Wednesday, September 15, 2010

2010: On Track To Tie '98 For The Warmest Year On Record

2010: Still On Track To Be The Warmest Year on Record. Global land/sea temperatures during the first 8 months of 2010 have tied 1998 (a major El Nino year) to be the warmest on record, according to NOAA. The average temperature was 58.5 F, which is 1.21 F above the long-term 20th century average. In addition, August was the second warmest year ever recorded over land regions worldwide. More on what's turning out to be another remarkable year around the planet from NOAA here.

"U-Turn on Global Warming? Hardly". The Wall Street Journal has an interesting editorial written by controversial scientist Bjorn Lomborg, author of "Cool it: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming. He was recently accused of doing a U-Turn on climate change, but that's apparently not the case. He's ALWAYS believed that climate change is real, but he disagrees with Al Gore's solutions to the problem. He decries the antagonism and extreme positions, the polarization that this resulted from this subject. "Either you believe or you're an apostate! And if you DO believe you had better go all the way with Al Gore's solutions!" I could see where that grates a lot of people the wrong way, considering Mr. Gore's politics. I agree that the dialogue has gotten out of hand, even more-so since "ClimateGate" and the leaked e-mails - and I tend to agree with Bjorn that there HAS to be a way to transition to a less carbon-dependent future (without bankrupting our nation or putting our economy at risk). I was happy to see that Lomborg is not a denier - he knows the science as well as anyone - but he wants us to take a deep breath before pouring billions of dollars into questionable big-government programs that may or may not get real results. There's a smart, rational, cost-effective way to tackle this problem - hopefully - in the end, cooler minds will prevail.

* Women Agree on Science of Global Warming More Than Men Do. Here is an interesting article that seems to show that women are (insert gasp) more open-minded about climate change than men? More empathy, reasoning power - yes, this all seems to fit. This is why my wife balances are family check book and various investments, by the way - much brighter than her old man. Stereotyping is bad - granted, but I had to forward this one to my (enlightened) wife of 26 years.

More On Global Warming: A Warm-Weather Beetle is Eating The World's Coffee. Oh no - not the coffee. ANYTHING but the coffee! It appears that a beetle (pest) called the "coffee berry borer" is chomping away at coffee beans around the world - even a slight uptick in temperature provides more favorable conditions for the spread of this nasty bug. The coffee berry borer was once confined to Africa, but since the 1980s this unspeakably selfish coffee-muncher has spread to every known coffee-growing region of the planet, except for Hawaii, Nepal and New Guinea. Uh oh. More on the threat from the Atlantic here.

Grapes of Wrath. With rising sea levels threatening billions of people from Florida to Bangladesh, it's hard getting too indignant about a warming climate threatening the wine crop, but there is a growing sense of angst in California's wine region, which continues to warm over time. A few degrees doesn't sound like much, but it can make a huge difference in the quality of the grapes and resulting wine. For example cabernet sauvignon grapes from Napa sell for about $4,100/ton, while in nearby Fresno (5 degrees warmer, on average) grapes go for $260/ton. It isn't even the slow rise in temperature that poses the greatest threat, but rather a greater number of 95 + F days, that can ruin grape harvest. Europe is already feeling the effects of a slow warming trend (they're growing respectable wines in Britain, even Scotland!). If you like your wine you may want to check out this eye-opening story.

Fire Tornado. What could possibly be worse than a regular tornado? How about a "fire tornado"? This amazing YouTube footage was taken recently in Hawaii; an especially intense brushfire creating a violent updraft of superheated air that whipped up a spinning vortex of flames. Simply amazing.

Worst Job In The World? Think you have a dangerous job? Check out this video of a tower repairman climbing 1,768 feet into the air - that's taller than the Sears Tower in Chicago. They attach their tools to their belt and climb a single ladder to the very top. This guy has a helmet-cam, documenting a "typical day". Let's hope the life insurance policy is paid up. I'm feeling better about cleaning out the gutters...

"Saddle Seats". Think air travel is uncomfortable now? You haven't seen anything yet. An Italian company is marketing a new kind of "seat" for airlines, one that allows them to cram even more rows of passengers onto a jet. No American carrier will think of actually installing these, right? Please don't forward this post to anyone at Delta - let's keep this between you and me. The (frightening, vaguely pathetic) story of the revolutionary "SkyRider Seat" is here. First class - coach - cattle class. Nice. At this rate airlines will be strapping passengers to the wings within a decade.

Tropical Trouble. For only the second time in history there are two category 4 hurricanes in the Atlantic, simultaneously. "Igor" and "Julia" are both packing 140 mph+ sustained winds. Julia is the strongest hurricane ever observed in the eastern Atlantic. Meanwhile Tropical Storm Karl is soaking Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula - it may strengthen again over the Bay of Campeche before slamming into coastal Mexico for a second time by Friday, possibly as a minimal hurricane - staying well south of Texas.

Wednesday Watering. Hope you didn't have anything (big) planned outside for yesterday. A whopping 1.42" of rain fell on St. Cloud, 1.6" at Redwood Falls, .52" in the Twin Cities as of 7 pm Wednesday evening (when it was still pouring). The rain, the thick clouds kept temperatures 5-10 degrees cooler than average, a high of only 48 in Duluth, 56 at St. Cloud and 66 in the Twin Cities. What month is this again?

