Thursday, December 9, 2010

Potential For 8-14" Saturday (near-blizzard conditions possible)

Storm Headlines

* No major travel problems Friday, temperatures hold in the 20s under a mostly cloudy sky.

* Light snow arrives Friday night, gets heavier late Friday night into Saturday as a storm tracks to our south, across Iowa into southern Wisconsin.

* Winds gradually increase Saturday (sustained at 20-30 mph, with gusts to 35 mph). A blizzard is defined as 35 mph. sustained winds + 1/4 mile visibility in falling/blowing snow. We may be very close to blizzard criteria by midday Saturday. Travel will get progressively worse as the day goes on as temperatures fall through the teens into single digits - I expect even the freeways/interstates to become snow-covered and potentially treacherous.

* Winter Storm Watch for much of central/southern MN (includes the Twin Ciites and much of western/northern WI). If current model trends continue I expect the watch to be upgraded to a Winter Storm Warning later in the day Friday. A warning means that 6"+ snow in 24 hours or less are imminent - no travel advised.

* How much? Great question. Pass the Maalox please. My pet ulcer is acting up. The latest NAM/WRF model (probably the most accurate simulation) prints out over 1" of liquid. Assuming an average snow/rain ratio of 15/1 during the lifetime of the snow - that equates into 15". I'm deducting a few inches because - somehow - we always get hosed. But that still leaves us with 8-12" (at the low end). At some point it won't matter, with all the blowing and drifting good luck trying to get an accurate measurement of snow Saturday afternoon/night. It'll be a big pile. That's my prediction.

* Blizzard Potential. As I mention in my column (below) I don't use the "B-Word" lightly. It inspires fear and panic, as it should. A blizzard is defined as falling or blowing snow with visibilities under 1/4 mile with sustained winds of 35 mph or more. We'll be close to that criteria Saturday afternoon/night. Sustained winds of 30 mph are likely, and I could easily see gusts of 30-40 mph, creating white-out conditions, especially outside the metro. I don't say this lightly: think twice about attempting travel between noon Saturday and 7 am Sunday morning.

* Risk of frostbite and hypothermia (slow drop in body temperature) will be very high Saturday afternoon into midday Monday. Factoring wind, it will FEEL like -10 Saturday afternoon, but wind chills dip to -25 to -30 by Sunday morning. Most at risk: infants, people with respiratory, heart and circulation problems, and the elderly. Make it a point to check in on older friends, family and neighbors, especially Sunday and Monday (when travel conditions improve). Hypothermia can be fatal if not caught early. Symptoms include uncontrollable shivering, disorientation, slurred speech, and incoherence.

Winter Storm Watch. The local NWS office has issued a watch, including the Twin Cities, Mankato, St. Cloud (right on the edge) and Red Wing - along with a big chunk of western and northern Wisconsin. A watch means "watch out", conditions are ripe for at least 6" or more of snow in a 24 hour period. I expect the NWS to upgrade the watch to a warning if the next 1-2 model runs confirm that the heaviest snow axis will, in fact, set up right over the metro area.

"Plowable" - Potentially "Crippling"? I am forever haunted by the words of my favorite meteorology professor (Dr. John Cahir) who essentially told all of his students, "forget about trying to predict inches - it's a lost cause. Every storm falls into one of 3 categories: either "nuisance", where there are minor problems, but people get around town just fine, or the storm is "plowable" - as the word implies, enough to shovel and plow. Traffic is slow, but you can still get from Point A to Point B. Mercifully very few storms fall into the final category, "crippling", where everything stops, traffic by land and air is essentially shut down. No one moves." Saturday's storm will at least be plowable for most of the metro, and if the winds are are strong as I suspect, leading to widespread blowing and drifting, this could wind up becoming a crippling storm for parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Right now the models put the axis of heavy snow, the "bulls-eye", right over the metro area with a band of 8-14" of light, fluffy, powdery snow. But there will be a sharp westward cut-off in snow amounts - just a couple inches for Alexandria and Granite Falls. Will the deformation zone set up over MSP or Mankato to Rochester? Too early to tell. If you're planning to travel Saturday have a Plan B. It may be a real mess out there.

Dueling Models. Here is the GFS solution, suggesting 6-10" for much of the Twin Cities metro area, closer to 5-6" for St. Cloud - but 14"+ inches for Rochester and Red Wing, as much as 16-18" closer to Eau Claire, Tomah and Black River Falls.

