Arctic sea ice loss tied to unusual jet stream patterns

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:40 PM GMT on April 02, 2012

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Earth has seen some highly unusual weather patterns over the past three years, and three new studies published this year point to Arctic sea loss as a potential important driver of some of these strange weather patterns. The record loss of sea ice the Arctic in recent years may be increasing winter cold surges and snowfall in Europe and North America, says a study by a research team led by Georgia Institute of Technology scientists Jiping Liu and Judith Curry. The paper, titled "Impact of declining Arctic sea ice on winter snowfall", was published on Feb. 27, 2012 in the online early edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "Our study demonstrates that the decrease in Arctic sea ice area is linked to changes in the winter Northern Hemisphere atmospheric circulation, said Judith Curry, chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech, in a press release. "The circulation changes result in more frequent episodes of atmospheric blocking patterns, which lead to increased cold surges and snow over large parts of the northern continents."


Figure 1. Arctic sea ice in September 2007 reached its lowest extent on record, approximately 40% lower than when satellite records began in 1979. Sea ice loss in 2011 was virtually tied with the ice loss in 2007, despite weather conditions that were not as unusual in the Arctic. Image credit: University of Illinois Cryosphere Today.


Figure 2. The extent of Arctic sea ice loss in the summer July - August - September period in 2007 was about 1.4 million square miles (3.6 million square kilometers) greater than in 1980, according to the University of Illinois Cryosphere Today. For comparison, the lost ice coverage (orange colors) was equal to an area about 44% of the size of the contiguous U.S., or 71% of the non-Russian portion of Europe.

Summertime Arctic sea ice loss: 40% since 1980
The Arctic has seen a stunning amount of sea ice loss in recent years, due to melting and unfavorable winds that have pushed large amounts of ice out of the region. Forty percent of the sea ice was missing in September 2007, compared to September of 1980. This is an area equivalent to about 44% of the contiguous U.S., or 71% of the non-Russian portion of Europe. Such a large area of open water is bound to cause significant impacts on weather patterns, due to the huge amount of heat and moisture that escapes from the exposed ocean into the atmosphere over a multi-month period following the summer melt. The Georgia Tech study found that Arctic sea ice loss had caused a 20 - 60% weakening of the west-to-east belt of winds circling the pole in recent years, producing broader meanders in the jet stream that allowed it to get "stuck" in place 20 - 60% more often. When the jet stream gets stuck in place for a long period of time, we say a "blocking pattern" has set up. Since the jet stream marks the boundary between cold, Arctic air to the north, and warmer subtropical air to the south, areas on both sides of the jet are subjected to extended periods of unusually warm or cold weather during a blocking episode. Such a blocking pattern began on January 26, 2012 and lasted until February 11, bringing and exceptionally cold and snowy conditions to much of Europe, which lay on the cold side of an elongated loop of the jet stream that got stuck in place. Conversely, most of North America and northern Siberia saw unusually warm temperatures during this period, since they were on the warm side of the jet stream. Lead author Jiping Liu, a senior research scientist in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech, added, "We think the recent snowy winters could be caused by the retreating Arctic ice altering atmospheric circulation patterns by weakening westerly winds, increasing the amplitude of the jet stream and increasing the amount of moisture in the atmosphere. These pattern changes enhance blocking patterns that favor more frequent movement of cold air masses to middle and lower latitudes, leading to increased heavy snowfall in Europe and the Northeast and Midwest regions of the United States." The paper concludes: "if Arctic sea ice continues as anticipated by climate modeling results, we speculate that episodes of the aforementioned circulation change will become more frequent, along with more persistent snowstorms over northern continents during winter."


Figure 3. Waiting for the warm-up after a rare snowfall in Italy during the February, 2012 European cold blast. Image credit: wunderphotographer cathykiro.

Two other studies link Arctic sea ice loss to atmospheric circulation changes
"The question is not whether sea ice loss is affecting the large-scale atmospheric circulation...it's how can it not?" That was the take-home message from Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University, in her talk "Evidence Linking Arctic Amplification to Extreme Weather in Mid-latitudes, presented at December's American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. Dr. Francis presented new research that has just been published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, which shows that Arctic sea ice loss may significantly affect the upper-level atmospheric circulation, slowing its winds and increasing its tendency to make contorted high-amplitude loops. High-amplitude loops in the upper level wind pattern (and associated jet stream) increases the probability of persistent weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere, potentially leading to extreme weather due to longer-duration cold spells, snow events, heat waves, flooding events, and drought conditions. Dr. Francis describes her work in a March 5, 2012 post on the Yale environment360 web site.

