Monday, February 21, 2011

74.5" So Far (on our way to 90"?)

74.5" snow so far this winter in the Twin Cities.
11th snowiest winter so far (since 1891).
14.1" snowfall so far in February (13.4" of that fell Sunday and Monday).
26.5" snowiest February on record (1962).
14" snow on the ground as of Monday evening.
8 Snow Emergencies in the Twin Cities so far this winter.
300+ accidents reported Sunday and Monday morning, just in the metro area.
2nd snowiest winter (to date) since 1891 in the Twin Cities.

Biwabik Lake. Much of Minnesota is experiencing the snowiest winter in nearly 20 years.

From Pete Boulay at the MN State Climatology Office. I asked him the last time we saw two (1-foot-plus) snowfalls in one winter?

"In the 1980's it was fairly common. The last time we had two 12 inch snowfalls in one winter was 1991-92. We also had two 12 plus snowfalls in the winter 1981-82, 1982-83 and in 1984-85. There are probably others before the 1980's. but that's all I can recall right now.

The top 10 season snowfalls for the Twin Cities can be seen at the bottom of this list. We have a pretty good chance making this list by the end of the day."

Top 10 Snowiest Winters. Yes, we will easily crack the Top 10 this winter - probably the Top 5. I remember 1983-84 (vividly). It was my first winter in the Twin Cities, and I wondered (out loud) what the heck I had gotten myself into! I don't think we'll see more than 98", but at the rate we're going 80-90" is very possible, even likely. The impact on the flood potential is still unknown, but all this late-season snow obviously can't be a good thing.

11th Snowiest Winter On Record (so far). From the National Weather Service: "As of 6:00 PM on February 21st, this winter season is guaranteed to be at least the 11th snowiest on record ine Twin Cities. The current seasonal snowfall total stands at an impressive 74.5 inches. The average seasonal sonwfall in the Twin Cities is 55.9 inches."

Echoes Of 1983-1984. Snowfall for our current winter is the red line, tracking amazingly close to 1983-1984, the winter we wound up with an astounding 98.6" snow burying the Twin Cities. Not sure we'll see quite that much, but we are probably destined for 85" before the winter is through with us (sometime in April?) The local NWS office has more details here.

Carpet Of White. Snowfall from midday Sunday through midday Monday showed an almost straight east-west axis to the heaviest snow band, from South Dakota due east to Madison and the Twin Cities. Map courtesy of Ham Weather, a division of WeatherNation.

How Much Fell? According to the Chanhassen office of the National Weather Service, the heaviest snow bands set up from the Twin Cities metro (especially southern suburbs) westward, along the Minnesota River to Madison, Minnesota, where a whopping 19" piled up. Yes, the Golden Snow Shovel goes to Madison, an Honorable Mention to Eden Prairie. A very respectable 17" piled up in my former hometown. See the map here.

Big Variations. 19.6" at Bloomington, 18" swamped Burnsville, 13.4 at MSP International and 13.3" in downtown St. Paul - pretty impressive. Weather geek (enthusiast) that I am, I'm always fascinated by the variability in snowfall amounts. For example, why did Eden Prairie and the Bloomington area wind up with 16-17", while just west on Highway 5 Chanhassen "only" picked up 11.7" of snow? For that matter, why did Bloomington pick up twice as much snow as New Hope (8.6")? As the crow flies that, what, maybe 10 miles? Those east-west oriented bands of heavy snow, literally "waves" of heavy snow that kept redeveloping over the south metro vaguely resembled a "train-echo" effect with summertime T-storms, where storms keep reforming over the same portions of counties, resulting in outrageous amounts of rain. Why did the heaviest bands set up over the south metro, and not the north metro? That's the part of meteorology that makes you shake your head - not sure (even with faster, more sophisticated) supercomputers we'll ever be able to pinpoint those kinds of variations. We call this "microscale meteorology", how weather conditions can change over the span of just a few miles, based on terrain, access to water sources, the urban heat island effect, etc. To see the latest snow accumulations from the NWS click here.

Snow Machine. Even though the center of low pressure was over Evansville, Indiana Monday afternoon, an inverted trough, coupled with a lingering storm in the upper atmosphere, kept the flakes flying over much of central and southern Minnesota, adding another inch or two to the 8-18" snow that fell Sunday. The latest surface map is here (the sun should be breaking through during the day Tuesday).

