Friday, January 8, 2016

Coldest Air of Winter 1-3 Days Away - is AGW Making El Nino Stronger?

34 F. high in the Twin Cities Thursday.
23 F. average high on January 7.
-1 F. high on January 7, 2015.

7.6 F. The first 6 days of January ran 7.6 F. warmer than average in the Twin Cities.

January 8, 1902: A January Thaw occurs across Minnesota. The Twin Cities experience a high of 46 degrees.

A Little Perspective on the Upcoming Arctic Chill

Wait, you live in Minnesota and you're surprised it's going to get cold? "Paul, I thought El Nino and global warming would keep us mild all winter long!" Winter will be shorter and milder overall, but a few Siberian slaps at this latitude are like gravity, taxes and soul-sucking commutes: inevitable.

According to the Minnesota DNR there has never been a winter where MSP hasn't gone below zero at least twice. On average the first subzero low in the Twin Cities comes December 8; the latest was January 18, 2012. By my calculations we'll finally dip below zero Saturday night, January 9th, the 8th latest subzero low since 1872.

On average we pick up 23 subzero nights every winter. We'll enjoy 3 next week, but I'd bet a stale State Fair corn dog we'll experience fewer than 10 for the entire winter.

1-2 inches of slushy snow may fall today. Temperatures tumble through the teens Saturday; staying below zero most of Sunday, with a wind chill dipping to -25F during the morning. Tuesday looks just as cold - but you'll be amazed how good +30F feels next Thursday.

Time to get our Winter Mojo back!

8th Latest Subzero Low at MSP Since 1872? It's unusual that we haven't enjoyed negative numbers yet in the Twin Cities, but that's about to change. The Minnesota DNR helps to put this winter's (late) first subzero low into perspective: "So far at the Twin Cities there has not been a minimum temperature of zero or colder for the winter of 2015-16. How rare is it to go so late in the season without a minimum of zero or colder? In 143 years of record keeping in the Twin Cities, the official temperature has always fallen below zero sometime during the winter. There has never been a Twin Cities winter where the temperature has not dipped to zero or colder at least twice. The long term average for the first below-zero reading in the Twin Cities is December 8. The earliest below-zero temperature recorded in the Twin Cities was November 4, 1991..."

Snow and Cold Timeline. The Twin Cities NWS has a good handle on the upcoming nuisance snow event and subsequent chill (as usual). I agree with the 1-2" range, leaning more towards a sloppy inch. For a higher-resolution graphic click here.

Saturday Cold Front. Temperatures will fall from tonight into Saturday, maybe recovering a couple of degrees around midday, but falling through the teens, dropping below zero after midnight Saturday night. The 1 PM Saturday temperature prediction is from NOAA's NAM model and AerisWeather.

Old Man Winter Takes His Best Shot. Will we see more cold fronts in February and March? That seems like a pretty sure bet to me, but (historically) the coldest air of winter empties south of the border in mid-January, roughly 3 weeks after the Winter Solstice. I suspect next week will be the coldest, in terms of number of hours below zero. That said, the metro may not dip much below -10F. Cold, but not even close to record-setting. 2-meter GFS temperature prediction above: NOAA and AerisWeather.

A Whopping Inch or Two. Most models print out 1-1.5" of slushy snow today with temperatures close to 32F; roads mainly wet into the afternoon hours. But the mercury drops off sharply tonight, and wet roads may become icy. As of late last night the local NWS office was forecasting 1.8" of slush. Source: Iowa State.

Two Surges of Arctic Air. The first shot arrives Saturday with temperatures below zero most of the day Sunday and Sunday night. Temperatures blip above 0F on Monday before a reinforcing front drops temperatures into negative numbers most of Tuesday and Tuesday night. I suspect Wednesday morning may bring the coldest air temperatures, as skies clear and winds ease, allowing metro temperatures to dip to -10F or colder. Source: WeatherSpark.

Freak Snow Streak. Similar to a line of summer T-storms that stalls in place, individual cells repeatedly passing over the same county like a "train-echo" event, an unusual jet streak feature aloft sparked a very persistent band of snow over the Red River Valley, squeezing out as much as 14" of new snow at Georgetown, Minnesota. Doppler radar snowfall estimates courtesy of the Grand Forks National Weather Service.

Days Since Last Winter Storm Warning. This graphic, courtesy of Iowa State University of Science and Technology shows how many days have elapsed since the last NWS Winter Storm Warning. Odd to be seeing far more warnings for California and the southwestern USA than the Upper Midwest. New Orleans has gone 708 days since a Winter Storm Warning!

