Thursday, January 24, 2013

Thaw by Sunday (Minnesota's epic snow-drought drags on)

-6 F. low Thursday morning in the Twin Cities.
9 F. high at KMSP yesterday.
24 F. average high on January 24. The average high rises to 25 F. by January 28, up from 23 F. in mid-January. Progress.
24 F. high on January 24, 2012.

Coating to 1" possible early today from the latest clipper.

Thaw expected Sunday into Tuesday morning; a few more subzero lows the latter half of next week.

Failure Encouraged

I just had an eye-opening series of talks at TIES, an education technology collaborative that serves St. Paul school districts. Did you know parents can now receive text alerts when their kids skip class? Or log in and see upcoming assignments, and whether their child had fruit or candy for lunch? Yes, there's an app for that.

I was happy to see innovation & experimentation on display. "Fail as fast as you can" is the new mantra. If you're not failing - it means you're not really trying. The one thing that can't be automated, computerized or outsourced? Creativity. Something Minnesotans do very well.

I'd love to find a creative way to make it snow. We need moisture. Up to 1 inch of snow is possible early today; welcome 30s return for a glorious few hours by Monday. The next storm detours to our east Tuesday; then we get to enjoy a few more subzero nights late next week.

The jet stream is temporarily locked, howling from the Yukon, meaning a parade of numbing fronts into early February. A real winter, without the snow. Odd.

Barb Hollister, Guest Services Coordinator at TIES told me how much she LOVES winter. "It's a time to work on projects, slow down, read books, relax, wear big sweatshirts and cozy sweaters" she sighed.

Less yard work too.

* photo above courtesy of Mike Hall.
"Take a look at this chart (below) of Twin Cities high/low readings from December of second Minnesota winter. Ten straight days of double-digit below zero nightly readings in the metro. Six of the overnights were below -22 F. Six of the daily "highs" were in the negative numbers. And all of this during the holiday shopping season.

If this were to happen today schools would close, sirens would sound, TV stations would run primetime specials.

We are out of practice." - Brendan Henehan, Executive Producer of TPT's "Almanac" show.

Date                      High       Low
Dec 16, 1983     3   -11
Dec 17, 1983    -4   -17
Dec 18, 1983   -11   -24
Dec 19, 1983   -11   -29
Dec 20, 1983     1   -22
Dec 21, 1983    11   -15
Dec 22, 1983   -12   -20
Dec 23, 1983   -17   -25
Dec 24, 1983   -10   -25
Dec 25, 1983     1   -11

Clipped Again. This morning's clipper may drop a coating to an inch of snow in the metro (when it's this cold the snowflakes puff up like feathers in a down comforter - and roads can be extra icy due to "wheel-track icing"....traffic compacting snow into a thin layer of ice). So AM Rush Hour may be extra-icy, an easier drive home later today. Some 2-4" amounts are possible closer to Crosby and Duluth.
News Of A Thaw. No, it can't come soon enough. I still think this will wind up being the coldest week of the entire winter, although a few more subzero nights are likely late next week. The ECMWF model shows highs near or just above 32 F. Sunday into Tuesday - the chance of a significant storm next week has evaporated. Big surprise.

Minnesota Drought: Status Quo. And frankly there won't be a potential for improvement until the ground starts to thaw in March, allowing any rain and melted snow to replenish topsoil. My hope is that we have some snow cover to melt and start to turn the corner on the drought. U.S. Drought Monitor map courtesy of NOAA.

Sudden Stratospheric Warming = Cold Intrusions Over Lower 48 States. Meteorologists look for cues. One big cue for subzero air is (paradoxically) sudden warming in the stratosphere, the upper atmosphere, where temperatures warm with altitude. This happened a couple weeks ago, as described by climate scientist Gavin Schmidt: "Stratospheric sudden warnings happen when there is a large planetary wave - usually originating in the tropics - that propagates northward and upward and disrupts the normal polar vortex. Think of it as an ocean wave breaking on a tide pool. The temperatures in the stratosphere near the pole go up a lot because of anomalous downward movement. The connection between the SSW and the surface winds are a well known phenomena - see papers by Baldwin and dunkerton a decade or do ago. After an SSW you get (after about 5-10 days) a negative phase AO associated with very non-zonal jet streams, leading to large temperature excursions (both +ve and -ve)."  Image above courtesy of NOAA.

