Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Recap Of Tuesday's Severe Storm Outbreak (most climate skeptics linked to Big Oil)

875 tornadoes in April, a new U.S. record.

305 confirmed tornadoes touched down from April 25-28.

Wettest April since 1895 for Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and West Virginia (3 times the normal amount of rain fell).

95% of Texas is experiencing severe, extreme or exceptional drought.

$2.6 billion: damage from U.S. winter storms in 2010, one of the top 5 years ever recorded for winter-related damage.

$9.5 billion: total U.S. financial losses from severe thunderstorms in 2010, third highest ever, behind 2009 and 2008.

5X. Thunderstorm losses nationally now average 5 times the level recorded in the early 1980's.
"The only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change." September, 2010 statement from Munich Re, one of the largest reinsurance companies in the world.

Supercells. Doppler radar around 7 pm showed intense (rotating) supercells sprouting from St. Michael to the Lake Minnetonka area. The cell west of Elk River produced a small tornado near St. Michael. The cluster of severe storms south/west of Minneapolis went on to produce 2" hail and a possible funnel near Hopkins. It underscores an important point: tornadoes can and will touch down outside the main tornado watch box area. If a watch is issued nearby, you definitely want to stay alert.

Severe Storms Tuesday Evening:

* 2.5" hail reported at Golden Valley.
* 1.75" diameter hail at Minneapolis (Target Field).
* Reports of a possible funnel cloud near Hopkins.
First Minnesota Tornado of 2011? Thanks to Todd Nelson for the photo sequence below:

First Minnesota Tornado of 2011? WeatherNation meteorologist Todd Nelson did some "deck-chasing" this evening. He was sitting out on his deck in St. Michael, with son Crosby and wife Sheena - he calmly captured the preceding sequence of the developing funnel cloud over St. Michael (which apparently did touch down). Todd included some of the minor damage in his own neighborhood. Looks like EF-0 or EF-1 damage. Good work Todd. A little close for comfort...

Classic "Hook Echo". Shortly after 9 pm a clearly-defined hook echo - evidence of violent rotation - showed up on NWS Doppler radar near Milaca. No reports of a confirmed tornado or damage in the Mille Lacs area, but a tornado watch was posted until midnight, the result of extreme instability, powerful wind shear, surface dew points topping 70, and a vigorous warm frontal boundary that acted as a focus for all this intense convection.

Cumulonimbus Mammatus. Thanks to TPT2 Chief Content Office Terry O'Reilly, taken in St. Louis Park at 8:34 pm Tuesday. These "mamma" formed on the underside of the thunderstorm anvil that produced a possible funnel over Hopkins and a confirmed tornado funnel in the St. Michael area.

Headache-Inducing Hail. Don't let your kids play outside unless they're wearing football helmets. Meteorologist Todd Nelson snapped these photos after Tuesday evening's tornado in the St. Michael area - which confirms what I've been saying for many years: large hail is a STRONG tip-off that a T-storm has an unusually violent updraft, potentially strong enough to spin up a tornado.

Ding-Worthy Hail. Thanks to Mike Huang, weather spotter extraordinaire, who lives in Chaska, for sending in this confirmed example of 2" hail. Yes, that's large enough to put a few unwelcome dimples in your favorite vehicle.

There Was Warning. We get a lot of grief when we're wrong - which, yes, is fairly often. But at 2:42 Tuesday afternoon I posted an update at startribune.com, highlighting the potential for a severe storm outbreak between 5-8 pm. This was hours before any formal watches or warnings were issued. We were in a "slight risk", but all the parameters were converging for a possible tornado outbreak. I included a NOAA HRRR prediction map (above) showing a line of severe storms blossoming close to MSP around 6 pm. The model nailed the outbreak.

Squall Line. The late evening visible satellite image yesterday showed thunderstorms erupting over central and southern Minnesota, anvil tops so high (45,000 to 50,000 feet) that they cast a 30-40 mile shadow to the east.

Instant July. So much for May. Yesterday felt like mid-summer, with highs well up into the 80s and dew points topping 70 by mid afternoon. The high at MSP International was 88, just two degrees shy of an all-time record. Highs ranged from 80 at Eau Claire to 82 at St. Cloud to a sizzling 91 at Redwood Falls.