Scenario #2. Here is the NAM/WRF solution (generally thought to be more accurate than the GFS). It shows 10"+ for much of the metro, closer to 12" from Mankato into the southern/eastern suburbs of St. Paul, with a (larger) area of 15-20" for much of central/northern Wisconsin into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Trending Snowier. Today's NAM/WRF runs are considerably snowier than last night's runs. The latest simulations are hinting at some 10-14" amounts of powder on Saturday. Still too early to know, but the trend is a bit troubling (if you don't like snow). Again, at the risk of beating a dead horse (figure of speech, I happen to live horses) it's still unclear whether the 10-14" forecast is a fluke, an aberration, or a true trend. I want to see 1-2 more model runs to get my comfort level up. For now it's safe to say that there is a potential for a foot of snow in and near the metro on Saturday. It's only a potential. But it's not too early to tweak your travel plans and consider a Plan B for Saturday. Get your shopping/errands in Friday - my hunch is that you won't want to spend much quality time on the Crosstown, I-35 or 494 on Saturday.

Looking More And More Like A Cool Foot. This is the rough meteorological equivalent of trying to predict where a tornado will touch down, 24-36 hours in advance. "How many inches of snow in my yard, Paul?" Next question please. Based on the best available model guidance (and a strong gut feel, which may be nausea) I'm leaning toward 8-14" in the metro on Saturday. Now, about that "real winter"....

A Perfect Storm Track For Heavy Snow. You couldn't script it much better than this - an intensifying area of low pressure tracking from Omaha to Des Moines to La Crosse into the Milwaukee area. Plenty of cold air in place for all snow. The question is where the axis of heavy snow (the dreaded "deformation zone") will set up. Will it be directly over MSP - in which case we pick up a cool foot of snow - or will it set up 50-75 miles south/east of MSP, clobbering Mankato, Rochester and Red Wing. Too close to call right now.

What Is A Deformation Zone, And Why Should I Care? O.K. I'm not tossing around meteorological terms in an attempt to impress anyone. I'm trying (as best I can) to explain the forecasting challenge, to give you a better idea of the variables involved. As air rises (cyclonically - in a counterclockwise fashion) around an area of low pressure, moisture wraps around the storm, a surge of colder, drier air on north/northwest winds creating a sharp northeast/southwest cut-off to the snowfall amounts. Most major storms have a sharp cut-off, an axis of heaviest snow setting up a few hundred miles north/west of the storm track. But trying to predict, even 24-36 hours in advance, precisely where this deformation zone will set up is an exercise in futility. Right now the models are hinting that the axis of heaviest snow may be directly above MSP. My hunch is that final snowfall amounts may be in the 10-15" range under this snowy axis. The million dollar question: will it REALLY set up over MSP, or will a surge of bitterly cold air shove the deformation zone 75 miles south/east, over Mankato, Rochester and Red Wing? That's one of the big challenges right now.

Sharp Snowfall Cut-Off. Thanks to the "Comet" program at UCAR in Boulder I can now confuse you further with gibberish about deformation zones. Suffice to say it's a tricky forecast for Saturday. Then again, it's always tricky. A safe forecast would be 1-15" at this point. It's a big range, but I stand by that forecast.
* If you want to learn more about meteorology UCAR (University Corp. of Atmospheric Research) in Boulder has an amazing on-line program, called "MetEd". As far as I can tell the course "modules" are free - all you have to do is register.

Good News For Minnesota Snow Lovers. This is the snowiest start to the winter season in nearly 2 decades. So far the Twin Cities metro area has picked up 16.9" inches of snow, with 6" on the ground as of 7 pm Thursday. Much of the state is trending snowier than average. For more on what is creating a little snowy hysteria among Minnesota snow enthusiasts click here to see the trends direct from the local NWS office.

Snow Surplus As Of December 9:

Twin Cities: + 3.7"
International Falls: + 11"
Duluth: + 15.5"

Submerged In Snow. Syracuse saw 94 straight hours of snow - they're up to 58.2" of snow, over 4 1/2 FEET of snow in the last 5-6 days! Another 3-6" is likely by Sunday.

Snowy Headaches In France. Keep in mind that an INCH of snow in France is usually considered a big deal, a good reason to call off work and school for days. The YouTube video clip is here.

Panama Canal Closed For First Time In 20 Years. Severe flooding forced the temporary closing of the Panama Canal, which uses a series of locks to transport ships from the Atlantic to the Pacific (and vice versa). More from the BBC here.

Google And The Rise Of Facebook. If you're sick of hearing blizzard-babble, maybe it's time to dig into the escalating battle royale brewing between Google and Facebook for world dominance. Check out this excerpt from a thoughtful post at "In 2007 I said that Facebook would be the home page for your personal brand. Now it seems that Facebook is officially setting out to become your homepage period.
The other day I logged into Facebook and noticed a new message at the top of the screen. I was presented with a simple way to make Facebook my homepage so that I could see “what’s happening with friends as soon as I opened my browser.”  And, I’m not the only one.

