Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Heavy Snow Stays 100-300 Miles South (worst Minnesota drought since 1988 shaping up?)

27 F. high on Tuesday in the Twin Cities.
26 F. average high on December 18.
47 F. high on December 18, 2011.

1" snow on the ground (at MSP International Airport).

14" snow on the ground on December 19, 2010 in the metro area.

As Dry as '88?

It's counterinuitive: there's snow on the ground. It rained Saturday. How can we still be in a severe/extreme drought? The ground is frozen - most of the water in any subsequent snow will run off before soaking into topsoil.

Nationwide, it's being called the worst drought since 1956. According to State Climatologist Greg Spoden our current Minnesota drought is the worst in 6 years, statewide. Monday he sent me an e-mail that made me sit up a little straighter:

"Without abundant 2013 spring rains, the intensity and spatial extent of Minnesota's drought will become similar to, or surpass, the drought conditions of the late 1980s."

1988 brought record heat and drought to Minnesota and much of America.

With any luck we'll see heavy snow (and rain) in late winter and spring, and conditions will improve. That's my hope, not a prediction.

Iowa and southern Wisconsin will pick up 4-8 inches by Thursday; no new snow here at home into Christmas Eve. The maps are look more interesting for the middle of next week. A massive storm spins up, and we may see a few inches of fresh powder on Christmas Day.

It's too early to speculate about amounts - but one thing is apparent: the first shot of numbing subzero air arrives by New Year's Day.

Great timing!

Image above: USGS

Southerly Detour. WSI's 12 km. RPM model prints out some 5-10" amounts from Nebraska and Iowa into the southern half of Wisconsin and parts of Michigan - the best chance of a foot of snow east of Waterloo, Iowa.

Close Call. The 12z Tuesday run of the ECMWF (European) model shows a storm west of Peoria Thursday morning, the heaviest snow bands from eastern Iowa into southern and central Wisconsin. Some accumulating snow may brush far southeastern Minnesota, a few hours of light snow possible in the Twin Cities. If you're driving east on I-94 or south on I-35 conditions will become worse the farther south/east you go Wednesday night into Thursday. Map above: WSI.

Christmas Day. The ECMWF (WSI) shows a significant storm winding up near Chicago by midday next Tuesday; strong to severe thunderstorms over the southeast (wouldn't be surprised to see a few large tornadoes south of Atlanta), with moisture wrapping into the cold air, steady snow pushing into southern and central Minnesota. A few inches on Christmas Day? Too early to say - but I wouldn't be surprised.

Subzero Chill on New Year's Day? The latest GFS run doesn't look quite as cold, but there's little doubt we'll be shivering through the first couple of days of 2013. Models print out a couple inches of snow from December 27-28.

Drought Update. Here is an excerpt of an e-mail I received from Minnesota State Climatologist Greg Spoden on Monday: "Regarding our present drought in historical context...the last time that this much of Minnesota's landscape was categorized as undergoing Extreme Drought was during the autumn of 2006 through early spring 2007. In that interval, roughly 40 percent of the state was in the Extreme Drought category. That drought impacted northern Minnesota. The Twin Cities, and most of the state's primary agricultural regions, were very dry during the fall and winter, but not to the same extent as Minnesota's forested areas."

"Without abundant 2013 spring rains, the intensity and spatial extent of Minnesota's drought will become similar to, or surpass, the drought conditions of the late 1980s."

* more on the Drought of 1988 from Wikipedia: "The Drought of 1988 became the worst drought since the Dust Bowl 50 years before in the United States; 2008 estimates put damages from the drought somewhere between $80 billion and almost $120 billion in damage (2008 USD). The state of Minnesota alone saw approximately 1.2 billion dollars in crop losses. The Drought of 1988 was so devastating that in later years it was compared against Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and against Hurricane Katrina,[4][5] being the costliest of the three events. The Drought of 1988 qualifies being the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States. In Canada, drought-related losses added up to about 1.8 billion [1988] dollars."