Hot Front. So much for easing into summer. Yesterday the mercury rose from 57 at daybreak to 88 by late afternoon. The dew point rose from 48 to 70. For every 20 degree rise in dew point the amount of water vapor in the air DOUBLES. Yes, we were all feeling that additional water by afternoon - you could feel those storms brewing...

Tuesday Record Highs
. Thanks to Chad Merrill from Earth Networks for passing this along:

Des Moines International Airport---high of 92 so far today… Record is 90 set in 1911
Sioux Gateway Airport, Iowa—high of 92 degrees so far today… Record is  90 set in 1987
Omaha, Neb. Eppley Airfield has hit 93 so far today… this ties the record high of 93 set in 1962

Occluded Cyclone Off The New England Coast. The University of Wisconsin-Madison's CIMSS weather blog has an update on the (massive) storm stalled off the coast of New England. Who cares? This vertically-stacked storm, stuck in its tracks, means the storm impacting the Upper Midwest will also stall, prolonging showers into next weekend. Yes, weather systems will be in a holding pattern for the next 5-6 days: "An AWIPS image of the MODIS 6.7 µm “water vapor channel” with an overlay of surface pressure and surface fronts (above) showed a large occluded cyclone off the New England coast on 09 May 2011. McIDAS images of GOES-13 6.5 µm water vapor channel data (below; click image to play animation) displayed the evolution of the classic signature that indicates a cyclone has reached the occluded stage: the formation of a well-defined “dry swirl” that wraps around the center of the circulation."

Soggy Saturday. No, sadly, the outlook for Saturday's Fishing Opener hasn't improved much in the last 24 hours. A "retrograding" storm (actually pin-wheeling to the WEST) will keep showers hovering over Minnesota much of Saturday, temperatures holding in the 50s and low 60s most of the day.

Sunday: Not Much Better. The same GFS model shows a whirlpool of cold air lingering over central and northern Minnesota much of Sunday, sparking more showers. Nothing severe, but a few hours of rain seems likely on Sunday as well. Skies may slowly clear over the northern half of Minnesota by late afternoon. If you're looking for dry weather up north your best bet may be Sunday afternoon/evening. At least it won't snow...

Memphis On Flood Alert As Mississippi Waters Hit A Record Peak. The Big Muddy is 6 times wider in Memphis than usual, roughly 3 miles wide. The U.K.'s Guardian has an overview of the worst flooding in the Memphis area since 1937: "The city of Memphis, Tennessee has been put on alert for record flooding as the waters of the Mississippi river reached a historic peak. Police went door-to-door to evacuate people from low-lying neighbourhoods after forecasters said the river could reach its peak of 14.6 metres (48ft) by Monday evening. Heavy winters in the upper midwest and an extremely wet April – with 600% more rain than normal in some southern states – have turned 2011 into a season of floods along the Mississippi's 2,320-mile route. In Memphis, the river ran nearly three miles wide on Monday, about six times its usual span, with water lapping at Beale Street, the city's blues district. Rising floodwaters from the Mississippi and its tributaries forced the evacuation of about 1,300 home. But many of the city's landmarks – including Elvis Presley's Graceland – sit on high ground and officials vowed to protect them. "I want to say this: Graceland is safe. And we would charge hell with a water pistol to keep it that way and I'd be willing to lead the charge," said Bob Nations, director of the Shelby county emergency management agency."

Climate Change And The Flood This Time. Here's a timely OP-ED from Bill Mckibben in the Los Angeles Times: "In Pakistan, Australia and now the center of the North American continent, we're getting a powerful taste of what global warming feels like in its early stages. (And if for some reason you've decided not to believe scientists, then ask the people we pay to analyze risk in our society: In September, one of the largest reinsurance companies in the world, Munich Re, said that "the only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change.") There are no grounds for optimism in this fight against the weather. So far we've only increased the temperature of the planet about a degree, and that's been enough to set the Arctic to melting, turn the ocean 30% more acidic and make the atmosphere about 4% wetter, loading the dice for floods. Climatologists predict that unless we kick oil, gas and coal habits very, very fast, the increase in temperature will be 4 or 5 degrees before the century is out. If one degree does the damage we're seeing at the moment, we'd be fools to find out what 4 degrees will look like. But foolishness is carrying the day at the moment. Consider the fecklessness Washington has shown on climate. Just last month, the House voted by a 56-vote margin to deny that climate change was real. It's like an entire chamber full of Neville Chamberlains, hopeful that they can wish trouble away."

