Monday, June 7, 2010

BP Spill: Bigger than Lake Erie

With Americans transfixed - fascinated - horrified - by the ecological nightmare unfolding along the Gulf Coast, it's harder than usual to get worked up about Minnesota's weather. Yes, a little humidity is in the outlook - it may rain again next weekend - there may even be a few isolated severe storms close to home by Friday and Saturday. But so what? It's spring as usual in Minnesota, a little sun, a little rain, a little stickiness - a very low probability of quality basement-time, any severe weather late week will be the exception, not the rule.



Bigger than Lake Erie. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is vast, superimposing it over MN and WI gives us a better perspective of the size of the oil spill (and this is on the surface of the water - we have no idea how extensive the underwater plume is). Check this out for yourself at ifitwasmyhome.com.

Try to imagine if every lake in Minnesota ran out of water - simultaneously, all drained in unison from top to bottom. Imagine the outcry. I don't think any of us can imagine the sense of apprehension and dread being felt by residents living from coastal Texas to Florida, 15 to 20 million Americans crowded onto the coast, waiting for some deep, dark, mysterious mess to wash ashore. Fear of the unknown - like some mythic monster lurking in the shadows, all residents from Brownsville to Key West can do is wait, wonder, and try to cope with America's worst natural disaster. Unlike Katrina or any other hurricane, there is no end-date, no finality in sight, no sign of a quick fix or magic solution. 50 days and counting, some alleged experts are predicting that relief wells may not relieve the pressure in the main well until early 2011, but frankly, it's the blind leading the blind. This has never happened before, at least not a mile underwater. Shooting golf balls into the well? Is that really the best we can do? It would seem like a bad SNL sketch if it wasn't tragically true.

According to oil man T. Boone Pickens on CNN last night there is no guarantee the relief well will even work. The 1979 blow-out in the Gulf of Mexico (off the coast of Mexico) went on for 290 days before the relief wells go results; and that well was only in 200 feet of water.

* Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price. Yes, this New York Times article hit a nerve. It got me off my butt and made me take a long, hard look at how "connected" I've become. I get jittery when I can't access e-mail, go through withdrawl pangs when the 'net is unavailable. Not healthy. Gadgets were supposed to set us free - but they've just given us new ways to become digitally enslaved.

A Multitasking Machine (print column)


"The real danger is not that computers will begin to think like men, but that men will begin to think like computers," wrote Sydney J. Harris. Monday's New York Times had an eye-opening story about computers and our dwindling attention spans. The average person receives 4,000 messages/day; we check e-mail or change programs 37 times/hour, consume 12 hours of media every day. The forecast calls for stress, trouble focusing and short-term memory challenges as we surf a tidal wave of data, trying (often in vain) to extract a few nuggets of wisdom. It seems that "plugging in to the 'net" is a drug for many of us. We need our information fix, but grazing multiple screens makes it harder to focus on what really matters in our lives. "Hi, my name is Paul, I'm addicted to my iLife." Hi Paul. I see it in my own life; if new stimuli doesn't arrive within 15 seconds my mind wanders, I'm easily distracted. I just wish my mouth had a backspace key. Ugh. The antidote? Unplugging. Disconnecting.

Good luck. Let's keep in touch (via snail-mail ok?)


Enjoy a little fleeting sun; strong T-storms rumble into town by Thursday. A front stalls nearby, keeping us soggy from Friday into Monday. Sorry.



After a reasonable, lukewarm Monday our sky sours today, between a weak storm passing off to our south, and a weak frontal system approaching from the Dakotas, scattered showers, even a heavier thunderstorm, are possible anytime today, temperatures holding in the low 70s with considerable cloud cover, a few hours of rain possible.

Wednesday still looks like the sunniest, driest (nicest) day of the week, afternoon highs surging well into the 70s to near 80 - humidity levels low and quite comfortable. A surge of warm, sticky air direct from the bayous of Louisiana will leave us sweating it out by the end of the week, dew points rising into the 60s, afternoon highs poking into the low 80s (if there is any sun at all, which seems likely). With the added "juice", instability and wind shear (changing wind direction/speed with altitude) the potential for a few isolated severe storms will increase from late Thursday into Saturday. Not sure if we'll see a widespread severe weather outbreak, but warm fronts in June tend to focus upward motion - I could see some minor flooding, small hail and damaging wind gusts late in the week. We're due - we have yet to see a tornado touchdown this year in Minnesota (although a funnel cloud was spotted near Lonsdale last Tuesday). The second warmest spring in Minnesota history has also been remarkably quiet on the severe weather front. No complaints here - but the atmosphere has an uncanny ability to compensate, unusually quiet weather is USUALLY followed by outbreaks of unusually severe weather. My hunch is that we'll be making up for lost time (in terms of severe weather) in the coming weeks.

A Week's Worth of Severe Weather. Those red dots are confirmed tornadoes (including the funnel cloud that formed in the skies over Lonsdale, MN last Tuesday). Blue dots are reports of severe hail (1" diameter or larger), green dots represent record 24-hour rainfall reports. Data courtesy of Ham Weather.

