Tornadoes are Absolutely Severe Weather

A meteorologist from a local TV station made a statement on his Facebook today that “tornadoes are not severe weather” and that ruffled the feathers of a lot of meteorologists that knew this was blatantly false. In fact, tornadoes are specifically listed as a type of severe weather by the National Weather Service. Now, this could have been an innocent mistake, but it points to a more concerning fact that the weather community has to grapple with every day; meteorologists struggle to find credibility.

Most people’s interactions with “meteorologists” happen through TV weather weatherman_JPG_1414881307872_9409764_ver1.0_640_480personalities talking about current or future weather. (Pro-tip: look for an “AMS” emblem at the beginning of the weather segment. If they don’t have one, they aren’t an American Meteorological Society certified meteorologist and haven’t gone through many physics, mathematics, and even chemistry courses needed for the designation.) We turn on our TV look at what the weather will be and go about our day. However, this is hardly foolproof! We’ve all been in that situation where the weather turns out much different than expected, which adds credibility to the old adage “Being a meteorologist is the only job where you can get paid to be wrong all the time”. The truth is that weather is incredibly hard to predict due to several issues, some of which are outlined in this post about Denver’s forecast for Autumn and Winter in 2016. The difficulty in modeling weather can lead to wrong forecasts and a lack in credibility, but how does that relate to this instance?

With public perception of meteorologists being less than favorable, we don’t want to create further problems to overcome. We need to be reliable on facts and weather definitions so that, although our forecasts may not always be accurate, we can still maintain credibility.

Cue our incident from today. A “meteorologist” (in quotes because I don’t know their credentials), who is a self proclaimed severe weather authority put out blatantly false information about the fundamentals of severe weather. That was concerning because, as a community, we have to strive for credibility and any wrong information that then has to be disputed makes us look less than reliable. That is why there was such a strong reaction against what this person said and a lot of upset people posting in the comments of this post.

So, what’s the point of all this? My point is simply, please be aware of who you are watching/listening to/reading and their credentials. Everyone makes mistakes, but if something seems particularly odd to you, don’t hesitate to challenge the expert on their knowledge. If they’re really an expert, they should be able to backup their position with evidence and references. If you don’t want to be confrontational, do some of your own research and look at information from peer reviewed sources. Don’t believe that a Volkswagen is a vegetable? Go through literature that defines the characteristics of vegetables. Think that the Earth is flat? Conduct an experiment by finding the edge and jumping off it… Whoa, that got dark fast.

Anyway, don’t believe everything someone tells you just because they seem like they’re an authority. Look at their credentials, background, and if what they say makes sense when compared to peer reviewed fact and then make a decision for yourself.

BONUS! Letter to news station’s weather department-

Hi [redacted] Weather Team,

I’m writing to you to voice concern over the spread of misinformation by one of your meteorologists on his Facebook account. [Redacted] stated today that a tornado is “not severe weather” because ” Only hail larger than 1 inch, and wind gusts greater than 58 mph, are considered severe weather.” This is blatantly false based on the National Weather Service definition of severe weather, which is “A severe thunderstorm refers to a thunderstorm producing hail that is at least 1 inch in diameter or larger, and/or wind gusts of 58 mph or greater, and/or a tornado.”\

The largest concern is that we (yes we, I am a meteorologist as well who worked as a Associate Scientist at NCAR and is now working on a PhD) have a responsibility to the community to educate them correctly on weather. This is especially true in the broadcast field where most of the populous gets their meteorological knowledge. It’s concerning to to think that people who see this information may be less likely to act correctly in the case of a tornado emergency because they were told that the phenomena is not considered “severe weather”.

Now, I understand that mix ups happen and that we can all have problems recalling knowledge from time to time, but this is a pretty significant mix up coming from someone who deems themselves to be an authority on severe weather. I am not writing this to head hunt and do not want to get anyone in trouble. Instead, I’m asking that you make sure that your department have correct information before they potentially misinform the public. It’s hard enough to be considered credible as meteorologists when it can be hard, if not impossible, to nail down forecasts. Not understanding basic weather definitions does not help our credibility as a community.

