Friday, January 25, 2013

On Track for Thaw (why -40F is a good thing for Minnesota's North Woods)

21 F. high in the Twin Cities Friday.
24 F. average high for January 25.
32 F. high on January 25, 2012.

Trace of snow yesterday in the metro area.

1.6" snow so far in January.
4.1" snow fell in January 2012, as of January 25.

Thaw possible Sunday, likely Monday.

Good and Cold

The cold is grating, but on some level it's a blessing. Earlier this week: -40F at Orr; -43F Embarrass. That's a relief, if you want to see Minnesota's North Woods avoid the fate of much of the Rockies and Alaska, where beetles have decimated millions of acres of trees.

Why? A warmer climate. According to Lee Frelich at the U. of Minnesota's Center for Hardwood Ecology mountain pine beetles are killed off by -40F temperatures. Frelich says this beetle can't cross the Great Plains, where there are no trees, "However, that could change with a warmer climate and less frequent occurrences of -40F in the southern boreal forest."

Mark Seeley examined records from 8 northern Minnesota climate stations. "7 of the 8 climate stations showed a decrease in frequency (of -40F) ranging from 25 percent to over 60 percent fewer occurrences in the 1981-2010 period (vs. cold records from 1951-1980). Details from both scientists below.

A nippy start gives way to moderating temperatures; low 30s likely tomorrow & Monday. I may take my shirt off and fire up the grill.

More subzero nights arrive late next week, but I think the worst of the chill will be over by February 2. Groundhog day.

6 more weeks of winter? Count on it.

* photo above courtesy of Food Channel Guru and local media legend Andrew Zimmern. I hope he was flying somewhere warmer.

A Sloppy Thaw - Then Colder Again. Models show highs at or above 30 from Sunday into Tuesday morning, followed by another temperature tumble by Wednesday of next week; a couple of subzero nights possible late next week, but not quite as cold as earlier this week. Graphic: Iowa State.

Moderating Temperatures. We should approach 30 Sunday, possibly top 32 F. by Monday. ECMWF prints out light precipitation Monday, the atmosphere probably warm enough for mostly rain. A changeover to wet snow can't be ruled out Tuesday, but right now amounts (at least in the metro) don't look terribly impressive. By next Thursday it will feel like January again.

Rain - In Late January? It's a trend we're seeing more of in recent winters, a 4X spike in midwinter rain/ice since 2000 in the Twin Cities, according to Mark Seeley's research. Model guidance shows as much as .10" liquid Monday and Tuesday, possibly a mix of rain, sleet and wet snow. Source: NOAA.

Snowfall By Monday Night. I'm not buying this (yet), but in the spirit of full disclosure, and showing you how the (weather) sausage is made, here is the latest NAM forecast showing predicted snowfall into Monday night. A band of a few inches of snow over northern Iowa and far southern Minnesota, as much as 6-8" of slush for central Wisconsin? We'll see. I want to see a few more computer runs - I fear we'll have too much warm air aloft for all snow.

Cold Week With Some Records Broken. Here's an excerpt from this week's edition of WeatherTalk, courtesy of Mark Seeley: "This week's weather pattern brought the coldest temperatures in years to many parts of Minnesota, and coldest in the 48 contiguous states on some dates. There were many reports of lows ranging from -30 degrees F to -40 degrees F across the northern counties, with windchills ranging from -35 to -50 degrees F at times. The coldest temperature was -42 degrees F at Embarrass on January 24th (Thu) and the coldest windchill was -54 degrees F at Grand Marais Airport on January 21st (Monday)."

Seeley also points out that a lack of snow (a great insulator) means the frost level is going much deeper this winter:

"The absence of deep snow cover exposed the soil to the Arctic-like cold blast this week. As a result frost depths increased significantly, in some cases going from 4-6 inch depth down to 16 to 20 inches in depth. Actual soil temperatures plummeted as well, dropping into the low to mid 20s F at the 4 inch depth, and into the single digits and low teens F at the shallower 2 inch depth. These low soil temperatures can damage plants, and is one of the reasons so many gardeners use mulch or straw (insulation) to cover the soil in the winter. In agricultural pasture lands and alfalfa fields such low temperatures pose a risk of winter injury."

* Wolf Moon photo above courtesy of Ann Karrick.

Frequency of -40F Up North. Click here to see a YouTube clip, explaining the many benefits of cold air, and how -40 F. up north can innoculate Minnesota's boreal forest from pests, including beetles. Following up on the column above I wanted to share the comments e-mailed to me from Minnesota climate expert Mark Seeley:

"After seeing the -42 at Embarrass this morning....I was thinking of the same question.

