Wednesday, November 10, 2010

First Potential Snowstorm Brewing For Saturday

Only in Minnesota is it possible to go from a record 68 on a Wednesday (complete with thunder/lightning) to heavy, wet snow 48 hours later. Atmospheric ingredients are converging, and what appears to be the first real snowstorm of the season is shaping up for much of central and southern MN from late Friday night into Saturday. A secondary storm rippling north along an eastbound cold front will be able to tap significant moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and a fresh supply of cold, Canadian air. Right now the models print out 1 to 1.5" of liquid precipitation on the Twin Cities. If that were to fall as ALL SNOW it would be 10-15". There, take a moment ot exhale. Right now it looks like enough warm air will be in place (temperatures at or just above freezing throughout the lowest mile of the atmosphere) for mostly rain from MSP south/east toward Eau Claire and Rochester, but I'm nervous. If the storm tracks just a little farther east, we could see a plowable snowfall here in the metro area. Right now I'd put the odds of that as 1 in 3. I want to see a few more computer runs, but a few things are becoming apparent:

1). The farther west you travel late Friday night and Saturday the better the odds of heavy, wet snow.

2). No travel problems Friday (roads will just be wet with drizzle -  air temperatures close to 40 mid afternoon - slowly falling through the 30s Friday night).

3). I expect all rain for Wisconsin and far southeastern MN - here in the metro we may see a cold rain mixing with, and even changing over to wet snow during the day on Saturday as temperatures aloft continue to cool. My hunch: 1-3" immediate metro, less than an inch east of St. Paul, but more than 4" western suburbs.

Again, the honest answer: it's too early to know - all we can tell you is that a SIGNIFICANT winter storm is brewing, the best chance of a "plowable" snow seems to be setting up over central and south central MN, where some 5-10" amounts are quite possible by Saturday night. If you've been putting off staking the driveway, or putting on your snow tires - you may want to get serious about taking care of that by Friday evening.

Sunday looks better, much better for travel with peeks of sun, highs near 40, and (potentially) some serious snow-shoveling aerobics just west of the cities. A slight eastward jog in the storm track could bring that band of heavy snow into the metro - we haven't ruled that out. Stay tuned for more updates, hopefully things will crystalize a little more over the next 24 hours.

Minnesota's Deadliest Blizzards. TPT's Mary Lahammer reports on Minnesota's wildest winter weather extremes tonight on TPT-2. Professor Mark Seeley and I contributed to this story - editor Jerry Lakso helped to weave together historic file video to create a visual masterpiece - what I believe will be the definitive documentary on Minnesota blizzards. If you tuned in to see Mary's (extraodinary) documentary on Minnesota's Deadlist Tornadoes you will definitely want to tune in tonight. The timing is good too - coming on the 70th anniversary of the Armistice Day Blizzard AND a growing probability of Minnesota's first real snowstorm of the season coming Saturday! For a look at the trailer click here.

First Snowstorm of the Season? Computer models are strongly hinting at a changeover from rai to wet snow late Friday night into midday Saturday, from Duluth to St. Cloud, Willmar and Mankato - where some 5-10"+ amounts are possible. Based on the current storm track precipitation should fall as MOSTLY rain in the immediate metro area, but a couple inches of slush can't be ruled out, especially far western suburbs. If the storm tracks 50-100 miles farther east enough cold air could be in place for significant snow even in the Twin Cities metro. Too early to tell - right now it appears the heaviest snow bands will set up 40-100 miles west of MSP. A little close for comfort. Keep checking back - 4 new computer runs/day - I want to see some consistency and continuity in the models before I get REALLY excited. Right now I'd bet on a few inches of slush in the metro by Saturday night, an inch on the east side of St. Paul, maybe 2-4" or more for the western suburbs.

70 Year Anniversary of the Armistice Day Blizzard. November 11, 1940 dawned mild and drizzly, temperatures rising into the 50s. Thousands of duck hunters left the  house with nothing but light jackets and windbreakers. And then, like turning off a switch, temperatures plummeted through the 50s and 40s in a few hours, reaching the 30s by afternoon as a full gale whipped up from the north, blinding sheets of snow accumulating at the rate of 2-3"/hour. By the next day over 17" of snow had fallen, 50-60 mph winds carving out enormous 10 foot drifts, leaving streets impassable. Ever since the Armistice Day Blizzard MnDOT has elevated Minnesota's major highways. The reason? To give plows somewhere to push the snow! Over 150 people lost their lives throughout the Upper Midwest; there was a public outcry following the storm. Why wasn't it accurately predicted? The National Weather Service (which had been predicting Minnesota's weather from Chicago) decided to open up a local forecast office in the Twin Cities. More on the amazing storm from Wikipedia here, another look at the storm here.

