Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Yesterday: Wettest Day In Nearly 2 Months (touch of November next week?)

.75" diameter hail reported at 12:23 PM Wednesday in downtown St. Paul and Brooklyn Center (source: NOAA).

1" rain in 10 minutes reported at Askov, Minnesota.

52 mph wind gusts from yesterday's T-storms at Brooklyn Center.

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

TODAY: Damp start. Intervals of sun, windy and drier. Winds: NW 10-15, higher gusts. High: 64

THURSDAY NIGHT: Partial clearing, cooler. Low: 57

FRIDAY: Brisk with more clouds than sun, probably dry for prep football games. High: 59

SATURDAY: Sunny start, clouds increase PM hours. Low: 43. High: 61

SUNDAY: Weak cool frontal passage. Getting sunnier as the day goes on, stiff breeze. Low: 44. High: 58

MONDAY: Rain develops PM hours. Low: 45. High: 55

TUESDAY: Cloudy and blustery, showers taper. A few flurries up north early? Low: 39. High: 51

WEDNESDAY: Sun returns, still cooler than average. Low: 36. High: 53

"...Improved data gathering, computer modeling and scientific analysis have made seven-day forecasts of broad weather patterns as accurate as five-day forecasts were 20 to 25 years ago, and five-day forecasts as accurate as three-day forecasts were then, says David B. Parsons, director of the school of meteorology at the University of Oklahoma in Norman." - from a Wall Street Journal article below on the "art" of weather forecasting.

"...All of the storms are being formed in an environment that is warmer and wetter than before," said Trenberth. "The main thing that has happened with climate change is that you have changed the environment." Specifically, the waters are about one degree Fahrenheit warmer than pre-1970 values, leading to air that's four percent wetter. All that additional moisture and heat in the air feeds storms. "That's the climate change kicker. It's the extra nudge that indeed makes you break records."  - from a Science Daily article on extreme weather and climate change below.

October "Hailer". No, it wasn't sleet, which is a winter-weather phenomenon, triggered by rain drops freezing through a layer of cold air near the ground into ice pellets. Hail is triggered by thunderstorm updrafts and downdrafts, each cycle through a storm adding a concentric layer of water/ice to the growing hailstone until gravity pulls the little ball of ice to the ground. Thanks to weather-spotter Sharon Bertrand who lives in Mendota Heights for sending in this photo of her back yard. Hail on October 12 is unusual, but not unprecedented.

Gust Front. Check out this turbulent sky, photographed by veteran meteorologist Rob Koch (who is a colleage of mine at WeatherNation). He lives up in the Scandia area - yesterday's line of strong T-storms moved from south to north, dropping 1/4 to 1/2" hail, sparking wind gusts to 45 mph. Here's more from the Star Tribune's Paul Walsh: "A swift shift in the weather mid-day Wednesday brought hail, rain and stiff winds to the Twin Cities area. About three-quarters of an inch of rain and hail were reported in St. Paul by the National Weather Service (NWS). Hail and rain in Brooklyn Center was accompanied by wind gusts topping 50 miles per hour, the NWS added. Hopkins, Ramsey, Farmington and other communities also were reporting hail, according to the Weather Service."

Bring It On! Talk about mana from heaven....yesterday's soaking was the most rain in nearly 2 months. WeatherNation meteorologist Bryan Karrick took this photo of the entrance to Thunderbird Aviation, in Eden Prairie around midday, as the heaviest T-storms rumbled across the metro area.

Gales Of November Coming Early To Chicago? From the Windy City office of the NWS:

235 PM CDT WED OCT 12 2011


* photo credit above here.

