Those who prefer “fognado” should consider growing up. It was never a mystery or ominous. That is all.
“Spitty sky thingie!”
Those who prefer “fognado” should consider growing up. It was never a mystery or ominous. That is all.
“Spitty sky thingie!”
Thirty-six hours of lightning in the severe storms over the Eastern US a week ago, captured by the new GOES-16 NOAA satellite, which launched last November. It was known as GOES-R before launch.
Summarizing the satellite’s capabilities:
GOES-R will scan the skies five times faster than today’s GOES spacecraft, with four times greater image resolution and three times the spectral channels. It will provide high-resolution, rapid-refresh satellite imagery as often as every 30 seconds, allowing for a more detailed look at a storm to determine whether it is growing or decaying.
This image demonstrates the vast increase in resolution from GOES-13 (r) to GOES-16 (l). It’s 4572 x 2252 and 7.3MB:
Hey, I can nearly see my house from here in this medium resolution image of the Northeast US taken in January:
That date is something I keep in mind whenever I read the seasonal totals that the National Weather Service releases on the 1st of March each year, this year’s shown below. Temperatures are in F and snowfall totals in inches. As a perfect example of the temporary nature of their winter ‘in review’, I’ll mention that it’s snowing right now, with an expected 3″ tonight. Also, I believe my area has had around a foot more snow than Boston proper, which is what’s covered by this summary. That’s not a boast – it’s a lament.
The day before that 1997 blizzard occurred here, the temperature had reached 64F/18C.
On Saturday night, the people in the Taunton, Mass. NWS office were obviously torn about what would happen tonight, and had a different Massachusetts-related headline on their minds. From the forecast discussion they pushed out:
A local weatherman the other day: “All I can say is, take comfort in the fact that next winter will be nothing like this winter. I will guarantee that.”
This view is after another blizzard dumped 12-20 inches on Eastern New England last Saturday night into Sunday. It was fifteen inches at my house, bringing the three-week total to a number too enervating to type, utter, or contemplate.
The second image shows the snow-covered northeastern states as observed on Feb. 16, 2015, by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. Cloud streets over the Atlantic Ocean in both images hint at the potent winds blowing across the East Coast from the Canadian interior. Following the blizzard, temperatures dropped as low as -30 degrees Fahrenheit (-34° Celsius) in parts of New England.
The next storm is on the schedule and it’s to be another blizzard Saturday night. Old Probabilities is saying it may bring the twenty-day total snowfall at my house to…oh, I don’t know exactly, but somewhere around seven-and-a-half to eight feet – well more than an average year’s snowfall in just under three weeks. I’ll do some errands in the afternoon, return home, don my sheepskin slippers, turn down the lights, open the blinds, look out at the snow as I cook something piping hot and comforting for dinner, and feel a little better about winter now that my Multi-Fire XD electric fireplace is in its permanent home as of last night. It’s quite relaxing, indeed all the way to soothing.
A friend was going to help assemble the flat-packed Windham media console but his kid was sick, so I put the 140-pound behemoth together on my own. The instructions were perfectly clear, but the weight and size of the pieces made the job awkward for one and the somanabatch took two-and-a-half hours to build.
I selected the Windham because, like my old media console, it has a raised glass platform for the telly that allows me to have the set perched on a turntable – the rectangular piece under the four legs at the top – so I can easily rotate the TV 75 degrees counterclockwise to watch while I work in the kitchen that’s off to the right, and have my soundbar – the 40″ wide black bar underneath the glass – in a position where it won’t get knocked off when I swing the set around.
I imagine a multi-watch/warning/advisory map like this morning’s is akin to foreplay for professional weather people. All of the items on the right are in effect for various parts of the state and shoreline; the colours on the map side reflect only the most important warnings for each area.
