Friday, March 1, 2013

A Significant Clipping? (potential for plowable snowfall by Monday)

31 F. high in the Twin Cities Friday.
34 F. average high on March 1.
36 F. high on March 1, 2012.

Plowable snowfall possible Sunday night into Monday.

40 F. highs expected by the end of next week.

A Significant "Clipping"?

The extended outlook? "Changeable". Too vague? "Partly to mostly, with a chance."
Computer models have (minimal) accuracy out to 15 days for a specific city, but we all realize the 7-Day is more of a prayer than a prediction.

March is a very volatile month; big north-south temperature extremes whipping up big storms - rain and slushy snow. Later this month some lucky Minnesota towns will hear the first thunder of spring; average highs approach 50F in the Twin Cities by March 31.

In fact, models hint at 40s, even an outside shot at 50F at MSP, by mid-March; warm enough for a little rain.

The big question in my mind: will the pattern support big, sloppy, southern storms, brimming with moisture from the Gulf of Mexico? We need a parade of storms sloshing up I-35 to ease the drought by late spring. I'm cautiously optimistic, but the drought is still Minnesota's #1 weather story, and will be for the foreseeable future.

Cool sun today gives way to clouds Sunday; the next clipper looks more formidable - the NAM model hinting at a stripe of 4-8" setting up very closer to the MSP metro area Sunday night into Monday. We'll see. I want to see a few more runs.

In today's weather blog below: will "The Sequester" impact NOAA's ability to predict and track tornadoes and hurricanes?

NAM Prediction. Confidence level is still low (because models are diverging), but we've had a couple of NAM runs hinting at plowable amounts of snow in the metro area from Sunday night into Monday. The map above shows projected snowfall thru midnight Monday.

High Bust Potential. How much? Anywhere from nothing (GFS) to as much as 10" Anytime the snowfall forecast spread is this wide, the models are this far apart, there is much that can go wrong with the forecast. That said, models are still suggesting a potentially significant snowfall late Sunday into Monday.

Preliminary February Climate Summary. Here's an excerpt of Mark Seeley's always-excellent weekly edition of WeatherTalk: "Most observers in Minnesota reported a mean monthly temperature for February that was 2 to 4 degrees cooler than normal. Since June of 2011 (a 21 month period), February 2013 is only the 2nd month with a statewide average temperature that is cooler than normal (the other was October 2012). Extremes for the month were 45 degrees F at Grand Rapids on the 27th and -39 degrees F at International Falls on the 2nd. Precipitation was generally abundant during the month of February, except for small portions of southwestern Minnesota. It was the wettest February statewide since 2007. Many observers reported over 2 inches of precipitation, most of which came as snowfall..."

March 2013: Nothing Like March 2012. Last year we had late May in mid-March, nearly 14,000 warm weather records. It was the warmest March in U.S. history. This year the pattern is dramatically different, the core of the jet stream farther south, more Canadian air spilling south of the border. In today's edition of Climate Matters I compare March 2012 and March 2013, and track another potential Nor'easter late next week: "Almost half the country started March with snow on the ground. What's in store the rest of this month? Meteorologist Paul Douglas doesn't think it will be anything like the March of 2012 when nearly 14,000 warm weather records were broken. In fact, fresh snow could be in store for many over the next week."

How The Sequester Impacts Weather And Hurricane Reporting. Here's a story that caught my eye; an excerpt courtesy of Central Florida News 13: "How you are protected and receive information about extreme weather conditions from the government could be affected by the sequester. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which runs the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center, stands to take a large hit if the sequester takes effect, according to the Obama administration. The Department of Commerce, oversees NOAA, stated that the budge cuts could potentially impact the public in a storm. In an emailed statement, a spokesman wrote: 

“These cuts would result in a gap in weather satellite coverage, diminishing the quality of weather forecasts and the warnings of severe weather events like hurricanes and tornadoes...These impacts directly affect NOAA employees and partners throughout the country: up to 2,600 NOAA employees would have to be furloughed, approximately 2,700 positions would not be filled, and the number of contractors would have to be reduced by about 1,400. If sequestration is enacted, NOAA will face the loss of highly trained technical staff and partners. As a result, the government runs the risk of significantly increasing forecast error and, the government's ability to warn Americans across the country about high impact weather events, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, will be compromised..".

