2013 had fewest lightning deaths on record

January 11th, 2014 at 9:07 pm by under Weather

The year 2013 set a record for the fewest lightning deaths in a year in the USA. There were 23 fatalities directly attributed to lightning, according to data from the National Weather Service.

Lightning streaks across the sky behind a church in Montgomery, Ala., on March 18, 2013. (Photo: Dave Martin, AP)

Lightning streaks across the sky behind a church in Montgomery, Ala., on March 18, 2013. (Photo: Dave Martin, AP)

The previous record low was in 2011, which had 26 deaths. Accurate lightning death records go back 73 years to 1940.

“Florida and Arizona led the nation in 2013 lightning deaths with four each; followed by Texas, Illinois and Kentucky with two each,” said meteorologist and lightning expert John Jensenius of the weather service. “Nine other states contributed one death each.”

Florida usually sees the most deaths per year. In particular, central Florida is the lightning capital of the USA, typically having more than 100 days with thunderstorms each year.

Last year, victims’ ages ranged from 8 to 66.

Over the past 30 years, about 52 people on average die each year from lightning strikes. Going way back, in the 1940s, hundreds of people were killed each year by lightning; in 1943 alone, 432 people died.

“While we don’t like to see any lightning deaths, the continuing reduction in yearly fatalities is encouraging,” Jensenius said.

Why the huge drop in deaths, especially compared with decades ago, even though the population is more than twice what it was then? “Comparisons show that the decrease in lightning risk to people coincides with a shift in population from rural to urban regions,” wrote meteorologist Ronald Holle in an article in the Journal of Applied Meteorology.

“There were many, many more small farmers who were out working in fields,” Jensenius said, which resulted in many more chances to be struck by lightning.

Other reasons for the drop in lightning-related fatalities over the years:

•All phones were corded, and there were quite a few deaths due to people speaking on the phone.

•Better lightning protection, suppression and grounding in electrical and phone lines.

•More concern and awareness of lightning safety, due in part to advances in media communication.

•Medical advances in treating lightning strike victims.


Unusual southward displacement of “polar vortex” could be connected to climate change

January 11th, 2014 at 9:43 am by under Weather

After the previously little-known term “polar vortex” brought record-cold to 2/3 of the U.S. last week, many are still asking why this happened.

As it turns out, it may have a connection to climate change. Read more in the article below from

Story by Mark Memmott

January 07, 201412:00 PM
Ice has built up along Lake Michigan in Chicago as temperatures have plunged in recent days. A dip in the polar vortex is to blame.

Ice has built up along Lake Michigan in Chicago as temperatures have plunged in recent days. A dip in the polar vortex is to blame.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

On ‘Morning Edition’: science writer Andrew Freedman talks with NPR’s David Greene about the polar vortex

We’ve mentioned the polar vortex several times in recent days.

, for instance, that it’s “a low pressure system that’s usually the North Pole but has weakened and come south.”

But we’re still getting asked this question:

Just what is the polar vortex, and why is it to so much of the U.S.?

So here’s another go at it.

, Washington Post weather editor Jason Samenow described the polar vortex this way:

“We’re talking about a huge sprawling area of circulating cold air originating from the North Pole. It’s a low-pressure center, and typically during the winter months it resides up there. At times, some tentacles of it will slip southward and bring cold air outbreaks into the U.S., but this year, we’re seeing a huge chunk of it, most of it descending into the U.S.”

Dealing with it in Detroit: A woman protects her face from the cold on Monday.

High-pressure systems over Alaska and Greenland, Samenow added, are “allowing the jet stream to dive south over the U.S. and also for this polar vortex to drop south with the jet stream.”

For a more visual image of what’s happening, though, we suggest an analogy offered by science writer Andrew Freedman, .

“This is air that is circulating the Arctic,” Freedman said. “In the last couple of days, it’s sort of become lopsided — sort of like a figure skater that has extended their arms and then tripped.

“You know, when a figure skater pulls their arms in, they spin tighter and tighter and faster and faster. But when they put their arms out, they are a little bit slower and a little bit more wobbly and more prone to fall or stop skating at the end of their routine.

“What’s happening now is that a piece of it is down on the other side of the globe, but a piece of it kind of got lopsided and came down on top of us.”

The next logical question is why the vortex has weakened so much that a big piece of it has spun down over the U.S.

Along with the effects that those high-pressure systems over Alaska and Greenland are having, there’s the possibility that climate change is also a factor.


