Friday, January 8, 2010

A light at the end of the tunnel

Yes, the cold is getting old, I'm told, but I'm going to be bold and uphold a January tradition: a desperately needed thaw! Are you sold? Sorry - the numbing, penetrating, debilitating, hair-freezing cold is going straight to my brain. That's it, I have cranial frostbite. Not fatal, but my reflexes, my reaction time, my ability to name that tune (and pretend I'm smarter than a 5th grader) have all been seriously impacted by 2 straight weeks of subzero nighttime lows. The cold front made me do it, your honor! I think our great-great-great grandparents had the right idea. After the harvest they hunkered down, virtually hibernating through the coldest months of winter - slept much of the time, laid low, expending a minimal amount of energy, consuming minimal calories, waiting for the first glorious trickles of spring. How on earth they got through all this without central heat, Thinsulate and Netflix is beyond my comprehension. But they made it work. So when I'm tempted to whine about the windchill I step back and remember - what it must have been like inside countless little houses on the prairie, the only source of audio coming from the moan of the wind, the horses in the barn, the kids running around the fireplace. On one level it must have been much simpler, far fewer distractions, easier to focus on the things that really matter.

End of lame epiphany.

Breaking weather news! The rumors are true. You will regain some feeling in your extremities next week with a run of 20s, even some low to mid 30s. The 8-12" of snow of snow on the ground will act like a brake, limiting just how high the mercury can climb (the sun's energy going into melting snow vs. warming up the air). Even so, 32 will feel like sweet 'mana from heaven. To explore the sweet delights of the NOAA's Climate Prediction Center for yourself click here.

Keeping a global perspective. Earthweek is a great source for weather/climate/geology events unfolding across the entire planet. For the very latest update click here.

Cue the Hallelujah Chorus. That's the only word that came to mind when I got a look at the long-range temperature trend. The models are all in fairly good agreement that we'll see the first thaw since December 25, 2009. Prepare for rivers of slush and runny rivulets of gritty goo. That's good news, right? You can track these wondrous trends for yourself by clicking on over to here.

The end is near. THE END IS NEAR! The end of the nasty, burn-your-nosehairs-off Yukon SPANKING we just enjoyed. Yes, it was unpleasant, one of the coldest outbreaks in a decade. But we didn't come close to setting any records, for coldest temperature, most hours in a row below freezing or most hours below zero. Not even close. Truth be told we've become pretty spoiled in recent years - the majority of the winters since 1995 have been significantly milder than average, especially at night. So when an old fashioned Siberian Slap does come along it feels especially harsh (and unfair). Personally I think it's atmospheric payback for an unusually mild, quiet, storm-free November. Our weather patterns do seem increasingly bizarre - we just veer from one extreme to the next. Drought to flood, unusually warm to unnecessarily cold. What happened to average? Minnesota weather has always been variable, we've always had our ups and downs - no question - but it seems like the AMPLITUDE of those extremes have increased over time. We see a 1 in 500 year flood on the Red River every 5 years. Damaging droughts crop up every 3-5 years, instead of 20. More hail, more flash flooding, more headlines. Is the weather really becoming more extreme, or are more (weather-savvy) people out looking for (and reporting) crazy weather? An intriguing question. I'll save that for another (warmer) day.

Yes, chances are Friday was "cold enough for 'ya."

:            STATION           MAX     MIN       SNOW  SNOW
STC : ST CLOUD MN ARPT : 6 / -5 / 0.0 / 10
MSP : MINNEAPOLIS MN ARPT : 8 / -1 / 0.0 / 11
RWF : REDWOOD FALLS MN ARPT : -5 / -11 / M / M
DLH : DULUTH AIRPORT : 10 / -7 / 0.0 / 20
INL : INTERNATIONAL FALLS : -2 / -21 / 0.0 / 17
HIB : HIBBING ARPT : 10 / -7 / M / M
GNA : GRAND MARAIS MN : 16 / 2 / M / M
RST : ROCHESTER MN ARPT : 4 / -2 / 0.3 / 19
We're waking up to one of the 3-4 coldest mornings of the entire winter, -20s common, I'm sure we'll see some -30s across far southwestern Minnesota, where there's fresh snow on the ground, and winds were light overnight (near the center of an arctic high). The sun will be out most of today, highs struggling into single digits. Winds blow from the west to southwest Sunday, luring the mercury all the way up to nearly 20. Woo hoo! But wait, it gets better. One more clipper squeezes out a couple inches of powder on the Minnesota Arrowhead late Sunday, followed by another shot of cold air (although not as nippy as what we just muddled through). The real warmth streams across the Rockies by the middle of next week, coaxing the mercury up to freezing (FREEZING!) by Wednesday and Thursday. Yes, you will soon be serenaded by the glorious sounds of dripping drain-spouts. Prepare to stock up on "blue juice" for your windshield - next week is going to be a sloppy, slurpy, slushy mess - but the good news: the worst of the ice will slowly start to melt away by the end of next week. Road conditions (and the ability to navigate your steps or sidewalk) should improve dramatically by the latter half of next week. MnDOT's salt/sand mixture works best when the mercury is close to 32, so we'll see some real improvement, driving, walking, less slipping and sliding within 5-7 days. That's something to look forward to, right?

Hope for Minnesotans who don't like the cold. NOAA is holding firm, predicting significantly warmer than average weather for the rest of January, February and March, based (largely) on the moderate El Nino warming of Pacific Ocean water now underway. Time will tell.

I am a naive optimist (or why else would I even attempt to predict Minnesota's manic weather?) but I genuinely believe that the coldest stretch of winter is almost behind us, the longest stretch of consecutive subzero lows and numbing daytime highs. The pattern isn't ripe for significant snow anytime soon in Minnesota, in fact the El Nino signal may FINALLY be showing up on the weather maps. By next week major storms will be approaching the west coast, another significant snow/ice/rain storm spreading heavy precipitation up the east coast the weekend of January 16-17. Long-range models keep Minnesota significantly warmer than average for the next 2 weeks, colder/wetter weather for the far south. That's classic El Nino weather - let's see how long it hangs on.

Major east coast snow/ice storm? This is the GFS weather model prediction for next Saturday, January 16 at 6 pm, showing a massive shield of snow/ice/rain spreading from the Gulf coast into the Mid Atlantic states. Once again Washington D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia may get pasted by significant snow - although it's way too early to get specific. Keep this in mind if your travels take you to the east coast next weekend. To see a 10-Day animated forecast for the USA click here.

Paul's Outlook for the Twin Cities

Today: Bright sun. Can't feel my toes (or nose). Winds: South 5-10. High: 9

Tonight: Mostly clear, not quite as chilly (where else on the planet would a prediction of 0 be "not as chilly. Good grief). Low: near 0

Sunday: Sun fades behind increasing clouds, flurries late. High: 21

Monday: Patchy clouds, a few passing flurries. High: 23

Tuesday: Feeling better, intervals of sun. High: near 31

Wednesday: Mix of clouds and sun, milder. High: 33

Thursday: More clouds, well above average. High: 32

Friday: Cooler, few flake in the air. High: 26

Saturday: More sun, warming up slightly. High: 29

Sunday: Partly sunny, thawing out again. High: 32

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