Wednesday, April 15, 2015

What Stands in a Storm - More Evidence of Strengthening El Nino

70 F. high temperature in Minneapolis - St. Paul Wednesday.
58 F. average high on April 15.
36 F. high on April 15, 2014.

April 15, 2002: Early heat-wave over Minnesota. Faribault hit 93 degrees while the Twin Cities had its earliest 90 degree temperature with a high of 91.

Tornado Helmets

I can't remember ever weeping my way through a book but "What Stands in a Storm" is profoundly moving. Kim Cross's dark masterpiece documents the record 2011 super-outbreak: 358 tornadoes over 3 days - 348 people deaths, most of them in Alabama.

In a day and age when media focuses on statistics, Doppler radar and the visceral, adrenaline thrill of tornado chasing, this book reminded me of the real toll: 348 individual tornado tragedies, and how shared pain and trauma ultimately pulls a community together and makes it stronger. Why does it take something unimaginably evil to pull people together?

Now comes new research showing that helmets (hockey, football, cycling) lower the risk of injury in a tornado from flying debris and blunt head trauma. One more way to lower your risk.

A test of the emergency sirens is scheduled for 1:45 PM and 6:55 PM today. But don't rely on the sirens as a primary source of information. Sirens were designed for outdoor use only. If you wait for the siren to sound you're setting yourself up for trouble.

Nothing severe brewing anytime soon, but latest model guidance shows a growing chance of showers late Saturday with a soaking rain chance on Sunday. The ECMWF prints out 1 inch of rain before we cool down into the 40s and 50s next week.

7 inches of snow delighted Twin Cities residents in April of 2014. So far this month: .3 inches. I think snow season is over now. No guarantees. There never are.

University of Alabama (Birmingham) Researchers Say Add A Helmet To Your Tornado Preparation Kit. Here's an excerpt of a 2012 press release from the University of Alabama: "...Previous research has shown that most tornado-associated injuries and deaths result when people or solid objects become airborne,” said Russ Fine, Ph.D., director of the UAB ICRC. “Most victims suffer multiple traumatic injuries, including injuries to the head and neck. And head injuries have a statistically higher case-fatality rate of 23 percent versus the 3 percent case-fatality rate of all other injuries combined.” In the commentary, the researchers recommend “the use of any helmet, or head covering made of a hard material and worn to protect the head from injury, stored in an easily and readily accessible location in the home, workplace or vehicle for which one of its purposes is to be worn in the event of or threat of tornadic activity...”

Tornado Safety Tips. Here is an excerpt from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety tackling what to do and what not to do if a tornadic thunderstorm is approaching your home:

In a House With a Basement

Avoid windows. Get in the basement and under some kind of sturdy protection (heavy table or work bench), or cover yourself with a mattress or sleeping bag. Know where very heavy objects rest on the floor above (pianos, refrigerators, waterbeds, etc.) and do not go under them. They may fall down through a weakened floor and crush you.

In a House With No Basement 

Avoid windows. Go to the lowest floor, small center room (like a bathroom or closet), under a stairwell, or in an interior hallway with no windows. Crouch as low as possible to the floor, facing down; and cover your head with your hands. A bath tub may offer a shell of partial protection. Even in an interior room, you should cover yourself with some sort of thick padding (mattress, blankets, etc.), to protect against falling debris in case the roof and ceiling fail.

3 More Days of Spring Fever - Sunday Soaking? ECMWF guidance prints out just over 1" of rain on Sunday. That may be a little on the high side, but there's little question that Sunday will be the wettest day of the next 8-9 days. Lukewarm 60s to near 70F for highs give way to 40s and 50s next week as a northwest wind flow kicks in with a series of (weak) Alberta Clippers.

Evidence of El Nino. The Pacific ocean continues to warm, and there's a strong correlation between El Nino warming events and a stronger southern branch of the jet stream .Exhibit A is the 7-Day rainfall prediction from NOAA, showing some 4-7" amounts from Houston to New Orleans and Mobile.

