Monday, December 16, 2013

Kinder & Gentler Extended Outlook (an early January Thaw?)

4 F. high in the Twin Cities Sunday.
27 F. average high on December 15.
39 F. high on December 15, 2012.
5" snow on the ground at MSP.

Minnesota Weather History on December 15. Source: Twin Cities National Weather Service
2000: A surface low pressure system tracked east-northeast through Iowa on the 18th and then into western Illinois during the early evening hours. Extreme south central and southeast Minnesota received 6 to 10 inches of snow, including Albert Lea with 10.5 inches, Kiester and Bixby with 6.0 inches.
1972: Fairmont had its fifteenth consecutive day with lows at or below zero degrees Fahrenheit.
1940: Snowstorm hits state. Water equivalent of the snow was 1.27 inches at Winona.

Christmas Lights

By the time December rolls around I feel like a zombie-extra in "The Walking Dead". It isn't the cold, the snow or even raging holiday-shopping-post-traumatic-stress disorder. It's a dire lack of sunlight that has me blue.

Today we'll see 8 hours, 47 minutes of daylight. That compares with 15 hours, 37 minutes on June 21. Many of have at least a mild case of SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder. That's one reason why we hang strands of holiday lights on our homes; an electrified version of an 18th century tradition - when Germans put candles on their Christmas trees to brighten up an otherwise-dark and somber midwinter sky.

Positive spin: we pick up 3 minutes of daylight by December 31; temperatures start to rise, at least historically, about 3 weeks later.

Another clipper brushes us with a coating to 1 inch today; more north and east of the Twin Cities. No big storms are brewing between now and Christmas, at least close to home.

After enduring snow & ice last weekend highs surge into the 50s on the East Coast next weekend, while we enjoy another brief polar plunge. Models show another upward blip in temperature next week; maybe 30s on Christmas Eve?

The way this month is going I'd call that a "warm front".

More Ups Than Downs. I'm finally seeing more evidence of a milder trend, after a couple of January-like weeks in early and mid December. Expect 20s today, a shot at 30F. Tuesday and Wednesday, before cooling back down late in the week. The ECMWF is consistently showing 30s for Christmas Eve.

A Rather Pathetic Warm Front. Where else in North America, other than the Yukon and maybe the North Slopes of Alaska, would the locals cheer for a forecast high in the 20s. If it hits the 30s you may be tempted to take off your shirt and brush the snow off the grill. Here in the Land of Low Weather Expectations we're grateful for small things. Graphic: Twin Cities National Weather Service.

In Retreat. The core of the subzero air is lifting rapidly north, a slight twist in the jet stream steering winds allowing 20s and 30s to return in the coming days, a few degrees above average for a change. By next weekend highs may surge into the 50s (with heavy rain) across much of the East Coast of the USA. NAM 2-meter temperatures out 84 hours, courtesy of NOAA and Ham Weather.

More Signs Of A Shift In The Pattern. We'll see more arctic fronts in January, little doubt about that, but I'm seeing more signs of moderation the last 3-4 days of 2013 which each passing model run. You may be able to regain feeling in your toes in time for New Year's Eve parties as highs surge into the 30s, according to GFS guidance.

Another Wish-Cast. I actually wish this 45-day trend from NOAA's CFS model comes true, showing temperatures consistently above average for much of January, with a string of 30F+ days January 6-20. I wouldn't place any bets, but I still think there's a good chance that December may wind up a bit colder than January, overall. That doesn't happen very often. Graphic: Ham Weather.

New England Snowfall Amounts. Parts of the Hudson River Valley picked up over a foot of snow, some 2-5" amounts of slush in New York City before it mostly-melted on Sunday. The Boston area saw plowable amounts of 4-8". Map: NOAA.

Most December 15 Snow Cover In 11 Years. Map and data above courtesy of the Kansas City office of the National Weather Service.

Some Weather-Climate Perspective On Egypt Snowfall. Snow in Cairo disproves the atmosphere is warming, right? Not so fast, argues J. Marsh, Director of Atmospheric Sciences Program at the University of Georgia: "...Legendary meteorologist and mathematician, Ed Lorenz, reminded us decades ago that the atmosphere (i.e., weather and climate) is not linear.  As such, when someone makes a statement about climate change based on a cold day/week or snowstorm in Egypt, it sends a calling card on their background in atmospheric sciences and understanding of the non-linearity of the atmosphere. Any properly trained meteorologist knows that (a.) cold/warm events are influenced by wave patterns in the atmosphere, jet streams, and other processes (e.g., think of pushing down one part of a kid’s inflateable- one area goes down, another area rises), (b.) El Ninos and Arctic Oscillations play a role in weather, and (c.) a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor.  These things play out within a larger climate system that is likely changing too..."

