Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A March with no "weather"

Meteorologists are inconsolable. Precious little "breaking news" on the TV tube. No much to point to on our fancy, blinking, pulsating weather maps these days. Reporters standing in front of swollen rivers - check. Note to self: are we absolutely sure that isn't file video from last year? Everyone's trying to save a few bucks these days - just asking. Back to weather, or a lack thereof: back in December (when it was actually snowing) if you had told me that we would sail through the volatile, atmospheric-butt-kicking month of March with no snow - ZERO ACCUMULATION - I would have thought you sniffed a little too much bus exhaust. I would have thought you were borderline crazy. "March is our second snowiest month of the year, on average," I would have babbled. "Only a few flurries shy of January's 10" number." No way. Can't happen. A meteorological impossibility. Joe Mauer will sign a deal for $180+ million before we skip, smile and shrug our way through a snow-less March. Not 'gonna happen.

Ice Be Gone. At this rate ice will be off Minnesota's lakes 1-3 weeks earlier than usual, between April 1-15, at least south of Leech Lake. Yes, you should be able to get the dock and boat in a lot earlier than usual. Maybe we'll actually enjoy a nice long summer season this year. That would be nice.

So here I sit, munching on my crow-sandwich (mighty tasty!) wondering how the wheels came off the bus. Blaming El Nino seems too simplistic, but that's the only reasonably alibi, the only explanation that seems to hold up, under the circumstances. Every El Nino is different, but the vast majority tend to favor much cooler, stormier conditions over the southern and eastern USA. Most (but not all) El Nino's result in drier, milder weather for the Upper Midwest, most of the northern tier states west of Detroit, in fact. El Nino is forecast to fade in the weeks ahead, so our pattern SHOULD (in theory) return to "normal", with more variability - more moisture - more of those sloppy southern storms making a real pass at Minnesota. We haven't seen a significant dose of rain in over two weeks now (.55" fell March 10-12) and farmers are increasingly anxious about this dry rut we find ourselves in. If this parched pattern were to hang on another 2-3 weeks it could impact spring planting and delay seed germination - there needs to be ample soil moisture for spring planting season. It's still too early to be truly concerned - with a little luck (and a fading El Nino) more of those soggy southern storms should start veering northward - I anticipate a much wetter pattern by the middle and end of April. Fingers (and eyes) crossed.

Breathing Easier. Good news for folks in St. Paul. The Mississippi River is forecast to crest shortly, then fall off gradually into the weekend. Harriet Park is underwater (or was as of Wednesday) but conditions should improve within 24-48 hours. We dodged a bullet this year - and our recent dry spell helped to alleviate what could have been a worst-case scenario. The latest flood forecast is here.

Today will feel like an "average" March 25, highs holding in the low to mid 40s, right where they should be this time of year. In the sun, out of a stiff north breeze, it will feel warmer though. Keep in mind the sun is as high in the sky now as it was in mid September - with a little effort you can actually get a suntan (or burn) this time of year. It has nothing to do with temperature, everything to do with sun angle. The approach of yet another southern storm will increase our clouds Friday, a slight chance of a few spotty (rain) showers late Friday into Saturday, but right now I can't get excited about amounts. Sunday looks drier, a stiff north wind pushing any lingering moisture out of the state, the sun out much of the day. A Pacific breeze kicks in next week; expect a string of 60s, even a slight chance of 70 as early as Tuesday of next week, again the first full weekend of April. That's typical for late May. Amazing. Our fast-forward-spring continues...

Risk of a Wildfire. Here are the latest brushfires, courtesy of NOAA. Click here to see the latest "Hazard Mapping System Fire and Smoke Product." What a mouthful.

Tracking Floods, Severe Storms & Earthquakes. Yes, I'm a geek. Sorry. I am still amazed by the quantiy and quality of (free) maps on the web - pretty amazing what you can call up on your PC (or Mac!) Click here to see a cool, interactive update on "hazards" across North America, brought to you (by your tax dollars) and the USGS, the U.S. Geological Survey.

Skywarn Spotters Welcome. Interested in meteorology, especially severe storms? You can help the NWS and local Civil Defense by becoming a professional Skywarn spotter. These are the men and women who are activated during severe storm "watches", the eyes and ears of the NWS who confirm severe weather, hail, high winds, and developing tornadoes. Doppler radar is great, but in a perfect world we have "ground truth", people on the ground confirming that a tornado is, in fact, forming. Doppler shows us rotating thunderstorms (the "mesocyclones" that sometimes go on to spin up tornadoes). Unfortunately a small number of rotating, spinning storms go on to whip up tornadoes, less than 10% The NWS errs on the side of caution, if they detect a violently rotating T-storm they'll issue the warning, just in case, even though very few of these "rotation indicated" storms will ever go on to produce damage. Better safe than sorry. But if you have any interest in joining Skywarn (and learning to operate a HAM radio in the process) click here for information on training sessions coming up close to home.

Skeptical about "Climate Change"? Most scientists are skeptical, believe it or not. If you still have an open mind on the subject click here and check out the arguments. It would be hard to argue that the climate isn't changing worldwide. The larger question is: are we responsible? The web site takes a thoughtful, objective look at the state of the science.

Short-Term Cooling on a Warming Planet. The warmest year (globally) was 1998, and much of that warming was tied to the strongest El Nino ever observed. Some people arbitrarily pick 1998 to be able to say "we've cooled since 1998 - there is no more global warming!" NOAA has an article that does a pretty good job explaining how these worldwide observations are made, and why perspective is important when trying to determine (true) trends in the data.

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

Today: Bright sun, breezy and noticeably cooler. Winds: N 10-20. High: 44

Thursday night: Mostly clear - chilly. Low: 28

Friday: Sun dimmed by increasing clouds, windy. Slight chance of a late-day shower. High: 50

Saturday: Unsettled , more clouds, a few light shower or sprinkles possible. High: 54

Sunday: Partly sunny, breezy and drier. High: 53

Monday: Plenty of sun - take a sick day. High: 62

Tuesday: Partly sunny, more like mid May! High: 67

Wednesday: Mix of clouds and sun, rampant spring fever. High: 65

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