June is the most severe month of the year, on average Minnesota sees 9 tornadoes every June, about a third of all Minnesota tornado touchdowns take place in June, according to NWS records dating back to 1950. June is also the wettest month of the year, on average, with just over 4" of rain in a typical year. Attention all June brides (and over-stressed parents planning grad parties): this is the worst month of the year for an outdoor ceremony. Do yourself (and your guests) a favor: rent the tent!

Saturday Heat? The latest GFS run shows the main frontal boundary running from far northern MN into the Dakotas, a warm, gusty south/southeast wind, dew points near 70 (it will be sticky!) We can't rule out a few T-storms over far northern and western MN. I want to see a few more computer runs (we get 4/day) but right now it would appear that Saturday will be the better day for the lake, although gusty (winds may top 30 mph.) Highs may reach well into the 80s, 90 not out of the question over far southern MN. The Dakota front pushes east, increasing the chance of Sunday showers and storms, temperatures cooling into the 70s. It's still too early to get specific about the weekend, but Saturday will NOT be a total washout, like last Saturday was. It may even feel like mid summer out there...

Elmwood, Illinois Tornado. Twitter photo taken Saturday evening. Tornadoes also hit eastern Iowa over the weekend, a recap from the Des Moines Register is here.

Evidence of a Monster. Tornado survivors in northwestern Ohio searched the remains of their homes, following a massive tornado over the weekend that claimed 7 lives, flattening at least 50 homes. A YouTube video showing the devastation in Wood county is here.

Meteorological Steamroller. When you see well-constructed (brick/stone) homes taken down all the way to the foundation, you know you're dealing with the aftermath of a particularly large, violent tornado. The "wedge" tornado that swept through Millbury, OH may have been 1/4 to 1/2 mile wide, with winds over 200 mph, possibly an EF3 or EF4 tornado.

Best Protection. This man, Scott Swartz protected his family by riding out the tornado in his basement. A quick decision probably saved his life. Again, the risk is not being swept up into the tornado funnel - its being hit on the head by a piece of debris traveling at 150-200 mph. Blunt head trauma: the cause of most tornado-related injuries and deaths.


Vehicular Missiles. This is why you don't want to be in, under or near a car or truck during a tornado - they can be tossed around like toys during a direct strike. If you can't drive away from a tornado (or seek shelter in a building nearby) get out of your car and crouch down in a ditch next to the highway. Do NOT hide under a concrete bridge overpass - this increases the risk of being hit by flying debris.
Wedge Tornado. This was the scene near Peoria, Illinois on Saturday - amazing video of a mesocyclone, a rapidly rotating thunderstorm that went on to spawn a tornado nearby.

Hurricane Outlook. I don't even want to think about what a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico might do later this summer. Any BP ships trying to vacuum up excess oil from the Deepwater Horizon well would have to head to shore to ride out the storm - a good 1-2 weeks might pass before recovery efforts (and relief wells) could be restarted, in the meantime oil would be flowing directly into the Gulf. Where would hurricane-related winds/waves push the oil? No one knows for sure - it would depend on the precise track of the storm, but the notion of oil waves (and rain) lashing the coast is not science fiction. This is going to be one of the more unusual hurricane seasons in our nation's history - let's hope we get a break from Mother Nature (but I doubt it). More on the upcoming hurricane season here.

Pakistan Flood. The soggy remains of Cyclone Phet lashed coastal Pakistan, inundating it's largest city, Karachi. An update from USA Today is here.

Florida Under The Gun. The oil slick is gradually approaching the western coastline of Florida, forecast to be 35 miles west of St. Pete Beach by this afternoon. A YouTube forecast from NOAA outlining the growing threat to Florida's coast is here.


Swarm of Tremors. Something brewing in southern California? No idea, but Monday a cluster of 3.0+ tremors were reported just west of L.A., less than 5 miles south/west of LAX Airport. Click here for more information from USGS.

Things Heating Up On The Sun. Yes, the sun is still hot, still not safe to stare at it. According to NASA our sun is "awaking from a lengthy slumber", things have been unusually quiet on the surface of the sun in recent years, very few sunspots or solar flares. That may be about to change, according to this update from NASA.

Gallows Humor. Have a Twitter account? Make sure you follow BPGlobalPR for some unauthorized tweets from BP. Actually, it's satire, definitely NOT originating from BP. Inappropriate? Possibly - but just one of many creative way for people to vent their (growing) frustration at what's happening in the Gulf of Mexico.


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

Today: Mostly cloudy, a few showers likely, even a clap of thunder. Winds: SE 10-20. High: 72

Tuesday night: Showers taper, still damp. Low: 58

Wednesday: Plenty of sun - nicest, driest day of the week? High: 78

Thursday: More clouds, more humidity - best chance of T-storms Thursday night. High: near 80

Friday: Unsettled with a little hazy sun, risk of a T-storm or two, possibly strong/severe. High: 83

Saturday: Feels like mid summer. Windy and almost hot with hazy sun - T-storms over far northern/western MN. High: 87

Sunday: Cloudier and cooler with showers. High: 78

Monday: Front stalls, a wave of low pressure may produce a period of steadier rain. High: 75

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