A look at weather extremes and the big-picture climate connections.

Science Made Simple: Take the Dog for a Walk

Oftentimes scientists and journalists make the simplest of scientific concepts sound incredibly complicated. Take the difference between climate and weather, for example. The old adage is that "climate is what you expect, weather is what you get," since day-to-day weather may depart significantly from average conditions. But that doesn't really tell you much about how climate is measured over the long-term, or when weather ends and climate begins. The explanation I like best comes from the comedian Stephen Colbert, when, during a segment with Climate Central's Heidi Cullen, he said: "Is not climate just made up of thousands of little weathers?"

Or consider this delightfully clear cartoon posted on Youtube that uses a unique analogy — a man walking his dog — to describe the differences between weather and climate. It's simple, to the point, and best of all, adorable. Check it out. 

Monster Cyclone Phailin Poses Deadly Threat to India

One of the strongest tropical cyclones to form in the Bay of Bengal since 1980 is heading for the northeast Indian state of Odisha, packing winds of close to 160 mph and a storm surge of at least 10 feet, but possibly much higher. The storm, named Phailin — a Thai word for “sapphire” — has intensified after weakening for a time on Thursday. By some measures, it may already have become the strongest storm on record in the Indian Ocean. It is expected to make landfall in Odisha or the far northeastern corner of the Andrha Pradesh State on Saturday afternoon or early evening.

Enhanced satellite view of Tropical Cyclone Phailin as it approached the Indian coast on Oct. 11.
Credit: NOAA

The history of the Bay of Bengal region is littered with examples of tragic storms, and this one has the potential to kill thousands and displace many more. The storm is expected to be the equivalent of a Category 4 or 5 hurricane at landfall, bringing a life-threatening storm surge, heavy rains, and high winds to a broad swath of northeastern India. (Although named differently, tropical cyclones have the same characteristics as hurricanes and typhoons.)

The Bay of Bengal, which borders India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka, has been home to the deadliest tropical cyclone disasters on Earth. A whopping 26 of the 35 deadliest tropical storms worldwide formed in the Bay of Bengal, the Capital Weather Gang blog reported. That includes Cyclone Nargis, which struck Myanmar...


The Most Detailed Visuals of Hurricane Sandy, Revealed

Scientists have recently developed awe-inspiring visualizations of Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states a year ago. The visualizations, created using state-of-the-art computer models, provide some of most detailed looks at any hurricane to date.

In this 3-D map of potential temperature, relatively cool air wraps around Sandy's core near the surface (purple and blue colors), while air parcels gain heat from moisture condensing into clouds and precipitation as they ascend through the storm’s core.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: UCAR.

Scientists based at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo., used an advanced hurricane computer model to create mesmerizing images and animations that almost succeed in making the destructive and deadly storm appear to be a beautiful work of art.

The hurricane went through multiple phases. After rumbling through the Caribbean and striking Cuba, it veered north-northeastward just off the East Coast. The storm was officially classified as a post-tropical cyclone as of 7 p.m. EDT on Oct.29, 2012, only an hour before it made landfall, and after hurricane force winds had already begun buffeting the New York and New Jersey coastlines.

Climate Central posted the initial round of visualizations from this team in January. But now, a team including NCAR's Mel Shapiro, the National Center for Computing Applications (NCSA), Cray Computing, and the U.S. Office of Naval Research has produced addition simulations at even higher resolution. 

The visualizations show how Sandy’s life cycle was unique — going through multiple tropical and non-tropical phases as it interacted with the jet stream and surface weather features, such as a cold front draped along th...


‘Atmospheric River’ Smashes Records in Pacific Northwest

A barrage of unusually intense early-autumn storm systems swept across the Pacific Northwest this weekend, bringing hurricane-force winds and dumping enough rain to smash all-time monthly rainfall records from Seattle to Portland.

In Seattle and Olympia, Wash., Sept. 28 was the wettest September day on record. In Seattle, 1.71 inches of rain fell, which was more rain than typically falls during the entire month.

Water vapor satellite image showing the "atmospheric river" extending from near Hawaii in the lower left to the Pacific Northwest in the upper right. Arrows indicate the direction of moisture transport.
Credit: U. Wisc. via Facebook/Stu Ostro.

The rainfall was the product of a long, snake-like plume of moisture that stretched from near Hawaii to the gulf of Alaska, and it aimed squarely at the Pacific Northwest. These moisture plumes are sometimes called “atmospheric rivers,” which are responsible for some of the most damaging flooding events along the U.S. West Coast, particularly in California.

Some of the moisture originally came from Typhoon Pabok, which was in the western Pacific several days ago, according to the National Weather Service.

The highest rainfall totals were recorded in mountainous areas, with 5-10 inches or more of rainfall commonplace in the higher elevations of Oregon and Washington. Lees Camp, Ore., for example, recorded 11.10 inches of rain from Sept. 27-30, and Tillamook, along the north Oregon coast, received 6.84 inches.

A weather station on Mount St. Helens recorded 15.30 inches of rain during the same period.

The Portland metro area saw between 3-4 inches of rainfall, which is extremely rare for this time of year. Oregon wine country was also aff...


Strongest Storm on Earth En Route to Hong Kong

Super-Typhoon Usagi became the strongest storm on Earth on Thursday. Though it’s weakened since then, the storm is still churning toward Hong Kong and could create major disruptions with a likely landfall as early as Sunday.

On Thursday, Usagi measured sustained wind speeds of 160 mph. Those winds made it the strongest storm on Earth this year, besting Utor, which recorded wind speeds of 150 mph prior to making landfall in the Philippines in mid-August according to the Capital Weather Gang. NASA created a 3D satellite image of Usagi at its peak, showing an extremely well-developed eyewall.

Satellite image of Super-Typhoon Usagi spinning in the Philippines Sea on Thursday.
Credit: Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies

Measurements by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center on Friday morning showed that Usagi had sustained winds of 150 mph with gusts up to 184 mph. That’s still enough to classify it as a supertyphoon or make it the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane. The storm is also kicking up waves as high as 45 feet.

The storm is expected to deliver a sharp blow to Taiwan on Friday and Saturday before likely heading toward Hong Kong. Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau has issued an “extremely torrential rain advisory” for the southeastern part of island. The storm could potentially drop 20-30 inches of rain on Taiwan over the next two days. That’s prompted the Defense Ministry to deploy more than 1,600 soldiers to areas most prone to...