Wednesday, March 23, 2011

5th Snowiest Winter on Record (flood update and online tools)

84.6" snow so far this winter in the Twin Cities (average winter snowfall is 55.9").
4.5" official snowfall from our most recent storm at MSP International. Downtowns saw closer to 6".

5th snowiest winter season on record in the Twin Cities.
1983-84 the last winter we had more snow than we're having this winter.
4" on the ground as of Wednesday evening.
1.48" precipitation fell on the Twin Cities from March 22-23 (rain, ice and melted snow).
4.07" precipitation since January 1 (.94" more than average, to date).
March 29-30 (next Tuesday/Wednesday): projected NOAA crest of the Mississippi River in St. Paul (4 feet above major flood stage). Details below.
58 F. predicted high in the Twin Cities on Sunday, April 3.

May You Live In Interesting Times. An update from the local NWS office: "2010-2011 Winter Currently Ranks 5th Snowiest Of All Time For the Twin Cities. O.K. Maybe not for "all time" (who knows what was happening in 573 AD?) but since reliable modern-day records were started in 1891. "Another 4.5" of snow fell on the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport March 22 into the 23rd, pushing the seasonabl snowfall total past the 1991-1992 seasonal total and into 5th place on the all-time list. The 2010-2011 snow season is now the snowiest season since the record was set during the 1983-1984 season. The current seasonal snowfall total stands at 84.6". The average seasonal snowfall in the Twin Cities is 55.9 inches."

Snowfall Totals:
14.5" Hayward, WI
11.5" Osceola, WI
10" Rush City
9" Cambridge
9" Francis (Anoka county)
8.7" Brainerd
7.5" Breezy Point
7.1" St. Cloud
6" St. Paul
4.6" Chanhassen
* For a complete recap of snow totals from the local Chanhassen National Weather Service click here.

Definitely Plowable. Here is a list of the heaviest snowfall amounts; the town of Isle (Mille Lacs county) gets the coveted (?) Golden Snow Shovel Award.

How Much Fell? As expected, the range in snowfall amounts with our most recent storm was quite extreme, only 1-2" far south metro, as much as 10" far north metro. Yes, this was the kind of storm that triggers ulcers and gray hairs. Click here to see more details on the storm from the local NWS office.

USA Flood Threat. It would appear that the Upper Midwest is ground zero for river flooding in the coming weeks. Click here to see more details, and a wealth of flood resources from NOAA.

Flood Overview From NOAA. Click here to see the latest flood update from NOAA's Advanced Hydrological Prediction Service. It's an interactive map - click on the town name to see specific flood crest information for that river/stream.

Major Flooding On The Cottonwood River at New Ulm. A crest 1.2 feet above major flood stage is possible tonight into Thursday for the Cottonwood River at New Ulm. More information here.

Moderate Flooding On Minnesota River Near Jordan. The Minnesota River is already above major flood stage, with a possible crest late in the weekend and early next week of 6 feet above major flood stage. More information for the Jordan area here.

Flood Potential For St. Paul. Right now the Mississippi is forecast to rise above major flood stage by Saturday afternoon, with a possible crest around 21 feet by Tuesday of next week. I can't stress enough that the recent heavy rain, ice and snow will probably mean a higher crest than earlier predicted. People living along all Minnesota streams and rivers need to stay alert, monitor local media, and be ready to move if evacuation orders are given. See all the details for downtown St. Paul from NOAA here.

Projected Crest(s) in St. Paul. Right now NOAA hydrologists are predicting a maximum crest between March 28 and April 4 on the Mississippi River in St. Paul, but as you can see the river is forecast to stay above major flood stage through the first couple weeks of May. To see the "weekly chance of exceeding flood levels" for St. Paul click here.

Davenport (Iowa) Could See Flooding To Rival 1993 Record. An update from the Des Moines Register:
"Volunteers in Davenport are filling thousands of sandbags, workers are rushing to protect the city's signature minor league baseball park, and the mayor is warning residents of one neighborhood to be ready to leave if necessary as the city braces for a potentially historic flood. Officials in Davenport, an eastern Iowa city of 100,000 residents that hugs the Mississippi River, say the water level in coming weeks could surpass the 22.63-foot record crest in 1993, which closed downtown businesses and streets for weeks and forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents. Davenport is the largest metropolitan area along the upper Mississippi without a flood wall, partly because officials and residents concerned about the cost and protecting their connection to the river have rejected the idea of building one. The city's flood-fighting strategy plans for a maximum crest of 24 feet. But a National Weather Service forecast that indicates a 50 percent chance of a record flood has left city officials scrambling to prepare for waters of 26 feet or higher."

