Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Sliding into Winter: 2 Snow Events Brewing - Signs of a January Thaw?

36 F. high in the Twin Cities Wednesday.
25 F. average high on December 23.
36 F. high on December 23, 2014.

.38" precipitation was reported at Twin Cities International Airport Wednesday.
1/2 inch of snow fell at KMSP yesterday, as of 7 PM.

December 24, 1996: Strong winds of 20 to 30 mph, combined with over a foot of new snowfall, result in restricted visibilities from blowing snow. As a result, several highways closed, including highway 19 west of Redwood Falls, highways 7 and 40 at Madison, and highways 67 and 23 out of Granite Falls.
December 24, 1982: Heavy rain falls over the state, along with slushy snow over southwest Minnesota. Twin Cities gets 2.61 inches of precipitation through Christmas. Some lightning and thunder occur with the heavy rain on Christmas Eve. Source: Twin Cities National Weather Service.

Christmas Slush - Minor Correction Next Week

All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth. And a cool foot of fresh snow would be nice.

If it were up to me (it's not) MSP would pick up 10 feet of snow every winter with temperatures in the 20s. Cold enough to preserve snow and thick lake ice, not so cold as to annoy the seniors.
 Subzero is harder to rationalize.

We are sliding into a colder, snowier pattern (finally) but on Christmas Old Man Winter will come up short. Last night's coating of slush will make for a "white-ish" Christmas but won't fit the definition (an inch or more at MSP International Airport). We've picked up only 6 inches of snow in the metro, a foot below average, to date.

Expect a dry sky today and most of Christmas Day; the next system arrives Friday night and Saturday with an inch or two possible maybe enough to shovel and plow. It's still too early to pontificate about amounts but roads may be greasy on Saturday - Sunday still looks like the better travel day.

Expect a few days in the teens and low 20s next week, but models show milder, Pacific air returning during the first week of January.

Amazing persistence. 

* Thanks to Chris Terzich, who lives in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, for passing on the before/after photo.

Tracking Santa. It's an annual tradition, and NORAD is up to the challenge. Using drones, spy satellites and human intelligence on the ground (and the ice) NORAD will be providing the latest GPS coordinates of Santa as he defies time and space to make sure there's something under the Christmas tree tonight.

It's Going to be a Wet, Hot Christmas for Much of the U.S. VICE News attempts to answer the question: "how much of this is natural vs. El Nino vs. climate change?" Here's an excerpt: "...It's a bit of both, according to Pennsylvania State University climatologist Michael Mann. What's warming the East is a combination of the fickleness of ordinary weather, the cyclical Pacific warming phenomenon known as El Niño and the planetary warming already resulting from human-produced carbon emissions. "The first two factors come and go, but the third is there for posterity, and will only be exacerbated by additional carbon emissions," Mann said. "We've had very strong El Niños in the past. We've had unusual weather fluctuations in the past," he said. "But the fact that we're talking about not just extreme but unprecedented conditions — mid- to upper 70s over a large swath of the eastern US on Christmas Eve, something we haven't seen before — speaks to the exacerbating effects of human-caused climate change..."

Image credit above: Climate Reanalyzer.

A Fitting End for the Hottest Year on Record. Here's are a couple of excerpts from a story at The New York Times: "...The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has announced that last month was the warmest November on record, and the seventh month in a row to break a global temperature record. The global average temperature from January to November was the highest recorded since 1880, when the data was first tracked. That broke the record for the hottest year ever recorded, set in 2014. The temperature from January to November was 0.25 degrees warmer than the same period last year...In the contiguous United States, this autumn was the hottest on record, 3.3 degrees higher than the 20th century average. The first 20 days of December have been so warm that preliminary data from NOAA shows that more than 2,500 record highs have been tied or broken across the United States..."

Map above: 2015 global temperature anomalies compared to a 1981-2010 baseline, WeatherBell.

18 Days Away From Coldest Day of the Year (On Average). Depending on what data set you look at the dates can range from January 10 to about January 17, when average temperatures bottom out, roughly 3 weeks after the winter solstice. A higher sun angle begins to compensate for snowcover and long nights. within about 3 weeks. It will chill down next week, but I don't think January 2016 will be even close to average. Expect a mild signal to continue. Source: WeatherSpark.

