Thursday, April 9, 2015

Spring Fever Imminent - Perils of Lousy Forecasts

41 F. high temperature in the Twin Cities Thursday, average for March 15.
55 F. average high on April 9.
71 F. high on April 9, 2014.

.58" rain fell at MSP International Airport yesterday as of 7 PM.
.1" snow fell at the airport yesterday, melting on contact.

April 9, 1931: Severe dust storms reported in St. Paul.

Lousy Forecasts

"Wise men learn more from fools than fools from wise men" said Marcus Cato. To err is human. But predicting the future requires a whole new level of hubris.

In 1901 Wilbur Wright told his brother, Orville, that man wouldn't fly for at least 50 years. "Ever since, I have distrusted myself and avoided all predictions" he said in 1908.

"Space travel is bunk" quipped Sir Harold Spencer Jones, Astronomer Royal of Britain, in 1957, two weeks before the launch of Russia's Sputnik satellite. Oops. Today's weather blog has more head-shaking examples below.

For the record weather accuracy for a 24-hour forecast is about 88 percent, which hasn't improved much in 30 years, in spite of better models, Doppler and satellites. And it's human nature to remember the 12 percent of the time we blow it.

After a badly-needed Thursday dousing skies brighten this afternoon; a moderate case of spring fever this weekend with sunny spurts, balmy 60s and a few claps of thunder late Sunday. More T-storms the middle of next week signal the arrival of another cool front - jacket weather returns in a week. But with a high sun angle it just can't stay chilly for long now.

Trust me. I predict the future.

Really Bad Forecasts. I'm feeling a little better about my busted forecasts over the years. Check these out:

"A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make." -- Response to Debbi Fields' idea of starting Mrs. Fields' Cookies.

"Space travel is bunk." -- Sir Harold Spencer Jones, Astronomer Royal of Britain, 1957, two weeks before the launch of Sputnik

"Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You're crazy." -- Drillers who Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859.

"I confess that in 1901, I said to my brother Orville that man would not fly for fifty years . . . Ever since, I have distrusted myself and avoided all predictions." -- Wilbur Wright, 1908

"The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon". -- Sir John Eric Ericksen, British surgeon, appointed Surgeon- Extraordinary to Queen Victoria 1873

"You would make a ship sail against the winds and currents by lighting a bonfire under her deck...I have no time for such nonsense." -- Napoleon, commenting on Fulton's Steamship

"Man will never reach the moon regardless of all future scientific advances." -- Dr. Lee De Forest, inventor of the Audion tube and a father of radio, 25 February 1967.

- Courtesy of Peter Kennedy at Daily Devotionals (which I highly recommend for a daily e-mail of inspiration).

Million Dollar Soaking. National Weather Service Doppler radar estimates shows some 1"+ amounts over the south metro, closer to 2" near Woodbury, a long, cool soaking which will cue a rapid greening of Minnesota in the coming days. North and west of Litchfield and St. Cloud little rain fell.

Tornadic Storms West of Chicago Thursday. Aeris Enterprise shows the storm track of a few supercells that spawned large hail and a few very significant tornadoes. At 7:02 PM there was a report of a large, wedge tornado on the ground near Hillcrest, sout of Rockford, about 60 miles west/northwest of Chicago.

Thursday Tornado Count. As of late last night NOAA SPC was reporting 16 confirmed tornadoes, most of them in Illinois, but that number will almost certainly rise. After a very slow start tornado season is finally kicking in, although odds still favor a quieter tornado season, overall, than average, based on an emerging El Nino signal.

Cue The Chirping Birds. It's been a raw week with welcome rain, and now it's time for a warming trend. Today will still be breezy and cool (but not as unpleasant as yesterday). Expect 60s from Saturday into Tuesday, even a few thermometers brushing 70F Sunday, again Tuesday before a cooler front pushes southward. The best chance of T-storms comes Sunday; showery rains behind the front Wednesday and Thursday. Mercifully the risk of wet snow has diminished for the end of next week. Source: Weatherspark.

First Forecast: Below Average Hurricane Season Likely. My confidence level with these predictions, 3-6 months before the heart of hurricane season, is about low as it can get. Forecasters look at ocean water temperatures and prevailing winds to make a (WAG) about hurricane frequency and intensity, but buyer beware. Here's an excerpt from USA TODAY: "...The tropical Atlantic has anomalously cooled over the past several months, and the chances of a moderate to strong El Niño event this summer and fall appear to be quite high," Klotzbach said in a statement. "Historical data indicate fewer storms form in these conditions." El Niños, a periodic warming of tropical Pacific Ocean water, tend to suppress Atlantic hurricane activity, but often spur eastern Pacific hurricanes..." (Hurricane Arthur File image: NASA's International Space Station).

