Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cold Air Funnels

Although they look almost identical to tornadoes, they are not and usually occur less frequently than twisters. Cold air funnels were spotted developing with the rain showers Tuesday afternoon across Kansas and when you look at the picture, you'll understand why they are mistaken for tornadoes. The setup for cold air funnels involves a large area of low pressure spinning around in the middle atmosphere. The spinning involved with the low pressure system can sometimes get "stretched" vertically by the developing rain showers, and that's when you can sometimes see the funnels extending from the sky. Here is a good example of one that developed Tuesday afternoon.

It is rare that they ever touch the ground, but if they do, damage is minimal. Tornadoes come from thunderstorms that are usually 7-10 miles wide and rotate; cold air funnels come from large areas of rotation in the atmosphere and are not usually associated with thunderstorms. So cold air funnels and tornadoes look alike, but actually, they are quite different.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Spring 2012 Outlook

Wednesday night we rolled out an outlook for Spring 2012. Some of you are saying "what winter?" and I know what you mean. It never really got that cold for much of the state. We usually have at least one or two days in the winter months where the high temperature gets stuck in the teens, but this year, that was not the case. In the winter of 2010-2011, there were 6 days with highs in the teens.

So with the unusual weather this winter, everyone is asking what the spring will be like and are we in for another scorching hot summer?

Long range forecasts are difficult, but I enjoy looking ahead and studying what data is available to try and make a prediction that goes out several months. The weather pattern has a tendency to cycle from the previous fall, through the winter months, and continue into spring. So by studying the pattern closely, I think a meteorologist can draw some conclusions about what lies ahead. The pattern has been dominated by strong low pressure systems coming out of the southwest and moving across the central Plains. Much of Kansas has recorded some decent rains through the period of December 1 - Feb. 29th. Wichita is more than 4 inches ahead of normal for the period Dec. 1 - Feb. 29th. Salina is almost 2 inches ahead for the same period. Had the temperatures been colder this winter, we could've had significant (maybe even historic) snows. I think this pattern will dominate into the spring months, meaning we should have more severe weather this season (compared to 2011) and it should start earlier than usual. We've already seen evidence of this taking place with the tornadoes that touched down at the end of February. There is no way of making an accurate prediction on the number of tornadoes we might have this spring, but I think we'll surpass the 68 tornadoes that we had in 2011.

So be prepared for an active season. Storm season ramps up in April and May, and if conditions hold, both months could be very active.

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