Tuesday, January 31, 2012

January Recap; February Starts Wet

Can you believe we're still in the heart of winter? It certainly was difficult to tell today, with highs climbing into the mid 70°s -- about 15° above-normal for late January.

Our warm close to the month seems fitting since temperatures were generally well above-normal throughout January. Check out some of the details for Baton Rouge below:

While we were warm area-wide during January, rain totals were highly variable. In general terms, it was much wetter north of the I-10/I-12 corridor, while areas south of the interstates were much drier-than-normal.

The forecast for the remainder of the week into the weekend offers some hope for needed rains in those areas that have been dry in recent weeks. We've already seen isolated showers bubbling up in the area today, but more widespread activity should develop late tonight into Wednesday.

It appears as though there is the potential for an axis of locally heavy rains to setup somewhere, but pinpointing the exact location is proving difficult. Ultimately, many of us should see 1"+ of rain over the next 24 hours, with local amounts of 2" to 3" or more possible in heavier storms.

We should get somewhat of a break from the rains on Thursday before more wet weather arrives Friday and Saturday. The extended forecast features a lot of uncertainty at this point, so we'll have to continue to fine-tune the details in the coming days. It does appear as though there could be some weather impacts for area parades this weekend. Stay tuned...

Monday, January 30, 2012

Waterspouts in Snow?!

A pretty cool image has been making the social media rounds amongst the weather community today. The picture below from castanet.net shows a waterspout occuring in snow somewhere in Canada!

Courtesy: www.castanet.net

Remember, a waterspout is simply a tornado over water. Waterspouts are typically fairly weak, but on occasion can pack a bit of a punch. In this case, the surrounding cold environment would likely keep the wind speeds in any waterspouts quite weak.

I wasn't able to find an exact location in Canada where this picture was taken, but a search of castanet.net turned up a couple more pictures of funnels/waterspouts in and around snow. The first picture seems to show 4 separate funnels. These pictures were taken over Okanagan Lake in Canada.

Courtesy: www.castanet.net

Courtesy: www.castanet.net

So, what in the world is causing this?! Well, it's nothing miraculous...it actually has to do with the contrast in temperatures between the relatively 'warmer' lake waters and the cold air above. The story on castanet.net with the above pictures says the lake waters were near freezing at the time of the pics, while the air temps above were actually below zero. That vertical gradient of temperatures creates quite a bit of instability (vertical motion)...and that, combined with some other factors that were just right led to the funnel and waterspout development.

You can read the full story here: http://www.castanet.net/news/West-Kelowna/69920/Waterspouts-visible-for-miles

Rains Returning...

Mild weather is back thanks to a returning southerly flow. Today's highs that reached the mid 60°s for many of us would have likely been closer to 70° if not for the persistent cloud cover.

Temperatures will continue to quickly moderate over the next 24 hours, with lows only reaching the lower 50°s and highs climbing into the mid 70°s on Tuesday. The daylight hours should be mainly dry on Tuesday, but rain chances will increase sharply Tuesday night as a disturbance approaches from the south. Here's a look at how our Titan9 model depicts things shortly after midnight tomorrow:

Periods of rain will likely continue through Wednesday morning into at least a portion of the afternoon. Here's what our Titan 9 model shows 12 hours later at 1 p.m. on Wednesday:

The good news is that severe weather does not appear to be much of a threat with this next system. However, we could see some locally heavy rains. Our Titan9 model is forecasting some pockets of 2" to 3" of rain in the 24-hour period beginning Tuesday night. Those aren't huge numbers, but could result in some rather quick rebounds on area rivers that experienced minor flooding last week.

Thursday and Friday should present somewhat of an opportunity to dry out, although a few isolated showers can't be ruled out during that stretch. Good rain chances are expected to return by Saturday as our next cool front moves in from the west. The weekend forecast is still filled with uncertainty, but it appears as though clouds and even a few showers could linger into Saturday night and Sunday. We'll keep an eye on that over the next couple of days, especially since there are a number of Mardi Gras parades that could be impacted by any adverse weather.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Nice January Weekend Weather!

