Monday, February 3, 2014

Cold and Quiet (some recovery next week - California drought entering crisis mode)

-1 F. low in the Twin Cities Monday.
16 F. high yesterday.
26 F. average high for February 3.
13 F. high on February 3, 2013.
14" snow on the ground.

1984: "Surprise Blizzard" across Minnesota and parts of the Dakotas. Meteorologists were caught off guard with its rapid movement. Persons described it as a "wall of white." Thousands of motorists were stranded in subzero weather. Only a few inches of snow fell, but was whipped by winds up to 80 mph. 16 people die in stranded cars and outside. Source: Twin Cities National Weather Service.

A Real Winter

15 inches of snow on the ground. No grumpy e-mails from snow lovers this winter, for a change. So far MSP has picked up nearly 40 inches of powder; 5 inches more than average, to date - and almost 17 inches more than last winter as of February 4. And just about all of it came from a cold conga-line of clippers. Each new reinforcing blast of Canadian chill was preceded by a few inches of fluff.

It adds up, especially when steering winds direct from the Arctic Circle prevent any extended thaws.
If anyone asks (doubtful) we just topped 5,000 heating degree days since July 1, 2013. That means we've spent about 7.5 percent more heating our homes & businesses than during an average winter. Whatever "average" is.

While a parade of shovel-worthy storms pass south - Minnesota enjoys cold and quiet weather into next week; 5 more subzero lows between Thursday & Monday, followed by a thaw the middle of next week.

At some point a higher sun angle will start to make a dent in this stubborn, nagging whirlpool of cold air, what's left of the much-maligned Polar Vortex.Right now I see an extended spell of 30s, even a few 40s the 3rd week of February.

Yes, I'm ready for the Spring Vortex.

Storm Track Gets A Rude Southward Shove. As much as the cold weather is annoying (and it is) it's saving us from heavy-duty shoveling and even more painful commutes. When it's this cold it usually means the core of the storm track is too far south/east of Minnesota for significant snowfalls. That will be the case into at least the middle of next week. Map: Twin Cities National Weather Service.

Close Call. The Des Moines office of the National Weather Service has printed out expected snowfall amounts across Iowa, as much as 4-6" for metro Des Moines, with heavier amounts closer to the Missouri border.

One More Cold Week - Then Improvement. I can't promise blooming crocus or chirping robins anytime soon, but data suggests we'll pull out of the worst of the Deep Freeze by the third week of February. 30s will feel like sweet relief by the middle of next week. ECMWF (European) guidance: Weatherspark.
Coastal Storm Potential Early Next Week? It's still early (it always is), but many of the ingredients may converge for a significant coastal storm, even a full-fledged Nor'easter next Sunday and Monday, as the latest surge of Canadian air approaches the East Coast. Image above: Climate Reanalyzer.

2014: A Tale Of Meteorological Haves And Have-Nots. The drought continues to deepen in California, while snowfall amounts are trending well above average for many cities in the central and eastern USA. Today's Climate Matters looks at the extremes setting up, speculating on what the big weather story in 2014 may be: "WeatherNationTV Chief Meteorologist Paul Douglas looks at the "conga line of storms" that keep moving across the United States, one right after another. A number of these systems have brought much above average snowfall to Philadelphia and parts of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. While the East is wetter than average, the West finally saw rain after a record setting 52 days without a drop in Sacramento. Will there be a break in the pattern? Or will the drought end up being the biggest weather story of 2014?"

Time Is Running Out For California Drought Relief. Considering the wet season on the west coast spills over into early March we still have a few weeks to make up for what some are calling the worst drought since 1977, possibly longer. Here's an excerpt of a Climate Central post from meteorologist Andrew Freedman: "The California drought, now reaching into its 13th month, grows more devastating with each passing day and there is no sign of significant relief in sight. More than halfway through the state's wet season and the Sierra Nevada snowcap all but non-existent, California's prospects for making up its precipitation deficit are slim. The snowcap will yield precious little water and the state would need to get an average of about a foot or more of rain in the next two months to make up the difference. Forecasts are not offering much hope of that..."

Graphic credit above: "Comparison of the water content in California's mountain snowpack so far this year, compared to the state's wettest and driest years." (The data is divided by region.) Climate Central using CDWR data.

