Saturday, November 27, 2010

Case For Man-Made Climate Change Increased in 2010 (4-8" snow Tuesday?)

* Quiet Sunday, highs near 40 - great travel/shopping day.

* Temperatures stay above freezing Monday - wet roads, no major travel problems.

* Latest guidance: "plowable" snow Tuesday, latest models hinting at 4-8" or more late Monday night into Tuesday night.

Update: 1:38 pm Sunday. Significant Snow Storm Tuesday?  Latest NAM looks a LOT more impressive for accumulating snow Monday night into Tuesday night. Latest model run prints out close to .90" liquid, which could easily translate into 4-8" of snow. Tuesday looks like the worst travel day as temperatures fall through the 20s - the atmosphere cold enough for all snow at the height of the storm. Stay tuned for updates, but it's looking like we may wind up with 12-18" of snow for the month of November, one of the snowiest Novembers since 1991?

"Paul's Favorite Things"

O.K. I'm no Oprah, but it's probably no secret I'm a technophile, gadget-freak and dreamer - I love technology, especially digital tools that help you become more confident, creative and prolific. I've had a serious addiction to megabytes, megapixels and smart phones ever since I launched EarthWatch in 1989 (3-D weather graphics for TV stations around the world). Then came Digital Cyclone, back in 2000 - the first company to put an app on a cell phone (black and white Doppler on a Nextel mobile phone back in 2001) and ever since I've tried a lot of different smart phones, in search of the "perfect" device. Yes, technology was supposed to "set us free", when in fact it's turned us into a society of dazed, sleep-walking, multi-tasking cyborgs - half human, half digital, perpetually distracted.

Here are the devices that have brought some small measure of digital joy to my life in recent years. The reality: all these picks are highly subjective. I realize that, and don't believe I have any special powers of discerning what is the "best" in each category. Everyone is going to have their own opinions & preferences, based on their individual needs and experiences. But over the years enough people have come up and asked, "Paul, what do you use?" that I thought I'd include this in my blog, for better or worse. The weather is quiet, so why not?

1). iPhone 4. Am I an Apple fanboy? Perhaps. Guilty as charged. In spite of Steve Jobs' "walled garden" approach and a desire for Apple to control every aspect of my content experience, I admire Apple for elegant design and near-flawless execution. The iPhone 4 is the one device I probably can't live without - it can do everything: e-mail, texts, apps, reasonable photos and video clips (when I forget to bring a dedicated camera), and it even makes decent phone calls - although like everyone else I've had my fair share of dropped calls (thank you AT&T). FaceTime is pretty amazing, although the need for the other party to also have an iPhone 4 (and a WIFI connection) is a bit of a drag. Multitasking finally brings the 4 to the level of Android, and the app market if far better (in my humble opinion). By the way, there are something like 2,000 FREE weather apps available, so making $$ by selling weather subscriptions has never been more difficult. It's not perfect - no device is, but it comes as close as anything I've tried (and I have a drawer full of old, discarded cell phones to prove it).
* Honorable mention: HTC Incredible. Don't get me wrong, I am impressed with Android, and I'm just geeky enough to walk around with 2 smart phones (one in each pocket - good thing I'm not trying to have any more kids). My one complaint: the app market for Android is still a kluge - there are a lot of (crappy) apps in there that have no business being available - you can easily spend good money on bad apps. I'm amazed how many big media brands have been hijacked by individuals who charge good money to (in essence) rip off their content. Yes, Android is more democratic, there is no walled garden, but the downside is that you have to be VERY careful when you download apps to make sure they're from trusted sources.