Late Season Snow Potential. Be glad you don't live in northwest Ontario, where the GFS is printing out 12-16" of snow by next Thursday at 1 PM. Significant snow is possible over the central Rockies, with a couple inches of slush next week for far northern Minnesota. Sorry. Just the messenger - although I don't see any accumulating snow here in the metro area. Source: NOAA and AerisWeather.

Warming Up Again Late April. 500 mb forecast winds aloft, courtesy of NOAA's GFS model, show a warm ridge expanding northward across the Plains by April 29, with temperatures probably returning to the 60s, maybe some low 70s, as we sail into May. Source: GrADS:COLA/IGES.

Flooding vs. Flash Flooding. When I think of flooding it usually implies a long-duration rain event capable of flooding streams and rivers. Flash flooding usually applies to extremes amounts of rain in summer thunderstorms, especially storms that stall or "train" (new storms popping up along a line, replacing the old storms, resulting in 6"+ rainfall amounts). Here's an excerpt from a good primer on flooding from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety:

* Nationally, floods claim nearly 200 lives each year, force 300,000 persons from their homes and result in property damage in excess of $2 billion. In Minnesota, floods kill more people than any other weather event; 15 people have died in floods since 1993.
* About 75 percent of flash-flood deaths occur at night. Half of the victims die in automobiles or other vehicles. Many deaths occur when people drive around road barricades that clearly indicate that the road is washed out ahead.
* In 2007, a deadly flood occurred August 18-19 in southeast Minnesota, killing seven people and destroying hundreds of homes and businesses. A state record for rainfall was set at Hokah — 15.1 inches in 24 hours — while several other areas received more than eight inches of rain. (File photo: Reuters).

Here's An In-Depth Look At The Tornado That Destroyed Fairdale, Illinois. Dennis Mersereau does a terrific job summarizing the ingredients that went into the exceptionally powerful storms that blew up west of Chicago last week; here's an excerpt at Gawker's The Vane: "...The tornado that destroyed Fairdale is notable because it was towards the top of the Enhanced Fujita Scale, which is pretty rare when you take into account all of the tornadoes that develop around the country. We hear about these monsters more than the thousands of other tornadoes that have developed simply because of their intensity. High levels of media coverage create the illusion of a plague of violent tornadoes, when the odds that you'll ever see or take a direct hit from one of these storms are minuscule..."

* Photo of Fairdale Tornado Victim Found 35 Miles Away in Harvard. This gives you some idea of the power of an EF-4 tornado. CBS Chicago has the details.

The Science Behind Midwest's Killer Tornadoes. National Geographic has a good primer on the state of tornado research, overall statistics and an explainer on how supercell (mesocyclones) harness wind shear and explosive instability to brew up nature's strongest wind. Here's a clip: "...Large tornadoes usually last longer—around 30 minutes. The most powerful twisters have wind speeds of more than 300 miles (483 kilometers) per hour, which can rip buildings off their foundations. They can be more than two miles (3.2 kilometers) wide, and can spin across the ground for dozens of miles. Tornadoes kill an average of 60 people a year in the U.S., mostly from flying or falling debris, reports NOAA..."

Photo credit above: "The remains of Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle's home is seen in Rochelle, Ill. on Friday, April 10, 2015, a day after the communities of Rochelle, Ill. and Fairdale, Ill. were impacted by tornado damage." (AP Photo/Daily Herald, Laura Stoecker).

Pacific Winds Tied To Warming Slowdown - Dry West. Climate Central attempts to connect the dots; here's an excerpt: "To understand why the West has been so dry since the turn of the century, cast your eye further west — to the natural waxing and waning of Pacific Ocean winds. Strong trade winds have been forcing heat into ocean depths, contributing to a temporary slowdown in land surface warming over the past 15 to 20 years that some have called a warming hiatus, pause or false pause. New research published in the Journal of Climate has gone further — implicating those winds in stubborn droughts afflicting Western states..."

