Severe Weather 1/22/12

One of the things I wanted to do more this year was weather posts. However, it’s late and I’m busy all day today, so this post will not be very detailed. It’s really just going to briefly discuss some nuances about the tornado setup today. Actually, most of my posts will probably be like this. Whatever.

1. I think initiation will occur fairly early — around 21Z. We have an intensifying trough going negative tilt, and northern AR/southern MO will be on the left-exit region of a 120 kt upper jet. The SPC slight risk should be shifted west to account for this and the fact that the 06Z NAM continues to trend slower with the upper air energy. Initiation might even occur west of Little Rock.

2. Everything north of I-40 will likely line out quickly after initiation. 700 mb flow backs quicker than 500 mb flow on this run, meaning we get a veer-back-veer vertical wind profile which makes storm mode messy. Not to mention the geometry (low wavelength) of the trough is historically associated with less discrete storm modes.

Further south, there is less of the veer-back-veer, the forcing is weaker, and the cap is slightly stronger. I’d look between LA-AR border and I-40 for the best chance of “long-lived supercells” as is mentioned in the SPC Public Severe Weather Outlook.

3. The parameters are actually very good. The instability is there due to cold mid-level temperatures and the shear profiles are beautiful. If we can get a few supercells to remain discrete I expect significant tornadoes. Highest threat, given what I said in bullet #2, is in an area bounded by (just south of) Little Rock, AR – Crossett, AR – Columbus, MS – TN/AL/MS border. This roughly correlates to the southern 2/3 of SPC’s MDT risk, stretched a little to the west.

4. Big outbreaks usually have complex initiation modes. Almost never do all the storms initiate from one boundary, at least in the early season. Instead, the forcing is usually more diffuse and scattered through subtle confluence lines ahead of the main [cold front, or dryline, or other initiating boundary]. (See 2/5/08, 3/28/07, 4/27/11, etc. for examples).

Tomorrow’s setup has the look of subtle confluence lines. The E-W temperature gradient is weak, and the wind shifts are not especially pronounced. So I think we will get the subtle confluence lines ahead of the main cold front (which will be well to the west, actually). Moreover, the 700 mb vertical velocities do not smell like linear forcing. So this should be watched, and may throw Bullet Pt #2 out the window.

A lot of this however will hinge on the capping in the warm sector. The strength of the warm layer/cap at 700 mb will have a strong longitudinal dependence because of the high-amplitude nature of the trough – I’ll explain why in a future drawing maybe. Because of this, if the confluence lines are too far ahead of the strongest forcing and too far into the capped region, they will go to naught.

5. Watch out for the near-surface inversion that will be slow to erode N of I-40. If storms initiate before it does, or if low clouds/stratus/light rain hangs around for awhile, the threat area might shift even further south, to areas that are more strongly capped. This will tend to reduce the threat somewhat.

*Disclaimer* My explanations of nuances/subtleties end up being bullsh*t sometimes (i.e. irrelevant or flat out wrong – weather forecasting is a difficult business). Beware, and always use official forecasts for planning/safety/etc. etc. etc.

P.S. For reference, the SPC 06Z outlook that I refer to a million times can be found here.


Championship Picks

First off, a review of divisional round predictions:

AFC was great… I nailed both games. (In fact, I predicted exactly the score of the Texans-Ravens game.) But the AFC picks were easy, to be honest.

NFC was horrible… I bombed both games. I knew the Giants had a good chance of beating the Packers, but I picked the Pack out of my loyalty for them. Bad decision. Moreover, I was expecting at least a close game. But in fact, the Pack were never really in the game. The Giants dominated on both sides of the ball. Packers defense folded, and turning the ball over 4 times is a no-no.

Didn’t really expect the 49ers beating the Saints. Clearly, defense wins championships still.

So, title game predictions:

Ravens 23
Patriots 28
The Ravens’ defense doesn’t do well on the road. They will need every bit of defense to stop the Patriots’ offense. Granted, given the lack of success of high-powered offensive teams in the NFC playoffs, I would not be surprised if the Ravens end up winning this one (I’d say about 35%)… but only if Flacco and the defense step up.

