January was warm, but in a weird way

Did last month feel warm to you? January was unusually warm in central Indiana, but in a subtle way. The highest temperature recorded at the Purdue University Airport (KLAF) was 63°F — just four degrees warmer than last year. And the lowest temperature — -4°F — was a degree colder than last year. But what if last year was warm, too?

Let’s compare January 2017 to the climate normals (1981-2010). The average daily high was 5.4 degrees above normal, and the average daily low was 5.9 degrees above normal. The average temperature for the month was 5.6 degrees above normal. That’s noticeably warm, but not necessarily outrageous.

What makes January 2017 stand out is the extended stretch of warmer temperatures. More specifically, how it just wasn’t freezing for much of the month. January 2017 was right on target for number of days with a low below zero (3), but it had five fewer days than normal with a low below 32°F. In fact, Lafayette set a new record for consecutive hours in January with a temperature above freezing.

Chart of 1995 and 2017 above-freezing streaks.

Streaks of January hourly temperatures at or above freezing at KLAF. Chart from Iowa Environmental Mesonet.

Since records began at KLAF in 1972, only two years have had a 10-day or longer above freezing streak. In 1995, we had a 10-day streak. This year it was 10.9 days. It just didn’t get cold for the second half of the month. Four of the last 10 Januaries had at least 5 days with a high temperature above 50°F. Four of the last 10 years also had at least one January day above 60°F. This year’s 2 is bested by 3 in 2008.

So if you were thinking to yourself “wow, January was really warm” but the high temperatures didn’t look all that off, rest assured that it was. It just forgot to January.

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New discussions added to the Hall of Fame

A reader named Jill passed a few discussions to me recently. They’re National Hurricane Center discussions about two storms that refused to die: 2002’s Hurricane Kyle and 2005’s Hurricane Epsilon (which was notable enough just for being a December Hurricane). I’ve added them to the Forecast Discussion Hall of Fame page at http://weather.funnelfiasco.com/fd-hof/.

Winter storm forecast for Tippecanoe Co ARES

Prepared Monday, 31 January 2011 at 8:00 PM for Tippecanoe County Amateur Radio Emergency Services

Current conditions

An area of snow and sleet stretches from St. Louis to Champaign to Fort Wayne. Reports of 1″ of snow in Lafayette and 0.1″ of ice in Brownsburg have been received already this afternoon. Larger precipitation amounts are likely to have been received in places where convective development has occurred. Precipitation is likely to be ongoing for the next few hours as the system moves generally east-northeast.

Tippecanoe County is under a Winter Storm Warning from 7 PM this evening until 7 PM Wednesday. The surrounding counties of Warren, Fountain, Montgomery, Clinton, Carrol and White are included. Benton County is under a Blizzard warning from 4 PM EST Tuesday until 4 PM EST Wednesday.

Forecast: 0-12 hours

Models are in agreement that the precipitation will continue into the overnight hours. Although snow is expected to be the dominant type, periods of sleet and freezing rain will be included, especially before midnight. Heavy snow can be expected during portions of the evening hours as the stronger precipitation in Illinois moves east-northeast. Precipitation should slacken by 8 am, with 2-3″ of snow and potentially some ice on the ground. The exact amounts will depend on the mix of precip types.

Forecast: 12-24 hours

Tuesday morning will be relatively quiet. By mid-afternoon, winds will pick up to 15 knots, and snow will begin falling more heavily. Precipitation should remain light-to-moderate snow through the end of the period. Depending on the timing, an additional 4-6″ of snow may accumulate during this period.

Forecast: 24-36 hours

Tuesday night the snow returns in earnest, accompanied by winds of 20-25 knots. Heavy snow is likely through much of the period. The bulk of the weather impacts will occur from sunset on Tuesday into early Wednesday morning. Snowfall rates in excess of 2″ per hour are possible, leaving street crews unable to maintain passage on roads. By sunrise Wednesday, an additional 8-10″ of snow may have fallen, meaning total snowfall of 14-19″ is possible.

Forecast: 36 hours and beyond

Light snow will continue through the day on Wednesday, with perhaps another 1″ of accumulation. Winds will remain greater than 15 knots, creating the possibility of blowing snow. Temperatures will begin to drop Wednesday night and into Thursday as the winds shift to the north. Below-zero lows should be expected on Thursday and Friday mornings.

