The NWS said that snow will fall Sunday night, turn to a wintry mix by Monday afternoon and continue that way until Tuesday. Forsyth, Guilford, Alamance, Davidson, and Randolph counties have been placed under a Winter Storm Watch by the NWS. If you must travel, The NWS advised motorists to keep an extra flashlight, food, water, and a blanket in their vehicle in case of an emergency.
Of course, in the mean time, with some of the significant severe weather, here is the official NESIS snow map showing the February 8-9 blizzard that struck the northeast with a very large widespread area of 1-2 feet of snow, with isolated areas from the coast of Maine through Connecticut picking up over 30 inches of snow, with up to 40 inches of snow reported in southern Connecticut. Also, here’s a few satellite animations of the storm system, where you can witness its evolution from two distinct shortwaves in the subtropical and the polar jet, to the phasing that began to occur in the mid-atlantic, to one very powerful mid-latitude cyclone off of the New England coast.
Also, here’s the Contiguous US 500-1000 mb thickness at the time of this storm, and this map I also made from the Plymouth State website, where you can see the main low pressure feature just sitting to the south of the New England coastline, with a notable extension of the trough axis to the northwest which is due to the fact that a shortwave disturbance was in the vicinity over the northern Great Lakes, and was a good reason as to why this storm system cam north as opposed to moving out to sea. Although it would appear as if the positioning of the central US high farther to the west with even some influence into the four corners region in 1969 may have made all of the difference as to why the axis of snow was farther to the west in the Lindsay storm, closer to NYC, west-central massachusetts, and into New Hampshire and more into west central Maine as opposed to the New England coastline where the heaviest axis of snow was centered.
Going back to tornadoes, here are so amazing videos of the Hattiesburg Tornado, the strongest tornado thus far this season, as it happened. Here’s a really interesting 3D radar image of the Hattiesburg storm showing how tall the thunderstorm was at over 50,000 feet, with the areas in green and red showing objects coming to an and away from the radar.
For a perspective on the tornado season thus far, here is the latest graph from the SPC showing the tornado count for the year with 102 tornadoes as of February 13th, making this the 2nd most active tornado season since 2005, only trailing 2008. Tornado count map from NOAA since 2005, and you can see we are currently 2nd most active on record, and you can also pick out some of the greater tornado outbreaks over the last several years, including the amazing late April outbreak in 2011. Here are the severe weather reports thus far this year for the US showing not only tornadoes but hail and wind damage as well showing the expansive coverage of the severe weather thus far this year.
Also, you should take notice that in recent years, with the flip to the cold PDO, the # of tornadoes has been on the increase overall with warm ENSO years like 2002, 2006 and 2009-10 seeing less tornadoes. For comparison, you can clearly see what the influence of the ENSO on the overall state of the PDO does to the tornado count. 2008, a la nina year, notice how not only is their a higher concentration of tornadoes, but also, they are more focused over certain areas. Notice unlike 2008, 2010, a warm ENSO year featured significantly less tornadoes, also more spread out in nature over the US, but interestingly, many more tornadoes noted over the western and southwestern US. A few interesting graphics here, the first one showing the average # of tornado watches issued by county over the US in a given year, shows that Dixie Alley and the southern Plains are typically hardest hit, with lesser amounts elsewhere. Of course, the average # of severe thunderstorm watches per year over the US reveals more of a classic pattern with the worst of the action towards traditional tornado alley areas, with lesser amounts towards the mountains of the Rockies and Appalachians, and notable increases near the US east coast.
Ever wondered when you see damage photos from a tornado why some areas in its direct path are completely destroyed, while some areas seem relatively “untouched”? Here is a tornado diagram to help you to better understand what I’m talking about, and this was developed by Dr. Of course, you can see this process going in on also in the Joplin tornado case you haven’t seen it, and if you have never seen explosive tornado development before, you will be absolutely amazed at how fast this tornado goes from a simple rope tornado to a giant wedge within just a few minutes!!
