Monday, February 29, 2016

Blizzard Strikes Edgar County

Early Wednesday morning (February 24), the National Weather Service office in Lincoln issued a Blizzard Warning for Edgar and surrounding counties to the north and west. This was the first Blizzard Warning for the county since 2012. Two area school districts, Charleston and Mattoon, had already called off school for the 24th the previous evening. By 6:00 a.m., all Edgar County schools had closed along with South Vermillion, Champaign, Danville, and Effingham. Around 6:30, Marshall also made the call to close schools for the day. Eastern Illinois University and Lake Land Community College also cancelled classes Wednesday. Rain changed to snow in Paris mid-morning, and was it started falling, it was heavy! The ground quickly became covered in snow as it continued to fall. Just after noon, thunder rumbled across Paris - otherwise known as thunder snow. The snowfall wasn't the main problem, however. Wind gusts were approaching 50 mph during the day with sustained winds of 20 to 35 mph! These winds were the cause of the warning, not the accumulations. The NWS will issue a Blizzard Warning when winds are sustained around 35 mph during falling or blowing snow which will reduce the visibility below a quarter of a mile for 3 hours or more. This criteria wasn't quite met for the duration required, but there were strong winds and low visibility across the county. Numerous power outages occurred Wednesday with EnerStar Electric Cooperative reporting 59% of all of their customers without power at one point. Some of the outages were caused by power lines that fell across Illinois Route 1 which forced the closure of the highway Wednesday afternoon until crews could clean up the area. By 7:00 a.m. Thursday morning, 6 inches of snow had fallen in Paris and schools in Kansas, Chrisman, Mattoon, Arcola, Georgetown-Ridge Farm, and Paris were once again closed.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Challenges of Winter Weather Forecasting

Another system is approaching the area and will strike tomorrow (Wednesday) morning. Rain will initially push into the air before a push of colder air changes the rain to snow. When will the rain change to snow? That remains to be the biggest question about this forecast and almost every model run shows something different. The National Weather Service issued a Winter Storm Watch for Edgar County early Tuesday morning calling for rain to change to snow late morning, producing "4 to 6 inches" of accumulation. The heaviest snow band looked to set up north of IL-16 and east of I-57; however, some models are pushing the heavier snows west, between I-57 and I-55. For example, at noon, one model run had Paris receiving 8.4 inches of snow while another had 1.4! Wherever the heaviest band sets up, there will be a sharp gradient in snow totals with 20 miles making a big difference in totals. Another forecast headline will be strong northerly winds of 20 to 30 miles per hour gusting near 40 mph. This winds will greatly reduce visibilities which will cause travel concerns even if snowfall totals are low. All of these factors continue to develop and change which probably results in headaches for area meteorologists. So, if you know one, it might not hurt to pick up some Tylenol at the store (unless it is sold out along with the bread and milk).

Thursday, February 18, 2016

A Snowy Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day in Edgar County was cold, breezy, and snowy. The first round of snow showers moved through during the pre-dawn hours producing less than an inch of accumulation in most areas. A break in the action occurred during the morning, before another wave moved through. This wave of snow was heavier than the first and larger in area. Visibilities were reduced to a quarter of a mile as the heavy snow bursts pushed through. The heaviest snow fell in the southern portions of the county where I measured 3.9 inches of total accumulation ten miles southeast of Paris. In Paris, the waterworks measured 3 inches of snow while The Prairie Press' StormTracker south of Brocton measured 2.5 inches. The snow quickly covered roads as road crews tried to clear them. Major pileups occurred on area interstates as the snow fell, too. One, with eight cars involved, happened on Interstate 57 near Neoga, IL. Another pileup, with a reported 50 cars involved, took place on Interstate 70 at mile marker 33 in Putnam County, IN. There was also an accident on I-70 near Martinsville along with other slide-offs around Clark County. Looking back at past events, even four inches of snow does not seem like much, but this event left the most snow behind in the 2015-2016 Winter.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Difference in Advisory Criteria within Illinois and Indiana

In 2015, when temperatures and wind chills plummeted below zero, the National Weather Service offices in the region issued Wind Chill Advisories and Warnings. However, the criteria between three offices the cover Illinois are different. The NWS office in Chicago will issue a Wind Chill Advisory when wind chills drop below -20. This office covers most counties in northern Illinois along with five counties in northwestern Indiana. Just to the south, including places like Peoria, Bloomington, Champaign and Danville are covered by the NWS office in Lincoln. They issue Wind Chill Advisories when wind chills drop below -15. While Lincoln covers Flora, Olney, and Lawrenceville, the NWS office in Paducah covers the cities just to the south including Fairfield and Albion and well as Carbondale. They issue advisories when wind chills drop below -10. So, if you live in a city that borders the office boundaries, you might be under an advisory when the cities to the north where it is colder doesn't have an advisory. This leads some confusion when broadcasting the alerts.
As an FYI, the NWS office in Miami will issue advisories when wind chills drop below freezing! (32)

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

5 Year Anniversary of Ice Storm 2011

Blizzard conditions developed across central Illinois on Groundhog Day in 2011. However, here in east central Illinois, an ice storm developed. Schools were closed Tuesday through Friday all of the roadways were covered in a sheet of ice. Electric crews were stretched thin as they battled the ice on the power lines. In the southeast portion of Edgar County, lines were down due to the the winds snapping the wires together. The electricity was out for 4 days. By Friday afternoon, temperatures warmed enough to start melting the ice of the roads, power lines, and trees (which was another cause of power outages). Over in Springfield, 18 inches of snow fell! Combined with the gusty winds, 5 foot drifts were recorded by the weather service office in Lincoln. Luckily for us, today's Groundhog Day Blizzard struck Iowa and not Illinois, although severe weather is possible across the southeastern portion of the state.