Category: Snow or Ice


Rick Atterberry is blog post author.

appforthat

We’re almost three weeks into meteorological Winter and just a few days from the start of the season in the astronomical calendar.  And, while much of the country has experienced record setting warmth in the last three months, snow, ice, sleet, wind and cold are inevitable for many of us.

With that in mind, Extension colleagues at North Dakota State University have created a Winter Survival Kit Phone App for both Android and IOS phones.  This app helps users find their location if they become stranded, call 911, notify friends and family and calculate how lo9ng they can run their vehicle to stay warm before running out of fuel.

Capture NDSU“The Winter Survival Kit app can be as critical as a physical winter survival kit if you find yourself stuck or stranded in severe winter weather conditions,” says Bob Bertsch, NDSU Agriculture Communication Web technology specialist.

Users can store important phone numbers, insurance information, motor club contacts and more within the app.  The app includes a timer function which reminds motorists to check the exhaust pipe for snow buildup so as to avoid a high concentration of carbon monoxide.

The app features a large “I’m Stranded!” button which can be easily accessed in an emergency situation.  Parents may find the app a useful tool for young drivers who are very familiar with their smart phones, but less familiar with winter driving.

The kit app was developed by Myriad Devices, a company founded by students and faculty at NDSU’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department and College of Business in the school’s Research and Technology Park Incubator.  The NDSU Extension Service provided design and content input.  Funding was via a U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture Smith-Lever Special Needs grant.

 


From time to time on Weather Wednesday we will step away from purely meteorological topics to address preparedness. This week we’ll discuss one of the most basic preparedness items, a personal or family Go Kit.

A Go Kit should be assembled and customized according to individual needs following some general guidelines from FEMA. Be sure to look under the tabs for additional suggested items.

AP_fairdale_tornado_14_sk_150410_16x9_1600Let’s look at some of the items which should be included:

Water, one gallon per person per day for three days for drinking and sanitation. For long term storage the crystal clear containers hold up better, but water and food stocks should be rotated out regularly.

Food, a three day supply of non-perishable food. If using canned food, be sure to include a can opener. Specialty meals designed for use by campers are also a good option. Check preparation instructions to be sure you have all of the necessary equipment.

Battery powered, hand cranked and/or solar powered radio capable of receiving NOAA All-Hazards Weather Radio and standard broadcast. Carry extra batteries.

Flashlight and extra batteries. Batteries will generally last considerably longer in LED flashlights.

Washington, DC, July 22, 2008 -- A Red Cross "ready to go" preparedness kit showing the bag and it's contents. Red Cross photograph

Red Cross via FEMA

First aid kit. A good basic kit will suffice unless special needs are involved.

Whistle to signal for help. A small air horn is also a good addition, but you can’t beat a whistle for convenience. It takes less volume of air to blow a whistle than to yell which can be important if one is trapped by debris. A whistle or horn also has a better chance of being heard over heavy equipment.

Dust mask.

Plastic sheet and tape if asked to shelter in place.

Local maps. Remember, familiar landmarks may be destroyed in some disasters.

Cell phone with chargers, inverters, solar power, charging packs, etc. Note, avoid using accessories such as the built in flashlight which tend to run down the battery rapidly.

Prescription medications and glasses. Setting aside medication can be problematic so work with your physician and pharmacist to see what can be done.

Cash and change. If the power is out or communications lines down, ATMs will be out of service.

Copies of insurance papers, account numbers, etc. Do keep these in a special place in the kit so you can keep track of them.

Infant formula, diapers, pet food, etc if applicable. Include a leash for your pet and count their water needs as well.

Change of clothes. Err on the side of warmth and waterproof items.

A couple of items recent experience has shown to be very valuable. Sturdy shoes or boots. Sandals and flip flops are not at all useful when walking through debris. If you have identified a shelter area in your home, you might want to keep the spare shoes/boots there.

Bicycle helmets or hard hats may also be useful if easily accessible to your shelter area.

Remember a Go kit should be able to do just that, pick up and go, should the need arise. It is important to temperate the desire to plan for all contingencies with the practical need to perhaps carry the kit for some distance. Kits are also available from retailers, but make sure to customize to your needs.


It’s been an eventful week on the weather front, so let’s highlight a few points.

