICA) in 1989. Both photos taken by yours truly.

What is less appreciated is that these aircraft fly research missions into dangerous weather conditions year-round and world-wide, and some of the most dangerous flights have occurred far from the tropics. Earlier this year, Kermit experienced perhaps the most dangerous flight of its 31-year career. On February 9, the aircraft flew into an intense winter storm 500 miles east of Newfoundland. The mission was part of the Ocean Winds project, a study designed to test the accuracy of QuikSCAT satellite wind estimates in regions of high wind and heavy rain. Flying at 3,000 feet, the aircraft sampled the surface winds with its SFMR (Step Frequency Microwave Radiometer) and dropsondes. The flights were timed to coincide with an overhead pass of the QuikSCAT satellite, which also measured winds at the ocean surface. It was a bit of a rough ride, since the storm packed winds of 100-110 mph at flight level. Sea spray kicked up by the powerful winds reached all the way to flight level, coating the windshield with a thick white coating of salt. The windshield washer failed, leaving the windshield partially opaque. It was an unusually dry winter storm, and the rain showers needed to rinse the windshield clean were difficult to find.

Figure 2. QuikSCAT wind profile of the ocean surface at 21:22 GMT February 9, 2007, just before Kermit headed back to St. John's, Newfoundland.

After a successful 4-hour flight, the aircraft dropped its final dropsonde, and turned north to complete its final sampling run. Suddenly, crew members observed flames coming from the #3 engine, accompanied by an audible popping sound. "Fire on #3, flames, flames, flames!" came the cry over the on-board intercom system. The pilots and flight engineers immediately began an emergency shut down of the #3 engine. As they worked to shut down the engine, the ominous call, "Fire on #4!" came over the intercom. The pilot immediately began an emergency shut down of the #4 engine. With both engines on the right wing now shut down, the pilot cautiously ramped up power on the two engines on the left wing, turned the aircraft towards home base in St. Johns, Newfoundland, and attempted to climb. However, the aircraft was not able to climb on just two engines, and the pilot was forced to begin a gradual descent to 2600 feet. The pilot notified the crew to review their ditching placards, and word was send to air traffic control informing them of the emergency. Three tense minutes passed, as the crew attempted to figure out what had caused the multiple engine failures. Speculation centered on the unusually heavy accumulation of salt on the aircraft--but excessive salt had never been implicated in engine failures before. Then, the words they all dreaded, "Fire on #1!" burst out over the intercom. The flight engineer immediately pulled the emergency shutdown handle for the #1 engine, and Kermit began a 700 foot per minute descent towards the turbulent sea below.

The crew donned survival suits as the pilot issued a May-day distress call and prepared to ditch the aircraft. Beneath them, hurricane force winds blew over the night-shrouded North Atlantic waters. With waves easily reaching 20 feet, water temperatures near freezing, and 500 miles out at sea at night, prospects for survival were dim. Four minutes remained to restart one of the flamed-out engines, and the pilot called for an immediate restart of the #1 engine. As the flight engineer worked to comply, Kermit passed through a brief rain shower that washed considerable salt from the aircraft. The attempt to restart the #1 engine succeeded, and Kermit pulled out of its descent just 800 feet above the waves--one minute from impact.

The crew now worked to restart the failed #3 and #4 engines, while the plane slowly climbed away from the ocean surface. As they headed towards Newfoundland, the Canadian Air Force launched a search and rescue C-130 aircraft from Nova Scotia to intercept Kermit. Crews on the Hibernia and Terra Nova oil rigs located east of Newfoundland were alerted of the emergency, and stood by to help if necessary. Kermit's navigator continuously plotted vectors to the oil rigs at they flew home, in case a ditch near one of the rigs became necessary.

As they continued westward, the crew successfully restarted both the #3 and #4 engines, but at reduced power. Kermit climbed to a more comfortable altitude of 14,000 feet and made it uneventfully back to St. Johns. Fortunately, the engines were undamaged and perfectly operational after the salt was washed out, and the data collected during the mission was saved. According to the detailed NOAA Mishap Investigation Report posted on Chris Mooney's excellent blog, "Post flight inspection of engines revealed significant white build up on intakes, first stage compressors, and CIP probes of all four engines. Subjectively, the #2 engine appeared to be the worst coated of all engines. Aircraft fuselage and windows were also heavily coated." Salt build-up on the engines was determined to be the cause of the incident. The unusually dry nature of the storm prevented the salt from being washed off, and was probably part of the reason the engines failed on this flight, and not on previous flights.

