Interesting Weather Information

Thursday, May 25, 2017

So what does James Whitcomb Riley, the great poet and author from Indiana have to do with the storms of March 24, 2017?

Riley, known as the "Hoosier Poet" and the "Children's Poet" is also credited with the following witticism, “When I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck.”

Thus was born the "Duck Test", finding the simplest explanation for something you observe. Unfortunately the Duck Test often fails for complex systems like clouds associated with thunderstorms.

Let's re-phrase Riley's saying, When I see a cloud that moves like a tornado, touches the ground like a tornado and comes from a thunderstorm like a tornado, I call that cloud a tornado.

The problem is ... is that there are many low clouds that at first glance look like a tornado.


Take a look at this photo from NOAA.

This is a rain shaft, an intense downpour from a thunderstorm in the Great Plains. We see rain shafts here too. Take a look at these 3 photos from FOX19 Viewers.

Mary Campbell - Rain Shaft

Kelly Sears - Rain Shaft

Photographer Not Known - Rain Shaft

 Notice there are no horizontal striations or other indications of rotation. Rain shafts are often reported as tornadoes but they do not rotate and are not tornadoes.


How about this photo?
Scud clouds - Courtesy Washington Post.

Nope, not a tornado. It looks like one but there is no rotation, these are scud clouds.

Scud clouds can be very tornado-like. Clouds material gets caught up in the turbulence and down draft of a thunderstorm and can masquerade as a tornado.
 Here are three more scud cloud photos:




This one was taken by FOX19 NOW viewer Kathleen Niece in Glencoe, KY.

Photo by: Kathleen Niece


This is a scary looking thunderstorm, but there is not a tornado here. The wall cloud is large and low and wall clouds can partially descend to the ground.

Now take a look at these photos, sent to my by viewer Shannon Cross from Warren Co. last evening (WED may 24, 2017). She saved them from the Facebook pages of people in the area around Franklin and Carlisle, OH in Warren Co. and wanted to know if this was a big tornado like some people claimed.

The answer is, "NO", these pictures, of the same storm, do not show a tornado.


  • 1 The rotation as shown on radar was very weak.
  • 2. There are no - zero - damage reports
  • 3. The photographs show us this is not a tornado
  • Photo A  - No rotation evident, ragged edge like scud
  • Photo B - Still no rotation evident, dark back side looks interesting
  • Photo C -  A better look at the back side - the descending cloud formation is hollow
  • Photo D - The air is descending at the back of the cloud, not rising like in a tornado - look at the curl!

Weird clouds like these arise from the interplay of warm moist air flowing up and into the storm and cool, drier air sinking and flowing out of the storm.

Take a look at this amazing cloud  photograph taken by Stephanie West in Hebron, KY on June 15, 2012.

This is a shelf cloud and it forms from the interplay of inflow and out flow as shown in the second version of her photograph. The cool outflow is more dense and the warm, moist inflow rises op and over it. Beneath the warm air clouds descend in the sinking air.

To show how different one cloud can look from different directions, here is the same cloud, at the same time from in front of it near CVG.

Now ... imagine tilting the top photograph - left side up - and it does not take much imagination to get to what was seen in Warren Co.

So ...
It does not move like a tornado (no rotation).
It does not touch the ground like a tornado (no debris and no damage).
It does not come from a thunderstorm like a tornado (descending air not rising.

So it is not a duck. Oops! I mean it is not a tornado. It is a formation of scud clouds.

Thank you James Whitcomb Riley

Steve Horstmeyer

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Ohio River Flood of 1937

January, 1937 was the wettest month in Cincinnati history with 13.68" of rain. Heavy rains were common during the second and third weeks of January, 1937 all over the Ohio River Basin and most of the Ohio River drainage area had precipitation totals 300% to 400% of normal.
This resulted in the most devastating flood in Ohio River history. In Cincinnati the river was above flood stage for 431 consecutive hours and at the record setting crest OF 80' above datum (i.e. the reference level) for 8 hours.

I plotted hourly river stages for you through the high water episode and re-drew a map from the FEB 1937 issue of "Monthly Weather Review" showing the heavy rain area.
In addition I graphed the highest and lowest river stages for each year from 1858 - 2014 and illustrated some highlights.

Note when the Markland Dam went into operation. Contrary to popular myth the dam system on the Ohio River is to control low water levels and keep the river navigable and not for flood control.

Reds Pitcher Gene Schott - left - and Lee Grissom boating in Crosley Field
John Roebling Suspension Bridge, Jan 26, 1937.
John Roebling Suspension Bridge, Jan 26, 1937.
Cumminsville - The ramp is from Central Parkway.

Rainfall, amount and percent of normal, January 1937. Monthly Weather Review, Feb. 1937
Simplified version of map above. Steve Horstmeyer

Graph of data above - Hourly Stages of the Ohio River at Cincinnati. Steve Horstmeyer

High and Low Ohio River Stages at Cincinnati 1858 - 2014. Steve Horstmeyer

The Great Blizzard of 1978

From WED JAN 25 through FRI JAN 27, 1978 the Great Blizzard of '78 visited - or should I say pummeled - Cincinnati.
On the 25th the high was 37 with 0.84" of rain soaking the soil and everything else. It changed to very heavy wet snow that evening and overnight and as the temperature plummeted to -1° by dawn on the 26th. The slushy snow froze solid and more snow fell on top of it. The official snow total was 6.9".
I lived in Silverton, OH at the time and we had 3"- 4" of solid ice with an inch or two of snow on top. No one could really tell how much fell because wind gusts were as high as 50 mph, blowing the snow into 4 feet high drifts and sweeping other areas clear of snow.

The death toll was high: Indiana - 11, Kentucky - 5 and Ohio 51. Twenty-two of those either froze to death or died of hypothermia when trying to walk from stranded cars.
Meteorologists say a storm like this "bombed" - meaning rapid explosive development and the very low pressure set new record low values across Ohio. In fact the pressure at Cleveland was the lowest outside of a hurricane in the continental U.S. for years.
The barometric pressure graph I plotted from hourly data at CVG. The photos (in order CVG, Eden park, I-275 at Exit 84 in NKY and a store front in Covington) are courtesy of the Kenton County Public Library and the weather maps are from NOAA.

Clearing Snow at CVG

Eden Park

I-275 N. Kentucky near Exit 84.

All Maps at 7AM the day indicated.

Covington store front.

Hourly pressure at CVG by Steve Horstmeyer.