General impacts

The Lafayette area will be fortunate enough to miss the crippling ice storm that will impact the Interstate 70 corridor, including Indianapolis. Road crews should be able to keep streets passable through Tuesday afternoon. Travel will become difficult, if not impossible from Tuesday evening until at least Wednesday afternoon. Rural areas may remain blocked by snow until Thursday. Widespread power outages should be expected to our south and southeast, potentially lasting several days.

Mobile radar page updated

After some effort, I’ve completed my to-do list for the mobile radar page and decided to call it version 1.0.  It is now available from the Mobile Weather page (http://weather.funnelfiasco.com/mobile/).  A mostly complete list of changes is below:

  • Bugfix: Fixed problem with selecting alternate products. An update in the previous version caused the site variable to not be set correctly when an alternate product was selected at the bottom of the page.  This has been fixed.
  • Added adjacent site dial. Toward the bottom of the display page, there is now a dial to select the same product from an adjacent site (if it exists).  This is really handy for times when the area of interest is right on the edge of a site’s coverage.
  • Images now have a file extension. Previously, images were saved without an extension.  This wasn’t really a problem unless you wanted to right-click on the image.  All images are now displayed with a .gif extension, even though some of the static images are actually PNG files.  This does not appear to have any adverse effects.
  • Site name now in the headline. The name of the site, as well as the ID is now given in the headline along with the product type.

NWS mobile radar page updated

I put a little bit of effort into the NWS mobile radar page this afternoon and am proud to announce that it has been bumped to version 0.2b.  It is now available from the Mobile Weather page (http://weather.funnelfiasco.com/mobile/).  A mostly complete list of changes is below:

  • Added site selection menu.  I didn’t think it was necessary initially, but several users have suggested it, and my own experience while on vacation proves that there probably aren’t too many people who know the ID for all 154 sites.  The added bonus is that I’ve begun support for a requested feature, which is to select adjacent radar sites.  The difficult part will be filling that information in for each site, so it will likely be a gradual roll-out.  Sites can still be selected manually, which is probably quicker if you already know the ID.
  • Added license information.  In line with the rest of the website, the code for this script is licensed under the CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0. That information is now contained in the comments as well in the code output.
  • Put site selection and product selection on separate lines.  This is a small tweak to (hopefully) improve usability.  While horizontal real estate is constrained, there’s more room to separate things vertically on most devices, so let’s go with that.  If nothing else, users are used to vertical scrolling.
  • Added spacing of other products under radar image. Another usability tweak, which should make the clicking process a little bit simpler, especially on touch-only devices.
  • Change radar image label from <p> to <h3>.  This makes the site and product a little more visible and adds some vertical spacing to keep things from looking too jammed together.

Tropical Storm Earl results

Well, the results are in.   Earl weakened pretty significantly as he traveled up the east coast, resulting in fairly minor damage.  The game had a lot of first-timers, and most of them did pretty well.  I’m pleased with my own performance, but I’d rather win.  There might be another chance shortly if the remnants of Gaston get back together.

Also, I finally made a page with a link to all of the scored games and added that link to the tropical weather page.

Lightning photos added

On Monday evening, Angie and I went chasing unexpectedly.  While the storm produced some wind damage, I’ve been unable to find confirmation of a tornado (there was at least one real-time report, though).  We saw very little of interest, until the incredible light show afterward.  So I present to you a few boring cloud pictures, plus also the lightning:


This is also kind of exciting because for the first time I’ve forgone the use of tables to layout the photos.  The result is that the page renders based on what your screen wants it to, not on what I demand it does.  This is supposedly a much less evil way to do things.  In the future, I’ll be converting some of the older pages to work this way as well.

Further, I’ve updated some of the pages to reflect new license information.  Instead of my custom written “you must have my permission” text, I’m now licensing content under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.  It’s simpler, more enforceable, and more in line with my own personal values.  There’s a blog post forthcoming where I muse upon licensing issues.  In the meantime, know that the content on FunnelFiasco.com is under whatever license it says it is. I’ll work on updating the license text on pages soon.  And maybe I should consider a more dynamic site (e.g. using PHP) so that I don’t have to keep making these changes on each. freaking. individual. page.