Thank you for your attention to this issue.

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Snow to Impact Denver with Most Areas Seeing 3-6″ and a Few Seeing 6-12″

Just a quick forecast today.

Storm Timing (snowfall amounts below)-
Rain showers are expected to develop around the Denver metro area around noon and will continue through the afternoon. They are expected to increase in coverage between 5-6pm and change over to snow in the early evening. Snow will continue to fall until early afternoon Saturday.

Snowfall Amounts-
Most areas around Denver and the surrounding suburbs will see 3-6″ of snow by the time everything is done. Lower amounts will be on the north side of town and higher amounts will be to the south and west. Northerly wind will sling moisture onto the Palmer Divide and that will result in the possibility of snow amounts 4-8″ for Highlands Ranch, southern Aurora, and parts of southern Littleton. 6-12″ (possibly higher in small areas) in possible in Castle Rock, Monument, parts of Parker.

I’ll update as new information comes out! Have a great Friday!

 

UPDATE 1 [12:45]: The National Weather Service has issues a Winter Storm Warning effective until 6pm on Saturday.

...WINTER STORM WARNING IN EFFECT FROM 6 PM THIS EVENING TO 6 PM
MDT SATURDAY...

The National Weather Service in Denver has issued a Winter Storm
Warning, which is in effect from 6 PM this evening to 6 PM MDT
Saturday. The Winter Weather Advisory is no longer in effect.

* TIMING...Rain and snow showers late this afternoon will change
  to all snow during the early evening. Periods of heavy snow are
  likely during the night. Lighter snow will continue on Saturday
  but road conditions should be improving.

* SNOW ACCUMULATIONS...6 to 12 inches. The heaviest amounts will
  likely be in the southern part of the Denver metro area.

* WIND/VISIBILITY...North winds 15 to 25 mph east of Interstate
  25. Visibility may be reduced to a half mile or less in the
  heavier snow showers tonight.

* IMPACTS...Wet snow may accumulate on already leafed out trees,
  resulting in broken tree limbs and scattered power outages. Some
  roads will become snow and slush covered tonight during the
  heavier snow showers. Road conditions should improve during the
  day Saturday.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS...

A Winter Storm Warning means significant amounts of snow are
expected or occurring. This could make travel hazardous. Residents
are encouraged to check road conditions before you travel and be
prepared for winter travel conditions. Also monitor snow
accumulation on trees and be prepared for possible power outages.

A Bit of Snow and Frigid Temperatures this Weekend

weird

Edit: Holy moly! Way more snow than expected! The model runs late last night did a bit better with snow totals, but they still underproduced. We’ve been dry lately so I can’t argue with some extra snow.

After a bit of moderate weather over the last few days, we’re heading into another arctic air outbreak that will bring us some snowfall along the front range and low temperatures in below zero with pretty severe wind chills. So, if you’re embarking on a journey away from your home to buy Christmas presents, go to the Broncos game, or just down the street to get groceries, be prepared for slippery conditions and very cold temperatures!

Today’s forecast will be broken into the following sections-

  1. Current Conditions
  2. Storm System Timing
  3. Expected Low Temperatures
  4. Expected Snow Totals
  5. Summary

Current Conditions

brrrr

Large drop in temperature at Marshall, Colorado at ~14:00UTC, which is 7:00am MST. A cold front passage caused the drop and the continuing decrease.

As you can see in the plot above, we experienced a powerful cold front at 7am that dropped temperatures around the metro area 20°F in the course of about thirty minutes. Along with the cold front came some intense winds that are gusting up to 25mph at the airport and are causing wind chill temperatures that hover right around zero. Currently there aren’t a lot of clouds hovering overhead and there aren’t any snowflakes to be be seen… yet.