Photo credit above: "(FILE/Kimberly Prosser, Brevard County Emergency Management) "Hurricane hunter aircraft like this one in Brevard County could be forced to reduce flight hours under budget cuts as outlined in the March 1, 2013 sequester."

Percentage Annual Sunshine. The list above highlights America's sunniest cities. Phoenix and Las Vegas get top honors for the most sunshine (85% of daylight hours are sunny, on average). As a point of comparison 58% of daylight hours in the Twin Cities are clear to partly cloudy, a higher number than Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit or Boston. Source:

If Anyone Asks (Doubtful) St. Cloud Is Sunnier Than The Twin Cities. Who knew? I dug around the web site and found the nugget above: St. Cloud is the sunniest (large) city in Minnesota. It should be a trivia question.

2012 U.S. Extreme Weather Overview. Here's a portion of an excellent recap and summary (PDF) of America's weather extremes during 2012 from Climate Nexus: "With oppressive heat waves, devastating droughts, ravaging wildfires, and hard-­hitting storms, 2012 was one for the record books. Thousands of precipitation and temperature records were broken, plaguing almost all of the United States this year and underscoring the connection between increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather and climate change. With climate change, we’ve set the table for precisely this kind of extreme weather, and unfortunately, our changing climate threatens to alter the weather for years to come.

A year of extremes: 2012 was the second most extreme year on record for the nation, according to the U.S.Climate Extremes Index. The year had 11 disasters costing $1 billion or more. The only year on record that had more billion dollar disasters was 2011, which had 14. According to Munich Re, extreme weather caused $107.2 billion worth of damage in the U.S in 2012...."

Going Blind: The Coming Satellite Crisis. The USA has 24 earth-observing satellites in orbit right now; several of the polar-orbiting satellites are about to go dark, and replacements may not be available for a period of time, resulting in a potential forecast-accuracy-gap. Some predictions have only 6 earth-observing satellites in operation by 2020. More from PBS Nova: "...That’s where polar orbiting satellites come in. They complement geostationary satellites by trading frequent updates for sharper images. Polar orbiting satellites sit much closer to Earth—generally about 500 miles up—and complete a trip around the globe every 100 minutes or so. Most Earth-observing satellites, weather and otherwise, fly in polar orbits. With the right sensor, they can image the entire planet twice a day, once on the day side, once on the night side. Their role in meteorology is unquestionable. “The polar orbiting satellites give us the ability to do long term weather forecasts,” says Jane Lubchenco, outgoing administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Currently, NOAA’s forecasts go out 7 to 10 days. If we don’t have a polar orbiting satellite, we would do 2 to 3 day forecasts. That’s a huge difference...”

Image credit above: "Suomi NPP is a weather satellite in low-Earth orbit—the only one the U.S. currently operates for civilian uses."

The King Tides. What Happens When The Sea Level Rises. This is the first I've heard the expression "King Tides"; here's a segment of an article at Huffington Post: "Did California just get a glimpse of what future sea level may look like? California experienced King Tides, especially high tides, during early February. The King Tides come three times a year, predicted because of the orbit and alignment of the Earth, sun, and moon. I was interested in tracking them because I am an advocate for low-lying islands and coastal communities, and I frequently write about issues facing these islanders from an eyewitness perspective. The timing of the latest King Tide in California turned out to be poignant, as the Solomon Islands experienced an earthquake and subsequent tsunami that took lives and again challenged the world to think about the way communities are shaped and sometimes traumatized by the water..."

Photo credit above: "Drowning Islands Facebook fan Tracey Coleman took this before and after photo in San Clemente, California to highlight the before and after effect of the King tide. Of all the submissions received, this was my favorite - what a great shot."

Asian And African Dust Influences North American Weather. Here's a snippet of a very interesting article at Scientific American: "In the western United States, winter precipitation is key to providing the water states like Colorado and California need to survive their dry summers. The snow and rain that comes in the cold season runs off into reservoirs, where it is stored for drinking water, agriculture, hydropower and other uses. Now, researchers have linked airborne dust and other particles from as far away as the Sahara and Asian deserts with the precipitation that falls over California's Sierra Nevada mountains..."

