Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Accelerating Melting of Arctic Sea Ice

Outlook: Solar Storms. Every time you watch a show (on satellite TV), or use your credit card to pay for gas - you're relying on a constellation of satellites in orbit 22,300 miles above the equator, minivan-size marvels of technology that are extremely vulnerable to charged particles coming from the sun, the "solar wind." NASA is concerned that, after a relatively quiet couple of years, the sun is coming back to life, with troubling implications for satellites in orbit and the vulnerability of the power grid here at ground-level. Scroll down for more on the solar cycle, and how it might impact our lives in the months and years ahead (forecast to peak in May, 2013). Something to look forward to...

O.K. Are your drip-dries drooping yet? Good grief. Soaking rains last Saturday, another long, cool drink Tuesday (yes, it once again rained longer/harder than we thought it would). Remember all those unusually sunny, mild days in March, April and May - second warmest spring on record for MSP? Consider this payback. Then again June is the wettest month of the year, on average, with 4" of rain, give or take. It's also the peak month for severe storms: hail and tornadoes. In spite of a scare in Lonsdale last Tuesday (funnel cloud observed, a tornado that didn't touch down) Minnesota has yet to record its first official tornado. Last year our first twister was observed on June 17, unusually late in the season - looks like history may repeat itself again in 2010.

Savor today, a fine Wednesday as Wednesdays go - blue sky, a few decorative cumulus clouds, a stiff west/northwest wind gusting up to 25 mph. at times this afternoon (choppy on area lakes) and highs in the mid to upper 70s, a perfectly average June 9. In spite of a fleeting (instability) shower or two up north most of us will experience a dry Wednesday, possibly the only dry day of the entire week.

Sloppy Bulls-Eye. Check out the latest QPF (quantitative precipitation forecast), showing some 3-5" rainfall amounts over the next 5 days (most of that rain coming Thursday night into Saturday). This product tends to consistently over-predict rainfall amounts, but I think it has the right idea. If one of these "MCS" T-storm complexes mushrooms to life Thursday or Friday night - there COULD be some 2"+ rainfall amounts.

Meso Convective System (MCS). This example from Oklahoma, but this (summer season) weather phenomena is most likely in June and July, especially across the Plains and Midwest, huge, sprawling lines of thunderstorms that cover thousands of square miles, producing frequent lightning strikes and flooding rains during the wee hours of the morning, usually weakening by late morning. More than you ever wanted to know about MCS's is right here (courtesy of the Nick Engerer at Oklahoma University).

A surging warm front may ignite a few hefty thunderstorms Thursday night, a nagging frontal boundary close to home keeping the environment nearby ripe for scattered showers and T-storms Friday (a tiny percentage of which may turn severe). The wind profile will be potentially ripe for hail and damaging wind gusts, there could even be an MCS, a "meso-convective system" blossoming Thursday night, again Friday night, a swarm of heavy thunderstorms that can affect much of the state, producing minor flooding and lot's of lightning. These MCS systems are most apt to form in June or July, usually along warm frontal boundaries, usually at night, when the atmosphere "de-couples", allowing strong low-level winds from the Gulf of Mexico to focus upward motion on a warm frontal boundary, resulting in some 1-3" rainfall amounts. These storms tend to strengthen at night, then weaken during the daylight hours with hazy PM sun poking through - that could be the case Friday, again Saturday, although the latest models are hinting at more widespread/heavy showers and T-storms Saturday, which (right now) definitely appears to be the wetter day of the weekend.

Acceptable Sunday? The GFS model pushes the heaviest showers/storms well east of Minnesota Saturday night, setting the stage for a partly sunny (dry) Sunday, a fresh northwest breeze at 10-20 mph, with a BIG drop in humidity. Yes, Sunday appears to be the nicer day (by an order of magnitude) right now.

I want to see a few more computer runs (we see 4 new runs of data/day) to confirm, but as of now it APPEARS that a cool frontal passage Saturday night may set the stage for a drier, sunnier, more tolerable day on Sunday with at least partly sunny skies, a stiff west/northwest wind (gusting to 20 mph at times) and a big drop in humidity. If you have a choice in the matter schedule your outdoor-fling for Sunday vs. Saturday. Not perfect, but potentially an order of magnitude better for outdoor activities.