Storm System Timing

Obviously, we’ve already started down the path of our winter storm with the cold front that passed through earlier this morning. As we continue through the day, our sunny skies will change to that familiar grey that means snow is on its way. Sunset is currently looking to be the time when cloud cover and chance for snowfall really increases. Snowfall around Denver will begin this evening and will continue through tomorrow morning. The frigid temperatures, however, will be sticking around all weekend until we return to highs in the 40s on Monday.

Expected Low Temperatures

cold

Expected low temperatures across the region on Saturday night

Low temperatures are expected to be between 0°F and -5°F for most of the metro area tonight with wind chills that could reach as low as -20°F. Saturday night is expected to be a few degrees colder, but winds are expected to be lighter which means wind chills should remain roughly the same. At this point in time, it looks like our low temperatures will be a few degrees warmer than the record lows for the metro area but there’s always a possibility that will change. Regardless of whether they’re record-breaking or not, please keep your pets inside, dress in layers, and have an emergency kit in your car with a blanket. It doesn’t pay to gamble with these cold temperatures!

Expected Snow Totals

This storm is shaping up to be similar to the last arctic storm that we had which means that we’re looking at 1-3″ for most areas (I know, it’s not thrilling). Denver and the immediately surrounding cities should expect 1-3″ while areas to the south and west can expect 2-4″. Contrary to popular belief, lower temperatures do not mean more snow. In fact, it’s the opposite. Cold air cannot hold as much moisture as warm air and so we get small accumulations with arctic storm systems. This is also why we get lots of snow from our spring blizzards, the warmer air can hold more moisture and dump it on us!

Regardless of how much snow we get, it could be very icy on the roads tomorrow.

Summary

Snow will start this evening and will continue through Saturday morning with accumulations for most areas around 1-4″. Temperatures will continue to fall over the next two days and many areas will see below-zero temperatures tonight and Saturday night. Wind chills will be extreme and could be as low as -20°F overnight, which means that precautions should be taken if you need to go outside. These severe low temperatures will continue through Sunday, but 40s will return on Monday.

Thanks for reading! Let me know if you have any questions!

-Andrew

Warmer Temperatures for Denver, Feet of Snow in the Mountains

A brief Denver update, but the main purpose of this is to describe the return of snow, beautiful-beautiful-large-amounts-of-snow, to the forecast for the mountains.

Denver Current Conditions and Near Future Forecast

It is still very cold outside and temperatures will only reach the upper teens and low 20s today around the metro area. Overnight we had a low temperature of -8°F in Denver with a wind chill value -25°F when our winds reached a maximum of 8kts (~9mph) at 11pm at the official Denver weather station at DIA. Luckily, the wind died down as the night progressed and, while the temperatures remained low, the wind chill became less of a factor. Right now, Denver is sitting at roughly 5°F and we should reach highs in the upper teens and low 20s.

Our recent cold snap comes to an end tomorrow when temperatures will climb into the mid-40s and will be around 50°F on Saturday. We will have another slight chance at some light snowfall on Sunday morning as another weak storm system moves through Denver, but accumulations won’t add up to much. While temperatures will again drop next week, they will be close to seasonal temps and will be in the 30s and 40s.

Mountain Snow Forecast

This is the main reason that I decided to make a post today. Break out the skis and wax the board! Great shredding is coming our way! I did a quick overview, described a couple regional forecasts, and a brief word of caution. Check it out!

It finally looks like big precipitation amounts will be coming to the mountains. Current models have loads of moisture coming from the Pacific and impacting most of the western US with the Colorado mountains getting up to five FEET of snow in some areas over the next two weeks. In fact, some areas of northwestern Colorado are expecting over 60″ of snowfall in the next seven days! Overall, most areas along I-70 are looking at 18-36″, but it’s possible that we could see up to four feet of new snow on the taller peaks in that time.

holymacaroni

Total snowfall from today through 6pm MST December 22nd, 2016. Notice the 51.7″ amount near Routt County in Northwestern Colorado.

