Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Very Bad Hair Day (winds gust to 40 mph - weekend frost and flakes?)

78 F. high in the Twin Cities Wednesday.
64 F. average high for October 3.
83 F. high on October 3, 2011.

Winter Storm Warning in effect for the Red River Valley, for 6-10" of heavy wet snow by Friday.
First flurries of the winter season possible in the metro area by Saturday.
Frost possible Saturday, a frost/freeze is even more likely Sunday morning for even the close-in suburbs.

Indian Summer. 60s & 70s return to much of Minnesota from late next week thru October 18.

First Metro Flakes on Saturday? Models consistently bring a pool of unusually cold air over MSP Saturday, an "upper level disturbance" capable of a few light showers of rain and wet snow, even in the metro. Accumulation? Doubtful, but not impossible, depending on the timing. Last year the first flurries reached the metro November 9. I have a hunch it may be more than a month earlier than that this time around. Graph: Iowa State.

Answer Key. WSI (Weather Services International) runs a high-resolution (RPM) model that tends to do a very good job during most snow situations. Much of northern Minnesota is forecast to pick up at least 1-2" of snow, with a 100 mile wide swath of 6-12" from near Thief River Falls northward to Roseau.

Dueling Models. The NAM model (upper left) prints out more snow than the GFS (upper right), but there's little doubt that 5-10" of heavy, wet snow will fall on northwestern Minnesota by midday Friday. A light coating to 1" is possible for Fargo/Moorhead, a few inches at Bemidji and International Falls, with the greatest potential for heavy snow from Thief River Falls to Hallock and Roseau.

Winter Storm Warning. A warning means potentially dangerous, wintry weather is imminent - it usually means 6" or more of snow is a fairly good bet. Details on the Winter Storm Warning:



First Stab Of Winter. Fresh surges of bitter air often spin up strong storms; the greater the contrast in temperature the stronger the winds and potential for intensification. A vigorous storm blows up over the Red River Valley, the heaviest snow bands setting up just north/west of the storm track, dumping some 5-10"+ amounts on much of the Red River Valley. Showers and T-storms stalk Florida, while the western USA remains dry and seasonably warm. NAM model data courtesy of NOAA.

Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon Outlook: No concerns about heat exhaustion this year. Just be glad you're not running Saturday, the colder, windier, more November-like day of the weekend. Expect a morning frost/freeze with wake-up temperatures around 28-31 F, but morning temperatures should rise quickly thru the 30s into the 40s under a blue sky. Winds ease up a bit, blowing from the west at 5-15 mph. All in all a kinder, gentler day than Saturday. For more details on this year's Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon click here. Good luck!

* will climate change slow marathon times? Hmm. Not this year, at least not in the Twin Cities. Mother Nature Network takes a look at this vexxing question here. More details below.

Metro Plants Are About To Freeze Their Buds Off. If you've missed out on a frost so far this autumn your luck is about to run out. Model ensembles are consistently bringing temperatures to or just below 32 Saturday and Sunday morning. My hunch is that Sunday will be the colder day of the weekend with less wind and more sun.

Extended Outlook: Lukewarm. The GFS model (which goes out 16 days with some level of accuracy) is consistently showing a warming trend from late next week thru October 18, give or take, a streak of 60s, even a few days above 70.

Karlstad Fire Contained; 7 Homes Lost. Far northwestern Minnesota will go from brushfires to shoveling snow, all the span of 48 hours. Amazing. Here's an excerpt of a comprehensive update on the recent blaze from AP and "Evacuees have returned to their homes in a small northwestern Minnesota town after fire crews contained a rapidly-spreading wildfire fueled by brisk winds. State fire marshal Bruce Roed said Wednesday the fire is 95 percent contained and has not grown since Tuesday night when about 400 people returned to their homes in the Kittson County town of Karlstad. The wildfire earlier burned about 12 square miles and destroyed six to eight homes in the Karlstad area. Authorities evacuated Karlstad's nursing home, school, assisted living center and a group home as the fire blanketed the community in thick smoke..."