URGENT – WINTER WEATHER MESSAGE
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE TAUNTON MA
1057 PM EST FRI FEB 13 2015
…WINTER STORM WILL BRING BLIZZARD CONDITIONS TO EASTERN MASSACHUSETTS THIS WEEKEND AND HEAVY SNOW FARTHER INLAND…
CENTRAL MIDDLESEX MA-WESTERN NORFOLK MA-NORTHERN BRISTOL MA-WESTERN PLYMOUTH MA-SOUTHERN BRISTOL MA-SOUTHERN PLYMOUTH MA-DUKES MA-
INCLUDING THE CITIES OF…FRAMINGHAM…LOWELL…FOXBORO…NORWOOD…TAUNTON…
BROCKTON…FALL RIVER…NEW BEDFORD…MATTAPOISETT…VINEYARD HAVEN
1057 PM EST FRI FEB 13 2015
…BLIZZARD WARNING NOW IN EFFECT FROM 7 PM SATURDAY TO 1 PM EST SUNDAY…
* LOCATIONS…EASTERN MASSACHUSETTS INCLUDING MARTHAS VINEYARD.
* HAZARD TYPES…BLIZZARD CONDITIONS…INCLUDING HEAVY SNOW…POOR VISIBILITIES…AND STRONG TO DAMAGING WINDS.
* SNOW ACCUMULATIONS…8 TO 10 INCHES. SNOW DRIFTS UP TO A FEW FEET CAN ALSO BE EXPECTED.
* TIMING…SATURDAY EVENING INTO SUNDAY.
* IMPACTS…TRAVEL WILL BECOME NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE AND POTENTIALLY LIFE THREATENING DUE TO WHITEOUT CONDITIONS AND BITTERLY COLD WIND CHILLS….ESPECIALLY ALONG AND INSIDE ROUTE 128. CONDITIONS WILL REMAIN DANGEROUS FOR TRAVEL WELL INTO SUNDAY DUE TO BLOWING AND DRIFTING SNOW…REDUCED VISIBILITY AND DANGEROUSLY COLD WIND CHILLS.
* WINDS…NORTH 20 TO 30 MPH WITH GUSTS UP TO 60 MPH.
* VISIBILITIES…ONE QUARTER MILE OR LESS AT TIMES.
* TEMPERATURES…AROUND 20.
A BLIZZARD WARNING IS ISSUED WHEN SUSTAINED WINDS OR FREQUENT GUSTS OVER 35 MPH ARE EXPECTED WITH CONSIDERABLE FALLING AND/OR BLOWING AND DRIFTING SNOW. TRAVEL MUST BE COMPLETED BY LATE SATURDAY AFTERNOON. THOSE VENTURING OUTDOORS MAY BECOME LOST OR DISORIENTED. STAY INDOORS.
A friend was supposed to visit Monday and Tuesday this week, but those plans were cancelled due to the weather, which reminded me that Mark Twain had a similar problem a while back – March 1888 to be precise. Olivia, his wife, was to have joined him for a week in New York City, but it was not to be. From his letter to her dated 10 March 1888:
And so, after all my labor and persuasion to get you to at last promise to take a week’s holiday and go off with me on a lark, this is what Providence has gone and done about it. It does seem to me the oddest thing – the way Providence manages. A mere simple request to you to stay at home would have been entirely sufficient; but no, that is not big enough, picturesque enough – a blizzard’s the idea; pour down all the snow in stock, turn loose all the winds, bring a whole continent to a stand-still: that is Providence’s idea of the correct way to trump a person’s trick. If I had known it was going to make all this trouble and cost all these millions, I never would have said anything about your going. Now in the light of this revelation of the methods of Providence, consider Noah’s flood – I wish I knew the real reason for playing that cataclysm on the public: likely enough, somebody who liked dry weather wanted to take a walk. That is probably the whole thing – and nothing more to it.
The blizzard he refers to was the Great Blizzard of 1888, which paralysed the Northeast US, sank or grounded 200 ships, blanketed the countryside with 20-60 inches of snow, and killed 400 people – 200 of them in New York City. The supremely annoying “Weather predictions must be perfect! You made me stay off the roads and I didn’t have to! What about my Taco Bell dinner! Call 9-1-1! Waaaa!” people in that area would be well-advised to stick that in their collective pipe and smoke it. Those ubiquitous “Me, me, me! Outrage, outrage, outrage!” chowderheads regretfully now fully enabled by antisocial media remind me of the Italian government trying to jail earthquake scientists a few years ago. I’m happy to report that their manslaughter convictions were finally overturned last November.