From a cursory look at our state data base, I selected 8 northern Minnesota climate stations (Baudette, Roseau, International Falls, Big Falls, Itasca State Park, Warroad, Thorhult, and Waskish) with nearly complete histories of daily measurements from 1951 to present.  Then I compared the frequency of -40 F or colder over the periods 1951-1980 versus 1981-2010.  Seven of the eight climate stations showed a decrease in frequency ranging from 25 percent to over 60 percent fewer occurrences in the 1981-2010 period.  The only one that showed an increase in frequency was Waskish, but that station may have moved at one time.  Examples of the change in frequency:  Itasca State Park recorded 17 nights of -40 F or colder from 1951-1980, and only 11 since 1981 (they have reported no such readings since 1997); Warroad recorded 16 nights of -40 F or colder from 1951-1980, but only 10 since 1981

More on Vulnerability of Minnesota's North Woods and BWCA to Pests In A Warming Climate. Here is more detail from Lee Frelich, at the University of Minnesota's Center for Hardwood Ecology:

"We have 100 Hobos in the BWCAW reading temperature data every hour, but we won't download the winter data until April or May, and this is the first winter we have had them out there. When we do, it will be very interesting to see the variation in minimum temperatures for various landforms and forest types.

I can give you three examples of insect pests of trees that would be affected by -40 degrees: (1) The Mountain pine beetle, native to North America, but not to MN; (2) The Eastern larch beetle, native to MN, and (3) the emerald ash borer, native to Asia.

Mountain pine beetle, which has been shown to infest jack pine at its western range limit in Canada, is killed off by -40 F degree temperatures. This is probably why the insect never made its way to Minnesota from the Rocky Mountains - it can't cross the Great Plains, where there are no trees, and can't cross the southern boreal forest across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba to get to Minnesota as long as periods of -40 degree weather occur there. However, that could change with a warmer climate and less frequent occurrences of -40 in the southern boreal forest.

Eastern larch beetle has long been present in MN as a native insect that generally remained at low levels and attacked only weakened, dying trees in the past. However, in recent years it has killed large acreages (60,000+ acres with major mortality) of larch (aka tamarack) in MN, and the reason is thought to be warmer winters, allowing populations of the bug to build up and attack healthy trees.
An invasive species from Asia, the emeral ash borer, has killed tens of millions of ash trees in Michigan, Ohio, and southern Ontario, is also likely to be killed by -40 temperatures (or perhaps even -30). It arrived a few years ago in the Twin Cities, where its probably not cold enough in winter these days to kill the insect. Whether it will be able to kill millions of ash trees in the ash swamps of northern Minnesota could depend on winter minimum temperatures and a warmer climate in the future.

Lee E. Frelich
Director, The University of Minnesota Center for Forest Ecology

Chicago Snowless Streak Broken. It snowed in Chicago Friday, the first 1" of the winter season. Yes....really. More details from NBC News. Photo credit above: Nam Y. Huh / AP. "A jogger runs along a snow-covered street in Evanston, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, on Friday."

949 AM CST FRI JAN 25 2013 /1049 AM EST FRI JAN 25 2013/
RANK        DATE
1.       JAN 25 2013
2.       JAN 17 1899
3.       JAN 16 2002
4.       JAN 15 1890
5.       JAN 14 1937

* information courtesy of NOAA and Chad Merrill at Earth Networks.

Crocodile Warning! I think that's just about the only thing I haven't seen crawled at the bottom of the TV screen in the last couple of years. Details from Silicon Valley's Mercury News.

Worst Of The Chill Over By Feb. 3? I wouldn't bet the farm on this, but the model guidance I'm seeing leads me to believe that the worst of the subzero cold will retreat into Canada by Feb. 3 or 4. We'll still see cold fronts, but probably no subzero highs, and fewer subzero nights as we head into the second week of February. Data from Environment Canada (above) shows a lack of big storms looking out 2 weeks.

Evidence Of A Higher Sun Angle. By early February average temperatures are rising, finally responding to a higher sun angle and longer daylight, formidable enough to counteract long nights and snowcovered ground over Canada. GFS model guidance above shows mostly 20s and 30s (above zero!) from next weekend into February 10; no subzero lows during that period with 850 mb. temperatures ranging from -13 to +1F. Here in The Land of Low Weather Expectations this qualifies as "good news". A storm, some real moisture, would qualify as excellent news.

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

TODAY: Cold start. Sun much of the day. Winds: SE 8-13. High: 18

SATURDAY NIGHT: Patchy clouds, steady or rising temperatures. Low: 14

SUNDAY: Clouds increase. Much better. High: 31

MONDAY: Cloudy, chance of a little light rain and drizzle. Wake-up: 26. High: 33

TUESDAY: Snow showers, then slow clearing. Wake-up: 25. High: 29

WEDNESDAY: Blustery, much colder again. Wake-up: 12. High: 14

THURSDAY: Arctic breeze. Feels like -15 F. Wake-up: 0. High: 2

FRIDAY: Numbing sunshine. Less wind. Wake-up: -10. High:  4

* photo above courtesy of Laura Everly Daugherty

Climate Stories....

