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Discussion of Unusual Weather Events in Western New York
by Don Vallone, Jr.

The following weather coverage documents episodes of severe weather in upstate New York.  Having lived in or near Rochester all of my life, near the shore of Lake Ontario, I've had the opportunity to experience and study many of the fascinating weather features that are common to this region (and some that are not so common!).



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 Storm Discussions:

Severe and Unusual Weather Events in Western New York
by Don Vallone, Jr.

The following weather coverage documents episodes of severe weather in upstate New York.  Having lived in or near Rochester all of my life, near the shore of Lake Ontario, I've had the opportunity to experience and study many of the fascinating weather features that are common to this region (and some that are not so common!).


Hail Storm, October 2001

Pea-size hail is very common at the start of an strong thunderstorm and can last for several minutes.  This is not to be confused with an even more common occurrence in this region of "grauple".  Grauple is small, hard, icy snow pellets that can fall in a "shower" of more extended periods of time, typically in the Fall at higher elevations or in a thundershower at any elevation, and can even accumulate on the ground.  Grauple is nothing more than snowflakes that have partially melted and refrozen while falling through a suspended layer of warmer air between the cold cloud base and colder air near the surface.  Grauple is similar to sleet, with the exception being that it starts out as snow while sleet starts as raindrops that freeze on their way to the surface as they fall into colder air in the lowest part of the atmosphere.  When the process of freezing, melting, and re-freezing occurs within a towering cumulonimbus cloud due to strong convective wind drafts, the end result is true HAIL.  The size that hail can grow to depends on the strength of the updraft winds in a thunderstorm.  A strong updraft will support the heavy hailstone and send it rocketing back upward through the wettest portion of the cloud to get coated with another layer of water droplet and up even higher into the atmosphere where the new layer freezes to keep the hailstone growing.  When the updraft is no longer strong enough, it lets go of the hailstone and lets it fall to the ground.  Hailstones the size of grapefruits have been reported.






Flash Flooding from Severe Thunderstorm, June 2002

As a reference, there is a bird feeder on a 6-foot pole next to the largest tree in the right-hand photo.  The water is over 4-feet deep in this part of the yard!  There used to be a park bench sitting among the shade of the trees near the bird feeder, but that got carried away by the flood waters!

Flooding Tips  

From the Federal Emergency Management Agency

* Before entering a building, check for structural damage. Upon entering the building, do not use matches, cigarette lighters or any other open flames, because gas may be trapped inside.

* Turn off the electricity at the main breaker or fuse box, even if the power is off in your community. That way you can decide when your home is dry enough to turn it back on.

*Record damage to support insurance claims and requests for assistance.

* If you hire cleanup or repair contractors, be sure they are qualified.

* Pay attention to barricades blocking roads that may be closed.

* Keep listening to the radio for news about what to do, where to go or places to avoid.

* Avoid walking or driving through standing water, even if it is in a familiar area.

* If your car stalls in rising water, get out immediately and climb to higher ground.






Ice Storm, April 2003

Over the last century, there have been two devastating ice storms in the area, and they both occurred nearly within a decade!  An ice storm happens in the Spring when heavy rains follow a cold spell and quickly move into an area that is still at or below freezing near the surface.  As raindrops fall on trees, homes, and power lines, they freeze on contact.  If the temperature near the surface does not warm above freezing, the process will continue until trees, lines, and roofs can no longer support the weight of the heavy, solid ice accumulation.  The area was under a State of Emergency for two weeks as residents fought the cold weather without heat or electricity.  The damage from an ice storm can be so severe and widespread that once the ice melts, it looks as if a war had taken place or a hurricane had passed through.  The first picture below was actually taken from inside the house looking out of the window.  Our house was totally encased in nearly to an inch of solid ice.  The white covering the ground is NOT is all solid ice!









This area of the country experiences it's own unique microclimate due to it's location on the shore of one the continent's Great Lakes.  One of the area's "Lake Effect" influences on climate includes a seasonal lag.  Seasons begin and end later in the year than they do for our neighbors just a few miles farther away from the lake shore due the thermodynamics of such an enormous body of water.  The lake warms and cools more slowly than the air around it, modifying the immediate on-shore climate.  Drastic changes in temperature and humidity can move through the area on a clear and sunny Spring or Summer day, bringing clouds, fog, rain, and a fifteen or twenty degree temperature drop.  On a Fall or Winter day, when the prevailing air mass is cold and dry, the microclimate modifications can mean that the near-shore land areas will be protected from early frosts and freezes.  A subsequent result of the "Lake Effect" climate is that the growing season is shifted later into the year by several weeks, meaning that flowers will bloom "behind schedule" and the autumn harvest can take place later than in surrounding communities.  Perhaps the most noticeable "Lake Effect" influence takes place in Winter when very cold air passes over the still warm waters of the big lake.  When the temperature difference is great enough (sometimes this only takes about a ten degree difference), "steam" rises off the lake and forms heavy, low cloud plumes which are pushed on-shore by the prevailing wind at low levels.  The clouds plumes can dump very heavy amounts of snow in the lake shore areas, while just a few miles away the sun is shining brightly in a clear and cloudless sky!


