Tropical Storm Cindy Could Cause Major Flooding Across the Southeast This Week

A water vapor image of Tropical Storm Cindy on June 20, 2017. Darker green indicates higher moisture in the atmosphere.
A water vapor image of Tropical Storm Cindy on June 20, 2017. Darker green indicates higher moisture in the atmosphere.

The stewing heat and humidity of a young summer finally gave way to the first tropical cyclone to threaten the United States this year. Tropical Storm Cindy is gathering steam in the Gulf of Mexico this week, and it promises to bring heavy rains to just about everyone in the southeastern United States. It won’t be a strong storm when it makes landfall, but wind isn’t as much of a concern as the copious amounts of tropical moisture being dragged northward, culminating in lots of precipitation and the potential for flooding.

As of Wednesday, June 21, 2017, tropical storm warnings are in effect for parts of the Gulf Coast from areas west of Houston, Texas, to as far east as Pensacola, Florida. Tropical Storm Cindy had winds up to 60 mph at 8:00 a.m. EDT Wednesday morning, and forecasters expect the storm to maintain winds of around 50 mph as it nears landfall. Winds of 45 mph are what you'd see in a healthy thunderstorm, but constant blustery winds over wet soil will make it easier for trees and power lines to topple over.

The traditional hurricane forecasting map—showing the forecast track of the center of the storm with a cone of uncertainty sweeping along its expected path—doesn't do much good in this situation. Sure, some areas will see gusty winds and power outages, but the real story with Tropical Storm Cindy is its rain. Cindy is a lopsided tropical storm with almost all of its heavy rain and wind shoved off to the east of the low-pressure center by wind shear higher up in the atmosphere. That's common to see in a weak, early season storm like this. Cindy's heavy rain will extend far beyond the center of the storm due to its lopsidedness and large size, so the forecast tracks we're all used to seeing don't go far enough to cover the threat posed by this storm. (If you'd like to see for yourself, forecasts are always available on the National Hurricane Center's website.)

Rain forecasts for Tropical Storm Cindy
The Weather Prediction Center’s rainfall forecast from June 20, 2017, through June 27, 2017
Dennis Mersereau

Tropical Storm Cindy will produce rainfall totals in the double digits in some locations through the end of the week, and the moisture from its remnants will continue to track inland through the weekend. The Tuesday morning precipitation forecast from NOAA’s Weather Prediction Center called for a widespread area across the Southeast to see more than three inches of rain by the time the storm finally clears out of the picture at the end of the week. Moisture from a landfalling tropical system is usually bad enough, but this storm will run into a pesky stationary front draped across inland areas of the Southeast. This front will help wring out the moisture and make it rain harder and longer than it would have otherwise.

This much rain over a short period of time will lead to widespread flooding concerns. If you live in or are visiting affected areas, make sure you know more than one route to get to where you're going. More than half of all deaths in a tropical storm or hurricane are caused by drowning. It's impossible to tell how deep the water is on a road before you drive across it, and it takes a surprisingly small amount of moving water to lift a car and sweep it downstream.

What is a Polar Vortex?

Edward Stojakovic, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Edward Stojakovic, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

If you’ve turned on the news or stepped outside lately, you're familiar with the record-breaking cold that is blanketing a lot of North America. According to The Washington Post, a mass of bone-chilling air over Canada—a polar vortex—split into three parts at the beginning of 2019, and one is making its way to the eastern U.S. Polar vortexes can push frigid air straight from the arctic tundra into more temperate regions. But just what is this weather phenomenon?

How does a polar vortex form?

Polar vortexes are basically arctic hurricanes or cyclones. NASA defines them as “a whirling and persistent large area of low pressure, found typically over both North and South poles.” A winter phenomenon, vortexes develop as the sun sets over the pole and temperatures cool, and occur in the middle and upper troposphere and the stratosphere (roughly, between six and 31 miles above the Earth’s surface).

Where will a polar vortex hit?

In the Northern Hemisphere, the vortexes move in a counterclockwise direction. Typically, they dip down over Canada, but according to NBC News, polar vortexes can move into the contiguous U.S. due to warm weather over Greenland or Alaska—which forces denser cold air south—or other weather patterns.

Polar vortexes aren't rare—in fact, arctic winds do sometimes dip down into the eastern U.S.—but sometimes the sheer size of the area affected is much greater than normal.

How cold is a polar vortex?

So cold that frozen sharks have been known to wash up on Cape Cod beaches. So cold that animal keepers at the Calgary Zoo in Alberta, Canada once decided to bring its group of king penguins indoors for warmth (the species lives on islands north of Antarctica and the birds aren't used to extreme cold.) Even parts of Alabama and other regions in the Deep South have seen single-digit temperatures and wind chills below zero.

But thankfully, this type of arctic freeze doesn't stick around forever: Temperatures will gradually warm up.

A Simple Trick for Defrosting Your Windshield in Less Than 60 Seconds

iStock
iStock

As beautiful as a winter snowfall can be, the white stuff is certainly not without its irritations—especially if you have to get into your car and go somewhere. As if shoveling a path to the driver’s door wasn’t enough, then you’ve got a frozen windshield with which to contend. Everyone has his or her own tricks for warming up a car in record time—including appropriately-named meteorologist Ken Weathers, who works at WATE in Knoxville, Tennessee.

A while back, Weathers shared a homemade trick for defrosting your windshield in less than 60 seconds: spray the glass with a simple solution of one part water and two parts rubbing alcohol. “The reason why this works,” according to Weathers, “is [that] rubbing alcohol has a freezing point of 128 degrees below freezing.”

Watch the spray in action below.

[h/t: Travel + Leisure]

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