Monday, November 7, 2011

Tornado Video Out of Oklahoma

As I promised you at 5, here's a link to the incredible tornado video taken in the Wichita Mountains in southwest Oklahoma:

SW Oklahoma Tornado

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tropical/Subtropical Development Possible This Weekend

For the third straight day, several of our reliable computer models are indicating the potential for tropical or subtropical storm development over the weekend into early next week. The area to watch is along an old front extending from the Yucatan Peninsula across Cuba and into the Bahamas.


The models differ on the exact location of development, but there's a growing consensus that something will begin to form by this weekend. The European model shows a broad low pressure center developing near western Cuba this weekend and then moving north or north-northwest toward the Florida panhandle. The map below shows the European model's forecast location of the low for 7 a.m. on Monday.


The GFS model (what some are now calling the "American" model) shows the low developing over the northern Bahamas this weekend and then moving northwest over the Florida peninsula into the southeastern states early next week. The map below shows the GFS model's forecast location of the low for 7 a.m. on Monday.


So, the bottom line for us is that while there's a growing consensus that we'll see either a tropical or subtropical system develop this weekend or early next week, nothing indicates at this point it will be a threat to Louisiana. Additionally, it appears as though this system could be somewhat lopsided, with most of the bad weather confined to its eastern side, further reducing the threat locally.

While this system doesn't appear to be much of a threat to us, it serves as reminder that we are still in Hurricane Season and should remain vigilant for the next few weeks. October impacts aren't terribly common, but the map below from NOAA's Coastal Services Center shows that 22 tropical storms or hurricanes have passed within 50 miles of Louisiana's coastline since 1842. That equates to 1 impact about every 7 or 8 years.


Our last October impact was Tropical Storm Matthew which made landfall near Cocodrie as a minimal tropical storm on October 10, 2004. Notable October 'hits' along the Louisiana coastline include Lili (2002), Juan (1985), and Hilda (1964).

Wondering what the difference is between a tropical storm and a subtropical storm? There are many, but most importantly, subtropical systems tend to have a broader wind field, with the strongest winds well-removed from the center of circulation. Tropical systems have their strongest winds right around the center and in general tend to be more symmetric than subtropical systems.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Just When You Thought We Were Safe...

Just when you thought we were safe, the latest run of computer models has done quite a flip, with several pointing toward Nate making landfall along the northern Gulf Coast.


But before we go getting all worked up, let's consider some important points:

  • All but one of those tracks that you see pointing toward the northern Gulf Coast is either a variant of the same computer model or gets its starting conditions from that computer model -- the GFS (Global Forecast System). For instance, AVNO represents the operational or real world run of the GFS model. AEMN represents a consensus of possible tracks presented by that same GFS model.  AEMI is pretty similar to AEMN. And while the GFDL is somewhat separate, it gets its starting conditions (location of Nate, condition of the surrounding atmosphere) from the GFS.
  • This is a dramatic change for the GFS model, which for most of the last couple of days had Nate heading into Mexico. One of the things we look for in forecasting tropical systems is model consistency. A dramatic change such as this gives us serious reason to question its accuracy.
  • The real key to see if we have something to worry about will be to see if this model trend continues. The GFS will have another update out within the next couple of hours. Just as important, we'll look to see if the European (ECMWF) model follows its lead. If one or both points toward the northern Gulf Coast, then we'll become a bit more concerned.
  • The National Hurricane Center has not yet bought into this scenario. Check out the official forecast track from this morning.


The bottom line here is that I want you to realize that essentially all of those lines pointing in our general direction are really the result of a single computer model run overnight. It could easily have been a fluke. However, it's typically a fairly reliable model, so we'll wait to see if others follow suit.

If you caught my 5 p.m. or 9 p.m. weathercasts on Wednesday, I showed how 2 high pressure areas would have a big impact on Nate's track. One is located over the northern Caribbean, while the other is over northern Mexico. I showed how there was essentially an opening for Nate to move north in the next day or two, but that opening was expected to close over the weekend as the 2 highs essentially merged. If those highs for some reason don't 'bridge the gap', a northward motion would certainly be possible.

