2nd annual midwinter weather-forecasting tirade

Having finally found a site that can predict our area’s winter weather longer than 20 minutes in advance (www.illiniweather.com), I’m considerably calmer about weather forecasting this winter than I have been in previous winters.  However, when I feel the need for aggravation, I still go to www.weather.com or even better, www.accuweather.com.

I admit a lot of my problem with weather.com is that the way their pages are arranged, it’s nearly impossible to find the forecast.  One has to search for tiny links between ads, and to my intense irritation, many of those ads seem to contain things that are moving.  (I never click on moving ads, by the way.  The only thing I do with them is take note of the advertiser and not buy their product.)  small update: I just went to that site and noted that somewhere in the last few weeks they have consolidated the weather forecast in a large box and put the ads off to the side, and right now none of the ads are moving.  Gosh.

When you can find the forecast, however, it usually reads like something a malfunctioning computer wrote, and what can be understood turns out to be completely inaccurate.  Snow flurries turn out to be raging blizzards or we get 6″ of light snow, or 10 degrees F turns out to be -10 degrees F.

And then there’s accuweather.com, which is not only usually completely inaccurate but also alarmist.  On that site, a snow flurry is nonexistent — it’s always going to be that Great Lakes version of the nor’easter, totally catastrophic, 3 feet of lake-effect snow and counting.  They blare that a nighttime reading of 10 degrees is a historic cold snap.  And today we’re getting snow showers, and guess what?  They have a weather alarm up on the forecast page!

So we may get an inch of snow.  Oh dear me the sky is falling.  Or maybe they’re just putting lipstick on a pig and trying to sell it as a vice-presidential candidate, who knows.

Fact is, the weather in this area is a hard sell.  With few breaks, it’s usually one long gray snore.  Being west of the lakes, we have some lake-effect snow, but usually not  the mountainous storms that those east and south of the lakes frequently experience.  Until recently it was thought that our lake turned the tornado machine off (this was before we got a bunch of them in the city proper a few years back).  We did get hit with the remnants of a Pacific storm called Lowell one Saturday in 2008 and then the next day, the remains of Hurricane Ike, resulting in 12″ of rain in just under 48 hours and massive flooding.  As far as I know, that has happened once or maybe twice in recorded history and will likely never happen again in our lifetimes.  One time the temperature plummeted to -27.  Sometimes summer forgets us.  And we’ve had two winters with really epic snowfalls in the last 50 years.

More often we have winters with light to moderate snowstorms every other day, resulting in a considerable pile-ups of snow — but nothing we can’t handle.  We do get nasty little thunderstorms that blow things down, and like I said, 2006-2008 saw a little spate of tornadoes.  We had exactly one historic heatwave back in the mid 1990’s.  We have droughts; one or two have been severe.  We often have weeks without sunshine in the winter. 

But overall, the we have pretty boring weather here.  So why accuweather.com wants to work us up into a lather about something we learn to ignore (the weather) is beyond me.  And that’s on top of the irritation that accuweather.com is usually just plain inaccurate.

Like I said, I’m calmer this winter, having discovered the very straightforward and boring illiniweather.com, which is so boring that it’s usually dead-on accurate.  I recommend that site to everyone around here who has learned that the best thing one can do about northeastern Illinois weather is make an informed shrug.

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Too warm or not too warm? (or: when a tornado is not a tornado)

(This will count as my global-warming/climate change rant.)

I love to look at videos of tornados, and have been doing so lately, which is what brought them to mind on this bleak February day in the Great Lakes area — a day during which there is as much chance of having a tornado as of wearing a bikini to the beach.  As long as there isn’t a tornado nearby, they fascinate me.  On the other hand, when I see a video of a storm chaser actually running up to a tornado to get a picture (actually it was probably a landspout* he was trotting toward; see this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpP96pnX00w), I tend to wonder what the hell is wrong with the guy.  Let’s just say that my idea of a great vacation does not involve going storm-chasing. 

Having said that, however, I add this: thank whatever deity you like for storm chasers, because they see what they see and even if the radar doesn’t see it, they have proof of what they saw.  And they teach us to see.  If you’re totally confused about what I just said, read on.  It may help, or it may not.

In September of 2006 I was caught in a tornado.  I do not care to have that happen again, although I have been peripherally involved in about 10 tornadic storms in my lifetime and have no doubt it will happen again.  This was a very, very weak tornado as these monsters go.  But even so, a tornadic storm is an event like no other.  Know the phrase “all hell broke loose”?  For those who have never experienced a tornado, that’s what a tornadic storm is like.  Suddenly, all control is lost.  You are instantly a victim scrambling for survival.  How fast does this happen?  Blink.  It’s faster than that.

This particular storm caused a flash downpour that left cars submerged in the midst of rush-hour traffic, and an abrupt, terrific acceleration of wind which turned into visible white streaks that first ripped in one direction, then abruptly switched to the complete opposite direction, shredding trees, roof shingles, and power lines as it went.  There was a white-out of tiny hailstones at one point.  All of this happened nearly simultaneously, and then, over the insistent screaming of the tornado sirens I heard the deep, eerie tornadic rumble that cannot be described by mere words and has rarely, if ever, been recorded adequately.

