Tuesday, November 27, 2007

100% Chance This May Be Right

There are a few jobs I'm glad I don't have. Even though there is a need (I respect you guys!), I couldn't be a roadkill cleaner (see picture). I have no desire to be the guy in the batting cage-turned golf cart thing that collects balls at the driving range (don't know about you, but he's always my target practice). Finally, I'm glad I'm not a seasonal hurricane forecaster. Yup, the guys that announce just before the hurricane season how "quiet" or "bad" it's going to be from June through November in the Atlantic basin. Let's review, shall we...

2005: Hurricane prediction well below what occurred. 28 named storms, so many the Greek alphabet was used. Storms like Katrina, Rita and Wilma hit the U.S.
2006: Following the massive devastation and loss of life from the '05 season, seasonal forecasters predicted "higher-than-average" activity. It didn't happen.
2007: Same thing. 17 named storms, 9 hurricanes predicted. We had 14 named storms, and 6 hurricanes. Humberto was really the only storm to affect the U.S.

PLEASE don't get me wrong. I couldn't be a seasonal hurricane forecaster, that's why I'm in the broadcasting end of meteorology. I just don't think the "science" is there yet to accurately predict what exactly a hurricane season will be like. Is there value in these forecasts? - YES! But, the public is already questioning the last three "botched" years of hurricane forecasts. Blogs on Tuesday were filled with comments like: "These forecasts are a joke!", "...why do we even have weather reports!?", and my favorite, "The winning numbers for Wednesday's Florida Lottery drawing are: 3-14-28-35-41-50." When the public starts to form an opinion as strongly as this, it'll take a few years of near 100% accuracy to change their minds. Even Max Mayfield, former director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami said, "The seasonal hurricane forecasters certainly have a lot of explaining to do."

Again, don't get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for these folks who dish out these forecasts, but it's like me telling you how much snow we're going to get between now and spring within two-inches. I could guess, but I'd probably be wrong, and you'd probably hold me to my forecast!

Hurricane season ends Friday. Hope your week is going well! --Jay

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving To You!

I hope you get to spend lots of time with your family this Thanksgiving. Be careful on the roads! Traffic will be hectic Wednesday, and Thursday promises to be wet on Virginia's interstates (if you're traveling then!) More blogging will follow Thanksgiving; in the meantime, enjoy this passage from STORMFAX on the weather conditions during the winter of 1620-1621. --Jay

The Winter of 1620-'21
Copyright © 1996-2007 STORMFAX, Inc.

