Winter storm taking shape with high impacts from ice, snow and wind

Winter storm to affect large portion of the Southeast this week

Winter storm to affect large portion of the Southeast this week

It’s not a hurricane but the disruption to travel and daily routines is going to seem like one for parts of the Southeast this week.

A complex winter storm is beginning to take shape today throughout the next few days as another round of very cold air makes its way south out of Canada. This Arctic air, combined with a low pressure area forecast to form off the Southeast coast, will likely bring heavy snow, periods of sleet and even freezing rain to areas that are not used to this type of event.

Since I am not a winter storm expert, I am not going to even begin to try and speculate on possible snow totals. After reading numerous National Weather Service forecast discussions from around the region, it is clear that this storm is going to be quite challenging. The main issue is how much snow falls versus how much sleet and freezing rain. The colder the air column is higher up in the atmosphere, the more snow will fall – making total accumulations potentially over a foot in some areas. However, if warmer air runs up and over the top of the cold, dense Arctic air, then it’s more likely that sleet and freezing rain will fall, cutting down snow accumulations. The bottom line is that areas within the winter storm warning are in line to receive enough snow and ice to cause major travel issues and even power outages.

Another problem is going to be the wind. A tight pressure gradient, or the difference between the Canadian high pressure and the Atlantic low pressure, will force the wind to increase across the Southeast- especially near the coast. This is the main reason behind the possible power outages as ice and snow will weigh down trees and powerlines only to be toppled by winds reaching 30 mph or higher. Coupled with the bitter cold, this issue can be a real problem for those who are not prepared to stay warm.

I am going to provide live coverage of this event from across a good deal of southeast North Carolina beginning this evening. My plan is to have a live streaming cam set up and running throughout the event. It will go where ever I go. I’ll take it with me in my Chevy Tahoe, the same one used for hurricane intercepts. I can provide live wind and temperature readings and of course, video and audio along the way.

I will also set up one weather station out near the airport here in Wilmington to capture wind and pressure readings (sorry, no temp on this one since we don’t typically record temperature readings during hurricanes). The unit will also have a live web cam image that will be posted every 60 seconds from the site. All of the data and the web cam image will be available via our app – Hurricane Impact. I will also post occasional screen shots from the app to Twitter and Facebook to keep those who do not have access to the app up to date on weather conditions.

In addition, I will post video blogs to the app throughout the event as I travel around southeast North Carolina. I will take snow measurements from time to time and will report in to the NWS here in Wilmington with that info – including wind gusts and temperature readings. This will be an interesting change of pace since I am not used to this type of weather.

I will have the live cam up and running by early this evening from my home office in Wilmington. Then, tomorrow morning, I will head out to provide live coverage of the winter storm from around the area. You may follow the live stream here:

Our app is available for iOS devices and for Android devices

M. Sudduth 8:40 AM ET Jan 27



The Weather Channel effect

The Weather Channel logo

The Weather Channel logo

When I was in middle school, a hurricane approached the North Carolina coast. The year was 1984. The Weather Channel was two years old, CNN was four. Both networks were covering the hurricane, Diana, with ’round the clock reports. Not only were there trained meteorologists in the studio but The Weather Channel had just as potent a team covering the storm in the field. For a weather geek like me, this was heaven via cable TV.

As the years progressed, the coverage evolved and so did my intelligence level when it came to hurricanes. By 1989 I was pretty sure I wanted to do something in the weather business though I was not sure as to exactly what that would be. This is the year Hugo smashed the South Carolina coastline. I’ll never forget the on-air schooling I felt I was getting just by watching John Hope, Rich Johnson, Jim Cantore, Mark Mancuso and others. It was like a free tropical meteorology course, just as long as my parents paid the cable bill. I was hooked. I was also not alone.

As it turns out, I know of countless other people, many of whom are in the weather business, who grew up with the same experiences as I did in regards to The Weather Channel. We each aspired in our own secret ways to become Jim Cantore or John Hope. In short, The Weather Channel inspired a generation of weather geeks. Why? Because it was the weather that was being reported on. Nothing more, nothing less. The weather, all by itself, provided the best drama on Earth. If there was even the chance that a hurricane would hit the U.S. coast or a major blizzard would strike the Northeast (and perhaps even more so, the Southeast) then The Weather Channel’s ratings would soar. People watched. It was on in hotel lobbys, bars, restaurants and in the homes of millions of Americans. Heck, The Weather Channel even made commercials about themselves and the phenomenon that they created. You remember – it was a spoof of a sports bar but instead it was a weather themed place called “The Front”. It captured the reality that most people are at least interested in the weather if not downright captivated by it.

