Cyclone Road


Sunday, January 29, 2006

I’m disappointed that Scott's report from Kansas has met with derision and disbelief on Stormtrack. Scott is a chaser who has earned the benefit of the doubt. If Stormtrack was a chaser’s website, in fact, he would have it. It is not, and so he doesn’t.

My suggestion for chasers looking for an alternative online forum is, a relatively new site but one that has survived those tough first several months and seems to be gaining strength. This site has a real chaser's vibe to it and Darin Brunin and Dick McGowan do a nice job running the show. The forum has an emphasis on digital photography, too, which gives it a unique style. Check it out.

My friend Scott Currens observed a possible tornado near Waterville, Kansas yesterday. This could be the first recorded January tornado in Kansas history, depending on if Scott's came before the Newton "landspout" (per media descriptions) or after.

Scott reported that because of an early start to his workday today (Sunday), he wasn't able to provide full details after his chase. Hopefully we'll learn more about this surprising storm today. Congrats, Scott.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

When Good Models Go Bad

Supposedly a change in the NAM physics have contributed to its poor recent performance. I haven't noticed this (and have no examples) because I haven't paid close attention in the last few months. Everyone saw that the model changed the character and strength of today's upper level system on last night's 0z run from what it had shown previously, and some mentioned that the GFS had a better handle on things. Today's results, however, indicate that maybe both models were out to lunch on various aspects. I checked last night's NAM analysis against the charts and the main trough was a little further west and too deep from what I could tell, but the general evolution of the feature seems to have been well forecast, a digging wave growing more negative tilt through time. Instabilities were poorly anticipated, mainly relating to surface heating.

I don't scrutinize these model outputs as closely as I used to. This is more laziness than virtue, but I have a rationalization: I think it's counterproductive and can create false bias when the real data is on the breakfast table Day 1. I have mentioned this tendency in another post, I know. In the past I wanted to make the Day 1 observed data fit preconceptions I brought from beaucoup model runs over the prior 72 hours and in the course of doing so wishcast this or that ingredient. I'm getting better about that.

But....I'm spending more time examining ensemble data for the day 2 through 4 forecast problem. So maybe what I'm doing is replacing one kind of time-waster with another. :-) What ensembles prevent is the instinct to "mesoanalyze" model output because having a dozen ensemble members represented on the same graphic is a constant reminder that each is an approximation of the atmosphere (not the other way around!) and that no one run should be taken more seriously than the others, and none of them are real. With the operational models---the single solutions we've all used for years---there is a definite inclination to say, 'this is the solution' without conceptualizing that data in a relative framework. I don't know much about ensemble forecasting, but here are some useful links:

Ensemble Forecasting Explained

CDC's Use of Ensembles

Now I need an immunity to the other chaser disease: wasting time analyzing data on an obvious non-chase day. For instance, why in the hell do I have six Firefox tabs open right now? Reading from the left to right: a visible satellite image of North Texas from COD, a surface plot of Texas from UCAR, this blog entry page, NWS radar page from FTW, and Stormtrack's Index page. In the last several hours I've glanced at ten or more panels from SPC mesoanalysis page, various profilers, SREF outputs, and so on. All while knowing that there was zero chance I would chase. I don't even have my shoes on! My gear is piled in a corner of the office where it's been all winter. Some new clamps aren't even out of the box. My only preparation today was wondering if the battery in my Canon Rebel had sufficient charge in the event of an "emergency." Like if one of these mushy Cb towers over Denton County right now suddenly shapeshifted into a killer supercell in defiance of all laws of thermodynamics and physics.

Checking the 2031z vissat image, I think we can sound the all-clear for Denton, and maybe I can go do something productive now.

Friday, January 27, 2006

I read my friend Shane's blog post this morning and realized that I wasn't clear about my mini-forecast yesterday. That was actually concerning storm potential for today (Friday) in west-central Texas, as opposed to Saturday. With everyone's attention focused on the 28th, I should have made that point more clearly.

I've just started to glance at Saturday, but don't plan to chase at the moment.

