Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Perils of Cold Snowfalls. Plowable Clipper This Weekend?

16 F. high in the Twin Cities Tuesday.
26 F. average high on February 3.
16 F. high on February 3, 2014.

1.4" snow fell yesterday afternoon and evening at MSP International Airport.
22.3" snow so far this winter in the Twin Cities.
34.9" average snowfall for MSP, to date.
39.7" snow last winter as of February 3, 2014.

February 3, 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.

Storm Inflation

Beauty - and snow - are in the eye of the beholder. One man's wintry playground is another man's soul-crushing commute.

"Paul, stop referring to these 1-inch clippers as storms! They don't fit the definition" a reader scolded. I'm quite accustomed to being scolded, btw. I'm starting to like it.

Look, I understand old-timers consider an inch of snow to be "flurries". I get it. But traffic on freeways has, by some estimates, tripled since the 70s. At the right temperature and the wrong time it doesn't take much snow to spark the vehicular equivalent of a heart attack. Exhibit A: Tuesday.

It's counter-intuitive but monster storms are easier. Nearly 20 inches of snow in Chicago? All schools and most businesses shut down. People stay home, avoiding travel headaches altogether. Consider that Boston has picked up 43 inches of snow from 2 blizzards in 7 days! While we scrimp an inch here and there.

Today's brisk Canadian breeze gives way to a partial thaw by late week; models hinting at a few inches of snow from a more formidable (slower-moving) clipper Saturday night and Sunday.

No snow days in sight - but we could still squeeze out 15-25 inches of snow between now and April 1.

Slightly Colder Than Average. European forecast highs are above, the GFS model a few degrees milder by late week with a shot at freezing Friday and Saturday. The best chance of accumulating snow comes late Saturday into Sunday morning from a slower, deeper, wetter Alberta Clipper.

The Perfect Storm? A plowable snow, enough for skiing and sledding, coming over the weekend, when commuting traffic is down and people can (in theory) enjoy the rare snowfall? It's not definite yet (it never is), but GFS guidance brings a potentially significant snowfall into Minnesota late Saturday and Saturday night, tapering Sunday morning. Too early to talk inches, but at this point anything more than an inch would be big deal.

Phil Was Right. Punxetawney Phil went out on a limb and predicted 6 more weeks of taxes, D.C. gridlock and media-hype. Oh, and 6 more weeks of winter, which seems like a fairly sure bet at this northerly latitude. GFS winds at 500 mb valid February 17 shows a cold flow pushing chilly air into the northern Plains and Upper Midwest; once again any major storm spin-ups probably south and east of Minnesota into the third week of this month. Credit: GrADS:COLA/IGES.

Why Weather Predictions Will Never Be Perfect. Motherboard says out loud what I've been thinking ever since the "busted forecast" for New York City (only 10", instead of the predicted 2 feet). Weather prediction is an unpleasant mix of science and art. If you call finger-painting art. Here's an excerpt: "...Seitter told me the computer models are constantly being upgraded, but even with the software improving year over year, weather prediction will always be 95 percent science and 5 percent art. “Forecasters who have a lot of experience predicting a certain kind of storm are going to do a better job than you or I would with the same information,” he said..." (Image above: NOAA).

Why A Snowstorm Is One Of The Hardest Predictions For A Meteorologist. Epoch Times has another story focused on the difficulty of predicting "how many inches". Here's a clip: "...The paradox of extreme events is that it is impossible to judge the accuracy of a forecast from a one off; we need enormous amounts of computer power not just to make the forecast, but to evaluate and improve the reliability of the forecast by studying past events. Some have called for New York to be given a special high-powered supercomputer to help make more accurate predictions in future..." (File photo: New York State Police).

Here's The One Simple Way To Fix Weather Forecasts. Which gets back to my idea of including a "Confidence Factor", which changes over time, depending on model agreement, timing, and a myriad of other factors. Here's a clip from TIME: "...In a 2015 paper, co-authored with Jared Le Clerc, Joslyn examined how the “cry wolf effect” impacted weather-related decision making. According to her research, increasing false alarms (like over estimating snow totals or issuing unnecessary travel bans) has a negative impact on the quality of decisions down the road, but reducing false alarms doesn’t have a positive impact on the quality of future decisions. Adding an uncertainty estimate to the forecast, however, does..."

The Way We Measure Snow Is Shockingly Low-Tech. It all comes down to a ruler, or yardstick, and how often you take the observations. Yahoo Finance has an interesting article; here's an excerpt: "...What’s changed is the way snow is measured in the U.S., and that means the figures today could be 15 to 20 percent higher than they were decades ago, said Kelsch, who works for UCAR’s Comet program developing training materials for universities and the National Weather Service. Today, snow is measured on a white board every six hours, Kelsch said by telephone. After the depth is recorded, the board is wiped clean and the snow is allowed to pile up again..." (File photo: NOAA).