Cullman Tornado Damage Aerials. Here's an update on one of the more intense tornadoes from the April 27-28 outbreak, from WKRG-TV: "Crossing I-65, flying east into the heart of town, you can see blue tarps dotting the landscape. Slowing down you start to get a clear picture of the utter devastation. There's nothing left of this structure - like a giant foot stepped on it and stomped it into the ground. The tornado picked this home, right up off its foundation and turned it around sideways. Something worth pointing out - the shingles are gone - but the roof is virtually intact. Other houses in the same neighborhood also suffered damage. Just down the road - you can see this roof caved in like the storm dropped a bowling ball onto a bed sheet. Flying into downtown, you start to see the worst of the destruction. the roofs of these two businesses collapsed - hard to imagine anyone standing inside when the tornado took them down - survived. You can tell by the new color of the roof that this church suffered storm damage - the steeple also toppled over - and some of the bricks were peeled away like a banana. But it faired much better than this one down the street. the roof of the sanctuary ripped away. a room once filled with pews is now just a pile of rubble."

Boulder Based "CSI": NOAA Is On The Tornado Case. The dailycamera.com has more details on NOAA's attempts to trace the severity of the April 25-29, 2011 tornado outbreak in the south. Was climate change a contributing factor? "Take it from the experts: It's not clear that climate change contributed to the record-breaking number of tornadoes that tore through the South at the end of April, killing more than 300 people. Of course, experts say it's also not clear that climate change didn't contribute to the rash of twisters. To really answer that question, more research is needed. The kind that could take years of work before it appears in a refereed scientific journal. But since the general public and the media are often less patient to have their questions answered, a team of scientists led by Boulder scientist Marty Hoerling has stepped up to give a quick (by science-world standards) postmortem of the conditions that lead to extreme weather events. Meet CSI: NOAA. (Climate Scene Investigators: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) The idea, Hoerling said, is to make sure that scientists are contributing to the conversation about extreme weather -- and especially the role of global warming in creating those events -- in a timely way, even if it's just to explain what scientists do and don't know and why. Otherwise, the void left by the absence of knowledgeable scientific voices may be filled by people who are just speculating about climate change or, worse, those hoping to score political victories by implicating (or not implicating) climate change as the cause of floods, heat waves, cold snaps, hurricanes and tornadoes. "CSI is an attempt to form a team that can respond to events that are happening in a timely way that's authoritative at the same time," Hoerling said. "We could sit back here and do business as usual -- do our science with the doors closed -- and publish studies written for ourselves and read by our colleagues of 10 or 20 and leave it at that because that's what we've always done."

Fire And Rain: Fed Scientists Point To Wild April. The AP has a good summary of a record-shattering April: "WASHINGTON (AP) — April was a historic month for wild weather in the United States, and it wasn't just the killer tornado outbreak that set records, according to scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. April included an odd mix of downpours, droughts and wildfires. Six states — Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia — set records for the wettest April since 1895. Kentucky, for example, got nearly a foot of rain, which was more than three times its normal for the month, NOAA reported. Yet the U.S. also had the most acres burned by wildfire for April since 2000. Nearly 95 percent of Texas has a drought categorized as severe or worse, exacerbated by the fifth driest April on record for the Lone Star state. Add to a record 305 tornadoes from April 25-28, which killed at least 309 people and the most tornadoes ever for all of April: 875. The death toll and total tornado figures are still being finalized. Much of the southern and eastern United States were near record hot for April, while northwestern states were cooler than normal. Overall, the month was warmer than normal for the nation, but not record-setting. The odd mix of massive April showers and bone-dry drought can be blamed on the cooling of the central Pacific Ocean, which causes storm tracks to lock in along certain paths, said Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. "It's very consistent with La Nina; maybe we've had more extremes," Halpert said. "It's a shift of the jet stream, providing all that moisture and shifting it away from the south, so you've seen a lot of drought in Texas."