Don't Write Cold Fronts Off Just Yet. This week won't be bad, 20s today, low to mid 30s Wednesday, then a slow cooling trend by late week. But long-range guidance is hinting at at least 3 nights below zero the end of next week, followed by a temperature rebound the third week of March. Something to look forward to...

It Could Be Worse. This is a file photo, the very definition of a snowy thumping! There's a house in there somewhere...

Snow-Water Equivalent. There was just over 1" of liquid water tapped in our recent snowfall, on top of the (glacier-like) snow already on the ground. According to this experimental NOAA product it's estimated that as much as 4-6" of liquid water is locked in our snowcover. How quickly it thaws in the weeks ahead (and whether the thaw is accompanied by heavy rain) will determine the scope and severity of river flooding in late March and April.

Fairbanks, North Pole Dig Out From Record Snow. An update from Alaska's Daily-Miner "FAIRBANKS - As much as 18 inches fell in parts of the Fairbanks area Sunday and today, with the heaviest snow reported in North Pole, according to the National Weather Service in Fairbanks. Approximately 12 inches of snow fell at Fairbanks International Airport. “It really varied widely how much snow each area got,” said weather service meteorologist Scott Berg. “The heaviest bands were just south of Fairbanks, across North Pole and Eielson (Air Force Base).” Snowfall is expected to slow down this afternoon, but difficult driving conditions should persist this afternoon as winds blow several inches of recently fallen snow around the Fairbanks area. An additional 1 to 2 inches are expected today before the storm system leaves the area, Berg said."

Forensic Meteorology Solves The Mystery Of Record Snows. NOAA's ClimateWatch division has a story about meteorologists tracking the recent string of record snowfalls on the east coast to try to determine why the intensity and frequency of these major coastal storms has spiked upward: "Shortly after the third of three major snowstorms brought record-setting snowfall to the U.S. mid-Atlantic region, NOAA’s Climate Scene Investigators (CSI) assembled to analyze why the snowstorms happened. The CSI is a team of “attribution” experts in NOAA whose job is to determine the causes for climate conditions. By distinguishing natural variability from human-induced climate change, they aim to improve decision-making and inform adaptation strategies. The CSI team was formed in 2007, following chaotic media coverage of the record U.S. warmth in 2006 (see CSI: NOAA Climate Scene Investigators). Here they have been called to the scene again, but now to explain cold, snowy conditions, and to reconcile those with a warming planet. After a series of record-setting snowstorms hit the mid-Atlantic region this winter, some people asked NOAA if humans could somehow be to blame. Specifically, they wanted to know if human-induced global warming could have caused the snowstorms due to the fact that a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor."

Definition Of A Solar Flare. Check out the size of the latest prominence to erupt from the surface of the sun. All this increased solar activity may spark more frequent observations of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), as well as possible disruptions to communications satellites. Image courtesy of

New York Times Story: "Thousands of America's Dams Susceptible To Failure." And now there's no money to pay for needed repairs. Lovely. From the NY Times article "Lake Isabella Dam is just one acute example of a widespread problem: Of the nation’s 85,000 dams, more than 4,400 are considered susceptible to failure, according to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials. But repairing all those dams would cost billions of dollars, and it is far from clear who would provide all the money in a recessionary era."

Extreme Weather Batters The Insurance Industry. A story from Huffington Post and Reuters: "What no one disputes is that the storms the industry expects aren't happening and the ones they don't expect are hitting them hard. The implications are profound for consumers as well as insurers. If hundred-year storms are now at risk of happening every 40 years or every three, it is difficult to know how much property insurance should cost. The last couple of months underscore just how much climate seems to be changing. Queensland state in Australia has suffered a virtual apocalypse -- flooding in December, flooding in January and tropical cyclones in February that inundated at least 30,000 homes and crippled the local coal industry. Meanwhile in the United States, snow fell on Christmas Day in a number of southern cities for the first time since at least the 1880s. Los Angeles got six months' worth of rain in three weeks, causing some of the worst flooding in the state's history. The New York metropolitan area had an unprecedented blizzard the day after Christmas and a month later got almost the same, breaking historical records."

