Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Proposed Cuts To NOAA's Climate Services? (1-2" slush early Saturday)

62 F. high in the Twin Cities Wednesday.

1-2" slushy snow possible Friday night and early Saturday morning.

2/10th's of an inch of snow makes this the 4th snowiest winter on record for MSP.

47 F. high predicted on Saturday. Any snow that falls early Saturday will have melted by late morning.

46 number of tornadoes reported in Iowa so far in 2011.

9 number of tornadoes reported in Wisconsin so far in 2011.

0 tornadoes so far in Minnesota (17 reports of 1"+ hail, 12 reports of damaging winds so far statewide). Details from SPC below.

On Our Way To #4? At 84.7" so far this winter season we're already holding at #5 on the list, another 2/10th's of an inch of snow brings us up to #4 on the list. That appears likely late Friday night and Saturday morning in the metro area. Will we get to the #3 spot: 88.9"? Doubtful with this next system, but I wouldn't rule it out entirely. Source: NOAA.

Slushy Possibilities. The good news: we won't see a foot of snow (at least in or near the metro area). The bad news: you may do a double-take when you wake up Saturday morning and see a fresh coating of white (coating to 2") on your (once-green) lawn. It won't last - any slush will melt within a few hours. No worries.

Heaches, Migraines and Gray Hairs. O.K. The "snow event" is (in theory) 24-36 hours away. And yet there is still a considerable spread in the model output, anywhere from a coating (1/2") to nearly 3". I don't think this will be "plowable", more of a nuisance snow event late Friday night and early Saturday.

Projected Track. An ideal storm track for heavy snow (or rain for that matter) runs from near Des Moines to La Crosse to Eau Claire, close enough to pull the heaviest precipitation bands into the metro, yet far enough south/east for a steady supply of cold air to keep precip falling as snow. Friday night the track is about 200 miles too far south/east for the heaviest bands to set up close to home.

Friday Evening. The NAM model shows an area of low pressure centered near St. Louis, a swirl of moisture approaching from Iowa, spreading into southern Minnesota (probably as a cold rain) Friday afternoon or evening.

Saturday Morning. By 7 am Saturday the storm is forecast to be near Rockford, Illinois, moving rapidly north and east. It looks like a fairly quick "burst" of wet snow late Friday night - I'm leaning toward an inch of slush, give or take.

Imminent Ice-Out. Ice is off Lake Minnetonka and White Bear Lake, a few days away from coming off Lake Mille Lacs, Gull, Pelican and the Whitefish Chain. 250 meter resolution image taken Wednesday courtesy of NASA's "Terra" satellite.

Ice-Out Update. If you're keeping score (and who among us isn't?) ice officially came off White Bear Lake and Minnetonka on April 13. At the rate we're going ice will be off most lakes in the Brainerd Lakes area within the next week. Source: MN DNR.

Putting This Winter In Context: How Severe Was It? The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang has a good summary of the winter that was - and how heaps and piles of snow affected the perception of temperature. It turns out it wasn't nearly as cold as many people suspected: "For all the talk of this past winter being one for the record books, the reality is much different. While extremely cold conditions gripped some sections of the country at various times during the past few months, the winter of 2010-2011 actually served up temperatures that were just a little cooler than average over the entire contiguous United States. Records from thousands of weather stations across the lower 48 states from December through February show the past season did not even crack the coldest one-third of winters since 1895, when very reliable record-keeping began. So why was there so much talk about it being so cold?"

April 9 Tornadoes In Northwestern Iowa: Contrasting Daytime/Nightime Environments? Jon Davies has an interesting post on the swarm of tornadoes that swept across Iowa last weekend: "Last Saturday's tornadoes in northwest Iowa with a persistent supercell complex over a period of several hours were quite interesting. The town of Mapleton took a direct hit before dark with a large dusty EF3 tornado developing from a rather high cloud base after 7 pm CDT (thankfully, there were no deaths or life-threatening injuries). Then, after a "break" of about an hour, the same supercell reorganized and began producing several large long track tornadoes during a 2-3 hour period after dark (see nighttime video shot above of wedge tornado near Odebolt, from Shawna's and my storm chase that night). It is very fortunate that none of these tornadoes after dark hit towns such as Sac City or Pocahontas directly (see tornado track maps above). The first weak dust whirl tornado near Onawa around 6:50 pm CDT (see photo above, a "tornado" because it occurred within a mesocyclone both on radar and visually ahead of an RFD, under a condensation funnel at cloud base) was a precursor to the tornado from the same supercell that hit Mapleton about 30 minutes later. The environment at that point had relatively high MLLCL heights (around 1500 m), with an 83/61 F surface ob at Onawa, and a fairly steep low-level lapse rate (approaching dry-adiabatic, see the 00 UTC Omaha observed sounding above) with little MLCIN. The later Mapleton tornado was mainly visible due to thick swirling dust rising from the ground into a wedge shape under a similarly "high" cloud base."

