Firsthand Weather T-shirt Campaign – Get Yours Now!

As many of you know, we have launched our t-shirt campaign with a goal of selling 250 t-shirts. It is a limited edition t-shirt that only costs $19.95, and you have until Wednesday, July 2nd to get one! The reason we are doing this campaign at Firsthand Weather is to raise money for the website and several projects including a mobile app. Firsthand Weather will be 4 years old on July 13th, and we have been able to operate this site with little cost. Our goal is to keep Firsthand Weather free and offer new products and apps that are also free. As with anything, it does cost money to make all of this happen, and in order to do this, we are going to try to raise money throughout this year to fund some of these big projects. Also, site upgrades will be made that will allow the site to run more efficiently and not crash when we have high traffic.

I am beyond appreciative of those who have already bought a t-shirt, and if we reach our goal of 250 shirts sold, you will get your shirt. If for some reason we don’t reach our goal, you will receive a refund after July 2nd. We could really use your help! If you think you’ll be getting a t-shirt in a few days but not tonight, shoot me a private message on Facebook, and let me know!

Please click here to order a t-shirt and check out our campaign.

As of right now, I plan on releasing an early 2014-15 winter forecast on Sunday, June 29th. That is assuming that I get the hosting renewed on time with no issues. This will NOT be an official Firsthand Weather winter outlook but will just be some research that I have done so far on this upcoming winter.

Firsthand Weather Limited Edition T-shirt

Firsthand Weather Limited Edition T-shirt

Drones: Making Dangerous Weather More Predictable

Guest Writer Matthew Kaufman – Tech Urchin: Acquiring data in dangerous weather circumstances has traditionally been done from the ground and often involves a person to man. We have seen armored vehicles, weighted down, and driving into the middle of vicious tornados. Far too many storm chasers have died in an effort to keep the locals safe. Drones may be the window into safer storm chasing, and more accurate tornado predictions.

Drones are becoming more accessible and more affordable, with new models like the recent DJI Mavic Air being released all the time which has broken barriers once again with its impressive capabilties. Many forecasters and storm chasers are utilizing new drone technology to record weather anomalies and observe weather conditions for a particular area. Drones are used to record pressure, temperature, humidity and wind velocity. They allow for more accurate and more precise measurements than what radar can provide. Drones are agile, relatively cheap, and do not require a human passenger.

Tornados have been a major concern and seem to be one of the most unpredictable weather anomalies. Forecasters can only speculate on tornado possibilities and it is not until around 20 minutes before touchdown can they feel more certain about its inevitability. One of the major hindering factors in predicting tornados is acquiring readings on location. Storm chasers have been the traditional go-to guys for gaining these readings, but it is an incredibly dangerous job and has proven fatal far too often. Drones have been able to give more accurate readings that allow forecasters to predict a tornado up to 60 minutes in advance. This is enough time to batten down the hatches and evacuate for much of the area in danger, saving hundreds and possibly thousands of lives.

Beyond the actual tornado prediction, drones have become the best way to gain a visual on post-destruction evaluation. Using high definition cameras on a low-flying vehicle has given vital information on what areas need assistance immediately. Besides drones, the only other options are high-cost and require a manned vehicle (helicopters, planes, and satellite imagery).

Many forecasters are turning to drones for more accurate predictions for specified areas and for cheaper solutions to determining tornado possibilities. Drones could save lives of both weather enthusiasts as well as local residents. While there is still much concern over government usage of drones, their potential in public and private weather services is something to be desired. There is a lot of potential to be tapped into with drone technology for the weather industry.


What Is El Niño and What Causes It To Occur?

I have been wanting to write an article for some time now explaining exactly what El Niño is, and what causes it to occur. For many decades, we have known that this phenomenon occurs every few years, and in today’s modern world, you hear a lot about El Niño on the news and on the internet when one is currently developing. But what is it exactly? Most everyone has heard of El Niño, but I bet if I randomly asked 100 people to tell me what El Niño is, only one or two people would actually be able to tell me. If you had asked me a few years ago what El Niño was, I wouldn’t have been able to explain it either. By the end of this article, you’ll have a basic understanding of what El Niño is, and what causes it to develop.

