Are you ready for "Swarmageddon 2013??
In case you haven't heard, the Magicicada brood II--the 17-year cicadas located in eastern North America--is due to emerge this spring/summer. For many, it's an annoyance of an event characterized by a sea of insects on lawns, in trees, and in the air, and by the choir of chirping that can be heard nearly 24/7. (At 7 kHz, this chirping, which is a mating call of the Magicicada, is one of the loudest sounds known to be produced by insects).
Here's where weather and climate ties in to their appearance: the cicada nymphs will emerge from the ground when the soil at 8" down holds steady at a temperature of 64°F (17.8°C) or higher. Soil readings in my area just rose above that mark as of last week, so something tells me I may be seeing orange and black in the very near future. Have you seen (or heard) any cicadas in your area? Share your sightings and cicada stories in the comments below.
Also, be sure to check out the National Public Radio (NPR) Radiolab Cicada Tracker where you can track and report cicada sightings along the Eastern U.S. If it's strictly soil temps you're after, visit the NOAA NCDC Climate Reference Network observations page.
Image credit: USDA Agricultural Research Service
Unsettled weather patterns over the past two weeks have led to several recent tornado outbreaks: 23 tornadoes in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Alabama (May 15-17), including an EF4 in Granbury, TX; and 49 confirmed tornadoes across the Midwest and lower Plains regions (May 18-22), including the Newcastle/Moore, OK tornado. But prior to May, tornado activity was so quiet, the U.S. was said to be experiencing a "tornado drought." Between May 2012 - April 2013, only 197 EF1 or stronger tornadoes occurred--an all-time record minimum for any 12-month period dating back to the 1950s. The combined death toll from these storms was also at a record low--seven.
Even states like Iowa, which is normally a poster child for tornadoes, managed to pass by the most active part of tornado season unscathed. On May 19, 2013, the first tornado touched down in the state (near Slater, IA) since May 24 of last year! This 359-day streak without a tornado was the longest tornado-free period in Iowa state history. The cool spring and the ongoing Midwest drought played a large part in the reduced storminess. (Thunderstorms need heat and moisture to form.)
Yesterday afternoon around 3pm Central, a violent tornado touched down near Newcastle, OK, about 20 miles south of Oklahoma City. The massive, mile-wide tornado traveled northeast for nearly 20 miles and remained on the ground for approximately 40 minutes. Included in its path were two schools--Plaza Towers and Briarwood Elementary--as well as the city's hospital, Moore Medical Center, all of which were destroyed.
Damage survey teams are currently conducting surveys of the Newcastle, Moore, and south Oklahoma City areas. As of this afternoon, their findings confirm the tornado's rating as a strong EF5 (200+ mph (322+ km/h) winds). In fact, scientists estimate that the amount of energy released during the storm's life span was several times that of the power of the Hiroshima bomb.
It's looking more and more likely that Monday's tornado may make weather history as the third deadliest tornado in the Oklahoma City area, and possibly one of the top 5 most damaging tornadoes in U.S. history. The last time a tornado of this magnitude tore through the Moore community was on May 3, 1999. That storm, which also rated an EF5, caused 36 fatalities. The current death toll stands at 24.
For the latest updates on the Newcastle/Moore tornado and the ongoing May 18-21, 2013 tornado outbreak, follow this link to the NWS Norman, Oklahoma WFO page.
At the start of the week, temperatures across Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa soared into the triple digits. For many cities, including Omaha, NE (which hit 101°F) and Minneapolis, MN (which hit 98°F), it was the earliest in the year they've ever experienced such high temperatures. The hottest temperature of all--108°F--occurred in Tekamah, NE, with Sioux City, IA coming in a close second at 106°F.
Not even 2 weeks ago, many of these same cities were 50-70°F colder and blanketed by 1-12+ inches of snow, thanks to a very rare May winter storm. The May 1-3 snowstorm set all-time snow records for the month of May, including for the cities of:
- Rochester, MN--it received 7" of snow (previous record 2" on May 4-5, 1944);
- Sioux Falls, SD--it received 1.5" of snow (previous record 0.1" on May 1, 1967) ;
- Omaha, NE--it received 3.1" of snow (previous record 2" on May 9, 1945);
- and Osage, IA--it received 13" of snow. This is also the most snowfall to occur anywhere in the state of Iowa during the month of May.
Topeka, KS, Kansas City, MO, and Des Moines, IA received 1 inch, 2.5 inches, and 6.9 inches of snowfall, respectively. Only once before (May 3, 1907) have these three cities experienced a May snowstorm. (That storm's snow totals were 3.2" at Topeka, 1.7" at Kansas City, and 1.2" at Des Moines.)