KSFY_damage_van_kb_150511_16x9_992

-Damage near Van, TX — KSFY

What started out as a very quiet first quarter of the year as regards the number of tornadoes has become much more active since mid-April. There have been several widespread, damaging and deadly outbreaks, especially over the last ten days or so.

The organization U.S. Tornadoes has begun to compile a rolling list of the highest incidence of tornadoes in 2015. One can see that May is headed toward reversing the early year trend of below normal activity.

storm-thumb-051015In addition, the storms over the past weekend (May 9 and 10) included extremely high rainfall rates in some areas which led to flash flooding and necessitated swift water rescues. Some of the rescues were broadcast live by television stations in Dallas and retransmitted to the entire country via The Weather Channel.

2015-05-09_10-snowfall

— NWS

And if that wasn’t enough, a late season snowstorm on the same weekend buried parts of the Rocky Mountains into the Dakotas. The heavy, wet snow damaged buildings and had to be shoveled out of Coors Field before the Colorado Rockies could host their Sunday afternoon game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

tropical-storm-anaAnd to top it all off, Tropical Storm Ana, brought gusty winds and copious amounts of rain to the Southeast.


Posted on March 4th, 2015 in Economic Impacts, Snow or Ice, Vessel and Dock Security

Satellite image of Great Lakes February 2015. NOAA.

 

As of February 25, 2015, the Great Lakes are over 85% ice covered and the coverage is growing weekly.  glsea_curOther than the obvious impact to shipping, what does this really mean?

When the Great Lakes experience heavy ice cover as they have in the winters of 2014 and 2015 there are a multitude of impacts.  Some are beneficial and some are problematic and some are both.

For example, evaporation takes place over open water even in the winter time.  At least partially because evaporation was inhibited in the winter of 2014-15, Lake Michigan water levels last summer increased dramatically over the summer of 2013.  Some of the impacts included reduced usable recreational beach areas. On the positive side, the higher water levels mitigated some of the need to dredge channels and harbor entrances especially along the eastern shore of the lake.  As of February 25, the water level on Lake Michigan was a whopping 21-inches higher than a year earlier and was 8 inches higher than the long term average.  Snow melt and rainfall also are a factor, but the reduced evaporation plays a role. lighthouse

Snowfall amounts are also affected when the lakes freeze.  Lake Effect Snow basically shuts down once the lakes freeze over, a welcomed break for motorists in the Great Lakes snow belt areas.

Heavy ice cover also tends to influence spring and even summer weather in areas close to the lakes.  The temperatures in communities near Lake Michigan were noticeably cooler than inland communities in the spring and summer of 2014, far cooler than the usually welcomed moderating effect of the lake.  One benefit of the late spring is to fruit growers.  The cooler weather delays the blossoming of fruit trees to the extent that the threat of frost damage from isolated cold snaps is mitigated.  And the normal micro-climate of shoreline communities is more pronounced in years when the lakes are ice-covered.

Arcadia, MI. Cool summer of 2014. Author.

Long lasting ice cover also affects the water temperature of the Great Lakes.   Even the normally more moderate lakes remained quite cool for swimming and other warm weather recreation in the summer of 2014.  It is worth noting that there was still visible ice on Lake Superior into June of 2014 and some water temperatures in Lake Michigan were still in the upper-30 degree range on Memorial Day weekend!!  The reduced water temperatures impact how anglers approach their prey.  And the development of algae can also be affected.

It is likely that the ice cover of the lakes will continue to expand for at least a few more weeks this year.


first snow 2013 003The wild winter weather continues this week with snow and ice stretching all the way down into the Deep South.  Brutal wind chills have been common in many areas of the north.  Here in Champaign, we’ve had a fresh snow pack and because of that, little wind and clear skies, our overnight temperature fell to 12-below, 10 degrees below the forecast and 10-degrees below the previous record low for this date in late February.  So what’s going on?

Meteorologist Tom Skilling and his staff at WGN-TV in Chicago have been researching the topic and posted a rather extensive article, the link to which is here.