Arctic Oscillation Forecast. The AO reached a minimum earlier this week, coinciding with subzero air draining into the Lower 48 states of the USA. A more positive phase implies warming (nationwide) next week east of the Rockies. After February 1 it's anyone's guess - a wide divergence of solutions. I still suspect a very cold start to February, followed by moderation with 20s and 30s returning by the second week of February. Graphic above: NOAA.

Good Explanation Of Arctic Oscillation. Why should you care whether the phase of the Arctic Oscillation (AO) is negative or positive? Because if you know which way the atmosphere is leaning, you can make a better long range forecast. "Unusually mild winter with a persistent Pacific breeze [positive phase like we had most of last winter] or outbreaks of bitter cold [negative phase, like we've seen since mid-January of this winter]". This may be more than you've ever wanted to know, but here's a good description from The National Snow and Ice Data Center: "The Arctic Oscillation refers to opposing atmospheric pressure patterns in northern middle and high latitudes. The oscillation exhibits a "negative phase" with relatively high pressure over the polar region and low pressure at midlatitudes (about 45 degrees North), and a "positive phase" in which the pattern is reversed. In the positive phase, higher pressure at midlatitudes drives ocean storms farther north, and changes in the circulation pattern bring wetter weather to Alaska, Scotland and Scandinavia, as well as drier conditions to the western United States and the Mediterranean. In the positive phase, frigid winter air does not extend as far into the middle of North America as it would during the negative phase of the oscillation. This keeps much of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains warmer than normal, but leaves Greenland and Newfoundland colder than usual. Weather patterns in the negative phase are in general "opposite" to those of the positive phase, as illustrated below. Over most of the past century, the Arctic Oscillation alternated between its positive and negative phases. Starting in the 1970s, however, the oscillation has tended to stay in the positive phase, causing lower than normal arctic air pressure and higher than normal temperatures in much of the United States and northern Eurasia."

Arctic Oscillation graphic above courtesy of J. Wallace, at the University of Washington.

ENSO Outlook for 2013. Here is a prediction of ENSO probability (El Nino, La Nina) from The International Research Institute for Climate and Society. Odds favor "ENSO-neutral", which might help our ability to pull out of a long-term drought over the Plains and Upper Midwest. The worst-case scenario would be a La Nina cooling phase, which correlates with drought and much drier than average weather during the summer, especially central and southern Plains. We'll see.

"Paul... Here's an iPhone picture of me on Monday walking 4 miles at Bredesen Park in Edina.  It was minus 7 at the time and the wind was blowing about 15 mph, so guess the wind chill was between minus 25 and 30.  It's a self-portrait because no one else (except the coyotes) was around.  My attire included, from the top, balaclava, neoprene mask, wool Navy watch cap, thinsulate-lined ski parka with hood, three layers, including heavy wool sweater, leather mittens with lining and skin-tight finger gloves inside, long johns, flannel-lined jeans, thermal socks and regular walking shoes.  Bottom line: Felt nice and warm all the way around.  Did it yesterday and today too."

* thanks to my rose-growing, investment-banking friend in Edina, Jack Falker, for sending this along.

"Ask Paul." Weather Related Q&A:

Hi Paul,
"Besides the lake levels and aquifers, the lack of snow is affecting winter sports too.  My skiis are collecting dust and my naturalist-led snowshoe outing at Westwood Hills Nature Center are in danger of being canceled for the second year in a row.  You know things are bad when you text friends in Iowa and beg them to send snow!"