Storms Like U.S. Blizzard May Get Stronger But Less Frequent: Study. Here's a clip from a story at Reuters: "...The Canadian-led study noted that warmer air can hold more moisture, meaning more fuel for rain, hail or snow, and found knock-on effects on how the atmosphere generates storms. "In a future climate, the global atmospheric circulation might comprise highly energetic storms," they wrote in the journal Science. At the same time, "fewer numbers of such events" may occur, they said..."

Photo credit above: "Two men clear snow from a sidewalk Monday, Feb. 2, 2015, in Blue Island, Ill. Residents in Chicago and the rest of northern Illinois are attempting to get to work after a blizzard-like storm dumped up to 16 inches from Sunday to early Monday morning." (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

Can We Harvest Lightning For The Power Grid? The short answer is probably not, but when it comes to innovation and future energy sources we should strive for breakthroughs that seem like fantasy today. After all, yesterday's science fiction is now (in many cases) science-reality. Here's an excerpt of a story at Forbes: "...Will it ever happen? The answer, agreed by most of the 300 respondents, is a resounding no. The reasons are laid out below, but let’s not, er, steal their thunder. There are a few outlier entries. Fran├žois Eustache suggests replacing the kites with laser beams. The idea is to shine a laser beam into the storm clouds, ripping electrons from molecules in the air and creating a path of low electrical resistance down which the lightning can pass..."

 At the same time, "fewer numbers of such events" may occur, they said.
What A Difference A Year Makes. Planalytics compares January 2015 with January 2014, when TV meteorologists were being paid under the table to hype the "polar vortex". Here are a few January highlights from the latest report:
  • A Cold Start to the Month.
    • Week 1 was the coldest start to January in 5 years and coldest since 2004 for Canada, driven by bitter cold in the East.
    • NYC, Chicago, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh were all coldest since 1988.
  • Consistent Warmth Through the West.
  • Despite week 2 trending colder across all regions, western locations experienced warm comparisons for a majority of the month.
  • San Diego had its warmest  week 1 since 1986.

Did A Mega-Storm Doom Air Asia 8501. Flying into thunderstorms is generally considered a bad idea, due to extreme turbulence and icing that can make instrumentation unreliable. Here's an excerpt from The Daily Beast: "...But the most crucial detail that has now been stated by investigators several times is that the jet began suddenly to climb at an extreme rate—3,000 feet in 30 seconds—and that as a result it went into a high speed stall. And the inference has been that this was as a result of the airplane being sucked into a powerful updraft that was part of a storm system..."

File photo above: "In this photo taken from an Indonesian Air Force Super Puma helicopter Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015, portion of the tail of AirAsia Flight 8501 is seen on the deck of a rescue ship after it was recovered from the sea floor on the Java Sea. Investigators searching for the crashed AirAsia plane's black boxes lifted the tail portion of the jet out of the Java Sea on Saturday, two weeks after it went down, killing all 162 people on board." (AP Photo/Prasetyo Utomo, Pool)

The Anxiety Of Dangerous Weather: What Happens When Climate Change Drops In For A Visit. What are increasingly turbocharged storms doing to our mental health, and how do we avoid a sense of apathy or hopelessness? Here's an excerpt of a post at Forbes that caught my eye: "...But a residue of anxiety remains. The so-called “natural world” we encounter through mediated weather events became seemingly more random, more chaotic, less understandable—in short, more anxious. And anxiety about weather is a psychological issue of significant importance because weather is how we experience moments of climate. You see, severe weather is climate coming by for a visit. It's like the crazy, drunk uncle whose visits disrupt everything..."

The Argument for "Anti-Work". Will robotics and automation continue to replace (human) workers in the 21st century. Is full employment a pipe dream? Here's a snippet of a story at fastcoexist.com that made an impression: "...Now, as technology makes more and more jobs unnecessary, maybe it's time for a different framing of work. Twenty years ago, Jeremy Rifkin estimated that about 75% of jobs in industrialized countries included tasks that could be at least partially automated, and as artificial intelligence and engineering improves, that number keeps getting higher. "Society seems to be in denial over this, to a large extent," Dean says. "So, we see the persistent belief that we can achieve 'full employment.' Rifkin showed empirically that this is nonsense, unless we create a lot of make-work, i.e., work for the sake of working..."