As for Nate right now, 'he' looks a tad better this morning when compared to yesterday evening. Satellite imagery shows t-storm activity trying to become a bit more concentrated around the center, but it's still mostly focused southwest of the center of circulation. This seems to be indicative of at least some modest northeasterly shear.


While the official forecast does call for Nate to become a hurricane, there is considerable uncertainty about the potential impact of some extremely dry air over the northern and western Gulf of Mexico. We've seen dry air time and time again take a toll on tropical systems this season. The water vapor image below shows that dry air in the orange shading.


So, folks, while this latest run of computer models this morning gives us reason to pause, don't go getting too worked up just yet. Forthcoming runs of the models will give us a better idea of whether there is something to be concerned about or whether the overnight run was just a fluke.

We've already gotten several questions about potential impacts from Nate on LSU and Southern home football games this weekend.  Even if Nate did decide to head this way, it looks as though the motion would be slow enough to prevent any serious problems on Saturday. We'll certainly keep you updated on that in the coming days.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Tropical Development Chances Increasing in Gulf

The area of disturbed weather that we have been discussing for the last couple of days in the southern Gulf of Mexico is showing signs of getting its act together this morning. The latest Tropical Weather Outlook from the National Hurricane Center is now giving the system a 60% chance of development over the next 48 hours.


A look at the latest infrared satellite imagery from this morning shows an increase in t-storm activity around the disturbance in the Bay of Campeche. 


You also get the notion of some spin (indicative of low pressure development) when you look at the visible satellite loop.

The Hurricane Hunters are scheduled to investigate the area in the southern Gulf this afternoon, so it should be interesting to see what, if anything, they find. Remember, on these missions in the early stages of development, the Hurricane Hunters are primarily looking for evidence of a closed low-level center of circulation -- something enough to classify a disturbance as a tropical depression or tropical storm.

The big question is where does this thing go from here? The computer models are essentially split into two camps: westward into Mexico or northward toward the northern Gulf Coast. The steering forecast is quite tricky in the coming days. Something to note is that the farther north something forms, the more likely it is to be drawn northward. A system developing farther south in the Bay of Campeche would be more likely to meander or move westward into Mexico. Here's a look at the latest computer model runs from Wednesday morning.


If you haven't already noticed, we've got the computer model runs for Katia and what is now Tropical Storm Maria posting to our website. I will likely replace the Katia models with those for the disturbance in the Gulf this afternoon.

So why do we have 2 different camps with the models? A lot of it has to do with the influences of an upper-level trough forecast to be over the center of the U.S. by the weekend. Some models believe this trough will be enough to draw the Gulf disturbance north, while others think the trough misses it and allows high pressure to build back over the Gulf by early next week and push this system westward. It's one of those things that is just too close to call at this point.

Be sure to check back with us on 9News at 5 and 9News at 6 for updates on the Hurricane Hunter mission this afternoon (assuming it doesn't get canceled). You can also get the latest updates from our WAFB Storm Team Facebook page or by following us on Twitter (@WAFBweather).

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Another Tropical System in the Gulf?

Just as we say goodbye to Lee and begin to enjoy some beautiful weather in its wake, we take note that there could be another tropical system developing in the Gulf this week. If you caught any of our shows last night, we mentioned the area of disturbed weather in the southern Gulf along a stalled front. Chances seem to be increasing that something will form here later this week. The National Hurricane Center is now giving it a 20% chance of development in the next 48 hours.

NHC Tropical Weather Outlook from 7 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011.

It seems quite possible that the NHC will deem this area an 'invest' at some point today, which would initialize a run of computer models that are specifically designed to handle tropical systems. The computer guidance that we already have access to shows quite a split, much like we saw in Lee's early development stages. There are scenarios showing the low going anywhere from Mexico to the Florida panhandle.

 Infrared satellite image from 7:45 this morning showing t-storm activity gathering in the southern Gulf along a stalled front.