By Jay Grymes & Steve Caparotta

Friday turned out to be the beauty we anticipated ... and we think you’ll like the weekend weather as well.

A cool front is approaching Louisiana this evening and should pass through the WAFB viewing area on Saturday morning. But as you probably have noticed, the air is very dry (low humidity), and that’s going to keep Saturday morning’s front from being a rain-maker.

Our in-house weather model suggests that Saturday’s front might generate a sprinkle or two as it slides through (see below), but we think all it will do is generate some clouds as it passes to our southeast.

We’ll start Saturday morning with sunrise temps around the mid 40°s for metro Baton Rouge under partly cloudy skies, but as the front heads southeast the skies will clear. Look for plenty of sunshine by Saturday afternoon with highs in the mid 60°s.

Saturday’s front will deliver a reinforcing surge of cool and very dry air. With a forecast for high pressure overhead and clear skies with very light winds to near-calm conditions, we think Sunday morning could be a real chiller, with patches of frost and early morning lows in the mid 30°s for Baton Rouge. In fact, communities to the north and east of BR could get a brief, light freeze to start Sunday. Thankfully, temps will return to the low 60°s for Sunday afternoon under sunny skies. That's good news as the Mystic Krewe of Mutts gets the Mardi Gras season rolling in Baton Rouge.

Fair to partly cloudy skies are expected for Monday and Tuesday along with a modest warm-up, with highs expected to return to the 70°s for just about everyone by Tuesday.

Our extended outlook calls for our next front to arrive on Wednesday. Signals are mixed between models and forecasts as to how “wet” Wednesday’s front will be, but we think that conditions could allow for an active run of weather between the latter half of Wednesday and extend into early Thursday.

And don’t forget: Louisiana Special Olympics’ POLAR PLUNGE at Cabela’s (in Gonzales) on Saturday morning and the unofficial start of the Mardi Gras Parade Season for Baton Rouge with the Krewe of Mutts on Sunday (10am – 4pm) in downtown BR.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Rain Totals, River Stages & A Nice Weekend

Things have settled down quite a bit after a stormy night for many of us. And while the rain and thunder were loud at times, most of us escaped this latest spring-like storm system unscathed. There were isolated reports of street flooding in the usual low spots, but the Flash Flood Watch that was in effect overnight was allowed to expire this morning as rains moved to our east.

Below are 2-day rain totals (Wednesday - Thursday) for the event:

The flooding threat is over for most of us, but last night's rains that measured 3" to 5" in some spots are resulting in rapid rises along a few area rivers. Flood Warnings have been posted for the Comite at Joor Road, the Amite at Denham Springs, and the Tangipahoa at Osyka, MS, Kentwood & Robert. Below are the latest stages and forecasts as of 4 p.m. Most of the river flooding should only have minor impacts.

You can always get the latest river stages and forecasts here: http://www.wafb.com/Global/story.asp?S=1644744

The good news is that we'll have several days to dry out and no added stress will be put on the rivers.

Temps have already cooled this afternoon and we'll get to enjoy cooler, less humid air right on through the weekend. Look for highs generally in the 60°s and lows in the 40°s for the next two days. A reinforcing shot of cool air arriving Saturday will result in many of us waking up to temps in the 30°s Sunday morning. However, a freeze is not anticipated at this point.

The extended outlook features moderating temps next week, with our next chance of showers arriving Wednesday and Thursday.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tornado Watch Until 9 PM

A Tornado Watch has been posted for much of the WAFB viewing area through 9 p.m. tonight.

The latest radar view at 2:35 p.m. shows a nasty squall line moving out of east Texas into western Louisiana. There have recently been reports of possible tornadoes and funnel clouds in Beauregard and Vernon parishes.

The main squall line won't impact most WAFB viewing areas until at least this evening. However, if you look at the image above, note that we're starting to see showers and a few storms well in advance of the main line. We'll be closely monitoring these through the afternoon to see if they intensify and possibly turn severe.

We'll have updates on WAFB as needed this afternoon, and of course much more on 9News at 5 and 6.