The Western World Has Turned Its Back on Car Culture. Is the car doomed? Not so fast, but an article at Quartz made me wonder what (future) grandchildren may think of conventional transportation options; here's an excerpt: "...The Western world’s century-old love affair with the automobile is coming to an end. People are driving less than they did before the recession, and there are fewer cars on the road. In the US, the number of vehicles per driver has fallen from a peak of 1.2 in 2007 to 1.15 today, according to data compiled by Schroders, an asset management firm. Young Americans are getting their drivers’ licenses later than they did in 1983, or even in 2008..."

Why The American Founding Fathers Would Have Hated The Anti-Vaccination Movement. Here's a clip from a thoughtful, informative story at How We Got To Next: "...READING THROUGH THE HISTORY of the anti-vaccination movement is a reminder, first, that anti-science popular movements are hardly unique to our own time; compared to the anti-vaccination leagues of the 19th century, the modern dissenters lack the organizational and intellectual firepower the movement attracted back then. But it also makes clear that vaccines reside in a difficult place, precisely because they involve the state and other large institutions making medical interventions with perfectly healthy children..."

Best Travel Deals and Destinations For 2015. PBS Next Avenue has some very helpful tips and links to take for a test drive; here's an excerpt: "...Check airfares at Google Flights and at Hopper.com. Google Flights is “incredibly helpful if you’re deciding between places to fly or multiple airlines and don’t want to go crazy comparing results from 37 different sites,” said Rosenbloom. She especially likes its bar-graph feature that lets you see which dates the flights would be least expensive for your route. But Google Flights doesn’t include Southwest, because the airline doesn’t let search engines include it. Saltzstein’s a fan of Hopper.com — whose motto is When to Fly and Buy. The site will tell you when the cheapest times of the week and time of day are to book the fare you want..."

Amish Donuts. Not those kind of donuts, the kind you do in a vehicle, or a horse and buggy, whatever's handy. Check out this YouTube clip from Ohio in the aftermath of Sunday's heavy snow - there's a first time for everything!

Every State Described By A Single Sarcastic Line From A Bitter Resident. Random, stupid, a potential waste of time, but I got a laugh out of a few of these. 22 Words has the essay; here's an excerpt: "...So if you took a few moments you could definitely come up with some barbed, perhaps even bitter, description of your home. And that’s exactly how some people recently chose to respond to a European who asked, “Americans, how would you summarize your state in one sentence?”..."

TODAY: Sunny. "Cold enough". Winds: NW 10-20. Feels like -5 to -10F. High: 17
WEDNESDAY NIGHT: Mostly clear and chilly. Low: near 0
THURSDAY: Partly sunny, stiff breeze. High: 20
FRIDAY: Mostly cloudy, risk of a thaw. Wake-up: 10. High: 31
SATURDAY: Clouds increase, snow at night. Wake-up: 19. High: near 30
SUNDAY: Snow tapers, few inches, potentially plowable? Partial clearing by afternoon. Wake-up: 22. High: 27
MONDAY: More clouds than sun, quiet. Wake-up: 17. High: 28
TUESDAY: Peeks of sun, trending milder. Wake-up: 19. High: 30

Climate Stories.

When Global Warming Means More Snow. Climate scientist Kevin Trenberth has a good explanation at The Conversation U.S. - here's an excerpt: "...The environment in which all storms form is now different than it was just 30 or 40 years ago because of global warming. Changes in atmospheric composition from human activities have increased carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases, with carbon dioxide level increasing by over 40 percent since about 1900 mainly from burning fossil fuels. The resulting energy imbalance warms our planet. And over 90 percent of the heat has gone into the oceans..."

Photo credit above: "John Mensch, of Moultonborough, New Hampshire, shoves snow around a car buried in almost a four foot drift on Beacon Hill in Boston, Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015. The Boston area has received about 40 inches of snow in the past week." (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Scientists Seeking To Save World Find Best Technology Is Trees. Kind of ironic that the simplest, cheapest and potentially most effective solution may be to plant more trees, which absorb CO2 and release oxygen. Here's an excerpt from Bloomberg Business: "...They considered methods ranging from capturing emissions from factories and power stations to extracting carbon dioxide directly from the air, and adding lime to oceans to increase their absorption of the gas, a study released on Tuesday showed. None were more promising than planting trees, or baking waste wood to form a type of charcoal that can be added to soil. Relative to other so-called Negative Emissions Technologies, afforestation and biochar are low-cost, have fewer uncertainties and offer other benefits to the environment, the research shows..."

File photo: AP Photo/The Daily Astorian, Joshua Bessex.