Photo credit above: "A woman swims in the pool at the David Citadel Hotel during a snowstorm of rare intensity in Jerusalem, Dec. 13, 2013. Snow blanketed Jerusalem and parts of the occupied West Bank Friday, choking off the city and stranding hundreds of vehicles on impassable roads." (Brian Snyder/Pool via The New York Times)

Scientists Turn Their Gaze Toward Tiny Threats To Great Lakes. The problem? Tiny bits of plastic (no larger than the period at the end of this sentence), too small to be filtered out by sewage treatment plants. Here's the intro to a troubling story at The New York Times: "...The newest environmental threat to the Great Lakes is very, very small. Tiny plastic beads used in hundreds of toiletries like facial scrubs and toothpastes are slipping through water treatment plants and turning up by the tens of millions in the Great Lakes. There, fish and other aquatic life eat them along with the pollutants they carry — which scientists fear could be working their way back up the food chain to humans..."

What Happened On Easter Island - A New (Even Scarier) Scenario. One word: rats. Here's a clip from Krulwich Wonders at NPR: "...What if the planet's ecosystem, as J.B. MacKinnon puts it, "is reduced to a ruin, yet its people endure, worshipping their gods and coveting status objects while surviving on some futuristic equivalent of the Easter Islanders' rat meat and rock gardens?" Humans are a very adaptable species. We've seen people grow used to slums, adjust to concentration camps, learn to live with what fate hands them. If our future is to continuously degrade our planet, lose plant after plant, animal after animal, forgetting what we once enjoyed, adjusting to lesser circumstances, never shouting, "That's It!" — always making do, I wouldn't call that "success."... (Photo: Wikipedia Commons).

Solar Panels Seen As Boost To Homes' Resale Value. As California goes so goes the nation. Will that be the case with solar? If and when Americans realize they can (consistently) save money over the long haul. Here's a clip from an interesting story at "In California at least, home buyers are willing to pay a premium for solar. A new study from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory finds that houses with rooftop solar panels sell for higher prices than comparable non-solar homes. In general, that premium more than covers the cost of the panels themselves, with homeowners making a small profit on their solar investment. Bigger solar arrays fetch higher premiums than smaller ones. But the study also includes a caveat: Buyers appear to prefer newer solar systems to older arrays. The premium a solar home commands declines with the age of the photovoltaic panels..."

Photo credit above: "An installer prepares a roof for solar panels in Encinitas (San Diego County). Home buyers tend to prefer newer systems." Photo: Sam Hodgson, Bloomberg.

In 1939 There Were "Blizzard Cones" To Protect Your Face From The Cold. Here's a bizarre and borderline disturbing clip from The Gothamist: "...The cone was designed "to protect the wearer from storms and blizzards," and presumably an added benefit is that your makeup didn't get messed up and people could still see your face? There's precious little information out there regarding this piece of ingenuity, which never quite took off. If it did, we'd need some serious Blizzard Cone etiquette guidelines out there on the crowded sidewalks—umbrellas are contentious enough."

TODAY: Weak Alberta Clipper: coating to 1" of snow possible, especially western WI. Winds: SW 10. High: 23

MONDAY NIGHT: Flurries taper. Low: 18

TUESDAY: Sunny peeks, nice to be "average" again. High: 26

WEDNESDAY: Partly sunny and milder. Wake-up: 13. High: 32

THURSDAY: Light snow arrives, heavier north. Wake-up: 20. High: 29 (falling sharply late in the day)

FRIDAY: Sunny and colder. Wake-up: 4. High: 12

SATURDAY: Reinforcing clipper arrives. Windy. Wake-up: 8. High: 17

SUNDAY: Sunny, fleeting polar pain. WC: -20. Wake-up: 0. High: 4

Climate Stories...

2013 Arctic Report Card: Only 7% Of The Ice Cover At The End Of Winter, 2013 Was Old, Thick Ice. Details from NOAA's "The most common metric for tracking changes in Arctic sea ice over time is sea ice extent. Extent approximates the sea ice you would see from a bird's-eye view, and it has been declining at a rate of more than 14 percent per decade since satellite measurements began in 1979. If you were to descend below the sea surface, your fish's-eye view would provide an equally dramatic decline: sea ice is not only shrinking across the ocean surface, it's also thinning. Directly measuring sea ice thickness is more complicated than measuring sea ice extent, but a useful proxy for ice thickness is age. Older ice is generally thicker ice. As this pair of maps shows, the amount of very old, thick ice that exists at the end of the Arctic winter in March has dropped significantly in the past three decades. White corresponds with the oldest, thickest ice. The darkest blue represents first-year ice: ice that has survived one summer melt season..."