EDIT: This is as quick and dirty an ETA scan as you'll see, but my largest concern for tomorrow's setup is instability. If we're looking for a low-topped supercell event, then I recognize that we need a little CAPE down low and good lapse rates, but I wonder about the former in an environment where rain starts tonight and keeps going through the morning. The generation of a cold pool and cold outflow, along with the impediment to continued moisture return posed by the rain shield, makes the potential for even the barest amount of low level instability too marginal for a January chase, in my opinion. Get the sun angle more favorable (sometime other than winter) and I'm a die-hard believer in the southern plains' ability to reheat and moisten rapidly. In January, it's harder to buy.

What interests me about the setup is the cold air aloft and the resultant lapse rates as a potential aid in thunderstorm growth. As SPC cites in the SWODY2, an intrusion of dry air could allow for full insolation in a limited region of SE Kansas, and that might overcome the heating problems I mention above. I tend to put more faith in that sort of reasoning when it's May. But it could happen.

If I lived anywhere from DDC to ICT (or even TUL), I'd keep an eye on the surface plot. From down here in Texas, I can't justify the time or money.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

This morning’s NAM and GFS both advertise a weak disturbance moving into southwest and west-central Texas tomorrow between 18z and 0z.  With convection developing on the nose of the 850 thermal axis, the help aloft supports a small chance for the first mode around ABI to be an marginally-organized turkey tower that SJT will warn for as a way to kick off 2006.  LOL.  The ETA shows an environment with ~500 j/kg SBCAPE and modest low level turning (3k SRH ~160) with low bases in spreads of something like 68/50.  If those kinds of Tds reach the area by 21z, then the instability forecasts might verify.  Right now they seem a little overdone to me.


If an isolated storm forms, it won’t last long with SR midlevel winds ~10 knots and a tall, thin CAPE profile.  A storm wouldn’t know whether to rain on itself (if CAPE better than advertised and no precip transport) or get ripped apart (if CAPE weak and shear stronger).  As it is the shear vectors are fairly unidirectional even with the veering w/height.  Whatever happens, within two hours a giant rain shield will begin marching across central Texas like War of the Worlds for our second shot of much-needed rain.


But if I lived down there and a storm fired across the street, I would go outside and smile at it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Note: Testing email post functionality.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

This morning I discovered a fine essay by Dr. Doswell regarding the role of climatology in forecasting. I wish I had read it before I posted a few days ago, only because Dr. Doswell states with more efficiency and eloquence what I was attempting to convey. The angle is slightly different, however, in that his essay involves climatology and short-term forecasting using observed weather and my discussion centered on using climo in an analysis of short-term model data.

Doswell writes:
"So does climatology have any role to play in forecasting? Absolutely. For one thing, if it seems that the meteorology is suggesting one thing and the climatology is suggesting something else, this adds to the uncertainty. If probabilistic forecasting were an option, forecasters could express their uncertainty without having to make that agonizingly difficult yes-no categorical decision. Climatology is what it is for a reason ... presumably, it's unusual for all the ingredients for some event to be brought together in that space-time volume. Since our understanding of the atmospheric processes associated with that event is never perfect, we can use the climatology to alter our perception of the likelihood of an event."

If I borrow Doswell's last idea here and modify it to say that our understanding of (or confidence in) model solutions for unlikely events from 24 to 48 hours is MUCH less than perfect, then the use of climatology to "alter our perception of the likelihood of an event" is even more appropriate.

Doswell, Charles A. "Probability, Climatology, and Forecasting." Chuck Doswell's Home Page. 14 August 2003. Dr. Charles A. Doswell III. 22 January 2005

Saturday, January 21, 2006

During our rain event tomorrow I'll mount the camcorder on my covered porch and shoot a live report from my front yard. This will be a fine test of the various video editing components on the new laptop (which reminds me I haven't actually installed editing software yet). I might even grow bold and wrap the VX2100 in a rain jacket I bought last year and never used. I'll carry it around and shoot video of liquid precipitation striking various objects like my mailbox or confused animals.