2). iPad. Yes, I love my iPad. All my favorite laptop bookmarks can be accessed, along with iPad friendly apps, like Flipboard (pulls in your Twitter and Facebook accounts and presents your friend's posts/tweets in a novel way, almost like a personalized, contantly-updating diary). Other amazing apps include ABC, Netflix, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, Pandora, Sling Player and Informant HD - a great way to synch your calendar entries, no matter what device you're using. The iPad is great for sharing photos with loved ones while sitting on the couch, the e-mail Safari client pulls in all your e-mail accounts and now you can listen to your iPod music library while you're working on other stuff. Apple is changing the way we consume content, and the iPad is a sign of (great) things to come as we move quickly into a personalized, content-on-demand world. In the future we'll be accessing more of our favorites from the "cloud", less purchased/stored content kept on our devices. Rent vs. buy. With media it probably makes sense. I can watch my Apple library of photos and videos on my main, family room TV (using "Home Sharing" on my iMac). The latest software upgrade includes "Air Play", which allows you to control your TV from your iPad. Call me crazy, but I think this is an exciting new frontier - the interface between laptop media and what you watch (and personalize) on the tube. Television has always been a dumb box, a one-way flow of content. But now, with the inevitable marriage of TV and Internet, you'll be able to interact with favorite TV programs, leave messages, instant polls, etc - in a way we can't even begin to imagine.

* Honorable mention: Apple iMac. All my personal media (photos, movies, music) is stored on a 1 terrabyte iMac in my study. If the home was on fire this is probably the one digital device I'd try to rescue first - although I have backed up all my stuff using Hitachi's LifeStudio backup AND Carbonite, an on-line back-up service that automatically copies all your content and media in the cloud. I've learned the hard way - you can't have enough back up.

3). Sony Vaio Laptop. Again, highly subjective, but I've never had serious issues with any of my Vaio laptops. They're well-built, virtually indestructible, and highly reliable. In fact the Sony laptop I'm writing this post on has been my main, go-to laptop for 2 years, which for me is an eternity. For the longest time I would upgrade to a new laptop every year, in search of ever more RAM and storage, but starting from scratch (with a new laptop), adding all your programs and media can be a huge hassle, so I'm trying to slow down and not be quite so impulsive.

* Honorable mention: Apple Macbook Pro. When it comes to family memories, storing photos, videos and favorite music, nothing beats a Mac. The Vaio may be my everyday workhorse (mainly because it runs a few Doppler radar programs that only work in a PC universe) but Apple has done a masterful job of allowing consumers to safely store and manipulate their personal memories. For ease of use there is still nothing to compare with iPhoto and iMovie. I use Adobe Photoshop and Final Cut Pro, but 90% of the time iMovie and iPhoto is enough.

4). DirecTV. I have cable TV throughout the house (Mediacom) but I'm absolutely sold on my family room DirecTV. Not only can I watch and DVR favorite shows in HD, the "Sunday Ticket" allows me to watch any NFL game around the country for a few hundred bucks every year. If you're a football fanatic there's nothing better than watching the "Red Zone" channel. All action, no commercials - the way football was meant to be watched. DirecTV examines the shows you watch and recommends new shows, based on your viewing habits, which is a helpful feature. True, when it rains or snows hard the signal can fade (that happens once or twice a year), but day in and day out, I'm continually impressed with this service - a lot of entertainment bang for the buck.

* Honorable mention: Ivy TV. Say what? I stumbled upon this little-known service about a month ago. A small start-up in Seattle is providing network TV stations (from Seattle, New York and Los Angeles) via high-speed Internet on your PC, Mac or laptop, for about $4/month. You can even watch my buddy, Paul Magers, on KCBS-TV in Los Angeles. No TV in the office? Not a problem. With Ivy you can watch (even record, like a DVR) on your computer, 24/7). The networks are trying hard to shut this company down, but Ivy TV claims they are permitted to do this (legally) using the Copyright Act. I don't pretend to understand the legal implications - but some of that $4/month is going back to these stations for rights. Not sure it'll make it, but if you want to watch that favorite show on your computer, anytime, anywhere - there's nothing like Ivy TV.

5). Netflix (streaming). So much for DVDs. They just went the way of LP's and 8 Track Tapes. For $8/month you can access unlimited movies, on your schedule, directly on your TV set. All you need is high-speed internet and a hardware device that enables Netflix (like Apple TV, Roku, or some Blu-Ray players). Some new TV's have Netflix built right into the hardware. On any given evening 20-25% of the Internet bandwidth is people streaming Netflix movies. It's changing the way people are consuming media in this country - and if you don't have Netflix, you're missing something truly extraordinary. The company is moving away from (expensive) DVD's by mail, it's actually cheaper going with the on-demand streaming than renting DVD's. Trust me, it's easy - and once you try it you'll be hooked. Forever.

