Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Fast-Forward Meltdown

* Useless weather factoid: if the mercury was 10 degrees colder we'd be looking at 10-12" of snow in the Twin Cities by Saturday. File that one away...

Time to retire the parka, sweep the sand castles out of the garage, pick up the assorted "yard bombs" (thanks for that, Max). This is your sweet-nasty revenge for all the crap-dog-food we feed you every day. My car has a racing stripe of salt/grime/muck, the ice dams on the roof are finally giving up the ghost (I pray) and before long thoughts will turn to Target Field, an all-too-abbreviated spring break, tax time (ouch) and the Fishing Opener! What happened to the March we used to all know, respect, even fear? The parade of wet, sloppy snowstorms that made this month the #1 or #2 month of the year for accumulating slush. Instead of reciting a litany of watches, warnings and advisories I'm tracking an air pollution health advisory (cue the sinister music and BREAKING NEWS headlines!) March is a fickle month, a month where all 4 seasons are conveniently crammed into 31 convenient days: everything from blizzards to floods to tornadoes. Something for the entire family. Average March snowfall in the Twin Cities is close to 10", but that can go one of two directions: last year a meager 1.5" fell. The year before ('08) over 18" of heavy wet snow came crashing down on our yards in March. From one extreme to the next. I have a hunch March '10 is going to be more similar to last year, possibly a couple of inches the last 10 days of the month. Possibly.

Serious puddle potential. The latest models are hinting at over 1" of rain from Marshall into the Twin Cities and much of southeastern MN, including Rochester, maybe as much as 1.25" by Saturday. St. Cloud rainfall: possibly as much as .60 to .70", but less than .50" for Brainerd.

Slushy possibilities far western Minnesota? The NAM model is hinting at 1-3" of slush for extreme southwestern Minnesota by Saturday, maybe a coating to 1" near Fergus Falls and Detroit Lakes as cold air mixes in near the tail-end of the storm by the weekend.

This week a slow-moving storm passing off to the south of Minnesota will circulate enough warm air north (in the lowest 2 miles of the atmosphere) for all rain, as much as 1" or more may fall by Saturday as the storm creeps, limps across Iowa into the Ohio Valley. A typical March storm clips along at 20-30 mph. This week's sloppy low pressure swirl will move at 2-4 mph, prolonging the rain event over 4-5 days, accelerating snow melt, ultimately front-loading the risk of river flooding in the weeks ahead. The fear all along has been a streak of 40s coupled with significant rain (falling on frozen, waterlogged ground). I'm checking with the river forecasters at the NWS in Chanhassen - stay tuned for more updates. No watches or warnings yet, but at last report nearly 3 dozen counties in Iowa were under flood warnings - that may be a premonition of what's to come across portions of Minnesota, especially the Red River Valley from Moorhead to Crookston and Grand Forks. If you live in a flood-prone neighborhood you'll want to stay alert for updates - and stay tuned.

Plan B for Saturday? This is no ordinary storm we're tracking. The prediction for 6 pm Saturday shows the center of low pressure near Pennsylvania, a lingering trough (wrinkle of cold air aloft) extending into eastern Minnesota. Bottom line: rain may linger into a significant portion of the weekend. Meanwhile a major storm is brewing for the east coast, soaking rains (some 3-6" amounts from Washington D.C. to Boston) along with high winds and coastal beach erosion. Expect flight delays if your travels take you out east.

Air pollution alert. The more rain that falls, the stronger the winds whip up around the latest storm, the more particle pollution will reach the ground - the cleaner our air will become. We've had nearly a dozen air pollution alerts since the start of 2010. Is it just me or are we seeing more of these strange, vaguely disconcerting episodes of stinky, unhealthy air during the winter? Very odd. Click here for more information on what an air pollution advisory is - and who is most at risk.

What on earth is "USG"? Unhealthy for sensitive groups. And since when is our air dirtier than Los Angeles, where locals "don't trust air they can't see?" Blame unusually light winds and a persistent inversion, which has trapped man-made pollutants near the ground. More from airnow.gov right here.

Slow-motion storm. Check out the swirl of moisture centered near Omaha, spiral bands wrapping around the area of low pressure. Notice the "dry slot" tangled up in the storm's circulation - capable of briefly brightening skies, even a few hours of sun from time to time. It won't be a continuous, solid rain - becoming more showery and lighter as the week goes on. For the latest weather map (and a quick update on flight conditions, VFR, MVFR or IFR, instrument flight rules) click here.

A persistent super-storm in the Gulf of Alaska is preventing the coldest Canadian air from hurtling southward into Minnesota, keeping our flow more moderate and westerly, winds wafting in from the Pacific, instead of the Yukon. The models are hinting at another half inch of rain around March 20-22, possibly ending as a little slush - but NO ACCUMULATING SNOW IS IN SIGHT. Daytime highs: consistently 10 degrees above average for the next 2 weeks, a string of 40s, I wouldn't be surprised to see the first 50 of the spring season by next week.

Take a photo of the dirty, stubbly snow in your yard - most of it will be history by the weekend. I'm a little nervous about the potential flood implications - more on that Wednesday. Keep in mind there is still 4-7" of liquid water tied up on the shrinking snowbands of far west central and southwestern Minnesota, water which will eventually and inevitably empty into the Red River (and the Minnesota River). Could we really have two record-breaking flood seasons in a row? Almost unprecedented, but sadly, very possible, based on the latest data.

Thinning arctic ice. According to those subversive, Al-Gore-Loving scientists down at NASA the ice at the top of the world is roughly half as thick as it was in 1980. Just another fluke, right? For the complete article click here.

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

Today: Periods of rain, slower commutes. Winds: E 10-15. High: 43

Tonight: More rain, patchy fog. Low: 36

Thursday: Mostly cloudy, more rain likely. High: 48

Friday: Rain becomes more showery, still soggy. High: 46

Saturday: Mostly cloudy, a few showers. High: 45

Sunday: More clouds than sun, another shower or two. High: 43

Monday: Peeks of sun, a drier day. High: 46

Tuesday: Intervals of sun, hints of late March. High: 48

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