I asked Dr. Jim McFadden, project manager of the Ocean Winds project, what happened. He was on the flight, and responded:

This event stumped everyone including the experts who spend a life-time studying sea salt and aerosols in the marine boundary layer. Six previous flights in similar conditions had resulted in nothing like this. But this one was different. It was flown over an ocean warmed by the Gulf Stream in a dry slot of cold Canadian air. Somehow that combination was the key to what could have been a disastrous flight. Fortunately, quick thinking and the flawless action of the crew brought about by excellent training got us home safely.

Last week in Washington D.C., the crew of Kermit was honored with the Department of Commerce's Gold Medal for successfully bringing home the aircraft. The crew members from NOAA's Aircraft Operations Center who were on the flight were:

LCDR Mark Nelson
LCDR Carl Newman
Joseph Klippel
LCDR Peter Siegel
LCDR Joseph Bishop
Tom Shepherd
James Barr
Terry Lynch
William Olney
James McFadden

QuikSCAT scientists Paul Chang and Rob Contreras were also present on the flight.

Separate Department of Commerce Gold and Silver Medals were also awarded last week for scientists involved in leading NOAA's operational use of NASA's QuikSCAT satellite to produce more accurate forecasts and warnings of marine and coastal weather:

Paul Chang
Hugh Cobb III (NWS)
Roger Edson (NWS)
James Franklin (NHC)
Richard Knabb (NHC)
Eugene Legg
Kevin Schrab (NWS)
Joseph Sienkiewicz (NWS)

A Gold Medal is defined as distinguished performance characterized by extraordinary, notable or prestigious contributions that impact the mission of the Department and/or one operating unit and which reflect favorably on the Department. Congratulations to all the awardees, and thanks for all that you do!

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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255. Patrap
11:58 AM CST on November 25, 2007
Heres 15 webcams for New Orleans area 456.Some are down still from Katrina. Link
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254. H2PV
5:56 PM GMT on November 25, 2007

10 to 15 inches of rain cumulative.

13 months ago the remnants of Philippines Tropical Storm Bebinica generated 22 inches of rain over 36 hours in Cordova (2;00 O'clock position on radar). The south end Alaska pipeline was disabled for a day by 40 miles of flooded road washout taking down electricity to Valdez, and the upper end was disabled by strong winds blowing dust with just enough moisture to make mud coatings on electric insulators, causing short-circuits and transformer explosions. Cordova's airport was under 4 feet of water, the power, sewer and water plants were all under water.

Category 5 typhoon Saomai's remnants earlier last year also did a similar thing, proceeding into North America in virtually the same location, then dive bombing the southeast. some 28 tornadoes were spawned over two days and a couple dozen people drowned from flash flooding in Tennessee.

What you are looking at above is a blend of remnants from cyclone Sidr (Banglasdesh 9 days ago http://h2-pv.us/1/Sidr/) and Hagibis/Mitag outflow which has been acumulating without public notice or attention.

I suspect your attention level will get corrected about the time your rooftop flies away, which will be too late for some of you.

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253. Weather456
1:50 PM AST on November 25, 2007
Pat, i'm not sure of the link...I acquire the link a few years ago directly during Hurricane Katrina. I'm searching for the original site.
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251. Patrap
11:46 AM CST on November 25, 2007
SPC Products Page StormW
Severe Weather Text Page Note: This browser will refresh itself every 5 minutes. ... Last 24 Hours of Severe Weather and Flash Flood Warnings
Radar with Watches,National

SPC Products Page here. Link
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249. Patrap
11:38 AM CST on November 25, 2007
Thats a View Looking South from The North Shore Lake Ponchartrain Causeway Bridge 456 . New Orleans is 30 miles South from that view.
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248. Patrap
11:34 AM CST on November 25, 2007
Nice View 456
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247. Weather456
1:30 PM AST on November 25, 2007
Southern Louisiana getting pounded right now