Lake Effect Snowstorm, January 2004


Note: The dark, broken line across the middle of the picture below, to the left is a 5-foot high wooden fence.  Drift were several feet higher than that.  A few miles down the road, there were patches of grass showing through the light "dusting" of snow that fell there, while we were snowed in and house-bound for days!






A rainbow is an optical phenomenon created by sunlight entering tiny water droplets and reflecting back out toward the observer.  Whenever light passes through a different substance, it's velocity is affected by the density of the substance.  When light passes through a raindrop it is refracted (bent) because the density of water is heavier than air and this difference actually causes the speed that the light is traveling to slow down slightly.  Since visible light is really a range of frequencies represented by visible colors, each color is affected differently while passing through the raindrop.  The bending of the light through water is just the enough to cause the white light to be separated into it's narrower multi-color components.  Because the wavelength (and inversely the velocity) of each component color of white light is increasingly different from red to blue, each color gets "bent" at a slightly wider angle than the previous color and bent again after being reflected off the back of the raindrop, thereby actually separating the colors enough to be perceived by the human eye.  Red light, having the longest wavelength of all the colors and traveling the slowest, gets bent the least inside the water droplet.  The light that bounces off the back of the raindrop, back toward the sun (and to your eye if you happen to be between the raindrop and the sun), is a reflection of this refracted light off the far side of the raindrop and creates the Rainbow.  Red is always on the outside because it is bent the least while inside the raindrop.  This phenomenon can be created artificially with a lawn sprinkler on a sunny day.



A small portion of the light gets reflected off the front of the raindrop (instead of passing through on it's way to your eye) and returns to the back of the raindrop getting bent even farther along the way.  Some of the light that has been refracted a second time filters out of the front of the raindrop and back toward the sun (and the observer).  This creates a second (although weaker) rainbow outside of the first and is called a "Secondary Rainbow".  Because the secondary rainbow is a reflection of the primary, the order of colors are reversed!  A very small portion of the light continues this refracting and reflecting process and creates a third, or "Tertiary Rainbow" that is much fainter and less perceptible to the human eye and even farther away from the primary rainbow because it is again reflected from a different part of the inside of the raindrop.  Raindrops are round (contrary to the popular belief that they are 'raindrop' shaped), so rainbows are too!


A rainbow, May 2004








Hurricane Francis, September, 2004

Hurricane FRANCES

On it's way to Rochester!


Issue Time: 3:15AM EDT, Thursday Sep 9, 2004
Valid Until: 9:00AM EDT, Thursday Sep 9, 2004


Bulletin - Eas Activation Requested Flood Warning National Weather Service Buffalo NY 306 AM EDT Thu Sep 9 2004

... The National Weather Service Has Issued A Flood Warning For Erie...
Genesee ... Livingston ... Monroe ... Niagara ... Ontario ... Orleans ... Wayne And Wyoming Counties In New York . This Includes The Cities Of Batavia ... Buffalo ... Canandaigua... Geneseo... Medina ... Newark ... Rochester And Warsaw .

The Warning Is In Effect Until 900 AM EDT Thursday Morning...

At 300 AM EDT... National Weather Service Doppler Radar Showed A Large Area Of Moderate To Heavy Rain Moving North Across The
Niagara Frontier And Genesee Valley . Radar Precipitation Estimates Show That A General 1 To 3 Inches Of Rain Has Fallen Across The Area With Another 1 To 2 Inches Expected Before The Rain Tapers Off Later This Morning. Rainfall Of This Magnitude Will Cause Flooding Along Area Roads And Other Low Lying Areas.

A Flood Warning Means That Flooding Is Imminent Or Has Been Reported. If You Are In A Flood Prone Area You Should Protect Your Property Immediately.

Be Very Careful During Your Morning Commute To Work Or School. Remember To Never Drive Your Vehicle Into Areas Where The Water Covers The Roadway. The Water Depth May Be Too Great To Allow Your Car To Cross Safely. Vehicles Caught In Rising Water Should Be Abandoned Quickly. Move To Higher Ground.


