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Posted at 6:30 PM ET, 02/16/2011

Cloud streets, Hawaii calls, Commutageddon, communication, and climate change

By Jason Samenow

Clouds streets seen over the western Atlantic off the coast of New England. Captured by NASA's Modis instrument on January 24. Source: NASA.

There have been lots of interesting and entertaining weather and climate nuggets in the news in recent days, too many to write about as individual items. So here is an aggregation of them, woven together (kind of like a cloud street) for your reading pleasure...

Cloud streets: There had to be a purpose for all of that cold air crossing the U.S., right? You bet: for mother nature to airbrush long, picturesque streets of clouds in the skies over the western Atlantic (as shown above). NASA tells us how these form: "Cloud streets form when cold air blows over warmer waters, while a warmer air layer--or temperature inversion--rests over top of both. The comparatively warm water of the ocean gives up heat and moisture to the cold air mass above, and columns of heated air--thermals--naturally rise through the atmosphere. As they hit the temperature inversion like a lid, the air rolls over like the circulation in a pot of boiling water. The water in the warm air cools and condenses into flat-bottomed, fluffy-topped cumulus clouds that line up parallel to the wind."

Hawaii tourism booming: The cold and sometimes stormy weather blowing over the lower 48 states this winter (forming cloud streets on the downwind waters) has caused mainlanders to flock in droves in the opposite direction. The New York Times reports domestic air passenger arrivals to Hawaiian islands increased 10 percent in January 2011 relative to the same period in 2010.

Keep reading for more...

Winter 2010-2011 records & extremes: Wunderground has a great compilation of the various snow records which have been set this winter from Glasgow, Montana's record 42 inches in January to New York City's two top 10 blizzards.

Winter 2010-2011 lessons learned: Stu Ostro at discusses the patterns that have led to the remarkable weather conditions across much of the U.S. this winter. In his conclusion, noting the multiple instances of traffic fiascos across the country as well as mass power outages and roof collapses, he aptly states: "...this season has dramatically illustrated, in both the U.S. and Europe, how vulnerable we are to severe winter conditions."

Commutageddon again and again: The American Meteorological Society's Front Page blog, recalling all of stranded vehicle incidents this winter, discusses the challenges of communicating our vulnerability to winter hazards. It notes despite warnings from forecasters and public officials about paralyzing blizzards "people continue to miss, misunderstand, or simply ignore the message for potentially dangerous winter storms to stay off the roads." The blog cites some of ideas I put forth for enhancing communication post-Commutageddon. WJLA's Bob Ryan weighs in on this as well, stating: "The forecast process is a three-part system: We meteorologists make the forecast, we effectively communicate the forecast information and you the public make a good-weather related decision. If any part fails, the entire process fails."

Communication failure during Pakistan's summer floods: In my commentary following Commutageddon, I wrote about the importance of the greater community working together to effectively communicate the risk when severe weather threatens. My colleague Brian Vastag wrote an excellent article (that appeared in Monday's printe edtion) that demonstrates how that is much easier said than done in parts of the developing world where resources are scarce and warning systems insufficient. He describes the devastating flood in Pakistan that drowned 2,000 people despite the fact the European computer model simulated the extreme rains more than a week in advance. "The incident highlights both the growing sophistication of computer programs to predict extreme weather and the difficulties in communicating that information to an anxious public," Vastag wrote.

Increasing greenhouse gases to lead to more flooding? Post Carbon summarizes the results of two new studies published in the journal Nature this week that find strong linkages between increasing greenhouse gases and the concurrent increasing intensity of rainfall events.

January 2010 departures from average (red: warmer than average, blue: colder than average). Source: NOAA.

January 2011- Regionally cool but globally warm:NOAA's Environmental Visualization Laboratory features an image (shown above) which nicely shows that while the U.S. was colder than average, the planet was warm overall...the 11th warmest on record, in fact.

By Jason Samenow  | February 16, 2011; 6:30 PM ET
Categories:  Latest, News & Notes  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: PM Update: Springlike air returns
Next: Forecast: A Spring tease over next two days


Jason, this is the first time I noticed Brian Vastag's byline. Is he new? Could you tell us his background? TIA

Posted by: imback | February 16, 2011 7:04 PM | Report abuse


Brian's a relatively new reporter for the Health and Science section. Don't know much about his background but have been impressed by his work. He sits near me and consulted me for this article.

Posted by: Jason-CapitalWeatherGang | February 16, 2011 7:16 PM | Report abuse

Just a suggestion for the commutageddon part. There seems to be a player missing -- employers. On storm weekends when there's no job mediating that meteorologist-public dialogue, it seems most people do stay home and wait it out. But most of us really really really need our jobs, so if our employers don't heed the meteorologists, we are, effectively, at their mercy as well as the weather's.

