Coverage of Southeast winter storm begins Tuesday

My route for covering the winter storm

My route for covering the winter storm

A rare and powerful, disruptive winter storm is about to affect portions of the Southeast with ice, snow and wind that could cause major travel issues and power outages. Sounds like the perfect time to test out some equipment that we normally use during hurricane events.

As such, I will be starting out in the Wilmington, NC area Tuesday morning. From there, I will head north to New Bern and then to points north and west from there (see the map). I feel as if interior areas away from the ocean will see the highest snow amounts. As long as I can travel safely, I will track the snow bands and stream the entire adventure live on our public Ustream channel.

Along the way, I will post frequent video blogs to our app – Hurricane Impact. This is a very cool feature that we use for hurricanes but have not had much use these past couple of years (good news, right?). So if you have the app, check it every so often, at least once per hour, for a new video post from the road. I think you’ll find the coverage to be very thorough and informative. I will have temperature and wind readings straight from the Tahoe’s weather station, adding more value to the video blogs. If you don’t have the app, now’s a great time to get it and follow along. Search Hurricane Impact in the App Store or on Google Play. You’ll be glad you did.

In addition to the video posts, I have a live weather station running from my home office in Wilmington complete with wind, pressure and a live web cam shot from my yard. How often will ever get to do this? Again, if you have the app, check out the weather data page – the info updates dynamically every minute or so.

Obviously this event will help us to be ready for the upcoming hurricane season but the reality is that this storm is going to have serious effects for the people it is going to impact. Cold temps, snow, sleet and ice, combined with strong winds, will make for a miserable couple of days. Please be careful if you need to be out and about. I will do the same driving around the eastern part of the state and if it gets too rough, I’ll duck in somewhere and get a hotel room. Common sense should prevail and all will be well.

To follow the live Tahoe cam (we actually call it our ‘everywhere cam’) click here

I’ll be up and running by sun up. Hope you can follow along and interact via social media or our subscription site’s live chat board. If you’re in the path of this storm, stay warm and above all else, stay safe! I’ll see you from somewhere out in the storm!

M. Sudduth 11:05 pm ET Jan 27

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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: http://www.ustream.tv/hurricanetrack

Our app is available for iOS devices and for Android devices

M. Sudduth 8:40 AM ET Jan 27

 

 

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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

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The bad side to a good hurricane season

The 2013 Atlantic hurricane season is officially over. The season ended with 13 named storms, two of which became hurricanes. There were no category two or three hurricanes this year – something that is extremely rare to have happen. While there will be plenty of speculation as to what “went wrong”, the bottom line is that, for millions of coastal dwellers, especially in the United States, the 2013 hurricane season was about as tame as they get. According to the official report from the National Hurricane Center, tropical storm Andrea caused around $25 million in damage and resulted in one death from rough surf in South Carolina. Otherwise, the season was a non-event.

Before we go and celebrate too much, let’s consider the longer term implications of what’s been going on the last several years.

Florida has not had a single hurricane landfall since Wilma in 2005. A child who was in the 6th grade during Wilma would now be a sophomore in college. Every child who was born in Florida since Wilma (and still lives there) has never experienced a hurricane of any magnitude. That is simply astounding and honestly, a huge problem. We’re talking millions of people who have zero hurricane experience. And this is just Florida.

For the United States as a whole, the time between major hurricane landfalls, hurricanes that are of category three or higher, is now more than eight years. While there is a case to be made that Ike in 2008 was a “major event” and Sandy as well last year, those hurricanes were not intense, well developed, category three or higher. Think about that for a moment. As bad as Sandy was, affecting as much coastline as it did, it was only a category one as it approached New Jersey. Obviously, Sandy was an extraordinary event, especially considering the amount of coastline it impacted. However, it is not without precedent to have large, fully tropical, intense hurricanes making landfall in the Northeast. They are not common but they do happen. Sandy was not anything close to a worse case scenario and yet it is the second costliest hurricane disaster in U.S. history.

My point is that yes, it is great to have a free pass once in a while. What worries me is the extended amount of time that the U.S. is going without dealing with a significant hurricane landfall. Practice makes perfect, or so they say, but with no hurricanes of any magnitude to practice with, how can we expect to be fully prepared?

I can see it now. Budgets will be cut for hurricane awareness, mitigation and preparation. The rationale will be “we haven’t had a hurricane so why bother?” The good ole out of sight, out of mind principle. It will happen and it will weaken the response effort, I can assure you. That is what I am worried about. The longer we go without a hurricane, especially a major hurricane, the worse it will likely be when it does happen. Why do I think this is the likely outcome? Let’s look at one event: Katrina.

Katrina whacked Florida first and then the central Gulf Coast. It was the sixth major hurricane to strike the United States in less than two years. Yes, that’s right, the SIXTH! In 2004 we had: Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne. Then, in 2005, Dennis struck the Florida panhandle as a category three in July. Katrina was a little more than a month later. We had five previous major hurricanes to “practice” with and still got it totally wrong with Katrina. One would have thought that by the time Katrina was taking aim on New Orleans and the Mississippi coast that it would be a no-brainer and every possible measure would have been taken to mitigate loss of life and damage to property. History tells the rest of that story quite well.

Logic would then dictate that if we cannot get it right after five back-to-back events, then how on earth will we have a chance to get it right when nothing at all (no major hurricanes) has happened since before the iPad was invented?

I worry. I really do. I have people ask me all the time about where all the hurricanes have gone. I don’t have solid answers. I tell them to at least keep a watch out and not let their guard down. It’s hard to keep banging a drum when no one has a reason to even listen. One does not want to become annoying with the drum-banging either so it’s a fine line that has to be straddled. We know it is only a matter of time until the hurricanes return. When they do, will we as a nation be ready or will we have forgotten the images of people on roof tops, people dead in the streets, people calling for heads to roll high up the political chain of command?

It is thus critically important, more now than anytime since 2005, to keep hurricanes on the front burner. Let’s not cut out education and awareness programs. Keep the funding for research and forecasting improvements. Hurricanes are not extinct. We’ve had some incredible luck these past eight years. We need only to look at what took place in the Philippines to give us a glimpse of how bad it can get. Consider too that they have the most tropical cyclone experience of any land mass on the planet.

The season may be over but hurricanes have not gone extinct. Now is not the time to turn our backs on the inevitable fact that one day, perhaps in 2014, perhaps longer, another powerful storm will go down in history – I just hope it’s for all the right reasons. We know all the wrong ones, let’s see if we remember.

I’ll have plenty of off-season info on a regular basis. This includes winter storm coverage for East Coast events and severe weather outbreaks. The blog will be updated from time to time and of course, this includes our app for iPhone and Android devices. Thanks for relying on us for hurricane news and info again this year. We’re working on some new and innovative technology for our field program and can’t wait to unveil it next spring. When the hurricanes do come back, we’ll be more capable and ready than ever before. Have a wonderful Christmas and be safe! We want you back in 2014!

M. Sudduth 8:55 am ET December 2

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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

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