The GOES-EAST satellite – GOES-13 at the moment – captured the genesis and follow-through of this week’s blizzard in exquisite detail:
GOES-13, known as GOES-N before launch, was built by Boeing Satellite Systems [PDF of GOES-N databook] and contains several other instruments in addition to its imager:
It’s about the size and weight of a large SUV:
The operational infrastructure behind – or perhaps I should say underneath – the satellite is rather breathtaking. Presented in both org chart and geographic styles here:
And now for the other Twain bookend. I’ve read dozens of his speeches, but his talk on New England weather is my favourite. His part begins several paragraphs into this article, at the subhead SPEECH OF MR. SAMUEL L. CLEMENS.
From The New York Times, 23 December 1876
NEW-ENGLANDERS AT DINNER.
THE ANNUAL FESTIVAL OF THE NEW-ENGLAND SOCIETY – SPEECHES BY HON. GEORGE WILLIAM CURTIS, ‘MARK TWAIN,’ REV. EDWARD EVERETT HALE, REV. DR. JOHN COTTON SMITH, REV. DR. TAYLOR, AND OTHERS – INTERESTING LETTER FROM GEN. SHERMAN.
The New England Society’s annual dinner at Delmonico’s last night was one of the most brilliant celebrations of the kind that has ever been held in this City. The preparations were made with great thoroughness, and the addresses by the respondents to the several toasts were full of earnestness, good feeling, good sense, and good wit. The dining-hall was filled with seven tables, the President’s table overlooking six others arranged opposite to it at right angles. Above the head of the President was suspended against the wall the banner of the New England Society, flanked by silken national ensigns, and on the opposite side of the hall, before the orchestra balcony, was a national shield also draped with United States flags. the tables were elegantly and tastefully decorated with baskets and set pieces of flowers. Before the President was a design, in flowers of delicate hues, representing Plymouth Rock, and there were many viands in the feast that recalled to genuine New Englanders the plain and beauty fare of the land of steady habits. The guests entered the dining room just before 7 o’clock, and at that hour Rev. Dr. John Cotton Smith, at the invitation of President Borden, said grace. Among those present were Rev. Edward Everett Hale, ex-Gov. Edwin D. Morgan, Hon. George William Curtis, Rev. John Cotton Smith, Rev. Richard S. Storrs, Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain,) Mayor Wickham, Joseph H. Choate, Rev. Dr. William M. Taylor, Hon. Elliot C. Cowdin, Hon. Salem H. Wales, Commodore J. W. A. Nicholson, G. B. Loring, Hon. Isaac H. Bailey, Dexter A. Hawkins, Prof. Bartholdt, (sculptor of the colossal Statue of Liberty), District Attorney Benjamin K. Phelps, Prof. F. B. Sanborn of Dartmouth College, representatives of St. George’s, St. Andrew’s and St. Patrick’s Societies, Assistant District Attorneys Bell, Russell and Rollins, Parke Godwin, Clark Bell, Police Commissioners, Wheeler and Erbardt, and Prof. W. E. Chandler, the whole company numbering more than two hundred. More than two hours were spent at dinner, when, at 9:30 o’clock, Rev. Mr. Courtenay gave thanks. President Borden then rose, and having called the company to order, he announced that Gen. William T. Sherman had written a letter of regret, saying that in the present condition of affairs at Washington he was unable to leave that city, and William M. Evarts was also detained in Washington and was unable to attend, and that letters of regret had been received from ex-Speaker James G. Blaine, Gov. Tilden, Gov. Chamberlain, of South Carolina, Robert C. Winthrop, and Gen. John C. Newton.
Hon. George William Curtis was called upon to respond to the toast of “Forefathers’ Day.” He was received with prolonged applause, and by many of the company rising to their feet with waving handkerchiefs and loud cheers. His remarks were frequently interrupted by hearty expressions of approval, and his allusion to Abraham Lincoln as the development of the seed sown here two centuries ago by the coming of the Mayflower, was followed by vehement applause. His suggestions for the conduct of the Senate and the House of Representatives in the settlement of the political difficulties threatening the nation roused is hearers to the highest pitch of excitement, and evoked unanimous and prolonged applause.