A Crescendo Of Color. Fall foliage is peaking across Minnesota right now, already past-peak from near Brainerd westward to Detroit Lakes and the Fargo/Moorhead area, as well as far northwestern Minnesota. Strong winds today will bring down many leaves - we're probably a week away from peak color in the immediate Twin Cities metro. Map courtesy of the Minnesota DNR.

"...Taken together, extreme events cost our country at least $55 billion in 2011. This year has delivered another round of extreme events, from record-breaking heat waves to freak storms and devastating wildfires. Purdue economist Chris Hurt estimates the cost of the drought alone could rise to $77 billion." - from a Huffington Post story below.

"...More than 90% of books published between 1972 and 2005 that expressed skepticism about environmental issues" are not written by climate scientists but "have been linked to conservative think tanks." And what is their goal? Misinformation." - from a Doug Craig post at "Climate of Change". Details and links below.

Resilient Nadine. "Nadine" has been a tropical storm or hurricane for 21 days, and counting, making it the 5th longest-lasting storm ever observed in the Atlantic. Details from The Capital Weather Gang.

Like The Herald, Weather Channel Gets Into Name Game For Winter Storms. It turns out The Grand Forks Herald newspaper has been naming major winter storms for decades, naming them after local hockey players, politicians, etc. Here's their take on the recent announcement from TWC: "When the next big blizzard rolls around, the Herald might not be the only news organization giving it a name — The Weather Channel said Tuesday it too will join the fun. The weather news behemoth said it would be the first national organization in North America to name winter storms. “Our goal is to better communicate the threat and the timing of the significant impacts that accompany these events,” the organization said. “The fact is, a storm with a name is easier to follow, which will mean fewer surprises and more preparation..."

A Storm About Naming Storms. Marketing gimmick or something more? Hurricanes are named because it's easier to remember a name than a number (or "Alpha", "Bravo", "Charlie" etc). But blizzards? Here's a portion of a post at Digital Meteorologist that purports to explain the real reason why TWC is naming blizzards this winter: "... So, when TWC’s new winter weather expert Tom Niziol claims, “Naming winter storms will raise awareness, which will lead to more pro-active efforts to plan ahead, resulting in less impact on the public overall”, we simply have to take his word for it that it’s a good thing and hope the parallels to naming tropical storms and hurricanes – which we have been doing for decades for many of the very same reasons – hold up. But make no mistake about it: This is not only, or even primarily, about raising awareness about storms or reducing the impact on the public. 

A nuclear bomb of marketing
Sure, calling that next winter storm by a proper name will get people talking, and that will help ensure a high awareness of winter storms. Then again, is that ever a problem? No, and this is more about marketing and branding than improving weather communication with the public, and TWC tips their hand in the fourth bullet above when they mention social media..."

At The Weather Channel It's Marketing First, News Second. Maybe I'm not quite as cynical as a number of other weather enthusiasts. Any large media company needs to promote effectively. I don't think any of us should be shocked to discover that naming blizzards is less a public service than a potential home run on the marketing and visibility side. Look at all the press TWC has gotten since the announcement. Here's another perspective from "The Weather Channel, the cable network that has progressively shifted from local forecasts on “the 8’s” to a primetime line up filled with original reality series programming, took another step today toward being more marketing machine than news organization by announcing its plan to name winter storms this year. To avoid confusion with tropical storm and hurricane names, which are created by the World Meteorological Organization and then used by the National Hurricane Center (an office within the federal government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), many of the names are a bit, shall we say, “different.” Draco, Gandalf, Q and Yogi, just to name a few. Since tropical storms and hurricanes are named by the federal government, all news organizations feel an obligation to report on them using these names. This creates a common language and ensures the public understands government-issued alerts pertaining to the storms..."