“More and more Arctic sea ice is melting during summer months. The more ice that melts, the more the Arctic Ocean warms. The ocean radiates much of that excess heat back to the atmosphere in winter, which disrupts the polar vortex. Data taken over the past decade indicate that when a lot of Arctic sea ice disappears in the summer, the vortex has a tendency to weaken over the subsequent winter.”

Cold Snaps Becoming Less Common?

January 10th, 2014 at 7:13 am by under Weather

Take a look at this interesting article from our friends at the Associated Press. 


Deep Freeze Weather Wimps

WASHINGTON (AP) — We’ve become weather wimps.

As the world warms, the United States is getting fewer bitter cold spells like the one that gripped much of the nation this week. So when a deep freeze strikes, scientists say, it seems more unprecedented than it really is. An Associated Press analysis of the daily national winter temperature shows that cold extremes have happened about once every four years since 1900.

Until recently.

When computer models estimated that the national average daily temperature for the Lower 48 states dropped to 17.9 degrees on Monday, it was the first deep freeze of that magnitude in 17 years, according to Greg Carbin, warning meteorologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

That stretch — from Jan. 13, 1997 to Monday — is by far the longest the U.S. has gone without the national average plunging below 18 degrees, according to a database of daytime winter temperatures starting in January 1900.

In the past 115 years, there have been 58 days when the national average temperature dropped below 18. Carbin said those occurrences often happen in periods that last several days so it makes more sense to talk about cold outbreaks instead of cold days. There have been 27 distinct cold snaps.

Between 1970 and 1989, a dozen such events occurred, but there were only two in the 1990s and then none until Monday.

“These types of events have actually become more infrequent than they were in the past,” said Carbin, who works at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. “This is why there was such a big buzz because people have such short memories.”

Said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private firm Weather Underground: “It’s become a lot harder to get these extreme (cold) outbreaks in a planet that’s warming.”

And Monday’s breathtaking chill? It was merely the 55th coldest day — averaged for the continental United States — since 1900.

The coldest day for the Lower 48 since 1900 — as calculated by the computer models — was 12 degrees on Christmas Eve 1983, nearly 6 degrees chillier than Monday.

The average daytime winter temperature is about 33 degrees, according to Carbin’s database.

There have been far more unusually warm winter days in the U.S. than unusually cold ones.

Since Jan. 1, 2000, only two days have ranked in the top 100 coldest: Monday and Tuesday. But there have been 13 in the top 100 warmest winter days, including the warmest since 1900: Dec. 3, 2012. And that pattern is exactly what climate scientists have been saying for years, that the world will get more warm extremes and fewer cold extremes.

Nine of 11 outside climate scientists and meteorologists who reviewed the data for the AP said it showed that as the world warms from heat-trapping gas spewed by the burning of fossil fuels, winters are becoming milder. The world is getting more warm extremes and fewer cold extremes, they said.

“We expect to see a lengthening of time between cold air outbreaks due to a warming climate, but 17 years between outbreaks is probably partially due to an unusual amount of natural variability,” or luck, Masters said in an email. “I expect we’ll go far fewer than 17 years before seeing the next cold air outbreak of this intensity.

And the scientists dismiss global warming skeptics who claim one or two cold days somehow disproves climate change.

“When your hands are freezing off trying to scrape the ice off your car, it can be all too tempting to say, ‘Where’s global warming now? I could use a little of that!’ But you know what? It’s not as cold as it used to be anymore,” Texas Tech University climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe said in an email.

The recent cold spell, which was triggered by a frigid air mass known as the polar vortex that wandered way south of normal, could also be related to a relatively new theory that may prove a weather wild card, said Rutgers University climate scientist Jennifer Francis. Her theory, which has divided mainstream climate scientists, says that melting Arctic sea ice is changing polar weather, moving the jet stream and causing “more weirdness.”

Ryan Maue, a meteorologist with the private firm Weather Bell Analytics who is skeptical about blaming global warming for weather extremes, dismisses Francis’ theory and said he has concerns about the accuracy of Carbin’s database. Maue has his own daily U.S. average temperature showing that Monday was colder than Carbin’s calculations.

Still, he acknowledged that cold nationwide temperatures “occurred with more regularity in the past.”

Many climate scientists say Americans are weather weenies who forgot what a truly cold winter is like.

“I think that people’s memory about climate is really terrible,” Texas A&M University climate scientist Andrew Dessler wrote in an email. “So I think this cold event feels more extreme than it actually is because we’re just not used to really cold winters anymore.”


Seth Borenstein can be followed at .

