We're Having a Heatwave: Plus Hurricane Season

Steve Tracton
Meteorologist, Capital Weather Gang
Monday, August 10, 2009 2:00 PM

After yesterday's scorching but not record-setting high of 96, at both Reagan National and Dulles, the mercury could very well go even higher today. The Aug. 10 records of 98 at National and 96 at Dulles (set in 1943 and 2001, respectively) are most certainly in play. As temperatures come down for the rest of the week and into the weekend, uncertainty goes up, at least in terms of cloud cover and shower and thunderstorm chances.

Capital Weather Gang meteorologist Steve Tracton was online Monday, Aug. 10, at 2 p.m. ET to discuss the oppressive heat in the Washington area, safety tips for dealing with the extreme temperatures and what the forecast looks like. Plus, Tracton will cover summer weather in general and the hurricane season.


Steve Tracton: Hello everyone and welcome to today's chat about the heat. I'm Steve Tracton, meteorologist, and regular contributor to the Capital Weather Gang on a variety of subjects. Today's topic is the current heat. However, I'm open to discussion of summer weather in general, especially about the hurricane season.

If you have some favorite ways to beat the heat, please share them or ask some other heat/humidity related questions. As you can see from the current CWG page, my favorite form of escapism from the heat is to THINK SNOW!

Steve Tracton: Temperatures currently average in the low 90's with dew points near 70 or a few degrees above - VERY uncomfortable outside.


Clifton, Va.: So temps may approach a 100 degrees today. We have offices, shops and buildings with working AC. My girlfriend who is from Panama is stationed out at Fort Lewis, Wash., near Seattle/Tacoma, Wash. They had a few days of 100 degree temps. The AC in most of the offices on base doesn't work and hasn't been repaired since it would cost millions of dollars for the few days a year its needed. Her apartment has a small portable AC unit she purchased. Approx 15 percent of the buildings out there have AC. She went to mall and the movies a lot. She could tolerate the heat since she spent about 10 years in D.C. area, etc., but the Washington natives were really suffering.

Remember to check on your dogs and if you hose them down make sure you get all the way to the skin with the cold water!

Steve Tracton: Yes, dogs and cats are usually more susceptible than us humans - so take special care to keep them inside and provide plenty of water if outdoors.

Steve Tracton: Not having AC in Seattle - too few really hot days - is just the opposite why most homes in South Florida don't have central heating - to few cold days to live with relative to the cost of installation.


Arlington, Va.: Given that it is so hot outside, how can anyone possibly disagree with the fact global warming is definitely happening and if we don't do something right now, this is how it is going to be forever?

Steve Tracton: The Washington area may be the center of the universe when it comes to world events. But, it's only one single spot on the globe and alone accounts for an immeasurably small contribution to the average temperature around the globe - even less given it's only a few days out of the year. Even a year, though, is virtually negligible in the climate record, let's say, over the past 30 years.


Washington, D.C.: All things being equal, hasn't this been a relatively cool summer? When was the warmest summer on record? Finally, when is the first day of fall?

Steve Tracton: Yes, it's been a relatively cool summer, up until now. So much that people might have become so use to it that they are not acclimatized for the real heat and humidity we are now experiencing.

I don't have the records for summer handy. Perhaps someone else can help out.


Steve Tracton: It's actually cooler now in Miami with a temperature of 85.

Or you can get relief by flying to Fairbanks where it's now 48 degrees. Or for the real hearty, ambitious, there's always Antarctica - there is one station there reporting -85 in snow.


Steve Tracton: Any questions out there about this years hurricane season? Thee is one disturbance just of the coast of Africa which could develop into a tropical storm.


Steve Tracton: Civilization as we know it is about to end!

Any comments??


Anonymous: Seriously, what did people do before AC?

Steve Tracton: Suffered. To think, I once thought that air conditioning in a car was outrageous. Now, I couldn't drive in these conditions without AC.