Fall Gardening Tips. My thanks to good friend and Master Gardener Tricia Frostad, who has created an incredible, one-of-a-kind garden. She provided the following information to me via e-mail. I wanted to know what we should be doing in our yards to prepare for winter, especially in light of the unusually dry spell we're going through now - a growing statewide drought. Here is Tricia's advice:

This fall has been so dry that a lot of my trees and bushes are suffering drought-like symptoms.  Some people may think it's okay to turn their sprinkler systems off, because they believe everything was going dormant - but that’s not the case.  Woody shrubs and trees especially newly planted ones, still need to be irrigated to prevent damage over the winter.   Perennials also need to be watered in order to prepare for their winter shut down functions.  Watering evergreens now can help ward off winter burn or desiccation injury which can occur when the roots are unable to draw up water from the frozen ground to replace what’s lost in the atmosphere from cold and wind.  Basically we need to continue watering until the ground freezes.  Considering how dry it’s been I would recommend a deep watering unless we get an awful lot of moisture before it freezes.  Also to protect evergreens from desiccation, you can cover them with pine boughs or christmas tree greens which helps block the sun and wind.

Since we’ve had such warm weather, my garden is still actively growing and I haven’t yet begun the task of “putting my garden to bed”.  I know that none of us want to think about weeding in the fall, but it’s important to remove them now to prevent an even bigger problem next spring.   Once most the plants in the garden are looking dead and lifeless you can begin cleaning up.  Remove last season’s annuals by pulling them right out of the ground and remove any excess debris from the garden such as leaves, stems and branches which can harbor insects and disease and re-infect your plants next spring.  Cut back perennials to about 3 or 4 inches from the ground.  Be sure to separate any foliage that is diseased or had insect problems and dispose of it by bagging or burning, don’t add it to the compost pile.  I like to leave some plants for winter interest like tall grasses and those with seed heads such as cone flower and Rudbeckia.  They look nice in the winter and can serve as food for our feathered friends as well.  If you have extra compost you can add a little now as a top dressing in the garden.  Once the soil freezes, apply a layer of mulch, 3 to 4 inches deep.  This will reduce injury from plant roots heaving because of alternate freezing and thawing.  Mulch maintains a more even soil temperature and retains valuable soil moisture.  (Don’t apply mulch too early or you’ll provide winter shelter for rodents).

Speaking of rodents, (and rabbits) they can wreak havoc on the lower trunks of trees.  You can protect trees by placing a cylinder of 1/4 inch mesh hardware cloth around the trunk.  Be sure that it reaches 18 to 24 inches above the anticipated snow line so the bunnies can’t get higher than your line of protection.

Now is the time to plant those tulips and other spring bulbs!  I like to plant tulips to a depth of 8 inches and scratch in some bulb fertilizer or bone meal.  Digging one large area of ground and planting them 3 to 4 inches apart is easier than using those individual bulb planters which always seem to get stuck in my soil. Also, my opinion on planting tulips is “go big or go home” really do need at least 20 tulips in one spot to make a decent display. (photo courtesy of Panoramio and the MN Landscape Arboretum).

Folks who have tender bulbs planted such as Cannas, Tuberous Begonias or Gladiolas should begin lifting those as soon as the foliage has died back.

For lawns, now is a good time to apply fertilizer.  Leaves should be removed by raking them or mulching them with a mower before they mat down and smother the grass.  Small amounts of mulched leaves can be left as a top dressing for the lawn, larger amounts should be added to the compost pile.

Also, refrain from doing any pruning of woody plants.  They don’t have time to heal properly before winter...

Another thing we’re susceptible here in Minnesota is sun scald.  I’m no expert on it, but here is some information from the U of M:

Sun scald is characterized by elongated, sunken, dried, or cracked areas of dead bark, usually on the south or southwest side of a tree. On cold winter days, the sun can heat up bark to the point where cambial activity is stimulated. When the sun is blocked by a cloud, hill, or building, bark temperature drops rapidly, killing the active tissue. Young trees, newly planted trees, and thin-barked trees (cherry, crabapple, honey locust, linden, maple, mountain ash, plum) are most susceptible to sun scald. Trees that have been pruned to raise the lower branches, or transplanted from a shady to a sunny location are also sensitive because the lower trunk is no longer shaded. Older trees are less subject to sun scald because the thicker bark can insulate dormant tissue from the sun's heat ensuring the tissue will remain dormant and cold hardy.

