Sunday, February 21, 2010

An inevitable temperature tumble

The honeymoon sure was nice while it lasted. 6 days of blue sky, temperatures 5-10 degrees above average statewide. The snow is looking a bit - dirty - the drift outside my window is growing a beard, a stubble of grit. My dog, Max, is not the least bit amused. Without going into the gory details let's just say that Max has been having trouble navigating the icy drifts in the back yard. I even shoveled a path to his favorite "pooping grounds" (sorry) but lately he's just given up. He just squats on the sidewalk. I think he's given up. I know how he feels. A certain weariness sets in this time of year. We're all tired of fidgeting with our thermostats, sick of pleading with our car heaters. We're counting the days 'til spring break, checking out the 7-Day searching (in vain) for hints of spring. The good news? We've picked up nearly 2 hours of daylight since late December and that higher sun angle is finally paying off. Average temperatures are trending upward, the risk of prolonged subzero weather is dropping off rapidly with each passing day - within a month we should see our first 40s (and rain) of the spring season. As much as I'm rooting for spring I hope it comes slowly, gradually, incrementally. Why? If we get a sudden slug of warmth accompanied by rain it could result in another spring of historic flooding on Minnesota's rivers. Two back-to-back springs of record flooding is virtually unprecedented, but the risk of major flooding is significant. It will all depend on how much more snow we pick up over the next 4-6 weeks, and whether we see a gradual thaw, or a sudden surge of warmth and rain (which would be a worst-case-scenario).

For an amazing 360 degree panorama of Vancouver (you can pan and zoom to your heart's content) click here.

Another very close call. Sunday night's weather map showed heavy snow from the Quad Cities to Rockford, ice across Chicago, heavier rain over southern Illinois. There may still be airport delays today from Chicago to Detroit. To see the latest high-res weather map click here.

Just like gravity and taxes. As we stagger into spring the temperature curve is always two steps forward, one (big) step back. Yes, temperatures will cool down noticeably over the next 48-72 hours, the GFS model is hinting at -15 F. by Thursday morning (!) The good news: this latest glancing blow of numbing air will be relatively brief - temperatures already trending upward again by the end of the week.

I give thanks for the little things: how much better 30 feels in late February than it does in late November. The birds are chirping outside my door every morning, the recent Home & Patio Show in Minneapolis more tangible evidence that there really will be a spring this year. I peer out at the (small glacier) in my yard and wonder out loud how I'll ever be mowing a green lawn within 2-3 months. People are still DRIVING on the lake behind my house. It's almost incomprehensible that I'll be putting in my dock in less than 90 days. How is that even possible?

A week's worth of precipitation. The bright green shows heavier rain (and snow/ice) over the central Plains and Midwest since Feb. 14, the storm track stuck a couple hundred miles south of Minnesota. At some point that zone of active weather will shift north - expect more frequent snows (and rain events?) the latter half of March. To see a week's worth of precip - or the last 24 hours centered on Minnesota, click over to

So now comes news of a minor temperature reckoning, a glancing blow of arctic air - probably two subzero nights later this week. Compared with the last week of almost March-like warmth it will sting a bit, yes, but it won't be anything like the numbing, Yukon-like conditions we muddled through the first 12 days of January. Each new shot of Canadian air will be a little less news-worthy, shorter in duration, less intense. Keep in mind the sun angle is now as high in the southern sky as it was the third week of October (when daytime highs were still poking into the 50s and 60s). The difference - of course - is the 13" of snow on the ground (even more to our south/west) cooling the air from below, keeping us 20-25 degrees cooler than we would be if there was no snow on the ground.

An early spring? Don't bet on it. We've been down this road before. El Nino - El Schmino! But statistically speaking a lingering El Nino phenomenon favors colder, wetter, stormier weather for much of the southern USA, with a tendency for milder weather from the Pacific Northwest into the Upper Midwest. That said, the 90-day outlook does NOT look as warm as it did just 30 days ago. The groundhog was right. Spring is NOT right around the corner. Click here to see the latest, greatest outlooks from the CPC, the Climate Prediction Center.

Warming trend. You've heard a lot about climate change - what's unusual (at least in my mind) is that Minnesota summers aren't appreciably warmer, but winters have been trending much warmer, especially during the last 30 years. According to Midwest Regional Climate Center Minnesota's winter temperatures from 1895 to 2006 rose an average of 3.1 degrees F. In general the farther north the location, the greater the winter warming trend. We're simply not seeing the duration of subzero weather we experienced as recently as the 1970s. Coincidence? Perhaps. More pieces of a very complicated and increasingly controversial climate puzzle. To check out the data for yourself click here.

The difference between climate and weather? A good story and explanation in the Atlanta Journal Constitution here.

A "blip" or a trend. For a wealth of climate data click over to United States Global Change Research Program. The key is to seek out peer-reviewed climate science, not bullet points from "institutes" or "think tanks", many of which are funded by companies with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Scientists aren't perfect (as the recent - hacked - UK e-mails seem to prove) but the body of evidence is pretty convincing. As I mentioned in Monday's print column I'm keeping an open mind. If a theory comes along that does a better job of explaining what we're observing all around us I'll be the first to change my tune. Personally I hope that climate change is a hoax, for the sake of my kids and future generations. As a businessman I'm not thrilled by the notion of additional carbon taxes or throwing $$ at the federal government to solve this problem. The feds can set a direction and provide economic incentives, but in the end it will come down to private industry to provide new generations of energy-efficient solutions that get us to a truly green, energy-independent economy. The Chinese are already 2-5 years ahead of the USA on clean-tech. If global warming turns out to be the hoax some think it is all we will have done is reduced pollution and weaned ourselves off carbon-based fuels, sending fewer dollars over to Saudi Arabia. But what if the (majority) of climate scientists are right and we do nothing (but point fingers and procrastinate another 10-20+ years). Our kids are going to be very, very upset with us for sitting on our hands, vilifying the climate scientists, and turning this into a political side-show.

Paul's Conservation MN Outlook for the Twin Cities and all of Minnesota

Today: Increasing cloudiness - flurries possible later. Winds: NW 5-15. High: 29

Monday night: Flurries, very light snow. Dusting/coating possible. Low: 14

Tuesday: Slippery dusting of flurries, then partial clearing, much colder. High: 19

Wednesday: Bright sun - plenty cold. Low: -4. High: 14

Thursday: Blue sky, still colder than average. Low: -1. High: 22

Friday: Becoming mostly cloudy, closer to "average" again. Low: 10. High: 28

Saturday: Mix of sun and passing flurries. High: 27

Sunday: Partly sunny, still storm-free. High: near 30

1 comment:

  1. I'm a little confused by your claim that the Fed can set policy, but it will be the free market that will determine the future of clean-energy. Because, in the next sentence, you state that China is way ahead of us. China is way ahead of us because they do NOT have a true free market. Their government has mandated the change to green energy. The free market does not solve all ills (see Recession, see Healthcare, etc.). Clean energy will need to come from the strong hand of the federal government, which includes taxes and incentives.