January bird forecast

January 9th, 2014 at 3:29 pm by under Weather

What to watch for in January: Hummingbirds and warblers

Here’s the Central Texas bird forecast for the month, courtesy of Travis 
Audubon. Learn more about Central Texas birds and bird-related events for all ages at or by calling 512-300-BIRD. Travis Audubon is on Twitter and Facebook. Follow us on Twitter @TravisAudubon and give us a like at

Rufous Hummingbird photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Creative Commons

Rufous Hummingbird photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Creative Commons

Hummingbirds? Now?

Did you know that some hummingbirds winter in Austin? A few feisty Rufous Hummingbirds have already shown up. The Rufous Hummingbird has one of the longest migration paths of any bird, about 3,900 miles one way from Alaska to Mexico, according to All About Birds. They make a clockwise circuit through North America, and Central Texas is in their usual path. Some decide that Austin is far enough south and take a chance that the weather won’t get too severe.

They will visit feeders and are territorial no matter what part of the world they’re visiting, attacking other hummingbirds or larger birds. They’ll even chase chipmunks away from their nests.

Males have bright orange backs and bellies; females are green above with rufous (orangey-red) sides.

To see if any hummingbirds are in your neighborhood, try putting your feeder out. Take a photo of any visitors and let Travis Audubon know, as occasionally we do get some hummers that are less common than Rufous.

Orange-crowned Warbler photo by Linda Tanner via Creative Commons

Orange-crowned Warbler photo by Linda Tanner via Creative Commons

Wintering warblers

With the trees bare of leaves, some of our smaller songbirds who spend the winter here are more easily seen. These include Orange-Crowned Warblers and Yellow-Rumped Warblers. The former is a grayish-yellow fellow (the orange crown is rarely seen) and the latter is recognizable by, yes, the bright yellow rear end.

Birds in the cold

Ever wonder how birds stay warm in winter? They have some similar strategies to our own: seek cover and huddle up! According to Audubon Magazine, smaller birds find dense foliage or cavities to avoid the cold, and bunch together to share warmth. They also try to reduce the area exposed to the elements, tucking their heads and feet in and fluffling up their feathers. Cardinals in particular can be easily spotted in a puffball state in the cold.

Bigger birds, like geese, actually grow extra sets of downy feathers. All birds eat more to add body fat. And some have adaptations that allow them to shiver to generate heat or drop their body temperature.

All could use a hand from you in the wintertime: Put out plenty of food, especially calorie-packed suet blocks, a favorite of titmice, wrens, and woodpeckers. You might even see an Orange-crowned Warbler visit the suet.

Upcoming events

Monthly Travis Audubon meeting: The birds of Sierra Gorda. Jan. 16, First Presbyterian Church, 8001 Mesa Drive, Rissman Hall. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.; the meeting will begin at 7. Speakers Sandra Skrei Mock and Bob Warneke will talk about Mexico’s Sierra Gorda Biosphere and a local preservation group, Grupo Ecologico Sierra Gorda, whose handcrafted wares will be for sale at the meeting.

Field Trips — Beginners welcome. Check the Travis Audubon website for details.

Turtle Rock Ranch (private property in the Hill Country)
Saturday, January 11, 6:30 to 11 a.m.

Camp Mabry Field Trip led by Dennis Palafox
Saturday, January 11, 7:30 to 11 a.m.

Granger Lake area with Sam Fason
Saturday, January 11, all day

Monthly Bird Count at Hornsby Bend
Saturday, January 11, 7 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Commons Ford Monthly Walk
Sunday, January 12, 7:30 to 11 a.m.

Two hour Tuesday at Windermere Park, led by Dan Callaway
Tuesday, January 14, 8 to 10 a.m.

Balcones Preserve/Water Quality Lands Friday Hikes Snowden Tract near 2222 and 620
Friday, January 17, 8 to 11 a.m.

Hornsby Bend Monthly Bird Walk
Saturday, January 18, 7:30 to 11:00 a.m.

Super Tuesday at South Travis County Ponds, led by Ken Zaslow
Tuesday, January 21, 7:30 to 10:30 a.m.

Westcave Preserve with Ed Fair and Arman Moreno
Saturday, January 25, 7:30 a.m. to moon

Super Tuesday at Pedernales Falls State Park, led by Terry Banks
Tuesday, January 28, 7 a.m. to noon

Compiled by Travis Audubon volunteers Jane Tillman and Raeanne Martinez


How climate change may be moving the polar vortex

January 8th, 2014 at 4:33 pm by under Weather
Maps show the 500-millibar geopotential height (the altitude where the air pressure is 500 millibars) on January 5, 2014 (left), and in mid-November 2013 (right). The cold air of the polar vortex is purple. Maps by NOAA, based on NCEP Reanalysis data from NOAA ESRL Physical Sciences Division.
large images January 5 | mid-November 2013

‘Polar vortex’ is the new buzzword of 2014 for the millions of Americans learning about its role in producing record cold temperatures across the country. Meteorologists have known for years that the pattern of the polar vortex determines how much cold air escapes from the Arctic and makes its way to the U.S. during the winter. Now climate scientists want to know if a warmer Arctic is influencing its behavior.