7 of the Coldest Places in the World to Live. Thankfully we did not make the list, but Oymyakon, Russia did. Here's an excerpt of a description at Mother Nature Network: "Folks in Oymyakon take exception whenever Verkhoyansk lays claim to being the coldest location in the Northern Hemisphere, pointing out that they recorded a low of minus 90 degrees F on Feb. 6, 1933. Depending on whom you ask, 500 to 800 people call Oymyakon home, a three-day drive from Yakutsk. Schools stay open through minus 52 degrees. The village is named after a local hot spring, which some residents tap during the winter by breaking through the thick crust of ice rimming the warm water. Oymyakon's tourism board has promoted the town as a perfect destination for adventure travelers hungry for a taste of the extreme."

Photo credit:

Antarctic Life: No Dogs, Few Vegetables and "a Little Intense" in the Winter. Think it's cold where you live? Ha! Here's an excerpt from a New York Times story: "...The inhabitants here say it could be any Chilean village. Except that Villa Las Estrellas is in Antarctica. Fewer than 200 people live in this outpost founded in 1984 during the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, when Chile was seeking to bolster its territorial claims in Antarctica. Since then, the tiny hamlet has been at the center of one of Antarctica’s most remarkable experiments: exposing entire families to isolation and extreme conditions in an attempt to arrive at a semblance of normal life at the bottom of the planet. “It gets a little intense here in winter,” said José Luis Carillán..."

Photo credit: "Facilities at the base run by the Chilean Antarctic Institute." Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times.

Arctic Sea Ice Extent. Based on unusual warmth and hurricane-like storms pulling 30s into the North Pole 2016 is starting out with the lowest arctic sea ice coverage in the modern record. Here's an excerpt from The National Snow and Ice Data Center: "Arctic sea ice growth for December averaged 65,000 square kilometers (25,000 square miles) per day compared to the long-term average of 64,000 square kilometers (24,700 square miles) per day. Cool conditions at the 925 hPa level (2 to 4 degrees Celsius or 4 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit below average) existed in Baffin Bay, the Alaskan North Slope, and parts of eastern Siberia. A broad area of Europe and western Russia, including the northern Barents Sea, saw temperatures as much as 4 to 8 degrees Celsius (7 degrees to 14 degrees Fahrenheit) above average at the 925 hPa level..."

Traffic Cams Capture Terrifying EF-4 Tornado. This is the killer tornado that hit the Garland, Texas area on December 26, 2015; here's a link to the video and explainer from The Weather Channel: "This incredible video sheds a stark light on the deadly tornado that passed over Interstate 30 in Garland, Texas the day after Christmas – the same tornado that would go on to kill eight people. It's a video that Garland Police Department spokesman Pedro Barineau called "terrifying." The video, comprised of clips from five cameras at the intersection of I-30 and the Bush Turnpike, shows first a distant, flashing glimpse of the EF-4 tornado. Then the destructive power of the tornado comes front and center as debris flies across the screen..."

Mississippi River Floods Could Cost $1 Billion, And They're Not Over Yet. Here's a clip from a story at WXshift: "...While major flood events in the Midwest and the Mississippi Valley are not unusual, the fact that we had such extraordinary flooding in late December is certainly one for the record books,” Steve Bowen, a meteorologist at re-insurer Aon Benfield, said. The Midwest has seen catastrophic flooding as recently as spring 2011 when the Mississippi and Missouri rivers set a number of records. In an odd twist of fate, the tropical Pacific also played a role, though it was due to El Niño’s opposite phase, La Niña. That helped drive a cold, snowy winter in the northern stretches of the rivers’ basins, which fueled a massive runoff in spring. The damage could top $1 billion. The flood is expected to continue into at least next week, but the financial toll it has taken already is clear..."

From El Nino to La Nina Later in 2016? Severe El Nino warm phases are often (but not always) followed by swings in the opposite direction, into a La Nina cool phase, which increases the potential for drought across much of the USA east of the Rockies. We'll see. Here's an excerpt from Bloomberg Business: "A number of El Nino-Southern Oscillation indicators suggest that the 2015-16 El Nino has peaked and weather models predict it will decline in coming months, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said on its website on Tuesday. Conditions will return to neutral during the second quarter with a chance of La Nina in the second half of 2016, it said. La Nina is a cooling in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, sometimes thought of as El Nino’s opposite..."