As Mr. Curtis sat down, he was greeted with the heartiest cheers, which subsided only to be renewed with greater vigor. Cheers followed the announcement of the sentiment, “The President of the United States.” In reply to the “City of New York,” Mayor Wickham humorously arraigned a large number of City officers for alleged shortcomings, charging them with being New Englanders, and succeeding in finding so many against whom the charges were applicable, and indicated them so plainly, as to cause unbounded merriment.
Rev. Edward Everett Hale, in responding to the toast, “New England Culture,” made an address in which wit and wisdom were happily blended. Commodore Nicholson responded to the toast, “The Army and Navy.” Mark Twain provoked a storm of laughter by his rambling talk about “New England Weather.” Rev. John Cotton Smith commanded the fullest attention of the company by his response to the toast set down for him. Responses were made by Rev. Dr. William M. Taylor, Prof. Sanborn, and others.
The proceedings were begun by the President, Mr. William Borden, who said:
Gentlemen, will you give your reverent attention for a moment while I call upon Rev. Mr. Courtenay to return thanks?
Rev. Mr. Courtenay responding to the suggestion of the Chairman, offered prayer as follows:
“Most merciful God, and Father, in whom we live and move and have our being; Thou who can satisfy the desire of every living thing, we render Thee our thanks for the satisfaction of our bodily appetites, and pray Thee that what we shall now hear may be for the satisfaction of the higher appetite of our intellects and our reason for the sake of Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
SPEECH OF MR. SAMUEL L. CLEMENS.
The Oldest Inhabitant – The Weather –
Who hath lost and doth forget it?
Who hath it still and doth regret it?
“Interpose betwixt us Twain.”
– Merchant of Venice
“I reverently believe that the Maker who made us all, makes everything in New England – but the weather. I don’t know who makes that, but I think it must be raw apprentices in the Weather Clerk’s factory, who experiment and learn how in New England, for board and clothes, and then are promoted to make weather for countries that require a good article, and will take their custom elsewhere if they don’t get it. [Laughter.] There is a sumptuous variety about the New England weather that compels the stranger’s admiration – and regret. The weather is always doing something there; always attending strictly to business; always getting up new designs and trying them on the people to see how they will go. [Laughter.] But it gets through more business in spring than in any other season. In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of four and twenty hours. [Laughter.] It was I that made the fame and fortune of that man that had that marvelous collection of weather on exhibition at the Centennial that so astounded the foreigners. He was going to travel all over the world and get specimens from all the climes. I said, “Don’t you do it; you come to New England on a favorable spring day.” I told him what we could do, in the way of style, variety, and quantity. [Laughter.] Well, he came, and he made his collection in four days. As to variety – why, he confessed that he got hundreds of kinds of weather that he had never heard of before. And as to quantity – well, after he had picked out and discarded all that was blemished in any way, he not only had weather enough, but weather to spare; weather to hire out; weather to sell; to deposit; weather to invest; weather to give to the poor. [Laughter.] The people of New England are by nature patient and forbearing; but there are some things which they will not stand. Every year they kill a lot of poets for writing about “Beautiful Spring.” [Laughter.] These are generally casual visitors, who bring their notions of spring from somewhere else, and cannot, of course, know how the natives feel about spring. And so, the first thing they know, the opportunity to inquire how they feel has permanently gone by. [Laughter.]
Old Probabilities* has a mighty reputation for accurate prophecy, and thoroughly well deserves it. You take up the papers and observe how crisply and confidently he checks off what today’s weather is going to be on the Pacific, down South, in the Middle States, in the Wisconsin region; see him sail along in the joy and pride of his power till he gets to New England, and then – see his tail drop. He doesn’t know what the weather is going to be like in New England. He can’t any more tell than he can tell how many Presidents of the United States there’s going to be next year. [Applause.] Well, he mulls over it, and by and by he gets out something about like this: Probable nor’-east to sou’-west winds, varying to the southard and westard and eastard and points between; high and low barometer, swapping around from place to place; probable areas of rain, snow, hail, and drought, succeeded or preceded by earthquakes, with thunder and lightning. [Loud laughter and applause.] Then he jots down this postscript from his wandering mind, to cover accidents: “But it is possible that the program may be wholly changed in the meantime.” [Loud laughter.]
