Sunday, May 9, 2010

Rain, Snow and a Setback in the Gulf of Mexico

The Original Back Yard? Almost. Hey, nice denim vest! O.K. Cut me a break, this was back in 1979, I was a senior at Penn State, doing weekend weather for WNEP in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton PA. Every weekend they paid me $50 and put me up at the lovely Luxury Budget Inn in Wilkes-Barre. There are two words you rarely see back-to-back. The station aimed a camera out a garage door window, and viewers loved seeing the weatherguy being tortured by the weather. Great. Truth be told: the original back yard was in Buffalo, at WKBW-TV. Weatherman Tom Joles stood out in an alley to do the weather, until drunken hockey fans started lobbing beer bottles at him one night. My New Director cut to the chase: "Paul, if you're outside at least you'll get the CURRENT weather right." He had a point.

Last 32 F Reading? At MSP International the official temperature bottomed out at 32 F between 5-6 am. Notice the lack of wind, crystal clear skies - perfect conditions for unseasonably cold weather. Check out the last 72 hours (hour by hour) by clicking here.

An Easy Winter. No, it really wasn't all that bad, a total of 126 nights colder than 32 F. since September 1, 2009. During an average winter (running 30 year average) we should have experienced 153 nights colder than 32 F. We picked up an extra MONTH of 32+ lows.

Freeze Facts. On average our last night of 32 F or colder weather in the Twin Cities comes on April 29. The earliest end to the frost season: April 6. The latest: May 24. More freeze information from the NWS here.

Sunday Almanac. Folks up in Hibbing woke up to 20 F, a brisk 22 at International Falls, 26 at St. Cloud, 32 at Rochester and the Twin Cities. Daytime highs were in the 50s, only 45 at Grand Marais, a raw breeze blowing off Lake Superior.

Fire & Ice. Talk about a lop-sided weather map. Red flag warnings are posted for much of the southwest, a high risk of brushfires, while frost/freeze warnings are in effect from the Great Lakes to interior New England. The latest NWS watch/warning map is here.

Ugh. It's a Monday - a gray, cool, soon-to-be-soggy Monday. At least we salvaged a fine Sunday, a few degrees cooler than average, but in the sun it felt pretty good out there (with a very light breeze for once). Did your flowers survive Saturday night? A frost/freeze was reported across much of the area, a poignant (some would say blunt) reminder that you really should wait until Memorial Day - at least Mother's Day - to plant annuals at this northerly latitude. Oh well. Live and learn.

Shifting Patterns. The core of the jet stream, the main superhighway for storms, is lifting northward, putting Minnesota in the cross-hair of the most significant rains (which usually fall just north of the storm track). Some 3" rainfall amounts are predicted across Iowa and southern Wisconsin by Friday, but keep in mind that the QPF tends to overestimate rainfall amounts. Still, the trend is pretty obvious. By Wednesday we may not have to worry about drought conditions (moderate drought hanging on over roughly the eastern third of Minnesota according to the DNR).

Take something waterproof with you as you fly out the door - a dry morning commute will give way to expansive puddles for the drive home (leave early - chances are it'll be slower than usual). When did RAIN slow our commutes? How did that happen? I realize roads can be slippery when it first begins to rain (usually after a long dry spell, when oils can accumulate on highway surface - the first few drops of rain can produce a greasy, slippery concoction that can be nearly as slick as glaze ice). But I'm continually amazed by how much plain-Jane-rain can slow down traffic. Most rainy days commute times are double, sometimes triple what they would be on a dry day.

Watering Optional. Models print out significant rain, anywhere from .8 to 1.6" of rain by Wednesday morning. I think we'll wind up close to about 1" of rain across much of the metro, most of it coming late Monday night through midday Tuesday.

Models print out .7 to 1.4" of rain tonight and Tuesday, and the rumors are true: enough cold air will drain south of the border for another changeover to wet snow - the best chance of a little slush (once again) coming over far northern Minnesota. The same towns that picked up 4-5" of snow Friday night [Hibbing and Duluth] may see a couple more inches of snow during the day Tuesday. Good grief. We went from the LEAST snow in March and April to the MOST May snow in 86 years for Duluth, and history may repeat itself within 36 hours. A few wet snowflakes are possible in the metro area by Tuesday evening, temperatures falling through the 40s into the 30s (raw!) but no accumulation close to home.

May Slush. Yes, I'm as sick of including this graphic as you are looking at it - let's hope this is the last storm where there's any potential for wet snow. The best chance of a few inches? Near Duluth, Hibbing and Bemidji. The best chance of accumulating snow? Before sunrise Tuesday morning, again Tuesday evening, after sunset.

