Thursday, December 15, 2011

Welcome To A Kansas City December (slight chance of snow Christmas Eve)

37 F. high in the Twin Cities Thursday with a trace of snow flurries. Temperatures fell through the 20s during the afternoon hours.

+2.7 F. December temperatures are running close to 3 degrees above average, to date.

7 of the first 14 days of December saw daytime highs above freezing in the metro area.

0 nights below zero so far this winter season.

91 straight hours above freezing in the Twin Cities ended at 4 am Thursday morning (tweet from Ken Barlow over at KSTP-TV).

"Not Giving Up On A White Christmas." Santa's still on his way, with or without snow on your roof next Saturday night. There's still a (slight) chance of snow for Christmas, at least according to the GFS model, which prints out .33" of liquid precipitation on Christmas Eve. Temperatures aloft should be cold enough for all snow - if (and it's a big if) this forecast verifies, it could mean 2-4" of snow. It's still 8 days away - confidence level is low, but we still have a shot...

Snow Drought. The drought that began in September and October shows no sign of quitting anytime soon. I can't remember a mid December snowfall map so devoid of snow. Some 4-8" amounts are being reported over the Boundary Waters. Otherwise there's virtually no snow anywhere - statewide. Snowcover map courtesy of the MN DNR.

* Important reminder: it's been cold enough for local ski resorts to make snow. Skiing/snowboarding is much better than you might think. Check out the latest ski conditions here. All the resorts (below) are in the system, URL brought to you by Technical Intelligence. Pretty nifty site.

No Significant Snow Through Tuesday. The latest GFS model run prints out a snowy stripe from near Wichita to Des Moines and Waterloo next Monday night - Tuesday, the next storm passing too far south/east to impact Minnesota with accumulating snow.

December: One Wild & Crazy Month. Last December we picked up 33.6" snow in the Twin Cities. Back in 2004 only 1.8" snow fell the entire month of December. It seems like it's either all or nothing. Either we're in a snowy groove, with a track just south/east of MSP, or a split/zonal flow keeps moisture-laden storms well south of Minnesota. It's too early to panic about the Winter of 2011-2012, but I still don't see extreme cold or significant snow/ice through the end of 2011.

An "Easy December". Will we pay for this in January? Probably. No sense worrying about it - but we can enjoy this current (storm-free) stretch of weather. I realize it's great news for commuters and travelers; we're all saving significant money heating our homes and businesses. But tens of thousands of Minnesotans make their living with winter-related recreation, tourism, snow removal, etc - and these folks are hurting. They are NOT happy about a dire lack of snow. The latest computer mode run shows a possible temperature spike. The National Weather Service is forecasting a possibility of low 40s by Sunday afternoon, which would be 15+ degrees above average.

Where's Winter? Patience. We may be looking at a major shift in the pattern, roughly 2 weeks from now, right after New Year's, according to Larry Cosgrove, a Houston meteorologist who specializes in long-range forecasting. He directed me to the NCEP graphic above, which shows a dramatic warming trend in the stratosphere, the upper atmosphere, roughly 240 hours out - 10 days from now, shortly after Christmas. Rapid warming of the stratosphere is often accompanied by bitter air at the surface. The first true, authentic cold waves of the winter season may be brewing for the first couple weeks of January. Larry's thoughts:

"....a stratospheric warming event starts in the high latitudes around December 22. All the models concur on this point, and if it verifies (it) would gradually translate to a strong Alaska/Yukon/NWT block with an Arctic vortex in Michigan/Ontario/Western New York State. We should see some digging of cold air into the U.S. during the last week of December. 

My call for December was mainly mild, but we should have a very cold and dry January if the cAK motherlode sets up in the eastern Great Lakes. The ensembles are already giving a colder tinge late in the 6-10 and through the 11-15 day periods." - Chief Meteorologist Larry Cosgrove, WXAMERICA.

One Place With Plenty of Snow. Check out this photo from Ironwood, up on the U.P. of Michigan, enjoying plenty of lake effect snow sweeping in from Lake Superior. Photo courtesy of  Geneva Cummons. Thank you for reminding us what snow looks like!

"Every day at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Central Standard Time, 800 weather balloons are launched from weather stations in more than 60 countries, including Russia, Pakistan and South Korea, to determine weather patterns for the planet. Each balloon carries a white box the size of a Chinese takeout container outfitted with sensors that measure pressure, temperature, and humidity as its position is transmitted back using GPS. Wind speed and direction are calculated from changes in location over time." - from a remarkable article in the Kansas City Star, tracing the genesis of last May's Joplin, Missouri tornado.

"The death toll from the storms was about the same as the number of fatalities from U.S. tornadoes in the prior 10 years combined, the report showed." - from a Bloomberg Businessweek article about 2011 weather extremes.

