Monday, September 20, 2010

Unfreezing Arctic Assets (and a shot at 80 here by Sunday?)

Unfreezing Arctic Assets. In case you missed the Wall Street Journal's (excellent) Saturday article, click here to see why a thawing Arctic is such a big deal. Nations are scrambling to unlock oil, gas and coal reserves from previously forbidding northern regions. Pentagon war-games strategize future skirmishes and even wars fought over dwindling natural resources - ever country asserting their right to drill, baby drill. While the deniers look away, pragmatic logic-loving opportunists see dollar-signs in melting snow and thinning arctic ice - as much as 40% of the world's untapped oil may lie in the Arctic region. Quoting author Laurence C. Smith:

"Much of the planet's northern quarter of latitude, including the Arctic, is poised to undergo tremendous transformation over the next century. As a booming population increases the demand for the Earth's natural resources, and as lands closer to the equator face the prospect of rising water demand, droughts and other likely changes, the promience of northern countries will rise along with their projected milder winters. If Florida's coasts become uninsurable and california enters a long-term drought, might people consider moving to Minnesota or Alberta?"

Perish the thought, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the threat - and opportunity as northern climates warm 5 to 10 times faster than the rest of the planet.

"In response to scientific evidence of climate warming in the region, environmental groups around the world are raising money for, and awareness of, the Arctic."

Wait, was this REALLY published in the ultra-conservative Wall Street Journal?

Record Heat. You won't have to waste too much time trying to convince residents of Phoenix that the weather has changed. 111 F on Monday, smashing the old record - 7 days in a row of record-breaking heat. Usually the Phoenix area sees the last 110+ reading in August...but in late September? Very strange...

Close Encounter. Last night Earth and Jupiter converged for their closest encounter until 2022. Nearly overhead at midnight, Jupiter will outshine everything (except the moon). Skies should be mostly clear again tonight - give it a look. More from here.

The Eye That Never Blinks. The high-resolution NASA imagery is pretty amazing, a close-up of Hurricane Igor's "eye", nearly 20 miles in diameter. This image was taken from the ISS, the International Space Station, about a week ago, when Igor was still an extreme category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 132 and gusts over 160 mph. The storm weakened as it side-swiped Bermuda late Sunday night, where the highest wind gust I saw was a still-impressive 93 mph. There was considerable flooding, especially on the western side of the island, but the worst of the heavy seas and high winds remained just west of Bermuda. More from NASA's Earth Observatory here.

* Igor Kicks Up Dangerous Surf Along The East Coast. Hurricane Igor passed only 40 miles west of Bermuda, resulting in at least 3 confirmed deaths. Seas as high as 6-10 feet above normal have been slamming Long Island - dangerous rip tides prevalent again today along the coast of New England - "Igor" forecast to slam into Newfoundland, Canada as a tropical storm. The story in USA Today is here.

Direct Strike? Granted, you just don't want to sell the farm (or any beachfront property) based on the 180 hour forecast. This Navy ("NOGAPS") model shows a possible hurricane over the western tip of Cuba by next Monday evening, the 27th of September - a potential threat to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. Confidence level: very low, but so far the USA has been VERY lucky during this hurricane season, prevailing westerlies have nudged Earl, Igor and Julia well east of the USA mainland. At some point (fairly soon) our luck may run out and the law of averages may catch up with us.

Jekyll and Hyde Monday. Data as of 7 pm. From a ragged, drizzly sky to lukewarm sun, in a meteorological blink of an eye. Where the sun came out temperatures shot up to 77 at 10 pm in the Twin Cities, Clouds lingered longer at St. Cloud (only 65) but just down I-94 the mercury soared to 79 at Eden Prairie and a downright summer-like 89 in Redwood Falls! Usually the "high" for the day occurs around 4 pm, give or take an hour. Yesterday, behind a vigorous warm front, temperatures rose through the evening - very unusual, especially for late September.

Definition of a Warm Front! Late Monday evening temperatures shot up into the upper 70s in the metro area, but just south of the metro area it felt like late July: 84 in Northfield, Faribault, Glencoe and Hutchinson. A 30-degree temperature rise in roughly 12 hours! Data courtesy of "MesoWest", University of Utah.