6). Roku. For less than $70 (one-time charge) you can hook up a little Roku device (about the size of a hockey puck) that allows you to pull in hundreds of new channels, some free, some premium. It also gives you access to Netflix streaming. If you love to watch EVERY Twins game you can tap into and never miss an inning of play. For that price you can almost put a Roku device in every bedroom. But think twice (if you want your kids to ever do their homework again).

7). Apple TV. The new, improved Apple TV is one big step closer to the Holy Grail of personalized TV. Not only can you stream Netflix, YouTube, Flickr - you can tap hundreds of free radio stations, podcasts, call up a TV episode or movie you missed (using iTunes). But best of all (for me) - you can watch a slideshow of that last vacation, all your photos and video clips in glorious HD for the entire family to gawk at. Apple TV costs under $100, and it's a worthy addition to your family room entertainment system.

8). Nikon Coolpix P7000. I have a serious problem with digital cameras. I love the power of DSLR's, but I don't enjoy lugging around 30 pounds worth of camera bodies and lenses everywhere I go. It turns a vacation into one long, back-breaking workout. For many years now I've been on a quest to find the "perfect" camera, one powerful enough to capture close-up zooms, HD-quality video and yet small enough to fit in my pants pocket. I've tried a lot of cameras, including Lumix (very good), the Canon G10, the Canon Powershot S95 and the Sony Cyber-Shot - all of them extraordinary cameras. But this Nikon is the closest I've found to having a DSLR in your pocket. You can even shoot RAW photos (if you don't mind a 2-3 second lag), but JPEG is quick, the quality is exceptional, and the video is spectacular. When you turn the camera on the zoom lense extends to 20X, other features like stability control and complete control over ISO, quality and white balance makes this camera a breeze to use. It's a lot of bang for the buck (retail price around $430 at Amazon) and it BARELY fits in your jeans pocket - so you don't have to look like a mega-dork with this dangling around your neck.

* Honorable mention: Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-HX5. 10X zoom, 10.2 megapixels, GPS (so you can remember exactly where you took that perfect portrait) and a great form factor that EASILY fits in your pocket or purse. The Nikon P7000 gives you a little more control over the ultimate photo, but you want to just put a camera on "auto" and have it with you (all the time - ready to go), you can't go wrong with the Cyber-Shot. The Canon PowerShot S95 and Sony NEX-5  are both exceptional cameras - the Canon is smaller and more compact than the Nikon P7000 or the NEX-5, but packs a lot of bang for the buck.

9). Garmin Nuvi. It's well known that guys HATE asking for directions. It's built into our DNA to be self-sufficient and impossibly stubborn. For that reason you might want to consider the Nuvi, which is small enough that you can easily pack it away for vacations. No need to pay extra with Hertz or National - you can drop the Nuvi into your suitcase or purse and be ready to go when you reach your destination. Great features include finding nearby gas stations, restaurants and hotels - the latest generation even includes traffic obstacles between you and your destination.

* Honorable mention: Google Maps. Yes, for convenience there is nothing better than using Google Maps (on the web or smart phones) to find what you're looking for, calculate an instant route to that destination, even check traffic in-route. It's easy to use, yet powerful. It can be a little tricky trying to use your smart phone (and drive safely) - that's why a dedicated GPS system makes sense, especially if your job takes you to new, unfamiliar locations on a consistent basis.
10). Davis Vantage Pro 2 Weather Station. No self-proclaimed weather geek would be complete without a back yard weather station. I've tried a few, and for my money the best bet is the Davis Vantage Pro 2, which is durable, solar-powered, and highly reliable. Using your wireless home Internet you can keep a steady stream of data coming into any PC or Mac, log and track weather conditions over time, look at graphs of temperatures, pressure, winds - anything. It even has a tipping rain gauge that automatically empties out at the end of each day. If you're a true weather enthusiast consider putting up your own weather station. One perk: the data from my station is available to anyone on the Internet. Thousands of home weather enthusiasts make their data available, complimenting the NWS network of airports around the USA. Because when it comes to weather you can NEVER have too much data.

