Monday, June 14, 2010

A Potential Link Between Recent Floods & Climate Change?

Memories. Thanks to Tricia Frostad from Chanhassen (Lotus Lake) for reminding us what blue sky looks like. This photo was taken Sunday at their cabin near Orr, in far northern Minnesota. I'm glad part of Minnesota salvaged a little weekend sunshine - definitely the exception, not the rule. BTW, these are cirrus floccus clouds, with a little virga falling out of the scattered cloud deck at 25,000 feet. Virga is snow that evaporates into a layer of drier air before reaching the ground, resulting in little "tails" that show you which way the upper level winds are blowing. Thanks Tricia!




Better Days. Did we ever get spoiled earlier this spring. We savored one of the sunniest, warmest, storm-free springs in Minnesota history. Now the pendulum has swung in the other direction and we're making up for lost time (and rain). At some point (hopefully soon) the storm track WILL shift north of Minnesota, keeping us on the warm, sticky, southern side of the jet stream - translating into a streak of 80s and 90s with just a few spotty T-storms popping up from time to time. Like summer was meant to be. Any day now...

In San Diego they have a name for the endless string of gray, damp, dreary days this time of year, the "June Gloom." Moisture streams in off the Pacific, and many coastal communities don't see the sun again until sometime in July. Seattle residents complain about the endless days of rain, drizzle and sloppy skies. Yes, it's milder than Minnesota (year-round) but we see FAR more sun than the Pacific Northwest. We get a lot of grief for cold weather, but the truth: our coldest days are also are sunniest days - having that sun out much of the year makes a big difference.

Even Gloomier. WeatherNation meteorologist Bay Scroggins captured this photo looking out over the St. Louis River toward Lake Superior. Gray, foggy, drizzly - what month is this again?

Which brings us to the Thoroughly Forgettable June of '10. Every single day since June 1 has been partly to mostly cloudy, not one completely sunny day all month (yet). It has rained 14 of the last 15 days (!) Nearly 3" of rain has fallen in the first half of June, more than an inch more than usual. So much for the drought, huh? I don't know about you, but I'm encountering a lot of extra-grouchy friends, colleagues and family members, and I suspect the (crappy) weather has a lot to do with the added angst in the air. This is NOT the way June was meant to be - this does NOT conform with my June daydream a few months ago. Cue the warm breezes, drone of lawn mowers, laughter down at the beach, the parade of boats outside my window. The view from my rain-splattered window is pretty melancholy. Even the flowers are drooping (probably from too much rain).

For most of March, April and May the storm track was stuck in a groove (rut?), keeping big, sloppy storms south of Minnesota. Now that very same storm track, the core of the jet stream, is blowing directly above our heads, resulting in a parade of storms, with not much of a break in-between each sloppy low pressure system. During a normal June the main boundary separating cool from warm would have already been shoved well north of us, straddling the U.S./Canada border. But not this year - that tug of war is unfolding directly overhead, storms tapping an unusually strong north-south contrast in temperature (as much as 30-40 degrees from St. Louis to Duluth) to whip up unusually large shields of steady/heavy rain. You'd expect to see this kind of a pattern in April or late September/early October, but a week before the summer solstice? Very, very unusual. Which doesn't make it any easier to take.

Read it and Weep. Here is NWS climate information for June. I've circled daily rainfall amounts for MSP, rain on 14 of the last 15 days. This is payback for unusually dry weather from March through May - at some point we will break free of this soggy stranglehold and enjoy more typical June-like conditions. I see a light at the end of the tunnel (oncoming train?)

I've spent the better part of the last 2-3 weeks apologizing, for the state of the weather, and the accuracy of the forecasts. Yes, we know when we're wrong. The models have been more useless than usual - no idea what's going on, but just about every weather model we use (NAM, RUC, WRF, GFS, just ran out of acronyms) has been under-predicting the extent of the rain in recent weeks. Not to blame the computers, but without accurate model data it's tough to make much of a prediction beyond 24-36 hours. When the models are off, WE are off. Alibis aside, it's been a painful month to be a Minnesota meteorologist. It's bad enough to be tracking rain on Saturdays (3 wet Saturdays in a row) but when you forecast "showers" and it "rains" just about the entire day, we all lose our sense of humor - and blame the messenger.

Showers linger today as a wrinkle of cold air aloft drifts overhead, but we finally salvage a sunny day on Wednesday. A surge of warm, sticky 80-degree air may set off a few strong T-storms Thursday (some of the models hinting at 1"+ rains from some of these storms), but right now it appears this latest chaotic frontal boundary will be pushed just to our south by Friday, resulting in plenty of warm sun Friday and Saturday. Storms may flare up as close as Iowa, even brushing far southern MN, near the border) but right now models are keeping the bulk of the T-storms just south of town. It's a little close for comfort, can't (and won't) make any warranties or promises for the weekend. Let's just say that (right now) the outlook is considerably more promising that the last 3 Saturdays. I don't want to jinx the all-important weekend outlook. Maybe if I predict horrific conditions the sun will stay out all day Saturday and Sunday. I'm willing to give it a shot.