Regional Mountain Forecasts

Medicine Bow/Routt National Forests Including Steamboat Springs

It looks like the Northwestern part of Colorado will be getting the best snow over the last two weeks . Below if a graphic that shows the Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (liquid precipitation in inches) as well as the expected snow totals for the GEFS, CMCE, and NAEFS models. If this forecast were to verify, over five feet of snow will fall in the next seven days! THAT’S “WEEK” SINGULAR! Steamboat Springs and Rabbit Ears Pass are starting to sound pretty good, aren’t they?

tower_bigsnow

Forecasted QPF and snowfall amounts for Medicine Bow/Routt National Forests over the next week. Thanks to the University of Utah for the graphic.

I-70 Corridor

The I-70 corridor is not going to see the same insane amount of snowfall over the next week that Steamboat will. However, there will still be plenty of snowfall over the next week and even more over the next two weeks (3-4 feet expected through the 22nd). Right now, this area is looking at roughly 18-24″ of snow over the next week depending on where you’re targeting on the forecast map. As an example, Vail Pass is expecting upwards of 24″ of snow over the next week while areas slightly to the east are expecting closer to 18″. Still, that’s some great snow when the earlier part of the season had been very dry.

naefspl_vailp2016120800f168

Forecasted QPF and snowfall amounts for Vail Pass over the next week. Thanks to the University of Utah for the graphic.

A Word of Caution

We are all aware that models fluctuate frequently and these totals are anything but set in stone. However, to see this amount of precipitation in the forecast does give me hope and, at the very least, we should see some good snowfall over the next two weeks. Will it be five feet in a week? That’s hard to say, but multiple models are liking the chances of big snow from the next few storms. We’ll have to wait and see, but the mountains could just be an amazing place to be over the next few weeks!

Thanks for reading!

-Andrew

Final Forecast- Timing, Snow Totals, and Temperatures for the December 6th Snow Storm

I’ve been keeping a close eye on this storm for quite a while leading up to today. The promise of snow and possibility of below zero temperatures after a summer that was seemingly endless filled me with endless amounts of excitement. Then again, I’m a winter person and I love cold weather, your feelings about this storm system may vary. Regardless of whether you’re excited about the cold and snowy weather, it has arrived and will make things treacherous over the next 24 hours!

Today’s forecast will be broken into the following sections-

  1. Current Conditions
  2. Storm System Timing
  3. Expected low temperatures (possibly record-breaking)
  4. Expected Snow Totals
  5. Summary

Current Conditions

visible

Visible satellite image 9:15 MST December 6th, 2016

The front range has clear skies and that has contributed to low temperatures in the low teens and even around 10°F over night.In fact, most areas are still hovering right around the 10°F mark currently, but negative temperatures lie just to our north in Wyoming and they will make their way down here by tomorrow tonight. Cloud cover is positioned over the western part of the state and, as this storm system makes its way from west to east, the front range will eventually become cloudy later this morning and afternoon as well.

Storm System Timing

Obviously this system has already started to come through the state with our big drop in temperatures over the last 24 hours and high winds last night (that reached 75mph at the NCAR Mesa Lab!). The snow associated with this storm system should start making its way  into the metro area late-afternoon around 5-6pm and will continue through most of the day tomorrow. Initially, snowfall rates will be light but should start picking up intensity around rush hour this evening. The heaviest snowfall rates should occur late tonight between 9pm and midnight while light snow and flurries will continue through much of tomorrow.

Expected low temperatures (possibly record-breaking)

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-9-20-04-am

Forecast Temperatures at 5am MST December 08, 2016

The real story with this storm won’t be the snow totals, but the dangerously low temperatures that we’ll encounter tomorrow night (and tonight to a lesser degree). Lows around the Denver metro area are expected to dip down below zero and will be between -5°F and -10°F for most areas with wind chills that could be between -15°F and -20°F on Wednesday night. Tonight, we’ll still be cold with temperatures in the single digits and wind chills possibly below zero, but the clouds will help keep some heat near the ground whereas tomorrow night, they will not. These are dangerous temperatures and should not be taken lightly. Make sure to keep your pets inside and dress warm and in layers if you have to go outside. Also, make sure that you have an emergency kit in your car that includes a blanket. It will only take 30 minutes to incur frostbite on exposed skin in these temperatures!