Dry Christmas Eve - Snow Arrives Friday Evening. Here's the latest NAM model, showing precipitation type (snow is blue), suggesting that light snow may streak into southern Minnesota Friday evening, after 7 or 8 PM. Source: NOAA and AerisWeather.

Saturday Snowfall Potential. Confidence levels are still fairly low, but NAM guidance seems to suggest 1-2" of slushy snow Friday night, tapering to flurries Saturday morning and midday. I suspect the worst travel will be Saturday morning.

Less Grim for Snow Lovers. Our internal models sent out an alert for an inch of snow in the Brainerd Lakes area by 7 AM Saturday morning, snowfall totals closer to 3" by late afternoon Saturday. We'll see.

Another Soaking for Nation's Midsection. GFS guidance shows an additional 3-5" of rain from near Tulsa to St. Louis and Chicago by Saturday night, falling on ground that is already saturated. Unusually warm (and wet) for the eastern half of the USA. Loop: WeatherCaster.

Happy Numb Year! The inevitable correction is still coming, and by the end of next week there will be no doubt in your mind that it's late December. European guidance shows single digits, even a chance of seeing the first subzero low of the winter season by New Year's Day. A light accumulation of snow is likely Saturday, another potential for a couple inches Monday into Tuesday. Source: WeatherSpark.

January Thaw? After a cold start to 2016 long-range (GFS) guidance shows a zonal, Pacific flow returning with moderating temperatures as we head into the second week of 2016. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see highs back in the 30s by mid-January. Then again, nothing much surprises me anymore.

Very Extended Outlook. Sometimes lovingly referred to as the "Guess-Cast" it's still interesting to peer over the horizon. NOAA climate models show a continuation of the remarkable warm signal for most of North America, most pronounced across Canada and the northern tier states of the USA from January into March. We'll see cold fronts (there's a safe forecast) but the overall trends will probably be milder than average. Remember average? Source: NOAA CPC.

Strength in Numbers. Our confidence levels go up when models agree, and every long-range 3-month prediction of temperature anomalies shows the mild signal over Canada, with an El Nino-driven warm signal from the Pacific Northwest to Minnesota, the Great Lakes and New England. Source: NOAA.

Warmest Christmas Eve on Record Across Eastern USA? So says AccuWeather, and NOAA tends to agree. Here's an excerpt: "...Christmas Eve will feel more like Easter with highs ranging from the 50s in Maine to the 70s in the mid-Atlantic and the lower 80s in parts of the Southeast. That equates to highs that are 15 to 35 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. "Temperatures could touch 80 as far north as the mid-Atlantic states," Pastelok said. Widespread record highs will not only be challenged but also shattered in many towns and cities. The potential exists for records to be topped by more than 10 degrees from Atlanta to Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia to New York City and to Burlington, Vermont..."

Mostly Brown. The most recent snowcover update from the Minnesota State Climatology Office and the DNR as of December 17 shows some snow on the ground over roughly the northwest half of Minnesota, but precious little snow south and east of St. Cloud. Do you believe in meteorological miracles? Don't hold your breath this year.

2015 Weather Review: Best Growing Season in 50 Years. Dr. Mark Seeley reflects on some of the biggest weather stories of the year, including going from drought last May to adequate soil moisture and another bumper  crop, one of the best seasons for farmers in 50 years. Check out the latest installment of Minnesota WeatherTalk.

Current El Nino Rivaling 1997-98? Here's a story excerpt and video from Peter Sinclair at Climate Denial Crock of the Week: "The current El Nino event is now on a scale rivaling or exceeding the gigantic 1997-98 event – which lead to the extremely warm temperatures of 1998, the warmest up to that time in the modern record. That record has been exceeded now several times, in 2005, 2010, and 2014, but just barely. 2015 is blowing it out of the water – and if history is a guide, 2016 is set up to be even warmer..."

NASA Tracking This Year's Global El Nino Impacts. Here's an excerpt of a good summary from Summit County Citizens Voice: "Along with being one of the strongest El Niños on record, this year’s edition of the cyclical weather event in the Pacific will be one of the most studied. NASA, for example, has been tracking the effects of El Niño via satellite data, which shows global impacts, from increasing fire danger in some tropical regions to a reduction of certain types of pollution in other areas. Some of the findings were presented this week at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, where researchers said that atmospheric rivers, significant sources of rainfall, tend to intensify during El Niño events, and that California may see some relief from an extreme multiyear drought..." (Graphic: NOAA CPC).