Now, when you think about what ingredients it takes to get tornadoes, I think many of you already know the basics, we need a strong gradient, or difference in temperature over a relatively short distance, which helps to create differences in pressure, and differences in pressure and temperature create wind, and since there is naturally less friction of air molecules higher up in the atmosphere, winds tend to be generally higher, also large temperature gradients also found higher up in the atmosphere above the surface and add to the temperature and pressure gradient, which amplifies the available wind energy, thus you tend to get differences in wind with height. Many of you probably already know and understand the ingredients and the dynamics that go into tornadoes and severe weather, here are a few diagrams to help you either refresh you memory or even assure of some of the processes involved. A great example of why I get concerned when I see heavy snows over the northern US late in the season and even into spring, one only has to look back to 2011 to see how this is the case. Look at the temperature map for the start of April 2011, and notice how predominantly warm it was over much of the US, in exception for the Pacific northwest and areas west of the Rockies. However, as I mentioned above, as the jet stream is naturally weakening in the spring overall and retreating north, random perturbations can occur, and this certainly did happen as a low pressure area ejected out of the Rockies and dropped large amounts of snow over the upper midwest in mid April. As you know, snow reflects solar radiation, thus only further cooling the surrounding air and enhancing the differences in temperature and pressure over the US, thus a severe weather outbreak unfolded over the southern US, eventually leading to the one of the greatest tornado outbreaks in NC history on April 16, 2011. The deadly outbreak of tornadoes began in Oklahoma and other areas of the southern plains, which originated from a cut-off region of low pressure which moved out of the central Rockies containing cold air aloft, among many other necessary ingredients for significant tornado formation.


Of course by the 16th of April the area of low pressure moved northeastward to the Carolinas, leading to a very impressive and deadly tornado outbreak, one that holds personal experience for me, as I came extremely up close and personal with the Raleigh-Sanford tornado, and it was an experience like no other, something storm chasers dream of, of course I was just proud to make it out alive through that storm. The 500 millibar pattern at the time of this storm over the US shows what the pattern was like during this event, with the classic negatively titled trough orientated from NW to SE, and of course a few other notable features that could be of future reference for any potential outbreaks in the future is the vortex of low pressure near the Baffin Bay and the trough of low pressure digging into the northwestern US with a relatively flat west to east flow in the wake of the trough in mid-April. Here is the evolution of radar during this time, courtesy of analysis done by the National Weather Service, and you can see how this starts out as a simple line of thunderstorms, however with increased instability lapse rates, plenty of moisture in front of the thunderstorms, and wind shear, you can clearly note the evolution of the severe thunderstorms to discrete supercells producing numerous tornadoes. A total of 30 tornadoes were produced over NC during this outbreak, and the one that will haunt me for the rest of my life remains the EF-3 Sanford-Raleigh tornado, and most of the fatalities you see in Wake County NC occurred in the mobile home park less than a half a mile from my location, I consider myself very lucky.
Interestingly, the other very large and comparable tornado outbreak to April 16, 2011 was in late March of 1984, and of course if you don’t think enhanced snow cover does not have very significant influence on tornadoes, it is not more than just mere coincidence that ¬†the northern hemisphere snowfall during this time, especially over the US was above normal, with lingering snow evident over the northern US towards the Canadian border. Infrared satellite loop of the storm system that produced the significant tornado outbreak in North Carolina in 1984. Here is Rutgers snow Lab official northern hemisphere snowfall coverage for March 20-26 1984, showing lingering snow cover over the northern US, which may have played a role in the intense tornado outbreak that occurred in the same time period, only significantly surpassed by the April 16 2011 outbreak. Here is an animation of the month of April 2011, which will remain a very memorable and very historic month in terms of the # of tornadoes, and the number of lives that were touched by the devastating tornadoes. Then, later in the month, one of the greatest tornado outbreaks in history occurred, of course the severe weather never really let up in the days preceding the outbreak, with significant severe weather each day. When you look at the conditions at hand leading up to this deadly month of tornadoes, one of the most important things of note is the significantly above normal snow pack in the northern hemisphere during that spring, and as explained earlier in this post, increased snow coverage during the late winter and into spring plays a role in increasing the potential for tornadoes. The northern hemisphere snow cover anomaly on April 25, 2011 in the days before the major tornado outbreak in late April reveals, once again, that above normal late season and spring snow plays a role in increased tornado production. Also of note is the very sudden SOI crash at the beginning of April 2011, due to a very large Kelvin Wave over the equatorial Pacific, and with such a crash in the SOI (Southern Oscillation Index), this forces a sudden crash in pressure anomalies over the tropics and subtropics over the eastern Pacific and into the Atlantic, which enhanced the subtropical jet stream, and along with the difference in temperature and pressure enhanced by the above normal snow pack over the US and the northern hemisphere, this favored intensification of mid-latittude cyclones, which in the spring, can lead to increased severe weather and tornado outbreaks. Of course, the oscillation that plays a large role in the SOI, the MJO, being the only other thing besides Kelvin Waves that moves against the natural east-west movement of weather in the tropics put in place by the Coriolis Effect, obviously would have large influence on the SOI, and when one looks at the MJO, there is something a little concerning. Of course, should we really be surprised by the increase in tornado activity, because even though AGWers claim that warmer=more tornadoes, actual data contradicts this, especially that of strong tornadoes (which is a better comparison to that of all tornadoes, because weaker tornadoes without the advent of satellite technology, more trained weather spotters and enthusiasts, among other things, the modern total tornado count is somewhat inflated.) which more prominent back in the 1970s, when the climate was COLDER, not warmer, with strong correlation to the PDO. For those of you that think this winter is still a bust take a look at the entire picture and see that the northern hemisphere snowfall extent was once again very high for January being 6th highest since 1967 and way ahead of last year. Here’s what it looks like over the northern hemisphere as far as actual snow cover goes. Here is the official NESIS snow map for 2010’s snowmageddon, which was actually comprised of 2 separate significant back-to-back winter storms that struck the mid-Atlantic in February 2010. Snowmaggedon in 2010 was actually comprised of 2 significant winter storms that struck the northeast within only a few days of each other.
