Entries in NOAA (17)


Few Tornadoes, Record Low Number of Deaths Over Past Year

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NORMAN, Okla.) -- Just two years after the worst 12 month period for EF1 or stronger tornados in U.S. history, the country got a big break, as new research from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that last year saw a record low number of severe twisters.

From May 2010 to April 2011, the United States was hit by over 1,000 big tornados, causing more than 535 deaths. The most recent period, from May of last year until this past April, saw only seven tornado fatalities, and less than 200 tornadoes recorded.

According to Harold Brooks, a scientist with the National Severe Storm Lab in Norman, Oklah., it’s “the fewest number of tornado fatalities in a 12 month period since the 19th century.”

Scientists have data about tornados and tornado-related deaths going back to 1954.

Why has the nation been so lucky on this front compared to two years ago? Experts say that a hot summer and a cold winter are factors.

“In the summer-time, when it's very hot, what we tend to have is the jet-stream is located far north into Canada, and it tends to be very dry at the surface, that's why we have droughts,” explained Brooks. “When the jet-stream is that far north, the change in the winds with height is weak over the middle part of the country and so none of the ingredients come together to produce the kinds of environments we want to have for tornadoes.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


NOAA: 2012 Hottest Year on Record for Contiguous US

Burke/Triolo Productions/Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Last year was a brutally hot one in the contiguous U.S.

Not only did the average temperature of 55.3 degrees prove to be the hottest recorded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, beating the 1998 record by one degree, but that same temp was 3.2 degrees higher than the 20th-century average.

Dialing it back to the previous year, NOAA said the 16-month stretch from June 2011 through September 2012 featured above normal temperatures during each of those months -- the longest period of higher-than-normal heat since records started being kept in 1895.

And if you're thinking this has something to do with climate change, federal scientists are telling Americans to go right ahead and think that because it's what they believe too.

Thomas R. Karl, who directs NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, says we should expect to see periods of sustained warmth from here on in, adding, "That doesn’t mean every season and every year is going to be breaking all-time records, but you’re going to see this with increasing frequency."

This also means that a pledge by world leaders in 2009 to keep global temperatures from rising above pre-industrial levels by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit before the end of the century is likely not possible.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Good Riddance, 2012 Hurricane Season

NASA GOES Project(NEW YORK) -- The 2012 hurricane season, a time period that produced 19 named storms, including 10 hurricanes and one post-tropical cyclone called Sandy, officially comes to an end on Friday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says 2012 was an above-average year for storms.  The average annual number of named storms is 12, with six being the average yearly number of hurricanes.  The hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.

The past season marks the second consecutive year that the mid-Atlantic and Northeast suffered devastating impacts from a named storm: Sandy this year, and Hurricane Irene in 2011.

This year also included tropical storms Beryl and Debby in Florida and Hurricane Isaac in Louisiana.

Sandy was not officially a hurricane when it made landfall in New Jersey last month -- it is officially categorized as post-tropical Cyclone Sandy -- but it certainly delivered hurricane-level death and devastation.

New Jersey is asking the federal government for some $30 billion in aid to help rebuild, while New York state has petitioned Uncle Sam for $39 billion in rebuilding assistance.

Laura Furgione, acting director of NOAA’s National Weather Service, says this year proves that it’s “wrong to think that only major hurricanes can ruin lives and impact local economics."

NOAA notes that for the seventh consecutive year, no major hurricanes -- those storms labeled Category 3, 4 and 5 -- hit the U.S.

The only major hurricane this season was Hurricane Michael, which was a Category 3 storm that stayed out in the Atlantic.

The federal agency says it will release its pre-season outlook for the 2013 hurricane season in May.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


July Was Hottest Month Ever in US, NOAA Says

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- July was the hottest month ever since forecasters started keeping records in 1895, according to figures released Wednesday by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

NOAA reported that last month's average of 77.6 degrees Fahrenheit was 3.3 degrees higher than the 20th-century average and beat the all-time record by two-tenths of a degree set in July 1936.

In fact, January through July 2012 were the warmest seven months of any year on record, as were the past 12 months, according to NOAA.  With the exception of Washington, all of the Lower 48 experienced warmer-than-average temperatures from July 2011 through June 2012.

Unfortunately, these high temperatures have contributed to extremely dry conditions across the U.S. and droughts that will drive up food prices.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


200-Year-Old Shipwreck Discovered in Gulf of Mexico

NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program(NEW YORK) -- Scientists have discovered a 19th-century shipwreck off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. They made the find during an expedition led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Researchers, working from the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer, found remnants of a wooden-hulled vessel that is believed to be about 200 years old.

Using underwater robots and high-definition cameras, scientists found a wealth of artifacts, including anchors, navigation equipment, glass bottles, ceramic plates, an iron stove, cannons and a box of muskets.

“This discovery was part of a larger mission to look at unknown or poorly-known areas in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Frank Cantelas, a maritime archaeologist with NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.