TV Weathercasters Criticize Unilateral Action by The Weather Channel On Storm Naming. Uh oh. Can you say meteorological smack-down? Atmospheric rumble? The knives are coming out, as highlighted in this excerpt of an article at The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang: "A day after The Weather Channel (TWC) announced plans to name winter storms, a number of broadcast meteorologists are expressing significant concerns about the initiatve. Most don’t have a conceptual problem with the act of naming storms, but TWC’s failure to coordinate with the rest of the meteorological community on the initiative is being viewed by many as self-serving and not in the interest of coordinated weather communication. Andrew Frieden, a broadcast meteorologist in Richmond, put it bluntly: “Weather Channel to name Winter Storms! First Thought: “Who died and made them King?!” Graphic above:

* personally, I'm kind of looking forward to Yogi, the blizzard. Not sure why so many of my colleagues are getting their undies in a bunch. It's America, Land of the Free, Home of Creative Marketing and Endless Corporate Hype! I say let them name these storms and let's see how it goes. Life is too short to get agitated over storm names. Good grief...

TWC Storm Naming "Will Mislead Public". Here's an excerpt from the latest volley by arch-competitor, Accu Weather: "The Weather Channel announced Tuesday that they plan to begin naming "noteworthy" winter storms in the 2012-2013 season. The decision has led to an outpouring of comments and criticism on the web, and particularly on social media outlets. After reviewing The Weather Channel's release in its entirety and taking into account all factors, Dr. Joel N. Myers, AccuWeather Founder and President, released the following statement: "In unilaterally deciding to name winter storms, The Weather Channel has confused media spin with science and public safety. We have explored this issue for 20 years and have found that this is not good science and will mislead the public. Winter storms are very different from hurricanes...."

* Ouch. Stay tuned for the latest on Blizzard-Name-Gate.

"Ask Paul". Weather-related Q&A:


Here are 2 pics from a canoe trip I took to the BWCA last weekend.  The first is a great reflection from a small pond on the Gunflint Trail.  The other is from an overlook on the Border Route Trail looking at South Lake, Rat Lake and Rose Lake from left to right.  Such an amazing weekend with beautiful fall colors and a crisp blue sky!  

Lastly, can you give some specific forecasts for the marathon this weekend?  It's always kind of tricky deciding what to wear in that 25-40 degree range.  Thanks!

Steve Burns

Thanks Steve - it's amazing how fast the colors ramped up, just in the last 1-2 weeks. I'm hearing rave reviews from Twin Cities residents who made the trip up north to check out the colors. Check out the top of today's blog for a first look at Sunday's weather for the Twin Cities Marathon. And thanks for sharing these!

Paul -

Your column on core-suburban (Wednesday) morning puts specific numbers on something I’ve known but not had numbers for. But it raises a question that’s important to those of us who garden. Are the numbers forecast in the newspaper for the core cities or for the outer suburbs? My understanding is that NWS forecasts for the airport, which is a little cooler than south Minneapolis.
Steve Brandt

Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Hi Steve,

You bring up a very good question, one we wrestle with all the time. The forecast numbers I provide are for MSP International, where the “official” measurements are taken by the local NWS. It’s not a perfect set-up, but it’s a baseline, an attempt to have some continuity on the forecast/verification side.
The reality: MSP International is something of a compromise, consistently 1-3 F. cooler than the downtowns, a fairly good indicator of what close-in suburbs will experience with temperatures. On a clear night with light winds there can be a 10-13 F. temperature difference between (downtown) Minneapolis and St. Paul and outer suburbs, like Lakeville, Stillwater and Ham Lake to the north. The map above (MesoWest) shows Wednesday morning's observed low temperatures, ranging from 50 at MSP International to 41 Northfield, 37 Lakeville, 39 St. Cloud and 37 at Princeton, a perfect example of the urban heat island.

It gets to a core question: where are you forecasting for? Since 80% of the population lives in the Twin Cities metro there’s a strong bias to make the forecast temperatures reflect what 80% of the readership will experience, but we all know there are huge temperature variations, across the MSP metro, and across the rest of the state.

But to answer your question: for better or worse, the forecast temperature is for MSP International, since that is where the NWS takes official measurements, and where we have a strong historical baseline of observed temperatures.