High Prices Sow Seeds Of Erosion. The New York Times documents a growing problem in the agricultural community, one that has repercussions for Minnesota farmers: "When prices for corn and soybeans surged last fall, Bill Hammitt, a farmer in the fertile hill country of western Iowa, began to see the bulldozers come out, clearing steep hillsides of trees and pastureland to make way for more acres of the state’s staple crops. Now, as spring planting begins, with the chance of drenching rains, Mr. Hammitt worries that such steep ground is at high risk for soil erosion — a farmland scourge that feels as distant to most Americans as tales of the Dust Bowl and Woody Guthrie ballads. Long in decline, erosion is once again rearing as a threat because of an aggressive push to plant on more land, changing weather patterns and inadequate enforcement of protections, scientists and environmentalists say. “There’s a lot of land being converted into row crop in this area that never has been farmed before,” said Mr. Hammitt, 59, explaining that the bulldozed land was too steep and costly to farm to be profitable in years of ordinary prices. “It brings more highly erodible land into production because they’re out to make more money on every acre.” Now, research by scientists at Iowa State University provides evidence that erosion in some parts of the state is occurring at levels far beyond government estimates. It is being exacerbated, they say, by severe storms, which have occurred more often in recent years, possibly because of broader climate shifts. “The thing that’s really smacking us now are the high-intensity, high-volume rainstorms that we’re getting,” said Richard M. Cruse, an agronomy professor at Iowa State who directs the Iowa Daily Erosion Project. “In a variety of locations, we’re losing topsoil considerably faster — 10 to as much as 50 times faster — than it’s forming.”

Lucky So Far. These are the latest severe weather observations so far in 2011 from SPC, the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. So far Iowa has seen 46 tornadoes, 9 in Wisconsin, none so far in Minnesota. Look at the concentration of severe wather reports across the southeast. A total of 310 tornadoes have been observed nationwide as of April 13.
Yellowstone "Supervolcano" Bigger Than Thought. Considering we live downwind of one of the largest (dormant?) volcanoes on the planet, I thought this was a good story to include, courtesy of Live Science: "The gigantic underground plume of partly molten rock that feeds the Yellowstone supervolcano might be bigger than previously thought, a new image suggests. The study says nothing about the chances of a cataclysmic eruption at Yellowstone, but it provides scientists with a valuable new perspective on the vast and deep reservoir of fiery material that feeds such eruptions, the last of which occurred more than 600,000 years ago. [Related: Infographic - The Geology of Yellowstone.] Earlier measurements of the plume were produced by using seismic waves — the waves generated by earthquakes — to create a picture of the underground region. The new picture was produced by examining the Yellowstone plume's electrical conductivity, which is generated by molten silicate rocks and hot briny water that is naturally present and mixed in with partly molten rock. "It’s a totally new and different way of imaging and looking at the volcanic roots of Yellowstone," said study co-author Robert B. Smith, professor emeritus and research professor of geophysics at the University of Utah, and a coordinating scientist of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory."

U.S. Lagging In Using Technology, Study Says. Some troubling news from the New York Times: "The United States continues to lag other nations in its use of computing and communications technology, according to an annual study issued Tuesday by the World Economic Forum. For the second consecutive year, the United States finished fifth in the study’s comparison of 138 countries that make up 98.8 percent of the world’s total gross domestic product. Sweden was first, followed by Singapore, Finland and Switzerland. These rankings, for 2010, are based on an index of 71 economic and social indicators, as diverse as new patents, mobile phone subscriptions and availability of venture capital. The annual reports began in 2001, after the collapse of the Internet bubble. The World Economic Forum, based in Davos, Switzerland, holds that technological progress is the principal driver of innovation, productivity and efficiency.

Marijuana Causes Global Warming - Uses 1% of U.S. Electricity. I had no idea. The details from "People growing marijuana indoors use 1 percent of the U.S. electricity supply, and they create 17 million metric tons of carbon dioxide every year (not counting the smoke exhaled) according to a report by Evan Mills, an energy analyst at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. After medical pot use was made legal in California in 1996, Mills says, per-person residential electricity use in Humboldt County jumped 50 percent compared to other parts of the state. In order to produce some 17,000 metric tons of marijuana this year, Mills estimates authorized growers will use $5 billion worth of energy. That works out to the output of seven big electric power plants."

Reinventing Television? Syzygy Labs imagines a universal app that will augment the TV, so users can get info related to what they’re watching, see what their friends are watching or even buy advertised products instantly. Post courtesy of

Cooling Down. Highs held in the 50s across most of Minnesota Wednesday, inching up to 62 in the Twin Cities, 58 at St. Cloud, a brisk 47 at Hibbing, where .05" rain fell.