Plan on a mostly-lousy weekend, and be pleasantly surprised if Mother Nature cuts us all a break. We're due for a little good-weather-news.


Flash Flood. NWS Doppler Radar estimates showed 8-10" rainfall amounts just north of Oklahoma City Monday; that's 2 1/2 months of rain falling in less than 6 hours, the result was catastrophic flash flooding. What is it with flooding this season? First Nashville, then the tragic flooding of a campground in Arkansas over the weekend, now yet another 1 in 200 year flood for the greater OKC area. Are we seeing more extreme weather events, or just unlucky that these epic floods are striking more populated regions of the USA. I don't pretend to know the answer to that - but the coincidences are striking, and more than a little troubling.

Texas Washout. A photo from flash flooding in Hansford County, Texas underscores the vulnerability of small bridges during a flood event. It's worth repeating: only 2 feet of rapidly moving water can turn your vehicle into a boat, swept downstream with potentially tragic results. More than half of all flooding victims get into trouble trying to cross flooded-out roads, especially at night, when it's even more difficult estimating how deep the water really is. Don't risk it - as the NWS advises, "turn around, don't drown."

"Supercell" Check out this amazing, rotating "mesocyclone" near Chance, Colorado - you can almost see it spinning like a top! Look carefully at a developing tornado - unusual not to see any rain or hail falling from this (extreme) thunderstorm, almost like it was posing for the camera.

"Chase!" Speaking of supercells, my good friend (and professional storm chaser) Jeff Pietrowski has seen hundreds of tornadoes, never tires of the chase. He captured this footage near Elmwood, Oklahoma on Sunday, on the third day of a four day tornado-chasing-marathon. Amazing.

In Case of Storm, Spill Containment and Relief Drilling Could Be Suspended. Click here for an interesting article from the New York Times, focusing on how any future tropical storms or hurricanes would impact operations in the Gulf of Mexico. Bottom line: even a modest storm would force a temporary halt to relief drilling and clean-up efforts for a minimum of 2 weeks. Any partial containment devices soaking up some of the excess oil would have to be dismantled and moved to shore for the duration of a storm, further delaying any final engineering solution.

* A Disaster, Privately Managed. Talk about the Mother of All PR Messes. Why is BP managing (or mismanaging) this slow-motion disaster so poorly. Some news behind the news here.

Fire Vortex. Check out this Coast Guard video of the controlled (?) burn of the crude oil bubbling out of the Deepwater Horizon well. If you look carefully you can see a small "vortex" of flames, a miniature tornado of flame surging skyward, more evidence of the intense heat rising up from the conflagration.

Gulf Oil-Spill Tracker. This interactive web site from SkyTruth. Florida is starting to feel the effects of the oil spill, and conditions will only worse as more crude oil gets swept up in the clockwise-flowing "Loop Current" in the weeks ahead.

* Environmentalists use Oil Spill as a Rallying Cry. For the N.Y. Times article click here.

* Record Flooding is Pearl Harbor Moment for Climate Change. Is the recent spike in deadly flooding just a random fluke, or evidence of a larger, more disturbing trend? NOAA confirms a 20% increase in flash flooding nationwide since 1900. A warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor, increasing the potential for extreme weather events: floods, freak winter snowfalls, we've loaded the weather-dice in a sense. I'm still not convinced you can reach the conclusion that the recent spate of floods is a DIRECT result of climate change, but it's a trend we need to keep an eye on. The story is here.

* How Global Warming and Capitalism are Deeply Intertwined. Hey, I'm a capitalist, working on 3 new start-up companies. I believe in free enterprise, but also realize that we have a responsibility to make sure future growth doesn't come at the expense of the environment. A thought-provoking article is here.


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

Today: Mostly cloudy, damp with off 'n on showers. Winds: SW 5-10. High: 68

Tuesday night: Showers slowly taper. Low: 58

Wednesday: Sun (and hope) returns, milder. High: 81

Thursday: Partly sunny and sticky with T-storms. High: 84

Friday: Plenty of sun, drying out. High: 85

Saturday: Partly sunny, probably dry across most of the state (storms possible far south). High: 82

Sunday: Sun giving way to increasing clouds, T-storms possible late. High: near 80

Monday: More clouds, unsettled with more numerous T-storms. High: 83

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