"Even if the current weather situation may seem to speak against it, the probability of cold winters with much snow in Central Europe rises when the Arctic is covered by less sea ice in summer." That was the opening sentence of a January 26, 2012 press release by a group of European scientists, led by Ralf Jaiser of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany. The words proved prescient, because that day marked the beginning of a brutal two-week cold air outbreak over Central and Eastern Europe that killed 823 people and did over $660 million in damage, according to preliminary estimates by insurance broker Aon Benfield. Dr. Jaiser's team, using modeling studies, showed that Arctic sea ice loss weakens upper-level winds over the Arctic in winter, allowing an increased chance of cold air surges over Europe.


Figure 4. Digging out in Maryland after "Snowmageddon" on February 4, 2010. Image credit: wunderphotographer chills.

Why was the winter of 2011 - 2012 so warm in the U.S.?
The winter of 2011 - 2012 in North America was unusually warm--the fourth warmest on record. The cold air spilling out of the Arctic during the winter was confined to Europe, unlike that previous two winters, which were unusually cold and snowy in the Eastern U.S. Obviously, loss of Arctic sea ice is not having the same impact each winter; such factors as El Niño/La Niña, the phase of the 11-year sunspot cycle, and the amount of snow cover in Siberia also have strong influences on the winter weather pattern that sets up. Cold air is less likely to spill out of the Arctic during a solar maximum, as we are now headed towards, so this factor may tend to reduce the odds of getting big cold blasts in the U.S. during the coming two winters. However, cold air may be more likely to spill out of the Arctic in winter due to the decades-long pattern of warming and cooling of Atlantic Ocean waters known as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). A 2012 study by NASA scientists found that the warm phase of the AMO (like we have been in since 1995) causes more instances of atmospheric blocking, where the jet stream gets "stuck" in place, leading to long periods of extreme weather. It will be interesting to see how all these factors play out in the coming years. If these three newly-published studies are correct, the U.S. should see more winters like 2010 - 2011 and 2009 - 2010 in coming decades, as Arctic sea ice continues to melt and affect global atmospheric circulation patterns more strongly.

References
Francis, J.A., and S.J. Vavrus (2012), "Evidence linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes," Geophysical Research Letters, 21 February, 2012.

Jaiser, R., K. Dethloff, D. Handorf, A. Rinke, J. Cohen (2012), Impact of sea ice cover changes on the Northern Hemisphere atmospheric winter circulation, Tellus A 2012, 64, 11595, DOI: 10.3402/tellusa.v64i0.11595

Liu et al. (2012), "Impact of declining Arctic sea ice on winter snowfall", Proc. Natl. Academy of Sciences, Published online before print February 27, 2012, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1114910109

Jeff Masters

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828. weatherh98
11:05 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Blog freeze?
Member Since: June 17, 2011 Posts: 11 Comments: 6539
827. weatherbro
9:44 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
RIP Daphne!
Member Since: May 26, 2007 Posts: 47 Comments: 1371
826. entrelac
9:43 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
New Blog
Member Since: September 18, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 239
825. TropicalAnalystwx13
9:43 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Quoting Ameister12:
WTF is wrong with RadarScope. It shows that every radar site is down.

All Level3 data just went down. Level2 is still up though.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32717
824. Ameister12
9:42 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
WTF is wrong with RadarScope. It shows that every radar site is down.
Member Since: August 9, 2009 Posts: 10 Comments: 5080
823. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
9:41 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 176 Comments: 55665
822. TropicalAnalystwx13
9:40 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Report of a home leveled near Greenville, TX by a confirmed large, damaging tornado.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32717
821. JTDailyUpdate
9:37 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Hunt Coutny Fire and Ems dispatch and Greenville fire, police, and Ems scanners are offline

Here is the link for SkywarnLink
Member Since: August 19, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 346
820. Ameister12
9:36 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Multi-vortex tornado near Dallas. Not sure of the exact location.
Member Since: August 9, 2009 Posts: 10 Comments: 5080
819. MAweatherboy1
9:31 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
BULLETIN - EAS ACTIVATION REQUESTED
TORNADO WARNING
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE FORT WORTH TX
427 PM CDT TUE APR 3 2012

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN FORT WORTH HAS ISSUED A

* TORNADO WARNING FOR...
HUNT COUNTY IN NORTH CENTRAL TEXAS...

