Friday, March 26, 2010

Rain, sun, killer icicles (and a shot at 70 next week)

Is it me or did we just skip a month or two? The calendar is whispering March - the atmosphere is SHOUTING May, or will be by the middle of next week when the mercury approaches 70. Living in Minnesota I've learned to expect the unexpected, but this is a meteorological double-whammy: no accumulating snow in March (for the first time since 1878) and a taste of early May in late March shaping up for next week. We're all a bit dumbfounded, dazed and deliriously happy about this year's instant-spring.

According to Professor Mark Seeley on his most-excellent weekly weather/climate blog, Minnesota WeatherTalk, MSP has experienced 13 days in March with nighttime lows warmer than 32 F. The average is 6. Temperatures for the month are running more than 9 degrees above normal - the sudden meltdown from 12" to 0" in the first 10 days of March means the sun's energy can go into heating up the air over Minnesota, not melting snow. Snow cover can make a BIG difference in daytime highs and nighttime lows in March, a 15-20 degree differential, depending on whether or not there is snow on the ground.

Something highly unusual will happen today: a light, liquid substance will fall from the sky, a phenomenon known as "rain" - capable of assorted puddles and delayed errands and soggy backyards. Not an all-day gully-washer, but .10 to .20" possible. If the lowest mile of the atmosphere overhead was just 5-10 degrees colder we'd be looking at a cool inch or two of slush. Not this year. Today's damp southwest breeze (8-13 mph) turns around to the north Sunday behind this weak inverted trough - the sun should be out much of the day with afternoon highs topping 50. Dry weather should be the rule from tomorrow into much of Friday, as the atmosphere shifts gears from late March to an almost May-like pattern. Highs should top 60 every day, and if everything goes just-right: 70 is not out of the question by midweek. Not bad for the very end of March, considering we could be knee-deep in snow. Last year our first 70 was April 16 (71 F). I want to go on record predicting that very little will get done next week - expect a surge in "sick days" (right) and lengthy 2-hour outdoor lunches. Test scores will suffer, job productivity will plummet, many co-workers may spend a significant part of their day with faces pressed up against the nearest window. In short, an epidemic of spring fever is imminent.

April Showers? Here is the GFS Outlook, valid 6 am Sunday morning, April 4. A powerful area of low pressure winds up almost directly over our heads next weekend, capable of some .50"+ rainfall amounts. It may be cold enough aloft for a slushy mix across the Dakotas, but right now it looks like all-rain for Minnesota.

Models are hinting at a potentially significant/major storm next weekend, the first weekend of April, as a powerful low pressure bulls-eye winds up over the Midwest, pumping prodigious amounts of Gulf moisture northward into Minnesota. The result may be some .50"+ rainfall amounts, although it's still way too early to try and get specific about timing or amounts. But for now: it should be warm enough aloft for a RAIN event. No April shoveling or tire-spinning in sight just yet.

Why the Twin Cities metro area doesn't have a population of 10 million. I like to joke that if our weather was moderate, warm and enjoyable year-round, we'd be "LA with lakes". 40" in March? 22" in April? Those are the extremes, of course - exceedingly rare, but few other spots on the planet can see 80s, floods, tornadoes and several FEET of snow - in the same month. When you think about it we see all 4 seasons worth of weather jammed into 31 convenient days in March. Check out the data for yourself at the MN State Climatology Office.

Rate of Ice Melt. Dark = Danger. The darker the ice, the thinner the ice, the more dangerous it is to even consider walking/riding on that ice. Even from space (NASA's "MODIS" satellite in low orbit) the ice on Mille Lacs appears whiter and brighter than Lake Minnetonka, implying thicker ice, which makes sense. Notice the total lack of ice jams on the Mississippi River.

Texas Dumping. 17.1" of snow so far in Dallas for the winter season, over 25" for north central Texas. Amazing. If you have any friends/family in Dallas or Atlanta I may have some weather-ammunition for your next casual phone call or e-mail. March snowfall so far: MSP: 0", Atlanta: 1.1", Dallas: 1.3"

Killer Icicles. Russia is recovering from the worst winter in 30 years. A recent thaw, coupled with high winds, has ripped ice off of high-rise buildings in St. Petersburg, Russia. At least 4 local residents have been killed by falling ice, at last count 148 people injured. Amazing - I've never seen anything quite like it. The story is here.

Vanishing Island. Here is what's left of New Moore Island, in the Indian Ocean, the result of steadily-rising sea levels. Can't think of what else would do this other than melting ice - rising ocean levels. The story is here.

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

Today: Periods of rain, breezy and damp. Winds: SW 8-13. High: 49

Tonight: Partial clearing, drying out. Low: 35

Sunday: Better day for outdoor activities. Sunshine returns, breezy and drier. High: 52

Monday: Amazingly nice (for a Monday). Plenty of sunshine, milder. High: 62

Tuesday: More like May! Lukewarm sun. High: 68

Wednesday: Sun lingers, office buildings may empty out. High: near 70 (!)

Thursday: Fading sun, still very nice. High: 66

Friday: Clouds increase, chance of showers/T-storms late in the day. High: 65

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