Evacuation Order Canceled As North Carolina Dam Deemed Safe

Residents and businesses near a dam in North Carolina appeared to have dodged potential disaster Wednesday after an emergency at the location was called off.

Earlier, heavy rains and a landslide in the western North Carolina mountains “compromised the integrity” of Lake Tahoma dam and triggered urgent calls for mandatory evacuations.

Emergency officials said the dam was “at risk of imminent failure” and the weather service extended a flash flood warning for central McDowell County until 12:30 p.m.

The National Weather Service cited reports early Wednesday from McDowell County emergency management officials that “water is spilling around the sides of Lake Tahoma dam.

Evacuations ongoing south of the dam.”

But later, McDowell County emergency officials said Lake Tahoma had been inspected and deemed safe and a mandatory evacuation was halted. “The emergency at Lake Tahoma has been canceled. The evacuation order is no longer in effect. The engineer has performed a safety inspection and determined that the evacuation order is no longer needed,” according to a statement on the McDowell County 911/Emergency Management Facebook page.

“Please remain alert for additional updates, as additional rainfall is expected this afternoon. We appreciate the public’s understanding during this storm.”

Richelle Bailey, spokeswoman for McDowell County’s emergency management department, said about 2,000 people live in the evacuation area and there are about 200 people in shelters.

Bailey said that William Kehler, the county’s emergency services director, was to return home on Wednesday after serving on a team deployed to Hawaii to help emergency workers deal with the volcano there.

Landslides, evacuations, flooding

Deadly subtropical depression Alberto, the storm system drenching the Southeast, has been pounding the rugged mountains in North Carolina, spawning landslides, evacuations and flash flooding.

The National Weather Service warned residents to stay off the roads as the increased threat for landslides and debris flows continues through Wednesday night.

“We have issued a flash flood emergency for McDowell County in NC,” the service tweeted. “Flash flooding, landslides and rapid rises on waterways are an immediate threat to life and property. Do not attempt to drive unless you are fleeing flood waters.

In Rutherford County, the Town of Lake Lure and Chimney Rock Village declared a state of emergency as the Rocky Broad River surpassed seven and a half feet, officials said on the town’s Facebook page.

They said the Hickory Nut Falls Campground and the Rivercreek Campground have been evacuated.

“The Town has had to repeatedly open the floodgates just to balance the continually rising river levels from the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge,” the town said. “Residents living along the river and in other low-lying areas or areas prone to landslides are urged to take higher ground immediately.”

There is also a flash flood emergency in Marion County, NC, about 20 miles west of Asheville, with 4 to 6 inches of rain fallen, CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen reported. Life-threatening flash flooding is being reported along the Catawba River and its tributaries there.

Emergency responders also were conducting several water rescues through McDowell County but no injuries or fatalities were reported, the agency said.

Alberto had weakened to a subtropical depression Monday but millions of people in parts of Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky were still under flash flood watches for much of Tuesday.

Heavy rainfall drenched parts of northern Georgia, the western Carolinas and Tennessee on Tuesday, increasing the threat of flash flooding in those areas, the National Weather Service said.

After moving into the Tennessee Valley, the system is forecast to head into the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes region Wednesday and Thursday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Florida, Mississippi and Alabama — the three states bearing the brunt of the storm — declared emergencies ahead of Alberto.

On Monday, two journalists from South Carolina-based CNN affiliate WYFF were killed in Polk County, North Carolina. A tree fell on their SUV as they covered the hazardous weather, the station said.

Alberto made landfall Monday afternoon as a subtropical storm in the Florida Panhandle, reaching maximum sustained winds of 45 mph as it arrived in Laguna Beach, according to the hurricane center.

Click here to track the storm

Hurricane season is set to begin officially Friday.

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center Is Forecasting A 75-Percent Chance That The 2018 Atlantic Hurricane Season Will Be Near- Or Above-Normal.

Forecasters predict a 35 percent chance of an above-normal season, a 40 percent chance of a near-normal season, and a 25 percent chance of a below-normal season for the upcoming hurricane season, which extends from June 1 to November 30.