* UNTIL 515 PM CDT

* AT 427 PM CDT...NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE METEOROLOGISTS CONFIRMED A
LARGE AND EXTREMELY DANGEROUS TORNADO 7 MILES SOUTHWEST OF
GREENVILLE...MOVING NORTHEAST AT 35 MPH.

THIS IS A TORNADO EMERGENCY FOR GREENVILLE AND ALONG INTERSTATE 30
NEAR GREENVILLE!


* THE TORNADO WILL BE NEAR...
GREENVILLE AND LONE OAK AROUND 435 PM CDT...
CAMPBELL AND NEYLANDVILLE AROUND 445 PM CDT...
COMMERCE AROUND 500 PM CDT...

THIS WILL IMPACT I-30 BETWEEN MILE MARKERS 86 AND 96.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS...

A LARGE...EXTREMELY DANGEROUS...AND POTENTIALLY DEADLY TORNADO HAS
BEEN CONFIRMED. TO PROTECT YOUR LIFE...TAKE COVER NOW! MOVE
UNDERGROUND OR TO AN INTERIOR ROOM ON THE LOWEST FLOOR OF A STURDY
BUILDING. AVOID WINDOWS. IF IN A MOBILE HOME...A VEHICLE OR
OUTDOORS...MOVE TO THE CLOSEST SUBSTANTIAL SHELTER AND PROTECT
YOURSELF FROM FLYING DEBRIS.

&&

LAT...LON 3338 9586 3322 9586 3300 9587 3296 9616
3315 9625
TIME...MOT...LOC 2127Z 232DEG 29KT 3305 9611

$$

Confirmed "Large and extremely dangerous tornado". Not good at all
Member Since: February 11, 2012 Posts: 84 Comments: 8002
818. RitaEvac
9:31 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Well defined boundary on radar

Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 2 Comments: 9680
817. TropicalAnalystwx13
9:29 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
BULLETIN - EAS ACTIVATION REQUESTED
TORNADO WARNING
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE FORT WORTH TX
427 PM CDT TUE APR 3 2012

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN FORT WORTH HAS ISSUED A

* TORNADO WARNING FOR...
HUNT COUNTY IN NORTH CENTRAL TEXAS...

* UNTIL 515 PM CDT

* AT 427 PM CDT...NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE METEOROLOGISTS CONFIRMED A
LARGE AND EXTREMELY DANGEROUS TORNADO 7 MILES SOUTHWEST OF
GREENVILLE...MOVING NORTHEAST AT 35 MPH.

THIS IS A TORNADO EMERGENCY FOR GREENVILLE AND ALONG INTERSTATE 30
NEAR GREENVILLE!


* THE TORNADO WILL BE NEAR...
GREENVILLE AND LONE OAK AROUND 435 PM CDT...
CAMPBELL AND NEYLANDVILLE AROUND 445 PM CDT...
COMMERCE AROUND 500 PM CDT...

THIS WILL IMPACT I-30 BETWEEN MILE MARKERS 86 AND 96.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS...

A LARGE...EXTREMELY DANGEROUS...AND POTENTIALLY DEADLY TORNADO HAS
BEEN CONFIRMED. TO PROTECT YOUR LIFE...TAKE COVER NOW! MOVE
UNDERGROUND OR TO AN INTERIOR ROOM ON THE LOWEST FLOOR OF A STURDY
BUILDING. AVOID WINDOWS. IF IN A MOBILE HOME...A VEHICLE OR
OUTDOORS...MOVE TO THE CLOSEST SUBSTANTIAL SHELTER AND PROTECT
YOURSELF FROM FLYING DEBRIS.