Welcome to the Backwards Spring of '10. Nothing makes sense anymore. I'm almost scared to come to work - for fear of seeing what new weather atrocity is lurking around the next corner. But compared to apocalyptic oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, biblical flooding in Nashville, and belching volcanoes detouring flights all across Europe - we're getting off pretty easy. The core of the jet stream (which was stuck over the southern USA for much of February, March and April) is now lifting north, the wettest storms are passing right over the Upper Midwest, but so far we've been on the cool, stable, rainy, northern side of the storm track. That has kept severe weather outbreaks mostly south of Minnesota, across Iowa and Missouri and Illinois. At some point, withing 2-4 weeks, a continued northward migration of the main storm track will place Minnesota into the "warm sector" of these passing storms, leaving us more vulnerable to severe storms, hail and isolated tornadoes. That doesn't look imminent, but it will happen, probably late May, first week or two of June.

Warming Up For The Opener. 30 degrees in 4-5 days? After huddling in coats and heavy jackets Tuesday (temperatures stuck in the 30s/40s) we should see 60s by Saturday, even an outside chance of sampling 70 by Sunday. Finally.

We dry out Wednesday, a slow warming trend through the end of the week. Looks like the Minnesota Fishing Opener will at least start out dry Saturday, sun giving way to increasing clouds, a brisk southeast breeze (10-20 mph) whipping up a healthy walleye-chop, highs in the low to mid 60s, even up north. Factor in a falling barometer and thickening clouds by afternoon and the weather may actually cooperate with your fish-catching expedition Saturday! A little rain is possible Saturday night, followed by a clearing trend Sunday: more sun, less wind, highs well up in the 60s (to near 70 on metro area lakes). Not bad for a fishing opener in Minnesota (considering it could still be snowing). We'll keep fine-tuning the all-important Fishing Opener Outlook as the week goes on, as newer, more accurate model data arrives. This is one forecast every Minnesota meteorologist wants to get right, believe me.

Oil Slick Update. You can see an oily sheen to the Gulf of Mexico (I don't think that's my imagination). The main slick is in red, but oil is spreading across much of the Gulf - it's only a matter of time - maybe a week? - before oil starts washing up on beaches near Tampa, St. Pete and Sarasota. An update on the efforts to plug up the gushing well from the N.Y. Times is here.No Fishing Allowed. According to NOAA a larger region of the Gulf of Mexico is now off limits for commercial fishing. Expect this "dead-zone" to continue expanding in the days and weeks ahead as engineers scramble to find a fix that works. This (vaguely) reminds me of the Three Mile Island incident near Harrisburg, PA in March, 1979, when a nuclear power plant came within minutes of melting down. In the end the scientists and engineers found a way to bleed off potentially combustible hydrogen from the nuclear plant's containment vessel, but new research suggests we may have come within 30-90 minutes of a total meltdown of the (unprotected) uranium in the fuel rods. This too is a slow-motion disaster with potentially long-term ecological consequences. Had TMI melted down large areas of southcentral PA would have been uninhabitable for 80+ years. I was 25 miles downwind of the plant (visiting my family while attending Penn State). Our bags were packed, we were ready to evacuate. At the time I didn't appreciate how close we came to losing our home - I was confident that "science would save us", that engineers would ultimately come up with a fix. This time around, I'm not so sure. I hope and pray we figure out a way to stop the oil (5,000 barrels/day, but some estimates place the oil gusher at 10 times that number).

Icelandic Volcano - The Sequel. Here we go again. After dying down for the better part of a week the volcano is acting up again, injecting ash 30,000 feet into the atmosphere, where prevailing jet stream winds are spreading the cloud across much of Europe, causing more flights to be detoured (or canceled altogether). The ash is circled in red - to see the latest Meteo Sat European cloud loop click here.

Solar Spectacular. Over the weekend magnetic fields surrounding sunspot #1069 became unstable, producing a series of spectacular eruptions on the sun. Click here to see video of the solar explosions, courtesy of NASA.

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

Today: Cloudy with rain developing by afternoon. Winds: SE 15-25. High: 57

Monday night: Rain, heavy at times (mixing wit snow far northern MN). Low: 42

Tuesday: Windy and raw with periods of rain, mixing with wet snow, especially northern third of MN, where a few inches of slush may accumulate. High: 45

Wednesday: Cold start, mostly cloudy - a drier day. High: 52

Thursday: Patchy clouds, PM shower possible, still cool. High: 56

Friday: Sun returns, starting to feel like spring again. High: 63

Saturday (MN Fishing Opener!) Sunny start, then increasing PM clouds. Winds: SE 10-20. High: 65

Saturday night: Showers likely. Low: 50

Sunday: More sun, drying out, feels like May again. High: 71

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