Prepare 2024: Busy or Blah Season?

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By Matt Harding

Hey there! Welcome back to our Prepare 2024 series, where Scott and I, along with our friends at Eagle Media help get you ready for the upcoming severe weather season! We hope the articles have been informative and helpful when it comes to how you’ll prepare for the coming severe weather.

This week’s topics:
A Look Back | New Ways to Get Warnings | About the Fur Kids…
A Busy or Blah 2024?| The Top Weather Killer You Wouldn’t Expect

If there is one thing to take away from Severe Weather Preparedness week is this: hope is not a planning tool. We have to be prepared to protect life and property whether we’re at home or work, week day or weekend.

 

Ok, now that I’m off the soapbox, let’s get into it!

Revisiting the Fall & Winter

You’re probably thinking “Matt…why do we need to talk about the past when you’re supposed to be making a forecast for the future?”

Excellent question!

One handy forecasting tip I picked up along the way is when it comes to doing a seasonal forecast, you have to look at what happened prior to the period you’re forecasting for. So, for this case, we’re examining the fall and winter.

On a large-scale, the weather pattern was still in transition during the month of October, which meant the region was mostly warm and dry. That regime carried into the first half of November, but changed in the back half of the month to a cooler and wetter setup. The end result of this was a snowstorm that would bring one of season’s biggest snowfalls to the region on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

In a 12-16 hour period, Central Kansas was walloped by more than a foot of snow! One of the big winners was the town of Hesston, where Eagle’s own Rob Dreher recorded more than 13 inches of powder.

Photo Courtesy: Rob Dreher/Eagle Media

As we moved into December, the pattern once again eased up, but got active to finish out the year and included a significant cold snap. The region saw some light wintry events, but not to the extent of the post-Thanksgiving storm.

The season’s second big storm came around the tenth of January, when a major blizzard rolled up the western half of Kansas and eastern Colorado. At the height of the event, highway 54 was closed from Pratt to the Oklahoma/Texas line, and interstate 70 was shuttered from Topeka to Limon, Colorado. Snow amounts of 2-8+ inches fell across central and western Kansas, along with winds of 55-70 mph. Once the storm passed by, we went through a brutal cold stretch which lasted about five days.

Thankfully, the month of February was pretty tame, with just one precip event in the beginning of the month, which produced over an inch of rainfall for some locations.

When you put it all together, Hutchinson received 7.39 inches of moisture (there was a two-week outage at the reporting station in town, so the data is considered incomplete) during the cold season, which is about three-quarters of an inch above normal. Additionally, the Salt City picked up close to 18 inches of snow since October 1.

Here is how that stacks up to the rest of Kansas:

Data Courtesy: Pivotal Weather

When you combine the snowfall we’ve received, along with the liquid precip, a signficant dent has been put into the drought in the last three months.

State of Play Now

Looking at the nation as a whole, we appear to be slightly below average on tornado reports through March 5, according to this graphic from the Storm Prediction Center. One reason is in part due to cool near-shore waters in the Gulf of Mexico limiting tornado potential during robust severe weather setups along the Gulf Coast. Curiously, though, we’ve see tornadoes in Wisconsin (of all places) and California this year!

Speaking of sea-surface temperatures, they continue to be warm in almost every basin on the planet; and particularly in the Gulf of Mexico, where observed sea surface temps are in the 72-80 degree range, which is roughly 1-3 degrees Celsius above the long-term average.

We are also seeing a not-so-slow transition from the El Niño (warmer waters) of this winter to a neutral phase – where temps are neither cool nor warm – in the Equatorial Pacific. Forecasts from the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University indicate the transition from El Niño to La Niña (cooler waters) should be completed as we get into the summer months.

What Does All This Mean for Severe Weather Season?

Well, we’re working in some pretty rarified air here. Since 1950, there have only been nine instances where we’ve flipped from an El Niño to a La Niña during the spring months; 1973, 1983, 1988, 1995, 1998, 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2016. In six of those nine years, there have been more than 70 tornadoes in the state.

The flip means more unsettled weather in the Western United States, and more ridging out east, with a persistent southerly flow off the Gulf of Mexico. Given the anomalously warm water, moisture should not be an issue this season. The wet conditions we’ve seen in the Fall and Winter months should help keep the moisture locked in, as well.

After a quiet period beginning in the second half of this month, some of our more reliable seasonal models are showing an uptick in activity from late April into mid June across the state. I would expect during this time, we will see most of our severe weather and tornado activity, before the pattern shuts down for the summer doldrums. Overall, it looks like this could be a fairly robust year for tornadoes in Kansas.

Of course, all it takes is one tornado to come down your block and it’s your Greensburg, Haysville, Andover or Hesston, so make a plan and be ready to go whenever severe weather strikes!

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