Friday, February 25, 2011

A Cold 1" Today (risk of severe spring flooding on the rise)

75.2" so far this winter in the Twin Cities.

.3" fell Friday morning, shortly before breakfast.

14.8" snowfall so far in February.

11" snow on the ground at KMSP as of Friday evening.

1" predicted snow today for much of the area.

15 F. Friday's high in the Twin Cities.

32 F. Average high for February 25.

A Cold Storm. Snow at 10 F. is a lot different than snow falling at 25-30 F. When it's this cold the chemicals put down my well-intentioned MnDOT crews simply DOESN'T WORK. Traffic compacts the snow (which doesn't melt) into a thin film of glaze ice. So 1" at 8 F. can wind up being a LOT more treacherous than 6" at 30 F. I know it's counterintuitive, but trust me - it's true. Bottom line: even though we only expect a couple inches today roads will be very slick.

Too Cold For (Significant) Snow. The latest model run keeps the significant snow well south of MSP - we may still be brushed by about 1" of powdery snow, maybe 2" far southern suburbs - still enough to ice up some roads.

Somewhere Between Nuisance And Plowable. The best chance of 1, even 2" of snow today will come south of the Twin Cities, just (barely) enough to shovel, scrape and plow.

Tale of Two Snowfalls. Today's light snow will be something straight out of mid January, falling with temperatures in single digits and low teens, a light, fluffy, powdery snow (easy to get off your driveway or sidewalk), but capable of accumulating on freeways and interstates - producing an icy concoction that will slow things down. With temperatures forecast to be well above freezing by Thursday the late-week snowfall may be wet, sloppy and slushy, a classic March snowfall, possibly mixed with rain at times. Too early to get specific about next Thursday's snowfall - just a potential for now. I'm leaning more toward 1" in the immediate metro, but more south of MSP.

Temperature Roller Coaster. We will see a "temperature recovery" next weekend as highs approach 30, climbing into the low 30s the first few days of March. A cooling trend is likely after March 4, unusually cold weather likely from March 5-11. No prolonged spells of springlike weather - yet.

A Delayed Spring. If you look at the 90 coldest days of the winter (and who among us hasn't), winter really winds down closer to March 1, not the 21st, when spring officially begins. Meteorological Spring may kick off early next week, but there are no signs of any extended break in our cold spell. The longer we delay the (inevitable) warm fronts and rain, the worse the flooding may be. The reason? Rather than a gradual meltdown over the span of many weeks, this may be one of those springs where we go from 20s to 50s, virtually overnight. Instead of letting the air out of the balloon gradually, over time - the balloon pops. The result could be some of the worst river flooding since 1997, especially if we pick up another 10-15" of snow between now and late March, which is quite possible.

Thursday Slop-Storm? It's early, any precipitation next Thursday is still 5 days away, but models are hinting at a mix of rain and snow by then as warmth and moisture surges north from the Gulf of Mexico. There's still a potential for a few inches of heavy, wet, sloppy snow.

January Flashback. NASA's Earth Observatory has a story highlighting the extensive snow cover, which peaked at 71% of the lower 48 states on January 12, the 5th greatest extent of snow cover in the last 45 years: "January 2011 was marked by a series of crippling snow storms across the United States. By January 12, about 71 percent of the country had snow on the ground, the fifth-largest snow cover extent in the last 45 years. This image, made with data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite (from the monthly snow cover product), shows the maximum snow cover for the month. The image shows that every state in the contiguous United States, with the exception of Florida, got snow in January."

Spring Flood Potential. Professor Mark Seeley always has good information on his Weather Talk newsletter (which goes out every Friday). Here are a few highlights from this week's post: "The official Twin Cities snowfall for the season (from MSP airport) is now about 75 inches, ranking among the top ten historically. Others with impressive seasonal snowfall totals so far include: Fargo-Moorhead with 67 inches, Montevideo with 70 inches, Hutchinson with 85 inches, and Kabetogama with 87 inches.
A disconcerting feature of the week's heavy snow storm is the high water content which will add to the spring flood risk on some watersheds. Some of the higher precipitation quantities reported for February 20-21 included: 

1.10 inches at Hastings and Zumbrota
1.12 inches at Theilman and Winnebago
1.16 inches at Worthington
1.20 inches at Morgan and Ortonville
1.21 inches at Browns Valley
1.25 inches at Jordan
1.32 inches at Fairmont and Madison
1.37 inches at Montevideo
1.80 inches at Springfield
1.93 inches at Lake City

All of these numbers are 2-3 times the normal February total precipitation values."