Sun scald can be prevented by wrapping the trunk with a commercial tree wrap, plastic tree guards, or any other light-colored material. The wrap will reflect the sun and keep the bark at a more constant temperature. Put the wrap on in the fall and remove it in the spring after the last frost. Newly planted trees should be wrapped for at least two winters and thin-barked species up to five winters or more. * more information on sun scald from

Snowy Facts & Figures. The earliest inch of snow for the Twin Cities is November 18th. Last year was the 4th snowiest winter on record. (86.6" fell at MSP).
Average date of the first inch snowfall – November 18th
Average date of the first two inch snowfall – November 29th
Average date of the first four inch snowfall – December 20th
Average date of the first inch of snow cover – November 22nd
Average date of the last inch of snow cover – April 2nd

Potential For Wet Snow Next Monday Night? No cause for panic in the streets (yet), but the GFS model is suggesting that a period of rain Monday could mix with a little wet snow Monday night and early Tuesday, especially north/west of the Twin Cities. Too early to get more specific than that. Even if it does snow - ground temperatures are still mild after 12 days of unseasonable warmth. It would have to snow (hard), for an extended period of time, to get any kind of significant accumulation.

Thai Floods: Roads Turn To Rivers In Hard-Hit City. Fox News has the details:
"AYUTTHAYA, Thailand-- The lucky ones traverse this flood-submerged Thai city in navy boats and motorized canoes. The rest float on whatever they can find -- inner tubes, swan-shaped pedal boats, huge chunks of muddied white plastic foam. With large sections of Ayutthaya buried under a sea of one-story high water, rescue workers and volunteers are still crisscrossing town to pluck stranded residents from the ruins. Others are staying to protect what's left. One boy donned a snorkeling mask to inspect his house, its corrugated roof faintly visible below the murky brown waves. "Nobody ever thought the water would rise this high," 54-year-old Pathumwan Choichuichai told The Associated Press in this city of ancient temples just north of Bangkok, minutes after a Thai navy team snatched her family from an apartment building where they were stranded for five days."

In Weather Forecasting, Expect High Pressure. I thought this was an excellent article that captures the difficulty of weather prediction. Here's a brief excerpt of the Wall Street Journal article: "This year has already seen 10 weather disasters each costing more than $1 billion in damage, making it the most costly since the government started keeping records in 1980. And it has been one of the toughest years in memory for meteorologists. The technology used for forecasting has improved, and forecasts are more accurate compared with the past. But the job of the meteorologist is still both an art and a science....Improved data gathering, computer modeling and scientific analysis have made seven-day forecasts of broad weather patterns as accurate as five-day forecasts were 20 to 25 years ago, and five-day forecasts as accurate as three-day forecasts were then, says David B. Parsons, director of the school of meteorology at the University of Oklahoma in Norman."

Good Calls, Bad Calls: a Recent History

Some recent meteorological high points and low points, based on input from weather experts: 

  • Hurricanes Irene (2011) and Isabel (2003): Thanks to computer modeling and on-target analysis, government advisories days in advance predicted the storms' likely courses with unusual accuracy.
  • Super outbreak (2011): In April, residents in the Southeast were alerted several days before hundreds of tornados devastated parts of Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and other states.
  • Snowmageddon (2010): Forecasters started raising warning flags nearly a week before record snowfall hit Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Washington, D.C., enabling officials to order emergency preparations and retailers to stock up with storm merchandise.

Transition Day. The arrival of cooler air set off the first half inch of rain for the Twin Cities since August 14. Rainfall amounts ranged from a trace at Rochester to .31" at St. Cloud to .51" in the Twin Cities and .60" at Duluth.

Timely Gardening Tips

It's way too dry out there, and I suspect the drought will get worse before conditions improve. Tricia Frostad is a friend and Master Gardener who lives in Chanhassen. What should people be doing right now? "Woody shrubs and newly planted trees still need to be irrigated, to prevent damage over the winter. Water perennials to prepare for their winter shut-down, and soak evergreens now to help ward off winter burn," she told me. It sounds like you can't water enough right now. "We need to continue watering until the ground freezes." A sign of hope: now is the time to plant tulips and other spring bulbs. It's also a good time to apply fertilizer on your lawn. More great advice from Tricia at my Star Tribune weather blog, including ways to protect your trees from "sun scald".