Warning About Storm Surges Are Essential: Editorial. Here is part of an Op-Ed at nola.com in New Orleans: "...Three years after it dropped surge from the numerical categories used for hurricanes, the National Hurricane Center is inching closer to a separate warning for floodwaters as part of a storm system. It is urgently needed. Center officials say that the full warning system won't be ready until 2015, but they should look for any way possible to speed up that time line. In the meantime, a color-coded map that indicates how much water is expected in different areas along the coast needs to be ready for use during the 2013 hurricane season. But Hurricane Center officials are not committing to that. They say the map may be ready next year or in 2014. Another hurricane season is really too long for vulnerable communities to wait. The maps ought to be available for the 2013 season, and Congress should give the Hurricane Center the resources to make that possible..."

Photo credit above: "A New York Police Department van drives along a street soaked with rain and covered with debris in a Rockaway neighborhood of the borough of Queens as a nor'easter aggravates already bad conditions in the wake of Superstorm Sandy." (Photo by AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

A Surreal Sight. A rainbow formed over the Jet Star roller coaster, or what's left of it, on Tuesday in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. The area was hit very hard by Sandy in late October. Photo from Casino Pier's Facebook page.

Severe Weather And The Grid. All I want for Christmas is an electrical generator. America's power grid is increasingly vulnerable to a new generation of super-sized storms, hurricanes, tornadoes and derechos, as described in this article from IEEE Spectrum: "Uncannily, in a report on "Extreme Weather and Grid Disruptions" that was issued in May and updated on Aug. 30, Evan Mills of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory cited risk manager estimates that a severe Northeast U.S hurricane could result in total costs of $76.4 billion, uninsured costs of $45.1 billion, and 85 fatalities. Those projections are right in line with current estimates of the total costs and fatalities from the perfect storm dubbed "frankenstorm," the combined hurricane and Nor'easter that devastated cities and communities in the U.S.Northeast at the end of October. According to ten-year-old estimates from the Electric Power Research Institute, displayed by Evans in his report, annual costs to the U.S. power grid from severe weather average $104-164 billion..."

These Freak Waves Can Attack Anytime Without Warning. Just when I was about ready to head back into the water, along comes this story from Business Insider - here's the introduction: "A freak wave killed seven people in Chicago on a sunny day on the shore of Lake Michigan nearly 60 years ago. At the time, no one knew what set off the monster wave. Researchers now know the wave was a pressure-driven tsunami, stirred up by storms passing earlier in the day, said Chin Wu, an engineering professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, at last week's annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union. Called meteotsunamis, the weather-related waves strike frequently in the Great Lakes and along the U.S. coastline. The 10-foot-high (3 meter) wall of water that hit Chicago was one of two recorded in Lake Michigan in June 1954..."

Deadly Caribbean Tsunami Overlooked. Now I really don't want to go in the water. Remind me to stick to Minnesota's cool (quiet) lakes. Yahoo News has the story; here's a clip: " Deadly tsunamis threaten Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the rest of the Caribbean and are an overlooked hazard in the region, geologists reported at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union here last week. The Caribbean's beautiful tropical islands and coral reefs are strung along the junction of several major and minor tectonic plates. Many sit above a subduction zone, where two plates meet and one slides protestingly under the other, down into Earth's mantle. Other islands, like Haiti, straddle strike-slip faults, where plates slide side by side. The last decade's devastating earthquakes in Haiti and Sumatra have brought increased attention to the Caribbean, and scientists at the meeting compared the setting to that of Sumatra, Indonesia, both for its complexity and the risk of tsunamis and giant earthquakes..."