Meteorologists Steaming After Hurricane Research Funding Is Slashed. Meteorologist Eric Holthaus has the story at Slate; here's the intro: "An ongoing, largely successful effort to accelerate improvements in hurricane forecasts has been cut significantly, and meteorologists aren’t happy about it. The Hurricane Forecast Improvement Program is a 10-year initiative that launched in 2010, and it’s designed to enhance scientists’ ability to anticipate rapid fluctuations in track and intensity for tropical cyclones, which routinely rank among the costliest and deadliest storms on Earth. In its first five years, HFIP has produced a state-of-the-art hurricane forecast model that’s helped to improve hurricane forecast accuracy by 20 percent since 2010, among other achievements..."

How The Drought Is Changing California Forever. Bloomberg Business has a few eye-opening examples of how communites are already being impacted, especially in the Central Valley; here's an excerpt: "...In a handful of drought-plagued communities, including Cambria, East Porterville and Santa Cruz, scarcity has forced changes. Residents in East Porterville, in the San Joaquin Valley, use temporary showers in a church. In the tourist destination of Santa Cruz, people postpone car washes and limit showers to five minutes. The communities face especially strict limits because they aren’t part of the State Water Project, a system of canals and reservoirs that delivers mountain runoff to urban areas in the Bay Area and Southern California..."

Photo credit above: "Water runs off from a sprinkler in the Mount Olympus, a neighborhood in the Hollywood Hills area of Los Angeles, Wednesday, April 8, 2015. State regulators are naming and shaming local water departments that have let water wasters slide, and forcing them to slash water use by as much as a third." (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

In Parched California, Innovation, Like Water, Has Limits. The New York Times reports; here's an excerpt: "...Innovation, however, has a limit. California’s main challenge is not technological, but economic and political. One thing to keep in mind is that the state still has plenty of water. It just doesn’t have enough for every possible use, no matter how inefficient and wasteful. California’s cities consume 178 gallons per person per day, on average. That’s 40 percent more than the per capita water consumption in New York City and more than double that of parched Sydney, in Australia..."
File photo credit: "A home with a large pool is visible in the Hollywood Hills area of Los Angeles, Wednesday, April 8, 2015. Southern California's giant Metropolitan Water District will vote next week on a plan to ration water deliveries to the 26 agencies and cities it supplies, according to spokesman Bob Muir. The cuts would take effect July 1." (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes).

Did Climate Change Cause California Drought? Proving cause and effect is challenging; did a warmer atmosphere (and Pacific Ocean) create more favorable conditions for a resilient ridge of high pressure to stall, for the better part of 3-4 years, over California and the west coast? CNN reports; here's a clip: "...Is the California drought a consequence of climate change? A recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report for which my colleague Richard Seager was lead author, argued that it isn't (though the authors acknowledge that global warming makes the drought worse by increasing evaporation from the soil). California, and southwestern North America, indeed saw worse "megadroughts" in the pre-Columbian past, long before any humans burned fossil fuels. At the same time, the latest projections are that the odds of such megadroughts are increasing with warming..."

Scientists Explore Changes to Tornado Warnings. in Grand Rapids, Michigan has the story - here's an excerpt about Doppler radar that caught my eye:
  • Radars have changed the way they scan the skies to better spot small tornadoes. Now when a storm is near, a radar is programmed to scan the base of a storm more frequently. This could help spot quick-starting tornadoes, like the one that rolled through Kentwood in 2014 un-warned.
  • National Weather Service radars are all now “Dual-Pol,” which means they send out horizontal and vertically propagating microwaves. This helps meteorologists identify the size and shape of particles in the sky, which means the radar can identify debris from tornadoes on the ground...

Amazing Nighttime Time-Lapse Footage. Check out this clip from Huffington Post; here's an excerpt: "...The night time-lapses of the stars, Milky Way and auroras are captured with long exposures on digital SLR still cameras, Halverson explained on his website. "The long exposures of 10 to 30 seconds allow the camera’s sensor to capture more light than you will see with your eyes. The Milky Way and aurora won’t look as bright to the eyes as it does in the stills or time-lapse..."

Has Environmental Journalism Failed? Slate has a thoughtful story - here's a link and excerpt: "...The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached an unprecedented 400 parts per million, for example, and a study in Nature concluded that we’ve ushered in the planet’s sixth great extinction, with 41 percent of all amphibians, 26 percent of mammal species, and 13 percent of birds facing extermination. Given that hundreds of journalists, myself included, have dedicated our working lives to getting people to care about environmental calamities, does this mean we’ve failed?..."