11). Favorite App: RadarScope. For the iPhone operating system RadarScope allows you to tap into any NOAA Doppler radar in the USA, checking reflectivity (rain, snow, hail) or radial velocity (evidence of rotation that coincides with severe hail and tornadoes). You can loop the radar - zoom in, and see (at a glance) any warnings that are in effect nearby. It's a powerful app. Forget the free weather apps - most of them are pretty useless. RadarScope costs $3.99 (one-time charge) but it's worth every penny. The next time you're on the football field or watching your kids play Little League baseball and the sky blackens you'll whip out RadarScope, see INSTANTLY where the storms are going, and be the hero in the stands that everyone turns to for spontaneous weather updates. A dream come true, huh?

* Honorable mention: "My-Cast."  It was a toss-up between RadarScope and My-Cast, from Digital Cyclone, a division of Garmin. I'm a little biased, since my friend, Craig Burfeind and I started up Digital Cyclone back in 1999. My-Cast is an amazing app, available on every cell phone imaginable. My-Cast OneLook is a great consumer app with a lot of functionality - you can store your favorite locations, see (at a glance) if severe weather watches, warnings or advisories are nearby, even get an hour-by-hour forecast. If you want to go all out consider Pilot My-Cast, even if you're not a pilot. The advantage: Pilot My-Cast has much higher-resolution data for the USA, you can zoom into any city and get amazing detail nearby, NEXRAD Doppler, 1 km. visible GOES cloud imagery, and lightning loops (which can really save your butt if you're on the golf course or the middle of Mille Lacs).

* Honorable mention 2: Qik. These days everyone is a content creator. From blogs to tweets to FB posts, we spend as much or more time CREATING content as we do consuming media. If you don't have Qik (free, both Apple and Android OS) you're missing something extraordinary. You can send back live video of your event, anywhere you can get a cell signal, and your friends/families can watch your event (live) on a special, secure web site URL. It's like having your own personal TV network. If your kid plays sports, or you want to beam back live video of a breaking news event, there is nothing quite like Qik. UStream Broadcaster is a similar, both are tapping into something pretty revolutionary. The days when the networks covered "the news" with expensive cameras and journalists are fading - we're moving quickly into an era of true citizen journalists - when millions of Americans will document what's happening right in front of them, and transmit it (live) to the rest of the world. No filter. No editorializing or slant. Just the (real) news.

12). Squeezebox Radio. Internet-enabled radio, why would I consider such a thing? I grew up out east, and don't miss much EXCEPT for a few classic rock and news/talk radio stations. Now, instead of fumbling around with web sites I can turn on my "Squeezebox", hit a preset, and instantly hear WTOP-AM in Washington D.C. or "The Rose", serving south central PA. Many of us are from somewhere else - and with the Squeezebox you can stay connected like never before.

13). Favorite Browser: Firefox. O.K. It still crashes every now and then on me (especially when I have dozens of tabs opened up from articles I want to read - all at once!) But Firefox is generally reliable and powerful, you can personalize it with favorite "plug-ins" that make the browser even more powerful. I've tried Internet Explorer and Google's Chrome, but keep coming back to (free) Firefox.

14). Favorite (PC) Doppler Radar Program: GR2Analyst. TV stations routinely spend over $1 million to set up their own live Doppler radars, powerful enough to not only track raindrops, snowflakes and hail stones, but able to see what direction those targets are moving, searching for regions of rapidly rotating air that may be ripe for tornado formation. Now, for only $ (one-time charge) you can dial up any NOAA Doppler site in the USA and see the raw data for yourself. No, it's not "live", it's delayed by 2-4 minutes, but GR2Analyst is incredibly powerful. We use it on and off the air at WeatherNation, and if you REALLY enjoy the weather, especially severe weather, you can't go wrong with this program. It's PC-compatible - I have yet to get it to run (reliably) on a Mac, because the program takes advantage of Direct-X with it's volumetric scans, and even with emulation (Boot Camp, VM Ware) the Mac has trouble keeping up. All the radar images I use on the blog are created using GR2Analyst.

15). Favorite Photo Library Tool: iPhoto. Simply plug your digital camera into the USB port of your Mac and the photos automatically upload into iPhoto. From there you can adjust, crop and rotate your photos, e-mail them to friends and family, or burn DVD's for safe-keeping. Apple makes it easy with iPhoto, and with iLife you can even search for specific "Faces" and categorize your photo library accordingly (ie. keep all the photos of Aunt Mary, Uncle Ned, your favorite nephew or niece, etc). Pretty cool.