For Seniors, Tornadoes Rip Path Of Special Pain. Older Americans have been hit disproportionately hard during the recent weather disasters. The AP reports on the toll among seniors trying to pick up the pieces from April's historic tornado outbreak in Alabama: "TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Over there is the terrace where Eleanor Walker would feel the sun's warmth on her face, through those picture windows where she'd admire oak and magnolia trees that had stood even longer than she. That room there is where the sound of gospel would waft upward, and just past it the chapel we're she'd say a silent prayer. If she could walk the nursing home's halls again, she wouldn't find her magazines arranged just so at the bedside, the birdfeeders hung so carefully, the tiny gardens where the residents tended their tomatoes and peppers. It is gone, all gone, swept up with the tornado's force. At 90, Walker is starting over again. The storms that ripped paths of loss through Alabama and half a dozen other states have wrought a special sort of pain on the oldest residents, forcing them to cope with the destruction of all they've known and to adjust to new realities when familiarity and routine have long been their most comforting friends. Resilience is notably mustered, but the worries that remain are profound. "We don't have the time to come back that a young person has," said George Thomas, 71, a retired waste-water treatment plant supervisor, walking through the rubble of a Tuscaloosa neighborhood. "So it makes it hard on an older person." The death tally in the hundreds, the number of missing still frustratingly high to those searching, officials haven't yet fully accounted for who has been killed or whether any demographics stand out. But the plight of the aged is clear in just a glimpse of the destruction."

Time To Review Homeowner's Insurance As Tornadoes And Floods Devastate, Hurricane Season Nears. Here's a call to action from David Pitt, writing for The Republic, along with some eye-opening statistics: "Seven Southern states continue the clean up after tornadoes killed hundreds and leveled entire communities. It was the country's worst natural disaster since Hurricane Katrina. Unusual weather events have raised more than a few eyebrows in recent years. Indeed insurance claims suggest storms are stronger and more frequent. Losses from thunderstorms last year totaled $9.5 billion, the third highest ever, behind 2009 and 2008, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Thunderstorm losses now average five times the level recorded in the early 1980s. Even winter storm losses last year reached $2.6 billion, making 2010 one of the top five worst winters for property damage. Not only have we seen more active and violent weather patterns, but more people live in catastrophe-prone areas, says Scott Spencer, worldwide home appraisal and loss prevention manager with insurer Chubb Group. The Insurance Information Institute says about 10.2 million people lived in the path of Atlantic hurricanes in 1950. It's now approaching 40 million. With more frequent storms and more people living in their path, there's a higher likelihood that property and lives will be affected."

Planets At Dawn. According to spaceweather.com you may wake up to quite a celestrial treat this week: "No coffee? No problem. To wake up any morning this week, all you need to do is look out the window. Mars, Jupiter, Venus and Mercury are aligning in the eastern sky for a spectacular dawn conjunction. Mariano Ribas photographed the gathering on May 9th from his home in Buenos Aires, Argentina."

Where Is The Population Center Of The United States? I know it's been on your mind. Well, we have a winner: Plato, Missouri, as detailed in this press release from NOAA. Drumroll please: "Townspeople, elected representatives, government officials and hundreds of students today celebrated the naming of Plato, as the 2010 Census U.S. center of population. Amid music, speeches, banners and cheers, village chairman Bob Biram welcomed the crowd, saying, “We’re proud of our village. As one of our students said, ‘we were in the middle of nowhere; now we are in the middle of everywhere.’ ” At the event, U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert Groves and Juliana Blackwell, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Geodetic Survey, revealed a survey disc, commemorating the national center of population as calculated by the Census Bureau and measured by the National Geodetic Survey. Each decade after tabulating the decennial census, the Census Bureau calculates the mean center of population for the country, as well as for each state and county. The national center of population is determined as the place where an imaginary, flat, weightless and rigid map of the United States would balance perfectly if all 308,745,538 residents counted in the 2010 Census were of identical weight. Following the 2010 Census, the U.S. center of population is at 37.517534 north latitude and 92.173096 west longitude. This spot in Missouri’s Texas County is approximately 2.9 miles east of Plato, an incorporated village in the heart of the Ozarks with a 2010 Census population of 109."