Read more here:

Apple Watch Review: Bliss, But Only After A Steep Learning Curve. The New York Times has a review on the upcoming Apple Watch; here's the intro: "It took three days — three long, often confusing and frustrating days — for me to fall for the Apple Watch. But once I fell, I fell hard. First there was a day to learn the device’s initially complex user interface. Then another to determine how it could best fit it into my life. And still one more to figure out exactly what Apple’s first major new product in five years is trying to do — and, crucially, what it isn’t..."

Map: The Most Liberal and Conservative Towns In Each State. Here's an interesting nugget, courtesy of Business Insider and The Washington Post: "Elbing, Kan. and Wichita, Kan. are just a few miles from one another. At least when it comes to Kansas, however, their political affiliations could not be more different. The former ranks as the most conservative town in the state, while the latter is the most liberal, according to data from political analytics company Clarity Campaign Labs..."

TODAY: More clouds than sun, brisk. Winds: NW 15 High: 52
FRIDAY NIGHT: Partial clearing, still cool. Low: 36
SATURDAY: Partly sunny and pleasantly mild. High: 64
SUNDAY: Fading sun, late-day T-shower. Wake-up: 50. High: 68
MONDAY: Clearing - a spring in your step. Wake-up: 40. High: 67
TUESDAY: Breezy and warm. Feels like May! Wake-up: 47. High: 74
WEDNESDAY: Showers and T-storms likely, some heavy/severe? Wake-up: 53. High: 57
THURSDAY: Cooler with mainly PM showers. Wake-up: 46. High: 55

Climate Stories....

Thawing Permafrost Will "Seep, Not Explode" CO2. Climate Central has a summary of a recent paper at Nature; here's a snippet: "...How much carbon will be released, however, and how much extra warming is likely to result, has been a matter of dispute in recent years. Some researchers have argued that that the effects will be horrific, while others say they’ll be significant but less dramatic. And now, a new report in Nature — the most comprehensive study ever done on the permafrost feedback loop, has come down firmly in the “significant” camp. “The permafrost carbon is not going to explode into the atmosphere catastrophically within just a few years,” Ted Schuur, a permafrost expert at Northern Arizona University, said. “It’s more like it will seep out slowly in small amounts in a very large number of places...”

Photo credit above: "Permafrost on northeastern Spitsbergen, Svalbard." Credit: Olafur Ingolfsson via NASA.

The Arctic Has Lost So Much Ice That Now People Want To Race Yachts Through It. A forgotten episode of The Twilight Zone? Some of these headlines make me feel like I'm living in an alternate reality. Here's a snippet from The Washington Post: "...We often hear about how damaging this will be to Arctic ecosystems and cultures — but many people see new opportunities in a less icy Arctic. It’s not just shipping and industry, it’s also competitors and adventurers. One case in point: Sailing the Arctic Race, an “extreme yacht race” that is being proposed for the summer-fall of 2017, when crews would race 7,700 miles through the fabled Northwest Passage on a trip from New York to Victoria, British Columbia via the top of the world..."

Can The World Economy Survive Without Fossil Fuels? If coal, oil and gas gradually ramps down while clean renewables (and safer forms of nuclear) simultaneously ramp up, the answer is a resounding yes. Here's an excerpt of a long but good article at The Guardian: "...To have a realistic prospect of preventing global temperatures from rising by more than the previously recognised danger threshold of 2C, scientists say it is not possible to burn all the proven fossil fuel reserves owned by companies and governments. Between two-thirds and four-fifths will need to be left in the ground. The question, therefore, is whether it is possible to marry two seemingly contradictory objectives. Can we imagine a future that is cleaner, greener and sustainable – one that avoids climate armageddon – without abandoning the idea of growth and, thus, forcing living standards into decline? The answer is that it will be hellishly difficult, but it is just about feasible if we make the right choices – and start making them now..."

Why Climate Scientists Should Stop Flying. It may be a drop in the carbon bucket, but perception matters. Here's an excerpt from Quartz: "...In other words, climate scientists curtailing their air travel would make a microscopic dent in reducing emissions, but a new paper argues they should do it anyway, because their influence goes far beyond numbers. “It’s a credibility issue,” Corinne Le Quéré, a researcher at the Tyndall Centre, said in an interview via Skype. “We’re trying to support a change in culture...”

Is "Game of Thrones" Aiding The Global Debate on Climate Change? Reuters has an interesting story - here's a link: "...Milkoreit, a sustainability fellow, found six blogs in 2013 focused on the climate in "Game of Thrones" - and that increased to eight blogs last year. She expects the fifth series of the show, that is just starting, to prompt further discussions. She said the blogs draw parallels between the responses of the fictional people of Westeros to the looming threat of winter and the response to climate change in the real world - something helpful in explaining the complex world of climate change and politics. The White Walkers for example, a mythical race with magical powers elated to ice and cold, are portrayed by some bloggers as representing the threat of climate change..."