Why am I taking the time to let you know that Facebook is making it easy for you to drag and drop Facebook to your home button?
Facebook started out as a social network, but it is officially growing into a full-fledged personal OS, where friends and experiences are interconnected inside and outside of Facebook. And, at the center of everything is you. Facebook is a platform where relationships create the construct for the 3C’s of information commerce. The acts of sharing and consuming content in social media represent the social dealings between people and set the stage for interaction and education.But, it is the platform that offers a sandbox for development and also a solid foundation for social architecture. It is the sites that feature Facebook interconnects that weave the fabrics of relationships and the ties and interests that bind us.
More than one million websites have integrated with Facebook Platform.
150 million people engage with Facebook on external websites every month.

10 Apps That Make Magic On Your iPad. Bob Tedeschi from the New York Times is hooked on his iPad. Here are a few of the things that bring a smile to his lips. My favorites are Netflix, Pandora, Flipboard and Star Walk - made his Top 10 List as well.

Gift Ideas For Photo Enthusiasts? It's A Snap. Yes, I'm hooked on digital photography, can't quite get enough megapixels. I never met a camera I didn't like - but by the time I take it out of the store (or unwrap the packaging from - it's already obsolete. It's a slippery slope, but the New York times has a few good tips for the photo-bug in your life here.

Thurday Numbers. Admit it, 34 felt pretty good out there yesterday, the first thaw we've experienced in the MSP metro area since November 30. 2/10ths of an inch of slush fell in the Twin Cities as that band of snow/freezing drizzle raced into town during mid morning. Highs ranged from 28 at St. Cloud to 35 at Redwood Falls.

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

TODAY: Clouds increase, good travel weather. Winds: NW 5-10. High: 25

FRIDAY NIGHT: Snow develops, possibly heavy by morning. Low: 20

* SATURDAY: Winter Storm Watch. Snow likely, blowing and drifting will become a problem with treacherous travel by afternoon/evening. High: 14 (falling through the teens). Winds gusting over 30 mph may produce near-blizzard conditions, especially outside the metro area.

* SATURDAY NIGHT: Snow tapers to flurries. Snow totals of 6-12" are possible, more south/east of the MSP metro area. Wind chills dip to -25. Low: -12 

* SUNDAY: Siberian sun. Less wind - travel conditions improve. Potentially dangerous wind chills - significant risk of frostbite and hypothermia. High: -2. Wind chill: -25

MONDAY: Blue sky, still "Nanook". Low; -18. High: 2

TUESDAY: Light snow possible, an inch or 2, slick again. High: 15

WEDNESDAY: Gray, I can feel my toes again! High: 25

THURSDAY: Mostly cloudy, no weather drama. High: 26

Blizzard Potential

No, I don't throw the B-word around lightly. A blizzard is defined as 35 mph (sustained) winds and visibilities under 1/4 mile in falling/blowing snow. We may be close to that criteria by Saturday afternoon.

I'm predicting a 50 degree temperature drop from yesterday's 31 F high to Monday morning's -18 low in the metro. Surges of Arctic air are often preceded by bursts of snow. The track will be ideal for 8-12 hours of snow Saturday; the big question is where the "deformation zone", the sharp axis of heaviest snowfall amounts, will set up. Will it be over Rochester or MSP? A 50 mile jog in the storm track could make the difference between 4" (at the low end) and over a FOOT (at the upper end of my prediction). Either way it should be "plowable", potentially a "crippling" snow for parts of southeastern MN and Wisconsin. Right now my best guess, based on all the available guidance, computer models, and my Grandma's achy knee, is 8-14" for the metro area by Saturday night. I kind of hope I'm wrong. We'll see.

Get your errands and shopping in today - check the blog for continuous updates and reports. Sunday you'll swear you're vacationing in the Yukon; the first subzero high since Dec. 15, 2008. Wind chills may reach -30; try to check in with older friends and neighbors - the risk of frostbite and hypothermia will be very high. We warm into the 20s by midweek. Whew!

Paul Douglas Foundation. I've been blessed to be able to take what I love (weather) and turn it into a career. I don't take that for granted, not for a moment. I try to get out and talk to non-profits and for-profit companies, multi-media presentations focused on everything from my entreprenuerial hits and misses, severe weather and climate change in Minnesota. A significant portion of the money goes toward the Paul Douglas Foundation, which supports such worthy causes as SAVE (suicide awareness, voices of education - I've lost a few friends to suicide), the Boy Scouts of America (I'm an Eagle Scout - still working on my weather merit badge), Sharing And Caring Hands, the Minnesota Medical Foundation and Conservation Minnesota (because, like you, I don't take our "quality of life" for granted). If your company or service organization is looking for a speaker click here for more ideas - hope to see you and help rally the troops in 2011.