John Porter, Minneapolis  

John - I'm starting to wonder if this winter will rival last winter's 22.3" of snow. We've picked up 16.6" snow so far - last year on this date we had seen only 11.4". Will we make up for this snowfall deficit in late February or March? Perhaps, but we need snow now (at least for outdoor enthusiasts). Snow on the ground in March is a different animal than snow in January. Believe me, I'll send up a flare when I see an actual storm.

Bright Brown Over Southern Minnesota. There's precious little snow south of the Twin Cities, from Mankato to Rochester and Red Wing, only a coating to an inch or so in the immediate metro, maybe 2" far north and west metro. Parts of central Minnesota have about 6-8" of crusty snow on the ground. All in all the map above looks like something out of mid or late November, not late January. Source: NOAA.

USA Snow Cover. At least report, snow was on the ground over 39.6% of the nation, compared with 45.8% of the USA back on December 24, 2012. Map courtesy of NOAA.

Top Ten Sky Sights for 2013 for Minnesota

January 21 – Very close pairing of Moon and Jupiter
February 12-20 – Best view of Mercury this year
March 10-24 – Best view of comet PANSTARRS (Astronomers are still not sure if this comet will be great or a dud. How will it pan out?)
May 21-30 – Conjunction of Mercury, Venus, Jupiter (The wackos may be out again for this one, you know, planets aligning, end of world, etc)
June 23 – Biggest full Moon (Will be hyped but hard to tell the difference between this and other full moons)
August 12 – Peak of Perseid meteor shower
October 18 – Penumbral lunar eclipse
Mid Nov thru Dec – Comet ISON (Not sure of this one yet either but it looks promising.)
December – Venus as a beautiful evening object
Dec 13-14 Geminid meteor shower (I threw this in to make ten but it will be hindered by nearly full moon this year)

* my thanks to Parke Kunkle, Faculty of Minneapolis CTC and a volunteer at the amazing Bell Museum. You can sign up for the Astronomer's Update through the Bell Museum. They run monthly updates that include where to look for these sights and others. If you love astronomy (one of the many benefits of living in Minnesota's Big Sky Country) you should absolutely do this. Aurora image above courtesy of NASA and the International Space Station.

First Sunrise In 65 Days. Is a lack of sunlight making you a little loopy? Just be glad you didn't settle in Barrow, Alaska. Details from the Alaska NWS: "Residents of Barrow, Alaska watched the sun climb above the horizon for the first time in 65 days, after it set on November 18, 2012. The sun skirted along the southern horizon for about 43 minutes today. Tomorrow it will remain above the horizon for 1 hour and 27 minutes. The amount of sunlight will rapidly increase in Barrow until May 10th, at which point the sun will remain above the horizon for 24 hours a day for nearly 3 months. It was clear in Barrow today and a FAA webcam captured the short but welcome return of sunshine. Watch the sun trace across the horizon in the video below."

"Snowpig". Golf Cart Gets Pimped Into An Electric Snow-Blower. Wow. I need one of these, for the next time it snows. It will snow again....right? Pretty impressive, and eco-friendly to boot. Details from "Canadian eco-enthusiast Dan Baker is at it again, pimping a golf cart into an electric snow-blowing machine. Last year Baker home built the Firefly solar-powered boat from scratch and this winter he’s determined not to be snowed in. Dubbed “Snowpig,” Baker built the snow blower as an alternative to an ATV/utility vehicle, with the added bonus of it being emissions free. “As far as I know this is the only vehicle of its type,” Baker told Gizmag..."

Hot Tub Boat Combines Cruising And Soaking. Hey, I've found the perfect boat! I wonder if they'll have one of these at The Boat Show, which kicks off next Thursday at the Minneapolis Convention Center. has the hot, soggy details: "Can’t decide between lounging in the hot tub or going boating? Well, why not do both? People in and around The Netherlands can already do so, in a HotTug. Now, North Americans can also get in on the action, with the Hot Tub Boat. Manufactured in Seattle, the 6-passenger 15-foot (4.6-meter) vessel features an 8-foot (2.4-meter) rectangular hot tub, heated up to 104ºF (40ºC) by a built-in diesel boiler. The boat itself is propelled by a 24-volt electric drive system, maintaining a cruising speed of 4 knots..."