Much of that spread seems to be a reflection of differences in timing for possible development of the system. Simply put, a quicker developing system would likely be pulled to the north or northeast late this week, while a slower developing system might be left to meander in the southern Gulf or head west towards Mexico. It is WAY too early to speculate on which of these scenarios might pan out. We just wanted to remind you that we're still in the heart of hurricane season even though we're enjoying a nice taste of fall this week.

Later today, we'll add a post from Chief Meteorologist Jay Grymes discussing just how active this season has been so far and why we shouldn't let our guard down in the coming weeks.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Nasty Looking Labor Day Weekend

The tropical disturbance in the Gulf -- 'Invest 93L' -- still isn't terribly well organized this morning. However, take note of just how large the system is, with shower and t-storm activity covering just about the entire eastern half of the Gulf.


The National Hurricane Center has increased chances of development to 70% as of its latest update at 7 a.m. this morning. However, regardless of development, the bigger concerns for this weekend appear to be heavy rainfall and coastal flooding.  Most of our guidance still points toward low pressure being centered off the Louisiana coast by tomorrow and then has it meandering through the weekend, and in some cases, even longer. We often refer to these composites of computer models as 'spaghetti plots' and I think you can see where the 'spaghetti' term comes from in this case!


The Hurricane Hunters are scheduled to investigate the mess in the Gulf this afternoon to see if Tropical Depression #13 may be forming. While it does look quite likely that we'll get Tropical Depression #13 and/or Tropical Storm Lee out of this over the next day or two, the primary concern for the next few days will be heavy rainfall because of the slow movement.  The National Weather Service has already posted a Flash Flood Watch for areas generally south of I-10. I hesitate to show you this next graphic, but since it is a possibility, it's worth a look. The Hydrometeorological Prediction Center (HPC; a branch of the NWS) is painting a scary picture in terms of potential rainfall over the next 5 days.  Note the bullseye along the coast topping 18"! Now, this is far from a certainty, but the potential for BIG rain totals is a serious concern.


Strong westerly winds continue in the upper levels of the atmosphere across the northern Gulf of Mexico this morning, resulting in some shear impacting 93L. While the shear may let up a bit in the next day or so, it doesn't appear as though it will totally go away over the weekend. That's why at this point we're thinking the intensity of the system may not be a huge issue, at least for the next few days. However, if it does manage to linger in the Gulf long enough, conditions could become more favorable and allow it to intensity by late in the weekend or early next week.

Even if the winds aren't terribly strong, a persistent flow out of the east and southeast would likely mean coastal flooding concerns this weekend. That is something we'll certainly have to watch.

The possibility of a looping/meandering storm certainly brings back memories of a couple others. We have to be careful about making comparisons since each system is unique, but 2001's Allison and 1985's Juan do come to mind. Most of you likely remember the historic flooding from Allison; Juan actually made 3 separate landfalls along the Louisiana coast as it completed a couple of loops.


Let's hope that our current system does NOT resemble these in the coming days, but there is a real potential for this disturbance to be pestering us well into next week.

A final note...lost in all of this mess is that fact that today marks the 3rd anniversary of Gustav's landfall in Louisiana (Sept. 1, 2008; Labor Day). As we went days -- and in some cases weeks -- without power  3 years ago, I felt our struggles were lost on the national media. Since the storm didn't devastate New Orleans, there was little attention paid to the rest of us. Today, I still think Gustav is a forgotten hurricane.  How many times did you hear Ike referenced during the Irene coverage last week? But did you hear anyone mention Gustav?

Gustav's peak winds easily surpassed that of what we saw with Andrew in 1992 and essentially matched those of Betsy in 1965.  Here's a quick comparison for Baton Rouge:

Storm          Peak Sustained Wind          Peak Wind Gust
Betsy                     58 mph                           92 mph
Andrew                 46 mph                           70 mph
Gustav                   61 mph                           91 mph

Here are a couple of radar snapshots of Gustav.  The first is the hurricane making landfall near Cocodrie around 10 a.m. Note how the heaviest storms are located in the western eyewall at this point. It looked like metro Baton Rouge would miss out on the worst. However, those same storms rotated completely around the eye and did hit Baton Rouge shortly after 1 p.m., producing the 91 mph wind gust.