Giants 21
49ers 17
The Giants are as good as anyone in football right now, with a balanced offense and defense. I’m still skeptical of the 49ers’ offensive unit and their offensive line, which might struggle against the Giants’ front four. The one caveat is that the Giants have a weak running game, and the 49ers have a smashmouth run defense. Though Eli can pass as good as anyone right now, if the 49ers can control the clock and execute in the red zone (like last week), they might win.

I am still calling the NFC winner to win the Super Bowl, but I’ll wait for the results of the championship games to make more specific predictions, for now.

Oh, Computer Models

The weatherman’s most handy tool is the computer model. The supercomputers of a model crunch multitudes of data and input them into differential equations to make predictions of atmospheric parameters for future times (i.e. tomorrow, 2 days later, 3 days later, etc.). These predictions are mapped out, and the resultant outputted maps are interpreted by the weatherman to make his forecast. Computer models update every 6-12 hours, giving the weatherman a fresh set of maps to interpret every day.

Weather models aren’t perfect, and as a result, the weathermen “never get it right”. The differential equations are nonlinear and chaotic – the slightest error in an initial condition can make a world a difference a few days out. This is why forecasts tend to get worse for longer time ranges. Even worse, the inputs into the equations are dependent on the observational data collected by satellites, weather stations, and weather balloons. No observational network will ever be perfect nor complete in its breadth. Some areas are observationally spotty, so spatial extrapolation of the data that does exist must be done, compromising the accuracy of the input. And finally, some localized atmospheric processes, such as thunderstorm activity, are extremely difficult to input precisely, so these are rounded to an extent. So as a result, weather models tend to do a lot of changing and flip-flopping from day to day.

Different models use different algorithms with different physics, different rounding schemes, and different ways to interpret data to produce solutions. Despite the challenges posed to modelers, computer models have become increasingly accurate in the past decade. But some are still better than others, and two of the most accurate computer models used today are the GFS (made by researchers in the U.S.) and the ECMWF (made by researchers in Europe).

There’s a saying in the weather community – those so-called “weenies” who love extreme weather – that the ECMWF is a “Dr. No”. Whenever there’s a big weather event on the horizon, the ECMWF always seems to output a more moderate solution. And the worst thing is – the ECMWF is always right! There’s two possible reasons for this:

1) Most natural processes, even weather events, follow a Gaussian “bell-curve” distribution. The more moderate solutions, closer to the “mean”, are always going to have a higher probability of coming to fruition than the extreme solutions.

2) The ECMWF holds a slight edge over the GFS because the former uses an initialization scheme known as 4DVAR. 4DVAR gives the ECMWF an advantage in data-sparse locations, such as the Pacific Ocean. Since the prevailing jet stream and storm track in the U.S. goes from west to east, having a better picture of the storm in the Pacific today entails a better picture of the storm in California tomorrow, and a better picture of the storm in the East Coast down the road.

The upshot? The GFS showed days of heavy rain here in Berkeley and an eventual severe weather outbreak in the Southeast, both of which I enjoy tracking. The ECMWF showed a couple of systems with significant breaks and much less rain, and no severe weather, serving as Dr. No.

Today, one of the models changed sides. Guess which one it was?

Review of Wild Card Weekend; Predictions Round 2

So to recap, my NFC wildcard predictions were on spot. I did however give the Falcons too much credit, as they were shut out offensively. The Giants are looking like a scary team. I am less sure than ever on the Packers defeating the Giants; the game will largely depend on these matchups: the Giants monster defensive line against the Packers’ banged-up offensive line; Packers’ monster receivers against a weaker Giants’ secondary. This will likely be a pass-happy shootout that is decided in the last few minutes. My predictions for all teams stand.

My AFC predictions, unfortunately, failed. I’m happy that the Steelers lost, but I look bad with that prediction. Steelers lost because of the injuries to Pouncey and Roethlisburger, and because of the blown coverages that allowed Tebow have a career day.

For AFC, my new predictions:


4 | Denver Broncos 17
1 | New England Patriots 31

3 | Houston Texas 13
2 | Baltimore Ravens 20
The Ravens are nearly unstoppable at home.


