Monday, August 30, 2010

Slight Tornado Risk (and troubling reports from Greenland, ground zero of global warming)

* 92 Monday, 10th day this month above 90. Dew points reach the mid 70s today (for the 28th time this summer).

* Slight risk of severe storms later today, expect watches and warnings later today (last severe day for some time?)

* Cooler, drier Wednesday as Canadian air leaks south of the border.

* More showers Thursday, but a taste of late September is on tap for the end of the week, cool, comfortable sunshine Friday and Saturday (the best outdoor day of the weekend).

The Sounds of Warming: Greenland Kayaking. Noted conservationist Chuck Dayton took a recent trip to Greenland, described by many as "ground zero for global warming" - witnessed the largest glacier outside of Antarctic flowing at twice the rate it did in the 1990s. He has some interested (and worrying) first-hand observations about his expedition in a post on the Conservation Minnesota web site, available here.

Hurricane Danielle. This amazing photo was taken from ISS, the International Space Station, from a low-orbit altitude roughly 220 miles above the ground. Most satellite images and loops are taken from geosynchronous orbit, some 22,300 miles above the equator.

Trending Westward. As of 10 pm Monday night this was the latest NHC projected path for Hurricane Earl. It seems every model run pushes the track a little farther west. It now appears that hurricane force winds may brush the Outer Banks of North Carolina Thursday night, a direct strike can't be ruled out. Earl is a very dangerous category 4 storm with sustained winds of 135 mph, gusts over 160. With ocean water temperatures in the low to mid 80s Earl could still strengthen into a rare category 5 storm within 24 hours. I expect Hurricane Watches to be issued for parts of the coastal Carolinas later today. Not a good week to be vacationing at the (aptly-named) Cape Fear, North Carolina. The very latest from NHC is here. A lot more on "Earl" below the holiday weekend forecast.

One More Outbreak? Late Monday severe storms flared up across the Dakotas, tornado watches were posted for northwestern MN into the late evening hours. With sufficient instability, ample low-level moisture and marginal wind shear a few severe storms may flare up later today, according to SPC. Expect watches and warnings - a few isolated tornadoes can't be ruled out, especially south central and southeastern MN. 145 tornadoes and counting....looks like we're not done yet.

Performance Art? We Report. You Decide. This has absolutely nothing to do with Minnesota's weather, but I stumbled upon this - and really wish I hadn't. Remember Yoko Ono? She's 77 and still going...strong. If you're heading to New York City's Museum of Modern Art, beware. You never know what you're going to see (or hear). Trust me, this is worth a few seconds of your time. Let me first apologize in advance...

Sumatran Volcano. A volcano in Indonesia, Mt. Sinabung, erupted over the weekend, forcing thousands of Sumatrans to flee their homes. More than 21,000 people have been forced to evacuate - flights diverted around the belching volcano. The slide show is pretty amazing - courtesy of Yahoo News. Another story on the volcano from the U.K.'s Daily Mail here.

Instant Downpour. More evidence the rain isn't falling nearly as gently as it did for our grandparents. A sudden downpour in downtown Phoenix triggered a 69-car pile-up, visibilities reduced by blinding sheets of rain. USA Today has the story of the freakish rain storm here.

Cloudy Daydreams. Yes, the photographer who took this shot may have had a little too much free time on his hands. It is curious how (without the aid of a cocktail) you can distinctly make out the outline of the United Kingdom (and Ireland/Scotland) in the clouds drifting overhead. See the photo for yourself here. Thanks to Denny Small, and the U.K's Daily Mail, for sharing this with the rest of us.

Another Sizzling Day. It was the 17th day above 90 for the Twin Cities, the 10th day this month above 90 (the most of any month this summer season). Highs ranged from 90 in St. Cloud to 91 in Redwood Falls and 92 in the Twin Cities.
Paul's Conservation MN Outlook for the Twin Cities and all of Minnesota

Today: Partly sunny, still steamy & sticky. A few strong/severe storms possible by late afternoon. Winds: S 15-25. High: near 90

Tuesday night: Showers and T-storms, locally heavy rain possible. Low: 65

Wednesday: Some sun, turning breezy and less humid. High: 79

Thursday: Unsettled with another round of (light) showers. High: 75

Friday: Windy and noticeably cooler (feels like September) with sun on the increase. High: 71