Riverdale Park, Md: Hello Steve,

Weather forecasts predict ranges, not single values. I wish you and your fellow weather reporters would acknowledge that sometimes (in the case of a heatwave), the lowest predicted temperature turns out to be one we end up with.

It's quite possible that the highest temperature reached today in D.C. will be 97F, just one degree higher than yesterday. And then all your scaremongering and hype will look foolish -- even though you had access to the predicted range.

Steve Tracton: Yes, I totally agree. Forecasts should NEVER be just single valued. There is always a range within which the temperature or any other weather quantity is most likely to fall. If the forecasts are calibrated properly over the long term, there should be just as many temperatures hitting the high side as the low side. And, because there is always some uncertainty about the most likely range, the actual temperature can be expected to fall outside the forecasts range on occasion.


Cameron, N.C.: I started to wonder about hurricanes yesterday. There has not been a named storm this year! I just took a look at Invest99 and so far half the models are calling for a north/northwest track into the mid-north Atlantic. What's it all mean?

Steve Tracton: It just means stay tuned. Invest99 may or may not become a tropical storm. And all forecast models have considerable difficulty in predicting the track when the initial system is so weak and diffuse. So, what you see now is almost irrelevant to what will actually occur. So again, just stay tuned


Anonymous: I am an ambitious sous chef. How does one actually get to Antarctica?

Steve Tracton: It's too late to get to Antarctica this year. There will will likely be no further flights there until spring in the SH begins to set in.


Hartford, Conn.: In one catalog that has household stuff, I've seen both clear and tinted film that you peel off and stick to the insides of your windows to regulate or decrease the temperature. Any idea if it works?

Bummer about civilization ending.

Steve Tracton: Never heard of that one!


Hurricanes: Is El Nino the primary reason for the dearth of storms in the Atlantic, or are there other factors at play as well? It seems very strange after many active seasons to not even have a named storm this late. Then again, I remember Andrew coming along in a similar season in 92...

Steve Tracton: It's not unusual for the first hurricanes of the season showing up until later in August. As I recently posted, on average, the most active part of the hurricane season is between the beginning of August and end of October. Andrew, the first storm of 1992 ("A" storm) did not achieve named status until August 17. The latest first storm on record was Hurricane Arlene in 1967 which did not appear on the scene until August 28th. It was followed by an additional seven named storms that year. It's not clear yet whether El Nino has anything to do with the scarcity of storms thus or will affect the balance of the season. Andrew did occur in an El Nino year.


DC/VA: Last year was like this also -- pretty nice in July, not a humid mess, which is very different from the past. I have lived here all my life and I will gladly suffer a nasty August instead of a nasty July and August. Bu will Sept be warmer than average since July was cooler than average? Have we just shifted the mugginess by one month?

Steve Tracton: As far as I know there is no correlation between the temperatures in July (or August) and those in September.


Washington, D.C.: Steve -- Any thoughts on whether the mid-Atlantic may be directly impacted by a hurricane this season? Aren't we overdue?

Steve Tracton: See previous comment


Alexandria, Va.: Hurricane predictions have been way off the last 2-3 years, resulting in, e.g, unnecessary evacuations.

What changes/improvements have been made to the forecasting models used by NOAA and private forecasters for 2009?

Steve Tracton: This is a very good question, but the answer is beyond the scope of what I can post here. But, I plan a regular CWG post next week on the current and future state of hurricane prediction. We've come a long way in this, but have a much longer way still to go.


Falls Church, Va.: I've noticed that of the various Washington suburbs, Montgomery and Frederick County, seem to get hit worse than Fairfax or Loudon Countries by severe storms. The counties south of Fairfax also seems to catch more violent weather. Is this just coincidence or is there some geographic reason for it?

Steve Tracton: I'm not really sure, but in watching many many years I do see some reasons related to location and terrain that might account for the distribution and intensity of storms around here.


MoCo, Md.: Why aren't there many hurricanes in the Pacific -- especially near Hawaii? Felicia, which isn't even a major storm, seems to be an unusual event. Is there some geographical explanation for the prevalence of Atlantic storms vs. Pacific?

