Saturday, October 19, 2013

Fast-Forward-Fall (mainly rain today, slush potential north - the truth about climate denial)

49 F. high in the Twin Cities Saturday.
57 F. average high on October 19.
52 F. high on October 19, 2012.

.06" rain fell at MSP International yesterday.

Graupel reports yesterday around the metro area.

Fast-Forward Fall

Some years we ease into winter - other years snow & windchill arrive suddenly, like a cold slap across the face. This will be one of those autumns. Payback for an August-like September? Maybe. I've found that unusually warm spells are often followed by equally cold surges as the atmosphere tries to reach equilibrium.

But none of us should be surprised or indignant. We're 2 months away from the Winter Solstice; the sun as high in the sky as it was in late February. When people complain I ask them to track their GPS location on a map of North America. Are you really surprised?

An Alberta Clipper pushes a cold rain into the MSP metro today, ending as a few flakes tonight. North of the storm track there may be enough cold air in place for 1-2 inches of snow from Brainerd to Duluth.

Here we go.

With temperatures dipping below 32F a few roads may be icy early Monday, especially north metro. A hard freeze is likely by Tuesday. Kiss your begonias goodbye. Highs flirt with 40F next week; ECMWF guidance hinting at a slushy mix next Saturday.

Any Indian Summer? Probably. I'm betting on a few days above 50F the first week of November. Our new definition of a "warm front".

Because nature rarely moves in a straight line.

Mainly Rain Metro - Slushy North? NAM data suggests a light accumulation tonight, maybe an inch or two from Brainerd and Bemidji to Duluth, a few inches for the Minnesota Arrowhead. Map: Ham Weather.

It's Clipper-Time Again. 4km. NAM model data shows a pinwheel of precipitation pushing across Minnesota today, rain starting and ending as a little slushy mix, especially central and northern Minnesota. I expect mostly rain in the Twin Cities, possibly ending as a few flurries tonight. Loop: NOAA and Ham Weather.

In Search Of October. It will look and feel more like early or mid November out there much of the week, afternoon highs struggling to top 40F into Friday, a slight warm-up by Sunday and Monday of next week, when 50F. isn't out of the question. Wow. That'll be fun. ECMWF data above shows a mostly-dry week for MSP, the best chance of a freeze Tuesday morning, maybe a slushy mix Saturday as milder air tries to push in from the Dakotas. Graph: Weatherspark.

Federal Government Shut-downs and MSP Winter Snowfall. Yes, there may be a correlation between government gridlock and (slightly) more snow than average in the Twin Cities. Looking at 12 years with federal government shut-downs since 1976 the following winters average roughly 4" snowier than average. Forget ENSO, La Nina and El Nino to take our long-range cues - this may be as good a predictor as any, come to think of it.

MSP Snowfall During Federal Shut-Down Years:
76-77 43.6"
77-78 50.7"
78-79 68.4"
79-80 53.3"
81-82 95.0" - second snowiest
82-83 74.4"
83-84 98.6" - snowiest
84-85 72.7"
86-87 17.4" - fourth least snowiest
87-88 42.4"
90-91 43.6"
95-96 55.5"

Shutdown Average: 59.6"
1981-2010 Average: 55.5"

* thanks to Media Logic meteorologist D.J. Kayer for performing these calculations. If the forecast doesn't work out it's his fault. I wish I could take credit for this brilliant idea of linking winter snowfall and government shut-downs. I can't. Kudos to The Capital Weather Gang for making the connection and inspiring D.J. and me to run the numbers for the Twin Cities.

Bigfoot Made Me Do It. I'm not suggesting there's an ironclad causal correlation between government shut-downs and snow, but at this point nothing would surprise me. When it comes to any long-range weather prediction buyer beware. Everone wants to know what the weather will be like on Christmas Day, but that doesn't mean the science can support it. Winters are trending milder, so the (safer) bet would probably be another slightly-milder-than-average winter for Minnesota. Snow? In recent years about 1 in 3 winters have brought snowier than average (55") winters. We had one last winter. Two in a row? Could we be that lucky? Don't hold your breath. Here's an overview of today's edition of Climate Matters. I had way too much fun with this: "Weather forecasts beyond ten, twelve, days should have warning labels! Meteorologist Paul Douglas explains how long range forecasts have little accuracy. An active hurricane season was predicted this year and we have seen the quietest season since 1968. Long range winter forecasts are just as tough."