Turn Around, Don't Drown. The vast majority of flood-related deaths occur when drivers try to cross flooded-out streets or bridges. It's impossible to estimate water depth, especially at night. More details from NOAA: "Each year, more deaths occur due to flooding than from any other severe weather related hazard. The Centers for Disease Control report that over half of all flood-related drownings occur when a vehicle is driven into hazardous flood water. The next highest percentage of flood-related deaths is due to walking into or ear flood waters.Why? The main reason is people underestimate the force and power of water. Many of the deaths occur in automobiles as they are swept downstream. Of these drownings, many are preventable, but too many people continue to drive around the barriers that warn you the road is flooded."

What Can I Do to Avoid Getting Caught is This Situation?

"Most flood-related deaths and injuries could be avoided if people who come upon areas covered with water followed this simple advice: Turn Around Don't Drown©.

The reason that so many people drown during flooding is because few of them realize the incredible power of water. A mere six inches of fast-moving flood water can knock over an adult. It takes only two feet of rushing water to carry away most vehicles. This includes pickups and SUVs.

If you come to an area that is covered with water, you will not know the depth of the water or the condition of the ground under the water. This is especially true at night, when your vision is more limited.

Play it smart, play it safe. Whether driving or walking, any time you come to a flooded road
, Turn Around Don't Drown©

Tsunami Was More Than 77 Feet High At Its Peak. I had no idea the crest of the tsunami (tidal wave) that hit Japan on the 11th was THAT high. Check out the story from NPR: "A tsunami wave that hit a coastal city in Iwate Prefecture after the March 11 massive earthquake is estimated to have reached 23.6 meters in height, a government-commissioned field survey by the Port and Airport Research Institute showed Wednesday," Kyodo News reports. That's 77 feet, 5 inches. Or, about the height of a six- or seven-story building. It wasn't a record, though. Kyodo says that: "The tsunami wave measured in the city of Ofunato was lower than the domestic record of 38.2 meters [125 feet. 4 inches] marked in the 1896 Meiji Sanriku Earthquake Tsunami, and 34.9 meters [114 feet, 6 inches] logged in the wake of the 2004 earthquake off the Indonesian coast of Sumatra." For some perspective, here's what the view looks like from the seventh floor of the NPR building here in Washington, D.C.

The Mega-Quake Connection: Are Huge Earthquakes Linked? Newscientist has an intriguing article about earthquakes, and a possible linkage, a potential domino effect linking major tremors (coming in clusters, or "swarms"): "The recent cluster of huge quakes around the Pacific Ocean has fuelled speculation that they are seismically linked. New Scientist examines the evidence. AT 2.46 pm local time on Friday last week, Japan shook like never before. The magnitude 9.0 earthquake wrenched the main island of Honshu 2.5 metres closer to the US and nudged the tilt of Earth's axis by 16 centimetres. At the epicentre, 130 kilometres offshore, the Pacific tectonic plate lurched westwards, and a 10-metre-high tsunami sped towards the coastal city of Sendai and the surrounding region. The devastation caused by the events is difficult to exaggerate - estimates suggest the number of fatalities could top 10,000. One of the few consolations is that quakes of magnitude 8.5 and above are rare: the Sendai earthquake is in the top 10 of the highest-magnitude quakes of the last 100 years. Yet three of these - the December 2004 Sumatra quake, the February 2010 Chile quake, and now Sendai - have struck in just over six years. This presents a horrifying possibility: that there is a link between these megaquakes and that, as a result, more could strike. Most geologists say that the number of megaquakes is too small to be able to make a statistically convincing case for a link. "You will get a lot of different answers from different people, but inevitably the ability of any one of those to convince everyone else that they're right is going to depend on the statistics of small numbers," says Ross Stein of the US Geological Survey (USGS) in Menlo Park, California, "and we're never going to get anywhere."

"What is clear is that for the 6.2 years since 2004, there have been more great earthquakes around the world than in any 6.2-year period throughout the 110-year history of seismic recordings," says Thorne Lay at the University of California."