Strange Monday. After waking up to low 50s (and drizzle) a warm frontal passage coaxed the sun out after about 3 pm, and temperatures kept on rising through the evening (77 at 10 pm). The normal high for September 20: 70 F. in the Twin Cities.

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

Today: An early shower (or T-shower) then increasingly sunny and breezy, drying out afternoon hours. Winds: NW 10-15. High: 70

Tuesday night: Mostly clear and cool. Low: 51

Wednesday: A pleasant fall day, a mix of clouds and bright sun. High: 68

Thursday: Wettest day in sight, periods of rain, heavy at times - thunder possible. Over 1" of rain may fall. High: 72

Friday: Clouds giving way to intervals of sun - drying out again. High: 67

Saturday: Very pleasant with plenty of sunshine, temperatures near normal. High: 69

Sunday: Warmer, feels like a little like August with plenty of sun. High: 78 (80 not out of the question close to home).

Monday: Sunshine lingers - still balmy for late September. High: 76

Monday was a very peculiar day, meteorologically-speaking. It started out bleak, gray with wind-whipped drizzle and temperatures stuck in the mid 50s, truly bleak. A lot of muttering and rolling of eyes before lunchtime, visible disgust with our weather. "I thought you said 70s today, Paul! What do you have to say for yourself?" Patience, I counseled. "A warm front is coming. Just wait." I kept watching the satellite loop, hoping the sun would come out and temperatures would rise. Much pacing in the WeatherNation map room - frequent visits to the Amish Doppler (west-facing window) for confirmation. And then, magically, the warm front came surging through town, skies clearing from south to north across the state during the afternoon hours, and I could finally show my face in public. Where the sun came out the mercury shot into the mid 70s, setting the stage for a slight severe risk from SPC (the result of potential instability coupled with strong wind shear in the lowest few thousand feet of the atmosphere). It was like turning on a light switch. Glance out the window: charcoal-gray and nasty-looking. An hour later: a cloudless sky, temperatures warm enough for shirt sleeves. Very odd. Such are the joys of late-September warm fronts.

September can be extreme, few other months bring a risk of tornadoes, flooding, 80s and frost, we've even had accumulating snow in the Twin Cities in late September. Deep breaths. Nothing that dramatic in this forecast, but weather systems are clipping along, fronts and storms spaced about 2-3 days apart, and sunshine and dry weather relatively fleeting. A cool frontal passage sparks a few showers (even a stray thunder-clap or two this morning). The best chance of showers and T-storms blossoming: southeastern MN, closer to the frontal boundary, but any early-morning puddles should give way to a clearing trend as the day goes on; after-school or evening activities not in danger of being rained out.

We salvage a nice, comfortably-cool Wednesday with high temperatures pretty close to where they should be on the 22nd day of September. Autumn officially arrives Wednesday evening at 9:09 pm as the sun's direct rays shine down on the equator. Longer nights are brewing up some 30 and 40-degree airmasses across central Canada - it's only a matter of time before we start reaching for heavy jackets and whining about the wind chill. And yet the promised warming trend we've been hinting at for over a week is on-track. We may hit 70 Thursday, again Saturday, highs WELL up into the 70s to near 80 by Sunday & Monday. Hope you didn't pack the shorts away - you may get a few more opportunities to dress light and pretend it's August out there, a few more chances to soak up some lukewarm sun, maybe take the boat out one more time, zip up to the cabin to disconnect for a few days. The weekend looks good: Sunday probably the sunnier, warmer (breezier) day of the weekend.

Plan B Thursday? The models have been pretty consistent about potentially significant rain spreading across Minnesota Thursday, with enough warm, moist air surging north for a few embedded T-storms. Anywhere from 1.1 to 2.3" is predicted, making Thursday the wettest day in sight - after-school activities are in grave peril, I fear.

A fast-moving storm brushes Minnesota with significant rain Thursday, still the wettest day of the entire week - some 1-2" rainfall amounts possible, spiked with a risk of thunder over central and southern Minnesota. Any severe storms will probably pass south of Minnesota, closer to the warm, humid air in the "warm sector" of Thursday's area of low pressure - but we can't rule out a few potentially rough storms clipping far southern Minnesota by Thursday afternoon. After this summer's severe weather spasms (and mind-numbing 145 tornado reports in Minnesota) NOTHING would surprise me - not even a few more severe weather outbreaks in late September.