Back-to-back extreme and opposing events like these have led to the phrase "weather whiplash" being tossed around in recent weather news, but what exactly does it mean?
The official start of hurricane season in the Eastern Pacific was yesterday, May 15, and the basin's tropical weather is arriving right on cue. The season's first tropical depression spun up yesterday morning several hundred miles southwest of Acapulco, Mexico and by early afternoon was named Alvin, the season's very first tropical storm.
However, it looks unlikely that Alvin will go on to become the EPac's first hurricane. Vertical wind shear has already begun to weaken the storm and will continue to affect it during the next 3-5 days.
No watches or warnings are currently in effect, as Alvin is tracking west-northwestward out to sea.
Our nation's weather radar just got "tricked out."
At the end of April, the NOAA National Weather Service completed a major software and hardware upgrade to its 122 weather radar sites. The upgrade, which cost approx. $50 million USD ($225,000 per radar site) to complete, enhanced the current fleet of WSR-88Ds from their conventional Doppler technology to that of dual-polarization ("dual-pol").
So, what's the difference? Unlike conventional Doppler radar which works by sending and receiving signals in the horizontal, dual-pol radar sends and receives both horizontal and vertical pulses of energy--in essence giving meteorologists a 2-dimensional picture of whatever is in the air. Another advantage of dual-pol radar is that it makes it possible to identify real precipitation from birds, bugs, and other non-weather related airborne objects. It can also specify the type of precipitation (rain, snow, hail, etc.) that's occurring.
Ultimately, this technology means timlier and more accurate forecasts for the public. For example, with the use of dual-pol images, forecasters will be able to do things like tell what locations may be experiencing all snow in comparison to those seeing a wintry mix, and detect/identify flying debris from tornadoes (and therefore the presence of a tornado) without first having to confirm it through spotter accounts.
To learn more about dual-pol technology and this recently completed project, read through this list of FAQs put together by the NOAA.
Every spring, thousands of K-12 students across the nation compete in an annual science, technology, engineering, and mathematics competition known as the Science Olympiad. After competing at the regional then state levels, the highest ranking teams for each event come together to compete in the National Science Olympiad Tournament. This year's tourney will take place next weekend, May 17-18, at the Wright State University campus in Dayton, Ohio.
Science Olympiad & Meteorology: Those in grades 6-9 (Division B) can compete in the meteorology event. Usually administered as a written test, the event challenges student teams on weather-related topics which change from year to year. (This year's event topic was Everyday Weather; next year's proposed topic is Severe Storms.)
Is your school a Science Olympiad participant? Share your rank or favorite event in the comments below. And thanks to all who competed and volunteered in this year's competition!
As a result of the estimated $50 billion in damages and 150 casualties associated with October 2012's Hurricane Sandy, the storm's namesake has been permanently retired from the list of Atlantic hurricane names. Sandy, which was the most destructive cyclone of the 2012 Atlantic season, will be replaced by "Sara."
Sandy is the 77th name and the second storm beginning with an "S" to be retired since the current practice of naming hurricanes began. It was the only name retired for 2012. Another of last season's storms, Hurricane Isaac, was considered for retirement; however the hurricane committee elected not to remove it, likely due to its disorganization and modest Category 1 intensity. Still, Isaac caused extensive flooding in the Caribbean, Florida, and Louisiana, which led to over 30 deaths and over $2 billion in damages.
The Atlantic hurricane seasons begins June 1.
The NOAA National Hurricane Center is due to release its predictions for the 2013 hurricane season around mid-May.
Teachers, are you searching for ways to include climate science in your state and local curricula? If so, you might like to check out the latest online activity book published this spring by the NOAA National Ocean Service (NOS). The online book is comprised of ten activities that demonstrate basic principles of climate in easy-to-understand projects and games for kids. (Topics include the sun's role as Earth's primary source of energy, climate and its variation due to both natural and man-made processes, and understanding that climate change has consequences for human and animal lives, to name a few.)
Individual activities as well as the full activity book are available for free download at http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/discoverclimate. (The latest version of Adobe Reader may be required.)
For additional resources on ocean and climate literacy, what this is, and how to teach it to your students, read through the following educational guides provided by the NOAA NOS.
Students - Got an upcoming spring science fair project? Check back for new project ideas and resources to help you win first place. Also... what happens during hurricane off-season? And how are storms like tornadoes assessed?