Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Stronger Hurricanes? (and the specter of food riots)

Cyclonic Swirl. It's fairly easy to see Tuesday's storm, centered over Lake Superior, a counterclockwise flow around this vigorous area of low pressure pumping in warmth and moisture from the NORTH, a phenomena known as "backlash". Winds gusted over 40 mph, morning showers giving way to a few sunny breaks by afternoon. It was typical weather - for early October.

Drought-Busting Rains. Unlike tornadoes, which just scare the crap out of people, hurricanes seem to serve a (constructive) purpose in nature. They are "automatic pressure-relief valves", transporting excess moisture and warmth away from the tropics toward the poles, an atmospheric attempt to "even things out." Case in point: Tropical Storm Hermine, which came ashore south of Brownsville, Texas Monday night, and then surged northward across the Hill Country of Texas, helping to alleviate a drought which has gripped much of the Lonestar State all summer long. From drought to flood, in the blink of an eye.

October Smackdown. Yes, it felt more like the first week of October out there yesterday, a meager high of 53 (!) in Duluth, 62 at St. Cloud and 63 in the Twin Cities. Soaking rains compounded the dreary conditions up north, 1.45" rain at Hibbing with .82" at Duluth. St. Cloud has already picked up over 3.5" of rain so far in September - more than they normally see the entire month!

Tropical Storm Force. Shortly before 5 am Tuesday winds gusted to 41 mph at MSP International Airport. Throw in a little wind-blown rain and you have a fine start to the day.

Epic Fail. Word to the wise: you don't want TV reception THAT badly....ever.

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

Today: Plenty of sun, cool & comfortable - with light winds. Winds: NW 5-10. High: 68

Wednesday night: Partly cloudy. Low: 54

Thursday: Mostly cloudy, chance of a shower later in the day. High: 67

Friday: Gray, better chance of a little light rain and drizzle. High: near 70

Saturday: Cloudy start, slow clearing by afternoon. High: 74

Sunday: A mix of clouds and sunshine, lukewarm and pleasant. High: 76

Monday: Partly sunny - probably dry. High: 74

Tuesday: Still quiet, temperatures close to average. Intervals of sunshine, cooler. High: 69

Tuesday was just about as enjoyable as a cold slap across the face. I have no idea what that feels like, btw. If there was any lingering doubt in your mind that the atmosphere was shifting gears into a more autumnal pattern - they were quickly erased Tuesday morning as you walked out the door and got slammed by an October gale - winds gusted close to 40 mph, tropical storm-force. The definition of RAW and INCLEMENT. The leading edge of this wild front kicked off a few severe storms late Monday - the roughest thunderstorms steering clear of the Twin Cities, where we experienced a few growls of thunder - but nothing violent.

Today will be a giant-step in the right direction as winds ease and the sun returns, highs still stunted a few degrees below average, but it will feel a lot better out there, partially restoring your faith in a Minnesota September. Soak up those blue skies, because we're on a stormy treadmill - another surge of rain is imminent, with potentially heavy showers spiked with thunder from Thursday into Friday. No need to water this week.

Yes, football is back (that helps) but I always go into a quiet mourning period this time of year, sorry to see summer go, sorry to see the family scatter (again), sorry to put the t-shirts into cold storage and make the walk-of-shame, the darker days, the early twilight, the grudging lugging of patio furniture back into cold storage for the season. Yes, I know EVERY season has its merits - fewer bugs, less humidity as we sail through September into October, and there's every indication autumn is a few weeks longer (today) than it was a generation ago. I get it - but I still hate to let go of summer. I know, I need more time with my friendly therapist. There has to be a better way to rationalize away this (phobia). I'm a summer-guy. That's it. Love every second of summer, the fortified sunshine, don't even mind the heat and humidity (much). Yes, our winters are becoming a bit tamer over time, fewer subzero outbreaks, later snows, earlier springs - that's fine and good (unless you happen to own a snowmobile and relish a good snowy drubbing) but it's the cold (gray) days that get to me. -10 F with bright sun? Not a problem. But a week of 25 and gray and I'm fit to be tied. Maybe I suffer from SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder. As many as 1 in 10 Minnesotans are physically affected by a lack of sunlight. Sunlamps help, so does a prescription to "melatonin".