Radar image of Hurricane Gustav at landfall near Cocodrie on Sept. 1, 2008 around 10 a.m.

Radar image of Hurricane Gustav taken at 1:10 p.m. on Sept. 1, 2008.  The eyewall was impacting metro Baton Rouge at this point, producing a wind gust to 91 mph at BTR Metro Airport.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wednesday Afternoon Tropical Update

I just wanted to give you a quick update after taking a look at some of the latest info coming in this afternoon.  We still have considerable uncertainty with the future track and intensity of the tropical disturbance in the Gulf, but there's increasing confidence that low pressure will develop south of the Louisiana coastline by Friday or Saturday.  There's also increasing confidence that whatever develops will be slow-moving or nearly stationary over the weekend and possibly into the first part of next week.  This points to significant heavy rain and coastal flooding threats if it pans out.  However, the areas that will be most under the gun are yet to be determined.


I've circled the area in the southeastern Gulf where there at least appears to be some weak rotation this afternoon.  The Hurricane Hunters are scheduled to investigate the disturbance on Thursday afternoon and should give us a better idea of its status.  Conditions still aren't terribly favorable for development over the central and northern Gulf with strong westerly winds at the upper-levels inducing some shear, but that shear is expected to let up by Friday.

The National Hurricane Center officially classified the disturbance as an 'invest' earlier this afternoon.  Most importantly, that means we'll begin to see runs of the tropical models.  We already saw the first few this afternoon, but we should have a full suite to look at later tonight.  Check back on WAFB.com for the latest models...we've added those and a few other tropical graphics to our site.

Bottom line...I'm becoming increasingly concerned about the threat for heavy rain and coastal flooding for some part of the Louisiana coastline by the weekend.  The intensity and long-term track still remain highly uncertain.  Stay with us folks...we'll keep you updated.

Gulf Disturbance...Anybody Got Some Darts?

I'm only half-joking here, but forecasting the future development and track of a system about to move into the Gulf is a bit like throwing darts in the dark right now.  We've got computer model solutions suggesting a landfall or near landfall anywhere from near Corpus Christi, TX to Tallahassee, FL.  Take a look at this graphic put together by Jeff Morrow showing 4 of the different possibilities:


Now, as you look at that graphic, consider that the top 2 panels (GFS and ECMWF) are models that we would generally give more weight to than the bottom 2 panels (Canadian [CMC] and Titan9 RPM).  That's not to say that the CMC and Titan9 RPM are bad models...they do fairly well with day-to-day weather...they just typically don't excel with tropical systems. So, for now, let's focus on the top 2 panels...the GFS and ECMWF ('European').

Disorganized t-storms in the NW Caribbean and southern Gulf near the Yucatan Peninsula are what could eventually give birth to a tropical system in the Gulf later this week.

The latest run of the GFS develops a weak low in the central Gulf, pushes it toward the SE Louisiana coastline, and then has it turn to the east-northeast, making landfall along the Florida panhandle. This is a big change from yesterday's run that brought a low to the LA coast then had it looping back to the south along the Texas coastline. The inconsistency from run-to-run and the fact that it's a bit of an outlier at this point leave me little reason to give it much weight at this time.

The European model develops low pressure in the western Gulf and then has it meandering there for most of next week!  Again, this is a bit difficult to buy, but I do lean more in the direction of a slow-moving system in the western or northern Gulf through the weekend and possibly even into early next week.  Because the European keeps it out over water for so long, it also produces a much stronger system by next week. Yesterday, this model kept it fairly weak.  Again, we see the inconsistency.

So by now you're probably saying, 'Just tell me where this thing is going, Steve!'  Here are my key thoughts going forward:
  • Expect little development today and tomorrow thanks to somewhat unfavorable upper-level winds. Friday looks to be the day when something may begin to happen.
  • Development will likely begin in the western Gulf.  A slow drift to the north or a meander appears most likely into the weekend.
  • High pressure that has dominated our weather this summer weakens and shifts north into the weekend. The key question becomes does this leave enough of a weakness along the western and northern Gulf coast for this system to be drawn northward?  Possibly...but that's a very difficult call at this point.
  • IF this system is left to meander in the Gulf, there will be a heavy rain threat somewhere along the Gulf Coast.  There would also likely be a sharp gradient from heavy rains along the coast to much lower totals inland.  Take a look at the 5-day rain potential from the NWS Hydrometeorological Prediction Center (HPC).