Yesterday brought the first significant soaking since mid August - a step in the right direction, but a quarter of the state is in a moderate drought. Skies clear today, highs in the 60s. The weekend looks dry, with highs near 60, close to average for mid October.

Next week there will be NO doubt in your mind that it's October. Next Tuesday a little wet snow could mix in with the rain up north. Here we go!

Laying the Blame For Extreme Weather. Here's a timely story from "Floods, tornadoes, droughts and wildfires: They are all weather-related, but blaming the latest meteorological disaster on climate change has always been a tricky matter that climate scientists have been shy to do. After all, how can you point to a specific and local event, such as a tornado or dry spell, and say it is caused by something as long-term and huge as global warming? .... "All of the storms are being formed in an environment that is warmer and wetter than before," said Trenberth. "The main thing that has happened with climate change is that you have changed the environment." Specifically, the waters are about one degree Fahrenheit warmer than pre-1970 values, leading to air that's four percent wetter. All that additional moisture and heat in the air feeds storms. "That's the climate change kicker. It's the extra nudge that indeed makes you break records." Another way of looking at it is in terms of the odds of extreme weather events. Extreme weather is always possible, after all. But with warmer oceans, such events are easier to create. "We're loading the dice in favor of extreme weather events," said Trenberth."

Climate Change Could Shrink Chocolate Production: Report. The L.A. Times has the story: "Scientists say climate change will eventually claim many victims -– including, according to a new report, chocolate. As temperatures increase and weather trends change, the main growing regions for cocoa could shrink drastically, according to new research from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture. Ghana and the Ivory Coast –- which produce more than half of the global cocoa supply –- could take a major hit by 2050. Currently, the optimal locations to grow the crop are about 330 feet to 820 feet above sea level, with temperatures of about 72 degrees Fahrenheit to 77 degrees. That range will soar to 1,500 feet to 1,640 feet in four decades to compensate for hotter weather. Cocoa production, which reached about $9 billion from 2008 to 2009 and accounts for 7.5% of the Ivory Coast’s gross domestic product and 3.4% of Ghana’s, could be in for a heavy slide."

Engineering The Climate Is Last And Scariest Option, Says U.S. Scientist. Here's an excerpt from a story at the U.K. Guardian newspaper: "Jane C. S. Long, associate director-at-large of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, is convinced that the only sensible way to combat climate change is to work toward "a zero-emission energy system as fast as possible." But as chairwoman of the Bipartisan Policy Center's 18-member task force on geoengineering, the hydrologist and energy expert realized two fundamental things: that the world has still not come to its senses on global warming, and that science would be remiss if it didn't consider the possibility that CO2 emissions will continue to soar for decades. This scenario lies at the heart of a report issued last week by the task force, composed of noted experts in climate science, social science, and foreign policy. It called for a comprehensive study of geoengineering options — including removing CO2 from the atmosphere and reflecting solar energy back into space — in case the Earth's climate crosses certain tipping points, such as a mass release of methane from the Arctic that would drastically warm the planet." (photo above courtesy of NASA).

There's Something Happening Here. A New York Times Op-Ed from Tom Friedman: "When you see spontaneous social protests erupting from Tunisia to Tel Aviv to Wall Street, it’s clear that something is happening globally that needs defining. There are two unified theories out there that intrigue me. One says this is the start of “The Great Disruption.” The other says that this is all part of “The Big Shift.” You decide. Paul Gilding, the Australian environmentalist and author of the book “The Great Disruption,” argues that these demonstrations are a sign that the current growth-obsessed capitalist system is reaching its financial and ecological limits. “I look at the world as an integrated system, so I don’t see these protests, or the debt crisis, or inequality, or the economy, or the climate going weird, in isolation — I see our system in the painful process of breaking down,” which is what he means by the Great Disruption, said Gilding. " (photo above courtesy of The Guardian).

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