How Drought and Heat Are Killing the World's Crops. Recent research suggests that big, rich, developed countries are more at risk, due to monoculture, according to a story at TIME; here's a clip: "...Developed countries experienced some of the most severe crop loss due to drought and heat, according to the research. Crop production in North America, Europe and Australia faced nearly a 20% decline thanks to drought and extreme heat, compared to less than 10% in Africa and Latin America. Researchers attributed the disparity to a difference between the agricultural methods employed in the different areas. Farmers in developed countries tend to grow crops uniformly across large areas. Drought affects those crops uniformly. Growing a wide variety of crops in a given region in the developing world mitigates the risk that all crops will be wiped out thanks to a given weather event..."

Study Finds That Weather Disasters Took a Heavy Toll on Crops. Here's the intro to new research highlighted at The New York Times: "Droughts and heat waves wiped out nearly a tenth of the rice, wheat, corn and other cereal crops in countries hit by extreme weather disasters between 1964 and 2007, according to a new study. The paper, published Wednesday in Nature, examined data on the effects, over five decades, of extreme temperatures, floods and droughts on national crop harvests. “People already knew that these extreme weather events had impacts on crop production,” said Navin Ramankutty, a geographer from the University of British Columbia and an author of the report. “But we didn’t know by how much, and we didn’t have a basis for how that might change in the future...”

* a link to the paper referenced above is here.

The 2015 Wildfire Season Set an Ominous Record. Climate Central has the statistics and story; here's an excerpt: "The U.S. as a whole may finally be feeling winter’s chill, but the newly released 2015 wildfire numbers serve as a reminder of how hot and smoky the past year was. The National Interagency Fire Center’s numbers vividly illustrate how 2015 was a record setter. U.S. wildfires scorched 10.12 million acres. That bests the previous mark of 9.87 million acres set in 2006, and it's the first time wildfire acreage burned has crossed the 10-million acre threshold..."

Map credit above: "Annual acreage burned by wildfires in the U.S. since 1970."

Half the World Lives In Just 1% of the Land (Map). CityLab has a fascinating article; here's an excerpt: "In the simple map above lies a stark spatial imbalance: half the people in the world cram into just 1 percent of the Earth’s surface (in yellow), and the other half sprawl across the remaining 99 percent (in black). Data viz extraordinaire Max Galka created this map using NASA’s gridded population data, which counts the global population within each nine-square-mile patch of Earth, instead of within each each district, state, or country border..."

Map credit above: Max Galka / Metrocosm

Is Sweden's "Green Miracle" a Model for the Rest of the World? Here's the intro to a BBC report: "In the wake of the Paris Climate Agreement, many countries will be looking to curb their emissions while continuing to grow their economies. Sweden is often held up as a role model in this regard having increased GDP by almost 60% over the past 25 years while cutting carbon by a fifth. But the country's "green miracle" is now under threat..."

In 21 States Local Newspapers Lack a Dedicated Reporter Keeping Tabs on Congress. The ongoing disruption of professional journalism has consequences, as reported by Pew Research Center: "...Papers that do employ these reporters – who are tasked in part with interpreting the decisions and policies of Washington for readers back home – are not clustered in any one part of the country, but rather are spread out around the United States. But 21 of 50 states do not have a single local daily newspaper with its own dedicated D.C. correspondent accredited to cover Congress. While these 21 states tend to have smaller populations and thus small congressional delegations, there are notable exceptions. Arizona and Indiana (both with a nine-member delegation) have no local paper with its own dedicated D.C. correspondent..."

Ehang 184 Drone Will Carry You Away - Literally. Oh boy, here it comes - a drone ride to work every morning? Don't laugh. That day may be coming sooner than you think. Here's an excerpt from Gizmag: "As might be expected, there are a lot of drones on display this week at CES. Almost all of them have one thing in common, however: people can't ride in them. We say "almost all," as there is one exception. Ehang's 184 AAV (Autonomous Aerial Vehicle) is designed to carry a single human passenger, autonomously flying them from one location to another. Ehang CEO Huazhi Hu began designing the one-seater electric drone a couple of years ago, after two of his pilot friends were killed in plane crashes. He decided that people needed a form of short-to-medium-distance personal air transport that didn't require them to have a pilot's license, and that took much of the danger out of low-altitude flight..."

The U.S. Navy Is Very Interested in This Swimming Drone. Quartz has the video clip and explainer: "Rutgers University has built a drone that can swim as well as it can fly, as you can see in the video above. The “Naviator,” as they’ve called it, has sparked the interest of the US Navy, which recently funded the project with a $618,000 grant. Rutgers engineers say they will use the money to make it stronger and faster..."

