Sunday, February 17, 2013

Going Out On a Limb: Parade of Snowstorms (no early spring this year)

9 F. low temperature Sunday morning.
32 F. high in the Twin Cities Sunday.
30 F. average high for February 17.
43 F. high on February 17, 2012.

58 F. record high for today (1981)

7:08 am. Sunrise
5:46 pm. Sunset

Way Out on a Limb

I'm giving more speeches now than when I was in local TV. How's that possible? I talk about weather, climate and tech trends, my hits & misses, and reinvention.

Here is what I shared recently: 1) Based on a shift in the pattern Minnesota's drought will ease by late spring; 2). Last summer we got off easy with tornadoes, due to record heat. This summer we'll spend more time in our basements, with far more severe storms; 3). Another "Black Swan" weather event will strike the US in 2013 - an historic flood, hurricane or major urban tornado; evidence of more heat & energy in the system; 4). We'll pick up close to average snow at MSP (50-55) inches) this winter - February will be our snowiest month, by a country mile.


Strong winds whip up later today as the next Arctic Slap pushes into town: single digit highs Tuesday, subzero Wednesday AM. Thursday's storm doesn't look quite as impressive; a quick burst of plowable amounts before the dry slot pushes in from the south.

A second snowstorm is brewing 1 week from today; with even heavier amounts. So we're getting the snow after all, just late.

I'm feeling better about the drought fading, but no early spring this year.

No way.

* snow photo upper left courtesy of The St. Cloud Times.

A (Much) Stormier Pattern. All the models show two distinct threats/opportunities for accumulating snow: Thursday into midday Friday, again Sunday night into Tuesday of next week. The potential storm a week from now looks like the more substantial of the two storms, ECMWF guidance showing nearly 3 times more (liquid) precipitation. All snow is expected Thursday and Friday, but by early next week warmer air aloft may get tangled into the storm's circulation, which could mean a mix of snow, ice, even a period of rain. It's simply too early to know.

Cold Enough For All Snow This Week. One benefit of a tangle with subzero air? It sets the stage for an all-snow event, no worries about precipitation mixing with ice or rain this week. After peaking near freezing today (what some in Minnesota call a "warm front") temperatures drop nearly 30 degrees tonight, holding in single digits tomorrow before dipping below zero Wednesday morning. Some recovery is likely the latter half of the week as Gulf moisture begins to surge north.

Predicted Snow By Midday Friday. This is GFS model output, showing a big, snowy bulls-eye of 12-18" over Nebraska, maybe a foot for southern Iowa. It does look like the heaviest amounts will be well south/west of Minnesota, with a potential for some 6-8" amounts over southern Minnesota. This may still be "plowable" in the metro, implying at least 2-3" or more.

Enough To Shovel and Plow? Probably. There is still considerable uncertainty between the various GFS runs (the NAM only goes out 84 hours so it's not represented above - not yet). A forecast of 3-9"? I'm leaning toward a solution at the lower end of this range, due to a surge of dry air aloft, and a relatively brief 8-12 hour burst of light to moderate snow over the metro Thursday PM into early Friday. Right now this doesn't look like The Big One.

Potential For A Much Bigger Storm In One Week. O.K. Keep your expectations in check - we're talking 7-8 days from now, but the ECMWF (and GFS) spin up a much bigger storm over the Midwest early next week, a longer-duration storm capable of snow, possibly mixing with ice and even rain and southeast winds pull milder air into Wisconsin and Minnesota. Again, it's (very) early. This is pure speculation. It always is.
A Parade Of Storms. Here is the GFS solution, showing a (modest) storm impacting Minnesota by Thursday PM, a potentially much more significant storm spinning up early next week. Animation courtesy of NOAA.

Fairbanks Area, Trying To Stay Warm, Chokes On Wood Stove Pollution. Here's an excerpt of another recent story that made me do a double-take, from The Los Angeles Times: "...Most people think of Alaska as one of the last great escapes from urban pollution. But they have not spent a winter in Fairbanks or the nearby town of North Pole, where air-quality readings in November were twice as bad as Beijing's. Here, it's not freeways or factories fouling the air — it's wood stoves and backyard wood furnaces that send thick clouds of gray smoke roiling into the pines. On the cold, clear days when the temperature hits minus 50, an inversion layer often traps a blanket of smoke near the ground, and driving to work in North Pole can be like motoring through fog..."