This is still Winter Hazard Awareness Week in Minnesota. Today's reminders from the DNR:

Carbon Monoxide Facts
  • Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas. It results from the incomplete burning of natural gas, oil, wood, kerosene, charcoal and other fuels, under conditions where there is not enough oxygen present
  • Exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide can cause flu-like symptoms such as headaches, nausea, dizziness, drowsiness, weakness and shortness of breath. Higher levels can result in unconsciousness or death
  • Carbon monoxide is most likely to accumulate inside homes during winter, when the heating system is in use and the home has been sealed and insulated against the cold
  • Carbon monoxide can accumulate from wood stoves, fireplaces or charcoal grills, furnaces, water heaters, boilers, gas cooking stoves and clothes dryers, gas or kerosene space heaters and automobile exhaust
Carbon monoxide safety
  • Make sure your heating system and all fuel burning appliances are adequately vented and maintained
  • Make sure your furnace has an adequate air supply
  • Do not use gas stoves, ovens or portable camping equipment to heat living areas
  • Have a qualified technician install and check furnaces and all fuel burning appliances
  • Install a UL-listed carbon monoxide detector; one which sounds an alarm. This is in addition to a working smoke alarm
Other Indoor Hazards and Safety Information
  • Mold exposure can be a special problem during winter when homes are sealed up. Enough mold spores can contribute to asthma, allergies and other health problems
  • Molds need an ample supply of moisture. Your home may be at risk if you've had flooding, a leaky roof, ice dams, a damp basement, a backed-up sewer, or chronic plumbing leaks
  • Radon can sometimes enter homes from the surrounding soil and accumulate in living areas, especially during the winter. The Minnesota Department of Health recommends that all homes be tested, as long-term exposure to radon can contribute to many long-term health problems, including lung cancer. When testing, use equipment that can take average readings over a long period of time
  • If asbestos-containing material is disturbed by remodeling, something often done during the winter, tiny fibers can be released to the surrounding air. Some products contained asbestos up to the mid 1980s. Repair or encapsulate the damaged material using hardware supplies. If you hire a contractor to do the work, that contractor must be licensed by the Minnesota Department of Health
35th Anniversary of the Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. I'm detecting a theme here. No wonder this is Winter Hazard Awareness Week in Minnesota. On November 10, 1975 38 foot waves split the iron-ore ship, Edmund Fitzgerald, in two, causing all 29 crew mates to perish in 530 feet of water, just 17 miles away from safe harbor at Whitefish Bay. An atmospheric "bomb" whipped us sustained winds of 60 mph with gusts to 100 mph. The eerie truth: no distress calls were received before the ship split up and sank. Crew members may have been too busy trying to save the ship to even reach out for help. The sinking was forever memorialized by Gordon Lightfoot's song, a haunting summary of the events of November 10, 1975. A good summary of the event from Wikipedia here.

2010: Record Set For Largest Hailstone. From a press release from UCAR, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research at Boulder: "There was no gold medal, no podium ceremony, and definitely no tears from the losers on 30 July, but there was a new national champion. On that date, NOAA proclaimed that a South Dakota hailstone had surpassed all contenders in both size and weight. Officially a hefty 31 ounces and almost 19 inches in circumference, the stone fell in the yard of Les Scott of Vivian, South Dakota, on 23 July. Scott, who collected it and reported it to the National Weather Service, said, “If I knew it might be a record, I would have looked for a bigger one. There [were] lots bigger ones than the one I got.” According to Scott, the record stone itself was bigger when he first popped it into his freezer, but it melted a bit during a power outage."

More Tornadoes In Unusual Places. Meteorologist and tornado researcher Jon Davies describes the atmospheric variables present on November 8, 2010 that resulted in a swarm of funnel clouds across central California. Rare, but certainly not unprecedented for a major Pacific storm slamming into the west coast, with sufficient instability (and wind shear) to spin up a few fickle funnels.

Lightning Bolt Kills TV Giraffe. From South Africa comes a sad, and somewhat bizarre story about a TV giraffe killed by a recent lightning strike.

Records And More Records. These are just the record highs set on Wednesday, dozens of record highs and nighttime lows - more typical of early October. Map courtesy of Ham Weather.

Record-Setting Wednesday. Temperatures yesterday soared 20-30 degrees above average, hitting a record of 68 in the Twin Cities (old record was 67 in 1930), and a record-smashing 64 at International Falls (old record was 60 in 1954). Pretty amazing, considering the sun is now as high in the sky as it was in late January.

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

TODAY: Partly sunny, cool wind, feels a bit more like November. Winds: SW 10-20. High: 52

THURSDAY NIGHT: Partly cloudy and seasonably cool. Low: 38

FRIDAY: Cloudy and cool, drizzle possible late in the day. High: 44 (looks soggy for Friday evening football games - but just rain/drizzle).