Meru. If you like mountain-climbing docs you don't want to miss this - the first ascent of a seemingly impossible peak in the Himalayas, a sharkfin-shaped blade of ice and rock, a mountain so technically impossible it makes Everest look like a day-hike. I watched it on Amazon Video - I think it's available on iTunes as well. The cinematography is awe-inspiring, the story will lift your spirits. The YouTube trailer is here.

Despite the CES Hype It's Better to Wait on that 4K TV. Here's an excerpt of a review at The New York Times: "...But after interviewing several technology companies and testing a premium Samsung 4K TV for more than a week, I was less than convinced that 2016 would be a good year to buy one of the sets. Televisions with the 4K feature remain expensive, ranging from $1,000 to tens of thousands of dollars. More important, the content available in the new 4K video resolution is sparse. And while images encoded in 4K do look better than normal high-definition ones, the differences aren’t jaw-dropping..."

Photo credit: "Executive vice president at Samsung Electronics America, Joe Stinziano, presents the curved-screen Samsung KS9500 TV at the International CES in Las Vegas." Credit John Locher/Associated Press.

The Alp Watch is a $29,400 Joke at the Apple Watch's Expense. It looks like a high-end Apple Watch, but it's very Swiss, very traditional. No digital distractions. Here's an excerpt from The Verge: "...Luxury watchmaker H. Moser & Cie has unveiled what it's calling the Swiss Alp Watch, a timepiece that looks near-identical to the Apple Watch but that is, shall we say, unapologetically mechanical. As is made clear in the Alp Watch's promo video (complete with Apple-like product close ups and voiceover), the timepiece offers "no phone, no messaging, no sketches or heart beats to send." It'll never need upgrading and it can always be powered up with a twist of the (non-digital) crown. Its creators urge viewers to "get a life, upgrade to a mechanical watch," before ending the video with what sounds very much like someone taking a bite out of an apple. As marketing goes, it's not subtle..."

TODAY: 1-2" of slushy snow; mainly wet roads up until late afternoon. Winds: N 8-13. High: 33

FRIDAY NIGHT: Light snow tapers to flurries - slick roads. Low: 15

SATURDAY: Few flakes, tumbling temperatures. Winds: NW 10-20. High: 17 (falling)

SUNDAY: Colder than Seattle with more clouds than sun. Winds: NW 10-15. Feels like -20F. Wake-up: -10. High: near 0F

MONDAY: Still chilly, burst of flurries possible. Wake-up: -5. High: 12

TUESDAY: Reinforcing shot of numbing air. Feels like -25F. Wake-up: -6. High: 1

WEDNESDAY: Nippy start. A period of snow possible. Wake-up: -11. High: 12

THURSDAY: Mostly cloudy, feeling better. Wake-up: 10. High: 29

Climate Stories...

Amplification of El Nino by Cloud Longwave Coupling to Atmospheric Circulation. Which is an impressive way of saying global warming seems to make El Nino worse. Here's an excerpt of the paper's abstract at Nature Publishing Group: "...Here we present numerical experiments with an Earth system model, with and without coupling of cloud radiative effects to the circulation, suggesting that clouds enhance ENSO variability by a factor of two or more. Clouds induce heating in the mid and upper troposphere associated with enhanced high-level cloudiness12 over the El Niño region, and low-level clouds cool the lower troposphere in the surrounding regions13. Together, these effects enhance the coupling of the atmospheric circulation to El Niño surface temperature anomalies, and thus strengthen the positive Bjerknes feedback mechanism14 between west Pacific zonal wind stress and sea surface temperature gradients..."

Arctic Methane Emissions "Greater" Than Previous Estimates. Climate Home has the update; here's the intro: "The quantity of methane leaking from the frozen soil during the long Arctic winters is probably much greater than climate models estimate, scientists have found. They say at least half of annual methane emissions occur in the cold months from September to May, and that drier, upland tundra can emit more methane than wetlands. The multinational team, led by San Diego State University (SDSU) in the US and including colleagues from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the University of Sheffield and the Open University in the UK, have published their conclusion, which challenges critical assumptions in current global climate models, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences..."

Oil Lobby Prepares to Sway U.S. Presidential Race. Here's the intro to a story at Climate Home: "The US trade association, which represents 400 companies including Shell, BP, Chevron and ExxonMobil, also steered clear of December’s UN pact agreed by 195 countries to tackle global warming. But it did indicate the body – which scored a recent win with Congress voting to lift a 40-year old ban on the US exporting oil and gas – wants to influence the 2016 US presidential race. Launching the report, API chief Jack Gerard said the group’s “election advocacy arm”, known as Vote4Energy, would lobby hard for candidates keen to retrench green laws and expand offshore drilling..." (File image: BP).