Photo credit above: "Researchers have linked airborne dust from the Sahara and Asian deserts with the precipitation that falls over California's Sierra Nevada mountains. Pictured: mountains outside of Bishop, CA." Image: Flickr/Justin in SD.

Ask Paul. Weather-related Q&A:

Hi Paul,

I am wondering how the 30 year average daily highs and lows are measured. As someone who works with statistics, I would think that just using mean average of 30 data points would make the measure unstable. For example, if the last 30 years of data for January 20th had several very warm high temperature outliers, the average may be moved up several degrees, say to 26 degrees. Then if January 21 had several very cold temperature outliers within 30 years, the average might be 17 degrees. Yet when I look them up the temperatures seem relatively smooth from day to day. Is there a special process used?

Brent Metfessel
Eden Prairie

Brent - I teed up your question with Greg Spoden, Minnesota's State Climatologist. You are definitely on the right track with your reasoning. Here is Greg's response to your question:

Hi Paul,

Your reader is right on the mark...the daily temperature normals are derived using more math than simple arithmetic. If Brent wants to see how the sausage is made, the National Climate Data Center (NDCD) describes their methodology in this document.

The "constrained harmonic least squares fit" technique used by NCDC smooths day-to-day variations, plus assures that the mean monthly normals are consistent with the means of the daily normals for a particular month.

Greg Spoden
Minnesota State Climatologist.

House of Cards. Netflix is shaking up the TV world by making all 13 hour-long episodes of this Washington D.C. based thriller available at once. And it's very, very well done. Binge TV viewing anyone?

19 People Who Are Having A Way Worse Day Than You. O.K. It's juvenile, but a friend sent me this link from Buzzfeed, and I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard. Click the link at your own risk.

A Chilly Lamb. In like a lamb, out like a....badger? No, a gopher. Not good with animals. After a gray start the sun came out, highs in the mid 20s to near 30. Snow on the ground ranges from 6" in Rochester and the Twin Cities to 10" St. Cloud, 13" at Duluth and 22" International Falls.

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

TODAY: Cool sun, light winds. Winds: SE 5. High: near 30

SATURDAY NIGHT: Partly cloudy. Low: 17

SUNDAY: Clouds increase, a bit milder. High: 34

SUNDAY NIGHT: Light snow or flurries possible. Low: 23

MONDAY: Chance of a plowable snowfall. High: 32

TUESDAY: Flurries taper, slow clearing. Wake-up: 19. High: near 30

WEDNESDAY: Plenty of sun, milder. Wake-up: 17. High: 35

THURSDAY: Clouds increase, more wind. Wake-up: 22. High: 37

FRIDAY: Patchy clouds, feels like March. Wake-up: 26. High: near 40

* photo above courtesy of Tom Purdy.

Climate Stories...

Climate Change, Conflict and TV Weather. Don't get me started. I began talking about climate change and the trends I was witnessing with Minnesota's increasingly manic weather back in the late 90s on WCCO-TV. I was looking at science, not policy implications or politics, but even then there were some who saw this as evidence of a vast, global conspiracy. Since then more TV meteorologists are talking about climate change on the air, but it's a daily struggle. Why? Not enough time allotted to accurately tell the story, and a desire to be loved (by all). Because when you start talking about climate change on the air you just know that 20-30% of viewers, especially older viewers, will see this as a negative. Ratings and research drive local TV news; every news director I've ever worked with told me "not to be controversial". No negatives. Which is why talking about climate trends can be kryptonite for TV meteorologists. Here's an excerpt of an article from NCAR: "...Yet in a 2011 survey of more than 400 weathercasters led by GMU’s Edward Maibach, only 19% agreed that global warming was real and primarily caused by humans, whereas 35% felt it was due to a mix of human and natural causes and 29% believed it was primarily a natural phenomenon. To get a clearer picture of what’s motivating or demotivating weathercasters, the GMU group conducted 49 in-depth interviews with weathercasters and moderated a workshop that drew on methods used for conflict analysis and resolution. Analyzing their feedback, Schweizer identified three main types of barriers.
  • Occupational:  Given that local TV news is a highly competitive business, some weathercasters fear that discussing climate change could cast them or their stations in a negative light.