Finally - a simple (stupefying) observation: the leaves have yet to ripen (much) out in the Excelsior area, where our offices are located, in spite of splashes of color evident up north. I just got back from a college football game in State College, PA, where many of the trees have already ripened up. Central Pennsylvania is (allegedly) in a warmer climate zone than Minnesota, yet they seem to be 1-2 weeks farther along than we are. No obvious explanation for this one, it's one in a series of non-stop head-scratchers.

Tornado Alley: A Northerly Detour. By now (unless you're living in a cave) you know that Minnesota leads the nation in tornadoes: the preliminary tornado count: a head-shaking, almsot incredulous 145. Tennessee is in the heart of "Dixie Alley". In recent year some of the most damaging and deadly tornadoes have swept across the Tennessee River Valley. This year: a relatively modest tornado count: 31 as of September 20, 2010. It's almost impossible to believe, but MONTANA has seen more tornadoes than Tennessee. At last count 33 tornadoes have touched down on Big Sky Country. What's up with that? Data courtesy of SPC, the Storm Prediction Center, in Norman, Oklahoma. (Change the last 2 letters of the URL for the state you're interested in seeing severe storm information for).

Denver Heat. 93 Monday in the Mile High City, after another record-setting high of 96 on Sunday. Denver is sizzling, in spite of the fact that the sun is as high in the sky as it was back in late March. More on the record heat gripping the city in this article in the Denver Post.

Scientists Find 20 Years of Deep Water Warming Leading to Sea Level Rise. NOAA reports that sea levels continue to rise, the result of warming air (and water). As water warms it expands; an estimated 80% of the observed greenhouse gas warming in recent decades has warmed the oceans - new data shows that warming has extended all the way to the ocean floor. More from NOAA here.

It Was A "Clear Summer" for Minnesota's Air. According the Conservation Minnesota and the MPCA, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, this was the 3rd straight summer where no region of Minnesota experienced ozone (smog) pollution levels high enough for an advisory to be issued for "sensitive groups", including children, exercising adults and people with respiratory ailments. One big factor: Xcel Energy's ability to (proactively) convert 3 metro-area coal-burning plants to much-cleaner-burning natural gas. More from Conservation Minnesota here.

The Clean Air Act By The Numbers. It's been 40 years since the EPA passed the Clean Air Act. An estimated 200,000 lives were saved by passage of the bill; it may have prevented 21,000 cases of heart disease, 672,000 cases of chronic bronchitis, 843,000 asthma attacks, and 18 MILLION child respiratory illnesses. The Clean Air Act has lead to the removal of 1.7 MILLION tons of toxic emissions since 1990, in just the last 2 decades levels of 6 common pollutants dropped by an estimated 42% Lead in the air is down 92% since 1980. Innovations spawned the bill have created cars that are now up to 95% cleaner than they were a generation ago. More on this historic legislation - and the fact that all of us are, in fact, breathing easier as a result, in this article.

How China Is Turning Climate Change Into A Jobs Bonanza. I've been saying something similar for years, but the New York Time's Thomas Friedman just said it far more eloquently than I ever could. How about the energy equivalent of the Manhattan Project, our own 21st century "moon shot", an ambitious (bipartisan) bill that jump-starts the economy by providing stimulus programs and tax incentives for thousands of new companies that will help the USA become energy-independent by 2025? Put millions of unemployed (more than qualified) Americans back to work building solar panels, wind turbines, next-generation batteries, a new power grid, a new generation of energy-efficient homes and businesses. Why on Earth can't we empower our politicians in Washington D.C. to come up with a Blueprint For Energy Security and Stability? We have the brainpower, we have the need - it's just connecting the dots. It would be nice to see some true leadership coming out of our nation's capital. The Chinese aren't waiting for us to come to our senses and grasp the opportunity - more here.

* 10 Themes Driving Climate Change Investment. More from Reuters here.

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