Hey Paul - Just wondering if you have any idea how much its going to snow this winter? I have to let my snow plow guy know if I want to pay monthly or by each time he shows up. It's $150 unlimited monthly or $50 each time he comes. I've always done the unlimited monthly, but I took a major financial hit last winter because he only came 4 times all winter.

Is this winter looking to be like last year's pitiful winter, or more like the previous year's awesome winter, when we got the 100 inches?

Jeff Fischer

Jeff - if I could nail that question I'd be hanging out with Mitt Romney. That's the truth, and anyone who has a high level of confidence about what the winter will bring is trying to snooker you. Buyer beware. It's like trying to predict where the S&P 500 will be in February, or interest rates next March. Good luck with that. Billions of variables involved, a handful of which may prove critical.
We have a (mild) El Nino, but this warm stain of water is forming in the central Pacific, where impacts on Minnesota winters are less direct. Odds favor a wetter than average winter for the Pacific Northwest and the Southeast, but there is no strong signal for the Upper Midwest. As I've been saying (ad nauseum) for weeks, the Arctic is a huge wildcard. Record melting and a subsequent warm dome of high pressure at the top of the world may displace the main "polar vortex", the most bitter air, farther south, increasing the odds of more numbing fronts for Minnesota than last winter. Factor in the fact that winters have been trending milder in recent decades and you're left with a muddled, confused outlook.

My gut, and that's all it is, a semi-educated gut feel, is that we'll have a tougher winter than last year: more snow, and more cold. I just can't believe we'll have two easy winters, back to back. Overall I still suspect it'll wind up (a little) milder than average, but I'm fairly convinced we'll see more snow than last winter's paltry, pathetic 22", but not nearly as much as 2010-2011, when more than 86" buried the metro. If I had to guess, and that's all it is, a guess, I'd go with 40-45" of snow, and more subzero nights than last winter (when we had only 3 nights of negative numbers).
Personally, I'd go with the unlimited monthly plow option this winter, and not pay $50 a pop. I hope I'm giving you good advice. Let me know how it worked out for you next spring ok?

Some pretty sky sites in the next week or so:

Thursday night/Fri morning Oct 4/5
At 11:30 p.m., Jupiter about 7 degrees below left of Moon. Look low in east
By 5 a.m., Jupiter left of Moon, high in south

Friday night/Saturday morning Oct 5/6
At 11:30 p.m., Jupiter 5 degrees above right of Moon. Look low in east
By 5 a.m., Jupiter right of Moon, high in south

Thursday, Oct 11 5:30 to 6 a.m.
Thin crescent Moon 13 degrees above right of bright Venus, low in east

Friday, Oct 12, 5:30 to 6 a.m.
Very thin crescent Moon 5 degrees right of bright Venus, low in east
Clear skies
Parke Kunkle, Bell Museum of Natural History. Sky and Telescope has more details here.

NASA's Radiation Belt Storm Probes Record Electromagnetic "Earthsong". Here's a fascinating snippet of an article at "NASA’s twin Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) took a musical interlude and listened to the Earth singing to itself. This “Earthsong,” as NASA calls it, was recorded by the two spacecraft as they orbited inside the highly radioactive Van Allen Belts that surround the Earth. The “song” is in the form of radio waves generated by the belts and the study of it may provide a clue toward answering the question of how to protect satellites and astronauts from deadly radiation storms." Image above: NASA.

Following On-Air Editorial On Her Weight, Jennifer Livingston Appears On Network Morning Shows. I have to give this woman credit for stepping up and calling attention to this. So many of us are quick to make snap judgments and stereotypes. Here's an excerpt of a story (and accompanying video) from "Just a day after Jennifer Livingston delivered a gutsy on-air editorial responding to a viewer complaint about her weight, the WKBT anchor told her story on the three network morning shows. “This was a personal attack,” Livingston said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” (video above). “Calling me obese is one thing. Calling me a bad role model to our community that I’ve worked at for 15 years, and especially young girls when I have three girls, was a low blow. I thought it was uncalled for, and I wanted to call him out on it.” Livingston, who is the sister of actor Ron Livingston, appeared on “GMA” with her husband, WKBT evening anchor Mike Thompson, and on NBC’s “Today” and “CBS This Morning” solo."