Skilling’s Facebook posts are always informative and, if you are a weather fan, you may want to like him on Facebook even if you’re not from the Chicago area.


precip_types

NOAA graphic

Winter weather certainly has remained in the news this post-Valentine’s Day week. It’s been another major snow event in the Northeast, heavy snow from southern Illinois and Missouri to the south into Kentucky and adjacent states and freezing rain and ice, especially in Georgia, North Carolina and other states in the southeast. Multiple highway fatalities have occurred and over 100,000 people have lost power, mostly due to ice. Bitterly cold temperatures are plunging far into the south on the date this is posted, February 18, 2015.

We’ve written about heavy snow several times and we’ll revisit the topic of how climate change may affect that snowfall, but today we’ll focus on freezing rain, ice storms and “black ice,” all of which are being experienced in parts of the south and southeast this week.

According to the National Weather Service freezing rain and sleet occur when raindrops in a layer of warm air well above the surface fall into a layer of freezing air at and near ground level. Whether the liquid ends up as freezing rain or sleet is determined by the thickness of the layer of freezing air. When that layer is thin, the raindrops don’t have time to freeze so the water freezes on contact with the surface, coating streets, sidewalks, power lines, tree limbs and whatever else is exposed and below freezing. Complicating the situation this week is bitter cold temperatures to follow the snow and ice.

A freezing rain event is escalated to an Ice Storm Warning when ice accumulations of ¼ inch or more are expected. The National Weather Service considers ice storms to be high impact events and if you’ve lived through one or more, you know that to be true. Ice storms can occur across a wide area of the United States and can be very devastating. The single most destructive weather event ever to occur here in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois was the Valentine’s Day ice storm of 1990. The 25th anniversary of the event passed largely unobserved last weekend. Seemingly no one wants to relive that week.

The storm began during a home basketball game at the University of Illinois and ice quickly accumulated. The lights in the Assembly Hall flickered, but stayed on. I was the public address announcer that night and I vividly recall being handed a series of announcements to be read if the main power went off. The final announcement I did read was that game attendees should expect that many traffic signals would be out of commission across town after the game. When I left the Hall I could see the flashes and hear the explosions as electrical transformers failed.

I drove the few blocks to the radio station where I worked at the time. It was operating on generator power. We started to cover the event and things just got worse during the overnight. At one point around 2:00AM I decided to go check on my family and home. I followed a snowplow down a main street as it pushed trees and branches out of the road so emergency vehicles could get through. I turned down my street as limbs were falling behind me and decided to just keep going back to work before the street was completely blocked. Some areas of town were without power for a week. Damage to utility infrastructure, trees, traffic signs and signals and buildings and homes reached into the millions of dollars not counting the loss of productivity and dumpster loads of ruined refrigerated and frozen food.

I relate that account not because it was unusual, but rather because it is typical of major ice events. They can be extremely destructive and expensive.

Finally today I want to mention “black ice.”

Black Ice accident

Black ice can be every bit as dangerous as a heavy snow or ice storm. It is a very thin layer of ice that is nearly transparent. It frequently forms on bridges and overpasses because that pavement temperature may be colder as the cold air circulates above and below the pavement. Black ice often occurs when snow melts during the day and then the water refreezes at night. Or the temperature drops below freezing after a rainy day. Unlike during an ice storm, black ice is a much greater threat to pedestrians and vehicles than to structures. Multi-vehicle accidents are common when the pavement refreezes and emergency rooms are kept busy treating pedestrians who slip and fall.

Ice storm threats include:

 


Posted on February 11th, 2015 in Floods and Flooding, Landslide, Snow or Ice, Weather Wednesday

With apologies to our friends in the Boston area, some of whom have faced snowfall totals of nearly 5-feet in the last two weeks, we turn our attention to the west coast this week. We’re adding the term “Pineapple Express” to our glossary which so far this year includes Arctic Clipper and Blizzard.

atmospheric-river-dec2014.sm

Atmospheric River from NOAA

A Pineapple Express is defined as a river of moisture fueling heavy rainfall and snowfall events in the Pacific Northwest and Northern California. The atmospheric moisture often passes through tropical regions of the Pacific Ocean including Hawaii, hence the name, “Pineapple Express.”

In the past week leading up to this publication date, notable heavy rains have fallen in Northern California repeating a scenario from December of last year. Rainfall totals of in excess of four inches to as much as eleven inches were common in the latest multi-day event. And while some local reservoirs are seeing a positive impact, the snowpack was not significantly affected so the storms are not considered a drought buster by any means.