Reiterating some of my points from yesterday, there is MUCH higher than usual uncertainty both with the track and the intensity of this disturbance. I typically wouldn't put this much focus on a system that's yet to form, but with the upcoming holiday weekend and so many in the area traveling to Dallas for the football game, I want to make sure you are aware of a possible tropical threat. If you are leaving town, make sure your house is prepped just like you would for any other tropical system. Hopefully, that prep will turn out to be unnecessary, but it's the safe thing to do.
                                                     
And, oh by the way, Katia looks to be on its way to becoming a hurricane later today. We're optimistic that it will move north of the Caribbean islands, but it's still too soon to completely rule out a U.S. threat.  Most of our guidance has Katia recurving well east of the U.S. East Coast, but there's still plenty of time to watch for any changes.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tropical Development Possible in the Gulf

I don't want to make too much of this just yet, but since many of you, like me, will be leaving town later this week to head to Dallas, I wanted to give you an early heads up on the potential for some tropical development in the Gulf.

Over the last couple of days, several consecutive runs of some of our reliable computer models have indicated the potential for a tropical system to develop in the western Gulf very late this week or this weekend.  The origin of this potential tropical system is a disturbance currently seen on satellite moving through the western Caribbean.

Visible satellite image from 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011. Courtesy: NASA.

The National Hurricane Center isn't mentioning this feature just yet in their 'Tropical Weather Outlook (TWO)', but there's good reason for that.  The TWO is meant to highlight features that could develop within the next 48 hours.  If anything happens with this system, it's likely to start just beyond that 48 hour window...that's why you won't see anything just yet.  But you'll likely see this feature added to the TWO in the next day or so.

As mentioned above, a couple of our more reliable computer models are indicating the potential for some development with this system, especially by the weekend.  First, take a look at this plot of the GFS (Global Forecast System) model.

GFS model plot, effective 1 a.m., Monday, Sept. 5th.  Courtesy: Florida State University

This particular run of the GFS shows what would likely be a healthy tropical storm off of the Louisiana coastline late Sunday night / early Monday morning (Labor Day).  You can also see 'Katia' out in the Atlantic.

Now, take a look at this plot of the 'European' model (ECMWF - European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts):

ECMWF model plot, effective 7 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 4th.  Courtesy: Florida State University

I know that all of the lines and colors can make this a bit difficult to interpret, but note that the ECMWF also shows a tropical system in the Gulf, but has it much farther southwest, closer to Brownsville.  It also shows the system a bit stronger than the GFS.

As you can see, there's a HIGH amount of uncertainty with the potential development and especially track of this system in the Gulf.  One important thing to mention is that the overall weather pattern will be changing later this week.  The ridge of high pressure that has kept us so hot and relatively dry most of this summer will finally break down and that could open the door for some potential impact along the western or northern Gulf Coast.  The eventual track and strength will have a lot to say about how much rain we see from late this week into the weekend.  It's also important to note that steering currents look to be pretty weak in the Gulf during this time period, meaning there's at least a chance this system could linger in the Gulf for several days. That could translate into a heavy rain/flooding threat for some portion of the Gulf Coast.

Bottom line...there's potential for a tropical system to develop in the Gulf late this week or this weekend.  The future track and intensity are highly uncertain...more so than normal.  Now is the time to make sure your home and family are prepared just in case we have to deal with a tropical system.  Those of you preparing to leave town for the LSU game should make sure your home is ready just in case something develops while you're gone.  Just to be safe, move any loose items in your yard indoors and secure anything else that can't be moved.