2 | Baltimore Ravens 24
1 | New England Patriots 37
The Ravens are weak on the road and Flacco can’t win a shootout against Brady if his life depended on it.

And like my previous prediction, whoever wins the NFC wins the Super Bowl.

NFL Playoffs Predictions

Really simple, predictions. If I do well this year I might make myself more public on predictions in upcoming years.

Seed | Team Points (bolded if win)

NFC – Wild Card

5 | Atlanta Falcons 17
4 | NY Giants 23

6 | Detroit Lions 21
3 | New Orleans Saints 45
Can’t see a weak Lions defense stopping a Saints team at home. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Saints put up a 50-burger.

NFC – Divisional

3 | New Orleans Saints 20
2 | San Francisco 49ers 10

5 | NY Giants 24
1 | Green Bay Packers 27
This one could be closer than most people think. A good Giants defensive line could upset the Packers and their banged up O-line, as we saw with the Chiefs. And the Giants almost beat the Packers during the regular season.

NFC – Championship

3 | New Orleans Saints 35
1 | Green Bay Packers 31
Purely basing on the Saints having a slightly better defense than the Packers. However, if the Pack can intercept Brees a couple of times and turns those turnovers into points – the Packers will win. Brees has been intercepted a few times in the past couple of games and the Pack hunt on picks. That will be the wild card. P.S. This will be a great game.


AFC – Wild Card

5 | Pittsburgh Steelers 13
4 | Denver Broncos 3
If Denver couldn’t put up a touchdown against KC, they certainly won’t against the Steel curtain.

6 | Cincinnati Bengals 16
3 | Houston Texans 17
Not confident on this one at all. Needless to say, a lot hinges on the performance of the two rookie QB’s in this game.

AFC – Divisional

3 | Houston Texans 13
2 | Baltimore Ravens 20

5 | Pittsburgh Steelers 23
1 | New England Patriots 17
Steelers have the top defense, while the Patriots have the dead last; defenses win playoff games. The Patriots haven’t won a playoff game since 2007, and the Steelers have already knocked off the Patriots once this year.

AFC – Championship

5 | Pittsburgh Steelers 20
2| Baltimore Ravens 17
A classical matchup. And like the last 235235 times, the Steelers beat the Ravens in the playoffs. (Note though I hate the Steelers. I’m just being honest here.)



AFC 5 | Pittsburgh Steelers 20
NFC 3 | New Orleans Saints 31
If the Packers would’ve won, this would be a matchup of last year’s Super Bowl!

Horrible Drivers

Three cases today while driving back from LAX to SD southbound, two of which provided three chances of injuring or killing me and my passengers.

1) On the 405 just east of Long Beach, near the bend between 605 and 22. I’ve been burned by the sharp turn here before, so I usually watch out, so I should’ve been more careful, but still. I’m driving 80 in the carpool lane, and I’m attempting to lane change into the fast lane. Just at that moment, pickup driving ~70 in lane 2 (adjacent to the fast lane) attempts to merge into the fast lane as well – WITHOUT SIGNALING. I swerve back into my carpool lane to avoid an accident, but just then, the cars ahead of me suddenly brake. My car has anti-lock on the brakes, so I know I won’t brake in time. Thankfully, the pickup moved back into the 2nd lane, so I swerve back into the fast lane just in time, and head off on my way.

As it turns out (according to my dad; I was still too much in shock), there was an accident right in front of me in the carpool lane, just around the bend.

Of course, I should’ve been more careful in that area of the 405, but pickup really should’ve signaled before lane changing – I know I did. Had I been able to change lanes, none of the subsequent drama would’ve happened. Had the pickup signaled or changed first, I probably would’ve reacted to the braking ahead much sooner. All in all, two chances of ugliness, and I’m thankful to have escaped both.

2) 405 again, at the interchange with 55 north. There’s a carpool left exit there. Again it’s a pickup in front in the carpool lane, sedan behind it, I’m outside and safe. As usual there’s a lane that opens up before the left exit, and the pickup appears to go into it, but opts out halfway through the lane change. At the last minute, the pickup swerves back into the exit, just before the fork. Another close call – had the Sedan sped up, it wouldn’t have been pretty.