Let me start out by telling you what ENSO (El Niño Southern Oscillation) is. ENSO is the periodic changes in sea surface temperatures and sea surface pressure across the equatorial Pacific (the band of water along the equator in the Pacific Ocean). In other words, over a certain period of time (years), the surface waters along the Pacific Ocean at the equator fluctuate from warmer than average to cooler than average back to warmer than average, and this fluctuation continues on and on. In between those fluctuations, the ENSO is considered to be in a neutral state if sea surface temperatures over the equatorial Pacific are around average and are expected to stay that way for an extended period of time. Let me also explain what an anomaly is. An anomaly is basically a departure from the average. So if I show you a sea surface temperature anomaly map, that will show you how above or below average the sea surface temperatures are over a particular region. The reason that the water surface temperatures along the equatorial Pacific have to be monitored closely is because it can have major impacts on the weather around the globe.

This image shows the fluctuation between El Nino and La Nina since 1965.

This image shows the fluctuation between El Nino and La Nina since 1965.

Typically, trade winds blow from east to west across the Pacific Ocean at the Equator. These strong winds transport the water from east to west across the Pacific, and as this water moves west, solar radiation from the sun warms this water. These warmer waters begin to pile up over the western Pacific, and cooler waters deep in the eastern Pacific begin to surface and replace the water that has been transported west. This is why waters are typically cooler in the eastern Pacific than in the western Pacific. All of this drives the Humboldt Current, which is an ocean current that brings cooler waters northward to the coasts of Peru and Chile from the Antarctic regions. The reason that the Peruvian coast is one of the richest fisheries in the world is because of the upwelling that typically occurs off the coast, which brings to surface the nutrient-rich, cooler waters.

Conditions over the Pacific during a typical year.

Conditions over the Pacific during a typical year.

As an El Niño begins to develop, the conditions described above begin to change dramatically. The trade winds weaken, the cooler waters in the eastern Pacific begin to warm, and the waters in the western Pacific begin to cool. When the water begins cooling in the western Pacific, the pressure increases over that region, which decreases storminess, and when the waters begin warming in the eastern Pacific, the pressure decreases over that region, which increases storminess. This is a big indicator that El Niño is in the process of developing when this begins to happen.

Conditions over the Pacific during an El Nino year.

Conditions over the Pacific during an El Nino year.

So how do the warmer waters from the western Pacific move across the ocean to the central and eastern Pacific? The body of really warm water in the western Pacific builds up after the previous El Niño event. The really strong trades winds (remember, the trade winds normally blow from east to west across the equatorial Pacific), have been keeping that water confined to that region. Now that those winds have weakened, these waters are now free to begin pushing east. Earlier this year, low pressure systems on both sides of the equator allowed for the development of what is known as a Kelvin wave. These two low pressure systems lined up along the equator in the western Pacific to reverse the wind flow towards the east (remember, low pressure systems rotate counter-clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere). This allowed these warmer sub-surface waters to freely push eastward from the western Pacific, and now that they are across the central and eastern Pacific, they are beginning to surface.

This image shows the above-average temperatures across the central and eastern Pacific during the strong 1997-98 El Nino.

This image shows the above-average temperatures across the central and eastern Pacific during the strong 1997-98 El Nino.

When watching to see if El Niño conditions are developing or have developed, there are four regions across the equatorial Pacific Ocean that are monitored. These regions are called Niño 1+2, Niño 3, Niño 3.4, and Niño 4. Portions of Niño 3 and 4 make up the Niño 3.4 region, and if temperatures stay above average in the Niño 3.4 region over a certain period of time, we are considered to be in El Niño conditions. There are different types of El Niño’s that can occur, which can have different effects on the weather around the globe, but I’ll go into all of that in a future article.

