Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A state of (reluctant) weather warriors

I just got done watching a story on the Sunday morning CBS newscast, highlighting the spirited, cold weather competition between Embarrass and Tower, Minnesota. Folks up in International Falls have to be feeling a bit left out - if this keeps up they'll have to start testing batteries 100 miles south/east of INL, a combination of terrain, vegetation (or lack thereof) and a total and utter absence of any hint of an urban heat island means that the coldest pocket in the state is probably somewhere between Embarrass and Tower, which still has the state record for the coldest air temperature ever observed (modern day record) - a brisk, invigorating -60 F. That headline-generating, awe-inspiring morning was nearly 13 years ago. Even though the long-term trends are upward and onward, winters are (overall) trending milder, fewer bitter -40 F outbreaks in the last few decades, we still get crazy outbreaks of battery-draining, pipe-rupturing air still smelling of Siberia.

Signs of hope. The models are all in fairly good agreement that temperatures will recover by early next week. Only in Minnesota is a prediction of 20s considered a "warm front." Go figure.

The wicked winds of winter. Winds at 500 mb (about 18,000 feet) show a classic "split flow", an active stormy southerly branch to the jet stream whisking the wettest, wildest storms well south of Minnesota. A bitterly cold northerly branch to the jet stream will keep the Upper Midwest, Great Lakes and New England 10-20 degrees colder than average through the end of this week, but winds aloft are forecast to become more "zonal", more west to east, much of next week, meaning a welcome rerun of 20s and 30s. The end is near (to our latest cold wave!)

Yes, it's cold - no debate there. There's something about arctic outbreaks that is refreshingly democratic, rich or poor, young or old - everyone gets to hold their breath walking outside to get the mail, everyone gets to plead with their car heater. The biting breeze crosses all gender, race and age lines, we all suffer, simultaneously. Our reward? The promise of spring (most of the snow will be gone within 8-9 weeks, as hard as that might be to believe right now). Summers in Minnesota are nothing short of magical: Lake Wobegon come to life. Spring can come (and go) in the veritable blink of an eye, but autumn tends to linger, football, falling leaves and the pungent smell of wood-smoke all conspiring to create more great Minnesota memories.

Ski..... Arkansas? Another possible symptom of El Nino? Perhaps. A moderate warming of equatorial Pacific Ocean water tends to favor big storms for California, tracking across the southern U.S. The GFS model is hinting at a major snowfall, maybe a foot or more, from Tulsa to the Ozarks of Arkansas to the higher terrain of Kentucky and the Virginias. By the end of this week these regions may have more snow on the ground than St. Cloud or the Twin Cities. Bizarre, huh?

36 hour snowfall prediction. Just when you think you've seen everything. Dallas, Texas had the first white Christmas in decades. And now a new storm promises to dump a foot or more of snow on the panhandle of Texas and Oklahoma. A touch of lake-effect snow may add a couple inches downwind of the Great Lakes through Friday.

This too shall pass - in fact the worst of the cold will be winding down by the weekend. Suck it up - four more days of intermittent shivering, grumbling & growling about the wind chill, highs in single digits and teens through Saturday, but 20s (above) will feel pretty good by Sunday. An Alberta Clipper whips up a few flurries late Sunday, maybe a light coating of snow Monday as the mercury climbs toward 30 (above!) We cool down again next week, but this outbreak will be relatively brief - more 20s and 30s come sweeping in off the Pacific by the end of next week. This is what we can expect to see in February: more infrequent outbreaks of thumb-numbing air. It WILL get cold, but these outbreaks will get only last a few days, and then we'll bounce back into the 20s and 30s. Within a few weeks I predict we'll sample 40 degrees. The El Nino signal seems to be real this time: a tendency for Pacific storms to give California a good wet whack before tracking across the southern states, keeping the deep south unusually cool, wet and stormy - while the northern tier states, including Minnesota, see more of a Pacific influence, fewer and fewer intrusions from the Arctic Circle? Overly optimistic? Possibly - but I still believe the very worst of winter, in terms of severity and duration of temperatures < style="font-weight: bold;">

Next nuisance snowfall event? The GFS model is hinting at a weak clipper squeezing out a little light snow late Sunday into Monday, maybe an inch for central Minnesota, a couple inches far north. The pattern isn't ripe for significant storms in Minnesota looking out the next 10-15 days.

Paul's Outlook for the Twin Cities

Today: Some sun, numbing breeze. Clouds increase this afternoon. Winds: W 10-20. High: 9

Tonight: Patchy clouds, feels like -25 F at times. Get me out of here! Low: -6

Thursday: More clouds than sun, few passing flakes. High: 8 (coldest day!)

Friday: More sun, still "Nanook". Can't feel my extremities. Low: -9 High: near 10

Saturday: Sunnier day of the weekend, still numb. Low: -7 High: 13

Sunday: Clouds increase, very light snow/flurries late in the day. Low: 0 High: 23

Monday: A period of light snow/flurries, under 1" expected. High: 26

Tuesday: Windy and colder with gradual clearing. High: 18

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