Steve Tracton: The Pacific is generally much more active in the arena of tropical cyclones (Hurricanes in Atlantic; Typhoons in western Pacific).It's not clear whether the description you provided is especially unusual outlier and why? I'm going to a meeting next month where this will be a topic of discussion.


Mountain dweller: Definite weather pattern changes. What do you make of all the really sudden and severe (like buckets of rain) storms that last under ten minutes?

Steve Tracton: Mountainous regions are generally favored for thunderstorm development, especially of the "air mass" variety, largely independent of a frontal boundary or other "dynamic forcing", e.g., strong jet stream of upper air trough. Such storms develop rapidly, dump their rain, and soon dissipate


Anonymous: For a weather guy you have a cool sense of humor and I'd recommend the WaPo make you a regular chat feature...

Steve Tracton: To me all things weather and climate are not only interesting, but fun to talk and write about. So that's what I do as much as appropriate. BTW: I'm an obsessive collector of weather jokes, proverbs, and cartoons. If you know of any, please pass them along.


Washington, D.C.: I painted my roof white back in May using 10 gallons of white roof paint I bought at the hardware store. Cost: $60. I am amazed by how much cooler the house has been compared to when I had the black roof. I don't have to run the AC as much either. No doubt the $60 investment has paid for itself already!

Steve Tracton: Glad to hear.


Think snow!: So with the strong El Nino in place, will we get measurable snow this winter? Please, please, please.

Steve Tracton: I'll see if I can identify the right button to press to conjure up a few good snow storms this winter. I'm not counting on El Nino.


Anonymous: Steve -- Re: your answer to an earlier question re: El Nino. Isn't it true that there are statistically fewer named tropical systems in the Atlantic during El Nino? Doesn't there tend to be more shear?

Steve Tracton: Yes, statistically over many years El Nino tends to suppress tropical storm activity in the Atlantic. But that's a long way from saying that any given El Nino year will be inactive. Again, all its takes is one storm, such as Andrew in 1992 - an El Nino year - to cause utter disaster.


Gaithersburg, Md. : My two HS aged sons are heading out to football practice around 4:00 PM today. At what temp. should teams call of practice?

Steve Tracton: A heat index of 90-105 F, as we now have, calls for "extreme caution - heat cramps, and heat exhaustion are possible. Continuing activity could result in heat stroke".

To me, better safe than sorry.


Washington, D.C.: "Conditions are not favorable for development at this time" has been the mantra in the tropics so far this year. So, what "condition" will you be looking for as an indicator that hurricanes are a coming?

Steve Tracton: The two most important factors are warm ocean water (80F) and little vertical wind shear (i.e., not much change in wind between the surface and aloft - otherwise, the shear tends to rip apart a nascent storm). The reason why El Nino tends to suppress Atlantic storms is because it is associated with above average shear.


SW Cubicle: Poor Steve --

I guess no one wants to talk about the weather today. I really don't either.

One really hot day so far this summer seems outstanding -- no complaints here.

Steve Tracton: Gee, no questions on the end of civilization as we know it??


Ballston, Va.: Any concerns of brownouts from excess AC usage?

Steve Tracton: I don't know what it takes to cause brownouts.

BTW: It's now in the mid to upper 90's


Washington, D.C.: Downeast Farmer Bert received notice from the State of Maine Geographic Examination Bureau that new satellite survey imagery showed that his farmhouse was actually just over the border into New Hampshire. Farmer Bert exclaimed, "Thank goodness! I couldn't take another Maine winter!"

Steve Tracton: This reminds me of the fellow looking out his window one spring morning at an outdoor thermometer and saying to his pal, what global warming, it's only 40 deg. His pal replies, but 40 deg Centigrade


Steve Tracton: Thanks everyone for an interesting discussion. To continue discussing the weather 24x7, please join us at CapitalWeather.com and submit your thoughts via the "Comments" link.


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