Yes, one of the brightest gems in the New England weather is the dazzling uncertainty of it. There is only one thing certain about it, you are certain there is going to be plenty of weather. [Laughter.] A perfect grand review; but you never can tell which end of the procession is going to move first. You fix up for the drought; you leave your umbrella in the house and sally out with your sprinkling pot, and ten to one you get drowned. [Applause.] You make up your mind that the earthquake is due; you stand from under, and take hold of something to steady yourself, and the first thing you know, you get struck by lightning. [Laughter.] These are great disappointments. But they can’t be helped. [Laughter.] The lightning there is peculiar; it is so convincing when it strikes a thing, it doesn’t leave enough of that thing behind for you to tell whether – well, you’d think it was something valuable, and a Congressman had been there. [Loud laughter and applause.]
And the thunder. When the thunder commences to merely tune up, and scrape, and saw, and key up the instruments for the performance, strangers say, “Why, what awful thunder you have here!” But when the baton is raised and the real concert begins, you’ll find that stranger down in the cellar, with his head in the ash barrel. [Laughter.]
Now, as to the size of the weather in New England – lengthways, I mean. It is utterly disproportioned to the size of that little country. [Laughter.] Half the time, when it is packed as full as it can stick, you will see that New England weather sticking out beyond the edges and projecting around hundreds and hundreds of miles over the neighboring states. [Laughter.] She can’t hold a tenth part of her weather. You can see cracks all about, where she has strained herself trying to do it. [Laughter.]
I could speak volumes about the inhuman perversity of the New England weather, but I will give but a single specimen. I like to hear rain on a tin roof, so I covered part of my roof with tin, with an eye to that luxury. Well, sir, do you think it ever rains on the tin? No, sir; skips it every time. [Laughter.]
Mind, in this speech I have been trying merely to do honor to the New England weather; no language could do it justice. [Laughter.] But, after all, there are at least one of two things about that weather (or, if you please, effects produced by it) which we residents would not like to part with. [Applause.] If we hadn’t our bewitching autumn foliage, we should still have to credit the weather with one feature which compensates for all its bullying vagaries – the ice storm – when a leafless tree is clothed with ice from the bottom to the top – ice that is as bright and clear as crystal; when every bough and twig is strung with ice beads, frozen dewdrops, and the whole tree sparkles, cold and white, like the Shah of Persia’s diamond plume. [Applause.] Then the wind waves the branches, and the sun comes out and turns all those myriads of beads and drops to prisms, that glow and burn and flash with all manner of colored fires, which change and change again, with inconceivable rapidity, from blue to red, from red to green, and green to gold; the tree becomes a spraying fountain, a very explosion of dazzling jewels; and it stands there the acme, the climax, the supremest possibility in art or nature, of bewildering, intoxicating, intolerable magnificence! One cannot make the words too strong. [Long continued applause.]
Month after month I lay up my hate and grudge against the New England weather; but when the ice storm comes at last, I say: “There, I forgive you, now; the books are square between us; you don’t owe me a cent; go, and sin no more; your little faults and foibles count for nothing; you are the most enchanting weather in the world!”
THE OTHER TOASTS.
The other toasts of the evening were “The Clergy of New England,” responded to by Rev. John Cotton Smith; “Lafayette – who gave us himself and liberty; and Bartholdi – who gives us Liberty and Lafayette.” No. Response. “The Agricultural and Manufacturing Interests of New England,” Dr. George B. Loring, and “Our Sister Societies,” responded to by the Presidents of the Irish, Scotch, and English societies.
The proceedings terminated shortly after midnight.
*At the time of Twain’s speech, Old Probabilities was the widely-used nickname of Cleveland Abbe, first scientist of the American Weather Bureau, predecessor to the National Weather Service.