Florida's Record Warm 2015 an Outlier in U.S. East. 2015 has been unusually toasty across the USA, the 11th warmest since 1895 in Minnesota, according to NOAA data. Here's an excerpt from Climate Central: "...The reasons for Florida’s out-of-sync warmth could be myriad and have likely varied with the seasons, experts said. Drought, incredibly warm ocean waters and natural climate cycles may all have contributed to the likely record. While no studies have been done to look for any role of global warming in the state’s warm year, one of the clearest trends of a warming world is for record highs to outpace record lows. That background warming due to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is the major reason for the record warm year the planet as a whole will see for 2015..."

Map credit above: "Year-to-date temperatures for each state in the contiguous U.S. through November 2015." Credit: NOAA

Extreme Weather Poses Increasing Threat to U.S. Power Grid. Yahoo News takes a look at an apparent uptick in severe weather and implications for keeping the lights on; here's a clip: "...An Associated Press analysis of industry data found that severe weather is the leading cause of major outages on the nation's power grid. The number of weather-related power outages has climbed over the last decade, with the greatest spikes in 2008 and 2011, according to the AP analysis and independent studies. That leaves Coast Electric and other utilities across the country balancing customer costs with the need for improvements to counter the rising number of violent storms, floods and droughts threatening the U.S. power grid..."

12 Flavors of Rainbows Identified. I had no idea - here's an excerpt from LiveScience: "Why are there so many songs about rainbows? Perhaps because there are so many different types, each with its own distinctive features, new research suggests. There are 12 types of rainbows, distinguished by various characteristics, the study suggests. Fat droplets of water or tiny sprays of mist will affect them, along with the angle of the sun. Rainbows can even appear as twins, triplets or quadruplets, Jean Ricard, a researcher at the National Meteorological Research Center, in France, said here yesterday (Dec. 17) at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union..." (File image: Marlo Lundy).

Obama Has Been More Friend Than Foe to Oil Industry. A headline from MSNBC? No, The Wall Street Journal. Here's an excerpt: "When President Barack Obama first took office in 2009, he was expected to be an adversary of oil and gas companies, seen as polluters of the environment. He hasn’t been. Last week, Mr. Obama gave the oil and gas industry its biggest priority of the past two years: lifting the 40-year-old ban on oil exports, which he signed into law as part of broader spending and tax legislation. The White House helped negotiate lifting the ban with Congress in exchange for temporary renewal of tax credits for wind and solar industries–energy industries that provide electricity and don’t directly compete with the oil industry, which provides transportation fuel..."

Photo credit above: "President Barack Obama signs the 2,000 page omnibus budget bill in the Oval Office of the White House Dec. 18. The bill also lifted a 40-year ban on oil exports." European Pressphoto Agency

The Solar Industry's Solar Miracle. Slate takes a look at the renewal of renewable tax credits and what it means for solar and wind; here's an excerpt: "...It’s a Wonderful Life? Yes. But it’s also the story of solar companies in the past few months. In November, things were looking bleak for the renewable energy sector at large and for solar companies in particular. The sector has been booming since 2009. The price of installing solar panels has come down sharply as scale has risen, new business models have hastened the spread of the technology, and giant companies are entering contracts to buy huge volumes of renewable energy. But none of that would have been possible without 1) the special federal tax breaks and credits for owners of solar panels, and 2) abundant capital seeking returns in a world of extraordinarily low interest rates..."

Photo credit above: "Like George Bailey, investors and executives at solar companies were essentially teetering on the bridge outside of town." Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photo by VioNet/Shutterstock, via RKO Pictures.

SpaceX's Rocket Landing is a Big Moment for Elon Musk - And for the Economics of the Space Business. Here's an excerpt from a story at Quartz: "...SpaceX has already proven itself a real competitor to aerospace giants, offering the cheapest prices to reach low-earth orbit—at about $60 million per launch—thanks to its focus on simple design, cheap materials, and advanced manufacturing techniques. But the ability to reuse their rockets could cut tens of millions, if not more, from that number. Not only will that make the company more competitive in bidding for traditional launch cargos of large satellites from governments and major satellite operators, but it could make hitherto cost-prohibitive schemes a reality, the same way the falling cost of microprocessors opened up new business opportunities..."

