Saturday, March 20, 2010

Fast-Forward Spring

Before Picture. Snow on the ground as of Feb. 11, when the metro boasted 10-14", with 18-20" over the southwestern suburbs.
After Picture. Look how much snow was lost since mid February, just a small pocket of 2-4" amounts near Windom and Marshall. For a time-lapse showing the rapidly shrinking snow pack, click here for a DNR animation.

48 Hour Flood Forecast. Rivers are cresting along the Crow River and much of the Minnesota River, a crest on the Mississippi River in St. Paul not expected until next Wednesday (at 19.5 feet, well short of the historic, all-time-record-high of 26 feet). The latest interactive outlook is here.

* The NWS is extending flood warnings for many towns along the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers.

I removed the stakes from driveway Saturday, you know, the ones you pound into the yard to make sure the guy with the plow doesn't scoop up the perennials in your flower garden? That means heavy snow is imminent. Just about the time you drag your heavy winter gear to the attic or basement, just about the time you stash the space heater into cold storage, that's when Old Man Winter pastes you in the face with horizontal snow, right? And I'm a naive optimist, remember?

Deep breaths, think positive - the truth (although meteorological "truthiness" is a slippery slope): I still don't see any accumulating snow. There's a good chance we'll sail through the entire month of March, the second snowiest month of the year (10" slush on average) with zero snow. That's pretty amazing, when you think about it. I thought last year's 1.5" of snow was unusual. The last time we saw so little snow in March was 1981, when .1" of snow fell at MSP. I went back through the weather records since 1884 and couldn't find one March with NO SNOW. This would be a first. Stay tuned...and if you want to check out how much snow fell, month by month, going all the way back to 1884, click here (thanks to the MN State Climatology Office for providing such a great, updated resource online).

Outlook: Scattered Brushfires. Only in Minnesota can you be knee-deep in muddy water watching smoke from a distant brushfire. Before the surrounding scenery greens up (mid/late April?) tinder-dry brush will increase the potential for grassfires and brushfires. Be extra-careful with those discarded matches and cigarette butts. The latest DNR fire outlook and burning restrictions are here.

The frost is out of the ground across much of east central Minnesota and parts of central Minnesota, 2-3 weeks ahead of schedule, btw. Ice on area lakes is melting rapidly, at this rate we may have our official ice-out on or around April 1, again, nearly 2 weeks ahead of schedule. I checked the DNR records - the average date of the ice-out on Minnetonka and White Bear Lake is April 12-13. That's what a string of 50s and 60s in mid and late March can do - as if Mother Nature has picked up a monstrous remote control and put our seasons on FAST FORWARD. A symptom of climate change? Not necessarily, no more than heavy snow and a few subzero nights in January prove otherwise. Where we're really seeing the warming is not during the daylight hours, but at night - fewer, prolonged subzero streaks of arctic weather than we experienced during the 60s and 70s. One storm, one week, one month, even one winter does not a trend make. We have to step back and look at trends over many decades, and not just here in Minnesota, but on a global scale, to detect climate changes. That's easier said than done, that's why we rely on climate scientists (not meteorologists, who focus on day to day weather forecasts) to get a handle on the big picture.

Want to check out the ice-out status on Minnesota's lakes? Got a hankering to get the dock in a month early? Bored out of your mind? Click here to get all the details and truly be the life of the next party.

A few neighbors were complaining about Saturday's cool front, the high was a few degrees below average for March 20 (first day of spring, hallelujah!) All I can say is - have we ever become spoiled. No snow, no ice, no arctic fronts - March temperatures are running 9.6 F. warmer than average for the first 20 days of the month, pretty impressive. We should hit 50 Sunday afternoon, 60 is a distinct possibility Monday before we cool off a bit by midweek. Temperatures this week average 10-20 degrees above normal, continuing a mild trend that has been with us ever since mid February, most probably a symptom of El Nino. Speaking of El Nino:

26" Boulder, Colorado
9" Denver, Colorado
5-8" near Tulsa, Oklahoma

The latest Tournament Storm clobbered the central Rockies and Plains with heavy, wet snow, shoving a squall line of severe thunderstorms across the Deep South. A friend just got back from Florida, complaining of chilly weather, people on the beach (in sweatshirts and gloves). People just getting back from spring break getaways are NOT HAPPY. Again, the unusually cool, stormy weather afflicting much of the south and east coast is probably a symptom of El Nino. Our unusually dry pattern hangs on for much of the next 2 weeks, the GFS model bringing in showers (and possible T-storms) by April 3-4.

April Showers? The GFS model doesn't bring significant moisture into Minnesota until April 3-4, a long fetch direct from the Gulf of Mexico may pump enough moisture north for an outbreak of showers, even a few heavier thunderstorms. By then the ground over most of Minnesota should have thawed sufficiently to be able to soak up much of that new water - it won't automatically run off into streams and rivers.

Finally, a forecaster at the National Weather Service brought up an interesting correlation: "Paul, do you realize our big flood years were also violent tornado years for Minnesota: 1965 flood on the Minnesota and Mississippi River, followed by F-4 tornadoes in Fridley and the L. Minnetonka area, 1969 flooding was followed by a twister in Outing, MN. 1997 brought severe flooding, weeks later tornadoes struck, the most on record at that time. And then there was 2001: rivers out of their banks in March and April, and then a wild spring and summer with 74 tornadoes, which is still the record for the most tornadoes in Minnesota in one year. Average is closer to 25-30. Will this year be as bad? Doubtful. The flooding is not as severe or widespread as last year, in spite of problems on the Crow River and some lowland flooding from Montevideo to St. Paul (where the Mississippi is forecast to crest 6 feet below the all-time high next Wednesday/Thursday). The Red River in Fargo is forecast to crest by Monday about 2-3 feet below last year's all-time historical levels, folks there beginning to breathe a little easier. It's too early to claim victory - but so far so good.

China Dust Storm Story courtesy of the BBC. My brother is teaching English in the city of Tangshen, China. Today he sent me this photo from the dust storm - the entire city coated in orange dust - it's everywhere! There's one thing we routinely don't have to worry about in Minnesota, just about the ONLY thing we don't have to worry about.

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

Today: Bright sun, very pleasant. Winds: W 10-15. High: 52

Tonight: Mostly clear and chilly. Low: 32

Monday: Mild sun, serious outbreak of spring fever. High: near 60

Tuesday: Fading sun, clouds increase, slight chance of a late-day shower. High: 54

Wednesday: Partly sunny, breezy and cooler. High: 51

Thursday: A mix of clouds and sun, milder. High: 56

Friday: More clouds - a few light showers possible. High: 44

Saturday: Getting sunnier, cool breeze. High: 46

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