Monday, April 13, 2015

A Fine Spring Spell - Tornado Trends Impacted by Climate Change?

64 F. high temperature in the Twin Cities Monday.
57 F. average high on April 13.
44 F. high on April 13, 2014.

.01" rain fell yesterday.
1.82" rain so far in April, about .80" wetter than average, to date.

April 13, 1949: Snowstorm dumps over 9 inches at the Twin Cities.

Tornado Trends

All or nothing, flood or drought - our climate has become more volatile - and this trend includes tornadoes too. At Saturday's Minnesota Severe Storm Conference Dr. Harold Brooks, from NOAA's NSSL division, confirmed that days with 1 or more EF-1 tornado have dropped by a third. But we're seeing far more tornadoes on the big days, clumped up in major and often deadly outbreaks.
We've had four quiet tornado seasons in a row; the same ridiculously resilient ridge sparking epic drought for California has limited moisture and instability east of the Rockies, putting a lid on tornado formation.

This is Severe Weather Awareness Week in Minnesota, which sees an average of 40 twisters every year. In 2010 we saw 104 tornadoes, the most in the nation! With a bias toward heat/drought I expect a relatively quiet 2015.

Then again, all it takes is one.

No atmospheric tantrums are imminent; a stray shower is possible Wednesday night - a better chance of rain next Monday, but the biggest storms will still detour south of Minnesota. We brush 70F today, again Friday before a cool-down early next week.

No snow. Minnesotans lose their stoic sense of humor when it snows on their green, freshly-mowed lawns.

Severe Weather Awareness Week in Minnesota. Skies should remain quiet this week but Sunday night was a subtle (yet blunt) reminder that the atmosphere draped overhead tends to become agitated, especially May and June, the two peak months for tornadoes and severe storms in general. Here's an excerpt from The Minnesota Department of Public Safety: "...According to the National Weather Service, Minnesota experiences an average of 40 tornadoes per year. In 2012, 37 twisters touched down. A record was set in 2010 with 104 tornadoes across the state.  Understanding this threat and knowing what to do when a tornado is approaching can save lives.

Take advantage of Severe Weather Awareness Week to review your own and your family's emergency procedures and prepare for weather-related hazards.

Each day of the week will focus on a different topic:

Severe Season Checklist

1). Multiple Safety Nets (e-mails and apps). Don't rely on any one source of severe weather information. There are hundreds of apps that can transmit the latest (NOAA) warnings for your county. You should also invest in a $20-30 NOAA Weather Radio that will send the warning, even if the power goes out.
2). Doppler on your smartphone. My favorite is RadarScope, although our new app, Aeris Pulse, is powerful as well, more of a general interest weather app with extensive mapping capabilities.
3). Don’t rely on outdoor sirens. They were designed for outdoor use only. If you depend on the sirens you're setting yourself up for trouble.
4). Football/bike helmets can avoid injury! It sounds crazy but many people have avoided head injuries by putting on helmets before seeking shelter in a basement or small, windowless room on the ground floor. The greatest source of tornado death and injury is blunt head trauma. A helmet can help lower the odds.
5). Tornado drills for your family. Much like a mock fire drill you should consider a tornado drill, so your kids know exactly where to go and what to do if it was the real thing.

Lightning Myths. Here are a few popular misconceptions about lightning risk, courtesy of NOAA, which adds: "Lightning strikes the United States about 25 million times a year. Although most lightning occurs in the summer, people can be struck at any time of year. Lightning kills an average of 51 people in the United States each year, and hundreds more are severely injured..."

Myth: If it is not raining, there is no danger from lightning.
Fact: Lightning often strikes away from rainfall. It may occur as far as ten miles away from any rainfall.

Myth: Rubber soles on shoes or rubber tires on a car will protect you from being injured by lightning.
Fact: Rubber provides no protection from lightning. However, the steel frame of a hard-topped vehicle provides some protection if you are not touching metal.

Myth: People struck by lightning carry an electrical charge and should not be touched.
Fact: Lightning victims carry no electrical charge and should be attended to immediately.

