Monday, August 9, 2010

Mutant Storms (and should we focus on energy vs. climate change?)

* Record-tying 95 in the Twin Cities Monday, second day in a row we've tied a record in the metro area.

* Slight severe storm risk today, especially south of the Twin Cities.

* Some relief predicted by the weekend as cooler, slightly less humid spills south out of Canada.

Update: 9:40 am
. NWS Doppler shows a line of heavy storms approaching from the southwest. Expect 45-60 minutes of heavy rain, maybe some pea-size hail - nothing severe expected (this morning) but the atmosphere is ripe for a few severe storms by late afternoon/evening.

Update: 10:20 am. Tornado Risk from SPC. There is a 5% probability of a tornado within 25 miles of any location in western MN later today. The tornado risk increases the farther west you travel across the state - best chance after 3 or 4 pm today.

Just When You Think You've Seen it All. "We're not going to let a little funnel cloud get in the way of water skiing, no way!" This was the scene on Maple Lake Saturday evening, a full-blown funnel swirling overhead. Good grief. Glad it didn't touch down. Thanks to Jim Welch for posting this photo on Twitter - my new favorite photo of the (crazy) summer of '10!

Wilkin County Aftermath. The tornado that swept across Wilkin county last Saturday was a rare EF-4, winds estimated at least 175 mph. It was on the ground for 5 miles, 1/2 mile wide at times, demolishing 6-7 farmhouses, but (miraculously) no injuries reported. The tornado was so strong it stripped many homes and barns down to foundation, throwing one Ford truck at least 1/2 mile in the air! More from the Grand Forks office of the National Weather Service here. The Twin Cities office of the National Weather Service has a special write-up on Saturday and Sunday's severe weather outbreak here.

Stuck! If you were watching the Today Show Monday morning you saw a meteorological first. Stephanie Abrams, filling in for Al Roker, got stuck in an elevator on her way to the studio - she delivered (a first class show) from the elevator on her cell phone. Talk about cool under pressure! The video clip is here.

Old Fashioned Air Conditioning. Yes, pets (and cows) are just as uncomfortable as people are when it gets this hot and humid. Thanks to John Glynn from Elko for sending in this cooling reminder of creative ways to beat the heat.

* Pete Boulay at the Minnesota State Climatology Office counts between 46-48 tornadoes for Minnesota so far in 2010, nearly twice as many tornadoes as normal during an average summer season.

Evacuating Moscow. Conditions are so bad in Russia's capital of 11 million people that hundreds of thousands of locals are fleeing the city. The air is almost unbreathable, levels of carbon monoxide 2-5 times higher than recommended levels, the result of thick smoke from hundreds of fires burning out of control outside the city limits. Some relief from the heat is possible by the end of this week - the latest on the hellish conditions in Moscow here. Deaths in Moscow have doubled, to more than 700/day. One senior administrator has gone on record saying conditions haven't been this bad in 1,000 years of record-keeping. The story is here.

* Saturday carbon monoxide levels in Moscow were 6.5 times higher than 'safe' levels. Moscow has seen 27 days with highs greater than 87, unprecedented in the modern-day weather records for Russia's capital. More on the historic heat, now described as the worst in 1,000 years, from Jeff Masters at Weather Underground here.

* Russian Fires Prompt Kremlin to Abruptly Embrace Climate Change. This is a 180 on the part of Russian leaders, who for the longest time minimized climate change. The events of this summer have changed a lot of mind at top levels of the Russian government. The story in the Christian Science Monitor is here.


*Average July high in Moscow: 74°F
*Average August high in Moscow: 68°F
*Moscow has met or exceeded the all-time record high remp of 99°F five times this year
*August 6th: Moscow hit 102.2°.
*Moscow had never recorded a temperature above 100°F until this year--The first time was on July 29th when the observatory recorded a temperature of 100.8°
*2010 average July temp = 14°F above average (previous record was in 1938 when temps were 5.3°F above average)
*July 2010: record for most July days with temps above 30°C (86°F)... 22. Previous record: 13 (1972)


*Worst fires since 1972 when 100,000 sq km killed 104 people in Moscow
*Smoke from current fires: 3000 km (1860 mi)--approximately the distance between San Francisco and Chicago
*Monday's visibility: 300 meters (.18 miles)
*500 forest fires are still ongoing and cover over 420,100 acres.