Storms Late Today - Thursday AM

We still appear to be on track for the threat of severe weather tonight into Thursday morning, although there could be a few isolated strong storms as soon as late afternoon.

The Storm Prediction Center (SPC) has a Tornado Watch posted until 3 p.m. this afternoon for parts of eastern Texas and most of western Louisiana. The image below shows the Tornado Watch, along with a radar snapshot taken at 11 a.m. CST. Note the squall line (marking the leading edge of a cold front) that has prompted the watch box.

We've yet to see any tornadoes reported along this line, but there have been numerous reports of wind damage in eastern Texas, primarily in the form of downed trees and powerlines. The image below again shows the watch, but note all of the counties in blue in east Texas. Those represent areas under Severe T-Storm Warnings as of 11 a.m.

The squall line should represent our primary threat for severe weather late tonight into the early morning hours of Thursday. However, we'll need to watch out for any storms developing in advance of the main line by mid to late afternoon. If we see some breaks in the clouds, that could be enough to help some t-storm cells develop in south-central and SE Louisiana later today. For any storms that do develop, there would be plenty of shear in place, indicating a threat of damaging winds and isolated tornadoes.

While the current Tornado Watch only extends as far east as Acadiana (Lafayette & surrounding vicinity), the Storm Prediction Center does have most of the WAFB viewing area outlined under a 'slight risk' of severe weather through 6 a.m. Thursday.

The 'slight risk' region shifts eastward on Thursday in anticipation of the eastward movement of the cold front and its associated squall line.

So here's the bottom line:

  • Things should be pretty quiet locally through early afternoon.
  • We'll be watching for isolated storms to potentially develop in advance of the main line by late afternoon. Any that develop could turn severe.
  • The greatest threat of severe weather -- coming primarily in the forms of damaging winds and isolated tornadoes -- will be from late tonight into the early morning hours of Thursday.
  • The severe threat ends from west-to-east pretty quickly on Thursday.
We'll bring you any updates on WAFB as needed through the day. You can also follow us on Twitter -- @WAFBweather or @stevecaparotta to have watches/warnings delivered directly to you. And don't forget to check out our free weather app for iPhone, Android and Blackberry if you haven't already done so.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Aurora Borealis Dazzles in Scandanavia

A solar flare that was spotted erupting from the sun's surface on Sunday is producing some dazzling auroral displays in northern latitudes. Below is a link to Aurora Sky Station -- an observation station in northern Sweden that is posting some amazing images of the aurora:

Aurora Sky Station

More great images here:

Spaceweather.com Aurora Gallery

Severe Storms Possible Late Wed. - Thurs.

A warm front moving northward out of the Gulf of Mexico has produced our expected rains today. Many areas have seen a decent soaking, with .50" to 1" of rainfall, but radar estimates show as much as 2" of rain occurred in portions of St. Mary, St. Martin and Assumption parishes.

While the warm front delivered anticipated rains, it's been a bit slower moving inland than expected, resulting in a somewhat cool day, particularly in areas that have stayed damp this afternoon.  A plot of 4 p.m. temps shows we're only at 54° in Baton Rouge, but a look to the south shows temps in the mid to upper 60°s that will be working inland as the evening progresses.

Since the warm front will be north of all of us by later tonight, muggy conditions will quickly return to the area. The moisture leftover from today's rains, along with the warmer, more humid air arriving from the Gulf will lead to the threat of some fog tonight into Wednesday morning.

Wednesday should start out mainly dry, but scattered showers and t-storms are possible by the afternoon in advance of our next cool front. While we can't rule out an isolated strong storm late in the day, the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) is keeping the more significant severe weather threat just to our west through early Thursday morning.

While the SPC keeps the threat to our west through 6 a.m. Thursday, I think we will see an increasing chance of a few strong to severe storms late Wednesday night into Thursday morning as a cool front approaches. SPC does shift the 'slight risk' area eastward with the front into the day on Thursday.

The primary threat from any strong storms will be damaging winds, but isolated tornadoes can't be ruled out, particularly in any cells that are able to form in advance of the main line.