Wet Start To October. Here's an excerpt from Dr. Mark Seeley's weekly WeatherTalk Newsletter that caught my eye: "After a relative dry start to the month, this October is turning into a wetter than normal month with over two weeks yet to go. Significant rainfall totals this week in combination with those that fell earlier in the month have added up to over a month's worth at several locations. Normal October precipitation values (1981-2010) generally range from 2.0 to 2.5 inches, but many observers are already reporting over 4 inches, including Moorhead, Fergus Falls, Pelican Rapids, Melrose, Willmar, Cloquet, Isle, Moose Lake, Zumbrota, and Austin. Some observers have already had over twice normal monthly precipitation including Browns Valley (5.23"), Onamia (5.46"), Caledonia (5.55"), Chatfield (6.10"), Preston (6.73"), and Grand Meadow (7.08"). 2013 is the 4th wettest October in history (back to 1887) at Grand Meadow already..."

Shut-Down Could Delay NOAA Satellites, Climate Report. Andrew Freedman at Climate Central has the story; here's the intro: "The 16-day government shutdown may have ripple effects throughout the government’s weather and climate programs. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has begun assessing whether the shutdown will cause further delays to its already troubled development of the next generation of weather and climate satellites. The satellites, which were already running billions over budget and years behind schedule before the shutdown, are considered critical to maintaining the accuracy of U.S. weather and climate forecasts..."

Ask Paul. Weather-related Q&A:

Hi Paul,
When it comes to weather-related matters I trust your assessments more than anyone else in our neck of the woods (Mpls./St. Paul). I read your response to Joe from Eau Claire, and pardon if I'm a bit redundant, has cold weather moved in to stay for a few months? High's around 50 next weekend and possibly Halloween? Seems we always get a little reprieve from the first frosts. I know we ask a lot of crystal ball gazers such as yourself, tell me honestly though, how do the next few weeks look?
Thanks a lot,

Brad Stauffer from Minneapolis

Brad - thanks for the kind words (are we related?) I would wager a very small sum that we will see more breaks from the chill in the weeks ahead. I do NOT think we're going to be consistently colder than average into November. Unusually cold spells are often followed by warm-ups of almost equal magnitude. I don't see much evidence of Indian Summer in the extended GFS numbers (above), but I still think we'll see a few days above 50 in early November.

I've never seen a cloud formation like this. What would cause this?  I took the photo in South Mpls on Friday evening facing west.

Josh Downham, Minneapolis

Josh - thanks for a great example of "virga", illuminated by a low sun angle shining underneath the cloud base. Much of the rain is evaporating into drier air near the surface, leaving behind a cone-shaped swirl of rain drops, swept southeast by gusty winds near the ground. Virga is often mistaken for tornadoes from a distance, but the lack of rotation (and lightning nearby) is a tip-off that it's benign. That, and a dew point of 30 - that's a pretty good tip-off that tornadoes are the least of your concerns.

Raging Australian Wildfires Raise Questions About Climate Change, Emergency Preparedness. After record winter warmth fire season is coming (very) early to Australia - raising fears of another catastrophic fire year. The Christian Science Monitor has the story - here's a clip: "...More than 80 fires continue to burn across New South Wales, with over 20 blazes not yet contained, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp. The early start to the bushfire season in New South Wales has prompted warnings that the state could face the same conditions that led to the 2009 fires in Victoria – the worst in Australian history. Those fires claimed 173 lives and caused more than $4 billion in damage..."

Photo credit: "In this photo provided by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service the remains of a structure are in a crumpled pile after a wildfire destroyed the building, at an unknown location in Australia, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013. Nearly a hundred wildfires are burning across Australia's New South Wales state, more than a dozen of which are out of control, as unseasonably hot temperatures and strong winds fanned flames across the parched landscape." (AP Photo/New South Wales Rural Fire Service)

Report: Western Wildfires Growing More Intense, Insurers Deeply Concerned. As the Western USA continues to dry out over time wildfires are becoming more frequent and intense. The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang has more details; here's a clip: "Wildfires have been particularly large and destructive in recent years. The three-year period between 2011 and 2013 alone saw:
This trend is particularly alarming not only to residents in areas that are prone to burn during the summer, but to the insurance companies who insure those in harm’s way..."