According to NOAA, “the 56-day expedition that ended April 29 was exploring poorly known regions of the Gulf, mapping and imaging unknown or little-known features and habitats, developing and testing a method to measure the rate that gas rises from naturally-occurring seeps on the seafloor, and investigating potential shipwreck sites.”

Using sonar technology, researchers had a first look last fall at what turned out to be the site of the shipwreck.

According to Cantelas, Shell Oil Company was conducting an oil and gas survey required by the government to be sure none of its projects are disturbing anything sensitive in the ocean.

“The site is in over 4,000 feet of water and we knew nothing about it -- we just had a fuzzy image from a sonar recording, which is like a camera but uses sound instead of light,” Cantelas said. “But we wanted to see what it was because it was shaped like it could be a shipwreck.”

So NOAA partnered with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), which issues permits for bottom-disturbing activities related to oil and gas exploration, to find the 200-year-old shipwreck.

The ship used telepresence technology to transmit what was happening on the ship live.

“Telepresence provides the ability to bring a lot of different specialists, who have various expertise, to the table during the dive,” said Fred Gorell, public affairs officer for NOAA’s office of Exploration and Research. “They could actually look at the wreck sites while it was happening. And this way research is not limited by the number of people who are actually on the ship.”

“Artifacts in and around the wreck and the hull’s copper sheathing may date the vessel to the early to mid-19th century,” said Jack Irion, a maritime archaeologist with BOEM, in a NOAA statement. “Some of the more datable objects include what appears to be a type of ceramic plate that was popular between 1800 and 1830, and a wide variety of glass bottles. A rare ship’s stove on the site is one of only a handful of surviving examples in the world and the second one found on a shipwreck in the Gulf of Mexico.”

And researchers hope this discovery will help in other areas.

“Archaeologically, this is a very significant find,” Cantelas said. “It appears to date back to the early 1800s and a lot was going on in the Gulf of Mexico around that time. You have the Louisiana Purchase, the Texas Revolution, the Mexican-American War -- a lot of conflict in that region -- so this research will hopefully help us fill in the blank pages of history. It will provide information that we don’t really know about the history of the Gulf region.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Midwest Warned of Severe Storms, Tornadoes This Weekend

NOAA/Storm Prediction Center (WASHINGTON) -- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Storm Prediction Center issued a rare "high risk" alert on Friday, warning of the potential for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes across Midwestern states over the weekend.

The biggest threat is to Oklahoma and Kansas, but states as far north as Nebraska and as far south as Texas could also be in danger.  The storms are expected to intensify Saturday afternoon into the evening, when a tornado outbreak is likely to occur.

The storm system in question is currently moving through California, where it is bringing hail and lightning to San Francisco and Sacramento, and three feet of snow to the mountains.

The last time the Storm Prediction Center issued such a high risk this far in advance was in April 2011, ahead of a tornado outbreak in Alabama that killed over 300 people and produced billions of dollars in damage.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


March’s Heat Melts Records

iStockPhoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- You likely felt it, but now it’s official that March 2012 was the warmest March on record for the lower 48 states, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The average temperature of 51.1 degrees Fahrenheit broke the previous record set in 1910 by 0.5 degrees, and was 8.6 degrees above average.

According to NOAA’s preliminary data, more than 15,200 record-high temperatures were set for March, and all 50 states broke at least one record.

March wasn’t the only month that brought the heat. The average temperature of the contiguous United States for the first three months of 2012 was six degrees above normal, NOAA announced.

The period from January through March for 2012 broke the previous first-quarter record by 1.4 degrees. Weather records are normally beaten by tenths of a degree.

While the warm temperatures made winter more tolerable, it worried scientists.

“Everybody has this uneasy feeling. This is weird. This is not good,” said Jerry Meehl, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. “It’s a guilty pleasure. You’re out enjoying this nice March weather, but you know it’s not a good thing.”

The warm weather created favorable conditions for tornadoes, and according to NOAA there were 223 preliminary tornado reports this March compared to an annual average of 80.

While individual events cannot be cited as examples of climate change, climate scientists said extreme temperatures and weather events will become more frequent as a result of man-made climate change.

Although North America experienced an abnormally warm winter, NOAA meteorologist Martin Hoerling said it is something the rest of the Northern Hemisphere did not.

Alaska’s March ranked as its tenth-coolest on record, and its average first-quarter temperature was its ninth coldest, 5.2 degrees below average.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Solar Storm Fizzles: ‘Not a Terribly Strong Event’

iStockPhoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The geomagnetic storm that forecasters predicted could reach “strong” G-3 intensity is currently only a “minor” G-1 event, with minimal effects expected on Earth.

“This is not a terribly strong event,” said physicist and NOAA space weather scientist Joseph Kunches.