In An Era Of Climate Change, Where Will The Fish, And The Money, Go? Minnesotans love to fish (hardly a bulletin), but last summer it was so hot that many fish died in overheated lakes. A fluke, or a sign of summers to come? Here's an excerpt of a story at Popular Science that caught my eye - focusing on recent shifts and trends seen in Arctic waters: "Like the American pika and some other land-based creatures, fish are on the move as they try to adapt to a changing climate. One place this is happening is the seas surrounding the Arctic Ocean. But precisely how fast, in what direction, and to what effect the fish will migrate from their home turf is a big unknown....The seas around the Arctic Ocean are estimated to host at least 20 percent of all the fish in the world’s seas. Aside from their economic promise the northern seas could also play a big role in contributing to global food security. “The world’s growing population means need more access to food resources,” Lisbeth Berg Hansen, Norway’s Minister of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs, told the Arctic Frontiers conference I’m attending this week in the northern Norwegian city of Tromso...."

Image credit above: "A map of current and projected Arctic conditions." IPCC

The Effects Of Climate Change Have Arrived Ahead Of Schedule. Here's a snippet of an Op-Ed at The Washington Post: "...Everyone from small to large businesses, from local to state governments are now factoring climate change into their planning. A local architect told me the other day that there are no stock gutters that have the capacity to handle the run-off from today’s more intense downpours. In corporate board rooms, climate change is now an issue discussed in strategic business plans and governments are wondering how they are going to possibly afford to pay for storm clean-ups and the economic loss caused by floods and drought. In New York City alone, the two main emergency rooms that serve lower Manhattan were barely up and running two months after Sandy and the money needed to repair the city's infrastructure is a mind-blowing amount, not even accounting for the money necessary to fortify it against the next storm. The impact of climate change has arrived ahead of schedule, and the gulf between reality and the climate deniers has widened...."

NASA Retirees Appeal To Their Own Lack Of Climate Authority. Who do you believe, a retired astronaut, or thousands of climate scientists, all saying pretty much the same thing. Hmmm. Let me think that over. Details from Skeptical Science: "...Now in January of 2013, a group of 20 "Apollo era NASA retirees" has put together a rudimentary climate "report" and issued a press release declaring that they have decided human-caused global warming is not "settled" and is nothing to worry about.  This time around they have not listed the 20 individuals who contributed to this project, but have simply described the group as being:
"...comprised of renowned space scientists with formal educational and decades career involvement in engineering, physics, chemistry, astrophysics, geophysics, geology and meteorology. Many of these scientists have Ph.Ds"
The project seems to be headed by H. Leighton Steward, a 77-year-old former oil and gas executive.  The press release also links the NASA group to his website, "co2isgreen", which also has an extensive history of receiving fossil fuel industry funding. This story can be summed up very simply: a group of retired NASA scientists with no climate science research experience listened to a few climate scientists and a few fossil fuel-funded contrarian scientists, read a few climate blogs, asked a few relatively simple questions, decided that those questions cannot be answered (though we will answer them in this post), put together a very rudimentary report, and now expect people to listen to them because they used to work at NASA..."

Make Climate Change A Priority. Here's a portion of an Op-Ed (appeal) from the President of the World Bank at The Washington Post: "...If there is no action soon, the future will become bleak. The World Bank Group released a reportin November that concluded that the world could warm by 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) by the end of this century if concerted action is not taken now. A world that warm means seas would rise 1.5 to 3 feet, putting at risk hundreds of millions of city dwellers globally. It would mean that storms once dubbed “once in a century” would become common, perhaps occurring every year. And it would mean that much of the United States, from Los Angeles to Kansas to the nation’s capital, would feel like an unbearable oven in the summer...."

In Wall Street Journal Op-Ed Bjorn Lomborg Urges Delay With Misleading Stats. Here's an excerpt from Climate Science Watch: "...Lomborg makes many statements that almost all climate scientists would agree with. These include:
    • Investments in hurricane resilience should be increased due to projected increases in storm intensity.
    • In the long run, the world needs to cut carbon dioxide emissions.
    • Investments in renewable energy technology R&D should be dramatically increased.
However, Lomborg ends these common-sense recommendations with the conclusion that current investments in climate mitigation, including renewable energy subsidies, are wasteful. He uses a series of distracting and misleading statements about trends in extreme weather to minimize the risks we face and delay action..."

Study Finds We Still Believe Untruths, Even After Instant Online Corrections. I found this to be an interesting nugget of confirmation bias, courtesy of Tech Crunch; here's an excerpt: "If you’ve ever wondered why birthers, inside jobbers, and other conspiracy theorists won’t simply take the truth at face value, two researchers at OSU have found that we tend to ignore – and reject – instant corrections to data. The study, performed by R. Kelly Garrett and Brian Weeks, examined what happens when untruthful information is immediately corrected in a news story. While some programs claim to call out false information automatically, such systems make users “more resistant to factual information.” That’s right: the more truth we read, the more we tend to believe strongly-held lies. “Humans aren’t vessels into which you can just pour accurate information,” said Garrett. “Correcting misperceptions is really a persuasion task. You have to convince people that, while there are competing claims, one claim is clearly more accurate...”

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