Cosmonaut Crashed Into Earth "Crying In Rage". (Warning: if you click on this link you will see a gruesome image of the body of Vladimir Komarov, who died upon reentry). I'm including the NPR story not for the graphic shock value, but for the accompanying story, which is fascinating - and deeply troubling. The article also includes the letter President Nixon would have read to the world had the Apollo 11 mission failed and our astronauts not surived the trip to the moon and back. At the time, NASA engineers were only giving the Apollo 11 astronauts a 50% chance of successfully completing their mission: "So there's a cosmonaut up in space, circling the globe, convinced he will never make it back to Earth; he's on the phone with Alexei Kosygin — then a high official of the Soviet Union — who is crying because he, too, thinks the cosmonaut will die. The space vehicle is shoddily constructed, running dangerously low on fuel; its parachutes — though no one knows this — won't work and the cosmonaut, Vladimir Komarov, is about to, literally, crash full speed into Earth, his body turning molten on impact. As he heads to his doom, U.S. listening posts in Turkey hear him crying in rage, "cursing the people who had put him inside a botched spaceship. This extraordinarily intimate account of the 1967 death of a Russian cosmonaut appears in a new book, Starman, by Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony, to be published next month. The authors base their narrative principally on revelations from a KGB officer, Venymin Ivanovich Russayev, and previous reporting by Yaroslav Golovanov in Pravda. This version — if it's true — is beyond shocking."

Rich Vegas, Poor Vegas. Can Celine Dion Save Sin City? According to an article in Newsweek Las Vegas has no jobs, and some homeless are living in drainage pipes. But it also has the biggest act since Elvis: "As another desert afternoon fades to night, an unusual throng is building at Las Vegas’s Caesars Palace, vibrating the plaster columns of the porte-cochère. There are white-haired executives flanked by publicity personnel; camera-toting tourists jostling with hundreds of off-duty hotel employees; and, naturally, a man dressed as Caesar himself, complete with a phalanx of rent-a-centurions decked in bronze and red feathers. At last, a black Escalade draws up, and Celine Dion, the shimmering French-Canadian headliner, steps onto a rose-strewn red carpet. “Welcome home, Celine!” the hoi polloi yell, as the overture from Ben-Hur erupts from hidden speakers. “It doesn’t feel like I’ve left,” Celine says, recalling her recent neon-lit Vegas homecoming. But the view from the red carpet can be deceptive. For in the three years since she departed Caesars Palace, Vegas collapsed. Sky-high foreclosures and epic layoffs torched the working-class dreams of the men and women who create the illusion that is Celine’s Las Vegas: the cocktail waitresses in their Romanesque miniskirts, the towel boys who work the Bacchus pools, the cooks at Neros Steakhouse. The megaresorts along the Strip recently posted an unprecedented two-year loss—with a total bleed north of $6 billion—and the usual gap between the city’s glamour and grit is now wider than at any point in Las Vegas history. Official unemployment is near 14 percent, the nation’s worst rate among big cities, and when you factor in those who have lost hours or dropped out of the labor force altogether, actual joblessness is a Libya-like 26 percent, according to Stephen Brown, the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “Could things actually look worse?” Brown asked during a speech to business leaders this winter. “The answer is no.”

Wednesday Climate Data. It was an unusually cold, snowy day across the state, highs in the upper 20s to 30 statewide. As of late Wednesday snow on the ground ranged from 4" at MSP to 7" at St. Cloud.

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

TODAY: Sun returns, meltdown begins. Winds: E 5-10. High: 28

THURSDAY NIGHT: Partly cloudy and chilly. Low: 16

FRIDAY: Intervals of sun, still sloppy. High: 32

SATURDAY: Cloudy. Storm stays south of MN. Low: 17. High: 31

SUNDAY: Peeks of sun, most (new) snow gone. Low: 19. High: 34

MONDAY: Plenty of sun, still chilly. Low: 18. High: 36

TUESDAY: Muffled sun, a bit milder. Low: 20. High: 41

WEDNESDAY: Clouds increase, hints of spring. Low: 27. High: 44

Counting My Blessings

Overheard at the check-out aisle at Walgreen's: "I'm sick of snow." Long pause. "Me too. Just be glad you're not in Japan, tracking clouds of radiation." That hit me like a cold smack across the face. I will NOT whine about the slush.

This is pretty typical fare for March. Tournaments seem to attract storms. Just 2 years ago March was still our snowiest month of the year (now it's January).

