Wednesday, April 7, 2010

An Abbreviated Winter Season

Departure from Normal, Winter Snowfall. Amounts were 5-15% below normal over much of central and east central Minnesota, but as much as 20-25% below normal over far northern Minnesota. This just confirms what many of us suspected all along. We really had "half a winter".
The most likely explanation: El Nino, the warming of Pacific Ocean water, which tends to favor stormier, cooler weather for the south and east, and a tendency for drier, milder winters for the northern tier states. But El Nino may be superimposed upon a larger (global) trend. Winters, in general, especially over northern latitudes, are not as severe as they were a generation ago. We're not seeing the volume or duration of subzero airmasses that we saw in the 60s and 70s. Something bigger, and more profound, may be loading the dice.

Winter Recap. Snowfall for the season (so far) is running 12" below average. Anyone with a snowmobile is probably not very happy about the state of the winter - everyone else seems just fine with the relatively easy winter in the Twin Cities.

Snowfall Recap, Month by Month. Courtesy of the Minnesota State Climatology Office, check out how much snow fell vs. what SHOULD have fallen. For more details on the winter that was (or wasn't) click here.

March temperatures averaged 6-8 degrees above normal from the Twin Cities to St. Cloud, but as much as 9-12 degrees above normal over far northern Minnesota - again, probably a symptom of a moderate El Nino.

It's been a Minnesota Spring for the record books - earliest "end to the snow season" (last accumulating snow was Feb. 23 in the Twin Cities, Feb. 13 at St. Cloud). Wow doesn't quite sum it up. March: 7-11 degrees above average with NO SNOW in Rochester, St. Cloud and the Twin Cities, a few flakes at Duluth, a lousy 2/10ths of an inch in International Falls? What the...? Yes, we've been scratching our heads in the weather war room as much as you. It's been truly awe-inspiring. A (real) spring like this could lead to a massive influx of new residents - if word gets out. As much as I want to share Minnesota - America's best kept secret - my hunch is that we want to probably keep this to ourselves. Not to be greedy or anything, but the last thing we want is L.A. with lakes, Chicago with lutefisk, New York with (vanishing) wetlands. I'm pretty happy with things just the way they are.

High Probability of a Warming Trend. The models all seem to agree - warmer days ahead, 70 a distinct possibility by Saturday afternoon. Cue the harps and chirping birds.

Expect bright sun today (with less wind), temperatures a few degrees above average for April 8. As winds swing around to the southwest Friday temperatures mellow into the 60s, spring fever returns (with a vengeance!) and thoughts will turn to Twins Openers, Fishing Openers and getting your dock/boat in - 2 to 3 weeks ahead of schedule! The arrival of a dying cool front limping across the state may spark a late-day shower or thundershower Saturday, again Sunday, but MOST of the weekend looks dry, highs in the 60s (approaching 70 over far southern Minnesota). Not bad at all for the second weekend of April. A long fetch of warmth and moisture direct from the Gulf of Mexico early next week will push more numerous/widespread showers and thunderstorms into Minnesota by Monday and Tuesday - I still think there may be a severe outbreak close to home by Tuesday afternoon. Too early to know for sure, but many of the ingredients are coming together. 60s should be the rule the next 10 days, although long-range models are hinting at a slight cool-down April 17-20 (highs in the 40s north, 50s south).

Be glad you're not in Green Bay or Rhinelander, Wisconsin. Rain may end as a little wet snow across eastern Wisconsin later today - no flakes in our future looking out 1-2 weeks, the probability of accumulating snow dropping off precipitously now with each passing day - the sun as high in the sky now as it was back in early September.

Enjoy our ongoing weather-siesta - our lack of anything approximating real "weather". Yes, local meteorologists will be at a rare and welcome loss for words in the coming days, although we may finally have something to point to early next week. We're due for a wild outbreak of weather. At some point Mother Nature will lower the boom.