Abandoned On Everest. I'm fascinated with mountaineering, with the men and women who risk their lives to get to the top of a mountain, any mountain. When I was 25, working at KARE-11, I climbed the Matterhorn in Switzerland (pretty much got that bug out of my system). I came across this article, which documents all the crap left behind on the world's tallest mountain over the last 50+ years. There are some pretty gruesome photos - if you have a weak stomach best to avoid this post: "In 2006, a lone climber attempting the summit of Mount Everest for the third time was, purely by chance, caught in an amateur photograph taken by another climber of the scenic mountaintop ahead. The climber in the photograph was making his way up what is known as the Final Push of the Northeast ridge, between Camp VI at 8,230 m and the summit. It was late in the afternoon, a foolishly reckless time to undertake the lengthy and dangerous route. It would be many hours before the the photographer and his climbing team saw the man again. Leaving the camp at the recommended time, shortly before midnight in order to reach the summit at daybreak, they were first in line of a total of roughly 40 climbers attempting the Final Push that day. A long train of men, all tethered to the lengths of rope permanently in place to keep climbers on the right track."

Climate Change: The Daily Reality For Farmers. From the U.K.'s Independent Newspaper, an article that focuses not on theory, but reality, what farmers worldwide are already experiencing in their fields. Here is an excerpt: "The UN climate change talks in Cancun are about to conclude. But for millions of people across the world, the awareness of climate change does not rely on the media, or the ebb and flow of global negotiations. It is a terrifying reality. Bringing greater vulnerability to lives already precarious. I have yet to meet a small scale farmer who has not noticed the shifts in weather patterns affecting their livelihoods. And who does not fear for the future of themselves and their families. These are people struggling to survive on the edge of a precipice. They remain the forgotten and unheard voices in the climate discussions."

Expert Issues Stark Warning On Climate Change. An excerpt from an article at "A climate change expert has warned that if humans don't moderate their use of fossil fuels, there is a real possibility that we will face the environmental, societal and economic consequences of climate change faster than we can adapt to them. Lonnie Thompson, distinguished university professor in the School of Earth Sciences at Ohio State University, also discussed how the rapid and accelerating retreat of the world's glaciers and ice sheets dramatically illustrates the nature of the changing climate. It is the first time in a published paper that he has recommended specific action to forestall the growing effects of climate change. "Unless large numbers of people take appropriate steps, including supporting governmental regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, our only options will be adaptation and suffering," he wrote in the concluding paragraph. "And the longer we delay, the more unpleasant the adaptations and the greater the suffering will be."

Texas Climatologist Concerned Some Texas Lawmakers Say Climate Change Is A Hoax. An article from KENS-TV in San Antonio: "A major international conference on combating climate change wraps up this week in CancĂșn, Mexico — and once again, little is likely to be accomplished. But Texas is hardly immune to the effects of increasing greenhouse gases, according to the state climatologist, John Nielsen-Gammon, who works out of Texas A&M University's Department of Atmospheric Sciences (he also blogs for the Houston Chronicle). Nielsen-Gammon expected the climatologist position, which he has held for 10 years, to be "fairly mundane," but it didn't turn out that way. He spoke with the Tribune last Friday by telephone about the potential for rising temperatures in Texas, why international science on climate change is fundamentally sound despite challenges from state officials, and how long the drought in Central Texas is likely to continue. An edited and abridged transcript of the interview and audio follow."

Still Awaiting Our Global Warming "Scopes" Trial. Here is a post from Chris Mooney at "My latest post has just gone up at DeSmogBlog. It’s about the Supreme Court’s decision yesterday to hear a case I’ve written a lot about–Connecticut vs American Electric Power–which seeks to hold a group of power companies responsible for their contributions to global warming.
In essence, this will be a global warming tobacco-style lawsuit, if it is allowed to go forward–and the decision of the Supremes about that could get pretty interesting. Why? Because ironically, the do-nothing Congress that we’re going to have in some ways empowers the lawsuit:
Connecticut v. AEP was originally dismissed by district court judge Loretta Preska in New York City. She said the plaintiffs were essentially asking her to go beyond the scope of her office—“political questions are not the domain of judges,” she wrote. After all, we’re all waiting on Congress or the administration or the international community to deal with global warming, right? (Riiiiight.)
But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit disagreed strongly. It ruled that the question at stake was not “non-justicable political” one, and empowered the case to go forward….
Which brings us to the Supreme Court. Any realistic survey of the political and regulatory landscape today suggests little reason to expect that global warming is going to be dealt with by Congress (which is feeling obstructionist). As for EPA? It seems likely to be obstructed.
If both avenues are blocked, and there’s no other clear climate remedy, will the Supremes really say that states being damaged by global warming can’t sue the polluters doing it?

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