Then, something happened. As with all things, change is inevitable. The Weather Channel became more of a news outlet, reporting on more and more content that was, perhaps, better left to CNN and other cable news outlets. Then came the global warming cause and with it, politics rained from the stormy skies. I began tuning out at about this time. It was not weather anymore but instead man-made drama which was far less exciting to me. I wanted to see Cantore reporting on a hurricane or a blizzard, not a climate scientist telling me how bad we humans are fouling things up. I don’t know when it happened, perhaps as the Internet really took off in the early to mid-2000s, but I began not watching The Weather Channel. It was as if someone took away my childhood memories. I know that sounds melodramatic, but the first 20 years had such an impact on me as to help shape my career. The changes that came as the next 20 began pushed me away. Once again, I was not alone.

As time marched on, long format programs began and had a shot of being relevant in my opinion. “Storm Stories” was at least about amazing weather-related stories featuring perhaps the best known storm chaser in all of history: Jim Cantore. That lead to more and more documentary type programming which further pushed me away. I turned to the Internet for nearly 100% of my weather info before The Weather Channel reached their 30th birthday.

I never openly criticized The Weather Channel for any of their choices for many reasons. Mainly, who am I? Just a guy with a fairly successful hurricane related website and business. I also have friends who work there. I just let it go and went about my business even in the face of such odd moves as naming winter storms. I could not believe my ears when I learned of this. I had not watched a single frame of The Weather Channel in so long that I hardly recognized it when I tuned in to see what this was all about. So many of the familiar faces were gone due to a variety of circumstances. It was like visiting a child hood town that was small, comforting and quaint growing up but had morphed in to something alien and unrecognizable.

Now we have come to the latest chapter in the venerable network’s book. DirecTV has decided, based upon customer input as part of that decision, to not carry The Weather Channel on their service. This hits home financially for The Weather Channel and the case was made by them that DirecTV’s pulling of their content could put Americans in peril during severe weather outbreaks. While I can see the value of having the talent of The Weather Channel at your beck and call when Ma Nature is about to hand out a whooping, I have serious concerns about people relying only on satellite based content for their severe weather information. Surely there must be some other source, more reliable than satellite, for severe weather information? There is. It’s called NOAA Weather Radio. You buy it once, program it, get batteries for back up, and you’re golden. I can assure you that NOAA Weather Radio does not fade out when it rains like cats and dogs. For The Weather Channel to believe that they are so important to Americans that their very survival may depend on whether or not DirecTV carries their signal is carrying it a little too far in my opinion. As I often hear on ESPN Radio with Mike and Mike when they have Chris Carter on, “C’mon Man!!!!”.

DirecTV received complaints about too much “non-weather” programming. The management changed the formula and it had resulted in people tuning out. It’s that simple, it has to be. The weather has not become any less exciting. Sure we go through periods of zero hurricanes or very few tornadoes. At the end of the day, the weather is causing some town, some where, plenty of grief and there’s plenty more coming. I say, stick to the basics.

Weather connects us in ways that few people ever truly grasp. In May of 1982 and for over 20 years, at least for me, The Weather Channel understood that concept. Weather can be a viable business but it has to be taken seriously. A return to what I believe most people truly want to see – weather – is the key to the long term success of The Weather Channel and any other enterprise trying to jump in to the weather business. Leave the politics, documentaries and silly winter storm names for vintage Saturday Night Live sketches.

M. Sudduth 3:00pm ET Jan 14

Prospects of major, disruptive East Coast storm are increasing for next week

GFS snap shot showing low pressure near Lousiana with heavy rain and strong onshore wind - valid Tuesday morning

GFS snap shot showing low pressure near Lousiana with heavy rain and strong onshore wind – valid Tuesday morning

The latest run of the GFS model paints a very ugly picture for a enormous stretch of the U.S. population from the Gulf Coast to Maine as the potential for a substantial early winter storm increases for next week.

It starts out innocently enough in the northwest Gulf of Mexico between 72 and 96 hours and then cranks up as it rides along the northern Gulf Coast. This, in and of itself, will bring strong onshore winds, heavy rain and the possibility of coastal flooding to parts of Louisiana and Mississippi.