&&

LAT...LON 3338 9586 3322 9586 3300 9587 3296 9616
3315 9625
TIME...MOT...LOC 2127Z 232DEG 29KT 3305 9611

$$
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32717
816. TropicalAnalystwx13
9:29 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Uh oh...
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32717
815. JTDailyUpdate
9:29 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Link

Dallas County Scanner Radio Feed
Member Since: August 19, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 346
814. gordydunnot
9:29 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Boy that's a detailed chart Oviedo, surprised they left of the volcano that blew up behind Fred Flintstones house.
Member Since: August 18, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 3113
813. RitaEvac
9:29 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 2 Comments: 9680
812. Ameister12
9:25 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Tornado near the Skyline Estates in Forney, Texas.
Member Since: August 9, 2009 Posts: 10 Comments: 5080
811. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
9:25 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 176 Comments: 55665
810. OviedoWatcher
9:21 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
There was some discussion this morning and yesterday about the Global Weather Chart by Harris and Mann (see first link) which shows that the earth is currently rapidly cooling, so I decided to have a look at it in a bit more detail. If you go to their website, then you will see both that chart and a 'weather history' showing weather in 50 year blocks. I took one at random (200 - 250AD) and compared the temperature history of those 50 years in the 2nd link with the same period in the main chart. The main chart shows this period as being at the top of a warm period, but surprisingly the detailed 'data' shows the first half of that period as below average temperature, with 210-215 as almost 'much below' and the second half as 'above average', which should average out the whole period as being around average temperature, i.e not close to a temperature maximum. As such I would request that any AGW-deniers out there please stop using that particular chart as evidence of lack of global warming as they clearly are unable to analyse their own data.

OK, back to lurking now

Link

Link
Member Since: July 25, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 94
809. Ameister12
9:21 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Lanchester? LOL, it's Lancaster :P

My bad. Fixed it. Lol. XD
Member Since: August 9, 2009 Posts: 10 Comments: 5080
808. TropicalAnalystwx13
9:19 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Quoting Ameister12:
Near Lanchester. Wow!

Lanchester? LOL, it's Lancaster :P
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32717
807. Patrap
9:19 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Current Convective Watches

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129444
806. TropicalAnalystwx13
9:18 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
The 12Z GFS showed a good setup in the long range for the Central Plains on April 14. I find it kind of coincidental that April 14 is when last year's activity really ramped up as well. Who knows though, it is currently 252+ hours out, and will change.

Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32717
805. Articuno
9:18 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Quoting Ameister12:
Near Lanchester. Wow!

OMG
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Picture of the Forney, TX tornado by Brandon Sullivan:


That one's MASSIVE.
Member Since: October 22, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 2553
804. RitaEvac
9:17 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
IDK, check out the high cirrus clouds to the west of San Antonio and in MX, look to be getting agitated
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 2 Comments: 9680
803. Patrap
9:14 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129444
802. Patrap
9:13 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129444
801. Ameister12
9:13 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Near Lancaster. Wow!
Member Since: August 9, 2009 Posts: 10 Comments: 5080
800. cyclonekid
9:13 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
On a side note, we are now "cyclone-less" in the tropical nature.

Member Since: July 14, 2009 Posts: 51 Comments: 1731
799. DavidHOUTX
9:13 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Quoting Tygor:
At least Houston is getting decent rain from time to time. San Antonio usually just barely misses most rain. I would assume this line will just barely miss us once again, but we can hope for an inch of rain right?


You will likely get nothing, sad to say.
Member Since: August 18, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 635
798. Xyrus2000
9:12 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Quoting Neapolitan:
Here's a video of today's trailer toss:



That's pretty amazing. Doesn't even look real.
Member Since: October 31, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 1627
797. Doppler22
9:12 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Quoting Tygor:
At least Houston is getting decent rain from time to time. San Antonio usually just barely misses most rain. I would assume this line will just barely miss us once again, but we can hope for an inch of rain right?


Idk I think there is a low chance that you could have some rain... If the line expands south
Member Since: February 13, 2012 Posts: 11 Comments: 3850
796. Patrap
9:12 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129444
795. weathermanwannabe
9:12 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Considering the general position of the jet stream in Northern Texas today per the enclosed 300mb GFS run, not a surprise that some of the storms in Northern Texas have been able to spin up some tornadoes. At least the position of the jet does not appear to support a wide spread event at this time.