New Orleans Webcam

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246. Beachfoxx
11:25 AM CST on November 25, 2007
Howdy everyone! Looks like the south is in for some stormy weather... we need the rain!
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245. Patrap
11:21 AM CST on November 25, 2007
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244. cajngranny
11:20 AM CST on November 25, 2007
g'morning, the heaviest cells with the south central louisiana rain were forecast to go through St. Mary and lower St.Martin parishes. Seems to have missed most of St.Mary and gave Iberia parish quite a soaking. We had rain here, just not quite as much of the heavy fall as we were expecting. We caught the eastern edge of that cell. It's just a very light sprinkle here now.
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243. BajaALemt
10:42 AM CST on November 25, 2007
Looks to be
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242. Patrap
10:41 AM CST on November 25, 2007
The Pot is Beginning to Burl a Lil..
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241. Patrap
10:40 AM CST on November 25, 2007
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240. BajaALemt
10:38 AM CST on November 25, 2007
I'd LOVE to visit Denali one day
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239. BajaALemt
10:32 AM CST on November 25, 2007
Was looking at the models, Pat. Looks like RUC and WRF both show your Theta vaules going up this afternoon with minimal CAPE & CINH. GFS looks to be lagging a little behind *shrugs*
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238. Levi32
7:35 AM AKST on November 25, 2007
Yeah really...I don't have to worry about getting washed away because we're a very mountainous state, and I live on a ridge, but low-lying areas like the highway into Homer can get flooded in bad situations. Someday I'll have to write a blog on the worst twin floods in our history that happened in 2003.
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237. BajaALemt
10:32 AM CST on November 25, 2007
Wow, Levi...just what you needed...more rain, huh
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236. Levi32
7:25 AM AKST on November 25, 2007
Yeah, the last one brought 110mph winds to my area. Alaskan hurricane :)

Also upwards of 18 inches of rain has fallen this past week, and most of the rivers are either flooding or nearly so.
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235. Patrap
10:20 AM CST on November 25, 2007
Bad cells with Lotsa Wind coming onshore Se La..Link

New Orleans Velocity Azimuth Display Wind Profile Range 124 NMI

Winds noted to 83knots Link
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234. BajaALemt
10:19 AM CST on November 25, 2007
The low's up in the Gulf of Alaska have been pretty impressive the past couple of weeks
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233. BajaALemt
10:15 AM CST on November 25, 2007
Nice loop of the low (S. Texas)

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232. Levi32
7:11 AM AKST on November 25, 2007
Strong storm in the gulf of Alaska is bombing to 962mb and I expect it to peak at about 955 later this morning. Strong warm front is moving into the area with heavy rains and brisk winds. Middleton Island is already reporting sustained winds at 40mph gusts to 54mph ahead of the front. More rain will be falling on my area, further swelling the already flooded Anchor river, and melting more snow.

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231. BajaALemt
9:54 AM CST on November 25, 2007
Mornin folks...

Hiya S'Mom......Pat....456
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230. surfmom
2:37 PM GMT on November 25, 2007
Nice to get a moment and catch up on the weather, this is a great place to hide, I'm exhausted from Turkey and human dynamics this weekend. Happy to see that "weather" in the N. gomex may produce some southie swell for me --hope I can escape and grab a session Monday AM. Got some fun waves Thanksgiving AM - Appreciate the news from Aussiestorm regarding the Phillipines, hope my buddy over there is ok and just surfing HUGE waves.
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229. Weather456
9:02 AM AST on November 25, 2007

This morning’s Doppler radar of the South-Central United States continue to show snow showers over Western Texas and rain showers with isolated thunderstorms over Eastern Texas and Louisiana and coastal waters of the Northwestern Gulf. This activity is associated a storm system associated with a shortwave trough and two surface lows attached to frontal boundaries extending from Northern Mexico across the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Frontal and radiation fog lines the coast of Texas and Louisiana from the Houston Area, TX to Lake Charles, LA.

High pressure over Western Atlantic is producing 15 knot return flow and fair weather over the Gulf south of 28N east of 90W. Meanwhile, a surface trough along the Southeast Coast from Cape Hatteras to 30N. The surface. Diffluent flow aloft is enhancing shower activity over area north of 28N between 85W and 75W.

A warm front continues from Southern Florida to near 28N/75W. A cold front continues along 29N/60W 30N/55W 32N/50W to beyond 35N/45W. Satellite imagery showed the front is accompanied by little or no shower activity. Only cold air low level clouds are seen rotating in the anticyclonic flow of the associated high pressure system.

by W456
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228. Patrap
7:42 AM CST on November 25, 2007
Statement as of 4:16 AM CST on November 25, 2007

... Severe weather and heavy rainfall possible today and tonight...

There is a slight risk of severe thunderstorms today and tonight.

An area of low pressure developing along the central Gulf Coast of
Texas will deepen and move northward today... moving inland across
southern Louisiana by this afternoon as a strong upper level
disturbance moves east across the Southern Plains and northern
Mexico. A warm front associated with the low is beginning to move
north across the south central and southeast Louisiana coastal
sections this morning. The warm front will move well inland over east
central and southeast Louisiana and south Mississippi by this afternoon.
This will bring warm moist air back to the region.