The low then intensifies and brings with it copious amounts of rain in to Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas. It’s what happens next that could wreak havoc on travel for millions of people from North Carolina to Maine and then in to Canada.

GFS model valid Weds afternoon showing intensfying low pressure just off the NC/VA coast heading northeast

GFS model valid Weds afternoon showing intensfying low pressure just off the NC/VA coast heading northeast

The low pushes off the North Carolina/Virginia coast on Wednesday afternoon (according to the latest GFS model run for 00UTC November 22) and quickly intensifies as it moves just offshore of the East Coast. In fact, it deepens or strengthens to 985 millibars just east of Cape Cod by early in the morning on Thursday – Thanksgiving Day.

For coastal areas, heavy rain and strong winds could lead to beach erosion issues and coastal flooding.

In the interior portions of the Northeast it looks like heavy, wet snow is in store depending on how much cold air is in place. The snow could make it down to the coast and in to the big cities but how much and for how long is impossible to know this far in advance.

GFS model plot showing low pressure area in the Gulf of Maine with a reading of at least 981 millibars

GFS model plot showing low pressure area in the Gulf of Maine with a reading of at least 981 millibars

Behind the storm, bitter cold air remains in place for the busiest shopping day of the year along much of the East Coast. This could pose problems for people who plan to stake out a spot in line for savings at the big retail locations. If there is snow cover, ground temps will be even colder.

On the other hand, the very reliable ECMWF global model shows the low considerably weaker and the energy stretched out over a larger area off the East Coast. Thus you don’t get the so-called “bombing out” of the low over the relatively warm waters of the western Atlantic. The result is less impact but still a good deal of snow possible for parts of New England.

So what’s it going to be? Which model has the right solution this far out? No one knows – it is not possible and as we know when dealing with hurricanes, things can and do change on a daily basis.

What I think is a near certainty is that we will see quite the storm system take shape over the Gulf of Mexico and progress eastward through early next week. As I mentioned earlier this week, travelers along the I-10 corridor from Texas to Florida need to be aware of this weather pattern and plan for delays etc.

Whether or not a memorable, disruptive storm for the East Coast becomes a reality is still in question. I think it is important for people to at least be aware of the potential and thus be more in tune with what is potentially brewing for next week. I know there is a fine line between all out hype and trying to make sure people are in the know. I think it runs even deeper for big ticket snow events for the East Coast where tens of millions of people could be impacted. I’m just telling you what I see on the GFS operational model – a very good, often excellent, global model. Whether or not it turns out to be right or at least on the right path remains to be seen. I guess we’ll know for sure as we sit down to carve the turkey a little less than a week from now.

I’ll be watching closely and will post more info here as it comes in.

M. Sudduth 8:00 AM ET Nov 22

Hurricanes out, winter storms in

GFS model output showing possible significant storm system next week moving across the Southeast and then off-shore of the East Coast

GFS model output showing possible significant storm system next week moving across the Southeast and then off-shore of the East Coast

Even though we still have a few days left in the official hurricane season, it is, for all intents and purposes, over. The United States had a remarkable season with only one minor landfall in Florida and that was Alberto back in early June. Ever since, hurricanes have been scarce and have stayed well away from U.S. coastal interests.

Now it is time to focus on winter storms and as I mentioned in a recent post, will be covering major winter storms starting with this season. And when I say cover, I mean in person, just like we do with hurricane landfalls. Not every winter storm will be within our financial or logistical reach but for the ones that are, I believe the coverage we can provide will be both helpful and informative for those who follow winter weather.

With all of that being said, it is time to begin looking for the first major East Coast event and I see a chance of that happening next week.

Both the ECMWF and the GFS global models agree on bringing quite a bit of cold air in to the country over the coming days. In fact, a large chunk of high pressure is forecast to move south out of Canada and bring with it some very cold temperatures.

With the cold comes the chance for storms and the models are beginning to show what may be a significant winter weather event coming up for next week.

It all starts with a low pressure area developing in the northwest Gulf of Mexico, a typical genesis region for big-time winter storms. Along the I-10 corridor, heavy rain and possibly even severe weather looks possible as the low tracks eastward across the northern Gulf Coast states.

After the low makes the turn to the north, which is what is generally forecast by the models right now, things get potentially very interesting.