Image credit above: "Trade winds along the equatorial Pacific are in part responsible for a warming slowdown and western U.S. drought says new research." Credit: Earth Wind Map

Fossil Fuels Just Lost The Race Against Renewables. Bloomberg Business has the article - here are two excerpts that caught my eye: "...The race for renewable energy has passed a turning point. The world is now adding more capacity for renewable power each year than coal, natural gas, and oil combined. And there's no going back....The price of wind and solar power continues to plummet, and is now on par or cheaper than grid electricity in many areas of the world. Solar, the newest major source of energy in the mix, makes up less than 1 percent of the electricity market today but will be the world’s biggest single source by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency. The question is no longer if the world will transition to cleaner energy, but how long it will take..."

No Helmets or Seat Belts? Baby Boomers Lived Dangerously By Today's Standards. Some complain about the "nanny state", too many rules and regulations designed to keep us safer. But would we really go back in time to a far more reckless childhood? It's a wonder any of the boomers are still around, according to Jeff Strickler at The Star Tribune; here's an excerpt: "By today’s safety standards, every baby boomer should have been dead by the time we were 12. We defied danger on a daily basis. We never knew that we were doing risky things, of course; we just thought that we were having fun. Nonetheless, we spent our days immersed in activities that we’d never for a second allow our children or grandchildren to do. Or even think about doing..."

The Virtue Of Being Short. The Atlantic reminds me why I should be thrilled to be 5 feet, 10 inches tall (on a good day). Here's an excerpt: "If you've ever had a tall man stand in front of you at a concert, blocking your view, and wished that he would have a heart attack, the odds were against you. Tall men are less likely to develop heart disease than are short men, according to research published last week in The New England Journal of Medicine. In a study of more than 200,000 people, every 2.5 inches of height meant a 13.5 percent lower likelihood of coronary artery disease..."

TODAY: Siren test. Sun through high clouds. Winds: S 8. High 66
TONIGHT: Mostly cloudy and quiet. Low: 45
FRIDAY: Partly sunny, still lukewarm and pleasant. High: near 70
SATURDAY: Clouds increase - showers late, especially south/west of the metro. Wake-up: 50. High: 67
SUNDAY: Soaking rain, up to 1" possible. Wake-up: 49. High: 53
MONDAY: Showers taper, clouds linger. Wake-up: 42. High: 49
TUESDAY: Mix of clouds and sun, cool breeze. Wake-up: 33. High: 48
WEDNESDAY: Some sun, cooler than average. Wake-up: 32. High: 50

Climate Stories...

The Pacific Ocean Has Been Slowing Global Warming Down. That May Be About To Change. Chris Mooney takes a look at the "temperature pause", the PDO and how natural variability in the Pacific ocean may have been masking some of the (atmospheric) warming the last 15 years. Here's a snippet from The Washington Post: "...At the end of the day, the planet’s temperature is the result of both anthropogenic factors like humanity’s carbon emissions, but also modes of natural variability like swings in the Pacific and changes in the output sun. You can’t understand the climate system if you don’t take both into account — and you definitely can’t adequately predict its behavior without including both elements. Thus, in the end, it may well be that the so-called global warming “slowdown” or “pause” — used to so sharply challenge climate scientists — may lead to their ultimate vindication."

Broadcast Meteorologists Increasingly Convinced Manmade Climate Change is Happening. Is it unanimous? Hardly, but the sheer weight of mounting data and overwhelming evidence is having an effect. Here's a clip from Jason Samenow at The Capital Weather Gang: "TV weathercasters are more convinced than ever climate change is happening and that human activities are a major contributor suggest the results of a new report. More than 90 percent of 464 broadcast meteorologists who responded to a 2015 survey agree climate change is happening and, of those, 74 percent believe human activity is at least half responsible, states “A National Survey of Broadcast Meteorologists About Climate Change: Initial Findings”, from the George Mason University (GMU) Center for Climate Change Communication...."

Farming Moves North Because of Global Warming-Induced Changes. Here's a clip from a post at Myrtle Beach Online: "...but rising temperatures are breathing new life into northern agriculture. Farm economists say that the net result will be a vast expansion in America's food growing capability. A century ago, corn was not a viable crop above North Dakota's southern third. But an average temperature rise of 2.7 degrees over that period has let North Dakota farmers grow feed corn up to the Canadian border. The growing season there is three weeks longer. In farming, that's huge..."