“We did estimate where the pitch was going and when it was going over the plate, but we missed the spin on the ball,” said Kunches, using a baseball analogy.

A G-1 or “minor” storm is at the bottom of a scale that goes up to G-5, or “extreme.”

A G-1 storm is capable of producing weak fluctuations in the power gridm but generally has minor impacts on satellites orbiting the Earth. GPS and radio communications can have intermittent problems, and the northern lights might be seen as far south as Michigan and Maine.

The storm — which was born from a massive solar flare that erupted Tuesday — is still passing Earth, and could potentially still reach G-2 or G-3 levels before it fades sometime Friday, Kunches said.

“We really worry about crying wolf,” said Kunches. “In any forecasting activity, you have to seriously consider the false alarm rate and the cry wolf rate so you don’t erode your credibility.”

Forecasters at NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center say there is still potential for trouble over the next few days. The sunspot region known as AR 1429 that that unleashed the latest geomagnetic storm is still active, and aimed toward Earth.

“A further eruption could be very problematic,” Kunches said. “We could go through the same drill that we’re going through right now. Probably through the weekend it’s in a prime location and then it becomes less problematic through the next week.”

The impact from geomagnetic storms can be serious. Fall 2003 saw an intense period of solar activity that included two “extreme” G-5 storms. Transformer problems caused blackouts in Europe. Astronauts on the International Space Station were told to take cover. Deep space missions like the Mars Odyssey developed problems and had to be rebooted, while Japan’s $640 million ADEOS-2 was a total loss.

“Airlines took unprecedented actions in their high latitude routes to avoid the high radiation levels and communication blackout areas. Rerouted flights cost airlines $10,000 to $100,000 per flight,” according to a NOAA report.

A 1989 solar storm knocked out power to 6 million people in Canada’s Quebec Province and affected power utilities in a few U.S. states.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Minor Effects Expected from Solar Flare

Digital Vision/Thi​nkstock(BOULDER, Colo.) -- The geomagnetic storm unleashed Tuesday night by the biggest solar flare so far this year will not make a direct hit on Earth, but will strike more of a glancing blow early Thursday, forecasters at the Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colo., said on Wednesday.

Radiation from the flare is already causing blackouts of high-frequency radio frequencies used by aircraft flying over the poles, according to the center.  The flare is categorized in the X-5 class, the strongest type on scientists’ scales.

There could still be some impact to power grids, radio communications and satellites from the geomagnetic storm – known as a “coronal mass ejection” – but experts say the effects should be relatively minor. As a precaution, however, power grid operators have been alerted and airlines are rerouting flights away from normal polar routes, said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration space weather scientist Joseph Kunches.

The effects of the storm will last for about 24 hours, ending Friday, unless another flare appears in the meantime, Kunches said.

Flares of this type, according to NASA, “are major events that can trigger planet-wide radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation.” When they do make a direct hit, airline passengers and crews flying over the Polar Regions and even astronauts on the International Space Station are exposed to increased radiation levels. Power grids and GPS systems can also be affected.

People along the U.S.- Canadian border will probably get a nice display of northern lights from this latest storm, although it’s not yet clear exactly how far south you’ll be able to see the show.

“Aurora may be seen as low as New York to Wisconsin to Washington state,” a space weather alert said.

“You probably won’t see them in Florida,” said Bob Rutledge, a forecaster at the Space Weather Prediction Center.

The action is all part of an 11-year period of active sunspot activity that occasionally spits out powerful solar flares and geomagnetic storms.  During a typical solar cycle, Rutledge said about 175 flares of the X-5 strength will burst from the surface of the Sun.

We are currently in Solar Cycle 24, which astronomers say should peak in the next year or so.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Adios La Nina: Quieter Hurricane Season?

(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration )(SILVER SPRING, Md.) -- Those cooler-than-normal tropical Pacific ocean temperatures known as La Niña are expected to weaken and dissipate this spring, government forecasters said Thursday.

La Niña -- or the lack of it -- could mean good news when it comes to the upcoming hurricane season, said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climate Prediction Center.

“If we have La Niña, that would argue for an active hurricane season. If you take it away, maybe it takes away some of the activity,” Halpert tells ABC News.

That’s because La Niña typically helps reduce those hurricane-killing atmospheric gusts known as wind shear.  Without those high winds, the path is clear for tropical waves to more easily develop into hurricanes.  (The 2011 Atlantic hurricane season was particularly active, producing 19 tropical storms including seven hurricanes.)

Halpert adds that it’s still too early to tell just how La Niña and other weather patterns might affect hurricane season.  Forecasters at NOAA will issue their initial hurricane outlook in May.  The start of hurricane season is June 1.

The effects of La Niña [animation here] are mostly felt in winter, typically leading to drier conditions in the southwest and plains and colder, wetter-than-normal conditions in the Pacific Northwest.  It’s counterpart, El Niño, refers to unusually warm waters in the Pacific.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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