We get another brief break Monday with lukewarm sun before yet another round of showers and T-storms arrives by Tuesday afternoon. Yes, we're making up for lost time in the rainfall department, the moderate/severe drought effecting eastern Minnesota (most pronounced over the MN Arrowhead) is easing rapidly - farmers are pretty happy about the state of affairs (soil moisture in VERY good shape over most of southern, central and western MN). We haven't had any widespread hailstorms either - really the best of all worlds for Minnesota's agricultural community - could mean a bumper harvest later this year.

Meanwhile we're hearing some troubling news out of NASA, after a few quiet years activity on the sun is heating up (sorry). More sunspots forming, more solar flares being observed. Insert yawn here. So what, you say? NASA is predicting that by May, 2013 the solar cycle may look similar to how it looked in 1859, when solar storms were so strong they knocked out telegraphs, starting house fires - back then the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) was so bright, vivid and spectacular that people could read their newspapers - at night! Great - one more thing to worry about, in addition to cataclysmic oil spills, dwindling arctic sea ice, new comets and belching volcanoes in Iceland. What's next? Chances are we'll get through this unscathed, but the latest "news" makes me want to retire to the basement and curl up into the fetal position. Then again, there may be radon in my basement. Ugh. Time to retire to the hammock.

Picking Up The Pieces. A good friend of mine, Andre Bernier, is chief meteorologist for the FOX affiliate in Cleveland - he reported live from Milbury, Ohio, where a confirmed EF-4 tornado (winds > 175 mph) touched down last weekend, 200-300 yards wide, a path length of 10 miles (!), leaving behind scores of flattened homes and at least 5 fatalities; it could have been much worse. Andre's WJW-TV coverage can be seen here. He sent me this e-mail from the scene.

"Via satellite, coverage from the Toledo tornado site.

We had 5 crews using two satellite trucks for last night's

newscast. I'm heading back out there again today to

cover for 5 and 6 PM. Describing the scene is impossible.

To see one house in perfect condition while the one twenty

feet away completely destroyed down to the foundation

is beyond comprehension... and heartbreaking to see

the owners of the destroyed houses picking through the

rubble for anything valuable with completely empty

stares as if they were robots. Sad....."

"NWS just officially upgraded this to EF4.

Yes... warnings were efficient and everyone

"got out of the way" as quickly as possible.

Seven mile track, 200-300 yards wide and

only 10 miles south of downtown Toledo.

With as big as this monster was, "only" 5 deaths

occurred. That's five too many, but under the circumstances

it could have easily been 100."

Lessons Learned. That large (shattered) building behind the reporter? That was The Lake High School gymnasium in Milbury, located in Wood County (northwestern Ohio). The photo points out the obvious: during a tornado you want to avoid large rooms, like gyms or auditoriums - those are the first structures to come down when winds exceed roughly 100 mph. The smaller the room, the better. The more walls you can get between you and the tornado, the better. A closet, bathroom, concrete-reinforced stairwell or bathtub works best. People have survived F-5 tornadoes by climbing into a bathtub, putting a mattress (if there's time) or even blankets/pillows on top of them. With the plumbing/pipes it seems the bathtub is the last thing to go. I have seen aerial scenes of a tornado aftermath, nothing left but foundations (and bathtubs). That's where I would want to ride out a tornado - if I couldn't get to a basement in time.

Elmwood, Illinois Tornado. Welcome to shaky-cam, but I'd be shaking if there was an EF-2 tornado less than a mile away. I'd be positively peeing my pants! These storm chasers were a relatively safe distance away, approaching from the south/southeast, which is the least risky direction to approach a tornadic thunderstorm. Again, when I've chased in the past I haven't been too worried about driving into a tornado. What worries me is the yahoo's blasting through stop signs, driving over 100 mph. to catch up to a tornado. The potential for traffic accidents, especially when a tornado is on the ground, is off the scale. The YouTube video is here.

10 Ways To Prepare For Nature's Worst. Be Prepared. Maybe it's the Boy Scout (Eagle Scout - thank God for weather merit badge, or I might have a real job right now) in me, but the motto comes to mind: be prepared. You can only do so much to prepare for a natural disaster, but steps taken preemptively can safe you a lot of pain, drudgery and heartache after the skies open up overhead. Click here for some very timely reminders about steps you can take today to lessen the hassles after a disaster.