What Do Farmers Think About Climate Change. The Minnesota farmers I've talked to seem to be keeping an open mind on the subject, most of them realize something has changed, and whether it's a natural cycle or man-made they still need to build resilience into everything they do. Here's a snippet from Scientific American: "...Farmers who said they trusted environmental groups for information about climate change were more likely to believe that climate change was occurring and that it was due to human activity. However, farmers who said they trusted farm groups, agribusiness and the farm press were less likely to believe climate change was happening and due to human action. Respondents had the most trust in climate change information from scientists, while the least trusted source of information (for 31 percent of respondents) was mainstream media..." (File photo: AP)

Beneath The Waves: How The Deep Oceans Have Continued To Warm Over The Past Decade. Carbon Brief takes a look at trends, and where the vast majority of additional heating is going; here's a snippet: "Alongside the news today that 14 out of the 15 warmest years at Earth's surface have been in the 21st century, a new paper shows just how much the deep oceans are warming, too. Between 2006 and 2013, the oceans took up a vast amount more heat than the atmosphere. But you have to look below the surface to find it, says the paper in Nature Climate Change. Using the latest ocean-observing technology, the authors find more than half the heat lurks in the deep sea, below 700m..."

Unabated Planetary Warming and its Ocean Structure Since 2006. Nature Climate Change has an abstract of new research that tracks measurements from thousands of ocean probes, showing most of the warming has gone into the ocean waters of the southern hemisphere.

The Climate-Change Debate, Simplifed. Here's a clip from an Op-Ed at The Star Tribune that resonated, a reminder that climate change is "the perfect problem": global, slow-motion, with no silver bullet solution: "...The good news is that the changes occur somewhat slowly. The bad news is that the changes occur somewhat slowly. If the changes were very rapid and prolific, we’d be in deep trouble, right now. We would know it, and we would take great steps to reverse climate change. (But it might be too late.) Luckily, the changes are not extremely rapid or prolific. We have to recognize the changes that are occurring. Look around. Look for the changes. Do you see changes?..."

2014 Was Hottest Year On Record. But you knew that already. Economic Times has some additional detail to put that headline into perspective; here's a clip: "...Also notable was that the 2014 record occurred in the absence of a fully-developed El Nino system - a periodic weather phenomenon that has an overall warming impact on Earth's climate. High temperatures in 1998 - the hottest year before the 21st century - occurred during a strong El Nino..."

The WMO said that only a few hundredths of a degree separated the warmest years. Average global air temperatures in 2010 were 0.55 C above average, compared to 2014's 0.57 C, and 0.54 C in 2005.

Also notable was that the 2014 record occurred in the absence of a fully-developed El Nino system -- a periodic weather phenomenon that has an overall warming impact on Earth's climate.

High temperatures in 1998 -- the hottest year before the 21st century -- occurred during a strong El ..

Different Tack Needed For Climate Change Skeptics, Study Says. Here's an excerpt from The Toronto Star: "...Simply explaining the science behind man-made climate change will probably not help convert skeptics, says an Australian study. But what may tilt the balance is convincing climate skeptics that their actions are unlikely to prevent action on climate change, researchers say. The study, published in Nature Climate Change Monday, also emphasizes that it is important to reduce the growing polarization between the skeptics and the believers..."

An Urban Climate Double Whammy: More Heat, Less Wind. The Washington Post summarized new research into the implications of a changing climate; here's the introduction: "It is hardly news that in a warming world, there is a greater risk of increased hot temperatures, including truly extreme heat days that push the boundaries of what people are used to experiencing. But according to new research, most major cities across the world are not only experiencing more days and nights with extreme heat; they’re also seeing less overall strong wind. That’s a potential double whammy, in that on extremely hot days, you need breeze to help cool the body down..."

Climate Change May Cause Extreme Storms To Strengthen And Weak Ones To Abate. Science World Report has the article; here's a clip: "...In other words, they found that powerful storms are strengthened at the expense of weaker storms. However, there were the same number of storms overall. These findings may tell us exactly what we may be in for in terms of weather in the future as our climate continues to warm. The findings are published in the journal Science...." (Hurricane Denny image: NASA).

KU Team Helps Chart Climate Change With 3-D Map of Greenland Ice Sheet. The Kansas City Star has a story that got my full, undivided attention; here's the intro: "To get a better look at Greenland, climate scientists turned to Kansas. A team of engineers from the University of Kansas developed ice-penetrating radar that helped create the first comprehensive 3-D map of the receding Greenland Ice Sheet. And the picture they produced is scary. The data reveal that the last time the Earth’s climate was roughly as warm as now, the ice sheet retreated to a fraction of what it is today..."

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