A Drier California Than Ever? Pretty Much. The Los Angeles Times has the article - here's the introduction: "The last 12 months have been the driest on record in California, and this, on the heels of two below-normal years, prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to declare that the state is in a drought emergency. Ours is a state that relies heavily on the winter storms that bring us the vast majority of our water supply, and those storms have been blocked and diverted so we have received virtually no significant water in more than a year. The 2014 water year, which began Oct. 1, is on track to be even drier than the devastating drought of 1976-77..."

Photo credit above: "The 2014 water year, which began Oct. 1, is on track to be even drier than the devastating drought of 1976-77." (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press / January 31, 2014).

California Farmers Brace For Drought, Unemployment. We've quickly gone from inconvenience to crisis mode with California's drought - at this rate 2014 is going to be long, potentially historic year, and I don't even want to think about the wildfire season to come. Here's a clip from AP and ABC News: "Amid California's driest year on record, the nation's leading agricultural region is locked in drought and bracing for unemployment to soar, sending farm workers to food lines in a place famous for its abundance. One-third of the Central Valley's jobs are related to farming. Strains on water supplies are expected to force farmers to leave fields unplanted, creating a ripple effect on food processing plant workers, truck drivers and those who sell fertilizer, irrigation equipment and tractors..."

Photo credit above: "In this Thursday Jan. 30, 2014 photo, Mendota, Calif. Mayor Robert Silva, 72, explains how the state’s drought is sure to drive up unemployment in his rural farming town during an interview in Mendota. Five years ago, the last dry year and height of the national recession, farm workers lined up for free food as unemployment exceeding 40 percent in Mendota. Silva fears that this year the food lines will be even longer." (AP Photo/Scott Smith).

Alerts Broadcaster Briefing: Excerpt of a briefing issued Monday morning, February 3, 2014.

* America's Snow Machine revs into high gear again this week with 2 distinct storms, one already impacting the Mid Atlantic, Northeast and coastal New England; a second storm pushes across the Central Plains into the Midwest and Ohio Valley Tuesday into Wednesday.
* Second surge of snow spreads across Plains into Midwest today into Wednesday; Chicago forecast to pick up 2-4" with heaviest snow bands probably passing south of Windy City; greater potential for 6"+ amounts Kansas City to Peoria to Indianapolis, Toledo, Detroit and Cleveland.

Latest Watches & Warnings. NOAA has issued Winter Storm Warnings from West Virginia, northern Maryland and southern Pennsylvania into the metro New York City area for today. Additional warnings have been posted from northwest Oklahoma and eastern Kansas into metro Kansas City Tuesday and Wednesday as the second storm gets going.

Storm Overview. Today's storm puts down a heavy stripe of sloppy, wet snow from Altoona, York and Lancaster into New York City. The second swath of heavy snow (heaviest amounts in red and purple) sets up Tuesday PM into Wednesday as a second storm takes a more northerly track.

Projected Amounts. About 3-6" of slush will pile up in the New York City area by the time the storm winds down mid-afternoon today, with 2-4" for Boston, heavier amounts just inland. The second storm forecast to spin up Tuesday and Wednesday may dump a foot of snow on eastern Kansas, southeast Nebraska, northern Missouri into central Illinois. Although Chicago will miss the heaviest snow bands, Indianapolis may pick up 6" or more of snow, along with Terre Haute, South Bend, Toledo, Detroit and Cleveland.

BPI: 9 PM Tuesday. A burst of heavy snow and strong wind may create near-blizzard conditions from Champaign-Urbana to Indianapolis late Tuesday, capable of widespread travel delays (land and air). Right now it appears the worst conditions will pass just south of Chicago Tuesday PM hours, but it will be a close call, and travel into and out of O'Hare and Midway will be impacted by a domino effect of air delays.

4"+ Snowfall Potential Tuesday - Wednesday. The second storm pushes significant snow farther north tomorrow and Wednesday, impacting Indianapolis, Toledo, Cleveland, Williamsport, Elmira and Albany. The atmosphere should be warm enough for (mostly) rain Wednesday from D.C. and Philadelphia to New York City.