Myth: Heat lightning occurs on very hot summer days and poses no threat.
Fact: What is referred to as heat lightning is actually lightning from a thunderstorm too far away for thunder to be heard. However, the storm may be moving in your direction.

Late Season Clippers. The GFS model is more impressive for late week showers and T-showers, but the ECMWF solution suggests only a few isolated showers Friday. The heaviest rains continue to slide off to our south and east, next week's pattern dominated by a family of late-season clippers, meaning 50s for highs, even some 40s up north. GFS guidance: NOAA.

A Good-Looking Spell. 60s will do the trick into Sunday, based on European model guidance, a few spotty showers possible Wednesday night into Friday, but the ECMWF solution isn't nearly as wet as the GFS. Steadier rain is possible next Monday ahead of a cooler front. Nothing wintry, but we may have to settle for a string of 50s next week with a northwest wind flow aloft whisking a family of clippers across Minnesota.

Quiet Late April. GFS 500 mb (18,000 feet) forecast winds suggest a relatively benign pattern in about 2 weeks, with a weak west/northwest flow aloft, a pattern that continues to favor drier than normal conditions with temperatures at or just above average. Source: GrADS:COLA/IGES.

Expanding Drought. The latest U.S. Drought Monitor shows moderate drought over 92% of Minnesota, now expanding across much of northern and central Wisconsin. Much of the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes is drying out - with any luck we'll see a few soaking storms in the weeks ahead.

California's History of Drought Repeats. The New York Times has the story - here's a link and excerpt: "...The drought, now in its fourth year, is by many measures the worst since the state began keeping records of temperature and precipitation in the 1800s. And with a population now close to 39 million and a thirsty, $50 billion agricultural industry, California has been affected more by this drought than by any previous one. But scientists say that in the more ancient past, California and the Southwest occasionally had even worse droughts — so-called megadroughts — that lasted decades..."

Beyond Almonds: A Rogue's Gallery of Guzzlers in California's Drought. Almonds take up nearly 10% of California's water supply, but there are other offenders, as pointed out in this story at NPR. Here's an excerpt: "...If you look at this presentation by Blaine Hanson, an irrigation expert also of UC-Davis, one thing jumps out. The agricultural product that truly dominates water use in California isn't almonds. It's alfalfa, plus "other forages," such as irrigated pasture and corn that's chopped into a cattle feed called silage. These forage crops consume more water per acre than almonds, and they also cover nearly twice as much land. And where do those products go? Primarily, they feed California's enormous (though shrinking) herd of milk-producing cows..." (Illustration above: Leif Parsons for NPR ).

A Very Close Call. This is about as close as you can come to an EF-4 tornado and live to talk about it. I'm amazed by how calm this guy is - I would have been screaming the Lord's Prayer. Here's a link to incredible iPhone footage and a story from Oswego Patch: "...A North Carolina man passing through Illinois on a business trip was directly in the path of the EF-4 tornado that struck northern Illinois on Thursday April 9. The motorist, who was on Interstate 39, was just a few hundred feet from the tornado as it passed by. He recorded the twister on his iPhone while sitting in his truck. “It look like it’s coming right towards me,” says the driver, identified as Sam S., by the man who posted the video to YouTube, Aaron Rooney..."

Rochelle Tornado "Stuck Out Like A Sore Thumb" for Meteorologists. Journal Standard in Freeport, Illinois takes a look at best practices for tornado warnings, and whether there is such a thing as too much lead time; here's an excerpt: "...
"I’m not sure we need more warning time for some tornadoes," Sebenste said. "Psychological studies have shown that once you get more than 13 minutes of warning and nothing has happened, people will come out of their basements and look around. That has actually killed some people."
"A researcher in Texas has established pretty convincingly that 15 minutes is the ideal amount of notice for a tornado," Smith said, "and if you have more than 18 minutes, deaths go up. ... People either lose the sense of urgency to take cover or try to flee instead of immediately taking shelter, which is what we want them to do..."