The decision of the Pilgrims to land on the shores of Massachusetts was dictated by the weather. At the time the Mayflower was passing the southeastern tip of Cape Cod, the wind and waves prompted the crew to make landfall out of danger rather than proceed to their planned destination at New York Harbor. The small 180-ton ship passed the central headland of Cape Cod near Nauset soon after daybreak on November 19, 1620, but found itself in the dangerous shoals east of Monomoy Point. The Pilgrims turned back northward, taking advantage of the south wind and eventually found safety rounding the northern tip of the Cape into the protected waters of the bay. Clear weather and a favorable wind held on the 20th and 21st, speeding the ship northward. The Mayflower dropped anchor early in the morning of the 21st in Provincetown Harbor after 65 days at sea. (1)
William Bradford, historian and later governor of Plymouth Plantation, described what faced the Pilgrims at Provincetown:
Being thus passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before in their preparation, they had now no friends to welcome them or inns to entertain or refresh their weather-beaten bodies; no houses or much less towns to repair to... And for now it was Winter, and they that know the winters of that country know them to be sharp and violent, and subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search and unknown coast. (2)
Nearly all historians describe the winter of 1620-'21 as mild, though the season began with harsh weather early in December just at the time the Pilgrims were exploring the unknown land. Bradford described the conditions of December 7th and 8th: for the ground was now all covered with snow and hard frozen. Snow depth was half a foot. Another exploration party set out the 16th in very cold and hard weather to reach the southern shore of Cape Cod Bay. The 17th was windy, the weather was very cold and it froze hard as the spray of the sea lighting on their coats, they were as if they had been glazed. (2)
The afternoon of the 18th brought snow and rain. (These early winter conditions eventually gave way to milder weather when the winds shifted from the northeast to a more southerly flow.) The expedition then moved to the western shore of the Bay where one of the mariners remembered visiting a large harbor on a previous voyage. Samuel de Champlain had visited this harbor in 1605 and published a navigation chart of the area in 1612. The Pilgrims were not the earliest to visit Plymouth harbor with their landing on that stormy night of December 18th-19th, 1620. (1)
More favorable weather followed the storm. After two days of drying out, exploring the small island, and sounding the harbor, the famous landing took place on December 21st, from a small rowboat and not from the larger ship, on a sandy beach and not on a "rock," by only ten men and not with women and children, and without ceremony as the men were afraid of meeting hostile natives on shore. After a reconnaissance showed the area to have some advantages over other places recently surveyed, the small boat returned to Provincetown and the entire company came over on the Mayflower on December 26th. The decision was made to found the colony on the surveyed site at Plymouth, in part by the weather: (1)
Now the heart of winter, and unseasonable weather, was come upon us, so that we could not go upon coasting and discovery, without danger of losing men and boat, especially considering what variable winds and sudden storms do there arise. Also cold and wet lodging has so tainted our people (for scarce any of us were free of vehement coughs) as if they could continue long in that state, it would endanger the lives of many, and breed disease and infection amongst us. (3)
The winter of 1620-'21 was "a calm winter, such as was never seen here since," wrote Thomas Dudley of Massachusetts Bay in 1630. Edward Winslow, one of the original Pilgrims, also wrote about the "remarkable mildness" of that first winter in Good Newes from New England, published in 1624. There was testimony by others to a mild end of December, a moderate January, a brief cold spell with sleet and some snow in early February, followed by definitely mild conditions and an early spring. (1)
Despite the generally warmer than normal conditions, almost half of the original passengers and crew of the Mayflower succumbed to disease during the first winter on the shores of Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bay. Many lived on board the Mayflower anchored a mile-and-a-half offshore and went to the land each day, weather permitting, to build adequate shelters. William Bradford described the winter weather as blustery with much rain. (2)
Most early Pilgrim writers dwelt very briefly on the subject of New England weather, bent on sending favorable reports to please their sponsors in England or on trying to persuade other settlers to make the hard decision to come to America.
There is no detailed information as to the nature of subsequent winters during the first decade of settlement at Plymouth, but we know life was hard on that rough shore where the approach of winter led the Pilgrims to establish their settlement. It was a marginal existence with the weather more an adversary than a friend. Each winter was a dreaded season.
(1) David Ludlum. Early American Winters 1604-1820. Boston, American Meteorological Society, 1966. 7-12.
(2) William Bradford. Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647. Samuel E. Morison, ed. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1952. 60-71.
(3) Mourt's Relation or Journal of the Plantation at Plymouth. Henry M. Dexter, ed. Boston, John Kimball Wiggin, 1865. 39.

Monday, November 12, 2007

On The Road Again...

It's always a great pleasure to go out to local schools and talk to students about weather. (I probably get more out of it than they do!) Last Friday Mrs. Jennifer Green's fourth grade class was on the docket, so I packed up my gear and headed to Eureka Elementary School.
Eureka E.S. is just outside the Keysville town limits in Charlotte County - nearly a two hour drive from our Roanoke studios. The drive was worth it - as Mrs. Green's students were well prepared for our weather discussion. They we're very attentive, asked great questions (and some tough ones, too!) and were all around hospitable. It's nice to know we have such a captive audience in Charlotte County, even though they're closer to the Richmond TV market.
Routes 40 and 47 provided many great picture opportunities. From Appomattox, to Charlotte Court House, I snapped many shots. Unfortunately, the only picture that survived the trip (technology gremlins!) is the least picturesque of all them - but it'll have to do!
Thanks again to Mrs. Green and the fourth grade class at Eureka Elementary School for the memories!
Next up, my Alma mater... Narrows High School in Giles County...

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Drought Improves

The drought hasn't been busted, but we're looking better than several weeks ago. The Roanoke Regional Airport picked up about three inches of much needed rain from Tuesday, October 23rd through Saturday, October 27th. There were many locations across our viewing area that had considerably more during that period. Amounts around five to eight inches were commonplace, as a tropical feed of moisture worked from south to north across Virginia. Due to the dry summer, there were very few flooding problems - just some standing water, a flooded basement here or there, and a brief River Flood Warning on the Dan River at South Boston. Since that soaking rain, the airport hasn't picked up a drop. Rain chances are very low through at least next weekend. I've attached images from the U.S. Drought Monitor to show you the improvement in our condition.