Finally, I had intended to devote today's blog to Irene, but obviously the threat of a tropical system in the Gulf takes precedence.  However, let me say this...there have been a lot of people over the last couple of days saying that Irene was 'overhyped'.  While it may not have turned out to be the mega disaster we feared at one point, it will still go down as one of the most significant storms to hit the East Coast in recent decades.  Consider these numbers:
  • At least 40 fatalities
  • Early damage estimates ranging from $7 to $10 billion.  That would make Irene one of the 10 costliest storms on record for the U.S.
  • Approximately 5 million customers experienced power outages
  • 14 states & the District of Columbia recorded tropical storm force wind gusts
  • 6 states recorded hurricane force wind gusts
    • Peak gusts:
      • Mt. Washington, NH: 120 mph (high elevation)
      • Cedar Island, NC: 115 mph
      • Fort Macon, NC: 92 mph
      • Sayville, NY: 91 mph
      • Conimicut, RI: 83 mph
      • East Milton, MA: 81 mph
      • Virginia Beach, VA: 76 mph
  • Record flooding all along the East Coast
    • Highest rain totals:
      • Virginia Beach, VA: 20.40"
      • Jacksonville, NC: 20.00"
And I could go on for days with the numbers...

So, while New York City and the major metropolitan areas of the Northeast may have weathered Irene fairly well, take a look at those numbers and tell me Irene was 'overhyped'.  Better yet...let's put it in local perspective.  Just about everything you see above either matches or surpasses what we experienced during Hurricane Gustav in 2008.  It's easy to call something 'overhyped' when you either don't experience it, or miss out on the worst of it.  But ask the people of the East Coast still without power today...the people who have lost their homes to record flooding...or even those who have lost loved ones in the storm if Irene was 'overhyped'.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Remembering Katrina - In front of and behind the camera

For those of us along the central Gulf Coast, August 29th is one of those dates that will always have special significance.  Just like 9/11 will always signify the horrific events of the terrorist attacks, or December 7th stirs memories of the bombing at Pearl Harbor, each year August 29th gets us thinking about where we were, what we were doing, and how Katrina changed our lives.

I could write an entire book on my experiences during the historic storm, but I wanted to share a few of the memories that still stand out for me today.

I worked both Friday, August 26th and Saturday, August 27th covering the evening shows for WAFB.  It was during this time that we really began to get a grasp on the significance of the threat from the blossoming hurricane.  But I don't think it was until Sunday afternoon that I first felt fear for what could happen in south Louisiana.  I had just looked at the satellite image below when Katrina was at peak intensity, with sustained winds up to 175 mph.  I took a moment to walk away from our Storm Center and gather myself...it's the first time in my 13-year broadcast career that I remember getting chills when looking at something weather-related.

Visible satellite image of Hurricane Katrina near peak intensity on Sunday, August 28, 2005.

As I walked down one of our main hallways at Channel 9, I heard a few laughs and saw a few too many smiles for my liking.  It prompted me to fire off an email to our entire building asking everyone to consider the gravity of what we were facing.  In reality, no one was doing anything wrong...it was just a moment where I considered that my hometown could be wiped out and my family could lose everything they had.  I was angry, but not at anyone in particular...primarily just Mother Nature herself.  I held on to that email for a long time, but I wasn't able to locate it for this writing.

Katrina hit early on the morning of August 29th and our wall-to-wall coverage of the aftermath continued for days on end.  Once the storm passed, our coverage quickly changed from a weather focus to news covering the devastation in New Orleans and all along the Gulf Coast.  That left the Storm Team with little to do...just providing support in any way we could.

Feeling the need to get down to New Orleans and get a look at my hometown for myself, I approached our News Director, Vicki Zimmerman, about the possibility of putting on my reporter 'hat' and giving our weary crew in New Orleans some relief.  She was receptive to the idea, but the logistics took some time to work out.  It wasn't until Friday evening, Sept. 2nd that I made my way down to LaPlace with our crews to begin work in New Orleans the following morning.

Saturday was of course an eye-opener in New Orleans.  Water everywhere...people walking aimlessly and looking lost...and yes, even seeing the body of a Katrina victim on the streets.  It was not easy to see so much of the city I grew up in and loved in ruins.