* Honorable mention: Picasa 3. Google provides a terrific (free) tool for photo management with Picasa. This is a great alternative for the PC world, and permits you to tweak your favorite photos and store them, chronologically. I usually back up my photos with both iPhoto and Picasa. You can replace a lot of things, but family photos are irreplaceable. It's a good idea to back them up in multiple places on multiple devices, including online back-up (favorite there is a program called "Carbonite" - which automatically backs up all your photos, videos and documents into the cloud when you're sleeping). Not bad for about $5/month.

My (Most) Favorite Things. Of course, like you, this past week I've been giving thanks for so many things, especially the amazing people in my life, including my wife and sons, my parents, sister and brother, my friends & colleagues at WeatherNation, and my good friend and business partner, Todd Frostad. It's been a challenging couple of years, but in the end it all comes down to the people you surround yourself with. If you've been blessed with great people on your team - you at least have a chance.
So there you have it - more than you ever wanted to know about PD's digital urges and proclivities. Yes, I probably spend too much time thinking about this stuff. And I rationalize much of it by saying "what's more important than family memories?" Dangerous turf, I know. Let me also state (for the record) that nothing digital will ever bring you true happiness and satisfaction, the way a good friendship or family encounter, or time spent with your parents, will ever accomplish. These are nothing but "toys" for grown-ups. My wife calls them gadgets. I prefer to think of them as "productivity devices." A great digital device should help you document your life and make you more productive. Nothing more.
Good luck with your holiday shopping list. Hope you find what you're searching for.

* PS. No, I'm not getting a "spiff" or commission from any of these companies. They could frankly care less what I think, anyway. But Oprah's "favorite things" episode (as crazy-extravagant as it was)  inspired me to a). live my best life (!), and b). waste the better part of a Saturday documenting my digital hits and misses, so a few of you might not make the same expensive mistakes I did. With tech (and weather), it's all about learning from your mistakes. Trial and error. A painful, humbling learning curve. That, and it's a really slow weather pattern....

Tuesday Nuisance Snow? Models are hinting at about a tenth of an inch of liquid precipitation Monday night into Tuesday. The atmosphere should be warm enough aloft for a little light rain late Monday, but a changeover to wet snow is likely Monday night, maybe a quick inch of snow on Tuesday (with temperatures falling through the 20s). I don't expect any commuting headaches Monday, but Tuesday may be a different story, with 1-2" of accumulation possible.

The Big Dip. The good news: it won't be as cold as Thanksgiving Day, which felt like something out of late January. But after a mild Sunday temperatures will fall off by midweek, bottoming out Wednesday before recovering (slightly) by the end of the week.

Snowy "Episodes". Although Snowmageddon is nowhere in sight (yet) a few minor snowfalls are shaping up, an inch or two possible Tuesday as colder air arrives, another 1-3" possible Friday, as a clipper-like system streaks across the Upper Midwest. The best travel days this week will be Monday (wet roads), Wednesday and Thursday.

Friday Fun? It's a long way off (especially when weather systems are moving so quickly) but long-range models are hinting at a fast-moving system tracking across the Upper Midwest Friday, a potential for a couple inches of accumulation Friday. Right now it appears that flurries will taper Saturday morning with improving travel conditions over the weekend - highs close enough to freezing to keep most major roads mostly-wet Saturday and Sunday.

Misery Loves Company. Severe weather warnings have been issued for Scotland, Ireland and much of the U.K. (including London) for heavy snow and high winds. Sections of Northumberland have already picked up 15-18" of snow with blizzard conditions. YouTube footage of near-blizzard conditions in Glasgow, Scotland is here. More on the wild wintry weather regime gripping the British Isles from Sky TV.

A Whole 'Lotta Lightning. According to Vaisala (which tracks global lightning strikes using their own, proprietary lightning network and Accu Weather's Jesse Ferrell), planet Earth was struck by cloud to ground lightning nearly 310 MILLION times in just a 6 month period earlier this year. The dark purple region shows counties struck 32 times/20 kilometers - Iowa saw more lightning strikes than Florida, which is highly unusual. The story is here.