NASA Scientist Gavin Schmidt: Denying Climate Change is Wishful Thinking. Canada's CBC News has the interview; here's a clip: "...NASA scientist Gavin Schmidt is one of the world's most recognized climatologists — but he says, he's tired of hearing from sceptics who still deny climate change is occurring. "I would wish this wasn't happening. I wish it was all a mistake and it was all some sort of conspiracy driven by vegetarian-socialists, but it's not," he told The Early Edition's Rick Cluff..."

Michael Bloomberg, Other Donors Add $60 Million To Sierra Club's Coal Fight. Yes, step one is weaning ourselves off the dirtiest of fossil fuels, which includes coal. Here's an excerpt from Politico: "The Sierra Club’s anti-coal campaign is getting a boost of up to $60 million from donors including Michael Bloomberg, who pledged $30 million Wednesday to further the group’s new goal of shuttering half the nation’s coal-fired power plants by 2017. “America is leading the way not because of Washington, but because of you,” Bloomberg said during the announcement in front of cheering volunteers at the Sierra Club offices in Washington, D.C..."

An Emerging Right-Wing Divide on Climate Denial? Here's a clip of a David Roberts story at Grist: "...Science denial isn’t working any more. What can work — what have worked, historically — are apocalyptic warnings about the high cost of government action. That is the GOP’s native territory. It’s a story everyone involved in the right-wing coalition understands instinctively. It is core to their identity. And the “regulations kill the economy” story isn’t under the same threat science denialism is. Economics differs from the physical sciences in several important ways..."

Florida North: Some Wisconsin State Workers Banned from Discussing Climate Change? What is in the water down in Madison? I have great respect for the people of Wisconsin, and hope that cooler, saner heads will prevail. Here's an excerpt from Bloomberg Business: "Discussing climate change is out of bounds for workers at a state agency in Wisconsin. So is any work related to climate change—even responding to e-mails about the topic. A vote on Tuesday by Wisconsin’s Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, a three-member panel overseeing an agency that benefits schools and communities in the state, enacted the staff ban on climate change..."

If We Dig Out All Our Fossil Fuels, Here's How Hot We Can Expect It To Get. This is what the fight, fuss and massive misinformation campaign is all about - money. The New York Times runs the calculations; here's a key paragraph: "...For those who don’t like suspense, here’s the total: an astonishing 16.2 degrees. And here’s how that breaks down. Since the industrial revolution, fossil fuels have warmed the planet by about 1.7 degrees. We are already experiencing the consequences of this warming. In recent weeks, we have learned that the world had its warmest winter on record and that Arctic sea ice hit a new low, even as intense storms continue to inflict harm on communities globally. Next, look at fossil fuel reserves, the deposits we know to be recoverable under today’s prices and technology...."

Google, Microsoft Join Obama To Fight Climate Health Woes. Bloomberg Politics has the story - here's an excerpt that caught my eye: "...Google, based in Mountain View, California, has donated 10 million hours of high-performance computing to help scientists work to eliminate the spread of infectious disease. The Internet search company also will provide staff time to help the scientists create early warning capabilities and public disease-risk maps, according to the White House statement. Microsoft, the software maker based in Redmond, Washington, is developing drones that would collect mosquitoes and conduct gene-sequencing and pathogen detection, the administration said in its statement..."

Permafrost Thaw Accelerates Global Warming. It's a tipping point as well, and we're not exactly sure how quickly melting permafrost will release methane, which has 20x more warming than CO2. Here's an excerpt from a press release at the University Utrecht in the Netherlands: "...The regions around the Arctic Ocean contain huge quantities of permafrost, which have sometimes been frozen for thousands of years. Around 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon are trapped in those soils, which is twice as much as is currently held in the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide. The thawing of those soils and large-scale composting will therefore release huge quantities of carbon into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide and methane..."

Dear Humans, Industry, Not Your Actions, Is Causing Climate Change. It's about making smarter choices going forward, not government control over every aspect of your life. Here's a snippet of an article at Huffington Post that made me do a double-take: "...Given these constraints, we need to be clearer about what is really causing climate change. "Human activities" are great. Climate change is caused by industrial activities. And those activities are incentivized by government policy, which industry goes out of its way to influence. I got to thinking about this because of Rick Heede. He's a geographer who has done the careful work of figuring out how much of the carbon in our atmosphere can be traced back to the coal and oil that companies have extracted from the Earth. The numbers are head-turning: Two thirds of all industrial carbon emissions come from just 90 institutions..."

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