Technically, a Pineapple Express is related to the Madden-Julian Oscillation, a major weather influencer that scientists are attempting to more thoroughly understand. The “river of moisture” may actually circle the globe in a 30 to 60 day cycle. Scientists are unleashing the power of supercomputers to enhance their knowledge of this and other atmospheric patterns.

Some of the threats and challenges associated with the Pineapple Express as it impacts the west coast of North America include:

  • Heavy rainfall
  • Flooding
  • Landslide
  • High Winds
  • Snowstorms
  • Severe Weather including isolated small tornadoes
  • Travel disruptions

Posted on February 4th, 2015 in Snow or Ice, Weather Wednesday, Winter Weather

Snowplow clearing highway

Rick Atterberry, EDEN Immediate Past Chair, writes about the weather.

Last week we talked about the definition of a blizzard and the difficulties inherent in forecasting winter storms.  This past weekend provided another concrete example of both in the form of the Super Bowl Blizzard of 2015 here in Illinois and surrounding states.

National Weather Service forecasters started looking at the setup nearly a week out.  But the computer models upon which they depend were all over the place early in the week of January 26th.  A very complicated scenario was developing, but forecasters approached the storm with caution because of relatively low confidence in any one computer model through midweek.

By Thursday, January 29th, it was apparent that there would be fairly heavy snow across parts of Iowa, Illinois and Indiana.  Initially, the thought was that the heaviest snow would be about 6 to 10 inches in an area north of Interstate 74 across the center of Illinois.  However, each ensuing model run moved the heaviest precipitation farther north.  Adding to the uncertainty was the fact that some of the area would see temperatures in the low to mid-30s during much of the event.  How much precipitation would fall as snow and how much as rain?  The forecasters were certain this would be an unusually long event.

Here at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign we had freezing drizzle and sleet followed by a period of snow followed by rain then more wet snow and finally drier snow overnight Sunday.  We ended up with about four inches of snow which quickly compacted to two inches during the rain and then added less than an inch as the event concluded.

The main snow event was located 100 to 130 miles north of us along the Interstate 80 and 88 corridors.   Each forecast from Saturday into Sunday added to the possible snow totals in the Metropolitan Chicago region.  By Sunday noon, the forecast called for 16 to 20 inches of snow in some spots and, indeed, that’s what happened.  In 30 hours between late Saturday night and early Monday morning, the official measurement at O’Hare Airport was 19 inches of snow…the fifth highest single event total in the city’s recorded history.  Thousands of flights were cancelled.  Chicago public schools closed on Monday.  Blizzard conditions…winds of 35 miles per hour or more and visibilities under ¼ mile…developed in the city and rural areas.

Here’s a time lapse video from Judy Hsu at WLS-TV.  Note the clock on the fence.

When the area of heaviest snow moved north to the Chicago area, Lake Michigan came into play.  When winds clocked around to the north-northeast, some snowfall amounts were enhanced by the lake effect.

“Heart attack snow”- Not only was the general snowfall in the region between 14 and 20-inches, the event began with heavy wet snow, the kind we call “heart attack snow” because of the physical demands of shoveling it.  Sadly, in DuPage County in suburban Chicago, three men died of heart attacks associated with shoveling the snow.  Cardiologists recognize the increased risk.

So, while it appears there were no fatalities from car accidents, falling tree limbs, structure fires, carbon monoxide poisoning or other threats often associated with cold and snow, heart attacks did claim lives.  Those of us who are 55 and older or with a history of heart disease need to proceed with caution.


Michelle Bufkin, AU Agriculture Communications Student/EDEN Community of Practice Social Media Assistant, recently interviewed EDEN delegate Keith Tidball.

1. How did you first get involved with EDEN? EDEN. Extension Disaster Education preparedness
I was approached in 2011 by the leadership of the extension service in New York. Our state program was in need of “tuning up” and I was asked because of my research and activities in the area of natural resources management in disaster. With my background as a leader in the military and later involvement as a USDA Foreign Agriculture Service international affairs specialist who dealt with disaster in the agriculture and natural resources sector, I jumped at the opportunity to engage with the NY Extension Disaster Education Network. After I attended my first national conference, I was even more excited and focused upon working to make the NY EDEN an example of what a state program can do if they take the ball and run hard with it.