Scary Numbers. Call me crazy, but I believe that local TV meteorologists have an obligation (as resident scientists) to explain the state of climate science to consumers. I know a number of TV meteorologist who avoid this subject like the plague, because it's "polarizing", or it "doesn't test well", or "because it's politically controversial." Yes, those are all good reasons for not telling a complex story, I guess. It doesn't lend itself to happy-talk, it's tough to give a global perspective between the "Almanac" and the "7-Day Outlook." I remember all too well. Even a lot of the TV meteorologists I know and respect - who specialize in predicting weather, looking out 7-15 days, confuse weather events with climate trends. It's staggering - the misinformation out there today. A majority of peer-reviewed scientists continue to believe there's a link between man-made emissions of greenhouse gases and the subsequent warming trend we've seen since the 80s. A fluke, a coincidence? Possibly, can't and won't rule that out. But to ignore science and go on hunch, premonition (web sites and radio talk show hosts) seems like pretty bad policy to me. The Chinese are rapidly overtaking the U.S.A. on green energy, wind turbines, hybrid technology - they seem to understand where the world is going, don't want to bet the farm on an unstable supply of oil from the Middle East. Even if the majority of climate scientists are dead wrong, wouldn't we want to reduce our dependence on Saudi Arabia, become more energy-independent, and invent a new generation of clean, green (local) jobs here at home? Seems like common sense to me...

You may be surprised to hear me say that our easy winter (2 degrees above average, 10-20" less snow than normal) is NOT proof of climate change. It's CONSISTENT with climate change theory, but no one storm, month or even season is proof of anything. Just like an arctic front or heavy snowfall in D.C. in January doesn't DISPROVE climate change theory. What is difficult, yet imperative, is that people a). not mistake "weather" for "climate", and b). not focus on their little corner of the world and assume that whatever is floating over their heads is happening all across the planet. Climate scientists keep an eye on global trends, over many decades, looking at not only observed temperatures (surface and satellite-based) but other markers: quantity and quality of arctic ice, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, migration of plants and animals - across the entire planet. It's a gargantuan task, one that requires patience, accurate monitoring technology, and a truly global world-view. In spite of the 69"+ snow that hammered Washington D.C. this winter NASA confirms that (globally) average temperatures for January and February were close to 2 degrees F warmer than normal - that's worldwide. Again, very tough sometimes separating out weather from climate, but it's absolutely essential to get an accurate view of what's really going on. For that I don't listen to the local TV meteorologists (myself included). For that I defer to climate scientists who study this for a living. If 90 out of 100 doctors give pretty much the same diagnosis chances are I'm going to listen to them. So it goes with climate scientists, the vast majority of whom still believe that something is going on: the observations of melting glaciers, rising sea level, thinning ice and freakish weather extremes around the planet coincide with a 38% spike in greenhouse gases. It's either the Mother of All Coincidences, or there is linkage. Could this all be a natural cycle? Yes. Do the odds favor that 90 million tons of greenhouse gas being injected into the atmosphere will have ZERO impact on long-term climate trends? That's a stretch - theoretically possible, but, based on what the majority of climate scientists are saying, a low-probability outcome.

Hey, I hope these climate researchers are dead-wrong, I really do. I hope another viable theory comes along that proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there is NO linkage between greenhouse gases spiking and temperatures trend upward worldwide. So far it hasn't happened. Other theories have been tested (variations in the solar constant, oceans and cloud cover, water vapor theories, there are dozens of other potential explanations). Never say never - but until the scientific community rallies around a different theory, an alternative hypothesis to explain what we're observing all around us - we have to assume that the majority of climate scientists are on the right track, zigging and zagging toward something approximating "truth." But as I've been saying for years - I'm keeping an open mind.

Happy and willing to change my tune if a better (scientifically valid) explanation comes along. Until then I will defer to the collective wisdom of climate scientists (and the scientific method). Not poll numbers, focus groups, lobbyists and cable & radio talk show hosts

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

Today: Bright blue sky, cool breeze (less wind than yesterday). Winds: N 10-20. High: 55

Tonight: Clear and chilly. Low: 39

Friday: Plenty of sun - feels like May again! High: 66

Saturday: Probably the nicer day of the weekend, fading sun, mild - slight chance of a late day shower or T-shower. High: 68

Sunday: Unsettled with intervals of sun - few T-storms late? High: 65

Monday: More numerous/widespread showers and T-storms, windy and warm (you'll feel the humidity). High: 73

Tuesday: Showers and T-storms, some potentially severe. high: near 70

Wednesday: Showers taper, PM clearing, breezy. High: 67

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