House Calls

“Southwest Canada is on fire”

Image of Canadian forest fire locations

This map, courtesy of the Canadian Wildland Fire Information System, shows the number of large forest fires occurring as of July 11, 2015.


MODIS imagery of smoke in Canada

This MODIS imagery, viewed from AllisonHouse Maps,  shows the large plume of smoke, indicated by the arrows, heading southeast from central and western Canada into the northern U.S. This has caused poor air quality and breathing problems to some in the Great Lakes, and major evacuations in Alaska and Canada. Image taken on June 30, 2015.

That comment came from a friend on my Facebook page. And it’s not just there, unfortunately. For those of you who live in the northern, and parts of the central and eastern U.S., you know the drill: blue skies aren’t anywhere to be found. I’m not talking about a lack of clouds. I’m talking about the massive forest fires going on in early July across Alaska and Canada, causing skies to go milky white and block out the sun as far south as Tennessee.

Some think this pattern might be El Nino related, but in any event, the jet stream orientation in June and so far in July has taken a route from central Canada, southeastward into the northern and northeastern U.S. That has been responsible for cool to unseasonably cool temperatures in the Great Lakes. However, it’s also sent the smoke with it down into the U.S. as well. In part, the dense smoke is also blocking a significant to substantial part of the sunlight from getting through. Here where I live in the Chicago area, on one particular afternoon, it was like a dense cirrus cloud overcast was covering the sun. In reality, it was smoke, as high as 18,000’…getting into the jet stream and pushing southeastward into the Great Lakes and Ohio Valleys, as well as parts of the northeastern U.S.

Lightning-induced fires from “dry” thunderstorms (whereby the rain evaporates before hitting the ground, but the lightning does, igniting the fires) continues to plague southwest Canada as their monsoon season begins. It does not look like this will end soon, as the general jet stream pattern is expected to remain the same.

MODIS imagery, now available on AllisonHouse Maps, shows the smoke incredibly well. You can clearly see, in areas that are cloud-free, the source of the smoke, and its track southeastward into the northern U.S. Thanks to mixing, that smoke is coming back down to the ground across Wisconsin and Illinois, resulting in poor air quality and numerous alerts to those who are prone to allergies or irritation. Even though that is not a good thing, obviously…it isn’t anywhere as bad as Canada and Alaska, where people are losing their homes. At times, visibilities have been reduced to less than 5 miles in some areas of the Great Lakes. We here at AllisonHouse pray for a swift end to these fires, and strength and comfort to the firefighters, and residents in Canada and Alaska affected by them.

Austin Straubel International Airport. Say what?

Hey AllisonHouse fans,

For those who use the Gibson Ridge placefiles, and GREarth, this past weekend I realized something, and it wasn’t good.

Several years ago, we had a database crash, and we lost all our METAR site locations. Every last one! Starting from scratch, we decided to download the FAA and two other databases that have all the sites in them, and merge them. This generally went OK. But it had an obvious problem: Many of the FAA METAR sites in the United States listed their airports, and not the city that they were in or served. Or, they did a poor job of doing so. And so, late last week, I saw a METAR site near Green Bay that said that it was “Austin Straubel International Airport”. Huh? It took me a minute to figure out that…yes, that was Green Bay, WI’s primary airport. And as I moused over other sites, I saw things that embarrassed me, as keeper of the database. “Wst Chgo DuPa” was West Chicago / DuPage County Airport just west of Chicago. Like you would know that, unless you lived there!

So: this past weekend, I added the city names out in front when you mouse over them. I might have missed one or two here or there, but I got as much done as I could. Also, if I missed one of your favorites, please let me know, and I will add them in. With some airports, they just prefer to be called by their city name, minus the word “airport” at the end…so I left it at that, for now.

I hope you enjoy the enhancement…and now, back to your originally scheduled squall line, already in progress.

Triumph and tragedy: the flooding in the southern U.S.

Rainfall totals image

This two week rainfall total from Texas and Oklahoma shows the extent of heavy rainfall, and why the flooding is so bad in this portion of the country. Data through 8 PM CDT May 28, 2015. Image courtesy of the National Weather Service.

In May of 2015, the southern Plains, and especially in the states of Texas and Oklahoma, heavy rainfall caused major flash flooding in a significant portion of the region. In those two states alone, 17 people have died as of May 28.

Don’t get me wrong: those are 17 people whose lives touched others. They were loved; they had family and/or friends who cared for them deeply, and now they are gone. It is a tragedy, make no mistake about it, that will leave those they left behind grieving for years to come. That’s the tragedy that we should mourn.

The triumph? Thanks to the data, and alerting and display systems we have in this country…it could have been worse….way worse. Similar flooding events of this magnitude kills thousands of people in one fell swoop in countries without adequate warning systems. That’s the triumph.

And yet, a further tragedy is that many of these deaths still could have been prevented. Some refused to evacuate in time. Many took their cars—at least one driving around a barricade—and drove right into the floodwaters. One person was canoeing when a dam was opened to release water, and the person couldn’t apparently get back to shore in time as the rush of water hit.

And, equally as disturbing are the scenes from Austin and Houston, TX, of literally hundreds of cars, now ruined, sitting in flood waters that went over the hoods of their cars on interstates. And that is tragic because, although the people in those vehicles survived…they now face a huge financial burden. Some cars aren’t insured, and others…the insurance company will only pay book value for. Not to mention the lost money from not being able to get to work, the stress, and other life factors on top of all of that.

The National Weather Service has an excellent campaign called “Turn Around, Don’t Drown(tm)”. That’s great advice, to be sure, but I think it’s time to take it to the next level. That advice, taken to it’s fullest extent, would have prevented much of the tremendous vehicle loss and most of the lives lost in the flooding across the region. But how about this: “Flash flooding? Stay home, unless you are in danger!”. Mind you, I’m not a marketing major, and this slogan won’t catch the world on fire (maybe readers better at this than myself can help me out here?). But it would have stopped the senseless driving of vehicles into flood water. “But I have to get to work!”. Some of you really do, and that’s when you don’t drive around barricades. But if you don’t, work from home that day. But if you HAVE to drive and you see ponded or rushing water on the road ahead, STOP. Don’t even try it. For most people, a day’s loss of income is better than a month…or a year’s loss of income because your vehicle is now a paperweight! Think about it. Otherwise, all the warnings in the world won’t help you if you don’t act on them. Your AllisonHouse Maps display shows you’re in a flash flood warning, but if you ignore it, it doesn’t do either of us any good.

So let’s take this to the next level: no more deaths, no more flooding of cars by driving into water because you had to be somewhere. If you are on high ground, stay there. If not, then evacuate, but do so very carefully so you don’t become a victim. We don’t need any more unnecessary damage and fatalities. And if there’s some way we can help you be more alert and tuned in to the dangers of severe weather, please let us know privately or in the comments section!