Selling Ads is a Short-Term Strategy. Here's Why Subscriptions Are The Future of Journalism. I happen to agree with this - more advertising isn't the answer; relevance and subscription-based revenue from loyal readers may be one of the few viable paths forward. Here's an excerpt of a long (but excellent) story at Medium: "...That’s why a subscription model is the future foundation of every journalistic publication. A subscription model rewards investing in the trust of your readers. An advertising model does not. When selling ads, you have to decide how far you want to go in fooling your readers. How big will I make that native ad label? Should I package this photo series in a slideshow just so it will lead to more clicks? Should I make the question in my headline more click-worthy, even if the article doesn’t really answer it? And readers can tell whether a publication is investing in them or selling them out. When a publication invests in its readers, readers are willing to invest in it, by paying for a subscription..."

A New Study Says Elected Politicians Really Do Have Shorter Lifespans. You can literally watch President Obama's hair turn gray on-camera. Tough gig. Here's a snippet from Quartz: "Whether they’re mere figureheads or active change-makers, there’s no doubt that presidents, prime ministers, and other heads of state experience unique levels of stress, the detrimental effects of which on health and aging have been well-documented. Now a Harvard-affiliated study, published in the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) last week, has concluded that the stress of leading a nation likely cuts a person’s lifespan two years short..."

Photo credit above: "What were we thinking?" (Reuters/Michael Kappeler).

TODAY: Mostly cloudy, dry. Good weather for one last dash. Winds: W 10-15. High: 29

CHRISTMAS EVE: Partly cloudy, random Santa sightings. Low: 20

CHRISTMAS DAY: Early sun, clouds increase. Dry. Winds: S 7-12. High: 34
FRIDAY NIGHT: Snow develops, roads become icy. Low: 28

SATURDAY: Couple inches of snow possible. Slushy roads. Winds: E 10-20. High: 32

SUNDAY: Partly sunny, colder. Good travel. Winds: NW 10-15. Wake-up: 15. High: 22

MONDAY: Chilly start, clouds increase. Wake-up: 8. High: 24

TUESDAY: Icy mix possible, more slush potential. Wake-up: 22. High: 29

WEDNESDAY: Light snow and flurries. Icy roads. Wake-up: 20. High: 23

Climate Stories...

Minnesota Grad Talks Climate Change in Paris. This renews my sense of optimism - younger people, as a general rule, aren't science skeptics. They see what's going on, and they want to be part of the solution. Here's a clip from The Grand Forks Herald: "...Students were tasked with exploring a specific aspect of climate change, with Wildenborg covering the proceedings from an economic and technological perspective, particularly dealing with the relationships between developing and developed countries. Parents Peter and Anne Wildenborg of Red Wing said they are proud of their son’s enthusiasm for the trip — including fundraising efforts to help with expenses and attending the Citizens’ Climate Lobby Regional Conference last month at Red Wing High School to get prepared — but were “apprehensive” for him to go after more than a hundred people were killed Nov. 13 in attacks around the Paris area..."

Photo credit above: "Aaron Wildenborg of Red Wing (center) poses with classmates earlier this month at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. They were part of a delegation from St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict." (Photo courtesy of Aaron Wildenborg).

How Close Are We to "Dangerous" Planetary Warming? Here's an excerpt of a long and detailed explanation from climate scientist Michael Mann at Huffington Post: "...The IPCC graphic suggests that keeping net CO2 emissions below 3 trillion tons -- and thereby stabilizing maximum CO2 concentrations below 450 ppm -- would likely keep warming below the "dangerous" 2C limit. Unfortunately, that conclusion is overly optimistic because, once again, it relies on the use of an artificially warm, too-recent baseline for defining the pre-industrial period. To better understand the problem, consider this graph (Fig. 2 above) from an article my colleagues and I published in the American Meteorological Society's Journal of Climate back in 2013..."