* SATURDAY: Cold rain mixes with wet snow, a few inches of slush possible in the metro by Saturday night. It looks like all snow just west of MSP, probably enough snow to shovel/plow from Duluth to St. Cloud to Mankato, where some 5-10" amounts are possible. High: 39 (the farther north/west you travel away from the cities, the worse travel conditions will be, especially Saturday morning).

SATURDAY NIGHT: Wet snow slowly tapers - roads may be very slippery, especially west metro. Low: 26

SUNDAY: Sun returns, much better travel statewide. High: 42

MONDAY: Intervals of sun, seasonably cool. High: 44

TUESDAY: Mostly cloudy with a few rain/snow showers (better chance central and northern MN). High: near 40

WEDNESDAY: Gusty, cold - few flurries expected (probably no accumulation). High: 38

First Snow of Winter?

Tonight on Channel 2 Mary Lahammer tackles "Minnesota's Greatest Blizzards", focusing on the Armistice Day Blizzard which claimed 154 lives on Nov. 11, 1940. 60 mph winds carved out 10 foot drifts, temperatures dropped 30 degrees in a few hours, catching thousands of duck hunters unprepared; some had to fight for their lives. The surprise blizzard prompted the National Weather Service to open up a local office (not rely on forecasts coming out of Chicago).

MnDOT had nowhere to push the snow, some streets remained blocked for weeks. One lesson: major highways are elevated, giving the snow somewhere to go.

Wild storms can spin up in November, drawing on huge north-south temperature extremes. The super-storm that sank the Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior 35 years ago whipped up 100 mph winds!

Wave goodbye to Indian Summer - we cool down 15-20 degrees today, a cold rain likely late Friday into Saturday as a storm intensifies over the Great Lakes. Models keep a cold rain falling on the metro, over 1" possible. But just west a changeover to snow MAY produce a "plowable" accumulation of 4-8" or more from St. Cloud to Mankato. Good news: no big Thanksgiving week storms in sight.

Happy Veterans Day. The older I get the less and less I take for granted. Today we salute the millions of veterans who have allowed us to live our lives (in total freedom). Thank you doesn't seem quite enough, but I'm proud of all the men and women in the Armed Services, including my youngest son, Brett, who is a Second Class (Junior) at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. 

Eruption of Mt. Merapi Sends Volcanic Plume Toward Australia. The eruption of Mt. Merapi in Indonesia has sent a huge plume of ash, smoke and CO2 into the atmosphere, prevailing jet stream winds guiding the plume toward Australia. More on the fallout from the eruption here.

Not Enough Hurricane Losses. We just had a record-tying year for hurricanes in the Atlantic and Caribbean, but no direct strikes on the USA, which is borderline miraculous. It also results in some odd imbalances in the insurance industry. From The University of Colorado (Boulder) blog of Professor Roger Pielke, Jr:

"Understanding the reinsurance industry can be counter-intuitive.  One might think that they want to avoid big disasters, because that means that claims must be paid.  To some degree this is true.  But the reality is that the industry needs disasters to thrive, after all that is what its business is all about.  Presently, the industry is awash in capital due to a dearth of disasters, putting pressure on premiums and share prices."

NOAA Overview. The amount of free, public-domain information available to consumers on the Internet is staggering. Europe licenses much of their weather data (they see this as a profit center and extort huge amounts of money for satellite/radar data) but God bless the USA: your tax dollars are paying for the best weather service on the planet, and just about all the raw data (and computer forecasts) are made available to people worldwide, at no cost. Here is a good summary of the information currently available.

Is Global Warming Responsible For Wild Weather? Yes,  but not as much as you might think. Is there such a thing as normal weather? The atmosphere has always been extreme, but just how much are we "loading the dice" in favor of more frequent/extreme weather events? Newsweek has an interesting story here.
Sunburned Whales Blamed On Thinning Ozone Layer. Ozone is harmful at ground-level, where it combines with sunlight to produce "smog". But ozone is essential in the stratosphere, 30-60 miles above the ground, where it filters out the sun's harmful UV rays. Man-made chemicals began to eat away at the ozone layer (especially over the South Pole), and since those chemicals were banned in the 70s we've seen some recovery in stratospheric ozone. Even so, there's still a problem - reports of sunburned whales, which may be the result of repeated exposure to less ozone high overhead. A baffling story here.

* Scientists Scramble To Close The Uncertainty Gap In Climate Science. What do we know vs. what is pure climate speculation? There is a lot of back and forth right now (and a lot of financial incentive for these questions to be kicked down the road for a few more years - plenty of people happy to keep a cloud of confusion and antipathy regarding climate science. The New York Times has an interesting article on the topic here.

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