February 9-11 snowfall accumulation, notably slightly farther to the north than on the 6-8th, but some of the exact same areas of Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and other areas of the mid-atlantic were hit yet  again with more snowfall after a major winter storm only a few days earlier.
Here’s a radar animation during the Feb 6-8 snowstorm over the mid-atlantic, courtesy of WSI.
From Plymouth State University, here is a few satellite presentations and patterns of the event so you can see the evolution of the storm and the pattern involved. Here is the Feb 6-8th 2010 satellite animation showing the 1st major storm system departing from the mid-atlantic, but the next potentially significant winter storm is lurking over the south-central Rockies and is beginning to show up on satellite imagery towards the end of this loop over the southern plains. The satellite for Feb 10-12, showing the final storm system with snowmaggedon leaving the northeast, and in its wake, colder air being left behind, and a feature in the upward MJO enhanced subtropical branch of the jet stream over the southern US which would lead to a major winter storm in that region.
The 1000-500mb thickness with overlaid pressures over North America at the time of the first system that struck the mid-atlantic reveals that this pattern is significantly different than that of the upcoming pattern, especially in the fact that instead of a region of blocking high pressure over Quebec and Ontario, there’s a gyre of low pressure, and the placement and shape of the ridge over the western US is farther east and much more sharp north-south in nature. However, the 2nd winter storm that struck the mid-atlantic towards February 9-11th is much closer to the current pattern, although still not the precise set-up or ideal analog. In that following March and April, a more classic el nino signature pattern took over with a dominant subtropical jet with stormy and wet conditions over the south, to comparably warmer conditions over the northern US, however, considering this year has been relatively neutral as far as ENSO goes, and the fact that the northern US, not just to the south, but also the northern US should be cooler this year based off of more profound analogs like 1960, 1956, and 1996, among others, this spring probably will not follow this pattern for March and April, which was also below resulted in a below average tornado season, which is probably not where this upcoming season is going. Here are the March and April US temperature anomalies, although this year should be significantly different than this, with much less warmth for areas farther north. Compare this to the recent 500 millibar pattern and you will note there are probably a few interesting similarities, especially towards the end of this loop, where you can see just how similar this pattern gets to the Feb-May pattern in 2010, where the ridging towards Greenland expands and intensifies, with the very persistent trough over the north Atlantic getting enhanced due to the intensifying ridge from Scandinavia to eastern Canada.


Also of note is the trough over the Gulf of Alaska becoming enhanced due to the +PNA signature that begins to intensify thanks to the declining 30 day sunspot cycles, and is just another reason why I am scratching my head at the long range PNA forecasts for it to tank negative, when the 30 day sunspot cycles, which shows a very clear inverse correlation to the PNA, remain predominantly low, as they have been for quite some time, and this fits quite nicely with the PNA beginning to become significantly more positive as the month of February progressed.
ECMWF ensembles PNA forecast, although a little more sensible than the operational ECMWF, still strange given that the 30 day sunspot cycles remain low. The 30 day sunspot cycles, as mentioned in previous posts and above, has a very interesting inverse correlation to the PNA, and why should anyone be surprised by the PNA’s positive spike with the 30 day sunspot cycles in the tank since late January? Of course the decline of the 30 day sunspot cycles also correlates nicely with the flip of winter from generally warm and a lack of snow over many areas to a much colder and stormier pattern that began around the 20th of January and continued right on into February.
During the first half of winter, with the 30 day sunspot cycles relatively high in comparison to what is being observed lately, it really is not too surprising that the 1st half of winter featured much warmer than normal conditions across the US, especially across the eastern US, but towards the west, where higher levels of sunspots usually induce a -PNA, it is no wonder as to why the overall pattern supported cold & stormy conditions over the western US, at least for the first half of winter. Of course, within the 1st half of winter, there was relatively a two week period spanning from just before Christmas and into the first week of January where conditions were colder than normal over the US, and this can be attributed to the -SOI crash from the Kelvin Wave that occurred in the 2nd week of December, which forced troughiness east of Hawaii, not to mention, the MJO actually became slightly favorable for once during the winter, and the PNA went positive, with ridging towards western North America, which was in response to the troughiness underneath over the eastern Pacific created by the Kelvin Wave.