Be Happier: 10 Things To Stop Doing Right Now. This story at caught my eye. Of course I don't do any of these, but just in case YOU do, here's an excerpt: "Happiness--in your business life and your personal life--is often a matter of subtraction, not addition.

Consider, for example, what happens when you stop doing the following 10 things:

1. Blaming.
People make mistakes. Employees don't meet your expectations. Vendors don't deliver on time.
So you blame them for your problems.

But you're also to blame. Maybe you didn't provide enough training. Maybe you didn't build in enough of a buffer. Maybe you asked too much, too soon..."

Photo credit above: Flickr Creative Commons.

So Long Summer. We'll see more warmth, of that I have no doubt. More 60s and a few more 70s are likely before the flakes begin to fly on a regular basis. Wednesday was yet another extraordinary day with blue sky giving way to increasing clouds late in the day. Highs ranged from 61 at Grand Marais to 77 at St. Cloud, 78 Twin Cities and 80 at Redwood Falls.

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

TODAY: More clouds than sun, blustery and much colder. (heavy wet snow far northwestern MN). NW 15-35, gusts over 40 mph. High: 52

THURSDAY NIGHT: Partial clearing Low: 35

FRIDAY: Partly sunny. Flurries up north. High: 47

SATURDAY: Heavy jackets. Frosty start - clouds increase, PM sprinkle or flurry? Low: 31. High: 44

SUNDAY: Brisk Twin Cities Marathon. Sunny & cool with less wind. Low: 29. High: near 50

MONDAY: Sunny, milder. Indian Summer returns! Low: 39. High: 62

TUESDAY: Early shower possible, then clearing. Low: 40. High: 58

WEDNESDAY: Blue sky, classic fall weather. Low: 33. High: 56

Rolling Dice

Jeff Fischer writes: "Hey Paul - Just wondering if you have any idea how much its going to snow this winter? I have to let my snow plow guy know if I want to pay monthly or by each time he shows up?" Hmm. Jeff, if I had a definitive, scientifically-sound answer to that (excellent) question I'd be hanging out with Mitt Romney.

Here is what I suspect: we probably won't have 2 easy winters, back to back. It won't be as Memphis-like as last winter (22 inches), but not as severe as 2010-2011, when 86 inches swamped the metro. El Nino probably won't save us, and in spite of a trend toward milder winters since the 90s - record Arctic melting may displace the polar vortex farther south.

The drought is flavoring all weather now, and I don't see any sudden shift in that department. Bottom line: I think we'll be colder than last winter, but still milder than average, overall. I'm thinking 40-45 inches of snow for MSP (give or take 30 inches). I'd sign up for the monthly plan.

Brushfires give way to 5-10" snow for northwest MN today. A few flurries may drift into the metro Saturday. A weekend freeze gives way to 60s & 70s by mid-October.


Sunday Marathon weather updates on the blog.

Climate Stories....

Is Climate Change The Sleeper Issue Of 2012? It turns out not just Democrats are interested in this topic, but a significant number of moderates and independents. Here's an excerpt of a very interesting article at Mother Jones: "...Recent polling data make clear, however, that extreme weather is leaving Americans increasingly worried about climate change. A mid July survey from the University of Texas at Austin, for instance, found that 70 percent of the public thought climate change was happening, an increase from 65 percent in March. What's more, a series of public opinion reports and analyses—some based on data collected prior to the record heat waves of the summer, which suggests the public is even more alarmed now than when those surveys reached them—have indicated that global warming is a potential political winner, rather than an electoral albatross..."