2013 Arctic Report Card: Visual Highlights. Here's an overview from NOAA's "From reindeer to regional temperature patterns, from sea ice age to Greenland surface melt, the Arctic Report Card is a yearly assessment of the Arctic's physical and biological systems and how they are changing. This collection of visual highlights from the 2013 report is a story of the Arctic in pictures. Based on the report's major themes, it was developed by the NOAA team in cooperation with Arctic Report Card authors and other Arctic experts."

We're Still Losing Ice At The Poles. Here's an excerpt from a good summary at Slate: "...I’m not sure how much stock to put in a prediction of an ice-free Arctic in just a few years, but that day is clearly coming, and soon. Looking at the sea ice extent (essentially, how much area is covered by ice) over the past few years, we’ve lost about 2 million square kilometers over 15 years.* The extent is at roughly 10 million sq. km now, so extrapolating we have 75 years left. I’ll note that’s very rough, and I’d consider that only a decent upper limit to how long it will take. With feedback processes, that’s likely to be a severe overestimate..."

The Good And Bad News: How Climate Change Is Affecting Farming In Michigan. This has obvious parallels with agriculture in Minnesota. Here's an excerpt from The Battle Creek Enquirer: "...Bring up the issue of climate change at the dinner table, and chances are you’ll get served with a variety of differing, heated views. The same is true in the fields. “There’s still a lot of skepticism in the farming community over how big of an issue climate change really is or if it’s happening at all,” Boring said. “I think you see a lot of guys struggling to figure out really what’s going on and looking for answers on it, because there’s so much conflicting information.” While a common conception of climate change is sharply rising temperatures, Boring said climate change is really about a gradual warming. In fact, the most damaging aspect of climate change is how this subtle rise in temperature may increase risk factors for extreme weather events such as more intense hurricanes, heavier rainfall, droughts and heat waves..."

British Wine Benefits As The Climate Change. "A fine British wine?" As Europe continues to warm the concept may not be as far-fetched as it sounds. Here's an excerpt from The New York Times: "...More obvious, though, may be the meteorological motive that is at least partly behind Mr. Elzinga’s move. By the middle of this century, Britain could become one of the world’s big wine producers, as global warming moves the limits of viticulture ever farther north. “The wine industry in Europe will certainly change to follow the climate changes,” said Mr. Elzinga, who is now chief winemaker at Denbies Wine Estate, one of Britain’s largest vineyards. “You can’t beat the climate, so you have to follow it...” (File: Andrea Johnson).

The End Of The Arctic? Ocean Could Be Ice-Free By 2015. Most climate scientists are projecting a largely ice-free arctic by 2020 to 2030, but could that day arrive sooner? Here's a clip from a story at The Daily Beast: "...The entire planet is getting hotter, but the top of the world is warming twice as fast as the global average. One leading expert, Peter Wadhams, a professor of ocean physics at the University of Cambridge, says the Arctic Ocean could be completely free of ice in summer as soon as 2015. An overheated Arctic in turn threatens catastrophic knock-on effects for the rest of the globe, including more extreme weather; faster sea level rise; and a higher chance of accelerating global warming to where it becomes unstoppable—what scientists refer to as “runaway” global warming..." (Photo: NASA/Reuters).

Climate Change Will Pose Rising Burden On U.S. Taxpayer. Here's an excerpt from Kitsap Sun: "Such losses, says Ceres, a U.S.-based non-profit organization which promotes environmentally sustainable business practices, are set to rise considerably in the years ahead as a result of climate change, imposing an ever bigger burden on the U.S. taxpayer. Federal and state disaster relief payouts last year alone are estimated to have cost every person in the U.S. more than $300. Yet according to a new report by Ceres, Inaction on climate change: the cost to taxpayers, the U.S. administration, its agencies and state bodies are still not facing up to the grave financial implications of a warming world..."

U.S. 2012 Model Vehicles Hit Record Fuel Efficiency: EPA. Reuters has the story - here's the introduction: "The average fuel economy of vehicles sold in the United States hit a record high 23.6 miles per gallon (mpg) for the model year 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Thursday. Projections for the model 2013 year indicate a rise of 0.4 mpg, the EPA said, though the agency added that it did not yet have final data for 2013. The 23.6-mpg reading for 2012 was a 1.2 mpg increase over the previous year and the second largest increase in the last 30 years, the EPA said..."

Photo credit above: "Automobile traffic backs-up as it travels north from San Diego to Los Angeles along Interstate Highway 5 in California December 10, 2013." Credit: Reuters/Mike Blake.

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