Eric Nguyen, Rob Hall, Rob's wife Leslie and I ate dinner last night in Euless at a great little pizzeria called Savviano's. On 183 eastbound, we passed under an electronic billboard operated by the highway department which advised travelers that an "ARSON/BURN BAN" was in effect for all of North Texas. This has to be great news for arsonists everywhere since it implies that eventually (maybe after tomorrow's 1/4 inch of rain?) the state will allow the full expression of their talents. This billboard reminded me of a picture one stormchaser posted of a welcome sign at a state entry point which advertised Texas as the "PROUND HOME OF PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH." I'm not making that up.

The chase season countdown clock on my front page is under 100 days as of early this morning. This marks the time remaining until the Storm Prediction Center (in Norman, Oklahoma, as NWR often reminds us) issues their 13z Day 1 convective outlook for May 1, 2006. A few years ago I decided this was a fine arbitrary moment to designate as the start of my personal chase season. Now before all the cranky northeast Oklahoma chasers race for their blogs to attack my brazen and unilateral decision-making, let me say that, yes indeed, it is I alone who decide when chase season starts for everybody, from Gene Moore down in San Antonio to the frostiest, snow-bound chaser in Winnipeg. I make these decisions without consultation and I do it from right here in Denton, Texas. This is my right and privilige as an elitst chaser snob. Now, start typing!

While they're busy doing that, I'm dissapointed to report that I'll miss the first week of my own designated chase season. The spring semester at UNT ends a full week later than it did in Indiana, and my writing students won't turn in their portfolios until Monday May 8th. Until about the 10th, my chasing will be limited to one-day events in the immediate area. That's the price for having the following six weeks to roam as far as my wallet will take me. No complaints. (until I miss a big event).

Okay, now I have to go finish this goddamn chapter.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Tonight marks the end of the winter holiday break for university-types. I worked in the real world long enough to appreciate this obscene amount of vacation time, but I don't apologize for it. If you don't like how much vacation I get, too bad. There's plenty of university or community college gigs. Knock yourself out.

Still, I always have huge plans for this period (tenure-track academics [not me yet] are under relentless pressure to write and refine publishable work during holidays and summer) and rarely reach all my goals. This break, I did little prep work for chasing, focusing instead on another revision of Remedy Wheel and cleaning the house. I picked up a few odds and ends and installed some apps on the HP notebook, but nothing compared to Verne Carlson, who is outfitting a chase vehicle, or Tony Laubach's purchase of a whole new ride.

Failing to stay prepared for chasing is always a mistake in the southern plains. I've been around long enough to know that but I don't' seem to much care this year. If a storm system demands our sudden attention anytime soon, I'll either improvise or hope that Eric or another one of my chase pals is further along than I am. By March I'll be ready.

Either way, a toast to the final moments of Winter Break 2005-6. We hardly knew ye.

Friday, January 13, 2006

School starts Tuesday and I'm teaching three sections of Intermediate Creative Writing, a real stroke of good fortune for someone who crash-landed back in Denton with two cats, a fundamentally flawed novel manuscript, and few ideas about what comes next. I'm glad to be relieved of Freshman Composition, at least temporarily. That's a course they should consider as a substitute for electric shock treatment or scream therapy. When I walk into my classrooms Tuesday, I'll face three groups of nineteen students--too many for a real writing workshop to be sure--but I can't say much about that because a few of them are likely already reading this blog. Writers dig, and if there are any writers among that crowd, they have Googled my name, found this website and blog, and are either amused or horrified that a supposed fiction writer spends so much of his free time worrying about what this or that cloud might do in May. I agree with them. It's a bad sign.

In the meantime, they better get a grip on their opinion of me, because 3140 is not 3100 (Beginning Creative Writing) and I'm not going to pass out A's like animal crackers or tolerate Kerouacesque stream-of-consciousness manuscripts with Red Bull stains and incomprehensible dialog because it was written in the twenty-five minutes between rolling out of bed and running out the door with their earbuds dangling around their ass. I believe in craft and I don't buy the suffocate-my-creativity bullshit. Before Jimi Hendrix re-invented the electric guitar, he learned to play it. It's easier to feign an intention to subvert the form if mastery of it comes at too high a price.