“With the advances made in hardware and computing over the course of the last year, the ability of NOAA scientists to both predict the path of storms and warn Americans who may find themselves in harm’s way is unprecedented,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “The devastating hurricane season of 2017 demonstrated the necessity for prompt and accurate hurricane forecasts.”

NOAA’s forecasters predict a 70-percent likelihood of 10 to 16 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 5 to 9 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 1 to 4 major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher). An average hurricane season produces 12 named storms, of which 6 become hurricanes, including 3 major hurricanes.

The possibility of a weak El Nino developing, along with near-average sea surface temperatures across the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, are two of the factors driving this outlook. These factors are set upon a backdrop of atmospheric and oceanic conditions that are conducive to hurricane development and have been producing stronger Atlantic hurricane seasons since 1995.

“NOAA’s observational and modeling enhancements for the 2018 season put us on the path to deliver the world’s best regional and global weather models,” said Neil Jacobs, Ph.D., assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction. “These upgrades are key to improving hurricane track and intensity forecasts, allowing NOAA to deliver the best science and service to the nation.”

NOAA’s suite of sophisticated technologies – from next-generation models and satellite data to new and improved forecast and graphical products – enable decision makers and the general public to take action before, during, and after hurricanes, helping to build a more “Weather-Ready Nation.” New tools available this year to assist in hurricane forecasts and communications include:

NOAA’s fleet of earth-observing satellites is more robust than ever with the successful launch of the GOES-17 satellite in March. This satellite, along with the GOES-16 satellite – now GOES-East – contribute to a comprehensive picture of weather throughout the Western Hemisphere, allowing forecasters to observe storms as they develop.

The new polar-orbiting satellite, NOAA-20, will join the NOAA/NASA Suomi NPP satellite and use a suite of sophisticated instruments to gather high-resolution data from around the globe to feed NOAA’s weather models, driving the 3-7 day weather forecast that is critical to preparedness and effective evacuations.

The National Weather Service will run a version of the Global Forecast System (called FV3 GFS) with a new dynamic core alongside the current GFS model – often referred to as the American model – during the 2018 season. This will mark the first dynamic core upgrade to NOAA’s flagship weather model in more than 35 years, representing the first step in re-engineering NOAA’s models to provide the best possible science-based predictions for the nation.

NOAA’s hurricane-specific model – the Hurricane Weather Research and Forecast system – will be upgraded to offer greater resolution than ever before, increasing model resolution from 1.2 miles to 0.9 miles (2 km to 1.5 km) near the center of a storm. Additionally, the Hurricanes in a Multi-scale Ocean coupled Non-hydrostatic model was first implemented in 2017 and will undergo upgrades for the 2018 season to include greater resolution, new physics and coupling with ocean models.

NOAA’s National Hurricane Center will make the Arrival Time of Tropical-Storm-Force Winds graphics operational for this hurricane season. One graphic displays the “earliest reasonable” arrival time of tropical-storm-force winds, at which point further preparedness activities could be hindered. A second graphic displays the “most-likely” arrival time of tropical-storm-force winds.

“Preparing ahead of a disaster is the responsibility of all levels of government, the private sector and the public,” said acting FEMA Deputy Administrator Daniel Kaniewski. “It only takes one storm to devastate a community so now is the time to prepare. Do you have adequate insurance, including flood insurance? Does your family have a communication and evacuation plan? Stay tuned to your local news and download the FEMA app to get alerts, and make sure you heed any warnings issued by local officials.”

In addition to the Atlantic hurricane season outlook, NOAA also issued seasonal hurricane outlooks for the eastern and central Pacific basins. An 80 percent chance of a near- or above-normal season is predicted for both the eastern and central Pacific regions. The eastern Pacific outlook calls for a 70-percent probability of 14 to 20 named storms, of which 7 to 12 are expected to become hurricanes, including 3 to 7 major hurricanes. The central Pacific outlook calls for a 70-percent probability of 3 to 6 tropical cyclones, which includes tropical depressions, tropical storms and hurricanes.

NOAA will update the 2018 Atlantic seasonal outlook in early August, just prior to the peak of the season.

Somalia’s “Strongest Cyclone On Record” Has Left Dozens Dead And Thousands Displaced

A tropical cyclone has wrecked havoc across the Horn of Africa, leaving at least 15 people dead and tens of thousands displaced.