Expected Snow Totals

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-9-36-40-am

Global Forecast System (GFS) 12Z run Snowfall Totals through 8pm MST December 7th, 2016

I’m expecting 2-5″ for most areas around the front range with slightly higher amounts of 3-6″ along the foothills and more as you venture into the mountains. Bear in mind that this is 2-5″ of snow by Wednesday night. This has been a particularly challenging forecast because of the cold temperatures that will be associated with the snowfall.

Cold temperatures mean that we can get more snowfall accumulation from similar amounts of water. As an example, think of the champagne powder that falls in the mountains. It’s light, fluffy, and very “dry” snow which allows it to move easily and create those brilliant powder clouds that shoot over your head when skiing or snowboarding. By comparison, think about spring storm snowfall. It’s wet, heavy, and incredibly difficult to shovel when it accumulates on your sidewalk.

It all comes down to what is known as the snow to liquid ratio (SLR), which gives a certain amount of snow accumulation per inch of liquid water in the atmosphere. Generally we use a 10:1 ratio which means that we get 10″ of snow to 1″ of water that falls. However, spring storms can be as low as 6:1 or 8:1 and very cold winter storms can be as high as 20:1 or 30:1. For this storm, I’m expecting a SLR of approximately 20:1 due to the low temperatures. This means that we’ll see light and fluffy snow out of this storm and it won’t have a ton of moisture (easy shoveling!). Colorado needs all the precipitation that it can get!

Summary

Snow will arrive in town early this afternoon and will continue through Wednesday afternoon. While 3-6″ of snow are expected in most areas, the real hazard will be the dangerously low temperatures in single digits tonight and below zero tomorrow night. Snowfall rates will be most intense over night tonight, but light snowfall will continue through tomorrow and will make commutes slippery and dangerous. Again, make sure that you have an emergency kit in your car and stay warm, friends!

Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment or ask any questions!

-Andrew

Brief Outlook- Bitter Cold and Snow for Denver

mar_cold

Temperature at the National Center for Research Winter Weather Test Site in Marshall, Colorado (Just south of Boulder)- December 05, 2016

Edit: Ignore the (C) on the y-axis of the plot. It’s actually in Fahrenheit but the axis title didn’t chance.

Denver and the surrounding regions have already started to cool off dramatically after the passage of a cold front earlier that has caused temperatures to drop ~14°F in the last few hours. We’re still about 10°F warmer than tomorrow’s expected high temperature of 28°F which means that we still have a lot of cooling off to do tonight. In fact, we’re going to be dropping into the low teens this evening. A Winter Weather Advisory has been issued by the National Weather Service and can be found below.

Winter Weather Advisory-

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN DENVER HAS ISSUED A WINTER
WEATHER ADVISORY FOR SNOWFALL, WHICH IS IN EFFECT FROM 5 PM
TUESDAY TO NOON MST WEDNESDAY.

* TIMING...LIGHT SNOW WILL START TUESDAY AROUND RUSH HOUR AND
  INCREASE IN INTENSITY BY TUESDAY EVENING AND CONTINUE THROUGH
  WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON.

* SNOW ACCUMULATIONS...SNOWFALL AMOUNTS OF 2 TO 5 INCHES WILL BE
  POSSIBLE WITH HIGHER AMOUNTS WEST OF I-25

* WIND/VISIBILITY...WINDS WILL BE LIGHT THROUGH THE
  PERIOD...HOWEVER SNOWFALL INTENSITY WILL INCREASE TUESDAY NIGHT
  AND CREATE FOR SOME REDUCED VISIBILITY.

* IMPACTS...MAIN IMPACTS WILL BE HAZARDOUS DRIVING CONDITIONS WITH
  INCREASING SNOW INTENSITY TUESDAY EVENING TOWARDS THE END OF
  RUSH HOUR. CAUTION IS ADVISED FOR DRIVERS.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS...

A WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY FOR SNOW MEANS THAT PERIODS OF SNOW
WILL CAUSE PRIMARILY TRAVEL DIFFICULTIES. BE PREPARED FOR SNOW
COVERED ROADS AND LIMITED VISIBILITIES...AND USE CAUTION WHILE
DRIVING.

As we edge closer to the storm system that will impact us tomorrow and Wednesday, some things are clear and others are still a bit fuzzy. What we know is that we will see a pretty drastic change to our weather that has been relatively mild over the last few days and we’ll wind up with frigid temperatures and snow arriving in Denver tomorrow afternoon and continuing through Wednesday. However, we still don’t know just how much snow we’ll actually be getting. There is a bit of disagreement between models, but the overall consensus is that it’s looking like 2-4″ of snow for most areas around Denver that will fall primarily between late afternoon/evening tomorrow through Wednesday morning. Snowfall will be relatively light, but heavier areas in the foothills, mountains, and to the east of Denver are expected.

A more comprehensive forecast will be available tomorrow morning so make sure to check back!

Thanks for reading!

-Andrew

Denver Parade of Lights 2016 Forecast

a-christmas-story-parade

A joyful family enjoys their local Christmas Parade in Hohman, IL. Through an unprecedented  string of good luck earlier in the month, the father had received a “major award” and their son was recruited to help with the rigorous decryption of important messages. (1940, colorized)

Tonight’s the night! The 2016 Denver Parade of Lights will march past the Denver City and County Building and through the streets of Downtown Denver. First-nighters, packed earmuff-to-earmuff, will jostle in wonderment before a golden, tinkling display of mechanized, electronic joy!

Floats, marching bands, and all sorts of wild acts will fill the streets of Denver to the delight of children and adults-who’ve-had-too-much-hot-chocolate-and-Peppermint-Schnapps alike! However, what will the weather be and what will I need to wear if my Schnapps doesn’t keep me warm enough?! Don’t worry! I’ve got you covered.

Parade Tonight

Tonight’s parade and festivities will definitely be cold as will tomorrow night as well. We’ll be sitting around 26°F when the parade kicks off at 8pm and by the time it ends at its last point around 9 or 10pm, we’ll be around 21°F with wind chills as low as 17°F. Now, bear in mind that these are wind chills for all of Denver and that the winds are really amplified by the tall buildings downtown which means that the temperatures could feel another 5° colder. Some light snow is also possible late this afternoon and early this evening which means road surfaces could be wet or icy. Make  sure that you plan ahead and give yourself extra time, if needed.

Parade Tomorrow

With an earlier start and a sunny day ahead of it, temperatures at the kickoff of the parade tomorrow should be about 10° warmer than they will be tonight at 36°F and a balmy (in comparison) 30°F at the end of the parade. With that being said, there is a higher chance of wind chills tomorrow that could make the forecasted temperatures feel about 5° colder than reality. Tomorrow’s ramp up to the parade promises to be drier as well with sunny skies to get rid of any moisture left on the concrete and asphalt surfaces. It should make for easier watching with the ability to sit on the sidewalk for the kiddies.

christmasstory_pg01

A young boy fulfills his dream of speaking with Santa about his love of football only to realize, after the conversation, that his real desire is weaponry.

Summary

Overall, it will be cold for either parade and they both will require bundling up and hand warmers. However, the parade at 6pm tomorrow looks to be a little warmer and, more importantly, drier. We all know how hard it is to stay warm if you’re wet and it will be downright impossible if you’re wet and temperatures are in the 20s and 30s. So, if warmer weather is a factor for your voyage to the parade, tomorrow might be the best route. If you’re like me and enjoy pretending that you’re lost in a arctic wasteland and the only salvation is the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the… ok, that Christmas Story quote doesn’t work here. Let’s try that again. If you’re like me and enjoy pretending that you’re lost in a arctic wasteland and the only salvation is the soft glow of electric lights and the anxious anticipation of seeing Santa in his sleigh, Friday might be right up your alley.

Thanks for reading! As always, feel free to ask questions and I’ll answer as quickly as possible.

-Andrew