I believe this is the deepest snow I’ve seen since the Northeast US Blizzard of 1978, and thoroughly deserving of some tightly-focused verbal energy from Malcolm Tucker, I think.
By 7:30 this morning, the total seemed quite sufficient, thank you very much:
But, I’m right in the middle of the worst band of the – cue trumpets – Blizzard of 2015, so at 2:30 in the afternoon, still the snow comes down at a good clip. That big lump is my car, which is normally not much taller than the shovel.
There may be yet another several inches of snow in store.
It’s possible the sky is broken.
Snowfall in the north-east of the US has subsided, forecasters say, but there are now warnings of flooding as the snow melts.
When I saw this BBC News headline and opening graf just now, I made a Scooby-Doo “Hmmm?” sound and went to the window to see if my mind was going or indeed that there has been no snow that’s stuck here yet.
First of all, it’s usually referred to as the Northeast US without either the “ern” or the hyphen. That’s just a minor quibble. However, the overseas over-generalisation often featured in the news on both sides of the Atlantic is more severe than usual in this case, so someone should at least mention it, and offer the perspective that ought to be provided by…oh, I don’t know, let’s say journalists. I’m volunteering.
The counties in bright green in the centre of the map below are the only places that have flood warnings right now. The blue are just high wind warnings. The light green counties have special weather statements from the National Weather Service in effect, with most of those for expected light rain that might freeze on roads in some places.
For comparison, those green counties around Buffalo, the quite narrow actual focus of that BBC News article, have an area perhaps 50% larger than metropolitan London, as demonstrated here, but with several million fewer people than metro London.
The current snow depth map shows why those counties may have some flooding as the weather warms:
Finally, for the wider and long-term perspective, here are the areas in the US and Canada that get lake effect snow – every year, and frequently.
Last weekend, a powerful thunderstorm whipping through caused me to exit the town I was visiting at an enhanced pace, because the winds were gusting up to about sixty miles an hour and seriously rocking my car as I began to eat the fried chicken I’d just bought – at the only decent independent fried chicken place in forty miles, I’ll mention here, not a KFC. I wanted to move on primarily because there were several large trees surrounding my car, which I prefer in its current unflattened shape.
I high-tailed it out of there and drove closer to home to continue my meal. The storm ended up coming through the car park I paused at, with the same alarmingly high winds, close lightning every few seconds, and a torrential downpour that dropped visibility to about a hundred fifty feet, all of which reminded me strongly of the sort of pop-up thunderstorm often seen in Atlanta on summer afternoons. When you’re on the highway there and that happens, everyone immediately slows to about 20 mph and puts their emergency flashers on.
This storm generated tornado warnings for five Massachusetts counties, including the one I was in, due to a distinctive hook-shaped radar signature that formed on its southern edge, but no funnel formed that day. That warning was cancelled by the time I got to the fried chicken place, but a severe thunderstorm warning remained in effect. You might think, “Come now, how likely is a tornado in Massachusetts?”, but we’ve had many warnings this summer and three actual touchdowns, more than average for a season:
The Revere tornado touched down for about a quarter-mile and caused millions in damage, but probably short of the US$9.1m threshold before federal aid can kick in.
After the worst of the storm passed through and continued toward where I live, I flipped my phone sideways in its pillar mount and turned the camera on in case it might catch something interesting, which it did. When I saw this particular lightning strike, the best of several I caught on the 15-minute video, I thought, “Say, that looks pretty close to my house.” Sure enough, it was: Power was out when I got home and remained off for three hours whilst National Grid repaired whatever got hit.
Here’s the history of tornadoes in Massachusetts since 1950, from the Tornado History Project. The digit is the Fujita scale number for each. The red 4 in the middle represents the worst one that’s occurred here, the Worcester tornado of 9 June 1953, which killed 93 people and injured 1,228.
This bus had people in it when the Worcester tornado picked it up and slammed it against a building. Two people on the bus died.
Here’s a still frame from last week’s video (click for original HD size):
I enhanced this frame to show the multiple leaders as it sought the path of least resistance: