ULYSSES, Kan. – The dangerous and relentless heat wave gripping a quarter of the country right now has left thousands of cattle dead in the Midwest.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment told FOX Weather that they are aware of at least 2,000 cattle deaths that have occurred in the southwest part of the state.
“This number is representative of the facilities that have contacted our agency to assist with disposal,” KDHE Communications Director Matt Lara said.
Heat stress is caused in cattle when you combine high temperatures and humidity, no wind, and warm temperatures at night.
“That’s why you would see the majority of feed yards located in the western region of the state because normally it’s a more arid part of the state,” said Scarlett Hagins, vice president of communications for the Kansas Livestock Association.
A feedlot in Garden City, Kansas, is pictured, on June 16, 2010. The meat industry was responsible for as much as $12.9 billion in economic activity in Kansas during 2020.
(Chris Oberholtz/Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service / Getty Images)
Cattle can acclimate to anything given time, but recently there was a sudden change in weather almost overnight.
“They saw a 10- to 14-degree increase in temperature last weekend from that Friday into Saturday,” Hagins said. “They had been in the 80s and 90s and then all of a sudden it was 107, 108 and the humidity was high, which is not normal for that region of the state.”
There was also no wind at night, and temperatures weren’t dropping below 70 degrees. It’s a crucial time when cattle dissipate their heat load.
The heat index was in the triple digits Saturday afternoon in parts of southwest Kansas and only fell, in some spots, into the 80s.
“And if they can’t dissipate that at night, then it continues to accumulate into the next day and the next day. And that leads to heat stress,” Hagins said.
Heat stress is a concern this time of year for cattle producers, and farmers have protocols in place to lessen the stress. That includes everything from providing extra water, to altering feeding schedules and rations. Some have even implemented sprinkler systems to make sure that their cattle are cool.
“This was an unfortunate and unique weather event. And cattle producers work really hard to mitigate any kind of situation like this. They want to make sure that their animals are comfortable, safe and healthy. And they work to do that every day,” Hagins said.
Kansas ranked sixth nationally in beef cow numbers as of January 1, 2022, with 1.42 million head.
(John Moore / Getty Images)
Nightly heat bursts top 103 degrees
Extremely high cattle stress was reported last weekend in southwest Kansas, according to the Kansas Mesonet, a series of weather stations across the state.
Heat bursts were reported in Ashland where temperatures reached 103 degrees at 10:30 p.m. on June 12. The station was down to 90 degrees right before the heat burst occurred, the mesonet reports.
Extremely high cattle stress was reported last weekend in southwest Kansas.
( Kansas Mesonet)
This rare phenomenon is associated with dying thunderstorms. As a thunderstorm falls apart, the air rushes out of it and descends toward the ground, drying out and warming up by compression as it does so.
Eventually, that hot, dry air hits the ground as a blast of gusty winds, sending temperatures soaring to levels you’d expect to find on a hot afternoon.
“Basically that combined with the heat and humidity over the previous three, four days was, in my hypothesis, kind of the last straw for those cattle,” said Greg Peterson who owns about 1,000 head of cattle on his farm in central Kansas near Salina. “And the reason why it didn’t happen to a whole bunch of different feedlots, at least at that volume, was because those heat bursts are very localized.”
On the opposite side of the state, Kansas City is expected to hit 98 degrees Monday and Tuesday next week. The last time they hit 100 was in 2018. Another indicator that this prolonged heat shows absolutely no signs of letting up anytime soon.
“I don’t know for sure what happened … but we were having some of the most extreme heat and heat changes that we had seen in the last 5, 10, 15 years this week. And so it was very likely that the heat was to blame,” Peterson said.
The most cattle Peterson has ever heard about dying at once is maybe 1 or 2% of someone’s herd.
“For a 1,000 herd, we never have more than four or five die in a day. That would be the worst-case scenario,” Peterson said.
The state would not detail the exact feedlot in this case, but Peterson said there’s a good chance it has 100,000 head.
“It sounds like it’s like 2,000 is a lot. But if they had 100,000 head, it’s 2%. It’s still very sad and very tragic.”
Success of Kansas beef cattle industry
More than 45.7 million acres of farm ground are sprawled across the state, however, not all of this land can be used to grow crops. Cattle are the ideal mechanism for efficiently utilizing grasses and plants growing on the 15.5 million acres of Kansas pastureland.
The beef cattle sector has been and continues to be the single largest sector in the Kansas agriculture industry. Last year, cattle generated $9.85 billion in cash receipts, the state reports.
OKMULGEE, OK. – A hectic night throughout eastern Oklahoma will be remembered by firefighters for not only performing dozens of water rescues but also seeing the impacts of what a lightning bolt can do to a porcelain toilet.
Okmulgee Fire Lt. Rocky Morrow said Wednesday’s storms were nothing like what he had ever seen before, with flooding on nearly every street in the town and dozens of water rescues.
But the 19-year veteran firefighter said it was the callout to an apartment complex fire after a reported lightning strike that has everyone talking.
“I’ve worked at the fire department for 19 years and never seen anything like it,” Morrow said, describing the scene of the apartment.
Upon his team’s entrance into the vacant apartment, firefighters found a smoking exhaust fan in the bathroom and a toilet that was in essence obliterated by the lightning strike.
“The roof of the building had no damage, but that thing got hit by lightning. It’s weird, and we don’t know how,” Morrow told FOX Weather.
The firefighter believes that somehow the lightning’s energy might have transferred through the exhaust fan, which then struck the toilet below and caused parts of it to denigrate into ashes.
“It is just so wild. You’ll never see it again in your life,” Morrow said. “It’s almost like an act of God. I mean, it’s just unexplainable.”
Fortunately, the unit was unoccupied at the time, and no one was injured by the strike.
Meteorologists wereshocked by the tornadoes that devastated the Midwest and Southern US over the weekend. The twisters, which struck during the evening of December 10th, plowed across multiple states with incredible ferocity much later in the year than most tornadoes usually hit. Entire communities were devastated, and at least 90people lost their lives. Residents across Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi, Illinois are still recovering and searching for missing loved ones.
Tornadoes are still somewhat of an enigma to scientists. We know the basic meteorological ingredients needed to cause a tornado to form, as well as where and when they tend to appear. But what’s normal for the US — which sees more tornadoes than any other country on Earth — could be changing, according to some earlyresearch. Yet the relationship between climate change and tornadoes is still hazy. Scientists still need a better understanding of what is the perfect storm of conditions for triggering tornadoes so that they can suss out how things could change in a warming world.
The Verge spoke with John T. Allen, an associate professor of meteorology with a focus on tornadoes at Central Michigan University. He tells us what scientists are still trying to learn about tornadoes, and what we might expect in the future.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
As someone who’s studied tornadoes for a long time, what was running through your head as you were watching what happened over the weekend?
I’ll be honest, it’s never a pleasant thought. Having seen a few of these high end tornadoes in person and seeing the devastation that they leave behind, there’s a sense of powerlessness that comes from… you sort of know that it’s going to happen, but you can do very little about it.
In this particular case, part of you is just hoping that something changes in the storm: that it stops doing this and doesn’t hit a town or it misses a town to the south, or it misses that populated area. You really don’t want to see this outcome.
What made the tornadoes that struck over the weekend unusual?
What I think has made this event stand out was a couple of particularly long-track tornadoes that stretch from Arkansas into Kentucky. One particular storm produced an extremely long-track tornado. We don’t know exactly how long that track was, but it will probably find itself in the upper echelon of the longest track tornadoes we have in history. Another aspect of that tornado was that it was particularly intense. We saw quite a number of fatalities associated with this tornado, had a number of towns absolutely devastated by it. So certainly, it will be one of those historic events that goes down in people’s memories and will be something that will be felt by those communities for a very long time.
This tornado outbreak was certainly on the larger scale for December tornado outbreaks. We have had tornadoes previously in December, even on Christmas day you can have a tornado outbreak if the conditions are right. So at least in terms of getting tornadoes in December, that’s not too surprising. The sheer number of tornadoes wasn’t overly large. We’re talking on the order of somewhere around about 30 tornadoes overall, we won’t know until the survey’s finished in the coming days.
Was there anything else that might have made this tornado outbreak especially dangerous, like its path or the fact that it happened at night when it’s difficult for people to see them coming?
This area is relatively highly populated, and that’s never a good thing when it comes to tornadoes. Out in the plains, the population is relatively sparse. It means that there are fewer places that are likely to be impacted. But when you’ve got a very long track like this, the chance of hitting something goes up. As you move into the southeastern United States, it increases exponentially. [Editor’s note: some research has also found a trend toward more tornadoes in parts of the Midwest and Southeast and fewer in the Great Plains, where they’ve been more common in the past.]
Adding to that, we’ve got a tornado that’s late at night when people aren’t necessarily expecting it. That we’re not in what people typically think of as tornado season means that the overall vulnerability and chance that people may get caught unawares was much higher. Nocturnal tornadoes certainly have a disproportionate share of fatalities.
Questions are already being raised around what can or should be done to prepare for tornadoes in the future. What do we know so far about how climate change might affect tornadoes in the US?
It’s very difficult to say specifically for tornadoes. They’re very small-scale phenomena. And even on a daily basis, it can be quite difficult to predict whether a storm is going to produce a tornado or not. A lot of the research that has been done to date looks at the sort of ingredients, the conditions that could lead to tornadoes: warm, humid air, changing wind speed with height, which allows storm organization. And what we’ve found is that, at least for the future, there is definitely an increasing sort of length to the season. We’re seeing more potential for these tornadoes. The storms that produce tornadoes in the fall and winter and early spring are increasing up to 25 percent per degree Celsius of warming relative to now.
We had an abnormally warm period — I mean, Memphis hit 80 degrees Fahrenheit on Friday, which was unusually warm for the winter. Storms rely on relatively warm, moist air near the surface to increase the available energy to basically produce strong updraft. So in this case, you get much stronger vertical motion in the storms and that tends to be a thing that we see favoring stronger storms which might produce tornadoes.
The other factor that comes in there, and one that doesn’t really change is wind shear. So if you think about clouds moving in different directions at different heights, that’s what wind shear is. What wind shear does is it allows the storms to sort of organize themselves into something that is more sustained. It lasts a lot longer. It’s not your typical everyday thunderstorm. This is a storm that, in this particular case, might have persisted for over seven hours. And those sorts of storms are known to be more frequent producers of tornadoes.
And how does a tornado form?
There are a lot of different mechanisms that we’re aware of that potentially could produce a tornado. Generally speaking, you need a supercell thunderstorm. That supercell thunderstorm begins to rotate at the mid levels and that process produces a downdraft that then causes rotation at the surface to become more intense, and eventually we refer to it as a tornado when it exceeds 50 miles per hour. But the exact mechanisms of tornado formation are still an open topic of scientific research.
In this case, we had multiple storms producing very strong and intense tornadoes. Usually about six or more is defined as an outbreak, although other metrics exist. Tornado outbreaks are associated with a large-scale synoptic system. This particular system ended up producing snowfall in the Dakotas. It produced strong winds through Michigan, about 60 miles an hour. That particular system, as it moved eastward, pulled warm moist air up from the Gulf of Mexico, which was running a little bit warmer than normal. That warm, moist air is juxtaposed with relatively cool air coming behind the system. The interaction of those and an upper-level system that moved in as well produces a large area over which the conditions are favorable. It pulls those ingredients together. And so in this particular case, we had a system that produced an unusually large area of favorable conditions, which is what allowed for long-track tornadoes.
How do meteorologists forecast tornadoes? And how much warning do we typically have?
Warning times on average are in excess of 13 minutes. In this case, we had in excess of 20 minutes for Mayfield, one of the worst impacted locations. So there was certainly good anticipation of this particular event.
In terms of forecasting the likelihood of tornadoes, it really comes back to those ingredient conditions which we talked about earlier.
We have a whole suite of models we operate at our storm prediction center and other groups to basically predict the storms themselves and try and get an idea of will a storm form? How intense might it be? And we use that to formulate outlooks which are issued up to eight days in advance. The final outlooks are down to the day, then are proceeded by tornado watches. Tornado watches say, “the conditions are likely to get a tornado in the next few hours.” And then a tornado warning is, “the tornado was coming to you.”
What are scientists still trying to understand about tornadoes?And what makes them difficult to study?
Really pinning down why is it that a given scenario produces a tornado, I think, is a question we’re still sort of trying to wrap our heads around.
It’s not uncommon to have field projects in which you’ve had extreme trouble actually getting out in the field to observe a tornado. At the same time, we’ve had other situations where we’ve had very good observations of these events. The challenge is that there are a lot of physical processes at very small scales that really matter for tornadoes. That small scale influence means that it’s very hard to actually identify which storm is going to produce a tornado. Which one is it? On the same token, is it going to produce a long-track, higher-scale tornado? Or is it going to produce a relatively weaker tornado? We don’t have great answers for that.
We really do need a greater degree of field observations. We need more modeling studies to understand what’s going on. There’s a lot of science and research that needs to be done and those sort of things need federal support to do so.
Time to turn your eyes to the sky! 🛰️@Space_Station flyover TONIGHT (look to the NW sky around 8:20PM) 🌕Full moon rises at about 7:30PM Monday night 🍂First day of astronomical fall on Wednesday w/ the Autumnal Equinox at 3:20PM. #PAwxpic.twitter.com/lgKQR9EmZl
It?s interesting isn?t it? Texas is the Left?s most sought after prize as far as turning the last major electoral state blue. And so for a second time this year with the weather, one of the legs of their agenda driven phony climate war is exposed, and we find them blaming the fossil fuel ( in this case NG) for a Texas power disaster.
Here is what people who do not actually look at the weather, but use it for nefarious purposes do not want you to understand. That the weather swings back and forth! It is always going to test limits and guess what, if you can observe it better, you will see it hit limits. What the left does understand and our side can not seem to get the urgency of, is this, THEY KNOW HOW TO USE IT TO DRIVE HOME THEIR AGENDA. We have sat here…
Meanwhile, rain and snow are likely across much of the West through Monday. So much for Joe Biden’s global warming crisis.
Snow will also develop across higher elevations of the Northeast and the Pacific Northwest and thence into the Northern High Plains and parts of Northern/Central California.
By Sunday evening, the rain and higher elevation snow will expand into parts of the Great Basin while rain moves into parts of Southern California. Overnight Monday, the rain and higher elevation snow will move into parts of the Southwest.
Rain and snow are likely across much of the West through Monday…
Light snow will also develop across the higher elevations of the Northeast overnight Sunday that will
gradually taper off by Monday evening.
Furthermore, a deep upper-level trough just off the Northwest Coast will move onshore on Sunday, moving to the Great Basin by Tuesday. The energy will aid in producing rain…
Yesterday, the National Weather Service’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) upgraded the Geomagnetic Storm Watch then in effect to a Geomagnetic Storm Warning after detecting the early arrival of a strong solar wind.
The SWPC said minor to moderate geomagnetic storm levels were being observed which indicated the early arrival of an anticipated coronal mass ejection that left the Sun on Sunday, April 22. The enhancement in solar wind parameters were first observed by the DSCOVR spacecraft.
The strong solar wind was expected to cause auroral enhancements that might be visible at night in higher latitudes under favorable sky conditions. Due to the strength of this disturbance , aurora could…
By Chris Stachelski (firstname.lastname@example.org)
It was the marquee meteorological event of one of the more epic winters ever — a storm that, if you experienced it, still stands out in your memory to this date. You might not remember just how much snow fell, but that there was a lot of it. That it stranded you in place for a time. And then you had to dig on out. And in some places, the storm laid the foundation for another significant weather event in the subsequent weeks. It was the Blizzard of ‘96. Even though many areas have been impacted by it have seen bigger snowfalls in years since (February 2003 from the President’s Day II Storm, the Blizzards of February 2010, the Boxing Day Storm of December 2010, the snowstorms of February 2015 or more recently in January 2016), this storm is widely viewed as the Big One in the modern history of East Coast snowstorms of the last 25 years. It digs up memories akin to those from the Cleveland Superbomb in January 1978, the Blizzard of ‘78 in New England and metro New York City, the Megapolitan Storm of February 1983 and the Superstorm of March 1993 – storms that people still can recall decades later to extreme detail in some cases.
Storm Overview Infrared satellite image of the Blizzard of ‘96 as shown on January 7, 1996.
The storm formed in the Gulf of Mexico on the morning of January 6th. It reached the Georgia Coast by the morning of the 7th then moved northeast toward Cape Hatteras, NC by the evening of the 7th before reaching the waters off of Southern New England the evening of the 8th. The heavy snowfall was largely due to a combination of sufficient moisture aided by cold air pushed south from an Arctic high pressure located north of the storm that generated highly effective liquid precipitation to snow ratios and a highly favorable storm track. Significant and in many cases record breaking snow for either a 24 hour period or single snowstorm occurred with this event from the Ohio Valley to southwestern Virginia to the Washington, D.C. to southern New England urban corridor.
Why Was This Storm So Significant?
At the time it occurred, the Blizzard of ‘96 was said to be the greatest snowstorm in terms of the amount of snow that fell seen by so many people largely because it produced heavy and in many cases record-breaking snowfall in the highly populated Boston to Washington, D.C. corridor in addition to areas in southwest Virginia, eastern West Virginia, and the Ohio Valley. In 2004, the Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale (NESIS) that ranks Northeast snowstorms was developed. NESIS ranks the second most severe Northeast snowstorm on record behind the March 1993 Superstorm or “Storm of the Century” as it was commonly called then. However, the March 1993 was more of a significant snowstorm for the spine of the Appalachians with lesser amounts toward the more heavily populated urban corridor of the Northeast. It is exceedingly tough to have a snowstorm produce over a foot of snow from Washington, D.C. to Boston due the storm needing a favorable track. Often, snowstorms that are significant events in the Washington, D.C. area tend to be lesser events in southern New England such as in February 2010 or in the case of February 2015, significant in southern New England but not in the Washington, D.C. area.
Was It Really A Blizzard?
For many, technically no. Officially, a blizzard means that the following conditions are expected to prevail for a period of 3 hours or longer – sustained wind or frequent gusts to 35 miles an hour or greater and considerable falling and/or blowing snow (i.e., reducing visibility frequently to less than ¼ mile). This event often failed to have the wind reach the criteria long enough in most areas. But, given the Blizzard Warnings issued for the event, the common usage of the name “Blizzard of ‘96” before, during, and after the event has stuck since, even in the meteorological community despite it not being technically correct in most locations. In today’s National Weather Service, issuing Blizzard Warnings based on the impact of the snow rather than the meteorology would be seen as an example of impact-based forecasting and warnings versus the old legacy strictly criteria based issuance as was often common in the 1990s.
What Was Forecasting and Data Collection Like Back Then?
Forecasting was much different in the mid-1990s versus today. The National Weather Service was in the middle of a nationwide modernization, moving offices to new facilities, closing some older, smaller offices and bringing into the operational world much of the newer generation of technology used today such as Doppler Radar and the Automated Surface Observing System or ASOS. However, graphical capabilities at offices were more limited with AFOS used as the primary system for composing products and reviewing meteorological data. Products were all hand typed. Model data was more limited in terms of models, parameters and visual display capabilities. The internet was in its infancy on a mainstream use using dial-up connectivity on a desktop computer, if available. Phone calls from storm spotters and the public and government officials, along with radio and television news, were the primary source of on-the-ground reports in real time, with hard copy newspapers used as follow up after the fact. Smartphones and social media were unknown. There were fewer reports, less visual evidence from the area, and a lot more interpolation of data, especially on overnight shifts.
Impacts of the Storm
Snow flurries even fell as far south from this system as Florida – stretching from Tallahassee to just north of Tampa in New Port Richey sending a touch of winter to a place many go to escape it. But the bigger snows the storm was noted for fell much further north, reaching as much as 48 inches in Snowshoe, West Virginia. In the most severely impacted areas, transportation was crippled for days, municipalities struggled to clear the snow and find places to put it, mail service was briefly halted from Atlantic City, NJ to Albany, NY, numerous roofs caved in from the weight of the snow damaging structures, schools and businesses closed for days, and newspaper delivery — along with other supply delivery — was halted. Many people were stuck at roadside rest stops. Along the coast, flooding occurred and the onshore flow resulted in the bizarre site at Atlantic City, NJ of hundreds of clam shells washing ashore into mounds on the beach. The snowpack in many areas reached over 2 feet and, with additional snows and cold following the storm, laid on the ground until a warm up later in January with a heavy rainfall that took place and resulted in major river flooding.
Some Selected Snowfall Totals
New York City (Central Park), NY
Avoca (Scranton), PA
Washington, D.C. (National)
Dulles Airport, VA
Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport, OH
As always, the story of the Blizzard of ‘96 is best told by those who experienced it firsthand, either as an aspiring meteorologist or National Weather Service employee. The Blizzard of ‘96 had a profound impact on the lives of those in the meteorology community even beyond the forecast operations desk. As noted in the Service Assessment conducted by the National Weather Service following this event:
“The storm had a major impact on NWS employees and demonstrated the dedication and commitment of our workforce. Field and NCEP personnel worked around-the-clock with little relief. People brought extra food and sleeping bags to their respective offices and remained at these offices or in nearby hotels for 48 hours or longer. Sixteen-hour shifts and three hour commutes were common. People took extraordinary efforts to get to the office. In some cases, four wheel drive vehicles were used to ferry people to their offices while at least one employee cross-country skied to work. All this occurred during a Federal Government shutdown when most Federal employees were furloughed. Nonetheless, NWS employees continued to serve and ensure public safety around-the-clock without the assurance of paychecks. This conscientious ‘can do’ attitude of NWS employees likely contributed to the amazingly low death toll for an event of this magnitude.”Cooperative observer Bonnie Phillips measures snow at the Charlotteburg Reservoir, NJ cooperative site.
Below are the stories from a number of current and now retired National Weather Service employees who were inspired by or worked during this event and told from their personal perspective. We personally thank each of them for sharing their experiences of this event 25 years later as a way of preserving the significance of this event for years to come. It was a remarkable event for many meteorologists that either inspired their career in this profession, solidified it, or served as a benchmark moment in their career with the agency.
“I was interested in weather well before this event going back to the 1980s due to everything from thunderstorms to flooding to Hurricane Gloria. I lived in northern New Jersey in a town named Wanaque on the western slope of a mountain by East Coast standards around 500 feet in elevation. We had a bunch of big snowstorms in recent years in the 90s – the Nor’Easter of December ‘92, the March 1993 Superstorm and the winter of 1993-1994 which at the time was considered the most severe winter in this area since the late 1970s. The winter of 1995-1996 was different. I recall standing outside of high school in early November one afternoon and seeing a burst of snow flurries – which was a little unusual for that early in the season. The accumulating snows that season started in late November and kept right on going into December. My last true White Christmas I ever experienced was in 1995. Then came January. We had snow going to this event already on the ground. I remember there being a forecast for snow in the days before, and then amounts went up. Saturday my parents and I came home from the store and put the television on to see what the forecast was. Totals had been increased and over a foot was being forecasted. Off to the grocery store they went. The next morning, it was extremely cold. Newark Airport tied a record low at the time that morning, January 7th, which was very unusual to see before a snowstorm in New Jersey. Forecasted snow amounts had increased further and Blizzard Warnings had been issued. We had yet to take down our Christmas decorations outside and went outside to remove them before they became encased in snow for a while. The snow ramped up the night of the 7th and continued into the 8th. By late in the afternoon on the 8th, the snow let up that we ventured into our garage and my parents and I stood in amazement at the snow as seen in the forthcoming photos. It was literally a wall. We were stranded. Shrubs were buried and the street was impassible and could barely be made out. All you saw was snow. My dad remarked “I only recall maybe once seeing this much snow before” which “was when I was a kid we had a lot of snow one year the day after Christmas”. My dad grew up in the Newark, NJ area and looking back at the records he was correct as the longtime snowstorm of record for metropolitan New York City was the storm of December 26-27, 1947. I was impressed that he could recall that nearly 48 years later, but realized that for a child to remember that sort of snow this many years later, it really put this storm as well as that one into perspective and that I witnessed a big snowstorm. It was still snowing into the evening of the 8th. The next day I trekked out with a ruler and attempted to measure how much snow fell. I looked at about a dozen different spots that looked the best and carefully lowered a yardstick down to not punch through all the snow and measured an average of 29.9 inches. The depth on the ground at that point was around 34 to 35 inches in the most representative spots with higher drifts. It was staggering and at that point, the deepest I ever saw. It was in many areas of northern New Jersey the deepest snowpack since February 1961 and a value not exceeded since. I never saw this much snow on the ground until I went to the West Coast years later in the Cascades and Sierra. And it was a good thing we took our Christmas decorations down when we did because many people had them up for weeks until the snow finally melted for good later in January – nearly a month after Santa left for the North Pole. We got more snow that winter and all the way through mid-April. Everyone was ready for summer that year and a number of people actually put their homes up for sale that spring in this area due to the severity of the winter and moved to warmer climates.” —Chris Stachelski, NWS Eastern Region Headquarters
“I had just started working in the State College forecast office in June 1993. This was after working in the Binghamton, NY office for 6.5 years. 1996 was very similar to the first winter here (1993-1994). I was down at the Farm Show in Harrisburg, PA the day before the 1996 blizzard. Upon coming back up over the mountain to State College. The next day I went to church, it was snowing hard and windy. I came to work after the storm ended. Roads were taken care of well. Back then we got a lot of calls with spotters calling in reports. Also I don’t recall seeing many reports of wrecks on area roads. Temperatures were on the cold side, compared to storms of late years. I did not go back to the farm show that Sunday or Monday, but heard they allowed folks to spend the night there. In the last few years, we get less calls from folks. We still get some media calls. This year has seen a large increase in the reports of wrecks, even in good weather. This past storm we just had featured decent clearing of the roads.” — David Martin, NWS WFO State College, PA
“I remember it very well. I was working at TDL in Silver Spring, MD at the time, but you may recall that just as this snow storm began we had come out of a two week long Government Shutdown. Then the D.C. area was shut down for 3-4 more days because of this winter storm. My home at the time was in Harpers Ferry, WV, but more properly on the Blue Ridge mountains in a little community right on the WV/VA line called Shannondale, about 10 miles southeast of the actual town of Harpers Ferry. Being that I worked at headquarters, I was off for the Christmas Holidays and made the fortunate decision given the prospect of the snow storm and the government shut down to stay with my parents who lived in McKinney, TX. I was originally scheduled to return to D.C. the day the historic snow storm began. I found out that it was so bad in my home neighborhood back in WV that they had to get the National Guard in there to plow the roads because the developer of the area where I lived had no functioning snow removal equipment. My house there in WV received 42 inches during the first storm with another 6 inches on Friday of that week, which brought 8 inches to D.C. I believe the government was only open on Thursday of that week. So, a total of 48 inches. I returned to my home in WV on Sunday. The roads had been cleared by then, but there were huge mountains of snow everywhere! At the end of the following week temperatures warmed into the 60s, there was steam rising off the piles of snow still remaining all over the area, and rain of 2.5 inches combined with the melting snow to push many rivers into flood including the Potomac and Shenandoah, which is turn shut down the train service from Martinsburg into D.C. (the MARC train which I usually rode to work each day during the 8 1/2 years I lived up there). Then, an Arctic cold front followed and the temperature by the same evening was in the teens and a lot of the water froze in place, in some places 2-4 inches I think between ruts of remnant snow. What a huge mess! This was one of many big snow storms I recall while I was living there. I was definitely there during the March 1993 blizzard and I was unable to get out of my house for three days! I received 24 inches of snow during that one, 20 inches of which fell in 8 hours. We were under a blizzard warning during that event, March 12-13, 1993. There were many more incidents of this nature, like 6 inches in one hour during a thunder snow storm on March 5, 1995. Fortunately, it is a lot easier to take “AL” when you work at headquarters than when you are in a WFO working operational shifts! Honestly, I could have written a large diary about my experiences traveling between my home in the WV Panhandle and Silver Spring, MD during my 8.5 years up there in the 90s! The 1995-1996 winter had big snow events all the way from October until April and some snow on the ground pretty much continuously during that period!” — Robert Beasley, NWS WFO Blacksburg, VA
“I lived through it in Central NJ and it served as the impetus for my interest in meteorology. My decision to pursue it as a career was solidified after Tropical Storm Floyd in 1999. I was only 7 years old at the time the Blizzard of ‘96 occurred but I remember the cars in my driveway were completely buried and I only saw two large hills in their normal spots. I was really confused wondering where the cars went. Everything looked different and I was in awe at how much my normal backyard and neighborhood completely changed because of the 22 inches of snow that fell. Also, our normal lives were placed on hold for the few days afterwards as we all dug ourselves out of the snow. I was fascinated that Mother Nature could be responsible for completely changing our daily routine and could place everyone’s life on hold. Because of this storm, I wanted to learn more about how Mother Nature can be responsible for such drastic changes to our normal everyday lives. The Blizzard of 1996 is still well remembered by many people in NJ and across the Northeast even 25 years later. Not many storms (outside of hurricanes) trigger that sort of memory. Even when I was at Rutgers, my professors ranked the Blizzard of 1996 as one of the most historic snow events ever to impact the I-95 corridor and it was discussed when we learned about nor’easters. Many of my classmates also said it sparked their interest in meteorology as well.” — Christina Speciale, NWS WFO Albany, NY
“At the time of the 1996 blizzard I was early in my career (started September 1994), serving as an intern within the DTB of what was then HPC (now WPC). At that time we were in the World Weather Building (WWB) at Camp Springs, MD. My main functions included assisting the SDM with raob/aircraft QC, producing the Daily Weather Map, and entering products that our forecasters prepared into the computer system that would send them out. I’m originally from central Ohio and was in either Ohio or Indiana (two years at Purdue) my entire life before coming to the DC area in 1994, and before 1996 the heaviest snowfall I had experienced was a 10-12″ event in late February 1984. I remember that the 1996 storm was in the middle of working night shifts, with the snow starting maybe around 9:30 P.M. Saturday night. There was a lull around midday/afternoon Sunday when precip became lighter and mixed in type. Then I think it was in the early-mid evening when the snow resumed and the wind strengthened. The snow finally tapered off by Monday morning or midday. The combination of my work schedule and duration of the storm ultimately led me to being onsite at the WWB from starting my Saturday night shift until departing from work early Tuesday morning. I was young and excited about experiencing by far the biggest snow event of my life up to that time, so I don’t think I could have had a lot of sleep even if I had tried, and survived through that pretty well as I recall. Interestingly my memory was so focused on the event that I don’t remember what activities if any I may have helped out with beyond my regular shift duties. One of the other memories from just after the event was how difficult of a time the DC area had in properly clearing the roads, as I recall various places where a lane would be plowed and at some point just cut out with a pile of snow. That’s something I wasn’t ready for from my lighter snowfall experiences in the Ohio Valley. Also I found a small number of pictures I still have from the event and they are attached. Two are from in front of the WWB after the storm ended, and another that I think was during the Sunday afternoon lull–happy that I had the foresight to park my car out in the open so that the snow would blow around it instead of drifting onto it.” — Marty Rausch, NOAA/NWS/Weather Prediction Center
“This was the largest snow I had ever seen from one storm in my life…then Dec 16-17th, 2020 just happened and beat it by 10 inches. Awesome to see my kids to now have a memorable storm, like the one in ‘96 that I had told them about many times. When I woke up Thursday morning, I was also shocked to tell them that this was bigger than the ‘96 Blizzard for me. I lived in Northern Dutchess County, NY. My most memorable part of ‘96 was that the one side of my house where the drift formed was buried in snow right to the roof (9 feet high). I remember going on the roof and jumping into that drift and being buried…took me 5 minutes to get out from it. I was only 16 years old at the time and was already interested in Meteorology before this thanks to many other epic storms (Snow leaf 1987, Superstorm, the whole 1994 winter, and this storm).” — Michael Patrick Kistner, NWS WFO Binghamton, NY
“I was a Met Intern at NWS New York for this storm. Thankfully Brookhaven Labs still had its Army barracks for the staff to sleep at, as roads had about a foot of snow and visibility near zero. Lead Forecaster Bob Stalker and I barely made it to the barracks from the office, which is less than a mile away!Launching the weather balloon at the office during the storm was a top memory of it. Snowfall was so intense and visibility near zero along with strong northeast winds, meteorologist Tom Mazza and I had to walk backwards to the upper air shelter. We then had to launch the balloon from a nearby hill, given the strong northeast winds the balloon would not have cleared the tree line if we launched from the upper air building. Pretty cool, the first launch attempt was successful. We were so proud of ourselves given our rookie status as Met Interns. The ETA model did an excellent job simulating storm intensity, track and forecasted precipitation days in advance. It was a big win for the ETA!” — Frank Nocera, NWS WFO Boston/Norton, MA
“There are three things that I remember most from the Blizzard of ’96. It’s amazing how much weather forecasting has improved over the last quarter century. Even though there were some hints that something big might happen on Sunday the 7th, I don’t think that we really began to mention the potential for snow in our forecast until Wednesday the 3rd. With the models not being as sophisticated as they are now, there was a tendency to be a bit more conservative with our forecasts at that time. While I was involved in the forecast process during the lead-up to the storm, I was actually scheduled off on Saturday the 6th and Sunday the 7th. I was supposed to return for a day shift on Monday the 8th but I was unable to get my car out of the parking lot of the apartment complex where I lived. It was too far to walk, about 6 miles. It was the only time in my 35 years with the National Weather Service that I was unable to make my way into work due to the weather. Before this year, it was the only other time that I can remember the supply chain failing. We were unable to get some necessities such as bread and milk for several days after the storm.” — Dean Iovino, NWS WFO Mount Holly, NJ
“The 1996 storm is the favorite weather event of my NWS career (46 years). Snowstorms have always been at the top of my favorite weather event list. 3 storms are etched in my memory. All of them because I ended up in the office for much longer than a regular shift. In the 1979 storm I was in the office for 24 hours straight. In the 1983 storm it was 25 hours. For both of those storms, our office was located on Arch Street in Philadelphia. But my favorite snowstorm of all time was the January 1996 one. Whenever I did one of my school presentations (I was the Education Outreach Program Director for many years), I always spoke about the 1996 snowstorm when winter weather was involved. Our office moved to its present location in Mt. Holly, NJ in 1993. Since I lived (and currently still reside) in Lindenwold, Camden County, it took me about 30 minutes to drive to the office. On the morning of Sunday January 7, 1996, I was scheduled to be in the office for the beginning of my shift at 7 A.M. But with the computer models showing a start time of 4 to 5 A.M., I decided that I would get in a little early. I arrived at the office at 5 A.M., just as the first flakes began to fall. If I recall correctly, temperatures at that time were around 30 degrees. To make a long story a little shorter, the storm intensified rapidly as it moved up the coast. We had heavy snow throughout the day Sunday and into Sunday night. Temperatures dropped through the 20s and down to 15 degrees at the height of the storm. Winds gusted to around 40 mph at the office dropping the visibility to near zero at times and blew the snow into drifts 5 to 7 feet high. The snow mixed with sleet at times Sunday night as warm air aloft moved in but surface temperatures remained in the upper teens. As the storm began to move away Monday morning, wrap around snow gave the region another few inches. The storm dropped 30.7 inches at Philadelphia International Airport. Most of our forecast area received 2 to 3 feet of snow. I ended up working 35 hours straight. Something I will never forget. The Governor declared a State of Emergency on Monday. So when I left to go home at 4 P.M., I was the only car on the roads. It was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. Snow piled high everywhere. It felt really weird driving on I-295 and being the only car. Well, not the only car — I first saw headlights and then a car in my rearview mirror. That turned out to be a State Trooper who pulled me over to ask why I was driving. After I explained, we enjoyed a few pleasantries and he sent me on my way. Of course, when I got home, my children were feverishly shoveling my driveway. They had about a third of it done. Just enough for me to pull the car off the street. It was a storm that I will never forget.” — Bob Wanton, retired general forecaster, NWS WFO Mount Holly, NJ
“Waxing Poetic About The Blizzard Of ’96: I had the fortunate(?) opportunity to work forecast shifts (including the start of it that Sunday morning) leading up to the blizzard and also a story for the day after on January 8th. From a climate and forecast perspective the city of Philadelphia had only one double digit snow storm between the February 1983 storm and this blizzard: The Storm Of The Century in March of 1993. A storm of this magnitude was not a common occurrence and if anything, they fizzled or became rainier closer to occurrence time. During the Storm Of The Century, I was working at the WFO in New York City and recalled all the models had that pegged 4 to 5 days in advance with very little variation in strength or track, a forecasting marvel for that time. I went in 12 hours early for my midnight shift because I was not going to make it if I waited until that evening. Fast forward to this blizzard and the modeling consensus was not there. I’d say this storm put the ECMWF model on the map as the “go to” model. In the late 90s there was the “EE” rule: if the ECMWF and ETA had it, run with it and leave the GFS & NGM behind. Back then the ECMWF ran only once a day (00z run on midnight shifts) and very little information about it made it into AFOS. I do not recall exactly, but when it did arrive, it probably was close to the time that products had to be issued. We hand typed all products back then. This was a forecast case of where the ECMWF had more of a northwest track than the other models. Meanwhile the GFS Model (labeled the MRF I think for the medium range part) was much farther southeast. A dance that has been repeated numerous times ever since: the closer we came to the event, the more northwest the GFS trended with the low. What looked like a Delmarva crush job, became a Delmarva/SE New Jersey crush job and eventually that morning of the blizzard an I-95 crush job. It is hard to put in perspective how lead time watches and warnings with this event differed from other lesser events: PHL had some 6-10” events in the city, so it is not as if it never snowed between 1983 and 1996, but not on the magnitude of this event outside of March 1993. I issued a winter storm watch the early morning of January 6th. Meteorologist Art Kraus who worked the day shift that Saturday issued winter storm warnings and I upgraded most of those warnings to Blizzard Warnings on Sunday morning January 7th . Pretty much as the snow was starting. My sense was if there was better modeling agreement, these watches and warnings would have been issued earlier. Poor Meteorologist-In-Charge Chet Henricksen had only one operational shift that month and it so happened to be that Sunday morning. He was covering I think for Art Kraus who wanted to go to the PA Farm Show. I don’t know how he made it home to Chester County Pennsylvania that afternoon. All the other meteorologists were stuck at the office. Which brings us to Monday January 8th. I was called about Noon that day and was asked to please come into the office (It is about a 15-minute drive from our house to the office) because everyone was there for over 24 hours and they were exhausted. I said sure. I had a Chevy Blazer. After The Storm Of The Century In March 1993, I had no problem driving that Blazer through 2 feet of snow to get to our home in Yorktown Heights, NY. The drive in would be a piece of cake. Little did I know about the wonders of NJ jughandles, until then. Instead of making an illegal left hand turn onto County Route 541, I decided to go the goody two shoes route and make the right hand turn into the jughandle and then make a left turn onto CR 541 at the end of it. Well that jughandle is huge and because of its eastern exposure that was very helpful in having the snow drifts get higher and higher the deeper I went into the jughandle. Yes, it happened, the snow became so deep.I became stuck. The Blazer literally was sitting on top of the snow drift and the wheels were not even in contact with the ground. Thankfully this was New Jersey and not Montana in this instance. There was a gas station that was open (no cell phones back then) and I called the office to tell them my predicament. Here my memory gets foggy (must have been the freezing cold). I do not remember if someone from the office drove over to pick me up or the tow truck operator pulled me out of the snowbank and I drove to work. I was fortunate I almost made it to the end of the jughandle. Either way I made it in that afternoon. I arrived at the office. I recall one of the greatest acts of unsolicited kindness ever done for me by a fellow employee. Matt Lorentson (then an intern) made a cup of hot tea for me and found a blanket to put on my shoulders to help me stop shivering. I will never forget this and he is symbolic of the people who work for the National Weather Service. We are one big family who help each other in times of need. I was glad I did get there, because my co-workers who were stuck sounded pretty incoherent. Going about 36 hours without any sleep will do that to you.”– Tony Gigi, retired Lead Forecaster, NWS WFO Mount Holly, NJ
“I was living in Glen Cove, on the North Shore of Long Island in Nassau County. I remember the times leading up to the storm like the back of my hand. I was a senior at Saint Mary’s High School, in my last semester prior to graduating and moving on to SUNY Stony Brook. A nor’easter fanatic from a young age, with what little we had back in the mid 90s to track weather, I was keen on watching every newscast I could find. At first it was only an outside chance of impact for the New York City metro area, most guidance showing a glancing impact or slider to the south and east. As time got closer, it appeared more likely we would receive warning level snow and my excitement grew large. There was something about it, it felt like a bigger event was unfolding. Prior to leaving for a friends’ birthday party, forecasters increased the snow amounts to 8 to 14 inches and my excitement shot through the roof, carrying me through the night during the party. After arriving home, the forecast increased to 15 to 20 inches on January 5th, all the way to 20 to 30 inches after the onset. The snow fell, the winds blew, and conditions deteriorated rapidly. Snow fell at two inches per hour for many hours, the snow piled up, and the winds blew drifts to 6 feet. We dry slotted for a period which allowed me to join a few friends on a drive to the South Shore. We witnessed huge battering waves, beach erosion, coastal flooding, and winds easily gusting 50 to 60 mph. For a 17 year old kid fascinated with weather, it was epic. We ended up with 21 inches in Glen Cove though it was difficult to find the right spot to measure due to the drifts. Snow ended more than 24 hours after it began, the weather remained cold for a couple days then a warm up ensued. I ended up working for WFO OKX during my tenure at SUNY Stony Brook then went on to a now 20+ year career with the National Weather Service, spanning 7 positions in 4 states. It’s been a great journey. Hurricane Gloria sparked my weather interest in 1985, the Nor’easter of 92 kept the journey going, and the Blizzard of ‘96 was the icing on the cake, propelling me to become a Meteorologist for life.” — Ken Widelski, NOAA Liaison to FEMA, National IMAT White
23 JUL 2020 @12:15 PM EDT: Generally hail that falls in PA is mostly dime to quarter size – and rarely larger than a tennis ball. However, today is the 10th anniversary of the largest hailstone recorded in the USA. A 1.94 lb., 7.9 inch monster that fell in Vivian, South Dakota. pic.twitter.com/nIF0UrgQNR
A burnt area of forest in the State of Para, Brazil, in the Amazon basin, on August 27, 2019. The same ocean warming that’s expected to drive a busy Atlantic hurricane season is also seen making the Amazon drier, leading to more fires.Photograph by Joao Laet, AFP/Getty Images
The 2020 fire season in the Amazon rain forest could be far worse than in 2019, researchers say, partly because of the same climate conditions that are fueling an active hurricane season to the north.