Photo credit above: "A cloud of haze and smoke over Fairbanks, Alaska, feeds growing concerns over air pollution." (Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times / February 6, 2013)

What Beijing's Battle With Air Pollution Tells Us About China. Here's a place where the air is even worse, according to The Economic Times of India: "...It is, however, not every day that Beijing is enveloped in noxious fumes dubbed "airpocalypse". The government says there were more than 280 "blue sky" days in 2011; residents, of course, raise their eyebrows at that number. The phenomenon is particularly frequent during the city's harsh winters and when demand for electricity soars. Unlike Delhi, Beijing is a city with electricity all day, all year round. Until a decade ago, most of this was supplied from coal-fired plants (these have now been shut), which coupled with rapid urbanisation (more than half of China's population now lives in cities) and a burgeoning middle-class (Beijing sees a quarter million new cars every year despite tight restrictions on the issuance of new number plates), provided the right brew for a sulphur-ridden sky. Together with smoky factories (most of which have been moved to neighbouring but not too far away Hebei province) and Beijing's unique geography, surrounded by mountains on three sides, this created the Perfect Smog..."

The Man Who Killed Osama Bin Laden...Is Screwed. Yes, this is a weather blog, but I try to share other items that catch my eye. This one fits the definition, a story about the Navy Seal who took down UBL, and then came home to face a mounting list of uncertainties. Not exactly a hero's welcome. My younger son is in the military, and like many others I'm concerned about our returning veterans, how they integrate back into society, how their physical and mental wounds are being treated and healed. Here's the intro to this must-read Esquire article: "For the first time, the Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden tells his story — speaking not just about the raid and the three shots that changed history, but about the personal aftermath for himself and his family. And the startling failure of the United States government to help its most experienced and skilled warriors carry on with their lives..."

Low Weather Expectations. 32 F. in mid February? Acceptable, even a couple degrees above average, whatever average is. International Falls picked up another 2.1" snow yesterday, a total of 23" on the ground. St. Cloud registered a high of 30 F. (13" on the ground), 7" in the Twin Cities, 2" reported at Rochester.

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

TODAY: Mild start; mostly cloudy, blustery & colder. Winds: NW 20-40 (PM hours). High: 31, falling to 18 by 6 pm.

MONDAY NIGHT: Clearing and bitter. Low: 3 

TUESDAY: No bugs. Blue sky and fresh air! Feels like -15F. High: 9

WEDNESDAY: More sun, less wind. Wake-up: -5. High: 13

THURSDAY: Few inches of snow. Plowable? Wake-up: 6. High: near 20

FRIDAY: Snow slowly tapers. Slushy and slow on the highways. Wake-up: 18. High: 25

SATURDAY: Mostly cloudy, better travel day. Wake-up: 15. High: 24

SUNDAY: Clouds increase, snow possible at night. Wake-up: 13. High: 28

* potential for an even more significant storm early next week. Snowfall may be substantial in about 1 week.

Climate Stories...

Climate Change Threatens U.S. Agriculture: USDA Report. Here's a clip from a story at International Business Times: "The USDA anticipates that these factors will have a negative impact on agricultural productivity in the near future if adaptive farming measures are not taken, and if greenhouse gas emissions are not curbed. The report points out that U.S. agriculture has demonstrated the capacity to adapt to a variety of challenges in the past 150 years, but that it was done during a period of “relative climatic stability.” The USDA emphasizes that adaptive measures alone will not necessarily mitigate the consequences of climate change and that substantive action must also be taken to address the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving it..."

Climate Scientists Erring On The Side Of Least Drama. Because who wants to be accused of alarmist hype, right? It turns out all those climate science projections were (much) too conservative. Things are happening even faster than some of the worst-case scenarios 20 years ago. Here's an excerpt of a story from Skeptical Science and Think Progress: "A paper recently published in Global Environmental Change by Brysse et al. (2012) examined a number of past predictions made by climate scientists, and found that that they have tended to be too conservative in their projections of the impacts of climate change.  The authors thus suggest that climate scientists are biased toward overly cautious estimates, erring on the side of less rather than more alarming predictions, which they call “erring on the side of least drama” (ESLD). In this paper, Brysse et al. examined research evaluating past climate projections, and considered the pressures which might cause climate scientists to ESLD..."