Wildfire: A Burning Issue For Insurers. The 36 page (PDF) from Lloyds of London is here.

After The Flood: Ski Areas Crank Up Cloud-Seeing Programs. Well, this should make local attorneys very happy, because when it comes to modifying the weather, tinkering with Mother Nature, you really can't please all the people all of the time. Here's a clip from a story at The Aspen Business Journal: "...Weather modification has historic roots in the Cold War era, when both the U.S. and Soviets looked at ways to weaponize weather, and more recently, U.S. intelligence agencies decided to help fund a far-reaching study aimed at determining if there’s a way to mitigate global warming with technology and engineering. Proponents have claimed for years that seeding can increase snowfall in targeted areas by as much as 15 percent. As a result, water providers like Denver Water, and big ski resorts, including Vail, Breckenridge and Winter Park, are all helping fund a $1 million cloud-seeding program in Colorado’s north-central mountains, hoping to improve ski conditions, as well as boost stream flows and reservoir storage..."

Best And Brightest. Only A Few Countries Are Teaching Children How To Think. Here's an excerpt from an interesting article and book review at The Economist: "...This is a lesson Ms Ripley sees throughout her tour of “the smart-kid countries”. Children succeed in classrooms where they are expected to succeed. Schools work best when they operate with a clarity of mission: as places to help students master complex academic material (not as sites dedicated to excellence in sport, she hastens to add). When teachers demand rigorous work, students often rise to the occasion, whereas tracking students at different cognitive levels tends to “diminish learning and boost inequality”. Low expectations are often duly rewarded..."

The Scary New Chapter Of America's 223-Year Love Affair With Debt. Quartz provides some interesting perspective on our debt challenge/crisis - here's an excerpt: "...A country’s reputation as a borrower is largely built on two things: ability to pay debts, and willingness to pay. As we said above, the US has the ability to pay. But willingness? That’s a political issue. Defaults by countries that were perfectly able to pay their debts have a long and rich history. A study of almost 170 government defaults dating back to the Napoleonic era showed almost 40% took place when economic growth was strong. That suggests that at least some were driven by politics rather than economics. “Many of these seemingly inexcusable defaults occurred when political upheavals brought new coalitions to power that favored default for opportunistic or ideological reasons,” the authors of the paper wrote..."

An Army Of Robot Baristas Could Mean The End Of Starbucks As We Know It. Say it isn't so. Robots may be able to make a perfect latte, but what about idle banter and meaningless chit-chat at the cash register, huh? Here's a clip from Quartz: "Starbucks’ 95,000 baristas have a competitor. It doesn’t need sleep. It’s precise in a way that a human could never be. It requires no training. It can’t quit. It has memorized every one of its customers’ orders. There’s never a line for its perfectly turned-out drinks. It doesn’t require health insurance. Don’t think of it as the enemy of baristas, insists Kevin Nater, CEO of the company that has produced this technological marvel. Think of it as an instrument people can use to create their ideal coffee experience. Think of it as a cure for “out-of-home coffee drinkers”—Nater’s phrase—sick of an “inconsistent experience...” 

Photo credit above: "Finally, a barista you don't have to lie to about how your day is going." Briggo.

"Aeromobil": A Flying Car Reimagined. I wonder if any of the current crop of flying car initiatives will get off the ground - I hope so. This is one good-looking car/plane; details from Gizmag: "There is a saying in flying: “If it looks good, it will fly well.” Stefan Klein, a designer from the Slovak Republic, has announced the first flight of his Aeromobil Version 2.5, a flying car prototype he has been developing over the last 20 years. This vehicle is a strikingly beautiful design with folding wings and a propeller in the tail. But will its flight capabilities match its looks?..."