Photo credit above: "In this Thursday, April 9, 2015 photo provided by Northern Illinois University meteorology professor Walker Ashley, a funnel cloud moves through near Rochelle, Ill. The National Weather Service says at least two tornadoes churned through six north-central Illinois counties on Thursday evening." (AP Photo/Walker Ashley)

50 Year Anniversary of Palm Sunday Tornado Outbreak. '65 was a tough year, for spring river flooding and tornadoes, leading up to the May 6, 1965 outbreak in the Twin Cities, when Fridley was hit by two EF-4 strength tornadoes. Here's an excerpt of a Wikipedia account of the Palm Sunday outbreak: "The second Palm Sunday tornado outbreak occurred on April 11–12, 1965, in the Midwest U.S. states of Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa, with 47 tornadoes (15 significant, 17 violent, 21 killers). It was the second-biggest outbreak on record at the time. In the Midwest, 271 people were killed and 1,500 injured (1,200 in Indiana). It was the deadliest tornado outbreak in Indiana history, with 137 people killed.[1] The outbreak also made that week in April 1965 the second-most-active week in history, with 51 significant and 21 violent tornadoes. Despite having 17 F4 tornadoes, 6 of them (4 in Indiana, and 2 in Ohio) are questionable, and may have been F5's. (Photo credit: Paul Huffman, NOAA).

Flood Of The Century: 50 Years Ago Easter Weekend Saw Record Crest for the St. Croix. The flood of '65 was truly historic, one for the record books, with the highest crest on record for the Minnesota River at Shakopee. Stillwater was also hit hard; here's an excerpt from The Stillwater Gazette: "On Easter weekend 1965, Stillwater’s Main Street was shut down. Beginning at 8 a.m. on Good Friday, no one was allowed east of Second Street without an emergency pass. According to news reports from the time, the closure was unprecedented in Stillwater history; so were the record flood levels threatening downtown. Water covered the lift bridge’s driving surface, and a 5,000-foot-long dike built by teenagers served as the only barrier preventing the St. Croix River from bursting onto Main Street..."

Smart Phones As Quake Warning Devices? Scientists Test Concept. That miniaturized supercomputer in your pocket or purse may have implications beyond Snapchat and watching cat videos. Here's an excerpt from SFGate: "...Earthquake scientists are proposing that crowdsourcing hundreds or even thousands of volunteers with their highly sensitive mobile phones could create a seismic early warning system to alert users of oncoming seismic shocks. Seismologists in Menlo Park and UC Berkeley are testing the phones and foresee them as particularly useful in developing regions, like Southeast Asia and parts of Africa, that are prone to large and often devastating earthquakes but where more sophisticated warning systems don’t exist..." (Image credit: NASA).

Power To The People: Bring On The Super-Battery. What will Tesla announce the end of the month? An incremental improvement or something more radical and revolutionary? Here's a clip from The Guardian: "...For some time, Musk has been building a huge factory to make such batteries and he is widely believed to be planning a major announcement on 30 April. Until recently, most people assumed that his new factory would be making improved batteries merely for powering electric vehicles. But if the rumour mill is correct, Musk has set his sights higher – on new battery technology that would make it possible efficiently to store the quantities of electric power needed to run modern homes. If he has indeed managed to do something like that, then it would be a game-changer on an epochal scale..."

TODAY: Plenty of sun, hard to concentrate. Wind: S 10-15. High: 71
TUESDAY NIGHT: Partly cloudy and pleasant. Low: 45
WEDNESDAY: Clouds increase, stray shower Wednesday night? High: 67
THURSDAY: More clouds than sun. Wake-up: 48. High: 65
FRIDAY: Partly sunny, lukewarm. Wake-up: 49. High: near 70
SATURDAY: Sunny, pretty spectacular. Wake-up: 47. High: 66
SUNDAY: Fading sun, probably dry. Wake-up: 48. High: 64
MONDAY: Cold rain, fairly unpleasant. Wake-up: 44. High: 54

Climate Stories...

Minnesota Energy Policy Revision Brings In Political Division. The Market Business dives into the growing controversey surrounding Minnesota's renewable energy policy; here's an excerpt: "...Critics say Garofalo’s package would undercut the mandate that investor-owned utilities get 1.5 percent of their power from solar, end rooftop solar rebate programs, including one for Minnesota-made panels, and repeal mandatory conservation programs by electric and natural gas utilities in 2016. “If any large part of this were to become law, it would be going backward, not forward,” said Michael Noble, executive director of Fresh Energy, a St. Paul-based nonprofit that helped draft the 2013 state law that has triggered increased investment in solar power across the state..." (Image credit: Fresh Energy).