After spending all day working on stories in the city, I asked my photographer, Cliff, if we could make a couple of stops in Metairie on our way back to our base in LaPlace.  Our first stop was at the 17th Street Canal levee breach.  My elementary school -- St. Louis King of France -- is 2 blocks from the breach on the opposite side.  It's an area I'm extremely familiar with.

Standing on the Jefferson Parish side of the 17th Street Canal, across from the breach that flooded Lakeview and a number of New Orleans neighborhoods.
We then went to check on family members' homes.  First stop was my Grandparents'...it looked fine.  Next stop...my brother's...no flooding or significant damage.  Final stop...my Dad's house...the home I grew up in.  This house is only about 3 blocks from the 17th Street Canal levee breach, but on the non-breached, Jefferson Parish side.  However, in what proved to be a massive failure of Jefferson Parish leadership, pump stations were not manned during the storm, allowing much of the Parish to flood from rainwater, and not breached levees or surge.  I walked into the house only to hear the dreaded 'squish' of wet carpet.  The water had since drained, but mold was already 3 feet up on most of the walls.  Below is a picture of the house taken by a neighbor who stayed.

 Picture of my childhood home (house on left) in Metairie taken on August 29, 2005.

While the first day was quite a test of my emotions, it was actually the following morning, Sunday, Sept. 4th that was most memorable.  We had 2 crews that set out pre-dawn to cover the latest in the city.  Jim Shannon was working with photographer Joe McCoy.  I was working with a photographer on loan from our sister station in Huntsville by the name of Jeff Gray.  We gathered on the street car tracks on Canal Street to come up with a plan.  Jim and Joe decided they would head in the direction of the 9th Ward to see what they could find.  Jeff and I would head in the direction of Charity and Tulane hospitals where there had already been some remakable stories.  Below is what Jeff and I found before even making it to the hospitals.

video

The story is a rough cut because we had some audio problems and also had to slap it together in a short amount of time to get it on air, but it did end up prompting an FBI investigation.  At the same time Jeff and I were having a gun brandished in our direction, check out what Jim and Joe found headed into the 9th Ward.  This was my favorite story (particularly the end) that any of our reporters did during Katrina.

video


As you can see, Sunday, September 4th, 2005 is an unforgettable day for me.

New Orleans now has a level of flood protection that surpasses anything ever seen in its history.  However, we've yet to see it tested and there are still weak spots.  While you might consider Katrina a once-in-a-lifetime storm, we never really know.  Ask those who experienced the same sort of flooding with Hurricane Betsy in 1965.

My hope is that the city will continue its comeback and that our elected officials have learned from mistakes of the past.  Sure, New Orleans has its problems, but the culture, the character, the people are unsurpassed anywhere in this country.

Check back tomorrow...I'll let you know what I think about those people who are saying Irene was 'overhyped'.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Size Really DOES Matter...In the Tropics

Whenever there's a hurricane threatening the coast, we tend to focus on the 'strength' of the storm.  How fast will the winds be?  What category hurricane are we talking about? And while those are key issues to consider, something that is often overlooked is the size of the hurricane.

We've had a couple of recent examples of the importance of size as it relates to hurricanes here along the Gulf Coast.  Most notably here in Louisiana, Katrina hammered home that point in 2005.  Consider that Katrina weakened from a rare Category 5 hurricane in the central Gulf to a still strong, but less rare Category 3 by the time it made landfall in LA and MS.  Yet, while it was 'only' a Category 3, Katrina produced a record storm surge along the coast, even surpassing the 'mother' of all hurricanes -- 1969's Camille.  So how did that happen?

    Side-by-side comparison of Camille near landfall (1969) and Katrina near landfall (2005). 

It's all about size, my friends.  At landfall, while Camille had maximum winds around 190 mph (strongest on record for any landfalling U.S. hurricane), the hurricane-force winds only extended about 60 miles from the center.  Katrina, on the other hand, had maximum winds around 125 mph at landfall, but the hurricane-force winds extended out about 120 miles from the center -- twice that of Camille.  The bottom line?  A larger wind field often results in a bigger storm surge, even if the wind speeds aren't as high.

