Children and Cars: A Deadly Warm Weather Combination

As the temperatures begin to go up, sadly so do the number of children who die after being left inside hot vehicles.  Already this Spring there has been the first such death nationwide.  And it does not have to be a blazing hot day in a southern state for these tragedies to take place as evidenced by the fact of deaths in places like Seattle and Milwaukee on mild days. 

We have all heard about an isolated incident of a child dying in a hot car.  However when put into a nationwide context they constitute an epidemic; claiming on average 38 young lives every year in the United States.  Since 1998 over 606 infants and children have died horrible deaths due to hyperthermia inside hot vehicles.  But you can help save some of these precious lives!

Sadly, these incidents often intersect with the early childhood education and childcare communities.  Over half (52%) of juvenile vehicular hyperthermia fatalities occur when a caregiver is somehow distracted and accidentally leaves a child in a vehicle.  And in nearly half of these cases, the child was supposed to be dropped off at either childcare or preschool.  These cases happen to parents, grandparents, siblings and childcare providers.  It is often a matter of a change of routine, where one person normally is responsible for a child and on a given day another person forgets they have the responsibility that day.

The other categories of circumstances that lead to hyperthermia deaths of children in vehicles are children playing in vehicles and children intentionally left in vehicles.  In the former, which account for about 29% of the cases, children gain access to a vehicle and are subsequently overcome by the heat.  And sadly in the latter instance that makes up about one-in-five of the deaths (19%), children are intentionally left in vehicles by a caregiver who has to run an errand, get their hair done, go to bar or the casino, etcetera.

What is heatstroke (aka hyperthermia)?  In the simplest terms it describes heat-related illnesses when a body’s temperature exceeds its normal range.  If a body is subjected to extreme temperatures it can overwhelm the body’s ability to cool itself.  This is especially true for infants and children whose body’s heat at a rate of three to five times faster than adult.  If a person’s body temperature reaches 104 degrees (the clinical definition for heat stroke) their cooling system is overwhelmed to the point it begins to shut down.  A person with heat stroke may experience symptoms that include confusion, faintness, strong and rapid pulse, and possible delirium, hot dry skin or even unconsciousness.  Continued exposure to very high temperatures can produce brain damage, and at 107 degrees cells with the body start to die and organs begin to shut down, quickly leading to death.

In the summer of 2002 a controlled study was conducted to quantify how hot vehicles get and how rapidly they can reach dangerous temperatures.  This research was published in Pediatrics and is maintained on line at .   The conclusions of the research were startling in how extreme the conditions inside a car can reach.  Within the first 10 minutes a vehicle will warm to almost 20 degrees above the outside air temperature; after 30 minutes it is 34 degrees warmers and after an hour it plateaus at as much as 45 to 50 degrees higher than the air outside.  Consequently, even on a mild 70 degree day temperatures can reach readings that can be fatal to an infant or small child.  The research also found that “cracking” the windows had a negligible effect on the temperature.

It has become the “go to” article on the topic and is used worldwide and hopefully this research will raise the level of interest and awareness about this sad topic and ultimately to save some innocent lives.  The bottom line is that each and every one of these deaths is 100% preventable.  Infants and children are the most precious cargo that is ever transported in a vehicle and we should always be cognizant of the potential dangers to a child left alone in a car.

Jan Null, CCM
San Francisco State University


Safety Recommendations
• Be sure that all occupants leave the vehicle when unloading. Don't overlook sleeping babies.
• Always lock your car and ensure children do not have access to keys or remote entry devices.  If a child is missing, check the pool first and then the car, including the trunk. Teach your children that vehicles are never to be used as a play area.
• Keep a stuffed animal in the carseat and when the child is put in the seat place the animal in the front with the driver.
• Or place your purse or briefcase in the back seat as a reminder that you have your child in the car.
• Make "look before you leave" a routine whenever you get out of the car.



Updated Weather Resource Pages

I have updated a number of weather information resource pages:

2014 Thunderstorm and Tornado page:

2014 Hurricane Links:

2014 Fire Weather Links:


El Nino/La Nina Resources:


All of these (and much more) can also be found at or


Please let me know of any additions, corrections etc. Enjoy.


El Nino Chances Increase

The updated CPC ENSO Discussion is now available:
and it has raised the likelihood of El Nino occurring in Fall 2014 exceeding 50%.

Of particular note is the dramatic increase in sub-surface temperatures shifting east and moving toward the surface:

These changes are reflected in the "plume" of Nino 3.4 forecasts: and

BUT keep in mind that the there are no guarantees of more rainfall in California during an El Nino event and that climatology is NOT a forecast. See:

For more El Nino links see:

Jan Null, CCM
Golden Gate Weather Services



March 2014 California Climate Summary

Despite outward appearances, it was NOT a Miracle March.  In reality only Eureka and Redding had above normal rainfall with 110% and 119% respectively. Most of central and southern California were less than 50% of normal. See

This means that there will be no mitigation of drought conditions statewide and given the "summer drought" which characterizes our Mediterranean climate things will not change for the better until at least next winter. See


I have been using Twitter more frequently to post brief updates to weather and climate info that do not merit an email "blast". My Twitter handle is: @ggweather

Also, I am posting these email into a blog that can be found at


Jan Null, CCM


Hurricane Force Gusts - NOT!