The severe weather threat will end with the passage of the cool front on Thursday, but a few showers could linger into Friday morning. Cooler temps and clearing skies will arrive just in time for the weekend!

Monday, January 23, 2012

AL Tornadoes & A Look Ahead

For the second time in less than a year, tornadic storms ripped through portions of central Alabama late last night and early this morning. While last night's storms didn't rival the magnitude of the April 27, 2011 tornado outbreak, we do know they've resulted in at least 3 fatalities and over 100 injuries.  Below is a look at all of the storm reports from the last 24 hours and a map showing only the tornado reports...

Storm reports for the 24 hour period beginning at 8 p.m. CST, Sunday, Jan. 22 from the Storm Prediction Center.
Tornado reports for the 24-hour period beginning at 8 p.m. CST, Sunday, Jan. 22 from the Storm Prediction Center.

The National Weather Service office in Birmingham will continue damage surveys on Tuesday, but they have already confirmed EF-3 tornado damage in the community of Clay, Alabama, about 20 miles northeast of Birmingham. Maximum winds with that tornado were estimated to be around 150 mph.

The outbreak has many people asking if this is unusual for January. The simple answer is, yes, it's a bit unusual, but certainly not without precedent. The graphic below shows that we are running well above-average on January tornadoes in the U.S., but there are other years since 1950 that have produced more.

Many in the meteorological community are expressing anger this evening at some national media reports stating the storms "struck without warning" last night. In reality, that couldn't be further from the truth. The Storm Prediction Center (and local meteorologists) were pointing towards the severe weather potential several days in advance. Additionally, a tweet recently sent from a NOAA spokesperson lists the average warning 'lead time' during this event as more than 34 minutes. That means, on average, a tornado warning was issued 34 minutes before a tornado struck a given location. That is a remarkable number!

     "@JustinNOAA: Average warning lead times for recent tornado event was 34.4 minutes"

Now, here's a quick look at our weather for the rest of the week:

TUESDAY: We should start out mainly dry, but showers and t-storms return during the afternoon as a warm front moves inland. While t-storms are possible, the severe weather threat appears to be pretty small (although not zero). A few storms could produce locally heavy rains.

WEDNESDAY: Warm, muggy...just a few showers during the day.

WED. NIGHT/THURSDAY: Showers and t-storms return with a cool front. There are some conflicting signals, but some severe weather appears possible as this next storm system takes a track farther south, closer to the Gulf Coast.

FRIDAY: Clouds linger, a few showers. Skies should clear out late or early on Saturday.

WEEKEND: Sunshine returns...a bit cooler.

Tune in to MyNews at 9 on WBXH (Cox Cable 16 in Baton Rouge) and 9News at 10 on WAFB for a more detailed look at your forecast.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Few Showers & Storms Saturday

By Jay Grymes & Steve Caparotta

You sure could feel the Gulf humidity today and you could see it with the condensation on the streets, sidewalks and even some cars. Yes, there were some quick-passing showers as well, but much of the moisture today was due to the steady southerly winds. In fact, had it not been for the winds, it likely would have felt even muggier through the day! And how about that high of 79° for Metro Airport! It was within a couple of degrees of the record last set 30 years ago.

Clouds remain through the night and into Saturday. The winds will back down a bit tonight and with the lingering low-level moisture, fog will once again develop after midnight. Be ready for some pockets of dense fog by early Saturday morning. And as we saw last night and earlier this morning, a few passing sprinkles can’t be ruled out.

In fact, we’re keeping a 20% to 30% chance of rain -- including a few t-storms -- in the forecast for Saturday morning and afternoon. We’re not concerned about active or widespread severe weather, but one or two t-storms could be on the “strong” side during the day. Here's a look at how our Titan 9 model depicts our Saturday morning wake-up and the afternoon.

We expect highs in the mid 70°s for both Saturday and Sunday.

Be prepared for another round of morning fog on Sunday, but Sunday looks to be a mainly dry day with a sun/cloud mix. With the moist air mass in place, we can’t rule out a shower or two, but the rain chances for Sunday are very low -- so go ahead and make your outdoor plans.

