October 26, 2010

Media claims are wrong. WE have the record storms!

In this fight, we have right on our side

There has been a lot of media attention regarding the storm in the Midwest with claims it was the strongest (lowest pressure) non-tropical storm in U.S history. DON'T BELIEVE IT FOR A MOMENT. This is classic eastern U.S. media myopia....we have had the deepest and most violent storms!

So here is the story. The media is raving about this storm in the Midwest in which the lowest pressure reported was 28.20 inches or 954.8 mb at Bigfork Airport in Minnesota. This is the lowest pressure ever observed in Minnesota! Here is a surface analysis of the storm at its height.

Now this storm has very low pressure but the pressure gradients (pressure changes with distance) are not that impressive and pressure gradient drive winds. Thus, the winds were really not that exceptional.

But we can top that without breaking a sweat. Now take a relatively recent storm around here: December 12, 1995. During that event the sea level pressure at Buoy 46041 , 52 miles west of Aberdeen, WA got to 28.31 inches (958.8 mb) and certainly that did not sample the center of the storm. Since the storm was farther offshore the pressure would to had to have been considerabley less. The estimate of local storm uber-expert Wolf Read was the pressure had dropped at least to 953 mb (see track map below).

There are other examples I could cite. The great January 1880 storm was probably much deeper as well and I bet I could find others. In fact, David Ludlum's Weather Record Book, published by Weatherwise in 1971, reported 28.20 inches /954.96 mb at Reedsport, OR, on January 9, 1880.

And I haven't even mentioned the Columbus Day Storm of 1962, which clearly was the most powerful extratropical cyclone during the past century. Furthermore, our storms generally have larger pressure gradients and thus more extreme winds.

The media is going nuts about a storm that had maximum gusts of 81 mph. Big deal. Our storms regularly have winds over 100 mph and sometimes over 125 mph

If you want to read detailed accounts of major NW windstorms, check out the WONDERFUL web pages created by Wolf Read available on the Washington State Climatologist website:

Hours of good reading there.

And Bri Dotson and I recently published a paper on our storms--found at:

Now I know how these tricky east-coasters work. They will say that our storms are generally over water during their early lives and don't count. Don't let them get away with this. Their fabled "Nor'Easters" --which they count--spend plenty of time of water. And don't forget the Great Lakes! And why did they call one of their storms "The Perfect Storm" when many of ours far outrank it by any mark?


  1. Isn't Minnesota in the mid west?? Not the east

  2. Dr. Mass, what was the lowest pressure recorded during the December 2007 storm that KO'd the coast for days? Is it possible to see a pressure gradient map from that storm? I've sure seen NOTHING like that. Thank you, sir!

  3. Ok, I understand that the media is overhyping this storm, 81 mph is not that impressive, that storm is a baby compared to the Great Coastal Gale, but I think they are right on the pressure, at least officially. Was December 1995 pressure ever officially measured below 955? At Tatoosh Island or Destruction Island or something? Also, these storms produce tornadoes, which our storms don't. But they always seem to be bigger too, and therefore, less windy.
    Also, 00UTC GFS, crazy flooding for the Northern Cascades, and that location will switch around a bit... see if that forecast holds true. Is that MJO-related?

  4. Oh, and I LOVE Wolf Read's website, but do you think you could get him to include floods and snowstorms and other stuff as well? I emailed him and never got a response. It's a mistake to talk about the "January 29-30, 2004 Minor Windstorm" when we could be talking about much bigger storms, like the November 2006 Pineapple Express, or the January 1950 blizzard! Wind is just one part of a storm.

    Also, do I need to be in the AMS to access your Hanukkah Eve Storm page? I can't seem to get it.

  5. Cliff, I heard the reporters say that it was the second-strongest storm on record FOR THE MIDWEST US. I didn't hear anyone claim the biggest/baddest ever. Hell, I think anyone sane would argue that those giant strings of thunderstorms that kick off dozens of damaging tornadoes in a single day in the southern midwest states are MUCH worse.

    Was it a big storm? Yes. Was it a yawner by say, Hurricane Ridge standards? Absolutely. Midwesterners are landlocked flatlanders and their idea of a hellish storm is necessarily different than ours. (I say that as a person who grew up as a somewhat landlocked flatlander).

    Let's not act like three year olds, stomping our feet because someone said they were bigger and cooler than us. LOL I'd rather hear you analyze what made their perceptions of this seemingly ho-hum storm so severe. Was it a terrible storm for Illinois and Indiana as the media said it was?

  6. I just e-mail Jeff Masters (Weather underground founder and blogger) yesterday about this..... He was talking about this east coast storm getting to 960 mb and we just had one this last week end get to 966 mb... Just last year we had winds close to 80 mph. :^)


  7. It seems that the data confirm your claim that Pacific originating storms that hit the Northwestern US are routinely centered around lower pressure than we've seen so far from this Midwestern storm.