TODAY: Light mix possible this morning. A cold rain for much of Minnesota most of the day, mixing with snow far northern counties. Winds: S/SW 10-15. High: 44

SUNDAY NIGHT: Showers taper, a few flurries mix in. 1-2"+ snow possible Brainerd to Duluth. Low: 30

MONDAY: Slisk spots possible early. More clouds than sun. WC: 29. High: 41
 TUESDAY: Early freeze. Feels like November. Wake-up: 23. High: 40
 WEDNESDAY: Intervals of sun, less wind. Wake-up: 27. High: near 40
 THURSDAY: Clouds increase, still brisk. Wake-up: 30. High: 41
 FRIDAY: Plenty of sun, heavy jacket weather. Wake-up: 27. High: 43
 SATURDAY: Chance of rain-snow mix. Wake-up: 30. High: 39

* photo above: WeatherNation TV meteorologist Todd Nelson.

Climate Stories...

Rain Or No Rain, Beachfront Streets Flood Due To "Spring Tide". Here's a clip of a remarkable story at The Miami Herald, where rising sea levels are already wreaking havoc. The city just sent a team to the Netherlands to explore the possibility of building a seawall, dikes or levees to keep the Atlantic out of South Beach. Here's an excerpt: "...Rodriguez said the city is thinking of short-term fixes to deal with the issue. “We’re looking at improving our sea walls and raising some of them,” she said. In search of a long-term solution, a delegation recently returned from the Netherlands, Rodriguez said, and the city will determine which of that country’s strategies to hold back high tides can be used here. “Some of their ideas we can do, others we can’t as we are in different geographic areas,” Rodriguez said. The current levels of high tide are caused by an astronomical event known as “spring tide,” according to Chuck Caracozza, a meteorologist from the National Weather Service..."

How Do You Get People To Give A Damn About Climate Change? Good question. It often hits home when it (literally) hits home, the atmospheric equivalent of a 2x4 across the forehead. Here's an excerpt from Mother Jones: "...The two researchers agree that political ideologyand in particular conservative fiscal or free market thinking—is an overwhelming factor preventing acceptance of climate science. "A position on climate change has become almost like a tribal totem," says Lewandowsky. "I am conservative, therefore I cannot believe in climate change." But the difference is that Lewandowsky thinks other factors can mitigate this reality—including a consensus message that works, in essence, through peer pressure. After all, who wants to fly in the face of what 97 percent of experts have to say? "We know from my studies that if you can only tell people about the consensus, that it does make a huge difference to their belief," Lewandowsky says..." (Image above: Skeptical Science).

Read more here:

Nobody In The Fuel Cell Industry Has Ever Made A Profit - This CEO Could Be The First. Expensive pipedream or new energy source with massive potential? Here's a clip from Quartz: "The fuel cell industry has been the next big thing for nearly as long as it’s been around. Invented in the early 19th century, fuel cells are an efficient and clean way to produce energy. Hydrogen (the fuel) is pumped into a stack of various metals (the cell) in the form of natural gas or biogas. A chemical reaction produces electricity, water, heat and a negligible amount of carbon dioxide. Sounds great, right? That’s why over a dozen companies work in the industry. They make everything from multi-megawatt generators powering entire universities to little ones that power cars. Just last month eBay’s Utah data center went online, run entirely on fuel cells made by Bloom, a private company..."

The Truth About Denial. Sharon Begley, the senior health and science correspondent at Reuters, has a long, but fascinating post at her web site; here's an excerpt: "...But outside Hollywood, Manhattan and other habitats of the chattering classes, the denial machine is running at full throttle—and continuing to shape both government policy and public opinion. Since the late 1980s, this well-coordinated, well-funded campaign by contrarian scientists, free-market think tanks and industry has created a paralyzing fog of doubt around climate change. Through advertisements, op-eds, lobbying and media attention, greenhouse doubters (they hate being called deniers) argued first that the world is not warming; measurements indicating otherwise are flawed, they said. Then they claimed that any warming is natural, not caused by human activities. Now they contend that the looming warming will be minuscule and harmless. "They patterned what they did after the tobacco industry," says former senator Tim Wirth, who spearheaded environmental issues as an under secretary of State in the Clinton administration. "Both figured, sow enough doubt, call the science uncertain and in dispute. That's had a huge impact on both the public and Congress..."