Our latest guidance suggest that Louisiana’s next cool front slides through the state late Sunday night into Monday morning, with scattered showers and t-storms for our area expected early Monday morning, followed by afternoon clearing. While the air behind Monday’s front will be a little cooler, we stay in the mid to upper 60°s for highs on Monday and Tuesday.

Another front looks to arrive in the late Wednesday/early Thursday time frame.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Clouds Remain, Spotty Showers & Even Warmer!

By Jay Grymes & Steve Caparotta

Thursday certainly was not the “prettiest” day weather as clouds blanketed the area throughout the better part of the day. A few folks saw some peaks of sunshine but gray skies were the rule with occasionally gusty winds during the afternoon. A look at 5 p.m. winds shows the pronounced southerly flow that resulted in today's warm-up that will persist into the weekend.

The clouds stay with us tonight and we could see a couple of light showers after midnight and into the morning, but most of us will remain dry. With the southerly flow in place, temps won’t drop much overnight -- many WAFB communities, especially those located from the interstate southward, will remain in the 60°s through the night and into Friday morning.

Friday won’t be much different in terms of the clouds. But it will get warmer, as many neighborhoods will see the thermometer reach the mid 70°s by mid-afternoon. We expect spotty showers during the day and Friday will be a bit windier as well -- mainly south winds in the 10-20 mph range with higher gusts.

We still see Saturday as a “wet” day for many, although we’ve back rain chances down a tad from yesterday. We’re thinking a 30% to 40% chance of rain for your backyard, with the higher end of that range (~40%) posted for BR and points northward and the lower end (~30%) for areas south of the Capital City. But highs will return to the 70°s once again.

And it’s more 70°s for Sunday, under a sun/cloud mix through the day.

Recent rains have taken a minor “bite” out of the prolonged drought for many of our SW Mississippi viewers and some of the communities to the north and NW or Baton Rouge, but we maintain “moderate to severe drought” conditions for just about everyone south of the I-10/12 corridor.

Yes, many of us could still use plenty of rain. The forecast for next week ooks a bit wetter than many of us have seen in recent weeks, so maybe some additional drought relief is right around the corner.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Isolated Severe Storms Possible

An upper-air disturbance moving into Louisiana this morning in advance of a cool front is giving storms to our northwest a bit of a boost. Around 9:30 a.m., the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) indicated it would likely issue a severe weather watch for much of the area outlined below:

Nearly 2 hours later, most of the storms have been held in check and the SPC has yet to issue a watch for any of our viewers. One thing working in our favor so far is generally overcast skies. Clouds are limiting the amount of heating taking place, which is keeping the atmosphere just stable enough to prevent the storms from getting stronger. Here's a look at an 11 a.m. snapshot from our Interactive Radar:

While most of the activity is being kept in check, we will be monitoring those stronger storms you see around Alexandria that will move into portions of the area this afternoon. I still think widespread severe weather is unlikely, but a few isolated strong-to-severe storms, with hail, damaging winds, or even an isolated tornado can't be ruled out.

We'll have more through the day on WAFB...and don't forget to follow us on Twitter - @WAFBweather or @stevecaparotta

Monday, January 16, 2012

Rain on the way...

Wow...despite the clouds, I've certainly enjoyed the warm-up over the last 24-36 hours! After temps in the 20°s Friday & Saturday mornings, and a light freeze Sunday morning, today's low of 50° in Baton Rouge was much easier to stomach. And even with generally cloudy skies today, we've seen temps climb into the low to mid 70°s thanks to a steady southerly flow.

While you may want to keep the rain gear handy on Tuesday, your morning commute should be fairly quiet. Here's a look at what our Titan9 model shows for 7 a.m. on Tuesday:

Patchy fog and a few sprinkles are possible, but the more significant weather will still be well to our north in the morning along a cool front.