Why MSP WIll Never Have A Population Of 10 Million. Maybe I'm wrong. It's happened before. Perhaps in future decades we'll warm to the point where there is no more January Angst, and millions of Americans will flock to Minnesota. In the meantime all it takes is a January like this, every few years, to put the fear of God into mere mortals, people who can't imagine a "high" of 9 above. Actually, I thought it felt pretty good out there by late afternoon. Statewide highs ranged from 4 at Alexandria to 5 St. Cloud to 12 at Redwood Falls.

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

TODAY: Quick inch early - icy roads for AM Rush Hour? Some PM clearing. Winds: NW 15-20. High: 17

FRIDAY NIGHT: Partly cloudy, windy and colder. Low: -2

SATURDAY: Cold start. Sun should be out. High: 14

SUNDAY: Dim sun, getting better out there. Wake-up: 8. High: 28-30 F.

MONDAY: Gray. Badly-needed thaw. Wake-up: 20. High: 33

TUESDAY: Gusty, colder, few flurries. Wake-up: 25. High: 27

WEDNESDAY: Plenty of sun. Brisk! Wake-up: 2. High: near 10

THURSDAY: Patchy clouds, mostly numb. Wake-up: -3. High: 12

* the morning low at Duluth early Thursday was -21 F, about 56 degrees warmer than the water temperature of Lake Superior at Duluth. Photo of "sea smoke" courtesy of Wanda Brandt.

Climate Stories...

Exclusive: Billionaires Secretly Fund Attacks On Climate Science. This probably doesn't come as a shock, but this article at The Independent does come as confirmation; here's an excerpt: "A secretive funding organisation in the United States that guarantees anonymity for its billionaire donors has emerged as a major operator in the climate "counter movement" to undermine the science of global warming, The Independent has learnt. The Donors Trust, along with its sister group Donors Capital Fund, based in Alexandria, Virginia, is funnelling millions of dollars into the effort to cast doubt on climate change without revealing the identities of its wealthy backers or that they have links to the fossil fuel industry..."

How Climate Change Could Wipe Out The Western Forests. Here's an excerpt of an eye-opening story at The Atlantic: "...Like the hurricane season, statistics suggest the burn season is becoming longer and more severe. A recent study of fires on U.S. Forest Service land by Climate Central, a nonprofit research group that reports on the impacts of global warming, found "the first wildfires of the year are starting earlier and the last fires of the year are starting later, making typical fire years 75 days longer now than they were 40 years ago." Compared to the 1970s, the number of fires covering more than 10,000 acres has increased sevenfold. At the same time, a study published in the science journal Nature Climate Change in September predicted that by the 2050s, forests will experience the worst droughts in 1,000 years. The result will likely be more fires, but also more beetles, and more trees that just can't stand the heat. Soon, the landscape of the American West may be unrecognizable. In some cases, trees will regrow, although probably in sparser patches. Some may be replaced by different species. But especially in drier, hotter areas like New Mexico and Arizona, the forests are on course to disappear altogether..."

Photo credit above: "The Waldo Canyon Fire blazes through Colorado's Pike National Forest on June 26, 2012." (AP Photo/Gaylon Wampler)

Scientists Dismiss Geo-Engineering As Global Warming Quick Fix. As I keep telling people - there is no silver bullet, but there's plenty of silver buck-shot; thousands of ways we can reduce greenhouse gases and become more energy efficient (and independent). Here's an excerpt from a blog post at Smithsonian: "Installing a giant mirror in space to block sunlight, dispersing mass quantities of minerals into the oceans to suck carbon dioxide from the air and infusing the Earth’s upper atmosphere with sun-reflecting chemicals might sound like the stuff of science fiction, but they’re actual techniques that have been contemplated by scientists as possible quick solutions to climate change. More specifically, they’re examples of geo-engineering, a hotly contested subset of climate science whereby the Earth’s environment is intentionally manipulated in order to mitigate the effects of global warming. Since cutting greenhouse gas emissions has been something of an exercise in futility, the idea behind geo-engineering is to put systems in place that manage the carbon dioxide that’s already emitted into the atmosphere. The two basic methods are solar radiation management—whereby a small amount of the sun’s heat and light is reflected back into space—and carbon dioxide removal, which involves the capture of CO2 or its uptake by the oceans..."