The Rockefellers Offload Oil and Take on Clean Energy (Paywall). Here's the intro to a story at Barron's: "The Rockefeller Brothers Fund—the $866 million-asset foundation started in 1940 by John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s five sons—announced in September that the family would divest itself of all their coal, tar-sands, and fossil-fuel investments held in the fund’s endowment. The eight Rockefeller family trustees on the board decided the fund needed “to better align its endowed assets with its mission” of combating climate change. The irony of Standard Oil’s heirs shedding fossil fuels wasn’t lost on the media..."

Keep It In The Ground: Why This Is A Matter of Basic Ethics. Here's a clip from a post at The Guardian: "...If the purpose of your existence is to make the world a better place, why would you invest billions of dollars in companies that make the greatest contribution to global climate change? That’s the simple question behind the Guardian’s Keep it in the Ground campaign. But is there a simple answer? Sadly, perhaps there isn’t. We could ascribe all of these investments to some kind of misplaced avarice. But that doesn’t make sense: it is not as if buying shares in these companies is some kind of “get rich quick” scheme..." (File photo: M Otero, AP).

Saudi Arabia's Plan To Extend The Age of Oil. Bloomberg Business has the article - here's an excerpt that caught my eye: "...Naimi and other Saudi leaders have worried for years that climate change and high crude prices will boost energy efficiency, encourage renewables, and accelerate a switch to alternative fuels such as natural gas, especially in the emerging markets that they count on for growth. They see how demand for the commodity that’s created the kingdom’s enormous wealth—and is still abundant beneath the desert sands—may be nearing its peak. This isn’t something the petroleum minister discusses in depth in public, given global concern about carbon emissions and efforts to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. But Naimi acknowledges the trend. “Demand will peak way ahead of supply,” he told reporters in Qatar three years ago. If growth in oil consumption flattens out too soon, the transition could be wrenching for Saudi Arabia, which gets almost half its gross domestic product from oil exports..."

The "Green" Tea Party Fights For A More Environmentally Friendly GOP. PRI, Public Radio International, has the story - here's a link and excerpt: "...I'm a staunch, right-wing, radical conservative and I believe — I know this is something many don't agree with — but I believe conservation is a conservative principle,” she says. Americans for Prosperity opposes renewable energy, and the group's Georgia chapter fought hard — and dirty, Dooley claims — against the solar power proposal. But Dooley’s group and their environmentalist allies won. A counter-intuitive media narrative was born: This was the green Tea Party, and Dooley was the face of it. She was featured in dozens of publications, and an article about her work appeared in the February issue of the New Yorker..."

Invest in Nuclear Power to Meet Our Carbon Goals. Clean renewables like wind, solar and geothermal won't be able to achieve scale fast enough - we need additional bridge forms of power, including nuclear, especially newer, smaller, safer nuclear plants that don't have the waste (and terrorism) concerns of older technologies. Here's an excerpt of an Op-Ed at The Washington Post from former U.S. Senator Evan Bayh: "...U.S. nuclear plants generate nearly 20 percent of our electricity but provide 63 percent of our carbon-free energy. Nuclear plants prevented 589 million metric tons of carbon-dioxide emissions in 2013, equal to carbon-dioxide emissions from 113 million automobiles. Unfortunately, this carbon-free energy is at risk as some of our nuclear energy plants face a perfect storm of economic challenges that threaten their continued existence..."

Pope Francis Is A Powerful Messenger for Climate Change. Here's a snippet from a story at Quartz: "This summer, Pope Francis plans to release an encyclical letter in which he will address environmental issues, and very likely climate change. His statement will have a profound impact on the public debate. For one, it will elevate the spiritual, moral and religious dimensions of the issue. Calling on people to protect the global climate because it is sacred, both for its own God-given value and for the life and dignity of all humankind, not just the affluent few, will create far more personal commitment than a government call for action on economic grounds or an activist’s call on environmental grounds..." (File photo: AP).

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