Webster , NY Observations:


Wednesday, September 8th : Francis approaching the Ohio Valley bringing bands of heavy, dark clouds.  Light rain from the storm began late afternoon and conditions were very breezy.  Leaving work at 9:00pm , moderate rain was already falling and a stiff breeze made holding an umbrella noticeably challenging.  Flood watches have been up for the area since morning.  Weather is the top story on radio news reports, warning locals to be prepared for the potential of 2-5 inches of rain with flooding.


Thursday, Sepember 9th: 3:00AM – Bands of heaviest rains move into the area with sustained NE winds of 30mph and gusts to 40mph rattling windows and waking me up from a sound sleep.  Pressure is 29.75 inches and falling.  Looking outside, visibility is reduced in blowing rain and trees are receiving a constant battering from the steady wind.  The flood watch has been upgraded to a WARNING for Monroe county as nearly an inch of rain has quickly fallen in the past hour, and a total of nearly three inches has fallen since the rain started.  Radar indicates that the heaviest rain and wind remain on the north-east side of the storm that is now moving into Western Pennsylvania and New York States , and heavy rain is expected to last throughout the morning.  To the South and West of the center of circulation, the storm has all but broken apart – the culmination of a process which began as the hurricane stalled in the Atlantic Gulf Stream just before making landfall in Florida last weekend as high pressure began feeding dry air into the strong storm from the West.



5:00AM – Pressure has fallen to 29.68 inches.  The center of circulation appears to be just to our south and should pass overhead in the next couple of hours.  Rain and wind continue.  Although the heaviest rain band has moved north over Lake Ontario , winds remain impressive with a 42mph gust recorded in the last hour.


5:30AM – Sustained winds have settled back a bit – now in the 15-25mph range with occasional gusts over 30mph.  What was once the eye of Hurricane Frances , the center of circulation, is approaching.  The storm is picking up speed as it moves through Western New York , toward the St. Lawrence Valley.


6:30AM – Pressure continues to fall – now down to 29.63 inches.  Rainfall totals are approaching four inches, especially on the West side of the city.  Many roads are closed and under water.  Several school districts have closed and RG&E reports power outages with nearly 5,000 residents without electricity this morning.  As dawn breaks, damage from Francis becomes apparent.  There is standing water everywhere.  There are reports of a woman in the city who attempted to drive her car through a flooded road and needed to be rescued as her automobile sank under four feet of water!


8:00AM – Pressure now 29.59 and still falling.  Rain is steady and lighter, but winds have diminished to under 15mph and are no longer gusting.  I believe that the center of circulation is now sitting directly over Rochester , NY on the West side of Monroe County .  Emergency crews have been responding to flooding conditions all morning.  Some basements have up to a foot of water.  Multiple reports of cars under water have kept rescue crews busy on the roads.  I am about to head outdoors now with my camera…


8:20AM – Winds are CALM.  Pressure is starting to rise again.  Looks like center of circulation is drifting to North and West of city.  Wind should change direction and pick up again shortly.


Check out these links to video News Coverage of the flooding from WOKR-Ch13 in Rochester, NY:







Hurricane Katrina, August, 2005

Hurricane KATRINA

On it's way to Rochester!


Tuesday Night/ Wednesday Morning (Aug 30-31, 2005)

Local farmers spent the day Tuesday digging ditches to drain the potential flood waters away from their crops.  Light rain becomes steady and increases in intensity by 8pm.  By midnight, the first of the heavy squall bands move through the area.  The wind suddenly bursts through the trees and rain pounds the windows.  The wind whistles through the tree branches, ripping off leaves and twigs.  The second band moves in an hour after that with even stronger winds and heavier rain.  Rain is falling at the rate of 2 to 3 inches per hour.  The wind is steady at 30mph with gusts recorded at the airport of 44mph and unofficially over 60mph at local stations around the region.  A flood watch is in effect until 4pm later in the day, when the rain is expected to stop.  It was a sleepless night as Hurricane Katrina spun through the area.  Fortunately, the storm picked up speed as it moved up the Ohio Valley and into the St. Lawrence Valley.  This made for rainfall totals of less than the potentially devastating amounts that could have fallen otherwise.  Still, Rochester, NY set an all-time record for the most rainfall ever to fall in a 24-hour period.  Widespread minor flooding and wind damage was left behind by Wednesday morning.  Crops were beaten by the wind-driven rain and some would have been washed away and destroyed had it not been for drought conditions this summer that left the land parched and thirsty for the rain that fell.  For this reason, runoff and flooding caused far less damage than they could have if the summer had not been so dry.


After-Effects of Hurricane Katrina

As the storm pulled away into Canada, it left behind devastation in the Gulf states with thousands homeless or killed.  Gas prices reached record highs around the country as fears of supply shortages began to materialize.  Some local gas stations even ran out of gas and had to close.



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Don Vallone



KD2REU Lakeshore Weather Network



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