And let's not also forget, a larger wind field simply means more areas and more people get impacted.  Both Katrina and Rita in 2005 had very large wind fields.  Even though Katrina moved well east of metro Baton Rouge and Rita well west of BTR, we had hours of wind gusts in the 50 to 60 mph range.

So, as we continue to follow Irene into the weekend, keep the above points in mind. While Irene may 'only' be a Category 2 hurricane at this point, the size of the wind field will likely result in storm surge and wind damage unlike anything we've seen from a tropical system along the East Coast in a long, LONG time.  And we're not even talking about the heavy rain threat.

Just how big is Irene?  Look at how the wind field compares to other big storms:

Hurricane Extent of T.S. Force Winds (near landfall) Extent of Hurricane Force Winds (near landfall)
Katrina 120 miles 230 miles
Rita 85 miles 205 miles
Ike 120 miles 275 miles
Irene 90 miles 290 miles
Katrina, Rita, & Ike numbers apply for each storm near landfall. Irene wind field numbers from the NHC advisory at 1 p.m. on August, 26, 2011.

NHC graphic showing the large size of Irene's wind field.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Irene, New Depression & Blistering Heat

Hurricane Irene headlines the weather discussion for today and will continue to do so for days to come. As of 10 a.m. on Thursday, Irene is still a major Category 3 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds estimated to be around 115 mph. The storm has been barreling through much of the Bahamas for the better part of 24 hours and should finally lift north of the island-nation later today. The latest visible satellite image shows Irene passing over Abaco Island in the northwestern Bahamas.


The small bit of good news since late Wednesday is that Irene's intensity has leveled off for now.  Much of that seems to be related to an apparent 'eyewall replacement cycle'. In an eyewall replacement, an outer eyewall forms around the main eye, eventually causing it to collapse.  That process typically results in the storm intensity leveling off or even dropping off a bit.  However, the new eyewall often contracts with time and results in restrengthening of the storm if conditions allow.  Additionally, these eyewall replacement cycles often cause the wind field to expand and it appears that has been the case with Irene.

The latest run of computer models continue to paint a disturbing picture from the Mid-Atlantic into the Northeast.  The models are showing remarkable consistency and agreement in having Irene rake the coast from the Outer Banks of North Carolina to New England. In the image below, the 4 eastern-most tracks are among our less reliable models, so it's easy to see the threat that exists for much of the East Coast.



The official forecast calls for Irene to approach the Outer Banks as a major hurricane before weakening some as it tracks farther north and encounters cooler waters and some wind shear.  However, most of our guidance still shows a formidable hurricane impacting the Northeast.

If current trends continue, Irene could be a storm for the history books.  A number of major metropolitan areas -- including D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston -- could see significant impacts from the storm.  We would be talking about millions without power over the weekend.  Additionally, heavy rain and storm surge will be big threats.  It's not something we often think of, but even places like Long Island and Lower Manhattan are susceptible to storm surge with the right storm track.

And while our attention is rightfully focused on Irene, the season's 10th tropical depression quietly formed overnight in the far eastern Atlantic.  T.D. #10 could become Tropical Storm Jose in the next day or two, but for right now, the system appears destined to stay over the open Atlantic.


Chief Meteorologist Jay Grymes did some digging and found that if T.D. #10 does become Jose in the next day or so, we will be only slightly behind the pace of 2 of our most active seasons on record in terms of named storms -- 1995 (19 total named storms) and 2005 (28 total named storms).

And finally...can we do something to break this heat?  Unfortunately, there's no significant relief in sight.  Today looks to be our 24th straight day with a high temp of 95° or above in Baton Rouge.  We're now just adding on to a record for consecutive 95°+ days, having surpassed the previous mark of 21 days set in 1960.    We're also adding on to a record for the number of 95°+ days in a given summer.  Today will make 58 in the summer of 2011 for Baton Rouge, easily surpassing the previous record of 46 days in 1990.  Ouch!