    I do think it's confusing to claim that because the Midwest contains the Great Lakes, we can compare large storms over the Pacific that affect places like Seattle to what we have seen the past couple days.

    This entire storm could be contained within the Pacific Ocean while it is currently covering a dozen Midwestern states. The same storm is causing both blizzards in North Dakota and tornado warnings in Northern Ohio. This extent includes much of the surface of the Great Lakes, but much more dry land.

    So it's not 'over water' so to speak as a Pacific storm or Nor'easter would be. It's mostly over land and that it distinctly different for whatever that fact is worth.

  8. Cliff- I forwarded this link to my brother in law, who works for Minnesota Public Radio. In turn, he forwarded it to MPR's meteorologist. That person's response is below. Sounds like you all need to talk!

    From Paul Huttner, MPR:
    I think Cliff has missed the point on this one....OUR storm is over
    land...not the ocean. Big difference. He cites a pressure of 28.31" 52
    miles out over the open ocean...and still not as low as the 28.20" in
    Big Fork and Orr yesterday.

    Regarding his blog.

    1) The storm he lists says.... "But we can top that without breaking a
    sweat. Now take a relatively recent storm around here: December 12,
    1995. During that event the sea level pressure at Buoy 46041 , 52 miles
    west of Aberdeen, WA got to 28.31 inches (958.8 mb) and certainly that
    did not sample the center of the storm. Since the storm was farther
    offshore the pressure would to had to have been considerabley less."

    I don't agree with his assessment here. And respectfully, I don't think
    reporting accurately on the deepest low in Minnesota history is "hype."


    Paul Huttner
    Chief Meteorologist
    Minnesota Public Radio

    Updraft Weather Blog

    Jet Streaming Podcast

  9. Great post. I grew up back East sailing in and around NYC. I did not experience strong wind till I came out West.

    But I'm wondering, how do we rack up to Alaska? I assume they get pummeled worse than us, but don't really know.

  10. Awww, Cliff, you are so proud of our storms! We most assuredly have the biggest windstorms. But the Midwest is dealing with powerful thunderstorms, tornadoes and blizzards as I type. I much prefer our storms which are more or less predictable as they travel across the open sea to get here. No tornadoes or blizzards.

    Question: I noted that they are saying the Midwest storm system blew in from the Pacific Northwest on the jetstream. How does that work?

  11. Those culpable east coast media types, what do they know about the weather or for that matter the news!

    You are right about the east coast geographic centric propensity of the MSM. They are “headquartered” on the east coast and their “field offices” are here on the west coast – what a joke – as though we westerners offer little to be reported, like to weather.

  12. Sometimes those tricky East Coasters send their native sons to infiltrate the Atmospheric Science departments of West Coast universities. But you can always tell because a slight accent remains...

  13. The Weather Channel promotes this bias, it seems as if there is more emphasis on the Eastern United States than Western. For example in any given hour on the show there will be 40 to 50 minutes spent describing in great detail the forecasts for the Eastern side and then some brief insignificant report on temperatures, airport delays and generalized forecasting of weather conditions for the Western side. Growing up in California and living in Washington for 20 years I still know more about tornadoes and hurricanes than extratropical cyclones or anticyclones.

  14. Congratulations Cliff!
    Your Blog has been reposted on "The Front Page", the Blog for the AMS.
    Great article!


  15. Cliff,

    Can I have a copy of the full .pdf file for the NW windstorm publication?




  16. Is the storm in the midwest related to the storm we had here on Sunday? The timing makes me think it might be the same storm system.

  17. Do any of your storms have credible barometric readings of 28.20" or below over land?

  18. Jewelyaz, I think from the later information from Minnesota meteorologists and other news posted, you can see why this is more than just poo poo-ing from Dr. Mass.

    This is about accurate reporting and not giving in to hype. This is about having meaningful measurements and discussions of weather phenomena. Pressure gradients are KEY when we're talking about wind, just as much as the actual lowest pressure recorded. You can cherry pick and say "tornadoes hit here, here, and here" and I can say, well, 30 foot waves hit here, here, and here, oh, and a 120+ mph gust hit here, here, and here, oh, and urban flooding hit here, here, and here. It's meaningless. In terms of large fields of high winds speeds, the Midwest has a very hard time competing with the North Pacific. That is not to say that their storm is not noteworthy. But come now, would anyone want to compare the raw power of this storm with the Columbus Day Storm? That's the big daddy that will likely not be equalled or surpassed until another Pacific storm comes along sometime in the next 100 years.

    This coverage reminds me a lot about the ridiculously named "perfect storm" over a decade ago.

  19. Go get 'em Cliff!

    Btw, My BF is from Mankato MN & I'm from Long Beach CA, we argue about the "severity" of storms here in Seattle ALL THE TIME. I always point him to your blog, but he always poo-poo's me. Not this time!

