Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Land of 10,000 Tornadoes

Where Are We Living Again? According to SPC 123 tornadoes so far this year, 206 hail reports (1" diameter or larger) and 351 reports of damaging straight-line winds, for a total of 680 severe storm reports. When I joked about "Oklahoma with lakes" I wasn't kidding. Click here to see the latest data for yourself. North Woods Alley. Sounds better than "Tornado Beach."

We are #1. We are # 1. It's the kind of statistic that could make flag-waving members of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce blush - weep - (or want to change the subject): 123 tornadoes so far in Minnesota. As incredible as it may sound - we LEAD THE NATION in tornado reports so far in 2010. Here's the official (preliminary) tally so far in 2010:

Minnesota: 123
Texas (#2): 87
Kansas: 80
Oklahoma: 70
Wisconsin: 60
Iowa: 52

Wadena Outbreak. The EF-4 tornado that sliced through Wadena, Minnesota on June 17, 2010 left 1 person dead, severely damaging 232 of the town's 4,000 homes - was one of 123 tornadoes reported so far in Minnesota this year - the most tornadoes of any state in the USA.

How is it possible that we've seen TWICE as many tornadoes as Wisconsin? What kind of parallel universe are we living in? Again, these are preliminary numbers, the final tornado-count will most assuredly be revised downward by some amount (many of these reports may have been spotters seeing the SAME TORNADO from different vantage points). That's one of the few reasonable, rational explanations for a count that high.

The all-time record for Minnesota tornadoes was 71, back in 2001. At this pace we may be on track to come very close to tying, even exceeding that record. Amazing. It's true that some of America's most prolific, death-defying tornado chasers have spent much of their summer here in the Land of 10,000 Weather Extremes, hoping to get their "money shot" of a tornado touching down, a :15 to :30 clip of video they can go on to sell to local TV affiliates, or maybe CNN or The Weather Channel. I have some tornado-chasing friends (sounds like a hobby for the hopelessly insane, doesn't it?) who can make as much as $5,000 in one evening, if they're in the right place at the right time (and their camera works properly). Nothing crazy about that, I guess.

Wednesday Numbers. Patchy, persistent clouds kept us a few degrees cooler yesterday, only 60 at Grand Marais and 63 at Duluth, 76 at St. Cloud and 78 in the Twin Cities. Far northern MN saw heavy showers and storms, .57" rain at Duluth with .85" at International Falls.

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

Today: Partly sunny, sticky and warmer - slight chance of a T-storm (a few isolated storms may be severe). Winds: SE 10-15. High: 84

Tonight: Patchy clouds, a touch of fog. Low: 65

Friday: Heavy showers and T-storms, locally heavy rain possible. High: 79

Saturday: Partly to mostly sunny and pleasant. Winds: W/NW 5-10. High: 87

Sunday: Hazy sun, more wind (and humidity). Feels like summer again. Winds: SE 10-15. High: 92

Monday: Sunny start, clouds increase with PM T-storms likely. High: near 90

Tuesday: Partly sunny, breezy and less humid. High: 81

Wednesday: Plenty of sun, low humidity - touch of fall. High: 77

I'm drained from all the tornado-talk, still can't quite believe that we are LEADING THE NATION in twisters. An ignominious fate. At this rate Oklahomans will be protesting our ascension in the rankings. Do we get a medal or a plaque or something? I'll look into that.

Patchy clouds kept us a few degrees cooler yesterday - heavy T-storms dumped heavy rain up on the Iron Range, a cluster of storms rumbling southeastward from near Alexandria to St. Cloud into the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities (with some 1/2 to 3/4" hail). Conditions are marginal for a few isolated severe storms again today, best chance over far southern MN, but the chance of showers/storms spikes late tonight into Friday as a wrinkle of cold air aloft drifts overhead - models printing out over 1" of rain (Friday still the wettest day of the week). Yes, have a Plan B for Friday.

Still feeling pretty good about the weekend. A weak bubble of high pressure pushes in from the Dakotas Saturday, scouring out the clouds, leaving us with enough sun for 85-90 F with a light breeze from the north/northwest. Winds swing around to the southeast Sunday, humidity levels rise, haze smears the sun with an orange film and the mercury soars into the low 90s. A good day to loiter by the lake. Monday may be nearly as hot before the next cool front pushes a few cooling T-storms into town, pumping a little free air conditioning back into town by the middle of next week.

Gut feel: at least 2-3 more days above 90 before Autumn REALLY arrives. At least 3-6 more tornadoes (unfortunately) - just based on the way this summer is going. What a summer it's turning into eh?

Thursday Severe Threat. Although today should be brighter, sunnier and a few degrees warmer than yesterday, we can't quite shake the severe risk, especially over the southern half of Minnesota.

Very Close Encounter. Pulled over to the side of the highway during a severe storm (smart move) the guy taking this video pans out the front windshield, only to see the semi truck in front of him take a DIRECT STRIKE from a cloud to ground lightning bolt! It's amazing video, and it underscores an important point: if you're in a vehicle, any vehicle, you're partially-grounded from lightning. You'll get the scare of your life, but even if there's a direct strike chances are you'll live to tell your grandkids about it someday.

Epic Floods. At least 20% of Pakistan is still underwater, a couple thousand Pakistanis have perished in the floods, 20 million have been driven from their homes and farms, at least 6 million local residents are in dire trouble, due to lack of food and the risk of disease. At one point the Indus River grew to a width of 16 miles - more than 25 times the average width of the river during monsoon season. Read more about the historic floods from NASA's Earth Observatory here.

* Latest China Landslide Leaves At Least 67 Missing. Northwest China has been hardest hit by unusually strong monsoon rains this season - the latest update is here.

* Researchers Race to Catch Up With Melting, Shifting Polar Realities. You think the 7-Day Outlook is bad? Just try to predict how much ice will be left over Greenland by the end of the 21st century. Supercomputers have done a notoriously bad job predicting the rate of arctic ice loss, as well as the rate of melting ice over Greenland. If the ice cap over Greenland were to melt entirely (unlikely) sea levels worldwide would rise by 23 feet or more. Climate scientists are predicting a 1 meter (3 foot) rise in the world's sea level by the end of this century, but there confidence is low - the number could be several orders of magnitude higher than that. Click here for a story that explains some of the inherent difficulties of predicting the rate and extent of melting polar ice.

* Extreme Weather Events Signal Global Warming to World's Meteorologists. Russia just experienced the hottest summer on record (records go back to the 10th century A.D.) According to the WMO, the World Meteorological Organization, "climate extremes have always existed, but all the events cited compare with, or exceed in intensity, duration or geographical extent, the previous largest historical events." No one event proves anything - but stepping back, looking at the big (global) picture, the sheer number of extreme events happening concurrently - leads most climate scientists to believe some link with a warmer, wetter atmosphere. The story at the Environment News Network is here.

* Lake Superior is experiencing the warmest water temperatures ever recorded, close to 70 F. in the Duluth area. It may be the result of El Nino (starting out warmer in the spring) and a reflection of warmer air temperatures across the Great Lakes (and much of America) this summer.

Not Slowing Down. I just got back from a whirlwind 24 hour trip to Lancaster, PA (Amish country) to visit my father, who turned 80 on Tuesday. No, he's not Amish. Dad was instrumental in piquing my interest in meteorology (growing up I started each day with a stack of magazine and newspaper clippings of weather-related stories while eating breakfast). One thing about my father (Volker). He never met a sweet treat he didn't like...

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