Then, after this period of cold, of course many began to scream that winter was over and spring was coming, lol, of course the period of warmth over the US in the heart of winter also correlated nicely with the uptick in the 30 day sunspot cycles, then the as the sunspot cycles began to drop again, the cold, not surprisingly returned as well. Now, look at February, much colder as a whole over the US, with some warmer than average temps towards the Gulf coast, where the warm AMO induced Gulf of Mexico exerted its influence and over the northern Rockies, where down sloping winds may have played a part in the slightly warmer temperatures there.
Of course the colder than normal February temperatures and a cold start to March is a nice reprieve from the observed warm start to winter in December and January for much of the eastern US, with below normal temperatures, especially over the inter-mountain west and the south-central Rockies, where it is actually warmer than normal for the moment.
To go along with the cold, snowfall increased as well, with the Chicago snow-hole filling in and significantly more snow in cities like Boston and New York, which is somewhat comparable to 1969, which also featured a relatively warm and slow start to the snow season that turned around into a snowy February for many in the northeast, although the same could not be said for areas farther to the south towards Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington DC, but their turn at the snow is coming. Also, now as we are into March and the late winter pattern over the US and in the northern hemisphere is beginning to reveal itself, we can begin to look and get an idea of what this upcoming tornado season will be like. Also noted is the +PNA signature with the trough over the Bearing Sea and ridging over the NE Pacific extending into western North America, and the trough into the four-corners region of the US. You can see how this division area between these two areas where the greatest rotation is located tilts towards the surface and is tilted towards the east with height due to the wind shear above the surface helping to create the tornado in the first place with the strong difference in wind speed and direction with height. For one thing, the MJO has been relatively free to move about in the global tropics, and is moving about through the entire global tropics in a much more predictable manner, due in part to the neutral ENSO, allowing the MJO to be more predictable on its natural 30-60 day variation through the global tropics.
However, the things this pattern has in common is the slightly +PNA signature with troughing centered just west of the Gulf of Alaska with ridging over western North America, although the placement, strength and shape of the ridge is certainly far from ideal, as there were other factors that helped to play a part in making this winter storm so significant for the mid-atlantic. However, the significant trough over north-central Asia is exactly the opposite of the Feb-May pattern, and considering in a general sense that this pattern was not very productive in severe weather, it shouldn’t be surprising that we have seen a recent lull in the amount of severe weather.
Also, there was a significant lull in the 30 day sunspot cycle, and it should come as no surprise that temperatures as a whole over the US fell in response. This pattern is actually not too terribly different from what will be coming next week, although this pattern was much more progressive, and the upward MJO is also evident with relatively low pressures throughout the Caribbean at the bottom of this picture.
Also necessary for adequate tornado formation is changes in wind direction with height, which is typically found in intensifying mid-latitude cyclones, especially upon encountering the Gulf of Mexico. When you look at the MJO and where it may be headed in the future, there’s obviously some reason to be concerned in relation to the tornado season, because in a few weeks, we should begin to see the MJO propagate eastward through the tropical Pacific, in doing so, will leave behind in its downward phase, a trail of relatively higher than normal pressures, which will help to trigger a kelvin wave, and with a kelvin wave in place this forces the SOI to crash negative, where the pressures are lower than normal at Tahiti in relation to the above normal pressures at Darwin, Australia. As this rolling column of air near the surface is tilted up into the vertical by thunderstorm updrafts, and more easily kept in tact by changes in wind direction with height, this also forces the rolling column of air to become vertically titled, and as this process continues, eventually, the rotating column of air is able to reach the ground and form a tornado.
Such a crash in the SOI as shown above, also occurred before the historic tornado month of April 2011, and if it were to happen again, combined with the above normal snowfall in the northern hemisphere thus far, being easily in the top 5 for the Dec-Jan period, there’s reason to believe that this tornado season could follow suit if the MJO were to propagate towards the Atlantic as April approaches, as indicated by the ECMWF. Also of note is the trough over the Bearing Sea and the ridge over the western US and Canada is much more in line with the current pattern, although not exactly the same, and even this set-up is able to capture the developing trough over the four corners region, which is also being noted in the medium to longer range model guidance and overall pattern. Despite the increasing solar radiation, with snow on the ground, this reflects 85-90% of solar radiation, and thus with water having 1000x the energy capacity of the warmer air around it, it takes significant amounts of energy out of the atmosphere to melt the surface snow, and thus with energy over the snow pack being lowered in comparison to areas farther to the south where it is significantly warmer, this can create great discrepancies in temperature and pressure, which in many cases can only be balanced out by severe weather or tornadoes.



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