It would be nice if municipal authorities exercised some power in those situations, and employers and employees understood they weren't trying to undermine anyone's profit margin or productivity, just trying to protect public well-being. Hey, I'm a dreamer!

And speaking of dreamy, love those cloud streets...

Posted by: dclioness1 | February 16, 2011 7:21 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, Jason. I'm impressed so far, too.

Posted by: imback | February 16, 2011 7:49 PM | Report abuse

RE: January Regionally cool but globally warm

Yeah, the Earth as a whole looks pretty warm according to that map. Pretty hard to believe after this awful cold, dry, snowless weather we've had to endure.

But gosh, Siberia looks like the jackpot of cold air.

Any particular reason/explanation for this [Siberia being abnormally cold], CWG?


Posted by: BobMiller2 | February 16, 2011 8:04 PM | Report abuse

Just some friendly advice: Always look both ways before crossing a cloud street.

Posted by: rwalker66 | February 16, 2011 8:08 PM | Report abuse

@dclioness1 -

Well stated. The elephant in the room is the behavior of employers, particularly private employers, with regards to serious weather events. With most companies, if you miss work, you have to take leave, regardless of why you miss work. Heck, in many cases, they force employees to take leave even if the office is closed.

We don't have "ample" leave in the US like other countries do. So most people are going to stick it out, come what may, rather than use precious leave for a snow day. This is particularly the case where, as here, things were fine in the morning and only deteriorated in the afternoon.

I luckily have the ability to work from home so I can make a more informed decision about when to leave work with events like Commutageddon on the horizon. But many people do not have that luxury - so they just take their chances. Leave is too precious to waste for a snow day (and, of course, there are folks who don't have the luxury of paid leave at all).

I've long suggested local authorities should be able to declare some sort of state of emergency for truly extreme weather events that requires companies to close except for the most essential functions and requires they not charge employee's leave balances. The unconscionable behavior of private employers in events like this not only endangers the lives of employees, it also clogs the region's roadways, greatly slowing overall recovery from the storm, blocks emergency vehicle access, etc.

Then you've got the simple fact that many people, including decision makers for things like closing, simply do not believe forecasting is accurate and have a "I'll believe it when I See it" attitude for snow events. With an event like this one, that didn't work, because leaving once it started was way too late.

Posted by: jahutch | February 16, 2011 8:16 PM | Report abuse

i like these weather nuggets...nice way to get a tasty bite of weather goodness after a long day at work.

Posted by: dinergirl1 | February 16, 2011 8:39 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure a communications failure can be heavily blamed in Pakistan or at least put in the forefront of why the disaster was so bad. The floods were slow moving once underway and there's really only so much that could have been done beforehand -- unless you get down into the real basics of communication (schooling, roads, govt of any sort etc). Much of the initial flooding occurred in the lawless regions of the country. A lot of the follow up down river was infrastructure failure with plenty of lead time. Ultimately the intensity of a "once in suchever" event and coverage of the flooding was too large for the emergency response to handle.

Posted by: Ian-CapitalWeatherGang | February 16, 2011 11:41 PM | Report abuse

Cloud streets are responsible for frequent thunderstorms during the winter over the ocean on our side of the Atlantic. The cold continental air passes over water still in the fifties, sixties or seventies due to the northeastward moving Gulf Stream. This results in vigorous convection and numerous thunderstorms. Warm water evaporates into the cold air and condenses into cumulus congestus/cumulonimbus clouds which produce heavy showers and thunderstorms. Many of these clouds arrange in the form of cloud streets.

Commutageddon: As I posted a while back, the storm was well-forecast. The Feds and private employers through COG should have dismissed everyone at noon, not "two hours early". There would be a lot fewer people on the road at 4 pm.

Offices are reluctant to close because it seems to lose money for them and we also have a rather high proportion of "busted" forecasts when the storm fails to materialize; e.g. Dec. 26, 2010. This time, MWCOG should have encouraged or even mandated closure at noon; the low aloft was causing thundersnow and thundersleet near Charlottesville and moving right toward us.

Greenhouse gases, etc.: Looks to me as though the climate changes, etc. cause redistribution of precipitation patterns rather than perceived rises in temperature. Thus we're getting droughts in some areas, floods in others. Around here we're getting generally dry winters and TominMichiganPark keeps hoping for the kind of raw, rainy, dreary spring that gives me SAD. I even heard whining for more rain last winter when we had plenty of snow which melted slowly without much flooding. The reason: evidently there weren't too many "normal" precipitation events between the big snowstorms; there was also a prolonged dry period in September when we normally have two to five inches of rain from tropical/subtropical systems moving up the coast. Last summer's rain events were scattered but severe and provided heavy rainfall in most areas around here.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | February 17, 2011 11:36 AM | Report abuse

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