Graph credit above: "Greenhouse Warming (in degrees C) As Estimated by IPCC Climate Models." (Source: Schurer et al (2013)).

After Paris Accord, Most U.S. Republicans Back Action on Climate Change. Why won't their elected leaders in Washington D.C. do the same? Follow the money. Here's an excerpt from Reuters: "...More than half, or 58 percent, of Republicans surveyed said they approved of U.S. efforts to work with other nations to limit global warming, the poll showed. Forty percent said they would support a presidential candidate who did so. Sixty-eight percent, meanwhile, said they either somewhat or strongly agree that they are willing to take individual steps to help the environment, such as cutting down on air-conditioning or buying a more efficient car..."

* More perspective from Newsweek.

A GOP Market-Friendly Alternative to Obama's Clean Power Plan. Here's an excerpt of an Op-Ed from The St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "...The good news for the GOP is that there is a market-based alternative to Obama’s Clean Power Plan. It is Citizens’ Climate Lobby carbon fee and dividend proposal. The Post-Dispatch endorsed this proposal in a 2012 editorial, “Carbon Cure-All.” CCL’s proposal is to charge a fee for carbon at its source (mine, well or border), and then rebate 100 percent of the revenues monthly to every U.S. household. Pricing carbon would eliminate the market distortion that results when no one pays the cost of dumping carbon pollution into our air supply. Two-thirds of the population, especially the poor and middle class, would come out ahead monetarily..."

Santa Sounds Off: What Happened to "Frightful Weather?" Santa Claus has an Op-Ed at The Guardian; here's an excerpt: "...All mirth aside, my bustling toy workshop has started to sink just a bit on the south-eastern corner: the solid foundation – rock ice, through and through – feels a bit slushy now, if you stick your boot in it. If things go on this way, the whole North Pole – the workshop, my castle, the reindeer and stables – could be swallowed up whole by the deep Arctic Ocean. This won’t do for Christmas. My sleigh is not sea-worthy, and reindeer can’t swim. But it gets even worse if our home turns to water: my elves could get snatched up as polar bear snacks. I’ve never eaten an elf, of course, but, as I understand it, they are quite the nice treat if you’re a big, hungry bear..." (Image: The Rock @ Boston College).

A Stunning New Photo from the Moon: Earthrise. Phil Plait takes a look at what made this remarkable photo possible at Slate; here's an excerpt: "Holy sweet mother of Earth. This incredible photo was taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been mapping the Moon since it achieved orbit in 2009. Its cameras are usually pointed straight down (what’s called nadir viewing), but sometimes the whole spacecraft is rotated to point them toward the horizon, or even up into space, to measure the Moon’s incredibly thin atmosphere (called an exosphere, which, c’mon, is an extremely cool word) or to take calibration measurements..." (Photo credit: NASA).

We Need a "Space Race" Approach to Saving The Planet. We sent men to the moon, why can't we focus resources, innovation and the brightest minds on the planet to scaling new energy sources that don't threaten our home? Here's an excerpt of an Op-Ed at Quartz: "...In absolute terms, there is lots of money involved. However, total R&D makes up just 3.6% of the US budget in 2015, and spending on renewable energy makes up less than 4% of that. That’s a little more than $5 billion out of the total $134.2 billion R&D expenditure. Compared to the effort and outlay to put a man on the moon, this is orders of magnitude smaller. But the problem today is much bigger. Governments must be more proactive and, in line with recent research, we should use public money to direct millions of scientists and engineers towards solar power, electric transport, or better batteries. It won’t deliver a “man on the moon” moment, but this investment is the only way to truly end our dependence on fossil fuels..."

Exxon's Oil Industry Peers Knew About Climate Dangers in the 1970s, Too. Here's a clip from InsideClimate News: "The American Petroleum Institute together with the nation's largest oil companies ran a task force to monitor and share climate research between 1979 and 1983, indicating that the oil industry, not just Exxon alone, was aware of its possible impact on the world's climate far earlier than previously known. The group's members included senior scientists and engineers from nearly every major U.S. and multinational oil and gas company, including Exxon, Mobil, Chevron, Amoco, Phillips, Texaco, Shell, Sunoco and Sohio, according to internal documents obtained by InsideClimate News and interviews with the task force's former director...." (File photo:

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