Solar Panels Are Sprouting On Business Rooftops Across The U.S. Here's an excerpt from an interesting story at The Denver Post. Are companies doing this to be altruistic, because they care about the environment? Maybe - but I would suggest that it has to do more with saving money over the long term: "The 25 companies with the highest total solar capacity as of August 2013 have deployed about 445 megawatts at more than 950 different facilities, enough to power 73,400 American homes. That’s up from 300 megawatts and 730 facilities in 2012, according to 2013 “Solar Means Business” report from the trade group Solar Energy Industries Association and Vote Solar, a solar power advocacy group. The companies analyzed for the report had deployed systems in 30 states and Puerto Rico. The way was led by Walmart, Costco, Kohl’s and Apple..."

Photo credit above: "Workers install solar panels at ".

Water Vapor In The Upper Atmosphere Amplifies Global Warming, Says New Study. NOAA has the story - here's the introduction: "A new study shows that water vapor high in the sky and the temperature at the Earth’s surface are linked in a “feedback loop” that further warms our climate. Published today, this study gives the first estimate of the size of the feedback’s effect, which may help researchers improve modeling to better understand climate change. “Water vapor in the stratosphere increases in tandem with increases in the Earth’s surface temperature,” said coauthor Sean Davis, a scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences working at the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo. “Because water vapor is a greenhouse gas, this generates additional warming.  We show that this feedback loop could be about 10% of the climate warming from all greenhouse gases...”

Iowa Scientists: Climate Change Affecting Farming. Here's an excerpt of a story at "Several Iowa scientist are releasing a report on how they believe climate change is affecting farmers. A report "Iowa Climate Statement 2012: Climate Change Threatens Iowa Farms" will be released Friday at Drake University. Researchers and professors from Iowa State University, the University of Iowa, the University of Northern Iowa, Drake, and Mount Mercy University will release the report. The report looks at the extreme weather this year marked by the wettest spring on record followed by the second-driest July through September ever..."

Michael Mann, Off Battlefield, Discusses "Climate Wars". Andrew Freedman has the story for Climate Central; here's the intro: "Michael E. Mann sounds remarkably upeat these days considering that he has been under assault for more than a decade by investigations, criticisms, and even death threats for his work as a climate scientist. Perhaps he’s been buoyed by the fact that the Virginia Supreme Court recently halted State Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli’s investigation into Mann’s use of state funds for climate research. That case, which was widely viewed as politically motivated, galvanized the climate science community because of the threat it posed to academic freedom and scientific inquiry..."

Climate Change Panel Features Varying Perspectives With Common Goal. Wisconsin's Badger Herald has the story - here's a clip: "...The benefits of cleaner air, because of public health costs, are you gain $49 on average from every ton of carbon dioxide you remove … the cost of cleaner energy is $30 on average per ton of carbon dioxide removed,” Patz said, drawing on evidence from a study conducted by fellow panelist Gregory Nemet, associate professor in Public Affairs and Environmental Studies. The gains of moving to cleaner energy clearly outweigh the costs, Patz said. Nemet said there is an exponential increase in temperature projected for the next 100 years. “We need to decarbonize at a rate of 5 percent or 6 percent per year,” Nemet said. “You can’t deny that people are burning coal. It’s cheap, domestic and extremely carbon intensive...”

Walmart Leads Companies Investing In Solar. Are they doing it to be altruistic, because it's the right thing to do, for customers, shareholders and the environment? Possibly, but I suspect it's because over the long term they can operate with greater efficiency, save money, and pass those savings along, making them even more competitive. Smart. Here's a clip from Daily Finance: "Solar continues to "go through the roof" in the U.S. commercial sector. The Top 25 corporate solar users nationwide have deployed 445 MW of capacity thus far this year, up 48% over the same period in 2012, according to a report released this week. And leading the pack for the second consecutive year is America's largest retailer, Wal-Mart , with 89 megawatts of photovoltaic capacity installed at 215 company facilities in 11 states.  Those are the findings of "Solar Means Business 2013" study, conducted by the U.S. Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group based in Washington, DC, in cooperation with the Vote Solar Initiative, a non-profit organization based in San Francisco..."

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