Ticking Time Bomb. I don't mean to be melodramatic, but NOAA estimates suggest over 6" of liquid water locked up in the snow over parts of central and southwestern Minnesota. If we experience a sudden thaw, accompanied by significant rain, the subsequent flooding could be serious, possibly extreme. If you live in a flood-prone area you will absolutely want to stay up on the latest forecasts: the greatest potential for flooding late March into mid April.

Lives On The Line As Storm Brews Over National Weather Service Budget Cuts. Tony Hake, from the Examiner Natural Disasters Desk, has a good overview of the dilemma facing the National Weather Service. A 30% cut in its budget might impact the quality of data collected, which could degrade the computer models we all rely on to make our forecasts. An even greater risk? Fewer resources for severe weather detection and warning. If this budget cut goes through Americans will die - it's as simple as that. Are we really prepared to gamble with the lives of Americans during the next major flood, tornado outbreak or hurricane? At a time when extreme weather is increasing (globally) this seems like the height of folly. Hake explains: “In the next hurricane, flood, tornado or wildfire, lives will be lost and people will ask what went wrong. Congress’s cuts and the devastation to the wellbeing of our nation’s citizens are dangerously wrong,” Sobien said. Some have proposed the privatization of the weather service saying that industry could do the job.  This however avoids the fact that no company has the resources and manpower to do it, nor is there sufficient profit in such an endeavor. The technology infrastructure and systems built by the National Weather Service over the years like radars and data collecting buoys and aircraft cost a great deal of money.  It is hard to fathom what company would have the resources to deploy similar resources. The services provided now are widely and freely available to citizens and private industry.  To many it is wrong to think that Americans would need to pay a company just to provide information that keeps them and their families safe.  Protecting lives is after all one of the primary functions of government. "

Tombstone-Toppling Winds. One of our PhD computer developers at WeatherNation writes, "so how strong are winds associated with a tornado when tombstones are ripped out of the ground?"
The answer? At least 125 mph, but possibly less if the soil is saturated and mushy - easier to topple trees (and tombstones).

Singles Might Save The Music Industry. The days when people would run out and buy an entire album or CD are pretty much gone. The music industry has become hit-driven, focused on launching successful singles, not nearly as profitable for musicians (or the music labels). Eric Felten from the Wall Street Journal has an interesting take on how singles may actually revitalize and reinvent the music industry: "The music business has been wringing its hands over the dramatically decreasing ka-ching of the cash register. There may not be agreement on the exact magnitude of the industry's collapse—cataclysm or mere catastrophe?—but one main cause is clear: the humble "single. Until digital downloads came along, to get a copy of the one hit tune found on a given album, you had to buy the whole CD, a technology that effectively killed off the old 45 rpm vinyl single. But now, in the age of iTunes, the single is back from the brink of extinction. Instead of making a purchase north of $15, consumers can get the one song they want, unbundled, for a dollar, more or less. Revenues, not surprisingly, are down. Lady Gaga is likely to sell far more copies of the individual digital track "Born This Way" than she will copies of the CD. And she's hardly the only artist embracing the single single, which is quickly becoming the main way people purchase music. And while the switch may be an immediate disaster for the recording industry's bottom line, it just might be the best thing to happen, musically, to a business grown stale and stagnant."

Android Activations. This is a pretty amazing YouTube video, showing activation of cell phones using the Android operating system from October 2008 through January, 2011. I'm just dorky enough to be walking around with an Android HTC Incredible in one pocket, my iPhone 4 in another. Now I just need a third phone that my wife can't reach me on...

January Flashback. The high since midnight was 15 in the Twin Cities, but the afternoon high was a meager 12 F. That's 20 degrees colder than average. The high never climbed above zero in Alexandria (-1 F.). St. Cloud registered a high of only 6.

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

TODAY: Light snow, icy. 1-3" expected. Winds: SE 3-8. High: 13

SATURDAY NIGHTLight snow tapers to flurries with little or no additional accumulation. Low: 7

SUNDAY: Peeks of sun, more PM flurries, possibly a period of very light snow. High: 31

MONDAY: Partly sunny, no weather headaches expected. Low: 19. High: near 30

TUESDAY: Turning cooler, few PM flakes. Low: 20. High: 30

WEDNESDAY: Intervals of sun, still quiet. Low: 14. High: 28

THURSDAY: Slushy rain-snow mix? Low: 22. High: 38

FRIDAY: Cooler, clouds and flurries linger. Low: 27. High: 33

A Cold Inch Of Snow?

I'm just the messenger! Please address all threatening letters and e-mails to "La Nina", courtesy of the Pacific Ocean. A strong cooling of equatorial Pacific Ocean water continues to linger. This cooling trend, coupled with a negative phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation (huh?), has resulted in an amazingly persistent blocking pattern, a steady stream of Canadian air plunging south of the border.