It seems that anytime there is a wind gust over about 60 mph the airwaves, Twitter and other sources, including NWS statements, are rife with the expression “hurricane force” gusts.  While this might be good for conveying that it’s windy and might be dangerous, it’s both bad meteorology and bad physics!  (And calling it a hurricane force gust doesn’t make it right either)

Let’s start with some basics.  The threshold for hurricane winds is when the 1-minute sustained winds equal or exceed 74 miles per hour.  Please note the word “sustained”!  According to the NOAA Hurricane Research Division, peak 3 to 5-second gusts are approximately 30% higher than their associated sustained winds.  This means that a 74 mph sustained wind of a minimal hurricane has gusts in the range of 96 mph.  Quite a difference.

But that’s just the wind speed.  What about the amount of force from the wind onto a surface that is perpendicular to the wind?  From high school physics we remember that the force associated with a given speed is proportional to the square of the wind speed. (For the overacheivers out there, the formula to calculate this force is:  F = .00256 x V^2, where F is the force in pounds per square foot (psf), and V is the wind velocity in mph)   Consequently, the amount of force with a 74 mph gust is 14.0 psf, while the force from a 96 mph gust is 23.6 psf; or 69% higher. 

The bottom line is that a gust to 74 mph is NOT even close to hurricane force!

Update - 1/25/2015 -  The National Weather Service Ocean Prediction Center (OPC) and coastal WFOs issue a maritime Hurricane Force Wind Warning product that is defined by NWS Directive 10-303 as sustained or frequent gusts ≥ 74 mph; BUT it is not saying that the gusts themselves are hurricane force.


Historic El Nino Analyses

With a "possible" El Niño event forecast for next winter it is important to examine the very broad range of past events that make up an "average" El Niño.

Since 1950 there have been a total of 22 El Niños, eight which have been weak, nine in the moderate range and five which have been  categorized as strong. [see Oceanic Niño Index (ONI)].  Even within each of these categories there are huge variations.  See El Niño and La Niña Winter Historic Precipitation & Temperatures, a catalog of events.  

For example, 1977-78 and 1978-79 were weak El Niño events but the winter precipitation patterns and amounts were dramatically different.  The first year, 1976-77, was a drought season in the West (

) while the next year, 1977-78, saw above normal rain in California and much of the West ( ).

The bottom line is that first, any climatology is simply an average over a broad range of previous events.  And second, a climatological analysis is NOT a forecasting tool. 

This and other El Niño data and analyses can be found on the El Niño/La Niña Resource Page.


Myths and Realities of El Nino

Let the hype begin.  CPC has issued an El Nino Watch for the 50% possibility of a weak El Niño next fall from the IRI/CPC forecast ensemble.   A similar Watch was issued in 2012 but El Niño never materialized.

Already there are headlines about El Niño being the answer to California's drought which only perpetuates the myth that El Niño definitely means lot of rain for California.  To put aside this and some of the more prevalent misconceptions see The Myths and Realities of El Niño

Also see:
El Niño and La Niña Winter Historic Precipitation &Temperatures

Comprehensive Climatology of ENSO Events and California Precipitation

The bottom line is that climatology should NOT be used as a forecast tool.  An "average" El Nino is made up of a very broad range of past events!



The Busted Winter Forecasts in Review

If I were grading this past winter's CPC precipitation and temperature forecasts they would not receive a passing mark.   Except for Arizona, New Mexico and the northern Rockies, the forecast bore little resemblance to what was ultimately observed and in some locations was 180 degrees out of phase!

A graphical comparison of both the Winter 2013-14 (i.e., December-February) seasonal and monthly forecasts and actual conditions can be found at

Comments welcome.



February 2014 California Weather Summary

Despite several recent significant rainstorms, most of Northern and Central California ended up with February rainfall totals only near normal.  The exceptions were wetter than normal across the northern tier of counties and near the Tahoe Basin. In Southern California it was mostly below normal.   See

Likewise temperatures were near normal with the exception of the southern half of the Central Valley where Sacramento and Fresno average maxima were 3.2 and 5.1 degrees above normal respectively.   See

Jan Null, CCM


Not the Driest on Record - San Francisco

The overnight rainfall (through 7 am Friday, Feb 28)  has pushed San Francisco's seasonal rainfall to 7.57".  While still a paltry amount, this means that the 2013-2014 rainfall season (July 1-Jun 30) will NOT be the driest in the 165 years since rainfall records began in SF in 1849.  And given the expected rainfall through the rest of the day, this season may jump into 3rd place.   The Ten Driest Seasons were:
1850    7.42"
1975    7.95"
1897    9.38"
1863   10.08"
1958   10.46"
1919   10.46"
1876   11.04"
1976   11.06"
1971   11.06"
1917   11.47"

And it should be noted that the normal San Francisco rainfall for the remaining four months (Mar-Jun) is still another 5.60".