Thursday, February 18, 2010

Amazingly quiet for February

Local meteorologists are at a rare (and welcome) loss for words - there's precious little to point to on our green Chroma-key maps. If this keeps up we'll have to resort to hand puppets, maybe reviewing state capitols on the air - that would be tragic. Yes, this is about as quiet and free of "weather" as Minnesota ever gets in February. And every day that passes means an extra 1-2 minutes of daylight, a slightly higher sun angle, and a statistically significantly lower risk of subzero weather. During an average winter the Twin Cities area picks up about 30 subzero nights and 1.8 subzero daytime highs. So far this year: 15 subzero nights and NO subzero highs, I'm happy to report. It's been milder than last year, and milder than average, 9% warmer than a typical winter, based on heating degree day data.

Latest Snow Cover. According to the MN DNR most of the metro area has 15-18" on the ground, but the Brainerd Lakes area has less, generally under 12". A cool 18-28" is on the ground over the southwestern third of Minnesota, as much as 3 feet just inland from Lake Superior's North Shore. To check out the latest (including snowmobile trail conditions) click here.

A Loaded Gun? Here is a map from Montana to Minnesota, showing estimated water equivalent locked up in the snow pack. Look carefully (click on the map to bring it full screen) and you'll see some 4-8" rainfall amounts over southern and western Minnesota, over 12" across northeastern South Dakota and the Wheaton/Breckenridge area of west central MN. That's why NOAA River Forecasters are increasingly concerned about the specter of significant river flooding later this spring.

Lies. Damn Lies. Statistics.

My father is fond of pointing out that you can prove anything with statistics. Maybe so. During an average MSP winter we see 100 days with at least 1" of snow on the ground. Nearly a third of the year is snow-covered! An average of 24 days a winter have a foot or more of snow on the ground. At least report: 16" in the Twin Cities metro, with some 18-30" amounts south/west of the MN River, 30-40" along the North Shore of Lake Superior. Again, there's at least 4-8" of liquid water tied up in the snow cover over southcentral and southwestern Minnesota. Snowfall so far in Sioux Falls, SD is running nearly 30" ABOVE AVERAGE! At some point all that snow is going to melt, flushing water into area streams and rivers. NOAA is increasingly concerned about the prospect of serious river flooding roughly 45-60 days from now. It's still too early to even speculate. It will all depend on a). how quickly temperatures trend upward, and b). whether warm fronts are accompanied by heavy rain, which would accelerate snow melt and increase the potential for disaster, especially along the Red River.

Nightime Satellite Simulation. A strong El Nino signal continues to show up on the weather maps, Pacific storms steered unusually far south into the Gulf of Mexico and then on up the east coast, each storm tugging unusually chilly air unusually far south for February (freeze warnings across northern Florida in recent nights!) To get the latest image click here.

Not Exactly "Arctic". Every successive computer run has eased up on next-week's cool-down. Instead of highs in the 30s we may see 3-5 days with highs in the 20s, just a couple degrees below average. All the computer models are in fairly good agreement that cooler weather is on the way, but nothing that will qualify as "bitter breaking news."

Ski Nebraska...? A persistent southerly storm track will keep heavy snow/ice well south of Minnesota through Sunday night at midnight. As much as 10" of new snow may fall from Nebraska into northern Missouri - the farther south you drive into Iowa the more significant the snow this upcoming weekend.

So there you have it, relatively short and sweet (at least for commuters and travelers). Our February thaw is drawing to a close, it WILL feel cooler next week, and 20-degree highs will probably hang on through the first week of March. Right now I do not see any vigorous warm fronts anytime soon (or significant snow/ice/rain events either, for that matter). We're in something of an atmospheric no-man's-land, with storms detouring well south of Minnesota at least the next 10-14 days. After that the crystal ball gets a bit murky. Snow lovers: keep the faith. Tournament time is coming. You know what that usually brings....

Paul's Conservation MN Outlook for the Twin Cities

Today: Some sun early, then increasing clouds, flurries possible (mainly far southern MN). Winds: NW 2-7 mph. High: 31

Tonight: Lot's of clouds, few flakes. Low: 17

Saturday: Mostly cloudy, few flurries possible. High: near 30

Sunday: Mostly gray, a bit cooler. High: 28

Monday: Chance of very light snow/flurries, no more than a dusting. High: 26

Tuesday: Flurries give way to some PM sun. High: 25

Wednesday: Partly sunny and brisk. High: 24

Thursday: Increasing clouds, still storm-free, unusually quiet. High: 26

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