I also believe that if you pay for someone to talk about writing fiction, he should damn well have opinions about it, and I do. My students won't like them all. I don't penalize them for that, but I do intend to share. The fiction teachers I've worked with in the past fall into two camps: instructors (in the true sense of the word) and mediators. The first group held strong beliefs about writing and storytelling, and I remember those opinions whether I agreed with them or not. The latter gang only held the gavel during workshops of student material where the students did all the talking. Occasionally the teacher interjected some mundane cliche then returned to deep hypnosis, eyes closed and mouth open like a sleepwalker. They woke up again when it was time to leave. They left no impression other than their strong aversion to offending anyone or demonstrating preferences, aesthetic or otherwise. I will almost certainly offend many of my students. Writers who can't handle opinions they don't share are doomed.

A good writer uses disagreeable notions as effectively as those which confirm her ideas. A young storyteller should identify what she is not with as much vigor as she tries to "find her voice," because there are many stories to tell and little time. If someone finishes a semester with me and says, "I thought everything you said was complete bullshit," I've done a good job. That student has those ideas out of her way and a more tangible conception of herself as a writer; now she can get on with the business of her stories.

Monday, January 09, 2006

A Little Economics

I saw a story on Fox News moments ago that I can't pass up without comment. The report heralded today's DOW average exceeding 11,000 and discussed the reasons why and prospects for the future. The Business Correspondent cited two factors to explain the upsurge: declining oil prices and suggestions from the fed that it may finally stop raising interest rates. Then an analyst appeared and when prompted by the anchor suggested that early January trends are a good indicator for the year and that people "see that the stock market is a good place to put their money."

Let's start with the last part first. It's no surprise that this analyst suggests now is the time to dive into the stock market. Despite the most ancient investment edicts against buying high or selling low, everyone associated with the stock market and the analysis thereof wants you to invest in the stock market. Fox News, as the primary media outlet for the right-wing, has added interest in this as part of the corporate agenda. The right-wing will always find schemes to funnel money into corporate coffers, like the privatization of Social Security and massive tax relief ("corporate welfare"), begun and championed forever by Republicans. But that's just politics. Moving money around within the American system is fun to argue about, but it's not nearly as serious as money LEAVING the economy. More on that in a moment.

The Fox story accurately suggested the causes for the market uptick: oil prices and interest rates. But if you look at the long-term prospects for these indices, there's ample reason for skepticism and it starts with a single word: China.

The Chinese economy is coming ashore like Hurricane Andrew. The rate of growth is staggering, outpacing any economic expansion seen since the industrial revolution. The fuel for that growth is oil, oil to run their power plants, move their automobiles and trucks, and operate their massive factories where they are taking over the production of billions of tons of material. The American economy is also expanding, though a little differently, but the net result is that the demand for oil in the global marketplace will continue to skyrocket. You don't have to have a degree in economics to understand that a rapid increase in demand will drive up the price. No shit, Sherlock. Fox didn't mention that. Aren't you surprised?

Next: interest rates. The Chinese government announced last week that it planned to diversify its holdings in foreign currency. Now if you are the sort of person that takes time away from your outrage about gay marriage and the War on Christmas to understand exactly how the US manages such runaway deficit spending, you know that we buy money from the Chinese and Japanese. We pay out the ass for it. We're like a loser credit card bum forced to pay 21% because we never wipe out the balance. Well, the Chinese are slowly coming to the conclusion that American credit is topping out. They won't STOP selling us money for a high price, but they're not going to sell us as much. We'll have to go elsewhere, and that means we'll pay more for it. The Chinese decision to wean us off their money supply is like a crack dealer who sees that his victim is nearing death, and since a dead addict isn't worth as much, the dealer slows down the sales, or raises his price.