# of deaths vary: approx. 5000 in Moscow, 15,000 in total according to other articles.

Heat Index. And you thought wind chill was a pain? The greater the amount of water in the air (as measured by dew point) the tougher the time your body has keeping its cool. There's a lot of wisdom in that old saying, "it's not the heat, it's the humidity!"

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

Today: Some sun early, then increasing clouds with a few strong/severe storms possible later. Winds: SE 10-20. High: 87

Tuesday night: Evening storms, some strong. Low: 73

Wednesday: Hot sun, still steamy with an isolated T-storm. High: near 90

Thursday: Sauna-like levels of heat & humidity, probably dry with plenty of sun. High: 93

Friday: More clouds, good chance of T-storms, some heavy. High: 88

Saturday: A bit less humid, partly sunny with a few PM showers up north. High: 85

Sunday: Probably the nicer day....lot's of sun, noticeably less humid. High: 83

Monday: More comfortable with a blend of clouds and sun, passing shower up north? High: near 80

Perseid Meteor Shower. It's a little early, but some amateur astronomers are already seeing the Perseids, as many as 20-25/hour. Get away from the glow of city lights and you may get an eyeful in the coming days. More at

Northern Lights. There was a massive storm on the sun August 7, the resulting coronal discharge (sounds painful) will interact with Earth's atmosphere in the coming days - the result MAY be a spectacular Aurora Borealis or northern lights. Worth a peek if you get a chance.

Beastly Heat. The mercury soared to a record-tying 95 in the Twin Cities Monday, 93 in St. Cloud, only 70 at Grand Marais with a cool breeze off Lake Superior. Heat advisories had to be issued for the southern third of Minnesota, excessive heat warnings for Ramsey and Hennepin counties, where additional heat from the "urban heat island" made it feel like 100-103 by mid afternoon.

Have you recovered from Monday's hot front? It isn't often an excessive heat warning is issued for the Twin Cities, but the combination of heat and humidity created potentially dangerous conditions yesterday afternoon. It FELT like 100+ by mid afternoon. Here's the deal: when dew points are in the mid 70s and there's so much water in the air your body can't cool itself (naturally) by evaporating sweat off your skin. Your body's natural thermostat breaks down and it's much easier to overheat, greatly increasing the odds of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which can be fatal if not treated promptly. The elderly, infants and people with chronic health problems are most vulnerable to heat-related problems. All you can do is avoid the midday sun, slow down, drink plenty of extra fluids (water still works best), eating more salads and less red meat helps a lot of people weather these nasty-hot Dog Days too.

At least the sirens weren't going off Monday, not as much running/screaming trying to get to the basement before an ugly sky descended on our homes - we got a 24 hour break as the zone of wild weather pushed (temporarily) to our south, over Iowa and Nebraska. Today that boundary lifts north. Throw in a weak upper air disturbance (and cold, cyclonic twist of air 4-7 miles above the ground) and strong instability coupled with ample low-level moisture, and you have most of the meteorological ingredients necessary for more severe thunderstorms - best chance across the southern third of Minnesota. Not sure this will be widespread and statewide, but I do expect a few watches and warnings later today, especially south of St. Cloud and the Twin Cities.

Not Again. SPC has the southern third of Minnesota in a "slight risk" of severe thunderstorms later today, the best chance south of a line from Willmar to the Twin Cities. The latest from the Storm Prediction Center here.

More clouds and storms will keep us a few degrees "cooler" today (only 80s, instead of low to mid 90s). With more sun forecast for Wednesday the mercury should once again zoom into the low 90s with a dreaded dew point poking up into the "oh zone" (mid 70s). Once again the heat index may approach or even top 100 F. by late afternoon. We get a break from the worst of the T-storms Wednesday and Thursday, but the approach of a more comfortable, reasonable airmass of Canadian heritage may set off another barrage of T-storms Friday - once again a few may be memorable.