Last August, a spate of enormous, human-set fires in the Amazon sent smoke billowing over the Brazilian city of São Paulo, turning day into night and prompting an international outcry. But while those fires were unusualand alarming, the situation could have been far worse if the Amazon had been in a drought.
Unfortunately, drier-than-average conditions are exactly what’s beingforecastfor the southern Amazon this year, thanks in part to an unusual buildup of heat in the tropical North Atlantic, thousands of miles away.
That oceanic heat has also caused the Atlantic hurricane season to get off to a record fast start, a harbinger of what is predicted to be an unusually busy season. Some research suggests a causal link between hurricanes themselves and bad Amazonian fire years — although that is a matter of greater debate.
“What I think is happening is the ocean is forcing both of those conditions,” says Chris Landsea, a research meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Hurricane Center. “It’s forcing active Atlantic hurricane years, and at the same time causing fires to be likely in the Amazon.”
A perfect firestorm
Doug Morton, a NASA Earth scientist who co-created a seasonal fire forecast for the Amazon, says the rain forest faces the “perfect storm” of conditions for fire this year. Those include a ramp-up in deforestation—a key driver of fires in the Amazon—and broader patterns in the oceans and atmosphere that could lead to drought.
During the first six months of 2020, an estimated 1,184 square miles of forest were deforested—a 25 percent increase compared with the first half of 2019. Jos Barlow, a conservation scientist at Lancaster University, says if the accelerated pace of deforestation continues, nearly 6,000 square miles of forest could be logged by the end of the year, since the most intense logging season is now commencing. That would mark the highest rate of deforestation since 2005.
Amazonian landowners typically set fires to clear land for ranching and farming, although many fires are also set in public forests by people attempting to claim new land. “I’m afraid everything points to this being another very bad year for deforestation,” Barlow wrote in an email. “And unlike 2019, these clearance fires used to burn the felled forests are likely to be aggravated by a drier-than-usual climate,” meaning they could grow faster, become harder to control, and even escape into virgin rainforest.
Indeed, seasonal forecastsindicatelarge swaths of the Amazon could be plunged into drought as the dry season, which began in June and runs through November, progresses. That’s due, in part, to ocean temperatures far to the north, which form a key part of the basis for Morton’s fire forecast.
According to Yang Chen, an Earth scientist at the University of California, Irvine, who developed the forecast with Morton, temperatures in the tropical North Atlantic are currently “way above average.” When that part of the ocean is especially warm, it triggers a northward shift in the Intertropical Convergence Zone, a belt of low-pressure air that delivers intense, rainmaking thunderstorms to the tropics. If this rain belt shifts further north ahead of the southern Amazon’s dry season, it causes the dry season to start earlier and be even drier than usual.
“In previous years, when the tropical north Atlantic Ocean was warm — in 2005 and 2010 — that triggered record droughts across the Amazon,” Morton explains. “And with those droughts came fires.”
A direct link to hurricanes?
Warm tropical North Atlantic waters also fuel hurricanes, which sends moisture to the west and then north on prevailing winds instead of south. In fact, research that Morton and Chen published in 2015 shows that active Atlantic hurricane seasons and severe Amazonian fire seasons go hand in hand. While both phenomena correlate with heat in the tropical North Atlantic, they correlate more strongly with one another.
Morton believes that indicates a causal link between the two. When tropical storms and hurricanes form, he says, “they take the moisture that would otherwise flow onto the South American continent… and drive it toward the Gulf Coast and eastern seaboard of the United States. Essentially, it’s taking moisture away from the Amazon.”
Chen is less convinced that Atlantic hurricanes trigger drought in the Amazon directly, although he agrees that both “share the same reason,” namely, excessive heat in the tropical North Atlantic and its impact on weather patterns.
Landsea, of the National Hurricane Center, is also unconvinced of a direct causal link between greater numbers of Atlantic hurricanes and Amazon drought. He points out that hurricanes are “very transient events. They only last for a few days, and only account for a small percentage of the rainfall in the Carribean.” But he agrees that there’s “certainly an association” between the two phenomena.
Either way, the 2020 hurricane season should serve as a red flag for the Amazon : There have already been six named tropical storms in the Atlantic, a record for this point in the season, which only began on June 1. And hurricane activity is expected to ramp up as summer wears on and heat builds across the tropical Atlantic.
“We are anticipating it to get very busy,” Landsea says.
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