Because George Bush has never once (not a single time) vetoed a spending bill, we’ll have to buy even MORE money from the next lender because the interest payments on our debt will increase. What does all this mean? It means that the Federal Reserve is not only going to raise interest rates over the long-term, they'll have to raise them a LOT. Until we have a government that demonstrates some modicum of fiscal sanity (Republican, Democrat or Libertarian), the long-term prospect for interest rates is OBVIOUS. Fox News didn't mention that either.

In my eyes, the DOW cruising past 11,000 is a mirage. Ten thousand small investors ran to their computers today and plunged into GM (a story about which ran immediately following the DOW report, predictably) or some other huge blue-chipper. The old saying goes that when your shoe shine boy gives you stock tips, sell immediately. The American economy is expanding, but mainly in service industries and consumer-ish ways. We have a knack for stunning innovations that can fuel us along---the capability seems ingrained in the American character---but our manufacturing base is being auctioned to overseas bidders and the US government is on one hell of a bender, buying bottle after bottle on the credit we've built over one hundred years of economic power. Tax and spend is now borrow and spend, or, in other words, tax your grandkids. We should leave time capsules with notes that say: "SUCKERS!" Hey, we're outta here, right?

Celebrate DOW 11,000 if you want. I'm not forecasting a Great Depression by any means. But the underlying factors point to higher oil prices and interest rates in the near term and long term, and the implication for US markets is clear.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The rain on the GFS is gone; the longwave trough still appears but with moisture shunted to the east of the I-35 corridor prior to the arrival of lift. It will never rain again.

I add new chaser blogs to the list every day as you can see. I believe that before May nearly every chaser will use a blog and I can't link them all. At some point I'll pare down to those which update regularly or have other interesting features. Most blogs fall into disrepair, as this one has on several occasions (though it always returns as the lengthy archive demonstrates), because blogs are a fun novelty which become a chore unless the owner posts items from other interests in his or her life. All this is to say I realized the impossibility of having five hundred blog links.

Ten days of vacation remain before the spring semester. I've started the final revision of Remedy Wheel and have built some momentum that must carry into the school year, and I've done a lot of reading, both literary and meteorological. On a friend's recommendation, I picked up Robert Penn Warren's All The King's Men, a classic American political novel based on the infamous Huey P. Long of Louisiana. I'm nearly finished and will post a word or two when I'm done. On the other front (pun intended), I've revisited Tim Marshall's standard, Stormtalk, (a beautifully designed and assembled book, I noticed again last week), as the terms and processes described make more sense to me every year that I study severe storms. I believe Stormtalk is out of print, but I'm sure a copy would shake loose for the right price (not from me, but perhaps others). Tim Marshall himself may have copies though the volume isn't listed in his shop. [Stormtalk was updated to TornadoTalk in 1998, I believe, and that book is available for sale on the website.]

I make a habit of reading meteorology over the winter as a break from my normal fare and because I have a lot to learn coming from an amateur background. I'll read anything: tornado books written for popular audiences to W&F papers on the thermodynamics of RFD. My favorite chase-related reading are old chase reports, however. There's nothing more valuable to the forecaster and field tactician than experience, both from pattern recognition and the knowledge of how to evaluate the various "ingredients" based on that particular day's situation. There's also great value in reading about how chasers analyzed a certain type of storm in the field and how that influences their interception strategy. Reading forecasts and chase reports is like a simulator, where you can both evaluate the situation yourself and simultaneously note the process of the chaser writing the report. I always recommend the CD with all past PAPER Stormtrack issues from 1977 to 2002. This is back when Stormtrack printed detailed and mostly comprehensive reports from chasers who were not scrambling to sell their video or post their images before anybody else. Because they had time to reflect and write thorough reports, there's a mother lode of information for the chaser willing to roll up his sleeves and read.

This isn't fogeyism. Nobody, myself included, takes the time anymore to write chase reports like they did during that period.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

This morning's 12z operational GFS shows rain across North Texas and Central Oklahoma at 180 hours associated with a shortwave traversing the region around mid-afternoon. Of course, the southern plains are dry as a bone and I think we can rule out severe convection, but the 50F dewpoints progged for the region would be a godsend if only for the precip.