3) In SD County now, on the 5. A car enters the freeway from (I don’t remember what interchange), subsequently skips across 3 LANES OF TRAFFIC. I’m on the 2nd lane, and I see him zoom towards me. Instinctively, I go left and merge onto the left lane, and right as I do that, he cuts inches right in front of where I was in the 2nd lane. Another close call for me.

So yeah, really guys? Aside from that, I experienced morons driving 70 in the fast lane, my dad alerting me to police cars I never saw, heavy fog on the trip to LAX… just all sorts of craziness. Needless to say, I’m glad made it back alive.

The Top 10 of 2011

Every year I look back and I see how blessed I am, but I never write about it. Well, one word describes 2011: breakout. And so, this year above all others, I have taken the priority to write a year-end blog post. Highlights follow.

1) Physics. I don’t know why, but Professor Bloxham’s first lecture about electromagnetism struck a resonance within me. Maybe it was his rebelliousness, maybe his enthusiasm or the beauty of the triple integral he wrote on the board. Or maybe it was the way he twisted what I knew and reformulated it in an entirely different manner. My meeting with him at his house opened my eyes to the interface of math, physics, and philosophy ….and thus began my path to Engineering Physics.

2) Computer. Went through three the first few months of the year. Hard drives are fragile beings.

3) Failing. I was at the low point of my years at Berkeley. Having come off two broken laptops, I subsequently fail my first two Physics midterms and score 1 SD below avg on both my first chem and MCB midterms. As usual, weather came to my rescue with a massive tornado outbreak from April 14-16. That saved me from certain depression, and I came out with a renewed drive to do better. Which, I did.

4) Tornadoes. See this and this. Because of the recent tornadoes, a renewed passion for weather has sprouted within me.

And then, in mid-June, came the tipping point. I moved in with:

5) Berkeleyan/”6th floor”. There are still days I cannot properly grasp what a blessing these people have been. I came in with very few friends, having left Kairos and losing contact with everyone there. But these people welcomed me with open arms. These people gave me a reason to express myself and to find myself. And now I am fortunate to live with people who I know love me and care for me. In my first few months, I was able to express my scientific side with (dumb) YouTube and elevator projects, my photographic side to an extent very few in Kairos ever appreciated, my religious/philosophical side with Joyce, my adventurous side with Tracey/LZ/Andy/among others, my loving (LOL) side with Vicki, my engineering side with Sachin, and a host of other things I am forgetting. Because my inhibitions are gone, I am free to travel the mind… without keeping my itinerary secret.

6) 6th floor Part 2 – Kapil. Motivated, a bit judgmental. Eloquent in speech, inspirational. Intelligent, hard-working. Black. Words I can use to describe my roommate. Incredible guy who has incredible determination, and an incredible person to talk to. He, above all others in my life besides my parents and my girlfriend (whom he is tied with), has shaped my life the most. I can be weird around him, and he can be totally weird around me. We talk about the craziest stuff, from subspaces to Batman voices, from riffs to ‘falafels’ (i.e. waffles). Without him, I would have no confidence, and no…

7) Research. Once again, Vicki and Kapil are the stars of this highlight. I was nowhere, lost, but they helped me find my path. I didn’t know how to email, how to write a resume, network, or do anything.

In 2 weeks, they helped me go from 0 to 2, and I do not know how, really, I can repay them. And really, I don’t. But believe me when I say this. Whenever there’s any doubt in my mind whenever Vicki’s a good girlfriend, this miracle sets me straight.

8) Physics, the curriculum. I haven’t had this much fun learning about stuff since O-chem and E45. Yeah, it’s harder and my grades are struggling, but I know I picked the right major.

9) Football. The rate at which my football knowledge and interest is increasing rivals that of weather back in late middle school-early high school, and Interstate highways back in elem school. And to think that a few years ago, I told myself I’d never watch football again!

10) Photography. I gotta thank Tom, Thuy, 6th floor, and Yearbook for this. (And I’m sure I’m missing a few people.) Thanks for encouraging me. Even though I did not complete my 365 project, starting may have been the best decision of my life.