1 in 100 thunderstorms will ever go on to spin up a tornado. Less than one-tenth of 1% of all tornadoes are EF-5 in strength.

Up until 1952 meteorologists were forbidden to use the word "tornado", for fear of inciting public panic. Here is the story of the first operational (and ultimately successful) tornado forecast in the USA, on March 20, 1948, courtesy of NSSL.

130 PM PST THU DEC 15 2011

130 PM PST THU DEC 15 2011



Cold Air Funnels For Southern California. An unstable airmass (cold aloft, relatively mild near the ground) created ripe conditions for cold air funnels outside L.A. Thursday. These funnel clouds rarely touch down, and on the rare occasions when they do damage is usually minimal. Even so - funnels in L.A.?

Experimental Rainfall Display. The NWS is teaming up with Google maps to plot rain (and snow). Check out some of the rainfall amounts from eastern Iowa into the Chicagoland area since December 13, more than 3" for Kankakee, just south of Chicago.

Atlantic Hurricane Predicted Delayed Until Spring. Why the delay? Because accuracy for a forecast this far out is (consistently) poor. More details from USA Today: "FORT COLLINS, Colorado (AP) – A hurricane forecast team says it will wait until spring to predict how many storms will form in the Atlantic because it hasn't found a good model to predict storms this early. Researchers at Colorado State University usually start making predictions in December. For the first time in 20 years, they're waiting to forecast the number of named storms, including hurricanes."

Insurers Rattled By U.S. Storms In 2011: Beyond Tornado Alley. Bloomberg Businessweek has the story; here's an excerpt: "Insurers are being forced to re- think their models after tornadoes killed more than 550 people in the U.S. this year, data provider CoreLogic Inc. said. More than 1,550 confirmed tornadoes had been reported in the U.S. as of Dec. 1, making it the third-most-active season since 1980, according to a report today from Santa Ana, California-based CoreLogic. The death toll from the storms was about the same as the number of fatalities from U.S. tornadoes in the prior 10 years combined, the report showed. “In the past, companies were confident they had an accurate underwriting knowledge of the areas, such as ‘tornado alley,’ that resulted in the greatest claims,” CoreLogic said in the report. “During the past few years, however, property, casualty and commercial insurers have begun to realize they need to carefully re-evaluate this perception.”

One Disastrous Year. Some interesting statistics from Insurance Networking News: "The report notes that 2011 was the most expensive and the deadliest hurricane season for the United States since 2008. The vast majority of this was caused by Hurricane Irene which battered the northeastern United States in August and caused extensive flood damage in areas of New York, New Jersey and Vermont. “Though only three named Atlantic storms made landfall, they caused at least a combined $8 billion in damage, primarily from flooding,” the report states. “Comparing flood damage over the past several years with the flood damage from Hurricane Irene, the flood loss from this single hurricane ranks as the second most expensive in this region.”

"The Fish Won't Have A Prayer" - The Smartphone Controlled Aquabotix Hydroview Underwater Vehicle. If you have a spare $2,995 burning a hole in your pocket you can be the only person on your lake getting a real-time look at what's happening underwater.. Details from "Smartphones can already be used to remotely control a variety of vehicles, including flying toy helicopters and airplanes, or even starting your car. Now remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) can be added to the list with New England-based company Aquabotix rolling out its Hydroview vehicle. Equipped with LED lights and a HD video camera, the vehicle transmits a live video feed to an iOS- or Android-based smartphone, tablet, or a laptop and can be remotely operated by tilting the phone or tablet or via the laptop's touchpad."

Last Minute (Funny) Stocking Stuffers. Looking for a funny t-shirt, prints, poster or apps for Christmas? Check out

Ice Safety. With the unusually mild December underway be VERY careful on area lakes. You need 3-4" of (firm) ice to safely walk or ice fish, 5" for snowmobiling, 8-12" to take your vehicle onto the lake. More from the Minnesota DNR:

1). Many ice drownings involve children. When your child is near the ice, you should be near your child.
2). Avoid alcoholic beverages when you’re on the ice. They can make you feel colder and slow down your reaction time in case of an ice emergency.
3). Carry two large nails to use as ice picks to pull yourself out if you fall through thin ice.
4). Never drive on the ice at night.
5). Avoid pressure ridges, and areas with current if you do choose to drive on the ice.
6). Drive with your windows down and doors partially open to avoid becoming trapped if your car breaks through.

Cooling Down. Breaking news: nearly 1" of snow engulfed/swamped/invaded International Falls Thursday - a whopping 3" on the ground. Highs were mostly in the 30s during the wee hours of the morning, falling through the 20s by afternoon as north winds gusted over 30 mph. By evening it definitely felt like mid December again.