La Nina's usually weaken by April, but there's little doubt that spring will be delayed this year - I don't see any consistent thaws until the latter half of March, at the earliest. That may mean a sudden rush of warmth (and rain), with obvious implications for Minnesota's flood risk.

Hard to believe the average high is 33 F. Today will be 20 degrees colder than normal, resulting in a powdery, fluffy snow more typical of mid January. Only 1" should fall, maybe 2" far south metro, but when it's this cold roads wind up snow-covered and very icy by midday. 32 F will feel good Sunday, again late next week.

No mega-storms are brewing (yet), but we're watching a potential for a rain-snow mix the end of next week. La Nina winters are often followed by a spike in spring tornadoes. Something to look forward to.

Can Geoengineering Put The Freeze On Global Warming? USA Today has an interesting (and vaguely terrifying) story about "geoengineering", which is basically "seeding" the atmosphere with man-made chemicals in an attempt to cool the atmosphere. Sounds like a bad idea to me - the notion of tinkering with Mother Nature on a global scale. What can possibly go wrong? Plenty: "That's where geoengineering comes in," says international relations expert David Victor of the University of California-San Diego. "Research into geoengineering creates another option for the public." Geoengineering takes its cue from the natural experiment that actually had made the only dent in global warming's rise in the last two decades — the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, which blasted more than 15 million tons of sulfur dioxide 21 miles high, straight into the stratosphere. The stratosphere suspended those sulfur particles in the air worldwide, where the haze they created scattered and reflected sunlight away from the Earth and cooled global atmospheric temperatures nearly 0.7 to 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit in 1992 and 1993, before finally washing out, according to NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies estimates. Firing about half that much sulfur into the stratosphere every year for 30 years would help stabilize global warming's rise, National Center for Atmospheric Research climate scientist Tom Wigley estimated in a much-debated 2006 Science journal report. Humanity would effectively become addicted to sky-borne sulfates to keep the cooling on track. The tradeoff is that rain and snow patterns would likely shift, a 2008 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study found, consigning hundreds of millions of the poorest people on the planet in Africa and Asia to recurring drought."
* Another, equally troubling article about geoengineering was just published in Scientific American.

World's Coral Reefs "Will Be Wiped Out By 2050", Researchers Warn. From a story at the U.K.'s Daily Mail: "Tens of thousands of miles of stunning coral reefs could be obliterated by 2050 due to pollution, climate change and overfishing, experts have warned. Virtually all of the world's most beautiful reefs from the Indian Ocean to Australia and the Caribbean are at 'dire risk' of being wiped out, researchers said in the starkest warning yet on coral reefs. Environmentalists warned that the consequences for countries that depend on the reefs for food and income would be devastating."

Mega-Droughts Once Reigned Supreme In The Southwest, And May Again. The first U.S. city to run out of water? Odds favor Las Vegas. But Phoenix and Los Angeles may experience serious water shortages within the next 10-20 years. USA Today has an article about perpetual drought in the southwestern USA: "Something else to worry about over the weekend: As the southern tier of the USA suffers through a drought that stretches from Arizona to Virginia – a distance of some 2,000 miles – new research this week finds that "megadroughts" used to be a common feature of the southwestern USA, and may be again, thanks to our favorite villain, climate change. These "megadroughts" lasted for, um, millennia, which I think is a long, long time. The authors, in a study published this week in the British journal Nature, say that "megadroughts" were a regular feature of Pleistocene interglacial periods in the Southwest, which were some 370,000 to 550,000 years ago. The study suggests that if it wasn't for man-made climate change, this region would probably now be entering a cooler, wetter phase."

Real Climate Faces Libel Threat. The definition of "thorough scientific peer review" is coming into question in the U.K. - a development that could have a chilling effect on climate change research. The Guardian has an update: "Real Climate, a prominent blog run by climate scientists, may be sued by a controversial journal in response to allegations that the its peer review process is "shoddy." Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeller and Real Climate member based at Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, has claimed that Energy & Environment (E&E) has "effectively dispensed with substantive peer review for any papers that follow the editor's political line." The journal denies the claim, and, according to Schmidt, has threatened to take further action unless he retracts it. "This is an insult, and what's more it's not true," says Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen, the editor of E&E and an emeritus reader at the University of Hull's department of geography. Every paper that is submitted to the journal is vetted by a number of experts, she said. But she did not deny that she allows her political agenda to influence which papers are published in the journal. "I'm not ashamed to say that I deliberately encourage the publication of papers that are sceptical of climate change," said Boehmer-Christiansen, who does not believe in man-made climate change."

No comments:

Post a Comment