Now here's a look at what our Titan9 model shows for 7 p.m. on Tuesday:

We're essentially in agreement with our Titan9 model, looking for little rain in the morning, but rain chances to steadily increase into the afternoon and evening. While the threat of severe weather looks minimal, we can't totally rule it out, particularly if we're able to get any sunshine breaking through the clouds.  The Storm Prediction Center is at least giving a small probability (5%) of severe weather in the area:

Any wet weather should come to an end late Tuesday night, with clearing skies and cooler temps expected for Wednesday. It looks as though a quick-moving system could deliver isolated-to-scattered showers once again from late Friday into Saturday.

Don't forget to check out our Interactive Radar on Tuesday to keep up with the rains. You can also download our free weather app for iPhone, Android, or Blackberry in each respective market.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Good-Looking Weekend!

A Hard Freeze Warning has once again been posted for much of the WAFB viewing area late tonight into Saturday morning. In fact, the National Weather Service (NWS) has extended the warning farther south tonight, into Assumption and St. James parishes.

While the NWS has gone farther south with the warning, I'm not sure that I agree. A hard freeze is defined locally as temps in the mid 20°s for several hours. While I can't rule out a few spots in Assumption & St. James briefly touching the mid 20°s, I think SEVERAL hours in the mid 20°s is unlikely. In fact, I don't even think much of metro Baton Rouge will meet those criteria.

Regardless, the bottom line is that tonight is another where we need to take care of people, pets, and plants in the cold, but pipes should not be a problem.

Saturday morning should be our last freeze for a while as southerly winds return by the afternoon and continue through the remainder of the weekend. Some of our northernmost viewers could flirt with a light freeze Sunday morning, but most of us should start out above 32°.

Overall, once we get past our cold start Saturday, it's shaping up to be a rather nice weekend. We'll keep rain out of the forecast until early next week when our next front approaches.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Hard Freeze = Pipe-Busting Freeze?

The National Weather Service offices in Lake Charles and Slidell have posted a Hard Freeze Warning tonight for much of the WAFB viewing area, generally including those parishes/counties along and north of the I-10/I-12 corridor.

Any time a Hard Freeze Warning is posted, there is inevitably talk of protecting the 4 'Ps' -- people, pets, plants and pipes. While the first 3 'Ps' (people, pets, plants) should be given significant attention tonight, I don't think your pipes will be at much risk in this event.

Let me address a couple of important points. First, while the phrase 'hard freeze' always garners a lot of attention, it really has little scientific meaning. In fact, each National Weather Service (NWS) office in the United States is allowed to use their own criteria to define a hard freeze. In our case, the NWS in Slidell defines a hard freeze as temperatures reaching the mid 20°s or lower for several hours. I'm forecasting a low of 27° for Baton Rouge, so you could argue that it may even be a bit of a stretch for us to meet the definition here in the Capital City. Areas farther north -- along the state line into Mississippi -- are much more likely to at least meet those criteria.

Second, the phrase 'hard freeze' instantly equates with pipe-busting cold for many people. Unfortunately, that's a notion that has really been perpetuated by my peers in the weather business. And it's really a myth. If you watched TV today or checked any local media websites, chances are you were warned to protect your pipes. However, while it's certainly a good idea to have any exposed plumbing protected during the winter months, I just don't think this will be a pipe-buster.

As I mentioned above, I'm forecasting a low of 27° in Baton Rouge. A quick search of the records shows that we've hit a temp of 27° or below 67 times since the start of 2001 (11+ years). That means, on average, we saw temps as cold as we expect Friday morning about 6 times a year during that stretch. Have your pipes frozen 67 times in the last 11 years? Have they even frozen once? Mine sure haven't. We did reach the upper teens in January of 2010 and it seems like I remember hearing a handful of reports of frozen pipes then, but that's about all I can remember.

To be fair, it's not just the actual temperature that determines the degree of a frozen pipe threat. The duration of temps below freezing (below 32°F) also has a lot to do with whether pipes will freeze or not. While some of our northern viewers could see temps at or below freezing for 10-12 hours or more, that's still unlikely to cause widespread problems.

While each home and situation is unique, research done by the Building Research Council at the University of Illinois indicates that the threat of frozen pipes becomes much greater once temps near 20° or below. That's just not in the offing for tonight/Friday morning, even for our northernmost viewers.