Mount Bulusan Erupts: Major Volcano Erupts In Philippines. An update from the Huffington Post: "Philippines volcano Mount Bulusan erupted on Monday morning at 9:15 a.m. local time, per the ABS-CBN News Channel. Ash and steam from the explosion reached as high as 2 kilometers, according to the report. The Philippine Daily Inquirer posted this photo of the Mount Bulusan eruption to Posterous. Journalist Harold Geronimo of Manila, Philippines, was the first to report the eruption on Twitter, sending this tweet from his Blackberry minutes after the eruption. Mount Bulusan had increased volcanic activity in November 2010, spewing ash and steam over several days (the photo above is from Nov. 2010). Families were evacuated at the time."

Current Conditions. If you're interested in seeing what's happening around the state, what meteorologists call the "hourlies" (in English) click here, data courtesy of the National Weather Service.

Twin Cities Hourly Data For The Last 72 Hours. I'm giving away all my weather-secrets. Duh. I get a lot of requests for not only current conditions (hey, look out the window! I never get tired of that one...) and also past weather conditions. Click here to see what's been happening, hour by hour, for the last 3 days in the Twin Cities.

Monday Numbers. In the Twin Cities 6.6" fell (since midnight Sunday night), bringing our storm total over 13". St. Cloud received nearly 8". Duluth was on the northern fringe of the storm, picking up a mere 1.6".

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

TODAY: Partly sunny, better travel. Winds: SE 10-15. High: 25

TUESDAY NIGHT: Partly cloudy and chilly. Low: 18

WEDNESDAY: Milder with light snow and flurries, coating to 1/2" possible. High: 34

THURSDAY: Windy and cooler with more clouds than sun. High: 24

FRIDAY: Chance of light snow,  maybe 1-2". Low: 4. High: 14

SATURDAY: Lingering flurries, a cold wind. Low: 2. High: 16

SUNDAY: Sun returns, slight warming trend. Low: 6. High: 25

MONDAY: Sunny start, PM flurries. High: near 30

Snow Rage

I like the snow. It's a fresh start, it makes my yard look better (covers up my dog's indiscretions); it's excuse to pull out my inner 20-year-old & fire up the snowmobile. But for livid commuters camped out on area freeways (on a good day) the snow just rubs salt in our vehicular wounds, turning the drive home into Mission Impossible. I get it. The solution: heat the roads; snow and ice melts on contact. There's a business there.

What we have here is an accumulation of coincidences. 2010 was Minnesota's wettest year (34" avg). The most tornadoes on record (104). And now two (1-2 FOOT mega-snowstorms in one winter? That hasn't happened since the Winter of 1991-92, according to Pete Boulay at the MN State Climate Office. I'm all for serendipity, but do you think the 4-5% increase in water vapor (the most abundant greenhouse gas) might be loading the dice in favor of more extremes? Time will tell.

Welcome to the second snowiest winter, to date, since 1891. Only 1982 had more snow as of Feb. 22 (76.9"). The sun returns today, a brief thaw (and slushy coating) tomorrow. No more commute-trashing storms in sight, just a cool-down by the end of this week, maybe a few subzero nights the latter half of next week. We paid a steep price for that 52 F. last Wednesday. Think warm thoughts.

Earth Could Be Unrecognizable By 2050. A harrowing story from, focused on population growth and dwindling resources. The bottom line: western economies and "progress" are predicated on growth. But growth relies on natural resources, which are finite. It's getting more expensive to find and extract oil and natural gas - look at how commodity prices have spiked in just the last year, the result of natural disasters coupled with rising demand for food staples worldwide. The transition to a green, sustainable economy will not be easy - in fact it may be downright wrenching: "A growing, more affluent population competing for ever scarcer resources could make for an "unrecognizable" world by 2050, researchers warned at a major US science conference Sunday. The United Nations has predicted the global population will reach seven billion this year, and climb to nine billion by 2050, "with almost all of the growth occurring in poor countries, particularly Africa and South Asia," said John Bongaarts of the non-profit Population Council. To feed all those mouths, "we will need to produce as much food in the next 40 years as we have in the last 8,000," said Jason Clay of the World Wildlife Fund at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). "By 2050 we will not have a planet left that is recognizable" if current trends continue, Clay said."