Graphic credit above: "Observed vs. IPCC modeled annual minimum Arctic sea ice extent."

Sea Leve Rise: Predicted vs. Observed. Here's another graphic from the Skeptical Science/Think Progress article referenced above. Details: "Sea level measured by satellite altimeter (red with linear trend line; AVISO datafrom (Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales) and reconstructed from tide gauges (orange, monthly data from Church and White (2011)). Tide gauge data were aligned to give the same mean during 1993–2010 as the altimeter data. The scenarios of the IPCC are again shown in blue (third assessment) and green (fourth assessment); the former have been published starting in the year 1990 and the latter from 2000."

The 5 States Of Climate Change Acceptance. Here is an excerpt of an excellent story that summarizes the 5 stages of acceptance and how it applies to (well-orchestrated and funded) climate science denial - from OUPblog (Oxford University Press): "...In 1969, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross described the “five stages” of acceptance:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. For many years, climate change discussions seemed to be about getting our politics past the “denial” stage. Over time, however, scientific inquiry made it obvious that climate change is happening and that it is the result of human activity. With more than 97% of climate scientists and every major scientific body of relevance in the United States in agreement that the threat is real, not to mention a similar consensus internationally, it became untenable to simply refuse to accept the reality of climate change. The next stage was anger. Unable to stand on unvarnished denials, skeptics lashed out, alleging conspiracies and secret plots to propagate the myth of climate change. In 2003, Senator Inhofe from Oklahoma said, “Could it be that man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people? It sure sounds like it.” In 2009 we had “climategate.” More than a thousand private emails between climate scientists were stolen and used in an attempt (later debunked) to show a conspiracy to fool the world..."


And now let me end with what I promised — the five stages of grief in reverse.
Climate science activists begin with accepting the science.  What else can one do?  Science is the reason so many of us survived childbirth and childhood, science has fed the world, science is the reason computers and the blogosphere exist at all.  And yes, science gave us our fossil-fueled wealth.  I’m a scientist by training, but I just don’t see anyone can pick and choose what science you’re going to believe and what not.  The scientific method may not be always be perfect in single studies — since it is used by imperfect humans — but it is the best thing we have for objectively determining what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen.  It is testable and self-correcting, unlike all other approaches.
Once CSAs accept the science, many quite naturally get depressed — see “Dealing with climate trauma and global warming burnout.”  The situation is beyond dire, and we aren’t doing bloody much about it, in large part because of the successful efforts of the deniers and delayers.  Climate science offers a very grim prognosis if we stay anywhere near our current emissions path.
After depression, comes a serious effort at bargaining:  CSAs try to figure out what they can do to stop the catastrophe.  Taking actions and making bargains at a personal level and a political level — depending on their level of activism.
Then comes anger. Once you’ve been at this for a while, you get very very frustrated by how little is happening — by the status quo media, the many anti-science politicians, and especially the deniers, the professional disinformers.

Finally, you end up in a kind of denial. It just becomes impossible to believe that the human race is going to be so stupid.  Indeed, my rational side finds it hard to believe that we’re going to avoid catastrophic global warming, as any regular CP reader knows.  But my heart, in denial, is certain that we will — see “How the world can (and will) stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm: The full global warming solution (updated).”  The great New Yorker write Elizabeth Kolbert perhaps best summed up this form of denial.  Her three-part series, “The Climate of Man,” which became the terrific book, Field Notes from a Catastrophe, famously ends:
It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.

Joseph Romm
Senior Fellow
Center for American Progress

Reducing Your Carbon Footprint. Here's a clip from a recent New York Times article that resonated. The great thing about striving toward energy efficiency, which reduces the need for more electricity fueled by fossil fuels? It can also save you a significant amount of money, if done right: "...If the virtue of reducing your carbon footprint is not enough of an incentive, the United States Department of Energy estimates that the typical American family spends about $2,000 a year on utility bills. Changing some energy habits might not drastically reduce your total bill, but even small savings add up over the years — and your home would be less of a drain on the grid. Many energy-saving strategies are free or inexpensive, and technology makes it easier to follow through on advice most people have heard, but don’t always heed. ‘Smart’ power strips, for example, automatically shut down power to electronics that aren’t in use — like your printer or DVD player — but also have outlets marked “always on” for devices that need continuous power, like a DVR..." (graphic above:

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