  20. The 1998 storm -- to which this storm has been compared --- did have a bigger pressure gradient owing to High Pressure over Arkansas. That's missing from this now-dying event.

    Either mainland WA had a pressure lower than this storm, or it didn't. Had the MN storm "only" been in the 965 mb range in MN, but strengthened as it moved into Ontario, would it still be the strongest in MN history, or over the USA? No.

    Someday, perhaps soon, a storm will move onshore in the PAC NW with very low pressures, perhaps below the 954.8. I'm sure you'll be very proud when that happens.

  21. Would be interested to hear some comparisons (and pictures) on waves in our recent storm and the one now hitting the midwest (not the East Coast as others have pointed out). I heard Lake Superior got 35 foot waves and because it's a lake, the frequency of these waves is higher than ocean waves of similar height. I also heard that the SW winds over Green Bay caused the water level in Green Bay Harbor to fall by 42 inches. No matter how you slice it, that's impressive for a body of water as big as Green Bay.

  22. Is there a way to get a copy of your paper and not just the abstract?


  23. Cliff, your assertions may be superficially true.

    However, there is much, much more friction over land than over sea.

    (word verif agrees: uroptia)




  24. Cliff - when you are discussing the "strongest (lowest pressure) non-tropical storm in U.S history" do you include Alaska? Or is there some Alaskan meteorologist who thinks you are being as parochial as the folks in Minnesota?

  25. Seattle's all-time record low temperature is 0 F (-18 C)? Here in Wisconsin (which is not on the East Coast), we can easily beat that without breaking a sweat. Heck, on some days our daily *maximum* temperature doesn't even reach 0 F.

    This pressure record is for a mid-latitude cyclone located well inland over the Lower 48 states (meaning, not on an island located near an oceanic coast), non-tropical storm.

    Why can't we all just get along?

  26. Matt at 12:06:
    If this is about "accurate reporting" then you should be correcting Cliff. A sampling of the news articles about this storm shows that most put the severity of the storm in the correct geographic perspective i.e. biggest for a state or a region but not claiming a national title. Some blogs may have claimed it was the record for the U.S. but blogs are famous for spreading misinformation :). And I agree with JewelyaZ that I look to Cliff's blog for intelligent discussion of the weather. There is no reason to be hyping a "my storm is bigger than your storm" "fight" based on misquoting others.

  27. Wow… you feel the need to have to compare “your storms” to other storms just because those “tricky east-coasters” may not care about storms on the west coast? Hilarious!

    Yes, all smart meteorologists know that ocean storms (tropical or non-tropical) typically become stronger than land-based storms, but that is not the point. It WAS a strong Midwest storm… one that set many records in the Midwest… but to have to write a blog about how “our storms are better than your storms” is pretty childish.

    But of course, you won’t publish this comment.

    And no… I’m not from the “tricky east coast”. Just a Midwest boy in fly-over-land between all of you “attention getting coast dwellers”! ;-)

  28. There are a few individuals who have taken my last blog a little too seriously. Folks, sometimes I need to have a little fun. And name calling is REALLY not appropriate.

    I do believe that using reasonable measures of wind and pressure gradient that our top storms would lead the pack...and a big part of the reason is that we have an ocean, with low friction, upstream of us. Please read my windstorm paper in Monthly Weather Review...I talk about such issues.

  29. It WAS a funny post. In the same vein as "my cat is smarter than your honor student".

    But I would argue that my cat IS smarter..... tee hee.

  30. Here's an interesting article about how this storm came from Alaska to impact the midwest... CSM Storm Article

  31. For those interested in the issue of record low pressure in the U.S. The lowest barometric pressure in Alaska was 925 mb (27.31 inches) at Dutch Harbor on October 25, 1977.

  32. RE: Green Bay and Lake Superior Waves..

    The western half of green bay (perhaps 1/4 the size of Lake Michigan) averages 30 feet in depth. During extreme wind events the basin can drop by many feet. This is a seiche and can be above 7ft in Lake Erie (So the western half drops 7ft while the eastern side rises by that much). And yes, the waves have a much shorter frequency in the great lakes, especially Lake Erie that is so shallow.

  33. And now for something completely different...Wednesday's sunny weather was a nice break from the long rainy storm. I was impressed how long in advance the National Weather Service predicted the nice day on Wednesday. Weather forecast accuracy has become truly amazing, even many days in advance.

  34. I can believe that waves in the Great Lakes are different than ocean waves. Can someone please provide a link to an explanation of why this is?

  35. The record claim was for the lowest CONUS land-based pressure (between the Rocky and Appalachian mountain ranges), not the lowest pressure ever recorded overall for non-tropical storms.

    In fact, although the PNW has had it's fair share of record storms, the winner is definitely Alaska with the record storms. Here's more info from NOAA: http://www.crh.noaa.gov/dlh/?n=101026_pressurerecords


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