Photo credit above: "A new study shows that dispersing minerals into oceans to stem global warming would be an inefficient and impractical process." By Kent Smith

Climate Change Beliefs Of Independent Voters Shift With The Wind. Looking out the window for evidence of "global" warming? A bit simplistic. Keeping a global perspective on long-term climate trends is challenging, even for meteorologists. That's why we have climate scientists doing most of the important work. Here's an excerpt from Science Daily: "...New research from the University of New Hampshire finds that the climate change beliefs of independent voters are dramatically swayed by short-term weather conditions. The research was conducted by Lawrence Hamilton, professor of sociology and senior fellow at the Carsey Institute, and Mary Stampone, assistant professor of geography and the New Hampshire state climatologist. "We find that over 10 surveys, Republicans and Democrats remain far apart and firm in their beliefs about climate change. Independents fall in between these extremes, but their beliefs appear weakly held -- literally blowing in the wind..."

Graphic credit above: "Predicted probability of “climate change is happening now, caused mainly by human activities” response as a function of temperature anomaly and political party." (Credit: Lawrence Hamilton and Mary Stampone/UNH)

Kerry Says Global Climate Change Is Threat To U.S. The Washington Post has a video; here's an excerpt of their story: "In his opening statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry said that American foreign policy “is defined by life-threatening issues like climate change,” along with political unrest in Africa and human trafficking across the globe. Kerry, the panel’s outgoing chairman, has made the issue of global warming central to his career in public service. The Massachusetts Democrat has traveled repeatedly to international climate negotiations and pushed in the Senate — unsuccessfully — for a limit on national greenhouse gas emissions..."

Obama's Climate Challenge. Here's an excerpt of a long, but thorough Rolling Stone article: "...Now Obama gets another shot at it. "The politics of global warming are changing fast," says Kevin Knobloch, the president of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Thanks to a year of extreme weather and Hurricane Sandy, a large majority of Americans – nearly 90 percent – favor action on global warming, even if there are economic costs. The U.S. economy is on the road to recovery and no longer offers an excuse for inaction. Big Coal, traditionally the loudest voice against climate action, has been weakened by a glut of cheap natural gas and the economic viability of solar and wind power. China has new political leadership that appears open to discussing a global agreement to cut carbon. And Obama himself has nothing left to lose..."

Graphic Illustration by Victor Juhasz, Rolling Stone.

New Analysis Shows Simple Math: Keystone XL Pipeline = Tar Sands Expansion = Climate Change. Here's an excerpt from a blog post at The Natural Resources Defense Council: "New research confirms what we have heard time and again from the industry itself: the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will be a direct cause of an increase in tar sands oil development. More tar sands oil taken out of the ground means more dangerous pollution that hurts our climate and health. And, this new research also shows that tar sands will cause even more climate pollution than we previously thought due to the impacts of the high carbon byproduct petroleum coke. This is especially important in a time where our communities are feeling the damage of climate change in violent storms, wildfires, droughts and floods. Just recently a federal advisory panel—established by Congress in 1990 to analyze climate research—released the draft of its third National Climatic Assessment. The report confirmed there is “unambiguous evidence” that the earth is warming...."

Two Hopeful Signs The Obama Administration Will Not Approve The Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline. Joe Romm at Think Progress has the story; here's the intro: "50-50. Those were the odds you could get in DC for a bet on whether or not Obama would ultimately approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

But this week I think the odds turned against the pipeline, for two reasons:
  1. Obama devoted far more of his second inaugural address to climate change than anybody expected — and framed the issue in stark, moral terms.
  2. The State Department decision won’t come until after March, which means it will almost certainly be made by the new Secretary, climate hawk John Kerry...."

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