As the solution stands currently, thunder is possible. 500 mb temps between -15C and -18C with surface readings in the low 70's should foster enough midlevel instability for isolated showers and weak thunderstorms. There enough deep layer shear to suggest rotating storms aren't out of the question, but again that depends on the actual delivery of moisture, and the track record for this region is legendary in the last six weeks. This isn't a chase forecast; it's a wishcast for rain. Wouldn't it be ironic if we saw moisture-starved and elevated storms with enough lightning to start more fires than their meager rainfall would inhibit?

Of course at 180 hours any model is capable of backtracking entirely on the next run and disavowing all knowledge of the previous solution. But this is the first sign of rain in weeks and we need it badly.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Okay, how about a blanket update to the previous post. First, it now appears all but a few of the blogs listed in the left column of this page *ARE* generating feeds. Many do not have buttons posted, and many are for whatever reason invisible to But when you add "atom.xml" to the blog main page URLs, the feed file appears. It seems as if Blogger is now defaulting to the generation of a feed file, which makes sense. For those trying to compile feeds, try adding that to a URL if you're having trouble finding the feed link.

Monday, January 02, 2006

I discovered a scheduling conflict will keep me from TESSA this year. That's disappointing because I was looking forward to the tribute dinner to long-time chaser David Hoadley. The rest of the program I could take or leave; TESSA always gets mixed reviews as a format that advertises to chasers but delivers content for spotters. There's speculation in fact that some talks could influence spotters to think even worse of chasers than many of them do already. I don't know if that's the case or not. It doesn't really matter to me because I'll be in Austin, Texas attending the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference.

AWP, as it's called in the 'biz, is where everybody from every writing program in the country wanders around shaking hands and chasing the latest gossip on each other, with a few agents and editors trying to avoid having another bulky manuscript stuffed in their greeting bag. It's more or less mandatory for people who intend on finding and keeping jobs in the field. Texas has never hosted AWP since I've been in the graduate writing world and I'm anxious to show some out-of-town friends of mine our state's coolest city.

In place of TESSA, I found cheap airfare to Denver for the National Stormchaser Convention in February. This is where chasers mill around and catch the latest gossip while benefiting from good talks on the newest forecasting, damage survey, and warning system ideas and advances. It's a way to whet the appetite for severe weather season and hang out with friends you normally see only for brief moments between racing from one storm-relative filming spot to another. I've attended two Denver conventions in the last five years and enjoyed myself both times. It's well worth the money.

Here's a sample of the talks that sound promising:

8:15 a.m. - 9:00 a.m. Jon Davies - "Cold Core Systems"

10:30 a.m. - 11:15 a.m. Dr. Josh Wurman - "Low Level Dynamics of

2:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. Dr Paul Marskowski - "What We Know and Don't
Know About Tornado Formation"

4:00 p.m. - 4:45 p.m. Dr. David Gold - " A Potential Vorticity View
of Tornadic Environments: A New Approach to an Old Problem"

8:30 a.m. - 10:00 a.m. Jon Davies - "Supercell and Nonsupercell
Tornado Forecasting"

1:15 p.m. - 2:15 p.m. Dr. David Gold - "Practical Forecasting For
Storm Chasers"

I'm particularly intrigued by this last topic from Dr. Gold. The word "practical" suggests an admission that the methodology of the AWIPS-equipped NWS ops room isn't very useful in a Super 8 with the maid banging on the door and the breakfast bar closing in twenty minutes.

After all, who carries around expensive, portable printers to produce maps for their colored pencils? How many chase mornings offer the time for that sort of analysis if you *had* the printer and the pencils? Too often chase forecasting is some variation of 'quick & dirty' analysis, eyeballing relevant surface and upper air features (which is a piss-poor way, no question), followed by a half-assed, page-down popping scan of the RUC and maybe even ETA. If the word "practical" means "compromised," then I'm excited to hear what Dr. Gold thinks we can do to make the most of an almost always difficult chase-morning forecast situation.

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