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

TODAY: Lot's of clouds, cool breeze. Winds: E 10-20 High: near 50

THURSDAY NIGHT: LIngering clouds, still cool and damp. Low: 37

FRIDAY: Windy, cold rain arrives PM hours. High: 46

SATURDAY: Slushy coating - coating to 1 or 2" early? PM sunshine. Low: 32. High: 47

SUNDAY: Sunny intervals. Any snow should be long gone. Low: 31. High: 51

MONDAY: Light rain or drizzle possible. Low: 34. High: 48

TUESDAY: Storm passes south, gray sky. Low: 36. High: near 50

WEDNESDAY: Clouds increase, late PM rain possible. Low: 35. High: 52

4th Snowiest?

Not sure my heart, back (or psyche) can take another heavy, wet snowfall. But 2/10th's of an inch? I can handle that. That's all we need for this to become the 4th snowiest winter on record for the Twin Cities.

Early model runs were a bit horrifying, hinting at some truly outrageous (double digit) snowfall totals. But between a dry breeze much of Friday from a stubborn high pressure system, a temperature profile warm enough for mostly-rain Friday night, and a storm track 200 miles too far south/east, I suspect we'll escape with a coating to an inch, maybe 2" north/east of St. Paul. But 3-6 " may fall on the Duluth area, with over a foot for parts of the Dakotas.

Here's the deal: any slush in your yard at dawn on Saturday melts within 3 hours; highs near 50s next week as storms pass south of Minnesota. Another significant storm (more rain than snow) is shaping up for Saturday, April 23.

Finally, today marks the anniversary of Minnesota's deadliest tornado. 72 people in Sauk Rapids died from a 1/2 mile wide, EF-4 tornado on April 14, 1886, 11 deaths in one wedding party in Rice. The tornado helped to make St. Cloud central Minnesota's dominant city; Sauk Rapids was leveled in under 15 minutes.

Tornado Disaster. Photos from Sauk Rapids taken after the April 14, 1886 tornado that leveled much of the city, killing 72 people. The bottom image is from the court house in Sauk Rapids. The EF-4 tornado (1/2 mile wide) set the city of Sauk Rapids back for years, ultimately allowing St. Cloud to become central Minnesota's largest city. Source: Wikipedia.

Chilling: Cold Snaps Will Persist In A Warming World. Here's a story from "Although the planet is warming overall, events of extreme cold are still likely to persist on each continent for the next century, researchers say. The Southeast and Northwest in the United States may be especially vulnerable to these chills, scientists added. Investigators at Oak Ridge National Laboratory used nine global climate models assuming moderate levels of greenhouse gas emissions (the gases that build up in the atmosphere and trap heat) to compare the climates of 1991 to 2000 with 2091 to 2100. All nine models found that climate would overall experience warming at the end of the century. However, they forecast that events of extreme cold would still happen, although they would occur less frequently. "The fact that future extreme cold events will continue to be at least as intense and long-lasting in many regions of the world, even under warming scenarios, may not seem intuitive," researcher Auroop Ganguly, a civil and environmental engineer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, told OurAmazingPlanet.

Congress, In A First, Removes An Animal From the Endangered Species List. The York Times has the story: "Congress for the first time is directly intervening in the Endangered Species List and removing an animal from it, establishing a precedent for political influence over the list that has outraged environmental groups. A rider to the Congressional budget measure agreed to last weekend dictates that wolves in Montana and Idaho be taken off the endangered species list and managed instead by state wildlife agencies, which is in direct opposition to a federal judge’s recent decision forbidding the Interior Department to take such an action. While the language on the Rocky Mountain wolves was a tiny item in budgetary terms, environmental groups said it set an unnerving precedent by letting Congress, rather than a science-based federal agency, remove endangered species protections. The rider is the first known instance of Congress’ directly intervening in the list."

Proposed Cuts To NOAA's Climate Services? Here's an update from "The bill cuts funding for climate change-related programs by $49 million when compared to enacted fiscal 2010 levels. This includes blocking funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's climate service and eliminating President Obama's energy and climate change adviser, or "climate czar." Carol Browner, who previously held the position, has left the White House."

Google Invests $168 Million In World's Largest Solar Power Tower Plant. An update from "Google has chipped in a US$168 million investment in what will be the world's largest solar power tower plant. To be located on 3,600 acres of land in the Mojave Desert in southeastern California, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) will boast 173,000 heliostats that will concentrate the sun's rays onto a solar tower standing approximately 450 feet (137 m) tall. The plant commenced construction in October 2010 and is expected to generate 392 MW of solar energy following its projected completion in 2013. Although solar power tower development is currently less advanced than the more common trough systems, they offer higher efficiency and better energy storage capabilities. Parabolic trough systems consist of parabolic mirrors that concentrate sunlight onto a Dewar tube running the length of the mirror through which a heat transfer fluid runs that is then used to heat steam in a standard turbine. Solar power tower systems such as the ISEGS on the other hand focus a large area of sunlight into a single solar receiver on top of a tower to produce steam at high pressure and temperatures of up to 550 ° C (over 1,000° F) to drive a standard turbine and generator. The ISEGS also uses a dry-cooling technology that reduces water consumption by 90 percent and uses 95 percent less water than competing solar thermal technologies. Water is also recirculated during energy before being reused to clean the plant's mirrors."

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