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

TODAY: Patchy clouds, few flakes possible - feels like mid December again. Winds: SW 3-8. High: 28

FRIDAY NIGHT: Partly cloudy. Low: 17

SATURDAY: Partly sunny, a bit milder. High: 31

SUNDAY: Mild sun, feels like mid November. Low: 21. High: near 40

MONDAY: Slightly cooler, still storm-free. Low: 23. High: 30

TUESDAY: Storm tracks well south/east of Minnesota. Some sun. Low: 18. High: 31

WEDNESDAY: Sunny and milder. Low: 22. High: 35

THURSDAY: Cooler breeze. Good travel weather. Low: 24. High: 31

A Touch Of Winter

Everywhere I go people are glaring at me (more than usual). "Where's the snow, Paul? I want to go snowmobiling - how far do I have to drive?" Pack a lunch and head for the U.P. of Michigan. Really. "When can we play pond hockey - when will ice be safe enough?" Temperatures run 5-10 degrees above average through Christmas, daytime highs above freezing much of next week. Be VERY careful on the ice until we get a couple weeks of sustained, bitter air - which may not happen until January. I still don't see any arctic air for Minnesota - in fact long-range guidance (GFS) is hinting at 40 on New Year's Day. That's 40 above.

I realize it's disorienting, all this brown. It feels like December in Tulsa. A few silver linings: based on heating degree data we've saved 18% heating our homes and businesses since September. Cities are saving millions on snow removal.

Last winter may have been a fluke, an aberration. The trend is toward shrinking winters, warmer nights, fewer subzero smacks, and fickle, unreliable snowfall.

Stray flakes today give way to weekend warming; 40 possible by Sunday. No big storms looking out 2 weeks. Yes, it's a bit surreal, and more than a little unsettling.

"Climate change is likely to be the predominant scientific, economic, political and moral issue of the 21st century. The fate of humanity and nature may depend upon early recognition and understanding of humanmade effects on Earth’s climate."- recent report from Makiko Sato and James Hansen

Senator Franken's Colloquy with Senator Whitehouse On Climate Change. Climate Science Watch has a YouTube video of the presentation made by both senators on the floor of Congress on Wednesday: "On December 14 Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) took to the Senate floor and the C-Span airwaves to talk about climate change, the scientific evidence for anthropogenic global warming, the problem of the global warming disinformation campaign, and the need for strong US action. These days we too rarely see progressive, pro-science members of Congress speak up to counter the denialist noise machine of Sen. Inhofe and his ilk."

a pdf transcript of their presentation from the Congressional Record is here.

Hacked Climate E-Mails: Police Seize Computers At West Yorkshire Home. The very latest from The Guardian: "Police officers investigating the theft of thousands of private emails between climate scientists from a University of East Anglia server in 2009 have seized computer equipment belonging to a web content editor based at the University of Leeds. On Wednesday, detectives from Norfolk Constabulary entered the home of Roger Tattersall, who writes a climate sceptic blog under the pseudonym TallBloke, and took away two laptops and a broadband router. A police spokeswoman confirmed on Thursday that Norfolk Constabulary had "executed a search warrant in West Yorkshire and seized computers". She added: "No one was arrested. Investigations into the [UEA] data breach and publication [online of emails] continues. This is one line of enquiry in a Norfolk constabulary investigation which started in 2009."

NASA: Warming Will Transform Natural World. The story from the Orange County Register: "Global warming could bring a major transformation for Earth's plants and animals over the next century, a NASA study says, driving nearly half the planet's forests, grasslands and other vegetation toward conversion into radically different types of ecosystems. The ecological stress could give a boost to invasive species, but at the expense of natives, reducing the diversity of plants and animals overall. And humans are likely, almost literally, to cut them off at the pass: When plants and animals attempt to survive by shifting their geographical ranges, as they have in past episodes of climate change, they'll be blocked by farms and cities."

How Will Climate Change Affect Rainfall? The Guardian has the story: "Changes in rainfall and other forms of precipitation will be one of the most critical factors determining the overall impact of climate change. Rainfall is much more difficult to predict than temperature but there are some statements that scientists can make with confidence about the future. A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, and globally water vapour increases by 7% for every degree centigrade of warming. How this will translate into changes in global precipitation is less clear cut but the total volume of precipitation is likely to increase by 1-2% per degree of warming."

Climate Change Voice Of Reason Is Gone. An Op-Ed from the Toledo Blade: "People don't just want to know how climate change affects polar bears. They want to know what's at stake for them. Starting in the early 1990s, Dr. Epstein linked climate change to the probable rise of West Nile virus, encephalitis, and other infectious diseases, to more ragweed, more noxious algae in western Lake Erie, and higher incidences of asthma and other smog-triggered respiratory ailments. He showed how coal-fired power plants put particles in the air that carry pollen and other allergens deep into the lungs, possibly explaining the worldwide asthma epidemic since 1980."

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