Will Climate Change Slow Marathon Times? Say what? That was my first reaction, but after reading this article at Mother Nature Network I see what they're driving at; here's an excerpt: "Climate change is blamed for melting ice, shrinking animals and brewing more intense storms around the globe — but is it slowing the top finish times at the Boston Marathon? Not yet, researchers found, though future increases in temperature could mean fewer records are broken. Runners typically dread hot race days. Warmer temperatures tend to drag on finish times, studies have shown, and the slower you run, the more minutes you're likely to pile on during a boiling hot day. This year saw one of the hottest marathons in Boston, with temperatures on April 16, 2012, soaring into the 80s — about 20 degrees Fahrenheit (11 degrees Celsius) higher than the normal high. Though that race day was unseasonably warm, temperatures in Boston have been rising at a relatively high rate over the past century..."

Earth's Carbon Sink Downsized. "But extra CO2 is GOOD for plant life - think how big the plants will get!" I hear that a fair amount, but latest research from the good 'ol University of Minnesota suggests otherwise. Here's an excerpt from Nature: "... Some scientists have argued that the increase might even be good for plants, which would presumably grow faster and mop up even more CO2. Climate models estimate that the world’s oceans have absorbed about 30% of the CO2 that humans have released in the past 150 years and that land plants have gulped another 30%. But the latest study, by ecologists Peter Reich and Sarah Hobbie at the University of Minnesota in St Paul, suggests that estimates of how much CO2 and plants can use are far too optimistic. Plants also need soil nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, to grow. But few studies have tested whether soils contain enough of these nutrients to fuel growth in proportion to rising CO2."

Disaster Planning And Climate Change. Here's a clip from a story at Huffington Post that's worth a read: "Fall may have arrived, but it hasn't brought an end to the great drought of 2012. My home state of Nebraska has been hit hard, with nearly 98 percent of the state still experiencing extreme or exceptional drought. Friends and family have told me that cities have restricted water use, farmers have plowed their crops under, and ranchers have thinned their herds. Tens of thousands of acres have caught fire across the state, and fire departments have had to ask for emergency increases in property taxes to cover the cost of fighting the flames. Residents of the Great Plains are no strangers to erratic weather, but this year has been hotter and drier than any in recent memory. We could chalk it up to a one-time anomaly, except climate change is loading the dice and making these arid conditions more and more likely. Scientists say climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events like drought, heat waves, downpours, and intense storms." Image: EPA.

"The Greatest Moral Issue Of Our Times". Here's a snippet from a story at, focused on a group of professors at Western Michigan University and their efforts to get the word out: "...Climate change “is causing millions of innocent deaths, destroying livelihoods and threatening major changes to the world that future generations will inherit,” reads a university release. The professors will also speak about the effects such as the risk of widespread extinctions, loss of land due to sea level rise and forced population movements."

Misinformed On Climate Change. Here's an excerpt of another excellent post from Doug Craig in his "Climate of Change" series at "...And there is a name for this "process of willful manufacture of mistaken beliefs." It is called "agnogenesis." Most of us know that back in 2006, "a U.S. federal court ruled that major domestic cigarette manufacturers were guilty of conspiring to deny, distort, and minimize the hazards of cigarette smoking." What most Americans may not know is that "starting in the early 1990s, the American Petroleum Institute, the Western Fuels Association (a coal-fired electrical industry consortium), and The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC; a group sponsored by Philip Morris) drafted and promoted campaigns to cast doubt on the science of climate change."  Their goal was vast dissemination of misinformation and as anyone who has ever read the posts following any of my blogs, they have had over two decades of outstanding success..."

Is Business Our Last Great Hope On Climate Change? Here's an excerpt from a thoughtful post at "As I sit here writing this article, it has started raining again here in London. No surprises there, you might think. But even by soggy British standards, this summer has been extreme — the wettest for a century, meteorologists say. Communities in the north of England are under several feet of water, for the second time in less than three years. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, North America was until recently sweltering in a lengthy heat wave that has resulted in an estimated 82 deaths, while scientists report that the extent of polar ice melt this year has broken all records. With mounting signs of a changing climate such as these, anyone trying to identify which issue should be at the heart of a company’s sustainability strategy -- and looking for clues as to where citizen and consumer expectations are headed -- might have expected public concern to be on the rise. But this does not appear to be the case..."

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