These are the 4 Nino regions across the Pacific.

These are the 4 Nino regions across the Pacific.

When the sea surface temperatures are 0.5 C (0.9 F) above-average across the Niño 3.4 region and those temperatures are expected to stay above that threshold, then we consider that to be a developing El Niño. The sea surface temperature anomalies over this region are averaged over a 3-month period, and if temperatures are at or above 0.5 C (0.9 C) above-average consecutively for five of these 3-month periods, then we are then officially in an El Niño. For example, March-April-May was the last 3-month average, and the next one will be April-May-June after we finish this month. This index is referred to as the Oceanic Niño Index (ONI). Sometimes NOAA is somewhat loose with their criteria if all the evidence shows that we’re going into an El Niño or La Niña.

This image shows that the sea surface temperatures are currently above average across all 4 Nino regions.

This image shows that the sea surface temperatures are currently above average across all 4 Nino regions.

You should now have a basic understanding of what El Niño is. There is still a lot that we don’t know about El Niño, but it is certain that it can have major impacts on the weather around the globe. In future articles, I’m going to explain what type of El Niño is likely developing this year, and how it will affect the upcoming hurricane season and upcoming fall and winter. The strength of this developing El Niño is key to what the weather will be like later this year, and I’ll explain some of the variables that we must not overlook this year. Please follow Firsthand Weather on Facebook, where I will be putting out plenty of useful information.

Meteorologists: Stop Focusing on Hyped Forecasts and Start Focusing on Improving Accuracy

There has been an article circulating on the internet over the last few days basically telling people that they need to stay away from weather websites or pages that are run by amateur weather forecasters. I would assume that they are referring to any weather source that is run by individuals who do not at least have a bachelor’s degree in meteorology. I do realize that there are weather pages out there that hype certain weather events to drive up views, and as a result, their weather pages and sites temporarily get a lot of views. Due to the rise of social media, this is a complex issue that has become a problem in recent years and has allowed anybody with a internet connection to create a Facebook page and declare themselves a meteorologist. For all we know, they could be a 14 year old kid that couldn’t interpret a weather model if their life depended on it. The point of this article is not to go on and on about the hyped forecasts that these inexperienced forecasters are putting out. That has already been done by these so-called experts in the field who have written articles about it, posted on Facebook and Twitter about it, and will probably continue to talk about it. When you tell people not to go look at something, they’re going to go look at it, and you’re giving these 14 year old kids free publicity, which is the opposite of what you intended. Allow me to give some advice on what has truly made Firsthand Weather successful thus far, and why weather sites and pages that aren’t reliable eventually fall by the wayside.

1) Focus on putting out accurate and quality forecasts. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he discusses how a person does not truly master something until he has at least put 10,000 hours of time into it. Research actually backs that claim up, and you can study the lives of very successful people and understand why this is true. It takes more than a college degree to reach the level of mastery. I’ve seen “amateur” forecasters who have been studying the weather for 30 or 40 years who were much better forecasters than degreed meteorologists simply because they have put more time into studying meteorology. Now, the reason I am working towards a meteorology degree at the University of Oklahoma is because I’m trying to reach that level of mastery in meteorology. But just like everyone else, I started as an amateur, and my forecasts are getting better with time.

My point is this: work on improving the accuracy and quality of YOUR forecasts, and if you effectively get those forecasts out to the public, they’ll come back next time there is another big storm system moving their way. They’re going to go where they’re getting accurate forecasts and who they consider a reliable source. I’ve seen several TV meteorologists (typically younger meteorologists) in the past post on Facebook about how people aren’t taking their forecasts seriously because of these other amateur forecasters that hype forecasts and make the rest of us look bad. Allow me to be blunt here for a minute. They’re probably not taking you serious as a meteorologist because your forecasts are not accurate or reliable. Keep working to become a better meteorologist and keep working towards those 10,000 hours, but remember, it doesn’t stop there. Again, if you’re putting out accurate and reliable forecasts, people most certainly will be back.