Tropical cyclone Sagar, which means “the sea” in Hindi, formed in the Gulf of Aden between Yemen and northern Somalia late last week. Since landing over the weekend, the cyclone system has caused heavy rains in both the Puntland and Somaliland regions of Somalia, and moved along the coast to strike the tiny nation of Djibouti.

With top sustained winds of 60 miles per hour, Sagar made landfall further west than any tropical cyclone in 52 years of record-keeping for the North Indian Basin. The cyclone, which is being called the strongest ever recorded in Somalia, left a trail of destruction including loss of livestock and crops and destruction of homes, as well as massive damage to infrastructure.

“This is the biggest storm to hit the region in years,” Nigel Tricks, the regional director for the Norwegian Refugee Council said.

The NRC said that at least 30,000 people were affected in Somalia and Djibouti. But the extent of the damage is yet to be confirmed, especially given the current armed conflict between Somaliland and Puntland that had already displaced almost 10,000 people prior to the cyclone’s arrival.

Torrential rains also pounded other parts of Somalia, with people and cars slowly moving through waist-deep floodwater after homes were inundated. Officials said the storm killed at least six people in the capital Mogadishu. The United Nations estimates 700,000 people in flood-affected areas will need livelihood support through September. Facebook activated a safety feature following the devastating floods.

The flooding in Somalia comes just as countries including Kenya, and Ethiopia are recovering from the devastating drought that swept the Horn and East Africa region in the last two years. In Kenya, more than 170 people have died since heavy rains swept the country starting in March.

Hurricanes: Stronger, Slower, Wetter In The Future?

Scientists have developed a detailed analysis of how 22 recent hurricanes would be different if they formed under the conditions predicted for the late 21st century.

While each storm’s transformation would be unique, on balance, the hurricanes would become a little stronger, a little slower-moving, and a lot wetter.

In one example, Hurricane Ike — which killed more than 100 people and devastated parts of the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2008 — could have 13 percent stronger winds, move 17 percent slower, and be 34 percent wetter if it formed in a future, warmer climate.

Other storms could become slightly weaker (for example, Hurricane Ernesto) or move slightly faster (such as Hurricane Gustav). None would become drier. The rainfall rate of simulated future storms would increase by an average of 24 percent.

The study, led by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and published in the Journal of Climate, compares high-resolution computer simulations of more than 20 historical, named Atlantic storms with a second set of simulations that are identical but for a warmer, wetter climate that’s consistent with the average scientific projections for the end of the century.

A future with Hurricane Harvey-like rains

“Our research suggests that future hurricanes could drop significantly more rain,” said NCAR scientist Ethan Gutmann, who led the study. “Hurricane Harvey demonstrated last year just how dangerous that can be.”

Harvey produced more than 4 feet of rain in some locations, breaking records and causing devastating flooding across the Houston area.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), which is NCAR’s sponsor, and by DNV GL (Det Norske Veritas Germanischer Lloyd), a global quality assurance and risk management company.

“This study shows that the number of strong hurricanes, as a percent of total hurricanes each year, may increase,” said Ed Bensman, a program director in NSF’s Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, which supported the study. “With increasing development along coastlines, that has important implications for future storm damage.”

Tapping a vast dataset to see storms

With more people and businesses relocating to coastal regions, the potential influence of environmental change on hurricanes has significant implications for public safety and the economy.

Last year’s hurricane season, which caused an estimated $215 billion in losses according to reinsurance company Munich RE, was the costliest on record.

It’s been challenging for scientists to study how hurricanes might change in the future as the climate continues to warm. Most climate models, which are usually run on a global scale over decades or centuries, are not run at a high enough resolution to “see” individual hurricanes.

Most weather models, on the other hand, are run at a high enough resolution to accurately represent hurricanes, but because of the high cost of computational resources, they are not generally used to simulate long-term changes in climate.

For the current study, the researchers took advantage of a massive new dataset created at NCAR. The scientists ran the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model at a high resolution (4 kilometers, or about 2.5 miles) over the contiguous United States over two 13-year periods.

The simulations took about a year to run on the Yellowstone supercomputer at the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center in Cheyenne.