Graphic credit above: "Tsunami source locations in the Caribbean Sea. The symbols indicate the cause of the tsunami: Brown Square is a landslide, Red Triangle is a volcanic eruption, Question Mark is an unknown cause, and White Circle is an earthquake."
New U.S. Commission Would Try To Improve Weather Forecasting. Are we losing our meteorological sensing/prediction edge to the Europeans? There's a fair amount of angst and paranoia lurking out there. Scientific American has a blog post focused on steps being taken to help the USA maintain it's weather-edge; here's an excerpt: "Despite the ever-present caveat that predicting the weather is a difficult and inexact science, it seems that forecasts have been getting better and better. Yet some leaders in meteorology say continued improvement is not guaranteed and could even be jeopardized by federal spending cuts. They want Congress to fund a high-level, national commission that would ensure that ongoing research is pursued to protect the nation against weather threats. As recent storms have demonstrated, individuals, towns, industries such as agriculture and the U.S. economy itself are always vulnerable to bad weather, from hurricanes to droughts. Advanced technologies have made forecasting more accurate and have provided earlier warnings of impending storms, yet room for enhancement still exists..."

New (Higher Resolution) Satellites Show Earth At Night. Satnews.com has a fascinating, visual story; here's an excerpt: "A series of new views of the Earth at Night. It was not the first time such maps have been created, but the difference between the old view and the new is as clear as the difference between the two images above. On November 12, 2012, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite captured the top image of city, village, and highway lights near Delhi, India. For comparison, the lower image shows the same area one night earlier, as observed by the Operational Line Scan (OLS) system on a Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) spacecraft. Since the 1960s, the U.S. Air Force has operated DMSP satellites in order to observe clouds and other weather variables in key wavelengths of infrared and visible light. Since 1972, the DMSP satellites have included the OLS, which gives weather forecasters some ability to see in the dark. It has been a highly successful sensor, but it is dependent on older technology with lower resolution than most scientists would like. For many years, DMSP data were classified..."

Image credit above: "NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon, using Suomi NPP VIIRS and DMSP OLS data provided courtesy of Chris Elvidge (NOAA National Geophysical Data Center). Suomi NPP is the result of a partnership between NASA, NOAA, and the Department of Defense." Caption by Mike Carlowicz.

The Chemistry Of Snowflakes. Here's an interesting, enlightening video from The American Chemical Society: "The video tracks formation of snowflakes from their origins in bits of dust in clouds that become droplets of water falling to Earth. When the droplets cool, six crystal faces form because water molecules bond in hexagonal networks when they freeze. It explains that ice crystals grow fastest at the corners between the faces, fostering development of the six branches that exist in most snowflakes. As snowflakes continue to develop, the branches can spread, grow long and pointy, or branch off into new arms. As each snowflake rises and falls through warmer and cooler air, it thus develops its own distinctive shape." Photo: Star Tribune.

The Future Of Television Has Arrived. It's Called The iPad. Here's a clip of an article that caught my eye at The Verge: "The future of the television is the iPad. That was the overwhelming message at the TV of Tomorrow conference in New York, which saw executives and decision makers from across the television industry gather for a lively day of discussion and debate about the state and direction of their business. And almost all of that discussion revolved around the iPad, which has become interchangeably known as the "second screen." Apple may call its TV efforts a "hobby," but the TV industry is already making huge bets on iOS. Tablet users were a dominant theme of the conference, which featured sessions titled "Measuring the Multiplatform Viewer" and "Second-Screen Content: Have We Created A Monster?" Barry Frey, a former Cablevision executive, opened a panel called "TV's New Gateway" by asking "How many of you are taking notes on the second screen?" A room full of suits waved their iPads in the air. "The experience of television is moving off the primary screen," said Dale Herigstad, chief interaction officer at design firm Possible..."

Can Your Tablet Do This? A friend sent me this YouTube clip. It's in German, and my German only kicks in after the third glass of fine Octoberfest beer, so we won't go there. Thankfully the video tells the tale. I'm not sure, but I suspect it's....magic.

