Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The United (Quirky) States of America

Paul's Conservation Minnesota Outlook for the Twin Cities

Today: Partly sunny, milder than average. Winds: NW 8-13. High: 33

Tonight: Partly cloudy. Low: 11

Thursday: More clouds than sun, slightly cooler. High: 29

Friday: Mix of clouds and sunshine, temperatures close to average. High: 28

Saturday: Mostly cloudy, still storm-free. High: 26

Sunday: More clouds, a few flurries (dusting possible). High: 28

Monday: Leftover clouds, flurries, no more than a coating. High: 31

Tuesday: Increasingly sunny, turning noticeably colder. High: 19

Welcome thaw. The mercury hit 34 F. on Tuesday, 5 degrees above average (in spite of 17" of snow on the ground). It was the first time in 11 days the temperature has gone above freezing in the Twin Cities.

* So far the metro area has experienced HALF as many subzero nights this winter compared to last (15 since December, 2009, compared to 29 last winter at this time).

* Feeling a little perkier? No, me neither. But if you do have a little kick in your step you can thank a higher sun angle (as high in the sky as it was on October 23). We've picked up 103 minutes of daylight since Dec. 21. Can spring be far behind? You betcha!

What a strange winter. Ski tournaments in Vermont have been canceled due to a quirky lack of snow. Meanwhile officials don't know what to do with the 40-50" snow still on the ground in the Philadelphia - Baltimore - Washington D.C. area, experiencing a truly historic winter, the most snow in 100-150 years of record-keeping. Last week Dallas was buried under 12.5" of snow, smashing a handful of records, by far the most snow that city has ever seen in modern-day records. Last Friday there was a moment where snow was reported in all 50 states (a coating on the Florida panhandle, snow on the summit of Hawaii's volcanoes).

More slush than ice. Cypress Mountain, outside Vancouver, where the snowboard festivities are taking place for the Winter Olympics. Recent rains and daytime highs in the 40s have created very challenging conditions for officials trying to keep ice in competition-ready condition.

Which makes the snow situation (or lack thereof) for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver that much more of a head-scratcher. It's been a remarkably mild winter for British Columbia, the best theoretical (guess) is that a strong El Nino is responsible for a persistent Pacific breeze, blowing unusually mild air into the Vancouver area. It has been so mild that CHERRY BLOSSOMS are blooming in downtown Vancouver right now! There was no snow in the city during January - NONE! As early as Christmas Olympic officials brought in snow-making machines. In recent weeks the "green" Olympics have been forced to truck in many, many tons of snow from surrounding mountains. It was 50 yesterday (in the city), temperatures well into the 40s on the slopes. Cyprus Mountain, home of the snowboarding competitions, has been hardest hit by the warmth and rain (and fog!) It's been a full-time job for officials to try to keep the ice in competition-form, and the forecast for the rest of the week calls for more 40s, but the rain may be winding down, which would be a blessing. Don't be surprised if more Olympic events are postponed, even canceled, due to the unseasonably mild, Marchlike weather. For a great summary of the unusually mild weather click here.

A long list of records. Here are 24 hours worth of weather records for the USA. Note the snow (and rainfall) records for southeastern Minnesota (from Monday's storm). More snowfall records for the Ohio Valley, and high temperature records for the Pacific Northwest (and the Vancouver, British Columbia area). Click here to go to Ham Weather, a division of WeatherNation, where you can see the individual city record details.

Yesterday felt great, highs reaching the mid 30s, a faint whiff of March in the air. Predicting highs with significant snow on the ground is always tricky. The snow acts as a refrigerant, cooling the air from below. The wind direction seems to make all the difference. And here I thought a high of 30 was going out on a limb. Boundary layer temperatures (a few hundred feet above the ground, the level at which there is no frictional component to the wind flowing overhead) are nearly as mild later today as they were yesterday, so we may nudge freezing once again. Temperatures cool off (slightly) as we slide into the weekend, a dusting/coating of flurries possible by Sunday or Monday of next week (a "nuisance snow" at most). Much colder weather returns next week, with 2-3 days in the teens (at least the sun should be out). Long-range guidance is hinting at a potentially major snowstorm for Des Moines and Chicago by the end of next week. That's still way out on the horizon, laughably early to talk timing and potential amounts for Minnesota, but it's conceivable we could pick up a couple inches of snow on the northern fringe of the storm by next Thursday. Stay tuned....

Close encounter of the snowy kind next Thursday, Feb. 25? Day 10 of the GFS model shows a significant storm pushing north across the Mississippi River Valley, brushing central and southern Minnesota with a couple inches of snow. This forecast WILL change over time, as new data arrives (4 new model runs/daily). Just know that the pattern may become considerably more active by the latter half of next week.

Blame it on El Nino? The barrage of winter storms steam-rolling across much of the southern and eastern US may be a symptom of a moderate El Nino. One possible silver lining? El Nino winters tend to be followed by milder tornado seasons across the USA. Time will tell if that's the case in 2010.

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