There’s no such thing as too much blogging

At least, I hope there isn’t.  If there’s an upper limit to the amount that a person can safely blog, I might run up against it soon.  It’s been an exciting week in FunnelFiascoLand.  In addition to all of the storms we’ve been having, and a sizable to-do list both professional and personal, I received some news.  The first news is that I’ve been selected for the LISA ’10 blog team.  In November, I’ll be off to cloudy San Jose, California where I’ll be writing multiple posts per day for the duration of the conference.  Additionally, I’ve been told I might have a few writing assignments in advance of LISA in order to help promote the event.

A bit earlier in the week, I was asked by the Managing Editor of the local newspaper if I would be willing to write a weather blog on their website.  Since I am incapable of turning down requests for more work, I readily agreed.  This is a voluntary/slave labor/public service matter, but I’m trying to finagle a fedora with a “press” tag out of the deal, or maybe I can score press credentials to outdoor events. The thought process behind my willingness to do this, and some discussion of licensing issues involved, is a blog post that will probably appears in the next week or two.  In the meantime, my “Weather Watch” blog starts on www.jconline.com/blogs today.  I plan to update it twice per week, on Mondays and Thursdays.

It seems my writing is starting to get noticed, and that pleases me greatly.  I’ve still got a long way to go until I catch up to my great uncle Ralph, the New York Times best-seller and a Pulitzer nominee, but it’s exciting to know that there are people out there who care about what I have to say.  (Of course, I know my loyal ones of readers here have always cared about my thoughts. You guys are awesome).  What this means for me is a fair deal of extra work, but it’s exciting and I’m really looking forward to it.

Presenting: Funnel Fiasco mobile weather

You may recall on Saturday that I mentioned some big things that were coming.  Fortunately, you don’t have to wait long.  I’m proud to announce that an idea I’ve been thinking about has finally been realized this weekend.  Without further ado, the Funnel Fiasco mobile weather site. The idea behind this site is simple: the National Weather Service makes a lot of data available but it isn’t always in a mobile-friendly format.  Even the NWS mobile page has some bad navigation (and more importantly, doesn’t include velocity data, which is very important to chasers).  All I’ve done is to re-package the data in a way that I want to see it when I’m away from the computer.

All of the data is mirrored and hosted locally to minimize my impact on the NWS servers (and thus save taxpayer money!).  The local storm reports (LSRs) are grabbed by a cron job every 10 minutes.  I use the comma-separated value (CSV) files hosted on the Storm Prediction Center’s storm report website.  The CSVs are parsed by a Perl script I wrote and then a static HTML page is generated.  For the radar data, the images are mirrored on demand and a Perl script generates the output on the fly.  The radar data piece is a fairly heavy-duty script (by my standards, at least) and so I still consider it in beta.  For now, it actually runs on my server at home and not on the main funnelfiasco.com server.  I plan to move it onto funnelfiasco.com (and hope it doesn’t kill my bandwidth limits) after further testing.

I have to say, I’m pretty proud of the work I’ve done, almost all in the space of a weekend.  It’s nice to be able to add some useful content to my site.  I hope that it will get some good use and continue to grow.  As I come across data that can be easily manipulated, I’ll add it to the site.  Of course, if you wonderful readers have data you’d like to see, please let me know.

Building GEMPAK on Fedora

People who have training or experience in following severe weather rarely are content to rely on the media for severe weather information.  This isn’t to say anything against the TV and radio outlets, but we would just rather see the data for ourselves and make our own decisions.  A number of software packages exist for analyzing weather data, of varying price and quality.  For Linux and OS X users (and Windows users via Cygwin), perhaps the most powerful is GEMPAK, developed by the National Weather Service and made available by Unidata.

GEMPAK is basically what national centers, including the Storm Prediction Center and the National Hurricane Center currently use for data analysis and visualization.  It is also a pretty old suite, written in pretty old Fortran, and kind of a bear to get installed sometimes.  Unidata formerly provided pre-built binaries, but only source code is available for the 5.11.4 release.  Since there seems to be an absence of step-by-step instructions, I thought I’d post my own.  Of course, as soon as I post this, a public release of AWIPS II will be announced.