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

TODAY: Still feels like July! Few T-storms, some strong/severe. Winds: S 8-13 High: 82

WEDNESDAY NIGHT: Humid with a few scattered T-storms. Low: 63

THURSDAY: Scattered showers, heavier T-storms. High: 76

FRIDAY: Storm stalls, stray showers - cooler. Low: 57. High: 69

SATURDAYHolding pattern, few hours of rain? Skies may brighten late in the day. Winds: N/NE 10-15. Low: 49. High: 62

SUNDAYLingering showers much of the day. Some partial PM clearing possible up north. Low: 52. High: 64

MONDAY: Partly sunny - much better. Low: 51. High: near 70

TUESDAY: Plenty of sun, very few complaints. Low: 54. High: 73

Drippy Dew Points
Summer arrived yesterday, like flipping on a light switch: instant 80s. Dew points hovering near 70. And to think, we went from flurries last Monday to neighbors whining about the humidity, in 8 days. 
That's why you're feeling a little disoriented.

April brought 875 tornadoes to the USA, smashing the old record. The tornado count has been rising in recent years, but scientists believe this may be a function of more people out looking for them, especially in the wake of the movie "Twister". On any given day hundreds of Americans are "chasing tornadoes", hoping to get that money shot of a twister touching down. The adrenaline rush is incredible.

What was farmland 50 years ago is now subdivisions and strip malls. When a tornado drops the potential for damage & injury is much higher, and with social media you hear about it (faster).

A warm, juicy airmass lingers today, sparking more random T-storms, another shot at 80. A storm stalled off New England will cause our storm to hover, prolonging showery rains into Saturday's Fishing Opener. One model dries us out Saturday PM; the jury's still out. Skies clear on Sunday, probably the nicer day of the weekend. Could be worse.

Most Cited Climate Skeptics Linked To Big Oil. Why am I not surprised? I've lost the capacity to be shocked....when skeptics send me stories questioning climate change I ask them a). where did they find it, b). is it peer-reviewed science? and c). follow the money. Who paid them to write these critical stories? Oh, ExxonMobil? Yep, that explains it. Here's a story that shines more light on these cellar-dwelling (oil-stained) 'scientists" from sustainablebusiness.com: "Nine of the ten scientists, who have written the most papers skeptical of man-made global warming, are linked to oil giant ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM), according to the blog The Carbon Brief. Furthermore, those ten authors account for 186 of the 900+ peer-reviewed papers, which climate skeptic group The Global Warming Policy Foundation compiled as proof that there is widespread dissent on climate change science. The Carbon Brief's analysis shows that the pool of skeptical scientists is, in fact, much smaller than this list suggests, and it is heavily influenced by funding from Big Oil.  Sherwood B Idso is the most prolific scientist on the list. He is the author or co-author of 67 of the 938 papers (7%). He is the president of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, a thinktank funded by ExxonMobil.  Patrick J Michaels is the second most cited author, with 28 papers. He is a well known climate skeptic who  receives around 40% of his funding from the oil industry."

Special Report: Living In Denial. Here's an interesting series from New Scientist (a subscription may be required for some of these articles): "From climate change to vaccines, evolution to flu, denialists are on the march. Why are so many people refusing to accept what the evidence is telling them? In this special feature we look at the phenomenon in depth. What is denial? What attracts people to it? How does it start, and how does it spread? And finally, how should we respond to it? "