The first set of model runs simulates weather as it unfolded between 2000 and 2013, and the second simulates the same weather patterns but in a climate that’s warmer by about 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) — the amount of warming that may be expected by the end of the century.

Drawing on the vast amount of data, the scientists created an algorithm that enabled them to identify 22 named storms that appear with very similar tracks in the historic and future simulations, allowing the hurricanes to be more easily compared.

As a group, storms in simulations of the future had 6 percent stronger average hourly maximum wind speeds than those in the past. They also moved at 9 percent slower speeds and had 24 percent higher average hourly maximum rainfall rates. Average storm radius did not change.

Each storm unique

“Some past studies have also run the WRF at a high resolution to study the impact of climate change on hurricanes, but those studies have tended to look at a single storm, like Sandy or Katrina,” Gutmann said.

“What we find in looking at more than 20 storms is that some change one way, while others change in a different way. There is so much variability that you can’t study one storm and then extrapolate to all storms.”

But there was one consistent feature across storms: They all produced more rain.

While the study sheds light on how a particular storm might look in a warmer climate, it doesn’t provide insight into how environmental change might affect storm genesis. That’s because the hurricanes analyzed in this study formed outside the region simulated by the WRF model and passed into the WRF simulation as fully formed storms.

Other research has suggested that fewer storms may form in the future because of increasing atmospheric stability or greater high-level wind shear, though the storms that do form are apt to be stronger.

“It’s possible that in a future climate, large-scale atmospheric changes wouldn’t allow some of these storms to form,” Gutmann said. “But from this study, we get an idea of what we can expect from the storms that do form.”

Lightning In The Eyewall Of A Hurricane Beamed Antimatter Toward The Ground

Hurricane Patricia, which battered the west coast of Mexico in 2015, was the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere. Amid the extreme violence of the storm, scientists observed something new: a downward beam of positrons, the antimatter counterpart of electrons, creating a burst of powerful gamma-rays and x-rays.

Detected by an instrument aboard NOAA’s Hurricane Hunter aircraft, which flew through the eyewall of the storm at its peak intensity, the positron beam was not a surprise to the UC Santa Cruz scientists who built the instrument. But it was the first time anyone has observed this phenomenon.

According to David Smith, a professor of physics at UC Santa Cruz, the positron beam was the downward component of an upward terrestrial gamma-ray flash that sent a short blast of radiation into space above the storm. Terrestrial gamma-ray flashes (TGFs) were first seen in 1994 by space-based gamma-ray detectors. They occur in conjunction with lightning and have now been observed thousands of times by orbiting satellites. A reverse positron beam was predicted by theoretical models of TGFs, but had never been detected.

“This is the first confirmation of that theoretical prediction, and it shows that TGFs are piercing the atmosphere from top to bottom with high-energy radiation,” Smith said. “This event could have been detected from space, like almost all the other reported TGFs, as an upward beam caused by an avalanche of electrons. We saw it from below because of a beam of antimatter (positrons) sent in the opposite direction.”

One unexpected implication of the study, published May 17 in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, is that many TGFs could be detected via the reverse positron beam using ground-based instruments at high altitudes. It’s not necessary to fly into the eye of a hurricane.

“We detected it at an altitude of 2.5 kilometers, and I estimated our detectors could have seen it down to 1.5 kilometers. That’s the altitude of Denver, so there are a lot of places where you could in theory see them if you had an instrument in the right place at the right time during a thunderstorm,” Smith said.

Despite the confirmation of the reverse positron beam, many questions remain unresolved about the mechanisms that drive TGFs. Strong electric fields in thunderstorms can accelerate electrons to near the speed of light, and these “relativistic” electrons emit gamma-rays when they scatter off of atoms in the atmosphere. The electrons can also knock other electrons off of atoms and accelerate them to high energies, creating an avalanche of relativistic electrons. A TGF, which is an extremely bright flash of gamma-rays, requires a large number of avalanches of relativistic electrons.

“It’s an extraordinary event, and we still don’t understand how it gets so bright,” Smith said.