  • Social:  Because climate change is such a highly charged topic, there’s a natural tendency to avoid conflict by avoiding the subject.

  • Cultural: Among the 35% of weathercasters in the above-mentioned survey who cited both natural and human factors in climate change, many stressed the uncertainties inherent in any research conclusion. Some also feared that politics might be affecting the research itself, including the ways in which scientists presented and discussed their policy-relevant findings. The 29% of weathercasters who viewed climate change as primarily natural had even deeper reservations about the process of climate science, including peer review and funding decisions..."
Photo credit above: "Gary Lezak (KSHB, Kansas City) is among TV weathercasters who deliver occasional reports on the global and local implications of climate change." (©UCAR. Photo by Carlye Calvin).

Why You Should Sweat Climate Change. USA Today has some good interactive graphics that help to tell the climate story and the implications of a warmer, stormier pattern.

 USA Today's Climate Change Series Comes At A Critical Time. Media Matters has the story - here's the intro: "USA TODAY announced in its cover story today that it will be doing a year-long series on climate change, sending reporters around the U.S. to examine how climate change is already affecting Americans. The series, "Weathering The Change," comes at time when climate change coverage -- including at USA TODAY -- has been relatively low in the U.S. 
USA TODAY covered climate change the least of the major national newspapers in the context of the 2012 presidential election. It entirely ignored how climate change has worsened fire risks in the Western U.S. in its print coverage of the destructive 2012 wildfires. It only mentioned ocean acidification once between January 2011 and June 2012, and ignored a study that found that the Great Barrier Reef has declined by 50 percent in the past 27 years largely due to human activities. And it closed its green blog in September 2012..."

Study Of Ice Age Bolsters Carbon And Warming Link. Here's an excerpt of a story from Justin Gillis at The New York Times: "A meticulous new analysis of Antarctic ice suggests that the sharp warming that ended the last ice age occurred in lock step with increases of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the latest of many indications that the gas is a powerful influence on the earth’s climate. Previous research suggested that as the world began to emerge from the depths of the ice age about 20,000 years ago, warming in Antarctica preceded changes in the global carbon dioxide level by something like 800 years. That relatively long gap led some climate-change contrarians to assert that rising carbon dioxide levels were essentially irrelevant to the earth’s temperature — a side effect of planetary warming, perhaps, but not the cause..." (Photo: James Yungel, NASA).

Humanitarian Disaster Blamed On Climate Change. NewScientist has the story; here's the introduction: "For the first time, we have proof that climate change has led to a humanitarian disaster. The East African drought of 2011, which resulted in a famine that killed at least 50,000 people, was partly caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases. The drought was brought about by the failure of two consecutive rainy seasons: the "short rains" in late 2010 and the "long rains" at the start of 2011. Climatologist Peter Stott of the Met Office Hadley Centre in Exeter, UK, and his colleagues ran climate models, with and without a human influence on climate, and compared the likelihood of the rains failing. Humanity's activities had no effect on the short rains – they failed because of a strong La NiƱa in the Pacific. "That's natural," says Stott. But climate change did affect the long rains, making them more likely to fail (Geophysical Research Letters, The model could only reproduce the scale of the drought if it included greenhouse gas emissions..."

Photo credit above: "Was climate change to blame?" (Image: Reuters/Jakob Dall/Danish Red Cross/Handout).

Happy 100th Birthday, Big Oil Tax Breaks. Think Progress has the story; here's the intro: "Automatic across-the-board budget cuts will take hold on Friday, affecting job growth, state education programs, environmental agencies, and women’s health programs. The sequester actually shares an important anniversary — with Big Oil tax breaks. It is not as well-known a date, but one type of deduction, the percentage depletion allowance, celebrates its 100-year anniversary today. Depletion allowances let oil companies treat the oil in the ground as capital equipment, and thus allows them to write off a certain percentage for each barrel that comes out. (See more here.)..."

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