You'll start to notice a drop in temperature and humidity by Saturday, but a nagging whirlpool of cold air aloft may spark a few PM instability showers up north Saturday afternoon, highs holding in the 70s north to mid 80s south. It's early, but right now Sunday looks like the sunnier, drier, more comfortable day statewide with less wind, enough sun for upper 70s (north) to low 80s (south). A persistent northwesterly breeze should hang on through the first few days of next week - we finally get a break. No beastly heat, no angry, sputtering thunderstorms or wailing sirens - just a taste of early September.

Reframing the Argument? Jon Foley is the director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota. Recently he gave a speech in Aspen that raised a few eyebrows. Essentially he encouraged America to engage consumers NOT by battering them with science (which can create a sense of doom, gloom and helplessness) but rather frame the argument in terms of energy risks to the USA. If we can become truly energy independent by accelerating solar, wind, safe nuclear and other (homegrown) options, and if carbon levels decrease as a result, then all the better. Bring the argument down to factors that everyone can understand and appreciate. Frame this as an urgent energy policy debate first, a scientific explanation about the perils of global warming and climate change second. His arguments made a lot of sense (to me). Read his comments in the Aspen Times here, below are his e-mail comments to me, going into more detail about what he was trying to say - why we should consider reframing the debate to make this more about energy than climate change:

"Anyway, I was just pointing out that the majority of Americans are apparently not persuaded to take urgent action by the science of climate change alone, so it might be wise to rethink / reframe these issues in a larger context that includes the economy, national security and other issues besides climate. And when you frame the conversation that way, even people who don't "believe" in climate change see the benefits of rethinking our energy systems and policies to a more domestic renewable, environmentally-friendly framework.

To clarify: I don't mean that we should give up on the science, but rather we should find other ways to engage people. We could debate whether climate change is happening forever (even if the science is strong, it just doesn't resonate with the values of many people), but the conversation doesn't really go anywhere. This conversation has become a polarized trap (like many other issues, unfortunately), where it's easy to get stuck, no matter what the science says.

Instead, maybe we could focus on something people have in common: a desire to solve our national energy, security and economic problems? (After all, addressing these issues requires the same solutions needed to solve the climate crisis. So it's a win-win-win opportunity.) And then by reframing the issue, maybe we have new collaborators, instead of old opponents.

So, as a nation, we might agree to disagree on the climate issue for now, but in the meantime we could be working together on solving our energy, security and economic problems? In short, I'd much rather find common solutions than win the science argument. Plus, we don't have the luxury to sit around and bicker about these issues. And in Minnesota, this is a huge opportunity! Can't we all see the wisdom in moving towards a renewable energy economy? We spend something like $10 billion per year on energy in this state, and most of that money flows out of Minnesota, because we don't have huge supplies of oil, natural gas and coal. Wouldn't it be better to support a local, renewable energy industry -- which will create local jobs, help the rural economy, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil -- regardless of your particular view on climate change science? What's the downside?"

July Recap. According to NOAA the USA just experienced the 17th warmest July on record, the worst of the heat focused on the east coast, where records fell left and right. The story is here.

Mars Is Warming Too. Simultaneous warming of both Earth and Mars has led one scientist to speculate that our planet's recent warmth may be natural, rather than human-induced. This researcher is in a very small minority (and he's not a climate scientist) - most astronomers concur that the amount of solar radiation reaching Earth has actually decreased, not increased in the last 20 years. The story from National Geographic is here.

What's Happening in Greenland? A chunk of ice 4 times larger than Manhattan recently broke off the Petermann glacier in Greenland. No single "calving event", ice breaking off a glacier, proves anything, but large "bergs" crumbled off Petermann in 2001 and 2008, according to a researcher at Ohio State, who called the recent events "all part of a climate warming pattern." The story at is here.

1 comment:

  1. Paul,

    Looking at the Heat Index chart, See the upper right (red) are blank. Does that mean that the humidity don't get higher as the temp rise?