The source of the positrons, however, is a well known phenomenon in physics called pair production, in which a gamma ray interacts with the nucleus of an atom to create an electron and a positron. Since they have opposite charges, they are accelerated in opposite directions by the electric field of the thunderstorm. The downward moving positrons produce x-rays and gamma-rays in their direction of travel when they collide with atomic nuclei, just like the upward moving electrons.

“What we saw in the aircraft are the gamma-rays produced by the downward positron beam,” Smith said.

First author Gregory Bowers, now at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and coauthor Nicole Kelley, now at Swift Navigation, were both graduate students at UC Santa Cruz when they worked together on the instrument that made the detection. The Airborne Detector for Energetic Lightning Emissions (ADELE) mark II was designed to observe TGFs up close by measuring x-rays and gamma-rays from aircraft flown into or above thunderstorms.

Getting too close to a TGF could be hazardous, although the risk drops off rapidly with distance from the source. The gamma-ray dose at a distance of one kilometer would be negligible, Smith said. “It’s hypothetically a risk, but the odds are quite small,” he said. “I don’t ask pilots to fly into thunderstorms, but if they’re going anyway I’ll put an instrument on board.”

Smith’s group was the first to detect a TGF from an airplane using an earlier instrument, the ADELE mark I. In that case, the upward beam from the TGF was detected above a thunderstorm. For this study, the ADELE mark II flew aboard NOAA’s Hurricane Hunter WP-3D Orion during the Atlantic hurricane season.

India Dust Storms: More Than 125 Killed As Storms Continue

At least 125 people are now reported to have died in fierce dust storms in northern India, with officials warning of more bad weather to come.

High-speed winds and lightning devastated many villages, bringing down walls and leaving dozens injured.

An Uttar Pradesh relief commissioner’s office spokesperson told AFP news agency the death toll was the highest from such storms in at least 20 years.

Officials have said the death toll could rise as more bodies are found.

Wind speeds were around 132 km/h (82mph) accompanied by hail storms and heavy lightning, officials said.

Fear amid the ruins

Villagers in Badhera, in the worst affected district of Agra in Uttar Pradesh, say they had had absolutely no warning of the storm that devastated their homes.

This is despite senior police officials saying that an alert was issued across the northern state.

The storm killed three people in the village, while several others were taken to hospital with serious injuries.

Ten-year-old Abhishek Kumar was asleep with his family when the storm struck. Their house collapsed, trapping him and his brother in the debris. Villagers dug them out but while Abhishek survived, his brother did not.

Dhambi Singh also suffered injuries but had to leave hospital to perform the last rites for his father who died when the roof of their house caved in.

Villagers are now worried as they have been warned that a similar storm could strike the region again in the next 72 hours.

“People should be alert,” the relief commissioner’s office told AFP.

In the two states of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, the storm brought down electricity, uprooted trees, destroyed houses and killed livestock.

Tornadoes, Strong Winds Injure Four In Southern Alabama

Four people were injured Sunday when a Southern storm system sent a tornado ripping through an RV park in coastal Alabama, authorities said.

The National Weather Service said two tornadoes were tracked through Baldwin County on Sunday. One of them, in Foley, about 20 miles southeast of Mobile, caused widespread damage, Fire Chief Joseph Darby told NBC affiliate WPMI of Mobile.

Darby said that five RVs were overturned and that four people were injured at Anchors Aweigh RV Resort. The extent of their injuries couldn’t immediately be determined.

“I could see the rain suddenly turning horizontal and the wind really picked up and our camper started to shake and then I told my husband — I grabbed my dog and told my husband — let’s get down because something is going on,” Peggy Stanton of Michigan, who was visiting Foley with her husband, told WPMI.

The tornado was part of a severe weather system that threatens to douse the Southeast with heavy rain through the early part of the week, the National Weather Service said. Rainfall totals of 3 to 6 inches are expected in the southern Appalachians, where flood watches have been issued through Tuesday morning.

Locally heavy rainfall could cause flash flooding to a larger section the Southeast and the mid-Atlantic through Tuesday night, it said.

Severe winds, including at least one possible tornado, were also reported in northern Florida late Saturday and Sunday. The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s said numerous trees were down, especially in Fort Walton Beach, where city officials said City Hall was damaged by a fallen tree.