Monday, April 5, 2010

Bulletin: it may actually rain today

One of the Earliest Ice-Outs? My friend and colleague, Tom Nicol, got his boat onto Lake Minnetonka April 2. It's the earliest he's been able to do this - and he's pretty pumped about the idea of a 5 month boating season this year. The Freshwater Society has a great site highlighting ice-out dates on 'Tonka. The earliest ice-out: March 11, 1878. The latest: May 8, 1856. The most typical dates the ice comes off Gray's Bay: April 17-19. Yep, we were more than 2 weeks ahead of "average" this year. Whatever "average" is.

* Last measurable snowfall in the Twin Cities: 1/10th inch of snow on Feb. 23. According to Pete Boulay 2009's last day of measurable snow was April 5. If we don't see any more accumulating snow 2010 would go down in the books as the "earliest end to the accumulating snow season for the Twin Cities since 1878." There's a nugget.

One of these days it's going to rain. If we keep predicting puddles at some point Mother Nature will probably throw in towel and cue the rain drops, thunderclaps, the hypnotic whoosh of windshield wipers. Some day (hopefully soon) you'll have a chance to wrestle with your umbrella, wiggle into a rain coat, you know, actually do battle with the elements?

We're going on 3 weeks without significant rain, I'm getting increasingly nervous about the potential for drought - if the heavens don't open up soon farmers will be facing dry fields for spring planting - we need to amp up the soil moisture, and within the next 2 weeks or so to avoid delays in the fields. Too early to worry (a lot), maybe it's just paranoia on my part, the memories of severe drought across most of Minnesota still fresh in my mind. Hopefully the weather-pendulum will swing back in the other direction and we'll actually be able to track green (or yellow/orange!) blobs on Doppler radar. We're due.

Right Idea - Not Going to Happen. Check out the sharp cut-off in precipitation just north of Willmar and Monticello. The previous model run was hinting at some 2"+ amounts from Albert Lea to Rochester and Winona. The very latest model runs cut way down on the amounts, the Twin Cities will be lucky to see .25 to .30" of rain today, maybe .05 to .15" for St. Cloud - an inch or so still possible within 75 miles of the Iowa border.

The latest NAM weather model, probably the most reliable/accurate weather simulation we use to get a jump on what SHOULD happen over the next 84 hours. Lately all the models have been unusually unreliable. Not making excuses - but SOMETHING is causing all the models to overestimate rainfall amounts in recent weeks. Perhaps El Nino, which has energized the southern branch of the jet stream, turbo-charging storms from Dixie to New England, has diverted moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, in essence "soaking up" water which should have streamed all the way north to Minnesota, fueling storms in the northern branch of the storm track. It's a stretch, but I can't think of any other plausible explanations for why the storms seem to be pooped, "gently used", by the time they reach the Upper Midwest.

No more alibi's - the truth hurts, and there's a 25% probability it will set me free.

But Wait - There's More! Every week we tee up another storm, every week we have to list out the reasons it didn't rain (much). Once again the (fickle/unreliable) GFS is suggesting that a major storm will strike Minnesota next Monday-Tuesday, with a potential for the first widespread severe T-storm outbreak. Why am I even showing you this? Hope. There's always hope. At some point this dry pattern will break, probably with a vengeance.

Latest model prints out .43". So we've gone from a 1.2" prediction (from the 6 am run) to .43" in the span of 12 hours. See what I mean? The storms fizzle by the time they reach this latitude. Consistently. Very odd - and this has been happening for weeks. We dry out (rapidly) on Wednesday as winds shift around to the north, sunshine the rule the latter half of the week. 70 is a distinct possibility by Saturday, at least we'll enjoy 60s over the weekend, a very slight chance of an isolated shower, but most of Saturday and Sunday should be dry, temperatures 10-20 degrees above average. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop - a freak snowstorm, one last (horrific) arctic front that will qualify as "breaking news." I don't even see another frost for the southern third of Minnesota!

How are you handling the Information Revolution? Do you feel more connected, or more frustrated, or both? What is the decorum for answering e-mails, btw? Some of my friends and colleagues get irritable if they don't get an e-mail answer within an hour. Text messages and tweets are even more time-sensitive: answers DEMANDED within 2 minutes. Since when? How did this happen? All of us are on call, nearly 24/7. It's the age of instant-gratification. We live in the land of What-Have-You-Done-For-Me-In-The-Last-15 Minutes. All of us are doing more with less, trying to use Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, texts, voice mail and a thousand other ways to communicate to make up for fewer bodies in the office, fewer colleagues to do the things that TEAMS of people did 20 years ago. All of us are suffering from information-overload. It's Digital Triage out there! What has to get done in the next 60 seconds? What gets pushed back and addressed within 30 minutes? 2 hours? The harder I work the more crap accumulates on my desk (and on my PC). Amazing. I hope I'm not the only one fuming about digital overload. All these gadgets were supposed to "set us free," allow us to work from home or the lake (!) Instead we're IM'ing, texting and tweeting our little fingers until they're numb. What's the solution - disconnect from the grid? Maybe. The time will come. For me a "perfect day" is one where I am totally and truly cut off from all-things-digital. On the lake, sun on my face, revving up the ski boat while my boys knee-board, tinkering with my video camera. All "devices" conveniently left on the shore, turned off. Do iPhones float? A worthy experiment.