Welcome to the 5th snowiest winter season on record; 84.6" (and counting). More important for people living along streams and rivers, over 1.3" of liquid water fell from our recent storm: rain, ice and snow. Now all that (additional) water needs to be factored into flood crest predictions. Hydrology (river forecasting) is a science within a science, and I defer to the pros at NOAA in Chanhassen. Check the weather blog for the latest updates and online tools.

This storm was a stomach-churner: 1.4" at Farmington, over 6" downtown, but 8.5" at Andover. Most of that new snow will melt within 72 hours.

No big storms in sight; chilly 30s through the weekend slowing the rate of snow melt; a little good news there. 40s return next week - 50s, even 60 for the 1st week of April.

John Abraham: Jason Lewis Misled Readers On Global Warming. From an editorial in the Star Tribune: "Jason Lewis's recent article on global warming ("Getting warm. Or cool. Let's make policy!" March 20) contained so much misleading and inaccurate information that it requires a response. Someone reading this article might believe that Lewis knows more about climate science than the 97 percent of scientists who agree that humans are causing the Earth to warm. Rather than focusing on what solutions are best, he wrote a confusing and conflicting piece that gives the impression that the Earth is not warming, and that scientists are manipulating data.
In his article, Lewis:

•Made an unsubstantiated and untrue claim that scientists hid a "decline in temperatures." Where is the evidence of this? No scientists made any statement that they were hiding a decline in temperatures. This is a distortion of a stolen e-mail that was actually referring to increasing temperatures.
•Took aim at reputable institutions, including NASA. He claims that NASA has "erroneously reported that readings over the last decade were warmer than the 1930s, when in fact the opposite was true." This statement is inaccurate, as is his claim that NASA recanted 1998 as being the hottest year in U.S. history.
•Claimed that temperatures have been declining since 1940. They have not. No scientist would agree with that statement.
•Alleged that climate change theory is based on models and not real data. This, too, is inaccurate. The fact that increasing greenhouse gases cause the earth to warm is known from data that go back 800,000 years. Is that a long enough record?
•Suggested that since 1998, temperatures have leveled off and might be decreasing now. It turns out that the hottest three years on record, according to NASA, were 2010, 2005 and 2009. It is tough to have this trend occur in a cooling world.

I could go on, but you get the point. Lewis knows very little about climate issues, and much of what he knows is provided by think tanks, not scientists. We desperately need good information to move forward collectively on solutions to this problem. I'll bet Lewis is deeply suspicious of regulatory solutions to climate change; if so, he should come up with alternative, market-based ways to reduce global warming. Then we can select the best plans that offer the highest payback on investment. If we act wisely, our solutions to global warming will give us many benefits, including more jobs, energy diversity and improved national security. Who can be against that?"

John Abraham is an engineering professor at the University of St. Thomas.

Josh Leonard: Respect Science When It Comes To Climate Change. Another rebuttal to Jason Lewis's recent editorial in the Star Tribune: "Do you ever notice how climate-change deniers don't use science? They seem to have an argument until you realize that it's not scientific. A March 20 column by Jason Lewis ("Getting warm. Or cool. Let's make policy!") was an example.
Whenever I encounter an argument denying global warming, I apply the following three-part filter:

1. Does it cite scientific research?
2. Does it look at long-range data?
3. Does it explain major global trends regarding:
a. Global glacial retreat?
b. The polar sea ice cap disappearing?
c. The 10 hottest years on record occurring within the past 14 years?

Deniers might pretend to address one or two of the above questions but can never fully address all three. They quote pundits like Rush Limbaugh or conservative think tanks like the Heartland Institute (which also advocates that secondhand smoke doesn't affect your health). They look at short-term data. They conveniently forget that there is a new shipping lane opening up through the North Pole because the polar ice cap is smaller than it ever has been. If you are a climate-change denier, or if you are confused, please look at the science. The climate isn't decided by a politician or a pundit; it just happens regardless of what we think. Scientists are qualified to report on changes in the climate. Pundits are not. So, if you are going to have an opinion on climate change, please look at scientific resources. NASA is a good place to start. It gets its information from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Also, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a Climate Literacy Guide. Understanding global climate requires scientific evidence. Science is telling us the evidence shows that humans are causing climate change. If you have an opinion on climate change, base it in science. If you don't have time to learn about climate science, then at least believe the scientists and not the pundits."

Josh Leonard, of St. Paul, is a science teacher.

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