Saturday: Probably the nicest day of the holiday weekend: plenty of sun, cool & comfortable. High: 75

Sunday: Sun fades behind increasing clouds, slight chance of a shower late (best chance southern MN). High: 77

Labor Day: Mostly cloudy with a passing shower or sprinkle - still comfortable. High: 78

Hot 'nuf 'fer 'ya? I thought so. The polite answer is yes. This is kind of like Venus, without the 300 mph sustained winds (and toxic atmosphere). Today may be the 18th day this summer above 90 (average is 12 days > 90 F) and the 10th day above 90 in August. We've had more 90-degree days in August than any other month this summer - historically July is our hottest month in Minnesota.

And leave it to a meteorologist to leave you feeling worse than you thought possible. In the winter we torment you with wind chill (and from time to time "hassle factor" for snowy, icy white-knuckle commutes). Now it's the heat index, the combination of heat and humidity and how it actually FEELS out there. The theory behind heat index: when there's this much water in the air your body can't cool itself naturally by evaporating sweat off your skin, which has a cooling effect. That's why you feel chilled when you step out of the shower or bath - that's water evaporating off your skin. But when the air is thick with water vapor this natural cooling mechanism breaks down, and you can easily overheat, the risk of heat exhaustion and (sometimes fatal) heat stroke increasing dramatically as the heat index approaches 100, as it did yesterday across parts of southern Minnesota.

Relief is at hand, but first we have to dodge a few potentially severe T-storms later today. We should have enough instability, wind shear and low-level moisture (no kidding) to fuel a few strong to severe storms after 4 or 5 pm. I do expect some watches and warnings close to home. Yes, there's still time left to add to those incomprehensible numbers (145 tornadoes, a total of 721 severe storms so far in Minnesota this year). Stunning. Off the charts (by an order of magnitude). Potentially 4-5 times more tornadoes than "average" for a summer season, although we won't know the final number for a few more months.

The NAM/WRF model is hinting at just over 1" of rain tonight, followed by a cooler, drier, more comfortable breeze blowing from the north/northeast tomorrow, highs holding in the 70s across much of Minnesota Wednesday. A ripple of low pressure tracking east along tonight's cool frontal boundary may whip up another surge of showers Thursday (nothing heavy or severe expected), and by Friday it will REALLY start to feel like September, temperatures holding in the 60s over central and northern Minnesota, a stiff northwest breeze, a flurry of sweatshirts and light jackets coming out of cold storage up north.

Not sure about a dip in the lake this weekend - it's conceivable that lake water temperatures will be nearly as mild as air temperatures. Saturday still appears to be the sunniest day, but as warm air tries to surge northward expect more wind (and cloud cover) Sunday and Labor Day, the best chance of a few spotty showers or sprinkles coming over far southern MN both days. Not quite as spectacular as last weekend, but at least temperatures will be comfortable - no risk of overheating during the Labor Day Weekend.

Meanwhile Hurricane Earl is scheduled to make a VERY close pass to the east coast of the USA later this week, possibly coming within 200-300 miles of the Outer Banks of North Carolina Wednesday, before skirting Long Island and Cape Cod with 20-40 mph gusts (and some 5-10 foot seas) Thursday. Each computer run seems to nudge Earl's track farther west - it's not out of the question that Earl could still score a direct hit, especially on the Outer Banks, but right now the odds of actual landfall are less than 25% We'll keep an eye on it. And "Fiona" early next week? The latest GFS and ECMWF models keep the next hurricane east of the the USA as well, although it may be another very close call. Nice that we don't have any Texas-size storms coming up the Mississippi. Suddenly those brief, isolated, "trackable" tornadoes don't look quite so harrowing after all...

Hurricane Earl. Check out the latest radar from St. Maarten, showing a well-developed "eyewall" swirling around Earl's relatively calm "eye." Sustained winds as of Monday afternoon were 125 mph, making it a strong category 3 storm. Earl is forecast to intensify further, possibly reaching category 4 or 5 status within the next 36-48 hours. Click here, then (under St. Maarten) click on ppi to see the latest radar loop.