Liftoff: NASA's Glory Mission Should Advance The Climate Change Debate. An article from The Atlantic: "It was announced in January that 2010 was the warmest year on record and this past decade the warmest in the 130 years that scientists at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) have kept records. But the skeptics (and more aggressive climate change deniers) are still out there. In an attempt to finally settle this thing, NASA has been preparing the Glory mission for liftoff. "Glory will improve the understanding of aerosol contributions to global climate change and help maintain a record of total solar irradiance," NASA explained in the mission overview for Glory. "Data provided by the Glory mission will enhance global climate modeling and help reduce uncertainties associated with the causes and consequences of global climate change."

Global Food Wars. From a blog at "Global warming is a threat to international stability says Christiana Figueres.  In remarks delivered last week in Madrid, the U.N.’s chief climate official warned of “climate chaos.”  In 2008, according to U.N. academics, there were 20 million temporary refugees fleeing sudden changes in climate.  Even gradual ones could be disruptive, and they may cause anywhere between 200 million to a billion people to migrate in the next four decades. Figueres’s warning echoed a series of increasingly dire assessments issued in recent years.  For instance, Lord Nicholas Stern in 2009 predicted that, unless humankind did something decisive about the climate, there could be mass migrations leading to conflict, or “extended world war” as he put it."

Global Warming Means Longer Allergy Season: Study. AFB has an article that made me do a double-take. Did you know our allergy season here in the Twin Cities is 16 days longer than it used to be? I didn't either. An excerpt from the article: "WASHINGTON — Ragweed allergy season in North America has grown two to four weeks longer in recent years because of warmer temperatures and later fall frosts, researchers said. Northern parts of the United States and Canada have seen the most dramatic rise in allergy season length between 1995 and 2009, said the study to be published in Tuesday's edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The city of Saskatoon in Saskatchewan, Canada saw the longest pollen season, adding 27 more days in 2009 compared to 1995. Winnipeg, Manitoba saw a 25-day increase during the same period. Fargo, North Dakota and Minneapolis, Minnesota each saw allergy seasons extend 16 days. But looking further south, Rogers, Arkansas and Georgetown, Texas saw decreases of several says in their pollen seasons. The study said the starker changes in the northern latitudes were consistent with the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projections of more intense warming in areas closer to the Arctic. "Latitudinal effects on increasing season length were associated primarily with a delay in first frost of the fall season and lengthening of the frost-free period," the study said."

Global Warming And Asset Allocation. Are you an investor? If you think that climate change is real (as most peer-reviewed climate scientists and every major scientific organization believes) than your stock portfolio should probably reflect that belief. An article from "If you think climate change is a real and present danger, your asset allocation should reflect that outlook, according to a new study from Mercer, the consulting firm. That's sure to be a controversial recommendation in some quarters. Anything related to climate change tends to stir debate of one kind or another, and so reviewing the topic as it relates to investing promises no less. Ready or not, it's time to take a hard look at the implications of climate change for designing and managing portfolios, Mercer explains in "Climate Change Scenarios—Implications For Strategic Asset Allocation" The paper argues that climate change increases investment risk and so asset allocation strategies should adjust accordingly. The uncertainty surrounding policy regulations and the economic impact of climate change inspire "new approaches" for building portfolios. The analysis is a joint effort by Mercer and more than a dozen institutions, including the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) and the International Finance Corporation."

Energy Company Investors Demand Action On Climate Change. Some energy companies are dragging their feet on taking action on climate change - but their investors are (increasingly) holding their feet to the fire, forcing them to be accountable. An article from "Last week, investors announced the filing of 66 climate and energy related shareholder resolutions with 41 coal, electric power and oil companies in the 2011 proxy season. This action makes 2011 a record year for shareholder engagement in the energy sector, even as the U.S. government refuses to take action on climate change. The filings pressure companies regarding a wide range of issues, including the risks and opportunities from oil sands extraction in Canada, hydraulic fracturing in the U.S., global water scarcity, sustainable palm oil sourcing, overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and usage of renewable energy. The resolutions were filed by some of the nation's largest public pension funds, foundations and religious, labor and other institutional investors."

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