As we see with hurricane threats, it all has to do with timing and track. It’s not quite winter yet so the cold air is not as stout as it will be in a month or more. However, there may be just enough cold air in place so that a major snow event shapes up for interior areas of the Northeast. It is way too soon to pin down any specifics but from the looks of things, next week could be nasty for travel across parts of I-10 across the Gulf Coast and then up I-95 and in to the big cities of the East Coast.

Wind, rain, severe weather and possibly heavy snow may make next week quite a memorable one considering it’s also Thanksgiving week – a time when millions will hit the road for travel. It is also worth noting that this cold snap and accompanying storm system could impact the ability for people to shop at brick and mortar stores either pre-Thanksgiving or on so-called Black Friday. We’ll have to wait and see about timing, etc. but be aware that next week may not be a picture postcard holiday period.

Stay tuned – I’ll have more updates in the days ahead and if conditions warrant, this may be the first attempt at covering a major winter storm with live video, weather data and field reports. The way I look at it, why not? We have the technology and as such, we might as well put it to use and provide a unique perspective as winter weather moves in.

M. Sudduth 7:00 AM ET Nov 20

Atlantic quiet while other parts of the world being hammered by tropical cyclones

Global tropical cyclone activity is currently limited to the west Pacific and the Bay of Bengal

Global tropical cyclone activity is currently limited to the west Pacific and the Bay of Bengal

There are three intense tropical cyclones menacing portions of the west Pacific and the Bay of Bengal but none to be found anywhere in the Atlantic Basin. Obviously this is good news for those of us in the Western Hemisphere but not so much for people in the Philippines or parts of India.

First, the Atlantic. Not much to talk about here today. We do have invest area 98L still trying to develop in the face of pretty strong upper level winds. It may eek out depression status or perhaps a weak tropical storm but that’s about it. Conditions are simply not favorable in the Atlantic right now.

As we head way out to the west, a strong typhoon is moving through the northern Philippines today and will then likely head straight west towards Vietnam early next week. It is still the heart of typhoon season in the west Pacific and thus large, powerful typhoons are common this time of year.

Extensive flooding is likely taking place over portions of the northern Philippines as the area has mountains that wring out the moisture in excessive amounts. This will also be the case for Vietnam, depending on where the typhoon makes landfall.

Next up, farther to the east, another typhoon is gathering strength over the open waters of the west Pacific. It is forecast to curve northeast with time and could make a close pass to Japan next week, similar to a large hurricane moving north and then east near the Southeast U.S. This is something that interests in Japan will want to monitor closely. As with hurricanes in the Atlantic, there is often track variability and typhoons are subject to the same forecast errors that hurricanes are. Perhaps southern Japan takes a direct hit, perhaps not. We’ll have to wait and see. As we often witness with hurricanes taking aim along the Southeast U.S. coast, it’s all about timing of troughs and ridges.

The last area to talk about is the most concerning this weekend. It is a cyclone, which is the same thing as a hurricane but with a different name, in the Bay of Bengal.

Cyclones are named just like hurricanes are. This is one is Phailin (pronounced PAY-lin from what I understand) and is very intense. Top winds are near 160 mph with higher gusts. This would make Phailin a category five hurricane if it were in the Atlantic Basin. Unfortunately, the Bay of Bengal, like the Gulf of Mexico, is closed in and it’s almost impossible for cyclones to miss land. Some of the worst tragedies in human weather history have come from cyclones ravaging the northern parts of the Bay near the Ganges River Delta.

This particular cyclone is forecast to make landfall along eastern India, perhaps near the mouth of the river Rushikulya and the city of Ganjam. The government is urging people to flee the region to avoid the enormous storm surge that is likely to inundate the region. This is what the Bay of Bengal is infamous for and we will likely see this event making international news. I am hopeful that word will spread and people will evacuate the area so that loss of life will be kept to a minimum or perhaps eliminated. With such advanced warning now, it is indeed a tragedy to lose anyone to the effects of tropical cyclones but we know how things go.

The activity around the globe, excluding the Atlantic Basin, is not too unusual for this time of year. What is very unusual is for the Atlantic to be as quiet as it has been this season. I see nothing in the long range to be concerned with anywhere across the Atlantic. We are coming up on eight years since the last major hurricane made landfall – Wilma in late October 2005. It has also been that long since ANY hurricane made landfall in Florida. This is simply incredible and the string of excellent luck appears that it will continue for the next week to 10 days at least.

I’ll post more here over the weekend regarding the typhoons and cyclone Phailin.

M. Sudduth 2:30 pm ET Oct 11