Warming Trend Could Prove Boon For Canadian Farming. Here's an article from Canada's Globe and Mail: "Investors in agricultural commodities have always had to keep an eye on the weather. But maybe they should keep a watch on the climate too. That’s because global warming has the potential to be a boon for profit seekers. The reason: a hotter climate could undermine crops, leading to smaller harvests and higher prices. Up until now, it’s been hard to prove that global warming could put a dent into agricultural output, but a U.S. research team says it has done just that. The findings are good news for those buying agricultural commodities and related investments, such as Canadian farmland. The biggest upside potential might be in wheat and corn. By studying temperature and yield records from 1980 to 2008, the team of academics from Columbia University and Stanford University estimated that the global trend to warmer temperatures has led wheat yields to be 5.5 per cent lower than they would have been had the climate been stable, and corn yields to be 3.8 per cent lower. The reduction spread out over the world was the equivalent to losing the annual corn harvest from Mexico and the wheat harvest of France. Soybean and rice crops were also studied, but exhibited no overall trend change."

Study Raises Doubt On Capturing Carbon From The Air. No, there are no (obvious) quick and easy technological fixes when it comes to reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The New York Times has more details on the challenge to "scrub" carbon from the air: "Over the last few years, some of world’s brightest minds have become fascinated with a seemingly simple idea: easing the threat of climate change by pulling carbon dioxide out of the air. The concept is entirely different from capturing and sequestering carbon dioxide from power plants and other big polluters before it enters the air. Rather, the aim would be to remove the gas from the planet’s ambient air, where it exists in low concentrations everywhere. In 2007 the British billionaire Richard Branson and Al Gore, the former vice president, created a $25 million prize for the first creator of such a technology, and millions of dollars in venture capital have since flowed to start-up companies tackling the problem. But a new study casts serious doubts on whether such efforts will ever yield an economically viable tool for fighting global warming. The study, released on Monday by the American Physical Society, the world’s largest group of physicists, finds that while removing carbon dioxide from ambient air is technically feasible, the cost is likely to remain prohibitively high."

Denmark Tops List Of Top Clean Technology Producers, China Is Number Two, U.S. At 17 Is Rapidly Expanding. The Washington Post has more details: "AMSTERDAM — Denmark earns the biggest share of its national revenue from producing windmills and other clean technologies, the United States is rapidly expanding its clean-tech sector, but no country can match China’s pace of growth, according to a new report obtained by The Associated Press. China’s production of green technologies has grown by a remarkable 77 per cent a year, according to the report, which was commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature and which will be unveiled on Monday at an industry conference in Amsterdam. “The Chinese have made, on the political level, a conscious decision to capture this market and to develop this market aggressively,” said Donald Pols, an economist with the WWF. Denmark, a longtime leader in wind energy, derives 3.1 percent of its gross domestic product from renewable energy technology and energy efficiency, or about euro6.5 billion ($9.4 billion), the report said. China is the largest producer in money terms, earning more than euro44 billion ($64 billion), or 1.4 percent of its gross domestic product. The U.S. ranks 17 in the production of clean technologies with 0.3 percent of GDP, or euro31.5 billion ($45 billion), but those industries have been expanding at a rate of 28 percent per year since 2008."

In A Changing Antarctica, Some Penguins Thrive, While Others Suffer. The New York Times has the story: "ROSS ISLAND, Antarctica — Cape Royds, home to the southernmost colony of penguins in the world, is a rocky promontory overlaid with dirty ice and the stench of pinkish guano. Beyond the croaking din of chicks pestering parents for regurgitated krill lies the Ross Sea, a southern extension of the Pacific Ocean that harbors more than one-third of the world’s Adélie penguin population and a quarter of all emperor penguins, and which may be the last remaining intact marine ecosystem on Earth. The penguin colony is one of the longest-studied in the world. Data on its resident Adélie penguins was first acquired during the 1907-9 expedition of Ernest Shackleton, the eminent British explorer, whose wooden hut stands preserved nearby. “This is penguin nirvana,” David Ainley, an ecologist with the consulting firm H. T. Harvey and Associates who has been studying Ross Sea penguins for 40 years, said on a morning in January. “This is where you want to be if you’re a pack ice penguin.” Of the species that stand to be most affected by global warming, the most obvious are the ones that rely on ice to live. Adélie penguins are a bellwether of climate change, and at the northern fringe of Antarctica, in the Antarctic Peninsula, their colonies have collapsed as an intrusion of warmer seawater shortens the annual winter sea ice season."

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