Sunday, January 3, 2010

Scenes from a midwinter brain-freeze

The last 48 hours confirms my theory that Minnesota must have been "discovered" during the summer months.

Plowable snowfall possible late Wednesday into Thursday.

Reinforcing shot of bitter air arrives late in the week, not quite as cold as last weekend's Siberian outbreak.

20s (above zero!) may return by next Sunday/Monday. Barbecue weather.

Break in the arctic pattern possible after January 13-14.

Yesterday I took the family to the Vikes game; simple things like parking, walking, BREATHING took on a new sense of urgency as we navigated the icy labyrinth of downtown Minneapolis. Here's what I remember: billowing clouds of blue smoke (so thick I had trouble seeing the road at times), piles of snow so high they became a traffic hazard (making it tough to see oncoming cars), my car making little screaming/shrieking sounds when I first turned over the key in the parking ramp, the air thick and cold with the consistency of sulfuric syrup. It only hurts when you breathe, right? The ice was especially nasty - traffic compressing snow into a concrete-like film of glare ice that turned my all-wheel drive vehicle into a skidding, sliding bumper-car. Accelerate - brake - slide to a stop halfway into the intersection. Our team won (quite convincingly), so the dire lack of degrees didn't matter much in the end.

One Nasty Wake-up Call. Here were the 9 am temperatures across central and southern Minnesota this morning at 9 am, still -10 to -20 across much of the region. Mercifully winds were light, so the wind chill wasn't much lower than the actual air temperature. Character-building....

Urban Heat Island. The blue showing up on the IR satellite image isn't cloud cover, but cold air! Note a slight break in the chill across Hennepin and Ramsey counties, the result of homes, businesses, all emitting heat, keeping temperatures 10-15 degrees warmer than greater Minnesota. This is one of the most spectacular examples I can recall ever seeing in the data.

Sunday Almanac for Minnesota (courtesy of the National Weather Service)

             STATION           MAX     MIN      SNOW
STC : ST CLOUD MN ARPT : 4 / -27 / 10
DLH : DULUTH AIRPORT : 6 / -26 / 20
HIB : HIBBING ARPT : 7 / -28 / M
GNA : GRAND MARAIS MN : 13 / -6 / M
RST : ROCHESTER MN ARPT : 4 / -15 / 15

We are all living in America's best kept secret, the cold weather headlines on the Today Show and Nightly News reinforce all those old, tired cliches about Minnesota's extreme climate. I get a little defensive when people (who don't live here) give me a hard time for staying in Minnesota year-round. A handful honestly believe I've lost my mind. They have no concept of what's out here - which is probably a good thing. To them this is fly-over country, the Great White Tundra somewhere north and west of Chicago, a vast Siberia-lite gulag of cold, snow and ice. Well, so what? It's probably a good thing we have occasional winters like this, or Minnesota would be overrun, overpopulated, a blighted, traffic-clogged, concrete and asphalt temple of suburban sprawl. We all pay a cold-weather-tax, a meteorological toll, for the privilege of living in one of the most remarkable places on the planet. At the risk of sounding like a shill for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce this is an amazing place: clean air and water, health care second to none, a work ethic off the scale, warm, friendly people who genuinely care about their neighbors, and, incredibly, embrace the outdoors, no matter what the weather conditions. And the summers? Well, I can't think of anywhere else I'd rather ride out May, June, July and August (and September!) than Minnesota. Having a winter like this will make the Summer of '10 taste even sweeter. Yes, at this latitude we EARN our summers, and this year will be no exception.

Atmospheric Flip-Flop. According to the weather consulting firm, Planalytics, the USA experienced the warmest November since 2001. That was followed by the coldest New Year's week in 9 years, the snowiest, nationwide, since 2000. Almost makes one wonder what's coming next?

There's a good chance the coldest stretch of winter may...MAY already be in our rear view mirror, and it wasn't nearly as cold as last winter. In mid January of 2009 we had 3 subzero DAYS, nighttime lows as cold as -22 F! By comparison we woke up to -15 Saturday, -14 Sunday - almost reasonable, right? You're not buying any of this, are you? January is the coldest month of the year, on average - the next few weeks are historically the coldest of January (temperatures bottom out around the third week of the month, on average) so we just have to grin and bear it, think warm thoughts and muddle through. For me browsing Expedia for warm weather weekend destinations helps, so does taking the snowmobile out for a run, and something as simple and easy as browsing my laptop and reading a stack of newspapers under a full-spectrum light, one that mimics the sun. Having the sun out helped. What my friends living on the east coast fail to realize is week after week of 25-35 with high humidity and gray skies can feel much worse than 0 F. and sunny here at home.

Supercharged Clipper. A Pacific storm forecast to cross the Rockies before diving southeast across the Plains will put down a carpet of fresh snow by midweek, the heaviest amounts forecast over southwestern Minnesota, where some 4-6"+ amounts are possible. The latest NAM and GFS computers are hinting at 1-3" of powder here late Wednesday into Thursday, maybe even some 4"+ amounts south/west of I-94. Stay tuned....things may get pretty icy/slippery here again by Thursday.

A bubble of high pressure hangs on through Tuesday, temperatures recover a bit, but at least we'll be treated to a mostly-blue sky much of Monday and Tuesday. The next Pacific storm will cross the Rockies, transform into an Alberta Clipper, spreading a few inches of Minnesota powder into town late Wednesday into Thursday (latest model hinting at 2-4", but it's still early to be throwing inch-amounts around, in truth). This storm will inhale a fresh shot of numbing air into town late in the week, but some moderation is likely late in the weekend, one model hinting at 20s by next Sunday and Monday, with another shot of light snow roughly 1 week out. I've been scanning other models, and they seem to be hinting at a slight break in this Nanook pattern, temperatures forecast to run well above average from Jan. 11 - 17 (see map below, click on the image to bring it full-screen). I still think this is payback for our incredibly mild and quiet November. We'll certainly see more arctic fronts into February and March, but if last weekend doesn't wind up being the coldest stretch of winter, it will almost certainly be one of the 2 or 3 coldest outbreaks. No January thaw in sight (yet), but I'll keep looking. We're due for a break in the pattern any day now.

Paul's Outlook for the Twin Cities

Today: Generous sun, still nippy. Winds: NW 5-10. High: near 10

Tonight: Mostly clear, plenty cold. Low: -10

Tuesday: Blue sky, not quite as extreme. High: near 10

Wednesday: Clouds increase, light snow arrives late PM. High: 8

Thursday: Light snow tapers, windy and much colder. Potential for 1-3"+ powder. High: 3

Friday: Numbing sunlight returns. High: 1 Low: -15

Saturday: Fading sun as clouds increase. High: 10

Sunday: Feeling better. More clouds than sun. High: 22

Monday: Not exactly spring fever, but much better. Some sun, above average! High: 26

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