Probability of 4"+ Snows Tuesday - Wednesday. Here's a broader view of the second storm, and which metro areas stand the greatest chance of seeing a plowable, 4"+ accumulation. Lincoln may pick up 3-4", with the heaviest amounts from St. Joseph and Kansas City to near Des Moines, Burlington and Bloomington (IL), pushing toward Indianapolis and South Bend, reaching Toledo, Cleveland, Erie and Buffalo Tuesday night into Wednesday.

Weekend Preview and Summary: The groundhog's prediction of 6 more weeks of winter sounds about right, gazing at the maps and model predictions. No quick spring this year. Travel conditions improve dramatically Thursday and Friday, before another rain/snow event impacts the East Coast Saturday and Sunday (map above shows one early solution of next weekend's potential storm, hinting at a major Nor'easter with strong coastal winds and very heavy snows over interior New England). It's early to go into details, but realize that the upcoming weekend may be filled with more unwelcome weather drama across much of the Northeast, with the best chance of wind/snow/rain/coastal flooding issues next Sunday and Monday.

Long-range guidance shows a significant thaw east of the Rockies next week. The next 36-48 hours will bring the most delays/cancellations and overall weather headaches. Although I won't be referring to spring fever anytime soon, conditions do improve, nationwide, by next week.

Paul Douglas - Senior Meteorologist - Alerts Broadcaster

Scientists Think Bubbles May Hold The Key To Understanding Storms (Video). Thanks to my buddy Mike Huang for passing this one along. No, we don't know what we don't know. Here's a clip from Mashable: "Bubbles might be fairly innocuous, but they may also hold a clue to understanding a more sinister natural phenomena — storms. French physicists at the University of Bordeaux are studying the behavior of the soapy substance to more accurately predict the intensity of large storms on the scale of Hurricane Sandy. The flow of liquid on the bubbles' membranes resembles the movements of weather systems that travel over the Earth, according to a report in the Daily Mail..."

China's Deceptively Weak (And Dangerous) Military. Here's an excerpt of an article at The Diplomat that caught my eye: "...The Chinese military is dangerous in another way as well. Recognizing that it will never be able to compete with the U.S. and its allies using traditional methods of war fighting, the PLA has turned to unconventional “asymmetric” first-strike weapons and capabilities to make up for its lack of conventional firepower, professionalism and experience. These weapons include more than 1,600 offensive ballistic and cruise missiles, whose very nature is so strategically destabilizing that the U.S. and Russia decided to outlaw them with the INF Treaty some 25 years ago..."

Image credit above: REUTERS/China Daily.

The Sochi Effect. Talk about over-budget. The 2014 Winter Olympics is an accountant's worst nightmare. Here's an excerpt from a mind-boggling story at The New Yorker: "Whatever happens on the ice and snow of Sochi in the next couple of weeks, one thing is certain: this Winter Olympics is the greatest financial boondoggle in the history of the Games. Back in 2007, Vladimir Putin said that Russia would spend twelve billion dollars on the Games. The actual amount is more than fifty billion. (By comparison, Vancouver’s Games, in 2010, cost seven billion dollars.)..."

The Ultimate Volvo Commercial. 3 million miles - on one vehicle? How is that even possible? Details from The Truth About Cars.

You Probably Didn't See The Best Super Bowl Commercial. This gives new meaning to OVER THE TOP. Details (and the surreal 2:00 commercial spot) courtesy of "It's a shame that this Super Bowl commercial for a personal injury lawyer named Jamie Casino only aired in Georgia because it was absolutely insane... and awesome."

"Whoever Is Praying For Snow - Please Stop". This is from my sister, who lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where they've picked up as much snow this winter as the Twin Cities.

Master Of The Obvious. No kidding, Phil. Although not officially sanctioned by NOAA, Punxatawney Phil does have his own web site.

TODAY: Clouds increase. Dry sky. Winds: N 10. High: 17
TUESDAY NIGHT: Mostly cloudy; snow stays well south, over Iowa. Low: -4
WEDNESDAY: Partly sunny, feels like -20F. High: 5
THURSDAY: Plenty of sun. Cold, but quiet. Wake-up: -14. High: 4
FRIDAY: Intervals of sun. What February? Wake-up: -9. High: 11
SATURDAY: More clouds than sun. Brisk. Wake-up: -7. High: 10
SUNDAY: East Coast storm. Blue sky here. Wake-up: -9. High: 13
MONDAY: Fading sun, warm-up begins. Wake-up: -3. High: 19

* 30s are likely by the middle of next week. Whoop Whoop!