Read more here:

New Video: The Trouble at Totten Glacier. What's really happening in Antarctica, and why should all of us, especially those of us living on the coasts, pay attention? Here's a link, excerpt and video from Climate Denial Crock of the Week: "...He added, “Meanwhile, 2015 could be the year of the double whammy — when we learned the same about one gigantic glacier of East Antarctica, which could set in motion roughly the same amount all over again.” The decades-long unfolding of this story – that vast areas of ice once thought to be invulnerable on time scales meaningful to humans, may in fact already be in the process of disintegration – is one that that the vast majority of humanity still does not understand, and that the media has been unwilling to track.  It’s a realization that, one top expert told us, even seasoned ice sheet veterans find “shattering”...."

Open Data. New Tech. Better Climate Solutions. Here's an excerpt of a story at TheHill that resonated: "..."The climate gap” means that the poor, the sick, the elderly, and people of color—the same communities that are already disproportionately impacted by disease, illness, and injury—are again disproportionately harmed by the impacts of climate change.  People with chronic illness are more susceptible to rising ozone levels. Those who live in tree-poor urban heat islands--or who work outdoors in construction or agriculture-- are at higher risk of heat illness.  People living in poverty are less able to cope with rising food prices, or to rebuild their lives after a Katrina or a Sandy..."

Climate Change Denial 101. onEarth has a story about an online course that teaches students how to debate climate change deniers - and win. Here's a clip: "...For this reason and others, climate change denial has become its own field of academic study, separate from the science of climate change itself. And, like any legitimate field of study, climate change denial has its own massive open online course, or MOOC. John Cook, a climate communication fellow at the University of Queensland in Australia and the creator of the excellent website Skeptical Science, is coordinating the course. It will feature climatologists, modelers, chemists, computer scientists, meteorologists, and glaciologists—real scientists talking about science, rather than economists, politicians, and media personalities all shouting at the same time. What a crazy idea..."

The U.S. Will Soon No Longer Be The Leading Cause of Modern Global Warming. ThinkProgress has the story - here's the introduction: "China is set to overtake the United States as the leading cause of modern global warming at some point within the next two years, a dangerous benchmark for a country that’s also aiming to curb its dependence on coal. China is already the top emitter of greenhouse gases, having surpassed the United States in 2006, but two separate estimates now indicate that its cumulative emissions since 1990 are on pace to exceed those of the United States, which would make China the largest contributor to modern climate change..."

Demanding Divestment of Fossil Fuel Investments, Protesters Block Harvard President's Office. Here's an excerpt from WGBH News in Boston: "Students and climate change activists will gather in Harvard Yard in Cambridge all this week, demanding that nation's oldest -- and the world's wealthiest -- university drop its stocks in fossil fuel companies. Hundreds of alumni and dozens of students say they're willing to be arrested. Beginning Sunday night, the student-led group Divest Harvard is planning to block Massachusetts Hall, preventing President Drew Faust from entering her office. Organizers say they won't move until Faust commits to divest the university's $36-billion-dollar endowment from top fossil fuel companies, such as Exxon Mobil, and Chevron..."

Photo credit above: "Students protest outside the president's office Sunday night at Harvard University." Kirk Carapezza WGBH News.

Have We Passed The Point Of No Return on Climate Change? Here's an excerpt of an answer at Scientific American: "...Most climatologists agree that, while the warming to date is already causing environmental problems, another 0.4 degree Fahrenheit rise in temperature, representing a global average atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) of 450 parts per million (ppm), could set in motion unprecedented changes in global climate and a significant increase in the severity of natural disasters—and as such could represent the dreaded point of no return..."

Climate Change Has Made A Sailboat Race Through The Arctic Possible. Quartz reports; here's the intro: "A sailing race across the icebound Northwest Passage is being planned for 2017, through a route the organizers say has been made possible by climate change. The Sail the Arctic Race will involve teams setting sail from New York for a 7,700-mile journey to Victoria, British Columbia. They will race for six legs with stopovers in cities in the US, Canada, and Greenland. The route used to be unnavigable because of pack ice, which may well still be problematic for the race participants. But in the years since 1998 there has been less ice, with more below-average than above-average years, and more open water, Environment Canada told CBC News..."

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