A severe thunderstorm early in the morning on October 9th, 2018 near Del Rio, Texas caused flooding wains, damaging winds, small hail, and even possibly a tornado. While most of Del Rio - especially the north side of town - did not catch the brunt end of the storm - neighborhoods on the east side of town and the Laughlin AFB area took a direct hit of the storm's fury.
Del Rio International Airport received 2.83 inches of rain from the storm - heavy, but not uncommon in severe storms. Laughlin AFB, however, less than 10 miles east of the Del Rio airport, received 5.25 inches from the same storm, causing widespread flooding and halting pilot training for the day due to excessive water on the runways and taxiways.
Additionally, small hail was reported across much of southern and eastern Del Rio as well as Laughlin AFB - mostly pea to marble size - and Laughlin AFB recorded a brief 72 mph wind gust (nearly hurricane force) while Del Rio Airport recorded only 40 mph.
The National Weather Service (NWS) did issue a severe thunderstorm warning for the storm, indicating damaging winds and large hail. A Flash Flood Watch was also valid during the time of the storm, accounting for the heavy rain.
As the storm crossed the border from Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila, the NWS also promptly issued a Tornado Warning indicating that a tornado was imminent or already occurring.
This was likely due the "hook" shape of the storm, similar to the one seen in the image above. This hook shape is a result of strong rotation within the thunderstorm's updraft region and can lead to tornadic activity. Since tornadoes are often too small to be seen by weather radars, special indications from the hook on the weather radar will trigger meteorologists to disseminate a Tornado Warning.
While this storm did show weak signs of rotation as it crossed the border, a much more robust, defined hook presented as the storm positioned itself just east of Laughlin AFB on the Kinney County side of Sycamore Creek that would certainly raise the eyebrows of any meteorologist (the image above).
So, was there a tornado? None confirmed. In order to confirm a tornado, it must be either observed or damage or path carved by the tornado must be observed. Since no definitive path or damage has been reported that could be attributed to tornadic activity, no tornado can be confirmed.
It's unlikely that anywhere within Val Verde County - including Del Rio or Laughlin AFB - experienced a tornado due to somewhat weak rotation of the storm overhead. Just east, however, a much more significant rotational signature was noted along the western reaches of Kinney County near Sycamore Creek and extending to just south of the Foyt Ranch along the Highway 90. If a tornado did occur, it would have most likely been within this region.
For a loop of the entire storm from Del Rio to near Brackettville, see the below video.
130 passengers on American Airlines Flight 1897 from San Antonio to Phoenix on Sunday (June 3rd) had a scary ride as their aircraft slammed head-on into a hail storm at 34,000 feet over South-Central New Mexico. Ultimately, this aircraft decided to make an emergency landing in El Paso - apparently using on-board instrumentation and a cockpit side-window to land since the windshield was shattered by golf-ball to tennis-ball size hail.
A wide swath of thunderstorms - including severe weather - was occurring through West Texas and New Mexico through the afternoon and evening. The normal jet route would take the Airbus A319 airliner along the same route as the Interstate 10 through West Texas - but due to weather, it appears Air Traffic Control routed traffic above just west of Odessa, Texas to Carlsbad, New Mexico, to near Capitan, New Mexico. That's where the real trouble began.
Attempting to avoid the strongest storms, the flight was routed over the Sierra Blanca mountain range north of Ruidoso, New Mexico, where - at first look on the radar - appears to show a decent break in the weather. A slight blip of rainfall on the above image is shown just ahead of the nose of the aircraft, but does not appear to be of much significance. Weather radar on-board the Airbus has not been released, but may have likely showed a different story. Here's what I found when I did some digging...
As you can see, significant weather radar reflectivity is noted in at the same place as the first image - why the difference? This is because the first image (top-down look) showed "Base Reflectivity" - the scan of the radar at the lowest level. The cross-section image shows the entire storm, and is likely to show a bit more of what the on-board weather radar would have shown, although it is possible that the frequency may have been attenuated (degraded by heavy precipitation) at some point - or the angle at which the airplane radar was broadcasted did not solicit correct feedback returns.
From the looks of things based on the top-down view and base-reflectivity imagery, this route appears to be the best way around a long line of storms. However - the atmospheric cross-section above proved that this was one of the worst places to cross.
Unfortunatly, this part of New Mexico is plagued by some radar dead-spots. It's rural, and the nearest radar (Alamogordo) sits on the west side of a mountain while this aircraft was approaching from the east - and the weather was on this east side of the mountain - making it a bit more difficult to "see".
The next nearest radar on the east side of the mountain (Clovis, New Mexico) is about 120 miles from the site of the incident. This is much further away than the Alamogordo radar (only 45 miles away), but due to terrain and the radar scan tilt at that distance, it actually captured a better view of the storm. This base-reflectivity, top-down radar image (above) shows a different story.
Why did Air Traffic route this aircraft into a hail storm? How come the pilots didn't "see" this weather and avoid it? The investigation will likely tell on this one, but it certainly wouldn't have been my advice. Fortunately, a miraculous landing in El Paso with little visibility out of a shattered windshield concluded this flight - nothing less than expert piloting figuring that one out.