2. What is your role for disaster preparedness within your state?
In New York State, we see the national EDEN as a platform upon which to build a highly effective and visible state program. In that sense, we work with our state agencies closely not only in preparedness, but in all phases of the disaster cycle. Thanks to the national EDEN, we can confidently say that we have the very best science from the best universities in the country, and we are ready to serve the public at all times. This we feel is in keeping with the land grant mission and vision, and is actually a way of reacquainting a whole new generation with the land grant idea and the idea of cooperative extension.

Our role is to work at all times with preparedness. We anticipate needs based on past experiences and future threats, and we either develop our own materials or publicize excellent materials from other land grants via our website, webinars, social media, and through traditional county cooperative extension channels. As a threat, hazard, or vulnerability emerges, we asses it, develop tailored materials to address it, and act upon it, using our cooperative extension networks and the networks of our partners to disseminate preparedness and readiness educational materials. Once a threat or hazard materializes, we then take on additional roles to compliment other state and federal efforts to prepare for and respond to an imminent event.

3. Can you explain your role with dealing with the recent snow and cave ins, in your state?
My role was to serve as the incident commander for the state land grant’s role in the event. As the event became imminent, I worked with the rest of our state EDEN program leadership to strategize for the event – this entails a quick anticipated needs assessment and a social media blitz of warnings and resources to get people ready to navigate the event as resiliently as possible. I make the decision to request activation of our relatively newly instituted Standard Operating Procedures for Disaster /All-Hazards Recovery which is either approved or denied by our state Director of Cooperative Extension. Once he or she approves this request, I implement a very involved set of actions that include experts on campus, liaisons to state agencies, and our regional and county extension personnel. Among many other things, we serve as the eyes and ears for the first hand real time ways in which the disaster is unfolding and having an impact upon the agricultural sector in particular. In this role, we work hand in hand with our state and federal agricultural agency partners to direct immediate assistance as quickly as possible to where it’s needed, and to assist with the longer term process of damage assessment and recovery.

So in the recent snow event in Western New York, we had 90 dead livestock animals,
80 damaged or destroyed green houses, 38 barns down or damaged, with over 65 total farms in 6 Western NY counties affected. Our Agriculture Sentinel capability was used to communicate emerging needs regarding snow loads, collapses, livestock in jeopardy in real time. We are never first responders, however, we are involved in communicating and disseminating information as it becomes available so that first responders can understand and react appropriately to unique ag related issues and emergencies. In one case in particular, I remember helping to direct New York National Guard to a barn threatening to collapse. Farmers often aren’t going to call 911 about these issues, but it is still an emergency, so we are a part of a coordinated state approach to fill this gap. We can help get information to the right people quickly. Meanwhile, our county extension leadership act as the field element in these cases and play a central role in initial situation reporting which is so crucial in these events, and of course later assessment once the actual event is over. I act to coordinate all of this communication, first and foremost to make sure our stakeholders get the service and assistance they need (an applied or engaged research and extension role), and secondly to position extension as a preferred source of evidence-based educational materials. A major extension education outcome of this work is educating policy makers and emergency responders in New York State about the agile, nimble state-wide system of cooperative extension that exists upon a foundation of extensive subject area expertise, all of which is an already existing and is an already paid for public good.

4. What advice would you give to people about disaster preparedness and recovery, after being involved in recovery from the November snow storm, Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and other recent natural disasters?
My advice is to extension folks who either have not embraced the idea of disaster education as a role or niche for extension, or to those who may understand the role of extension in disaster so far as developing and disseminating fact sheets are concerned, but shy away from further involvement.

Think of getting your hands dirty in disaster response and recovery as project learning, an important and accepted component of extension education. Experts believe that what takes project learning to the next level is when it’s real. We pride ourselves in extension on solving real problems we face in our world — problems that make the news and that our stakeholders really care about, giving them the power to turn their knowledge into action. I think that though some project-learning activities regularly miss the opportunity to be real life-changing experiences for learners in the extension system, people who get involved in EDEN in their state, these folks will experience tremendous satisfaction in their work because they will see that the extension educators they touch, the community members, the agency folks, all will be impressed by the resources available and the responsiveness of the extension system. But more important than being impressed, they will learn about what they can and should do in all phases of the disaster cycle and how extension can help.