Extreme cold becoming more rare

January 8th, 2014 at 1:43 pm by under Weather

(Andrew Freedman – Climate Central)

The deep freeze that continues to affect the U.S. has resulted in numerous daily temperature records, and some all-time cold temperature records. But in general, this Arctic outbreak, courtesy of a huge chunk of the polar vortex that the jet stream temporarily dislodged from the Arctic, is bringing the coldest temperatures in 20 to 30 years to many areas of the Midwest, Ohio Valley, Deep South, and the eastern seaboard.

Trend in frigid nights in St. Louis from the 1970s to the most recent decade. Yellow line indicates linear trend since 1970.
Click to enlarge the image. Credit: Climate Central.

Some of the most severe cold has affected the Midwest, from Minnesota to Illinois and east to Michigan. Chicago set a record for the 7th coldest noontime temperature since 1930, with a temperature of just -14°F at midday on Monday. But the city did not set any all-time cold records.


Kaxan’s cold weather tips for your pet

January 7th, 2014 at 5:51 pm by under Weather

Kaxan in WXC -2

Kaxan and the ASPCA want everyone to remember to keep their pets warm during these cold winter days and nights!

The following guidelines will help you protect your companion animals when the mercury dips.

  1. Keep your cat inside. Outdoors, felines can freeze, become lost or be stolen, injured or killed. Cats who are allowed to stray are exposed to infectious diseases, including rabies, from other cats, dogs and wildlife.
  2. During the winter, outdoor cats sometimes sleep under the hoods of cars. When the motor is started, the cat can be injured or killed by the fan belt. If there are outdoor cats in your area, bang loudly on the car hood before starting the engine to give the cat a chance to escape.
  3. Never let your dog off the leash on snow or ice, especially during a snowstorm, dogs can lose their scent and easily become lost. More dogs are lost during the winter than during any other season, so make sure yours always wears ID tags.
  4. Thoroughly wipe off your dog’s legs and stomach when he comes in out of the sleet, snow or ice. He can ingest salt, antifreeze or other potentially dangerous chemicals while licking his paws, and his paw pads may also bleed from snow or encrusted ice. Morton Pet-Safe Ice Melt
  5. Never shave your dog down to the skin in winter, as a longer coat will provide more warmth. When you bathe your dog in the colder months, be sure to completely dry him before taking him out for a walk. Own a short-haired breed? Consider getting him a coat or sweater with a high collar or turtleneck with coverage from the base of the tail to the belly. For many dogs, this is regulation winter wear.
  6. Never leave your dog or cat alone in a car during cold weather. A car can act as a refrigerator in the winter, holding in the cold and causing the animal to freeze to death.
  7. Puppies do not tolerate the cold as well as adult dogs, and may be difficult to housebreak during the winter. If your puppy appears to be sensitive to the weather, you may opt to paper-train him inside. If your dog is sensitive to the cold due to age, illness or breed type, take him outdoors only to relieve himself.
  8. Does your dog spend a lot of time engaged in outdoor activities? Increase his supply of food, particularly protein, to keep him, and his fur, in tip-top shape.
  9. Like coolant, antifreeze is a lethal poison for dogs and cats. Be sure to thoroughly clean up any spills from your vehicle, and consider using products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol. Visit the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center more information.
  10. Make sure your companion animal has a warm place to sleep, off the floor and away from all drafts. A cozy dog or cat bed with a warm blanket or pillow is perfect.

Coldest morning in 4 years

January 7th, 2014 at 10:58 am by under Weather

This morning, ABIA smashed their old record low of 17 degrees – reaching 12 degrees!

This was the coldest temperature ABIA has seen since January 10, 2010.

Here are some of the other coldest low temperatures across the area this morning – courtesy of the LCRA Hydromet network.

1-7 hill co lows

1-7 metro lows

1-7 east lows

Polar vortex causes extreme cold across U.S.

January 6th, 2014 at 7:52 pm by under Weather

The record-setting cold snap that has nearly two-thirds of the nation in its grips has its roots in what is referred to as a polar vortex. But what on Earth is that?