Seasonably Chilly. Under a gray, murky sky highs were a few degrees above average, statewide,  ranging from 21 at International Falls to 23 St. Cloud, 27 Twin Cities and 32 Grand Marais. Snowcover is still sparse, ranging from 6" at International Falls to 5" St. Cloud, 3" Duluth and a paltry inch in the Twin Cities.

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

TODAY: Mostly cloudy. A "Minnesota warm front". Winds: W 5-10. High: 31

WEDNESDAY NIGHT: Cloudy with flurries possible. Steadier snow southeastern MN. Low: 18

THURSDAY: Gusty and colder with flurries. Steadier snow over Wisconsin, Iowa and southeastern MN. Winds: NW 15-30 (wind chills may dip below zero). High: 20

FRIDAY: Chilled sunlight returns. Winds ease up a bit. Low: 3. High: 21

SATURDAY: Mix of clouds and sun, quiet. Low: 7. High: 26

SUNDAY: Patchy clouds, a bit colder. Good travel weather. Low: 9. High: near 20

CHRISTMAS EVE:: Tracking Santa. Clouds increase during the day. Low: 11. High: 22

CHRISTMAS DAY: A period of accumulating snow for Christmas? Stay tuned. Low: 14. High: 25

Climate Stories...

Four Steps Toward A Climate-Friendly Diet. Markeplace has the story (and audio clip); here's an excerpt: "One of the biggest contributors to global warming is the food-supply system, from the fertilizer and gas used to cultivate farms to transportation and storage to what we throw away at the end of a meal. We won’t stop climate change through individual action alone, but together, we can make a real difference. Here are four simple things we can do in changing the way we consume:

1. Eat less meat and dairy, especially beef and lamb. Livestock are by far the biggest producers of greenhouse gases in the global food system. In the U.S., most livestock-related emissions come from the animals’ digestive systems and from the fertilizer used to grow their feed. If an American family of four ate no meat or cheese one day a week, it would be like taking a car off the road for five weeks a year, according to estimates by the Environmental Working Group. If we all did it, it would be like not driving 91 billion miles..."

Global Warming: Eastern U.S. To See More Heatwaves, Rain. Here's an excerpt of a story at The Summit County Citizens Voice: "As climate models become more sophisticated, researchers have started to fine-tune global warming impacts to the regional level, including more drought and water shortages expected in the Southwest, seasonal ice-free conditions in the Arctic, and hotter, wetter conditions in the Eastern U.S., according to a new University of Tennessee study...."
Image credit above: "University of Tennessee researchers say the eastern U.S. can expect more heatwaves and increased precipitation in a warming world." Image courtesy NASA.

Climate Change Is Killing Economy: Here's How To Stop it. Not my words, but a story at CNBC.com; here's an excerpt: "Congress this week is considering a $60 billion bill to pay for damages inflicted by Superstorm Sandy across three Northeastern states in late October. Though some Republican congressional members are balking at the sum, which the White House is requesting, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut say the damage is even greater, closer to $82 billion. In either case, these sums are nothing compared to the long-term price the U.S. will pay as a result of extreme weather caused by climate change, says Michael Hanemann, an economics professor specializing in climate change at Arizona State University. "What we're going to experience is unprecedented in human history in terms of the type of climate we're creating for ourselves," Hanemann tells The Daily Ticker. "The rate of warming has increased maybe five times what it was in the early part of the 20th century. The earth is getting warmer faster..."

10 Places Climate Change Kills The Most People. This is one list no country wants to be on (China is #1) Marketwatch.com has the story - here's a clip: "Global climate change and pollution from the use of fossil fuels killed nearly 5 million people around the world in 2010, according to a report released earlier this year by climate change advocacy group DARA. By 2030, this figure will rise to nearly 6 million deaths, the group’s second annual climate vulnerability monitor estimates. Total global costs, which were estimated at more than $600 billion in 2010, are expected to rise to $4.35 trillion by 2030..."

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