Oil Spill Expert: BP is "Groping in the Dark." Great. Just what you want to hear. The recent "fix" to the riser cap may have actually increased the amount of crude spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. BP has consistently underestimated the size and scope of the leak (financial concerns?) and time-sensitive information about flow volume may have been intentionally withheld from the public. Not sure who to believe on this one - but I don't have a warm, fuzzy feeling listening to BP's "experts" on this one. The video is here.

Outlook: Greater Chance of Seeing the Northern Lights. One of the silver linings of more storms on the surface of the sun: a greater frequency and intensity of the Aurora Borealis, the "Northern Lights", which can be stunning on a clear, nighttime sky in Minnesota. Wednesday's print column focused on the latest information coming out of NASA - growing concern about an up-cycle on the sun, and what that might mean here on Earth. One more reason not to come out of the basement.

* Solar Storms Could Be Earth's Next Katrina. The story is here.

* The Newest Threat To All Life on Earth: Solar Storms. If you're not already sufficiently depressed, click here.

A solar Katrina? (Star Tribune print column)

"Tonight's forecast? Dark. Continuing mostly dark tonight, with widely scattered light in the morning. The radar is picking up a line of thunder showers. However the radar is also picking up a squadron of Russian ICBMs - so I wouldn't sweat the thunder showers, you know, man," said the Hippie Dippie Weatherman, George Carlin. Perspective is important. While our focus is on volcanoes and oil spills, NASA warns of future solar storms capable of disrupting communications satellites and electrical power grids. "The sun is waking up from a deep slumber, and in the next few years we expect to see much higher levels of solar activity," said NASA scientist Richard Fisher. By May, 2013 the sun's solar cycle will peak at a level similar to 1859, when telegraph lines shorted out, catching homes on fire, and the aurora was so bright people could read newspapers (at night). Great. More details on my weather blog.

We get a break from the rain today, enough sun for upper 70s. A surge of warm, sticky

We get a break from the rain today, enough sun for upper 70s. A surge of warm, sticky air ignites scattered T-storms Thursday night into Saturday, a tiny percentage could be severe. Sunday should be the sunnier, drier day, a cool northwest breeze, highs in the 70s. No worries.

Comet McNaught. Speaking of celestial events, a new comet is winging its way through the inner solar system. The story is in spaceweather.com.

Accelerating Melting of Arctic Sea Ice. From the National Snow and Ice Data Center:

"In May, Arctic air temperatures remained above average, and sea ice extent declined at a rapid pace. At the end of the month, extent fell near the level recorded in 2006, the lowest in the satellite record for the end of May. Analysis from scientists at the University of Washington suggests that ice volume has continued to decline compared to recent years. However, it is too soon to say whether Arctic ice extent will reach another record low this summer—that will depend on the weather and wind conditions over the next few months." The web link is here.

Delightful Waste of Time. O.K. This web site has nothing to do with weather, unless I could somehow tie this into the "dog days." I don't have the energy to even try. Type in commands - "beg", "roll over" and "play dead" worked like a charm. This is one very obedient dog! Pass it on...

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

Today: Plenty of sun, windy and mild. A PM pop-up shower possible up north. Winds: W/NW 15-25+ High: 78

Wednesday night: Partly cloudy. Low: 59

Thursday: Partly sunny, clouds increase during the day. Heavy T-storms possible Thursday night. High: 76

Friday: Sticky with intervals of hazy sun, a few strong (severe?) T-storms possible, best chance early morning, again Friday evening/night. High: 83

Saturday: Wetter day of the weekend. Showers and T-storms likely, some potentially heavy. High: 78 (Winds: S/SE 10-15, much higher gusts in strong T-storms. Hours of rain: 3-6)

Sunday: Cool frontal passage. Partly sunny, breezy and noticeably less humid. High: 75 (Winds: W/NW 10-20+. Hour of rain: 0).

Monday: Dry with generous sunshine. High: 78

Tuesday: Sunny start, skies sour, PM T-storms arrive. High: 77

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