The combination of the low pressure area... a strong upper
disturbance... and increasing instability will prime the atmosphere
for the development of strong... possibly severe thunderstorms today.
The threat of severe storms will later today with the passage of
the warm front over areas of south central and southeast
Louisiana... generally south of metropolitan Baton Rouge to Lake
Pontchartrain. The threat of severe weather will spread north
across the remainder of the area by this afternoon as the warm front
moves farther inland bringing the unstable and moist air mass with
it. Another round of thunderstorms is expected... some possibly
severe... in advance of the cold front tonight.

Areas of heavy rainfall will be possible today and tonight...
especially west of Interstate 55 and Lake Pontchartrain where 2 to
3 inches with locally higher amounts are expected. Areas along and
east of Interstate 55 to near Houma can expect 1 to 3 inches of
rain through tonight. Areas of heavy rain may result in deep ponding
of water on roads along with localized flooding of low lying
areas... making for hazardous travel conditions.

All interests are advised to monitor later statements on this
developing weather situation and be prepared in case warnings are

Now would be a good time to check the readiness of your NOAA Weather
Radio. Check the batteries and the alarm settings to make sure it
will alert you in the event a severe weather warning is issued for
your area.

Stay tuned for additional statements and updates from the National
Weather Service. Also refer to the current hazardous weather
outlook issued by the National Weather Service in New Orleans.
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226. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
8:56 AM GMT on November 25, 2007

third depression this season already.. maybe this one will become the first cyclone in Nadi region of responsibility.
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225. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
6:20 AM GMT on November 25, 2007
Joint Typhoon Warning Center

Tropical Disturbance Summary (0600z 25Nov)
An area of convection (94W) near 14.4N 137.9E or 295 NM north of Yap. Animated multispectral imagery and TRMM Microwave Image shows convection has persisted for 12 hours adjacent to a developing low level circulation center. The circulation is small with an approximate radius of 2 or 3 degrees.

Upper level analysis indicates favorable conditions for development with strong outflow aloft and low vertical wind shear, Maximum sustained winds near the center is 15-20 knots with a minimum sea level pressure of 1006 mb.

The potential of this disturbance to form into a significant tropical cyclone within the next 24 hours is upgraded to GOOD

Tropical Cyclone Formation alert is now in effect. This alert may be re-issued, canceled, or upgraded to a warning by 0500z 26Nov.


An area of convection (90P) near 17.2S 166.1E or 130 NM west-nortwest of Vila Vanuatu. Recent animated multispectral imagery and AMSU Microwave Image shows flaring convection near a consolidating low level circulation center.

Upper level analysis indicates good outflow aloft and low to moderate vertical wind shear. Maximum sustained winds near the center is 20-25 knots with a minimum sea level pressure near 1004 mb.

The potential of this disturbance to form into a significant tropical cyclone within the next 24 hours is upgraded to FAIR
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3:52 AM GMT on November 25, 2007
139 hrs 58 mins remain of the 2007 atlantic hurricane season
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3:22 AM GMT on November 25, 2007
Loop of a Whirl
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220. AussieStorm
2:50 AM GMT on November 25, 2007
This shows the rainfall for the next 2 days.
Cheers AussieStorm
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219. KoritheMan
2:47 AM GMT on November 25, 2007
Dang, Cali needs a break for once. Hope things get better for this place. I hope fires don't get anywhere near Taz (I forget where he lives, so I wouldn't know).

And Pat: Five bucks says the severe weather doesn't do a thing down here in LA. I can't think of how many times it has been forecast, but done nothing.

We get at least 1-2 severe storms every year that do amount to something, but that's it. I don't want anything bad to happen no, but I'd like at least 30-40 mph winds for 10 minutes or so.
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217. Weather456
9:13 PM AST on November 24, 2007
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216. Weather456
9:12 PM AST on November 24, 2007
Forecast for central America 2morrow morning by W456

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215. Dakster
6:57 PM EST on November 24, 2007
I do believe that winter is here. Although it still gets to 80+ here in South Florida.
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214. Weather456
6:22 PM AST on November 24, 2007
Winter Weather

A winter weather system over Northern Mexico is dropping light-moderate snow over parts of the Southern Rockies. An upper trough digging across the area is plunging surface temps to near or below freezing. There is enough moisture available in the lower atmosphere to help produce snow and this is indicated by El Paso's skew-t chart* and model data. Numerous winter weather warnings remain in effect this evening for counties across SE Arizona, Southern New Mexico and Texas.