Saturday Stats. At least the sun was out (and winds eased considerably). Highs ranged from a brisk 19 at International Falls to 25 in St. Cloud and the Twin Cities. Grand Marais registered 33, which is a bit odd (although an onshore breeze from Lake Superior, where water temperatures are in the upper 30s) probably kept the immediate North Shore a few degrees warmer. Much of our snow has melted, only 1" at MSP, 2" St. Cloud, 8" at Duluth and a cool foot at International Falls.

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

TODAY: A well-timed thaw! Mild sun. No travel problems close to home. Winds: SE 15-25. High: near 40 (!)

SUNDAY NIGHT: Patchy clouds, mild for late November - still dry. Low: 35

MONDAY: A little light mix late? Roads should be wet. High: 37

MONDAY NIGHT: Light rain changes to wet snow - some slush possible. Low: 19

TUESDAY: Potential for significant snow, maybe 4-8" nearby? Travel may become quite difficult statewide. High: 25

WEDNESDAY: Intervals of sun, cold breeze. High: 24

THURSDAY: Sun gives way to increasing clouds, still colder than average. High: 29

FRIDAY: Couple inches of wet snow possible? High: near 30

SATURDAY: Flurries taper, better PM travel. High: 31

Weather Proverbs

In an age of Doppler radar and supercomputers its easy to lose sight of a simpler, timeless weather wisdom, the stuff your grandparents taught you growing up. "Bird fly low before a storm." True. A rapid drop in air pressure ahead of a low pressure system can trigger discomfort (like what we feel on a plane). Flying closer to the ground equalizes some of that air pressure. "Halo around the sun or moon, rain or snow soon." True. The atmosphere always moistens up from top to bottom. Cirrus clouds, ice crystals at 25,000 feet, streak out ahead of the main storm, refracting (bending) light into a 22 degree ring around the sun. Crickets can predict the temperature to within 1 degree (add 40 to the number of chirps in 14 seconds). Strange but true. The best forecasts use a mix of computer tech and something approaching intuition and gut feel.

A welcome thaw today gives way to yet another punch of Canadian air, a little rain late Monday ending as an inch of snow Tuesday. The sun comes out the latter half of the week; models hint at more snow by Friday. Highs hold in the 20s by midweek, not as cold as Thanksgiving, but proof positive that (in spite of the calendar) winter has arrived.

For more weather proverbs click here - a nice summary of the most popular proverbs from USA Today.

Best Star-Gazing On Earth? Are you an astronomy buff? No? I'm fascinated by the nighttime sky, which raises more questions than answers - even tried to teach astronomy merit badge for a group of (very patient) boy scouts. It turns out Antarctic is not only the coldest spot on Earth, but the driest, clearest and calmest, with the least "weather" to get in the way of tracking celestial targets. More from the U.K.'s Guardian Newspaper here.

Case For Man-Made Warming Increased in 2010, Scientists Say. I know, it's all very confusing. "How can the Earth be warming up if I'm shivering uncontrollably right now?" It's easy to confuse "weather" with "climate". From a CNN article: "The UK's Met Office Hadley Center says data from a range of climate indicators continues to make an "overwhelming" case for long-term man-made global warming. "It is clear from the observational evidence across a wide range of indicators that the world is warming," Matt Palmer, an oceans expert at the Met Office, said in a statement. "As well as a clear increase in air temperature observed above both the land and sea we see observations which are all consistent with increasing greenhouse gases." The Met Office brought together evidence from over 20 institutions worldwide -- including NOAA's National Climatic Data Center and NASA -- in making its assessment."

A Climate Whodunit. So there's no way to (scientifically) connect the dots and link 2010's (frequent and oftentimes bizarre) weather outbreaks to a warming climate? From a blog at Newsweek: "You mean you guys can’t definitely say human-caused climate change is why 135 daily rainfall records were broken along the East Coast during September’s deluges (Wilmington, N.C.: 19.7 inches over three days)? You can’t say climate change is why 2010 is eclipsing 1998 as the hottest year on record, or why in August an ice island four times the size of Manhattan broke off from a Greenland glacier? How about why 2000–09 was the warmest decade on record, that 153 of the 1,218 U.S. weather stations recorded their hottest summer since 1895, why Moscow suffered a once-in-centuries heat wave this summer, or why one fifth of Pakistan flooded?"

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