Tag Archives: weather

Jan 28

In the aftermath of a winter storm that mercilessly slammed DC to NYC this past weekend, severe weather is on the minds and lawns of many Americans this winter. Mother nature can be an unforgiving force in all regions and seasons: whether she manifests as a sizzling drought or blizzard of the ages, humans are left to scramble for safety with emergency supplies and stockpiles of canned goods. Too often, severe weather events lead to injuries, deaths, and costly damages to property and infrastructure.

Living on a planet with a weather cycle and plate tectonics comes with its inherent risks, and that’s not to mention the severe weather events that climate instability could result in. Regardless of cause, humanity is lucky in the sense that we’re better able to predict, prepare, and stay safe under dangerous conditions. This is largely due to the advancement of weather, disaster relief, and rescue technology.

Extreme weather and other natural disasters can now be detected early on, meaning you’re unlikely to have a typhoon sneak up on you reading Kafka on the beach. It’s thanks to technology that this early and accurate forecasting is possible: for decades, doppler radar, observation tools and computer calculations have been utilized to generate weather predictions. The improvement of these tools along with the addition of weather satellites has upped the accuracy of forecasting over time.

The improvement of forecast technology has been instrumental in the implementation of weather alerts and other types of notifications that help people prepare for harsh weather. Tools like the American Red Cross’ DigiDoc send mass alerts to people in affected areas; most of smartphone owners in the US have built-in alerts that warn of flash floods and other weather-related dangers. Sometimes these may seem superfluous — if it’s raining hard, you probably don’t need a text to tell you — but if the weather event is something like a tornado, these alerts can save lives.

There’s also new technology that allows people to stay connected and safe both during and after severe weather events. Facebook recently released a tool called “Safety Check” that lets people in disaster-affected areas check-in to let their friends know they are safe. But technology goes beyond even this — survivors can alert emergency responders with their mobile phones, sometimes even without Internet connection, for example, through mesh networks like the Serval Project. There are also many emergency and survival apps that work with or without wifi and cell service.

For those in need of emergency relief, rescue and assistance has improved tremendously over the years as well. From drone supply deliveries to rescue robots and radar search tools, individuals at risk can be located, supplied, and ultimately rescued from unsafe areas — whether from flooded homes or piles of rubble.

It’s a relief to know that through the blizzards of today and the quakes of tomorrow, the probability of safety and survival is greater thanks to intelligent minds and effective technology. While we’ve no way yet to change or control the weather all together, the ability to detect danger and avoid harm is a bright spot in a stormy sky, capable of saving millions of lives (and dollars) each year.

Featured Image: NASA GSFC via Flickr. 

May 11

Source: NOAA Photo Library

Source: NOAA Photo Library

The El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a natural climate pattern in the Pacific Ocean. During El Niño, or ENSO’s warm phase, a band of uncharacteristically warm ocean water spreads across the central and eastern-central portion of the Equatorial Pacific. In recent years, El Niño has been a bellwether for droughts, intense rainfall and many other severe storms and weather systems across the world–including increased rain across the southern U.S. Now, we can add tornado forecaster to El Niño’s resume.

A new study at Columbia University finds that tornadoes are milder during El Niño years. The report shows the states affected most by El Niño’s temperament are those in the Southwest, like Texas and Oklahoma. “We can forecast how active the spring tornado season will be based on the state of El Niño or La Niña in December or even earlier,” said lead author John Allen, a postdoctoral research scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), part of Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

Currently, the forecasts can’t predict exactly where the storms will touch down. Furthermore, their forecasts can’t predict if a wave of serious storms will break out at this time.  Allen wants to make this clear so that people don’t think all the scenarios are covered through the IRI’s analysis. However, Allen and his team believe it will still prove useful to governments and insurance agencies in preparation for the coming year.

Allen and his team anticipate releasing their own seasonal tornado forecasts. Currently, the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center’s tornado forecasts are about eight days in beforehand. Allen believes their team can forecast much farther in advance, “…you can actually forecast what the spring tornado season will be like.” This could be made possible if the team’s wish to combine their work with others in the field comes to fruition.

Instead of using erroneous old weather records, the team devised its own formula based on atmospheric pressure, wind shear and other conditions that can accompany bad weather. Theoretically, the formula could predict storm activity in the coming months.

Though the Columbia team would like to issue its tornado forecast next year, the ETA for this may be at least five years away. According to Storm Prediction Center meteorologist Ashton Simpson Cook, “We’ve already started on it, [sic] we’re in the beginning phase.”

Recently, IRI research discovered El Niño conditions over the Pacific, leading to believe this upcoming spring will be a milder storm season in the southern U.S. Additionally, El Niño conditions could prove to have an immense impact of California’s dire need for drought relief, as well as providing relief from severe winter weather in the northern Midwest. Some analysts outside of the IRI believe there is a high probability that the conditions could last through the fall.