2) Be willing to adapt to changing times. Some people are always going to be stuck in their old ways no matter how many times you tell them that they need to adapt to changing times. A lot of meteorologists want to put out weather information to the public the same, old boring way. What might have worked in the 1980s probably won’t work in 2014. You have to constantly adapt with the changing times, and you have to be good at foreseeing the future. Back in 2009 when I began helping out on a weather website before I started Firsthand Weather, I made sure that I took the extra effort to promote the social media pages in order to drive views to the content being put out on the website. That didn’t seem as important at the time, but I knew that’s where it was going. If you’re reading this article right now, I guarantee that most of you got here by clicking on a link shared on Facebook or Twitter. If I had not focused on social media when it didn’t seem as important, Firsthand Weather wouldn’t be where it is today.

My point is this: do your research and figure out how the public will be getting their weather information down the road. I can guarantee you that it’ll be different than it is today. If you adapt with the times, you’re going to be ahead of the game. If you have accurate forecasts and you have adapted to change, then that’s another step to being taken serious in the weather industry. Again, don’t do things the way they did it when the dinosaurs roamed the earth; plan for change.

3) Be the change that you want to see take place. While you need to adapt to change as I stated above, you also need to be the change that you want to see take place. When I was around 15 or 16, I began posting on this weather forum that was run by a local meteorologist in Upstate South Carolina where I’m from. At that point, Firsthand Weather was not even in the making, and my grandma was about the only one who listened to my forecasts. But see, even back then, my forecasting style was different than most everyone else’s. I told everyone what I thought and was sometimes even a little too aggressive. There was a small group of people that began to follow my forecasts, and that local meteorologist didn’t like that at all. My forecasts ended up being right a lot of times when his were wrong, and he’d often say that my way of things were not the “right way” to go about things. Well, I eventually got blocked on there, but this one weather site had been silently following my forecasts. After I was blocked, they invited me to write for their site, which was a huge leap for me at the time. When I got over there, I did the exact same thing. My forecasting style was completely different, and people liked it. When I decided to start Firsthand Weather, those group of fans followed me over from the other site, and here we are today. I still do things completely different than most meteorologists or weather enthusiasts do.

When I had just started Firsthand Weather, degreed meteorologists would actually take the time to email me and tell me that if I kept doing things like I was doing them, that no meteorologist would ever think to hire someone like me down the road. Nearly four years later, Firsthand Weather gets hundreds of job applications every year with meteorologists wanting to be a part of this site. Who would have thought than someone would come to ME wanting me to hire them to a site that couldn’t even pay them. What a difference a few years can make, simply because I didn’t want to put out my forecasts the same, boring way.

My point is this: be different and out of the ordinary! In other words, think outside of the box.

4) Don’t bash. You might be surprised that I actually included this one on my list, but meteorologists and weather enthusiasts are really bad about doing this. Now, bashing is NOT the same thing as criticizing. If you’ve been following me for any time now, you know that there are many times that I don’t agree with certain weather forecasts that are put out. At times, I’ll criticize someone for doing something, but I will provide a reasonable explanation as to why I don’t think their forecast is right. It helps me to become a better weather forecaster, and in certain cases, I’m wrong and they’re right. Criticism can help a person, but bashing doesn’t.

My point is this: you can put your effort into working on the three things that I mentioned above instead of taking the time to bash and degrade an individual. If you’re spending all of your time on social media degrading a meteorologist, then I’m willing to bet money that you’re not reaching your full potential. Ever wonder why your weather website or page is not growing or getting any views? You’re spending all your time on things that aren’t important and aren’t helping anybody.