When I heard that, I headed for the basement.  There was no time to look up at the sky to see what it looked like — you couldn’t see anything, anyway; everything was a dark, murky green streaked with white tails of wind, and there was (to put it bluntly) too much crap flying around to spend much time looking up.  As I tried to run to the basement — our walkway to the basement is outside the building — I found I could barely move and had to hang onto the bricks as best I could to keep from being lifted away.  I was soaked through to the skin in a split second.  

 A relative of mine got a picture of the funnel cloud.

Earlier in the decade, I was involved in another tornadic event that tore entire roofs off houses and turned the wind around us into a whirling junkyard.  Our ears were popping, and there was that awful hollow, whistling rumble.  After the storm we found large trees laying on the ground, pointing in different directions.  A man was killed when a tree fell on the car he was driving. 

Someone got a picture of that funnel cloud, too.

The Weather Bureau later informed us that both events had been mere “straight line winds.”  Sorry, but “straight line wind,” or even “microburst” does not carry the impact of  “tornado.” And those of us who were right underneath these storms know what we saw; certainly there is nothing else that sounds like a tornado — and I know what I heard in both instances.   Those at the weather bureau only saw their radar, and later surveyed the damage.  Which will bring us to the point: who are you gonna trust?  You and your own camera, or some nerd sitting at a computer at a government bureau office?

Which brings us to the subject of global warming.

I don’t like the term “climate change,” because “climate change” is constant and normal on this planet.  So you won’t read it anymore after this paragraph.  Having been through a period of my life when we were all resigned to eventually wearing parkas in July because of “global cooling,” however, I also have some questions about “global warming.”  But do I believe in it?  Yes and no.

I tend to believe in it because it’s naive to an extreme to try to claim that 6 billion methane-producing humans with their 600,000,000 carbon-belching motorized vehicles* (as well as other things) aren’t having any impact at all on the planet.  (*Vehicle estimate can be found here: http://ididnotknowthatyesterday.blogspot.com/2006/10/how-many-cars-are-in-world.html)

On the other hand, didn’t I already mention that climate change…well I said I wouldn’t mention that term anymore.  Let’s just call it “natural cycles,” because that’s what they are.  In short, I think our present situation may be caused by overpopulation and industrialization (which helped to cause the overpopulation) mixed with natural cycles.  Now, I realize that since religion has once again taken over the world, it has become perilous to mention the word “overpopulation,” since most religions are all about creating more babies who will become members of the religion.  But I think it’s a good word.  So live with it: OVERPOPULATION.  I’ll say it again: OVERPOPULATION.  Don’t think so?  Well, what else do you call it when we’re running out of water and food, not to mention space?

To make the concept more real to you, next time when you’re stranded in a wall-to-wall traffic jam on the freeway, quite ready to believe that all of the 600,000,000 motorized vehicles on Earth are parked on the same freeway, think about why you do not believe there is such a thing as OVERPOPULATION.  Think very, very hard.

Back to the point, in the 1960’s, an annoying novelty-song squeaker called Tiny Tim squawked a ditty called “The Ice Caps are Melting.”  If I’m remembering my stats correctly, he was right: the 1960’s were abnormally warm.  They were also abnormally stormy.  Local statistics show that we had an unusually high number of tornadic storms in those years —  a record that apparently stands to this day.  (As an aside, the perception in my area is that there are more tornadoes now than there ever were; honestly, I believe that there are merely as many as there ever normally were, it’s just that we’ve only recently learned to recognize them — and they don’t all look like the one in “The Wizard of Oz”! —  because of the birth of the storm-chasing profession and its impressive array of video equipment.)

Then came the 1970’s and 1980’s, the era of “global cooling,” — better known in those times as “the new ice age” — during which we were freezing our butts off.  Sometimes literally.

And with the 1990’s, the temperatures rose again and so did the issue of global warming.  It was and is real; temperatures are rising.  Whether it is entirely a natural cycle or not is debatable; all that seems certain is that even if it is, it is being aggravated by the fact that we have more contributors than ever before.

I also believe that the term “global warming” may have arisen because it has become taboo to discuss OVERPOPULATION, and these days one can’t do it without someone else sniping “unfair!” “racism!” “discrimination!” “pro life!” “ethnic cleansing!” etc.  But I digress.

My attitude is that certainly, something is happening.  I’ve noticed that the seasons in my area seem to be shifting rather than disappearing (these days summer almost never starts before the first week of July, and lingers slightly into the fall; fall either lingers into January or gets cut short in November; winter lasts almost all the way through spring).  But there is no statistical data to back that up, just my own gut feelings.

Which brings us back to tornadoes…

*Landspouts are a type of tornado usually not associated with a horrific storm.  However, even without the storms they are still potentially quite dangerous — as in, I wouldn’t walk up to one.