Thursday, December 10, 2009

Not as Harsh

The superstorm that just hammered a sizable chunk of the USA was unusually large and powerful. At one point it stretched nearly 1,800 miles wide, and as the center of low pressure passed over downtown Chicago the barometric pressure fell to a staggeringly low 28.91" of mercury, or 976 millibars, if you want to get metric on me. According to my friend and WeatherNation colleague, Todd Nelson, that's the lowest pressure observed in 20 years, lower than the storm that sunk the Edmund Fitzgerald in November, 1975. Satellite observations show the massive quantity of snow that fell (10-20" in a wide swath from Missouri and Iowa across southeastern Minnesota and Wisconsin into the U.P. of Michigan). Yes, Wisconsin saw more snow than Minnesota did, for better or worse (first snow day for the University of Wisconsin in Madison in 20 years!) A freakish weather event, or a sign of what's to come? With El Nino we should see more of a moderate Pacific influence much of the winter, at least on paper. The uncomfortable truth? Every El Nino is different, each with it's own idiosyncrasies and quirks, and the ultimate impact on the airmass floating across North America is still very up in the air.

Aftermath. From low-orbit (about 220 miles above the ground) the NASA "Terra" satellite snapped this dramatic shot of snow on the ground from Wednesday's blizzard.

Thursday was character-building indeed, a hearty high of only 5 - after waking up to a brisk -5. The normal high is 28, btw. Great. Thanks for sharing Paul. Officially: 6" of snow on the ground, 2" in St. Cloud and 13" at Eau Claire, Wisconsin. No significant snow accumulation is brewing anytime soon, the only real window for any snowfall coming Saturday night into Sunday night as a milder airmass approaches. Right now it looks like a nuisance snow: under an inch across much of the state (although the GFS model is hinting at 1-3" for parts of central Minnesota). We'll see, but right now I can't get too excited about major storms - all quiet on the western front until further notice. The good news: you may regain some feeling in your face, fingers and other extremities this weekend as highs poke into the 20s. 20s! Spread the news - it's all good.

A colder front surges into town Monday as kind southwest breezes whip around to the northwest, howling at 20-30 mph, pumping "fresh" Canadian air back into town. A numbing start to the week gives way to a late-week warming trend - more 20s, even a shot at 30 by the end of the week. Christmas weather? The GFS weather model is printing out low 30s for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. That's way out there - the crystal ball gets a little murky beyond 14 days. Make that 14 minutes. This is, after all, Minnesota. Land of 10,000 Weather Extremes. A coating of snow Sunday, no butt-kicking storms brewing anytime soon - you'll be amazed how good 20s will feel in about 36 hours. Only in Minnesota!

Statistical odds of a white Christmas across Minnesota. Based on 109 years of (modern-day) record-keeping there is roughly a 75-80% probability of at least 1" of snow or more in the Twin Cities on December 25. That compares to a 100% probability over the Arrowhead and Bemidji area, but in parts of southwestern Minnesota, near Marshall, only 1 out of 2 Christmas Days, on average, are "white." For more information check out the National Weather Service's excellent overview of Christmas Day weather across the state right here.

The debate continues about the hacking of e-mails from the U.K's climate office, with rumors of cover-ups and "ClimateGate". Although showing poor judgment, defensiveness and more than a whiff of arrogance, the e-mail strings don't undo thousands of climate studies conducted worldwide in recent decades. The body of evidence is still overwhelming, and growing by the year. 2009 will probably go down in the records as the 5th warmest year - globally - since 1850. The decade that ends December 31 will go down in the record books as the warmest ever recorded. So all this blather from chronic deniers about "temperatures leveling off or even falling" just doesn't stand up. As I've said before, for some, there will never be enough evidence. Their minds are made up. If another theory comes along that better explains what we're seeing in the global data I'll change my mind. It hasn't happened yet, but I'm leaving the door open. I HOPE there's another explanation! I'm intrigued with the sunspot cycle, and the notion that a lack of sunspots correlates with colder weather for much of North America. The bottom line: keep an open mind, keep soaking up information (preferably from peer-reviewed scientists).

Here are some thoughts from someone I have immense respect for, Professor Mark Seeley, Dept. of Soil, Water and Climate at the U. of Minnesota. Mark is a thoughtful, logical, soft-spoken man who took a fairly long time to be personally convinced that climate change was and is real. He has (correctly) argued that land-use, how man has changed the planet through deforestation, development, agriculture, etc has, in many cases, accelerated climate change, an important factor to consider in addition to greenhouse gas emissions. Prof. Seeley has a weekly blog that is a must-read for anyone serious about tracking Minnesota's weather and climate. You can see his entire post here. I've taken only a snippet of his comments about "ClimateGate" and the hacked e-mails in the U.K. and displayed them below. I think they're timely, relevant, and, as usual, right on the money.

"The labeling of climate change as a political issue has been in existence for decades. The frequent public debates and discussions, especially in the common media, have brought many scientists to the table as adversaries and in some of the written and verbal exchanges there have been personal affronts, degrading remarks, and outright anger. Such exchanges have existed in the science professions for centuries, though often not in such a public manner. After all, science is about hypothesis testing, challenging the results, and retesting, until the truth is no longer disputable. In this public context, some individuals have found their personal integrity and pride shaken and their emotions rise to the surface (everyone of us has a personal tolerance boundary beyond which are emotions may take over our words and actions). Shaken, and angry certain words and actions that reflect bad judgment may come out. I am not suggesting absolute forgiveness, but I think I understand why this happens. In the context of the "body of evidence" used to conclude that climate change is happening and that the human fingerprint is upon it, "climategate" does not negate the science that has been done. It is too voluminous, diverse, and significant to ignore."

- Mark Seeley, University of Minnesota

Paul's Outlook for the Twin Cities

Today: Intervals of sun, still harsh for mid December. Winds: SW 10-15. High: 12

Tonight: Patchy clouds, not quite as cold as recent nights. Low: 4

Saturday: Nicer day of the weekend. Fading sun, clouds increase, a bit milder. High: 22

Sunday: Period of light snow/flurries, coating to 1" possible. High: 28

Monday: Blustery, turning much colder again with sunshine. High: 16 (falling)

Tuesday: Bitter sun, feels like late January again. High: 7

Wednesday: Clouds increase, not quite as harsh. High: 14

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