Friday, February 19, 2010

The Perils of Snow

While young men and women from around the world celebrate the fun side of snow and ice in Vancouver for the Winter Olympics, we're reminded of the high cost of snow and ice (where it's not nearly as wanted and appreciated). From "Planalytics", a weather-intelligence company:

* Last week's paralyzing snow from Dallas (12.5") to D.C. (40" over 5 days) left millions of Americans unable to get to work, no shopping, no retail, no restaurant visits, etc. A rough, back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that the subsequent loss of sales and productivity may have reached as high as $36-38 billion from last week's parade of snow and ice storms alone!

* It costs the federal government an estimated $100 million for every DAY it's shut down. Many federal organizations have been closed for nearly 2 weeks now.

* New York City estimates that it costs $1 million/inch to remove snow from the city's streets.

Vancouver, British Columbia. It's been in the 50s downtown, Olympic officials scrambling to keep snow on the slopes. The calendar says mid February, but as far as the atmosphere is concerned it looks and feels more like late March in the Vancouver area right now - probably the result of El Nino warming of Pacific Ocean water.

* El Nino is probably responsible for record-warmth from Vancouver across much of Canada, experiencing one of the 3 or 4 warmest winters on record. Some of this warmth is spilling over into the northern tier states, including Minnesota and Wisconsin - a few degrees above average for the winter, to date. The strong warming of Pacific Ocean water is thought to be at least partially responsible for an extra-energized southern branch of the jet stream, guiding big, wet (at times violent) storms across the Pacific into California, then eastward into Dixie and the eastern seaboard, each subsequent storm pulling unusually cool air south in its wake.

* 31 degree high in the cities Friday, after 3 days in a row above freezing Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. February temperatures are running 1.2 degrees above average so far.

* 40.6" of snow so far for the Twin Cities, very close to where we should be as of Feb. 20. But closer to 50-60" has fallen over parts of southern and western Minnesota, where as much as 5-10" of liquid water is tied up in the snow pack.

Probability of Major Flooding. NOAA is predicting a 96% chance of "major flooding" in Fargo, a 60% risk for downtown St. Paul. Red dots show towns with a greater than 80% risk of major flooding. Yellow dots indicate a 40-60% risk of major flooding, including St. Paul, Hastings and Red Wing. To explore NOAA's flood site for yourself click here.

* NOAA hydrologists (river forecasters) now say there's a 90% chance of flooding on the Mississippi in St. Paul, a 60% risk of "major flooding" in late March and April. It will all depend on how quickly spring arrives. Any sudden thaw, accompanied by heavy rain, will accelerate snow melt and flush snowmelt into area tributaries, increasing the potential for serious flooding. Last year's Red River flooding is still fresh in a lot of minds (60 days above flood stage in the Fargo area). There have never been two epic flood seasons, back to back. If it happens again in 2010 it would be truly historic.

* Friday night on TPTs "Almanac" program the question came up, "why do most Minnesotans believe it's been such a tough winter (when it really hasn't been). My answer: "We've become a state of big weather wussies." (sp?) We were spoiled for much of 2000-2009 with a handful of historically mild, snow-free winters. Some of us thought, "hey, great! This is the new norm." Not so fast. The atmosphere has an uncanny ability to "even things out". A few warm winters are often followed by a few unusually cold winter, but in the end it all pretty much evens out.

* Historically we have another 10-20" of snow left to go, but the odds of sustained, subzero weather are dropping off now with every passing day. The GFS model is hinting at a couple of subzero nights around the first weekend of March, but the odds of a few WEEKS of sustained, bitterly cold weather (like what we endured the first 12 days of January) are slim to 'nil.

Famous last words.

* Water vapor in the atmosphere has increased by about 5% in recent decades. A warmer airmass can hold more water. Basic physics. So does this mean the weather dice is loaded to favor more frequent, intense rainfall (and snowstorms?) Click here for an intriguing story in

* Do vacations boost happiness? Man, I hope so! Just THINKING about future vacations is enough to pull me out of a dark, slushy funk. The story in (and Yahoo) is here. Thanks to Tricia Frostad for passing this along!

White-knuckle Monday AM Commute? Long-range guidance is hinting at an inch, maybe 2" across the southern third of Minnesota Monday, the brunt of the snow passing off south of town.

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

Today: Intervals of sun, seasonably cool. Winds: NW 5-10. High: 29

Saturday night: Partly cloudy, chilly. Low: 14

Sunday: Mostly cloudy, few flakes possible late. High: 27

Monday: Period of light snow, maybe an inch or two. High: 25

Tuesday: Flurries giving way to some PM sun. High: 23

Wednesday: Noticeably colder with blue sky. High: 21 (single digit lows)

Thursday: Plenty of sun - brisk. High: 22

Friday: Clouds increase, a bit closer to "average". High: 26

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