Hurricane Earl. Another vantage point, this time NWS Doppler from San Juan, Puerto Rico, showing the storm brushing the island with spiral bands, containing torrential rains and wind gusts over 40-50 mph.

Surf's Up. Waves along the northern shoreline of Puerto Rico are forecast to reach 18-20 feet, capable of considerable coastal flooding and beach erosion. The latest from NOAA here.

A Very Close Call. This is a Twitter pic from the Lesser Antilles - Earl passed just to the north of St. Kitts, St. Maarten and the U.S. Virgin Islands - still capable of minor to moderate wind and wave damage.

Tropical Nightmare. From beachfront paradise to windswept maelstrom in the meteorological blink of an eye. Check out YouTube video from St. Maarten, grazed by hurricane-force gusts on Monday. The core of the storm, the most severe winds, passed just north of St. Maarten, St. Kits, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico - a very close call.

A Different Perspective. I've never seen anything like this - the hurricane remains stationary, while the land passes by beneath the storm, following the precise track westward across the Caribbean. Data courtesy of the University of Wisconsin, specifically the "Morphed Integrated Microwave Imagery at CIMSS." Now that's a mouthful.

Real-Time Conditions. What impressed me most about this graphic was water temperatures off the eastern tip of Puerto Rico - close to 86 F. Caribbean water temperatures are unusually warm, winds aloft unusually light - perfect conditions for hurricane intensification. This is why NHC forecasters are predicting that Earl will probably reach category 4 or even 5 strength by Wednesday, before re-curving to the north, then northeast, just side-swiping the east coast of the USA. Click here to see the latest surf conditions from NOAA.

Too Close For Comfort. This is the GFS Outlook, valid 6 pm Friday evening, showing the center of Earl just a couple hundred miles south/east of Long Island, New York. If it continues on this track 30-50 mph. winds are possible from Montauk, Long Island to Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket and Cape Cod - again, severe beach erosion can't be ruled out from this major hurricane.

Dueling Models. Hurricane Earl may yet hit the eastern seaboard of the USA, or possibly accelerate into the Canadian Maritimes. This is the ECMWF (European) model valid Thursday evening at 6 pm, showing the center of Earl passing just east of Cape Hateras, North Carolina.

Near-Miss. The same ECMWF model brings Hurricane Earl VERY close to coastal New England, possibly grazing Cape Cod with hurricane-force gusts by Friday of this week, with a slight potential for a direct hit on Nova Scotia and Labrador. Close on it's heels: soon-to-be Hurricane "Fiona", which is also forecast to take a track offshore, a path eerily similar to Earl.

Uncertainly Level: High. Forecasters are keeping a very nervous eye on category 4 Hurricane Earl, a very dangerous storm forecast to re-curve to the north/northeast as it approaches the eastern seaboard of the USA. A slight jog to the west could bring hurricane-force gusts into the Carolinas, Long Island and the Cape Cod area.

Tropical Storm Fiona. Cold water whipped up in the wake of "Earl" may limit just how strong Fiona can become in the days ahead - forecasters are not convinced that Tropical Storm Fiona will even become a hurricane. Even if it does, odds favor a track hundreds of miles east of the USA early next week, roughly one week from now. Map courtesy of Ham Weather.

Liquid Galaxy. Not satisfied with Google Earth? Serious gamer? Check out Google's Liquid Galaxy, which can be though of as Google Earth on steroids. 8 flat panel screens, run by a quad-core computer with lot's of RAM memory - it's a virtual magic carpet ride that takes participants INTO any location on the planet (or other planets for that matter). I need one of these....

* Dramatic Climate Change is Unpredictable. What if the warming trend now underway, and forecast to accelerate in the decades ahead, isn't linear (or predictable)? Could we be near a tipping-point? I don't pretend to know - neither do most (sane) climate scientists. What we know (and don't know) about our evolving climate in an interesting story here.

Arctic Shortcut, Courtesy of Global Warming? CNN has an interesting story about a large tanker than just made the journey through the Arctic Circle, open water NORTH of Russia enabling an amazing short-cut of nearly 5,000 miles (no need to ship through the Suez Canal when you can just move the cargo directly from northern Russia to China, via the "Northeast Passage."

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