Now, let me say this...an hour or so spent around the house at the beginning of each winter can eliminate most of our frozen pipe concerns for a given event. Below is a link from the Red Cross on measures you can take to prevent your pipes from freezing and how to thaw frozen pipes:

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Look Back at 2011's Weather

2011 was a very busy, deadly and costly year from a weather perspective. The feds report that there were at least a dozen U.S. weather/climate events (including the Southern Drought) that generated losses of $1 billion dollars or more -- each! Preliminary estimates from just twelve U.S. weather disasters total more than $50 billion, and by the time all is said and done, nationwide weather-related losses likely will far exceed $60 billion for the year.

And Louisiana was not spared.

Any review of 2011's weather for the Bayou State would be dominated by the "D" word -- drought. The current Southern Drought that has gained so much national attention -- mainly due to impacts across the Southern Plains -- can be traced to its beginnings over northern Louisiana back in 2010, then expanded westward from there and still persists today. Some portion of northern Louisiana has been "in drought" since April 2010 according to the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM), a run of 20 months! During this past summer's peak for the drought across Louisiana, roughly two-thirds of the state was rated as suffering "Exceptional Drought" (the most critical level) by the USDM.

Other Louisiana weather stories for 2011 include a monster year for tornadoes in the Bayou State. The NWS preliminary count for the Pelican State approaches 90 twisters for the year, more than double the average. Interestingly, roughly one-fifth of those struck between April 25-26, just 1-2 days before the deadly super outbreak across central and northern Alabama, and all generated by the same weather set-up.

Ol' Man River reminded us that upstream downpours can become a downstream disaster, even when we are the ones praying for rain! The Mississippi River approached record flows during the spring, producing widespread flooding for those along the river in northeast Louisiana and prompting only the second opening of the Morganza Spillway since its construction. Let's not forget the irony -- floodwaters from the Ohio, Upper Mississippi and Missouri rivers threatened Louisiana while 'she' was deep in drought, a reminder that the Mississippi's flow is all but unaffected by our local weather and climate trends.

When it turns dry, it tends to get warmer than normal. Dry soils usually mean higher temperatures, and the numbers confirm that the 2011 summer was the "hottest on record" across Louisiana. Shreveport reached or exceeded 100ºF on 62 days, smashing that city's previous record. The record heat stressed livestock, shriveled crops and natural vegetation, and drove cooling costs through the roof statewide.

Then came September's Lee, Louisiana's first tropical visitor since 2008's Gustav and Ike. Fortunately, Lee was a modest tropical storm and wind damage was relatively minor. Rain, on the other hand, was a different story, with sections of southeast Louisiana receiving from 10" to 15" over a 5-day period. Normally such heavy rains would produce considerable flooding and certainly there was notable property damage. But drought conditions at the time of Lee's arrival helped reduce the storm's impact, and for many, Lee was more blessing as a temporary "drought buster" than a curse.

In the end, however, it was the lack of rain for most that topped 2011's weather news for Louisiana. Preliminary statewide rainfall for 2011 averaged just 42.9", roughly 14" below the 100-year average, making 2011 one of the ten "driest" years on record for the state.

Yes, that's very dry, but not as dry as it was during 2010!

And here is what may be the #1 developing climate story for Louisiana: 2010 and 2011 are the "driest" back-to-back years on record, and a look at the 100+ year record of annual rainfall (see rainfall timeline below) suggests that we may be in a period of moderately reduced rainfall, especially when compared to the "wet run" of the 1980s and most of the 1990s. Statewide annual rainfall since 1999 has averaged about 55", 10% less than the statewide average during the previous 20 years.

Now don't panic, at least not yet! We aren't anticipating year-after-year repeats of the past two, with annual totals under 45" becoming the rule. But there is some evidence suggesting that not only is Louisiana's "wet run" long over, but that the more recent trend towards a somewhat "drier" climate may be more rule-than-exception, at least for the next several years.

In addition -- and possibly more importantly -- the last two years have reminded us that even for the "wettest state in the Lower 48," rain and surface water are precious resources and must be managed efficiently to meet the state's current and future environmental, agricultural, human and business needs.