Climate Stories....
Groundhog Decade: We're Stuck In A Movie Where It's Always The Hottest Decade On Record. Here's the intro to a Joe Romm article at ThinkProgress: "Somewhere on a Hollywood movie set for Groundhog Day, Part 2: Bill Murray wakes up to find he’s just lived through the hottest decade on record, just as he did in the 1990s, just as he did in the 1980s. And he keeps waking up in the hottest decade on record, until he gains the kind of maturity and wisdom that can only come from doing the same damn thing over and over and over again with no change in the result. Ah, if only life were like a movie. Somewhere in PA: Punxsutawney Phil saw the shadow of unrestricted fossil-fuel pollution from Homo “sapiens” today. That means global warming for another six thousand weeks — and then some (see NOAA: Climate change “largely irreversible for 1000 years”)..."

Earth Talk: Cold Weather Doesn't Mean Global Warming Doesn't Exist. Keeping a global perspective is difficult (we're all hard-wired to react to rapid weather changes, not slow changes in climate over time), but it's critical to keep a broad, global, long-term perspective. Here's an excerpt from The Santa Monica Daily Press: "It's tempting to think that the cold air and snow outside augur the end of global warming, but don't rejoice yet. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), weather and climate are two very different beasts: "Weather is what's happening outside the door right now, today a snowstorm or a thunderstorm is approaching. Climate, on the other hand, is the pattern of weather measured over decades..."

Photo credit above: "The harsh winter we are having shouldn’t be viewed as a refutation of global warming, but rather as further evidence of a growing problem. Pictured: Trying to get around in Cortland, Ill. on Jan. 4, 2014." (Michael Kappel, courtesy Flickr).

An Imminent Transition To A More Arid Climate In Southwestern North America. In light of deepening drought across California and the southwestern USA I stumbled upon this research paper from Richard Seager at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University. Here are a few take-aways from his research:
  1. Southwestern North America and other subtropical regions are going to become increasingly arid as a consequence of rising greenhouse gases.
  2. The transition to a drier climate should already be underway and will become well established in the coming years to decades, akin to permanent drought conditions.
  3. This is a robust result in climate model projections that has its source in well represented changes in the atmospheric hydrological cycle related to both rising humidity in a warmer atmosphere and poleward shifts of atmospheric circulation features.
Floating ice (light blue) and grounded ice (dark blue) in lakes of Alaska’s North Slope near Barrow, as seen by ESA’s ERS-2 satellite in 2011. Credit: Planetary Visions / University of Waterloo, Canada / ESA
According to a new study from the European Space Agency, ice in northern Alaska’s lakes during winter months is on the decline. Twenty years of satellite radar images in the study, which was published in The Cryosphere, show how shifts in our climate are affecting high-latitude regions.
[ Watch the video: Monitoring Lake Ice ]
Alterations in air temperature and winter precipitation over the last 50 years have affected the timing, interval and density of the ice cover on lakes in the Arctic, the study said.

According to a new study from the European Space Agency, ice in northern Alaska’s lakes during winter months is on the decline. Twenty years of satellite radar images in the study, which was published in The Cryosphere, show how shifts in our climate are affecting high-latitude regions.
[ Watch the video: Monitoring Lake Ice ]
Alterations in air temperature and winter precipitation over the last 50 years have affected the timing, interval and density of the ice cover on lakes in the Arctic, the study said.


The Psychology Of Climate Change. I see a fair amount of denial, but many people understand what's happening, and a percentage of them are impacted emotionally and psychologically. It's hard not to look at the trends and not get depressed, but I tell people the truth: we'll figure out solutions to adapt and hopefully mitigate carbon pollution. In the end we won't have much of a choice. Here's an excerpt from Doug Craig's always-excellent Climate of Change at "...The article indicates that levels of depression and anxiety will increse as our climate becomes less stable. "According to a report released by the National Wildlife Federation's Climate Education Program and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 2012, climate change-related events are expected to cause an increase in mental and social disorders. Such disorders as include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, suicide and violence. The report is entitled "The Psychological Effects of Global Warming on the United States: And Why the U.S. Mental Health Care System is not Adequately Prepared..."

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