So in conclusion, allow me to tie all of this together. Let’s go back to that one article that has been circulating around the internet, which was the intent of me writing this article in the first place. While I believe that it is very important to warn the public of untrustworthy weather sources, it’s just as important to focus on improving your forecasting ability and making improvements to the organization that you’re apart of. Focus more on the things that I listed above (by the way, I could have added more things to the list if I had had enough time) instead of focusing on “amateur” forecasters posting on the internet. Last time I checked, the public is smart enough to determine who they need to listen to. If you keep putting out accurate forecasts, people will keep coming back. You’re going to have those occasions where someone posts a hyped forecast and gets a ton of shares, but while that is aggravating, your audience will come to you first to get your opinion on whether or not that forecast is authentic. There’s nothing you can do about 14 year olds posting their little apocalyptic forecasts on Facebook, but there is something you can do about becoming a better meteorologist each and every day.

Tornado Outbreak Looking More Likely For Tomorrow

I’m going to keep this update rather brief since it’s getting late, but I wanted to give everyone across the Central Plains a big heads up on the potential severe weather outbreak tomorrow. A shortwave trough is currently located in the western United States and will move over the Central Plains during the day tomorrow. A frontal system is currently located over Kansas, which will lift northward as a warm front throughout the day tomorrow. This warm front will sit along the Kansas/Nebraska border as a surface low quickly strengthens in Colorado and eventually moves eastward along the Kansas/Nebraska border into Missouri and Iowa. Ahead of a cold front that will extend from the surface low pressure system and south and along the warm front is where rapid supercell development will be likely tomorrow.

To break all of this down a little further and make it a little easier to understand, temperatures are going to climb well into the 80s and dew points will be well into the 60s along and south of the warm front. This will allow the environment to become increasingly unstable throughout the day on Tuesday, and the mid to upper level system that will be moving over the region during the day on Tuesday will provide sufficient wind shear, which will allow for rapid supercell development. Many of these storms could become tornadic with a few of these tornadoes likely being strong. Damaging winds and very large hail will also be likely with any supercell that develops. Because of the parameters that will be in place, the environment will be conducive for these air parcels to quickly accelerate upward, condense, and develop into towering supercells.

Storms will begin developing into the afternoon in Kansas and Nebraska and will eventually push eastward into Iowa, Missouri, and Illinois. To get more specific, the initial threat will begin in Kansas and Nebraska particularly along the Kansas/Nebraska border, where the warm front will be located, and northward into central and eastern Nebraska. An area that may be currently being overlooked is in western Kansas, where initially a supercell or two may try to develop and become tornadic, quickly moving northeastward. If earlier convection does not hinder any later development, tornadoes across the regions that I just mentioned will be likely. The threat will then push eastward into northern Missouri, the lower two-thirds of Iowa, and eventually into Illinois into the evening and overnight hours. Later into the evening/overnight hours, these storms may try to cluster up, and while the tornado threat would continue, damaging straight-line winds would also be a big threat.

If you do not like the Firsthand Weather Facebook page, be sure to go like it. I will be putting numerous updates on that page throughout the day tomorrow! Please share this post to get the word out to those that will likely impacted by this potentially significant severe weather event.

SPC's Latest Convective Outlook for Tuesday

SPC’s Latest Convective Outlook for Tuesday

Update at 1:30 pm EDT: I wanted to share my tornado outlook map and the discussion that I shared along with it. The forecast above that I posted last night still looks good given the latest model guidance. Below is what I posted on the Facebook page about an hour ago.

Discrete supercells will likely develop later this afternoon and evening inside and around the outlined region on this map. Given the expected environmental conditions, many of these storms could quickly become tornadic, some of which could be strong. I am still watching the possibility of some lone supercells developing in parts of Kansas, but the main risk will be across Nebraska and will eventually extend into portions of western Iowa and northwestern Missouri. The Nebraska/Kansas border needs to be watched closely also, right along the warm front, and also into southern portions of South Dakota.

Again, supercells capable of producing tornadoes will rapidly develop later this afternoon. Some of these tornadoes will be strong. A damaging wind threat will likely extend eastward into Iowa, northern Missouri and eventually Illinois later tonight. Please refer to my earlier Facebook updates for more details on that.

Tornado Outlook

This is the highest tornado-risk area. Some tornadoes could be strong.