It may surprise you that many of these forecasts have no meteorologist behind them – they are simply computed by advanced formulas and modelling software which are calibrated to spit out forecasts for anywhere on the planet. No meteorologist, no expertise.
But, it gets worse.
The internet and the exponential advancement of technology over the past few decades have greatly improved the capabilities of the meteorology community. Weather can be forecasted for anywhere in the world, from anywhere in the world. Accuracy rates have skyrocketed, meteorological information has multiplied, and lives are being saved as a result.
All of this, however, hinges on one very important lifeline – technology, more specifically, the Internet, supercomputers, and electricity.
Here within lies the present-day problem, and in my opinion, a major threat to the safety and security of society. Old-timer meteorologists are shrinking in numbers, and their skills of extremely limited-data forecasting along with them. Universities don’t concentrate much – if at all – on limited data weather forecasting and analysis, and the U.S. National Weather Service relies heavily on supercomputers to compile terabytes of weather information together into a readable output for data analysis.
While Del Rio did far exceed normal temperatures since record-keeping started in town in late 1905 (102 years ago), it still didn't make #1 on the list for any monthly extremes, although it did break one daily high-temperature record (90 degrees on February 8th, beating 1932's record of 89 degrees), tied another (93 degrees, tying 1996), and beat a daily rainfall record (February 14th, beating 1962's record of 0.13 inches with 0.25 inches).
Originally Posted on DanielSchreiber.org
Yes, a lot of news media does tend to hype up the forecast. In fact, straight from a TV meteorologist himself: “we have to lead them [viewers] on…I tease them that way they stick around for 15 or 20 minutes, that way they watch the newscast, see the advertisements, and we make our money”. You can watch that entire shameful video here.
So yes, the media won’t necessarily be the most honest when it comes down to storm coverage. Perhaps that’s why many people seem to blatantly ignore important weather warnings.
One of the toughest parts of my job as a meteorologist is explaining that just because some sort of weather – especially severe weather – is in the forecast, doesn’t always mean that an exact location will be impacted – but rather the general area.
According to the first frame, if it rains on Larry’s Used Car Lot on Saturday as prescribed, Larry will probably gain confidence in the TV weatherman. But, let’s say that it doesn’t rain at Larry’s Used Car Lot, but rather 10 miles away in every direction (top right frame), then Larry will probably be upset if he cancelled his party, because it didn’t rain at his car lot. On the other hand – the meteorologist will probably say his forecast was pretty accurate, since there was rain all over the surrounding area. In this case, it’s an easy conclusion to say that meteorologists shoot for accuracy – and as a result are generally accurate – while the end user, like Larry, also expect precision. That makes a weatherman’s job very difficult.
Imagine if the forecast above showed “Partly Cloudy”, with a 70% appended to it. What would the reaction be? Likely much different than the reaction to the graphic above, even though they literally mean the same thing. Why is this?
Well, after reading what some psychologists had to say about graphics, it looks like we may have a clue. Written information is processed by the analytical side of the brain. Every human being can make a conscious choice whether or not to process that information. But, graphics are processed immediately and involuntarily by the right side of the brain – and provide an initial impression regardless of the written content.
I believe this is why many people don’t trust meteorologists – and why many people don’t heed storm warnings. In the case of the Thunderstorm Chance graphic above – if no thunderstorms are observed by the end user – which is a 70% chance – then the trust for the National Weather Service by that end user many suffer. But, if the National Weather Service remains silent about the 30% chance of thunderstorms, and thunderstorms do in fact occur, then the trust also suffers. Kind of a debacle.
I deal with this all the time…
In the above graphic from May 25th, 2015, the Storm Prediction Center highlighted areas across the United States that would see thunderstorms, and in some cases, severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. These areas are in darker green, yellow, orange, and red, each with a corresponding percentage – or chance – of occurring.
For example, a “Marginal” threat means that there is less than a 15% chance of a severe thunderstorm occurring within 25 miles of a point within the highlighted area. In other words, “isolated”. Likewise, “Slight” generally encompasses percentage of severe storms occurring between 15% and 30%, within a 25 mile radius. And so on.
In the above May 25th, 2015 forecast, we can see that most of the severe weather reports occurred in the areas highlighted in orange and red – since these areas highlighted the highest potential.
However, there is also a noted large swath of area – like much of Deep South Texas and Louisiana and a good bit of the Central Plains – that didn’t receive a reported severe thunderstorm, despite being highlighted with potential. Even parts of the orange (enhanced potential) and red (moderate potential) didn’t observe a severe storm, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the forecast was inaccurate.
The problem is, combined with media hype and a game of social-media gossip, 15% of severe storm potential (within 25 miles, mind you) – while literally meaning 85% chance of no severe storm – can be misinterpreted to “a severe storm is expected to occur”. After time and time again of these misunderstood “false alarms”, folks loose faith, and may even disregard an imminent severe weather warning – like taking shelter for a tornado headed toward them.
I’m not suggesting that anyone should disregard low-end chances of severe weather! All I’m saying is: Take the forecast at face value, read the description, and be aware of the potential.
-Meteorologist Dan Schreiber