* Notice the surface temperature and dew point are the same an increasing with height. Relative humidity is near 100% when dew point and air temperature are the same. Also notice the temperature is increasing with height which is an indicator of cold air near the surface and warmer air aloft and this due to isentropic lift.

MODIS Terra image

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213. taistelutipu
12:22 AM EET on November 25, 2007
Thanks for posting, Patrap. The pressure has never been so low during the last 5 days. This link is definitely something to watch over the next hours.

I hope you all had/have a nice Thanksgiving. I find it really awesome to learn more about customs and celebrations in the US as a "side effect" of reading this blog. A big thank you to everyone posting here for all the input, weather-related or else interesting.
In Europe Halloween has been adopted by popular culture but not Thanksgiving although in some countries there is a sort of thanksgiving celebration after the harvest has been brought in, normally at the end of September. In my home region there is one famous celebration in Otterswang to which people come from far away. On this page you find pictures of the decoration for the harvest feast. All is made out of fruits, herbs, flowers, grains and vegetables.
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212. Patrap
3:24 PM CST on November 24, 2007
Buoy Station 42001 - MID GULF 180 nm South of Southwest Pass, LA

Conditions at Buoy 42001 as of
(2:50 pm CST)
2050 GMT on 11/24/2007:
Unit of Measure: Time Zone:

Click on the graph icon in the table below to see a time series plot of the last five days of that observation.
5-day plot - Wind Direction Wind Direction (WDIR): E ( 100 deg true )
5-day plot - Wind Speed Wind Speed (WSPD): 23.3 kts
5-day plot - Wind Gust Wind Gust (GST): 27.2 kts
5-day plot - Wave Height Wave Height (WVHT): 6.2 ft
5-day plot - Dominant Wave Period Dominant Wave Period (DPD): 6 sec
5-day plot - Average Period Average Period (APD): 5.0 sec
5-day plot - Mean Wave Direction Mean Wave Direction (MWD): E ( 98 deg true )
5-day plot - Atmospheric Pressure Atmospheric Pressure (PRES): 29.92 in
5-day plot - Pressure Tendency Pressure Tendency (PTDY): -0.09 in ( Falling Rapidly )
5-day plot - Air Temperature Air Temperature (ATMP): 75.4 F
5-day plot - Water Temperature Water Temperature (WTMP): 79.5 F
5-day plot - Dew Point Dew Point (DEWP): 69.8 F

Buoy 42001 Link
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211. ShenValleyFlyFish
1:21 PM EST on November 24, 2007
Got to run. Off to family Thanksgiving gathering. We're going to order out pizza. Hey it's about gratitude and the people you love. Why turn it into a task?
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210. cchsweatherman
6:14 PM GMT on November 24, 2007
Hello everyone. Hope everyone is doing well. Looks like the Southeast is going to finally get the steady, soaking rainfall they have needed for quite a while now. It looks like widespread amounts of above 2 inches across the SE. Hoping it creates a powerful enough cold front that it can move through South Florida and bring rain to the Lake while bringing these warm temps down. I'm a cold weather person.

I was not able to come on yesterday, but I want to say that my prayers are for the Herbert Saffir family as a great scientist and innovator in the meteorological field passed away yesterday. He will be missed and greatly appreciated.
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209. ShenValleyFlyFish
1:14 PM EST on November 24, 2007
For the record: I have nothing but sympathy for the folks in Bangladesh who have suffered incredible tragedy. BBC has an interesting Photo-blog from some folks from there who were on a riverboat research excursion who wound up learning more than they set out to.
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208. Weather456
1:51 PM AST on November 24, 2007
Developing Storm over the US Gulf Coast

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207. ShenValleyFlyFish
12:40 PM EST on November 24, 2007
205. Levi32 12:39 PM EST on November 24, 2007 Well who says it has to be tropical to blow trees through your front yard...lol. Some of those t-storms could get nasty if they move onshore.

The weathermissinformation chanels. Everyone knows there's no ratings in a bunch of thunderstorms. Better run a feature on inorant furrenrs who don't know how to get out of the way of a storm so now their eating puppy dogs and that just ain't right. LOL
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206. sporteguy03
5:37 PM GMT on November 24, 2007
Dr.Masters thank you for being thankful in writing a blog for the WUBAS
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205. Levi32
8:36 AM AKST on November 24, 2007
Well who says it has to be tropical to blow trees through your front yard...lol. Some of those t-storms could get nasty if they move onshore.
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