Friday, August 27, 2010

An Ice-Free Northern Passage (for the 4th consecutive year)

Ice-Free. According to the University of Illinois Polar Research Group both the Northwest Passage (across Canada) and the Northeast Passage (north of Russia) are ice-free and open, as of late August. According to Jeff Masters in his Wunderblog, this is the 4th consecutive year - and the 4th time in recorded history - that the Northwest passage is open to ship navigation, a mind-boggling (potential) short-cut from the Atlantic to the Pacific, shortening the passage through the Panama Canal by many thousands of miles. 2010 marks the 3rd consecutive year, and the 3rd time in recorded history, that both the Northwest and the Northeast Passages were ice-free and open to shipping. More data from the University of Illinois "Cryosphere Today" and the National Snow & Ice Data Center.

Sea Ice Trends. 2010 is rivaling 2007 for the least arctic sea ice ever measured, well below the 1979-2000 averages. Data courtesy of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder, CO.
Superstorm. The late-afternoon visible satellite from Ham Weather showed an impressive category 4 hurricane in the mid Atlantic. Danielle is the strongest storm of the season so far - forecast to re-curve to the north, and then the northeast in the coming days, sparing the east coast of the USA.

Prime-Time For Hurricanes. A word to the wise: avoid Caribbean cruises from late August into late September. Hurricane season peaks on September 11, the day when a hurricane is most likely to make landfall somewhere in the USA. Graphic courtesy of KFOR-TV in Miami.

Conga-Line of Hurricanes. Danielle, Earl, possibly "Finona" in the days to come. Suddenly the Tropics looks MUCH busier, almost like turning on a light-switch. So far steering winds have nudged these storms well east of the USA. But with Earl (and possibly Fiona) it may be a much closer call by Labor Day weekend. More information below - high-res satellite image courtesy of Ham Weather.

Close Encounter? These are projected wave heights for Labor Day weekend. Soon-to-be Hurricane Earl is forecast to take a more southerly track than Danielle, recurving to the north later - closer to the east coast of the USA. Although odds still favor that Earl will not deliver a direct blow to the Carolinas (or New England) the storm is forecast to intensify to a major, category 3 hurricane, capable of generating 20-30 foot swells 200 to 400 miles east of the Carolina's Outer Banks - coastal flooding and beach erosion can't be ruled out as far north as Cape Cod and the Canadian Maritimes. The storm is still a week away from threatening the east coast - hurricane forecasters will be keeping a very close eye on Earl. Map courtesy of Accu Weather and GrADS:COLA/IGES

Latest Track Prediction. By Thursday of next week Earl may be a category 3 hurricane with sustained winds over 111 mph. Depending on exactly when the storm jogs to the north/northeast Earl may come very close to the eastern seaboard of the USA. Map courtesy of NHC and Ham Weather.

Sign Me Up! Before I kick the can for good I want to see weather from low-orbit. Yes, I would give up an organ (or two) for a chance to be launched into space. And for the very reasonable price of $200K (!) you too can be a Space Cadette. Interested? A nice operator at Virgin Galactic would be happy to take your Black Centurion American Express card number. Don't laugh too hard - 340 people with way too much disposable income have already plunked down their $20K deposits. What a country. More details here.


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

Today: Sunny, windy and hot. Winds: S 15-30. High: 87

Saturday night: Clear, mild and muggy. Low: 66

Sunday: Feels like mid July, hazy sun, still windy, still hot (a bit more humid as dew points rise into the mid 60s). Winds: S 15-30. High: 89

Monday: Steamy sun, still breezy - feels like the Dog Days. High: near 90

Tuesday: Good chance of showers & storms, wettest day in sight. High: 83

Wednesday: Blue sky, a big drop in humidity. High: 78

Thursday: Plenty of sun, still comfortably cool. High: 76

Friday: Some sun early, then increasing clouds - cool. High: 74


Labor Day Weekend Preview

Saturday: Mostly cloudy and unsettled with a few hours of showers, possible thunder. High: 76

Sunday: More clouds than sun, a passing shower or T-storm, a bit warmer. High: 81

Labor Day: Partly sunny & sticky, risk of a T-storm (but much of the day should be dry). High: 84

A word to the wise: make the most of what may be the last truly summer-like, 85-90 degree (sticky), truly lake-worthy weekend of the summer season. Will we have more 80s in September? Probably - but will they conveniently fall on a weekend? Not sure. I'm not very optimistic about salvaging a fabulous Labor Day weekend - so I'm going to do everything in my power to soak up what should be a terrific weekend - like something out of mid July, enough bright sun to work up a respectable sweat, especially Sunday when some bank thermometers in town may register 90 by 3 or 4 pm. If you're looking for an excuse to escape to the cabin - you just found it.