Link
Member Since: August 8, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 9377
794. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
9:11 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 176 Comments: 55665
793. TropicalAnalystwx13
9:11 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Picture of the Forney, TX tornado by Brandon Sullivan:

Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32717
792. Patrap
9:10 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129444
791. RTSplayer
9:09 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Welcome to the new normal, I guess.

Seems March, April, May and even February are just going to start being a crap-shoot of weather disasters every year.

I realize some of it's an observer bias from having more video cameras and more media and internet, but whatever.

At least nothing as bad as last year has happened just yet, thankfully.
Member Since: January 25, 2012 Posts: 33 Comments: 1520
790. Patrap
9:09 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129444
789. nigel20
9:09 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Quoting RitaEvac:


E-F2 tornado impacting a skyscraper will ultimately SUCK you out at the 32nd floor, depending on which side of bldg you are on, and glass will splatter you like razor blades

The winds at the 32nd floor will be stronger to those at ground level.....so I would not want to be next to any windows
Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 12 Comments: 8424
788. Tygor
9:08 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
At least Houston is getting decent rain from time to time. San Antonio usually just barely misses most rain. I would assume this line will just barely miss us once again, but we can hope for an inch of rain right?
Member Since: May 6, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 169
787. Ameister12
9:06 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Finally back home. Heard areas near the Dallas/Ft. Worth area got hit pretty hard by tornadoes and there are still storms forming well ahead of the main line.
Member Since: August 9, 2009 Posts: 10 Comments: 5080
786. pottery
9:06 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Quoting TXMegaWatt:


Well I know downtown Dallas was spared. I heard of large on the ground tornadoes in Arlington, Lancaster, and Forney. The line has pushed through so Dallas is in the clear now.

News channels have some pretty incredible videos of this..
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24800
785. ncstorm
9:06 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
The CNN footage shows roofs torn off, debris everywhere..
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 16215
784. Barefootontherocks
9:06 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Quoting cyclonekid:
New Severe Thunderstorm Watch out for Northern Texas, and Southwestern Oklahoma until 11pm CDT.



I think you made an accidental typo. The watch is in SE OK.
:)
Member Since: April 29, 2006 Posts: 157 Comments: 19230
783. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
9:05 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 176 Comments: 55665
782. Xyrus2000
9:04 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Quoting ILwthrfan:
Wow, Dallas area take precautions. What a very unique set up, two rotating super cells moving due north.


Nasty lines of storms there.
Member Since: October 31, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 1627
781. RitaEvac
9:03 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Quoting TXMegaWatt:


I'm sure it would, if a tornado ever strikes in downtown. Besides when the alarms go off, we have storm proof interior stairwells with storm doors proctecting. I think we would do just fine. Now, and EF-5? Thats different.


Sad thing is.....that's what they want you to believe. None of us are really safe from anything.
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 2 Comments: 9680
780. TXMegaWatt
9:01 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Quoting RitaEvac:


E-F2 torando impacting a skyscraper will ultimately SUCK you out at the 32nd floor, depending on which side of bldg you are on, and glass will splatter you like razor blades


I'm sure it would, if a tornado ever strikes in downtown. Besides when the alarms go off, we have storm proof interior stairwells with storm doors proctecting. I think we would do just fine. Now, and EF-5? Thats different.
Member Since: December 28, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 77
779. TXMegaWatt
8:58 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
Quoting weathermanwannabe:
771. TXMegaWatt 4:52 PM EDT on April 03, 2012

Can you see what is going on out there from the 32nd floor?...........Getting ready to call my In-Laws in Dallas to see what is going on over there.



Well I know downtown Dallas was spared. I heard of large on the ground tornadoes in Arlington, Lancaster, and Forney. The line has pushed through so Dallas is in the clear now.
Member Since: December 28, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 77
778. cyclonekid
8:58 PM GMT on April 03, 2012
New Severe Thunderstorm Watch out for Northern Texas, Southwestern Arkansas, and Southwestern Oklahoma until 11pm CDT.

Member Since: July 14, 2009 Posts: 51 Comments: 1731

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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