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

Today: Wet start, then slow clearing - drying out. Winds: N 3-8. High: 62

Thursday night: Clouds increase, chance of a shower late. Low: 51

Friday: Shower or sprinkle early, then partly sunny with a cool breeze. High: 64

Saturday: Dig out the sweatshirts. Patchy clouds giving way to some afternoon sun - a cool day for mid September. High: 62

Saturday night: Mostly clear and chilly. Low: 45 (patchy frost likely up north)

Sunday: More sun, less wind - feels like late September! High: 61

Monday: Cloudy with light rain developing. High: 68

Tuesday: Showers and possible T-storms. High: 72

Wednesday: Windy and cooler with slow clearing. High: 64

Wet Enough 'Fer 'Ya? The polite answer is "yes". For a time it was raining cats, dogs (and canaries). Good grief - all those yellow blotches on the Doppler radar estimated rainfall map signify at least 1.5" of rain - the red streaks: over 3" of rain. That's just about a MONTH'S WORTH of rain falling in one day.

Wednesday was a bit bizarre - a dark, somber, threatening day that looked like something out of late October (that's it, a Halloween Sky), a sinister-looking canopy of low, angry-looking clouds passing overhead - one swarm of strong storms rumbling in before dawn (a few deafening claps of thunder knocked me out of bed around 4:30 am.) Then yet another surge of storms sweeping across the metro over the lunch hour. Then a brief break - a few tantalizing peeks of sun, before the main event: a 3-6 hour display of heavy thunderstorms, one wave after another, a "train echo effect" more typical of mid June than mid September. Much like the cars of a train pass over the same section of track, early last night T-storms kept reforming over the same counties. As one surge of rain would weaken, another would quickly take it's place, these storms kept mutating, regenerating, one after another after another. That's how flash floods arise, when T-storms keep forming along a temporarily stalled frontal boundary. 3-6 hours of rain falling at the rate of roughly 1"/hour is all you need to flood basements and turn streets into streams, streams into raging rivers.

O.K. Scratch "watering" off your honey-do list. The heaviest rains are over now - finally - pushing across Wisconsin toward Milwaukee and Chicago. You'll be tripping over a few pond-size puddles early this morning, but a drying breeze out of Canada will poke a few sunny holes in our cloud deck - skies slowly clearing as the day goes on, no worries today for after-school activities, although you're going to have to dig out the light jackets and sweatshirts into the weekend. It may feel more like late September - early October out there through Monday morning, temperatures running anywhere from 5 to 15 degrees cooler than average.

28 F. up at Ely Wednesday morning - plenty of frost reported up on the Iron Range, hints of what's to come. There are some splashes of fall color showing up along the North Shore of Lake Superior, but peak color up north is still at least 10-14 days away, by all estimates. Here in the metro area we won't get the full punch of lemon-yellow sugar maples and the rusts and oranges of oak until the first week of October, probably 2-3 weeks from now, but if you look carefully you can already see a few trees starting to ripen up, before your eyes.

The sun returns later today as drier air pushes all the thunder out of town. A weak (fast-moving) clipper sparks a few showers tonight and first thing Friday, followed by a clearing trend during the day tomorrow. A sharp north-south contrast in temperature positioned JUST to the south of Minnesota may spark some patchy clouds Saturday, but a reinforcing bubble of high pressure pushing in from Manitoba (uh - weather is coming from Manitoba now..) should promise some sun by Saturday afternoon - the farther north you go, the bluer the sky. Saturday night you'll need to crank up the furnace, throw an extra log or two on the fire, dig out some heavier sweatshirts - a light frost is possible up north by Sunday morning. As the center of that fair weather bubble drifts overhead Sunday we should sample even more sunshine - Sunday may be a nearly perfect fall day, more typical of late September than mid September though, with highs stuck in the 50s to near 60 (southern counties).

A return flow of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico sparks clouds and a period of rain Monday, possibly spiked with T-storms by Tuesday as an area of low pressure ripples to our south, another clearing trend shaping up for the middle of next week.

A few not-so-deep thoughts: the maps look more like October 1 than September 16. Weather systems are on FAST-FORWARD, moving twice as fast as they did just a month ago, which makes the 7-Day Outlook even trickier than usual. Cooler than average, wetter than average - at some point the pattern WILL reverse and we WILL see another run of 70s, maybe another 80. Shorter days, unusually cool temperatures, jumbo puddles - is it me or are a lot of people bumming out, in spite of the red-hot Twins? Maybe its my imagination. We'll bounce back. Count on it.

More Tornadoes In Unusual Places. Australia sees its fair share of twisters (just behind the USA, China and Russia on the list). Check out this amazing YouTube video from Inverell, in New South Wales, that touched down on Tuesday. Are we really seeing a spike in tornadoes worldwide, or just doing a better job loading them onto YouTube?

North Korean Typhoon. Typhoon Kompasu slammed into the Korean peninsula on September 2, resulting torrential rains destroyed 9,000 homes, washing away powerlines and highways in this poverty-stricken nation. The BBC has more on the epic floods (which hit North Korea much harder than South Korea) here.

Storm Surge Explainer. When talking about hurricanes meteorologists often mention wind speeds, when it's the "storm surge" that (historically) causes the most damage and claims the most lives. Sustained high winds, coupled with unusually low pressure near the center of the storm, causes a "bulge" of water, which is pushed ashore ahead of the hurricane's "eye". Tides can rise 10, 15, even 20 feet above normal in minutes, inundating low-lying areas, cutting off escape routes. This is how people drown from hurricanes - and why it's critical to get up to at least the second floor of a well-constructed building (preferably third floor to be absolutely safe). Better yet, move inland, at least 5-10 miles, to avoid the worst of the storm surge. NHC has a very good explanation of the dangers involved here.

"Weather-Sensitive". There's little doubt that some people are far more sensitive to changes in the weather than others. Extreme heat or cold can be deadly, but for some asthma sufferers a spike in humidity can be equally life-threatening. The BBC has a video clip that goes into more detail, including something I've never heard before: how thunderstorms and subsequent hail can make break open pollen spores - making symptoms far worse for allergy-sufferers. That's news to me!

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