The article below from breaks it down:


By Erik Ortiz, Staff Writer, NBC News

Move over, haboob. See you next summer, heat dome. The weather phenomenon hogging all the attention now is “polar vortex.”

Twenty-six states are under wind-chill warnings or watches, and the polar vortex is to blame, breaking loose from its North Pole confines and plunging the country in a deep, dangerous freeze.


It isn’t expected to linger for long but will leave a mark. Here’s what you need to know:


NOAA satellite image taken Monday, Jan. 6 at 01:45 a.m.

So what exactly is a polar vortex?

A polar vortex is basically a great swirling pool of extremely cold air located tens of thousands of feet in the atmosphere, said Frank Giannasca, senior meteorologist with The Weather Channel.

Basically an arctic cyclone, it ordinarily spins counterclockwise around the north and south poles.

While it tends to dip over northeastern Canada, it’s catching everyone’s attention because it has moved southward over such a large population — as many as 140 million Americans are feeling the freeze.

Why has it traveled so far south?

There’s a variety of reasons why a chunk of cold air over Canada would break off our way.


List Of Low Temperatures This AM

January 6th, 2014 at 1:15 pm by under Weather

Here is a list of recorded low temperatures from this morning courtesy of the NWS.



1141 AM CST MON JAN 6 2014



LOCATION                              TEMP      TIME/DATE

BURNET (COOP BURT2)                    15        0800 AM 01/06
BURNET AIRPORT (KBMQ ASOS)             17        0753 AM 01/06
20 SSE SONORA (EDWT2 RAWS)             17        0746 AM 01/06
8 NNW LAGO VISTA (BNET2 RAWS)          17        0747 AM 01/06
1 N LBJ STATE PARK (BDTT2 RAWS)        18        0708 AM 01/06
JOHNSON CITY (COOP JCYT2)              18        0800 AM 01/06
SMITHVILLE (COOP SMHT2                 18        0840 AM 01/06
FREDERICKSBURG (T82 AWOS)              18        0735 AM 01/06
LOST MAPLES STATE PARK (LMNT2 RAWS)    18        0746 AM 01/06
GEORGETOWN AIRPORT (KGTU ASOS)         19        0648 AM 01/06
BLANCO (COOP BLCT2)                    19        0730 AM 01/06
AUSTIN GREAT HILLS (COOP AGHT2)        19        0700 AM 01/06
ROCKSPRINGS (KECU AWOS)                19        0755 AM 01/06
LAGO VISTA AIRPORT (KRYW ASOS)         19        0655 AM 01/06
KERRVILLE AIRPORT (KERV AWOS)          19        0815 AM 01/06
LLANO (KAQO AWOS)                      19        0655 AM 01/06
1 NW CAMP SWIFT (BTRT2 RAWS)           20        0808 AM 01/06
NEW BRAUNFELS (COOP NBGT2)             20        0741 AM 01/06
HORSESHOE BAY AIRPORT (KDZB AWOS)      20        0715 AM 01/06
GIDDINGS (KGYB AWOS)                   22        0655 AM 01/06
BERGSTROM INTL AIRPORT (KAUS ASOS)     22        0653 AM 01/06
CAMP MABRY (KATT ASOS)                 22        0751 AM 01/06
GONZALES 1N  (COOP GNOT2)              23        0700 AM 01/06
1 E LA GRANGE (LGNT2 RAWS)             23        0803 AM 01/06
BOERNE STAGE AIRPORT (K5C1 AWOS)       23        0655 AM 01/06
NEW BRAUNFELS AIRPORT (KBAZ ASOS)      24        0751 AM 01/06
GONZALES AIRPORT (KT20 AWOS)           25        0715 AM 01/06
YOAKUM  (COOP YKMT2)                   25        0814 AM 01/06
RANDOLPH AFB  (KRND ASOS)              25        0758 AM 01/06
SAN ANTONIO INTL ARPT (KSAT ASOS)      27        0751 AM 01/06
PORT SAN ANTONIO  (KSKF ASOS)          27        0755 AM 01/06
HONDO MUNICIPAL AIRPORT (KHDO ASOS)    28        0751 AM 01/06
CASTROVILLE AIRPORT  (KCVB AWOS)       28        0715 AM 01/06
UVALDE AIRPORT (KUVA AWOS)             28        0735 AM 01/06
PLEASANTON AIRPORT (KPEZ AWOS)         29        0815 AM 01/06
LAUGHLIN AFB (KDLF ASOS)               29        0758 AM 01/06
DEL RIO INTL AIRPORT  (KDRT ASOS)      30        0853 AM 01/06