Despite Protests, Oil Industry Thrives Under Obama Agenda. Here's an excerpt from Bloomberg Business: "...U.S. oil production has surged 82 percent to near-record levels in the past seven years and natural gas is up by nearly one-quarter. Instead of shutting down the hydraulic fracturing process that has unlocked natural gas from dense rock formations, Obama has promoted the fuel as a stepping stone to a greener, renewable future. The administration has also permitted drilling in the Arctic Ocean over the objections of environmentalists and opened the door to a new generation of oil and gas drilling in Atlantic waters hugging the East Coast. He also signed, with reservations, a measure to lift a 40-year-old ban on the export of most U.S. crude..." (Graphic: Department of Energy).

Era of Climate Science Denial Is Not Over, Study Finds. Here's a clip from a story at The Guardian: "...No more arguing over the science? It’s more about the policy now, right? Well, wrong. At least according to a new study that has looked at 15 years worth of output from 19 conservative “thinktanks” in the United States. “We find little support for the claim that ‘the era of science denial is over’ - instead, discussion of climate science has generally increased over the sample period,” the study concludes. The conservative thinktanks under the microscope are the main cog in the machinery of climate science denial across the globe, pushing a constant stream of material into the public domain..."

Climate Change is Indeed a Cause of Social Conflict. When people ask me if climate volatility is a bigger threat than ISIS I tell them the truth: we have multiple challenges and threats at any given point in time. Did perpetual drought in Syria help to create the conditions that allowed ISIS to flourish? As is often the case it's a combination of factors, a perfect storm of variables. Here's an excerpt from The Goldman School of Public Policy at The University of California, Berkeley: "...Another caveat: We can’t predict that a particular conflict will or will not happen. Instead, we can assess the risk that violence might occur in response to changes in the climate. The situation is similar to assessing the risk of a car accident. Nobody ever says, “If you drive to the store now, you will get into an accident.” Instead, we might say, “If you drive to the store during this rainstorm, you are more likely to get into an accident than if you wait until the rain stops.” We have studied many types of violence — including sports violence, murder, gang violence, riots and civil wars. What we find time and again, around the world and throughout human history, is that climatic events are a cause of social conflict. They are not the only cause, but in places where there is a risk of violence because of non-climate factors, climate changes can amplify this risk..."

America Has Been Duped on Climate Change. Why and how? Follow the money. Here's an excerpt of an Op-Ed at The Washington Post: "...The Declaration of Independence says the legitimacy of government is based on the consent of the governed. But when vested interests with outsize economic and cultural power distort the public debate by introducing falsehoods, the integrity of our deliberations is compromised. Such seems the case today when we consider the fossil fuel industry’s role in distorting discourse on the urgent topic of climate change. If vested economic interests and public relations firms can systematically alter the national debate in favor of their own interests and against those of society as a whole, then the notion of democracy and civic morality is undermined. Congress can and should act to investigate this issue fully. Only then can we restore trust and legitimacy to American governance and fulfill our moral duty to aggressively address climate change..."

The Silent Way Global Warming is Affecting Your Wardrobe. Here's an excerpt of a story from Quartz and WhoWhatWear: "When it comes to climate change, there are two camps of people—those who contend with it and those who don’t—but the more time passes, the harder it is to ignore. Among the evidence? Rising seas, violent storms, and extreme drought. Not to mention the fact that 2015 is slated to be the hottest year on record. And, according to a recent article on Quartz, climate change may well be affecting our wardrobes, too. Due to its depletion of so many crucial natural resources, a host of our favorite clothing and accessories materials are now at risk too. This could result in poorer quality or downright depletion—neither of which would be good for the fashion industry at large or our closets..."

Photo credit above: Adam Katz Sinding of Le 21ème

Earth is Experiencing a Global Warming Spurt. The effects of ENSO (El Nino warming phases and La Nina cooling phases of the Pacific) can either magnify or mask the gradual warming already well underway, as reported by Climate Central: "Cyclical changes in the Pacific Ocean have thrown earth’s surface into what may be an unprecedented warming spurt, following a global warming slowdown that lasted about 15 years. While El Niño is being blamed for an outbreak of floods, storms and unseasonable temperatures across the planet, a much slower-moving cycle of the Pacific Ocean has also been playing a role in record-breaking warmth. The recent effects of both ocean cycles are being amplified by climate change..."

Global temperature anomalies valid 12z this morning, courtesy of Climate Reanalyzer.

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