Thursday, December 31, 2009

Welcome to 2010! (where's my flying car?)

Icy Uncertainty. The cool 8-14" of snow last week provided a fresh shellacking of white just in time for Christmas, delighting snow lovers and kids of all ages - truly. But the snow accumulated on area lakes, complicating the ongoing freeze. You see, snow is an insulator, think of it as a down comforter, a featherbed of sorts. That's why Eskimo can insulate their homes (with snow/ice) and keep the temperature fairly comfortable indoors. Last week's snow has slowed the freeze on area lakes - it may still be very premature to attempt to drive a vehicle on your favorite lake. Check with local authorities (see if there is at least 8-12" of sturdy ice, enough to support a car or truck). I'm concerned about the QUALITY of the ice - with the layer of snow there is a potential for real problems, uneven freezing, etc. Be careful out there - err on the side of safety. The ice is generally safe enough for walking/snowmobiles and cross-country skiing, but I wouldn't dream of taking a large vehicle out until/unless I got confirmation that there's 10-12" of GOOD ice. For more information (including trail conditions) from the MN DNR click here.

It was a thoroughly forgettable year, at least weatherwise. An epic flood along the Red River, an historic ice storm for Lake Superior's North Shore. The drought hung on, resulting in fewer tornadoes (although a couple of minor twisters surprised residents of South Minneapolis and the Lake Minnetonka area!) September was glorious - October was hideous, November was unusually sunny and mild. And then came our December Dumping, the whitest Christmas in decades for most of Minnesota, proving once and for all that our winters haven't been totally, completely, irreversibly neutered. We have NOT become Kansas City (with lakes).

The Minnesota State Climatology Office has a terrific summary of 2009 (click here for the details). It's a worthy read. Winter came up short early in the year (10-15" less snow than usual). Summer wasn't nearly as hot and humid as everyone expected - no stifling string of 90s and drippy 70-something dewpoints. Many in our midst felt cheated, no breath-TAKING heat to whine about, no nagging neighbors ranting about the humidity. What the....? A majority of Minnesotans in our highly unscientific poll were just fine with the muted, understated, drama-free Summer of '09, even if it felt a little more like Winnipeg than St. Cloud.

It has been a remarkable decade of extreme weather, temperatures trending warmer, especially during the winter months, fewer arctic outbreaks in general with fewer hours of subzero weather. Summer humidity levels seemed to be on the increase, more days with dreaded dew points in the 70s and even the 80s! In 2000 the strongest tornado of the decade touched down in Granite Falls, an F-4 swept out of a sickly-yellow sky on July 25, 2000. In all only 4 Minnesotans lost their lives in tornadoes from 2000-2009, compared to 8 tornado-fatalities during the 1990s. For the other 4 Top Minnesota Weather Stories of the Decade click here.

Cool & Clear for the Gophers.

First: an update for Gophers fans: today's Insight Bowl in Tempe, Arizona (starts at 5 pm central time as far as I can tell on the NFL Network). Our Gophers take on the Cyclones of Iowa State, and the weather in this Phoenix suburb promises to be on the cool side, at least for Phoenix, with temperatures starting out near 60, then falling through the 50s under a clear sky with fairly light winds. Compared to Minnesota the weather will be positively balmy, but expect to see local Arizona fans huddled under blankets and parkas. Good grief.

Subzero Saturday. Check out the predicted temperatures for 6 am Saturday morning, well below zero from the Dakotas into Wisconsin. Good incentive to roll over and sleep in 'til the crack of noon.

Our big story (and none of us should be overly shocked or indignant) - it's going to get colder. What a shocker! Is that really breaking news? January is (historically) the coldest month of the year for Minnesota. The next 3 weeks are usually the chilliest of the entire year, so I'm not really surprised that we're about to endure/enjoy 4-5 subzero nights in a row - this will probably be on the 2 or 3 coldest outbreaks of the entire winter. Last week we wrestled with a major snowstorm - no such luck this week. The core of the jet stream, the main superhighway for storms, has been pushed too far south of Minnesota for us to see any significant moisture at this latitude. That will be the story through most of next week: cold, but basically dry. Good news for travelers trying to get home after the holidays. No ugly outbreaks of snow/ice within 400 miles of home through January 10 or so.

An Inevitable Temperature Tumble. The models are in remarkable agreement that the mercury will drop off - reaching subzero levels late tonight across much of Minnesota, staying below zero every night through Monday or Tuesday of next week.

The mercury bottoms out this weekend (failing to rise above zero Saturday and Sunday over the northern half or third of Minnesota) and then recovers - a little - reaching the teens for highs next week. Long-range (GFS) guidance continues to hint at 20s, even a few 30s the second week of January. Yes, we may sample the fabled January Thaw by Jan. 13-15 with highs nipping 32 - serenaded by the sound of dripping icicles. Can spring be far behind?

Are you kidding me? The short answer is - yes.

Sunspots on the increase. NASA reports an increase in sunspots, which may have some impact on our weather in the weeks and months to come. There's an interesting (but not definitive) correlation between a total lack of sunspots and unusually chilly weather across portions of the Northern Hemisphere). No spots = more arctic air. When sunspots return the weather (often, but not always) tends to thaw out a bit. This could be a factor, one of many, including a moderate El Nino warming of equatorial Pacific ocean water - that may hint at a return of milder, more moderate weather from late January into March. We'll see.

Paul's Outlook for the Twin Cities

New Year's Day: Brittle sun - still bitter. High: 4 (mercury stays below zero all day north of Ft. Ripley).

Friday night: coldest night yet, mostly clear and bitter. Low: -14

Saturday: Blue sky - still can't feel my extremities. High: 2

Sunday: Dim sun, high clouds, still much colder than average. Low: -15. High: 5

Monday: Mix of clouds and sun, the cold is getting old. Low: -11 High: 9

Tuesday: Patchy clouds, still storm-free. High: 11

Wednesday: Partly sunny, a little more tolerable. High: 15

Thursday: Light snow, light accumulation possible. High: 19

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