The latest models keep us dry through much of Monday, in fact Monday (immediately out ahead of the front) may wind up being the hottest day, with a good chance of 90 F. over parts of central and southern Minnesota. A fickle cool front draped over the Dakotas will stall out much of the weekend, but finally get an eastward nudge early next week, right now Tuesday appears to be the wettest day in sight with a few hours of showers and T-storms, some possibly heavy.

We dry out next Wednesday (bright sun with a BIG drop in humidity as dew points drop into the 40s & 50s again - very comfortable air of Canadian heritage pushing south of the border). Thursday looks nice, but a return flow of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico kicks in next Friday, clouds increase during the day, setting the stage for a period of showery rains next Saturday and Sunday, September 4 & 5. I know, great timing. Right now I don't think it will be a steady, all-day rain, but you may want to ponder a Plan B (indoors) for part of the weekend. It's early, but right now Labor Day Monday appears to be the nicest, driest, sunniest (and warmest) day of the entire holiday, highs surging into the 80s with only a few lonely T-storm bubbling up, best chance far western and northern MN. My confidence level looking out 7-9 days isn't very high, but I'm 100% confident that THIS WEEKEND will be an ORDER OF MAGNITUDE NICER than Labor Day Weekend. Could the holiday weather outlook improve over time as new data arrives? Absolutely, but don't count on it.

Make the most of what should turn out to be a three-star, blue-ribbon, award-winning weekend, PERFECT weather for the fair, the Renaissance Festival, or the million -and-one other activities going on across Minnesota this weekend. The weather should cooperate (so long as you stock up on sunscreen, and possibly Dramamine if you're going to spend much time on the lake this afternoon). Yes, those are WHITECAPS out there! That said, this is about as good as you could ever hope for in late August.

A Migrating El Nino? Is it evidence of climate change or just natural variability. New research (reported in the L.A. Times) shows that the intensity of El Nino warming events in the Pacific have DOUBLED in the last 30 years, shifting westward into the mid-Pacific. This has implications for weather patterns downwind over North America. The interaction between the oceans and the atmosphere overhead is still one of the least understood variables in meteorology.

Gulf of Mexico - Getting Better. Some good news from NOAA on Friday, 4281 square miles of water off the coast of western Louisiana has been reopened to commercial and recreational fishing - some early, tentative signs that (slowly - over time) things may be returning to some semblance of normal off the Gulf coast. More from NOAA here.

Wind Turbine Projects Run Into Resistance. The Department of Defense is opposing new wind turbines scheduled to be built in southern California. The reason? The turbulence generated by 400-high turbines often shows up on radar - making it far more difficult for military air controllers to track high-velocity (test) aircraft over the desert. More details on a growing controversy from the New York Times here.

Can a Nuclear Plant Withstand a Direct Hit From a Tornado? The question came into the, and the answer is surprising, but somewhat reassuring. With several nuclear power plants in Minnesota (and a year-to-date subtotal of 123 tornadoes - in all probability an all-time record for any year) the question is a relevant one, especially this year. The full post is here.

30 Year's Worth of Asteroids. Astronomers have found (and actively tracked) close to half a MILLION asteroids in the solar system. This YouTube clip shows asteroid discoveries going back 30 years, ramping up in recent years as more powerful telescopes have lead to more discoveries. The reason this matters? A relatively tiny asteroid (the size of a minivan) hitting the Earth could explode with the force of 50 nuclear warheads. Thank God someone is tracking this cosmic junk.

Double Meteor Strike Caused Dinosaur Extinction. Speaking of space junk - THIS is why astronomers keep a close eye on near-Earth-orbit asteroids. Now comes news that there may have been TWO meteor strikes 65 million years ago - one in the Gulf of Mexico, and a second, nearly simultaneous strike in Russia's Ukraine. The resulting dust and ash cloud was so thick and pervasive that plant-life died off and temperatures may have cooled by as much as 10-20 degrees worldwide - leading to a rapid extinction of the dinosaurs. The BBC has a fascinating update on the asteroid-theory here.

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