The first step is to prepare your environment.  This basically consists of creating the appropriate user and/or directory structure.  For simplicity and security reasons, I prefer not to create a separate GEMPAK user.  I prefer to just build it in a directory that I have access to and then move it to opt when I’m done.  If your account will be the only one using GEMPAK, you can just leave it in your home directory.  For the sake of this demonstration, let’s assume we’re doing it my way.  Then there’s no pre-work to do.

Next you’ll need to download the GEMPAK source code from Unidata’s website.  Unidata requires registration to download the software, but it is free and they don’t harass you.  While you’re waiting for the tarball to download, you’ll need to make sure you’ve got a few of the packages necessary for building GEMPAK.  Most of them can be found in the yum repository, so you can install them with:

su -c "yum install gcc-gfortran gcc-c++ libXp-devel  libX11-devel xorg-x11-fonts-ISO8859-1-75dpi"

You’ll also need OpenMotif packages, but they can’t be newer that 2.3.1.  This means you cannot install the packages from the RPMFusion-nonfree repository.  You’ll have to grab them manually from MotifZone.  There aren’t builds for recent Fedora releases on there, but the Fedora 9 RPMs work fine with Fedora 12.  Since we’ve installed these RPMs, you need to make sure yum won’t try to upgrade them, so make sure you exclude “openmotif*” in /etc/yum.conf.

By now, the tarball should be downloaded.  You’ll need to unpack it just like you would any other. Let’s assume you downloaded it to ~/Download, so go to the directory you want to build GEMPAK in and run:

tar xfz ~/Download/gempak_upc5.11.4.tar.gz

Now cd into the GEMPAK5.11.4 directory you just created.  The first thing you’ll need to do is edit the Gemenviron.profile (if you use the Bash shell) or Gemenviorn (for C-shell).  This file sets the myriad of environment variables that GEMPAK uses.  Fortunately, it is sanely built, so you only need to make a few changes.  Change the NAWIPS variable to point to the directory you’re building in (for example, $HOME/GEMPAK5.11.4).  USE_GFORTRAN should already be set to 1, but double-check that it is and that the references to USE_G77 and USE_PGI right below it are commented out.  Eventually, you’ll also need to make sure the GEMDATA and LDMDATA variables are set correctly, but that’s beyond the scope of this how-to.

After you’ve saved the Gemenviron[.profile] file, you’ll need to make sure config/Makeinc.common is correct (it probably is) and you’ll need to edit config/Makeinc.linux_gfortran (or config/Makeinc.linux64_gfortran if you’re on an x86_64 system. You can check that with `uname -i`).  Change the MOTIFINC variable to “-I/usr/include/openmotif” and change X11LIBDIR to “-L/usr/lib/openmotif” (replace “lib” with “lib64″ for x86_64 systems).

There’s one more step to get things working, which appears to be a result of Fedora 12 using a newer version of autotools than the source was prepared with.  You”ll need to run the following command in both the extlibs/netCDF/v3.6.2 and extlibs/JasPer/jasper directories (return to the GEMPAK5.11.4 directory when you’re done):

autoreconf --force --install --symlink

Now that that’s done, you’ll need to load the GEMPAK environment.  For the Bash shell, use `. Gemenviron.profile` and for the C-shell use `source Gemenviron`.  The next step is to actually build the programs.  It is a lengthy process (I timed it at about 8 minutes on my system), so you might want to go get a cup of coffee or something.  Since it produces a lot of output, we want to make sure we can go back and look through it if there are any problems (it took about 5 build attempts before I got these instructions to a workable state), so we’ll save the output to a file called make.out.

make >& make.out

Once that’s completed, it’s time to install the files and clean up after ourselves:

make install; make clean

If you plan to move the built GEMPAK into somewhere like /opt, now’s the time to do that (make sure you update the NAWIPS variable in Gemenviron[.profile] appropriately).  I prefer to move it to /opt and then create an /opt/gempak symbolic link to the GEMPAK5.11.4 directory so that if I install a different version, I just need to change my link and everything else works the same.  For ease of use, you should set your shell configuration file to call the Gemenviron[.profile] script at login if you plan to use GEMPAK frequently.

That’s all there is, it’s ready to use now.

Edit – 7 October 2010.  Instructions for Intel-based Mac OS X builds have been written by Kevin Tyle and posted to the Gembud mailing list.

Edit – 9 October 2010. Added the gcc-c++ package per Gerry Creager’s suggestion.