Enough winter-babble. Plenty of warmth left in September. We WILL see a string of 70s (as early as next weekend) and odds favor a few more 80s before the flakes begin to fly. The best chance of rain comes late Thursday into Friday, models keep the heaviest amounts over far western and northern Minnesota right now. A damp, potentially gray start Saturday morning should give way to gradual clearing by afternoon (from west to east) as west winds pump drier air back into town, the later in the day you plan on being outdoors, the better the odds of seeing the sun. Highs should reach the mid 70s west, possibly holding closer to 70 across eastern MN, where low stratocumulus clouds may linger through at least midday. Sunday should be pleasant, enough sun for mid 70s, a light breeze, any showers probably staying just south/west of Minnesota. And that should be the story through the first half of next week - the heaviest, steadiest rains sliding off just to our south across Iowa.

Enjoy today's fleeing sunshine - a couple of foul days are shaping up for Thursday & Friday, but I think we'll be able to salvage much of the weekend. A siren-free weekend? I didn't even know that was an option. One of the benefits of September - the severe storm count should start to go down in a hurry - I pray. We're long overdue for a quiet spell.

Evidence. A nearby seismographic registered the jarring earthquake that struck central New Zealand on Saturday. The only saving grace: since the tremor was focused over land there was no subsequent tsunami tidal wave to worry about.

New Zealand Quake May Cost Up To $4.5 Billion. The 7.0 tremor that shook Christchurch on September 4 moved damaged or destroyed as many as 500 buildings. The ground shook so hard along the fault line that it may have shifted and thrust upward by as much as 11 feet, leaving behind massive crevices and cracks in roads - an amazing sight. More on the major quake and aftermath in this story from the U.K.'s Telegraph newspaper.

Thousands of Mini-Turbines, Powered By The Gulf Stream? I know it sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but so did a moon shot during the 1950s. Scientists now believe it may be not only technologically possible, but economically feasible, to deploy hundreds, even thousands of small turbines in the warm waters of the Gulf Stream off the east coast of the USA, where a steady south-to-north current flows yearround. Either on movable platforms or tethered to the sea surface below, this constellation of turbines would generate a steady, predictable supply of electricity. I know - sounds bizarre, but I thought this story was worth a read.

Hurricanes Like Earl Throw Birds Off Course. I didn't realize this, but birds often get trapped in the calm eyes of hurricanes, transported hundreds, even thousands of miles from their nesting grounds. Birders in Nova Scotia have spotted birds rarely seen so far north - an interesting story on one of the side effects of "Earl" here.

Will Hurricanes Change As The World Warms? Not only air temperatures but ocean water temperatures are on the rise worldwide, sea surface temperatures 1-2 F. warmer than they were a generation ago. Hurricanes get their fuel from warm ocean water, usually the warmer the warmer the water, the greater the potential for rapid intensification. Before Katrina slammed into New Orleans and coastal Mississippi water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico were close to 90 F. But the jury is still out on whether warmer water is resulting in more intense hurricanes worldwide. An interesting story from NOAA here.

Climate Change + Free Markets = Food Riots? I know, a heavy thought for a Wednesday (or any day for that matter) but this story was an eye-opener. If we really are witnessing a spike in extreme weather events all around the planet, the increased frequency of flood/drought will put additional stress on the world's food network. A drought in Russia that impacts the cost of wheat could (in theory) cause grain shortages in Africa. Already this year at least weather-related deaths have been blamed on food shortages in Mozambique. The paradox of climate change revolves around the fact that the world's poorest countries (the ones that emit the least CO2 and other greenhouse gases) may be impacted the most by the symptoms of a warmer, drier, stormier world.

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