One of these days...

For now we're blasting forward, I'm excited about the future, VERY pumped about the iPad. The device itself is beside the point - it's an early vision of where the information world seems to be heading. We're all news directors now. And music directors. And wary gatekeepers, just a tap away from releasing our deepest secrets to new, would-be "friends." Crazy. Reminds me of the conversations we have on airplanes, ready and willing to divulge our deepest secrets to a complete and utter stranger sitting next to us on a flight - someone we'll never see again. The power of the iPad: personalized, constantly-updating, GPS-aware information TAILORED FOR EACH OF US. That's a powerful concept. We're already hunting, picking - grazing - for relevant/interesting news on our PC's & Macs, checking in every few hours to see "what's new." Now we're truly untethered, able to carry our (personalized) digital favorites with us. My vision for weather has always been personalized data streams, available anytime, anywhere, on any device - tailored for each user. We have some exciting plans for the iPad and other mobile devices - looking forward to rolling out some new innovations soon. My question to you is: will the need to "hear the weather story" go away? Will people still want perspective, commentary, some attempt at explaining "what it means", not just WHAT and WHEN. What about the HOW and WHY? That's the trillion dollar question - will our grandkids still expect a 3 minute weather story, a meteorologist in front of a green-screen, telling you what happened, what's happening, and what SHOULD happen (and why?) Wish I had the answers - the questions are coming fast & furious.

Appreciate you reading this - sorry for the tangent/rant - but these are some of the disconnected thoughts swimming through my muddled brain.

Supercell Season Time. Check out the "mesocyclone", the "supercell" thunderstorms that erupted over northern Kentucky yesterday evening along a warm front. Tornadoes are far more likely to bubble up along warm frontal boundaries (where the wind shear is more favorable for thunderstorms to spin up and rotate) than along cold fronts. Check out the classic "hook" in the lower left corner of the cells, another strong hint that the storm is capable of large hail, possibly even a tornado. Unfortunately most tornado warnings are "Doppler indicated", they're spinning, so the local NWS errs on the side of caution and issues a warning, just in case. But less than 20% of all spinning supercells go on to spin up tornadoes. Sometimes the most intense, spinning storms do NOT go on to "tornado." Other conditions come into play, stability indexes, moisture supply, a nearby boundary that can focus the upward spin. We're learning more about how and why tornadoes form, but until we make a true breakthrough, just about all spinning T-storms will warrant a tornado warning. Nobody wants to "cry wolf", but it's better to over-warn than under-warn, get caught with your Doppler down. This is why Skywarn spotters and law enforcement are so critical, to provide "ground truth," to be able to look at a wall cloud and radio in a real-time report that a spinning thunderstorm is, in fact, whipping up a tornado.

Anatomy of a Supercell. Thanks to a program called "GR2 Analyst" we can see a 3-D visualization of a thunderstorm, highlight the "hail core", even see if there is strong rotation within a cell. It's a little like a Cat-Scan for a thunderstorm, allowing us to take a real-time slice of a storm and diagnose whether it's capable of dropping large hail or spinning up a tornado. It isn't fool-proof, but it's another important tool in our severe weather arsenal. Here's the deal: you can download this on your PC (sorry, no Mac version yet). You can sign up for a free trial version, for the amount of functionality it's a lot of bang for the buck if you decide to purchase it (and be your own armchair meteorologist!)

STS-131. Click here for a NASA video of the latest Space Shuttle launch. 3 female astronauts onboard, joining a 4th at the International Space Station. No punch line here. Wouldn't dare...

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

Today: Periods of rain, windy & damp - slower commutes. Winds: NE 15-25. High: 54

Tonight: Rain tapers. Low: 42

Wednesday: Cool, damp, gray start, then sunshine by afternoon - breezy. High: 57

Thursday: Plenty of sun, springy again. High: near 60

Friday: Lot's of sun - very pleasant. High: 63

Saturday: Sun fades behind increasing clouds, still unseasonably mild. High: 65 (70 possible nearby?)

Sunday: Cooler with a mix of clouds and sun, isolated shower? High: 58

Monday: Cloudy with a much better chance of rain. High: 57

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