Saturday, January 16, 2016

Coldest Day of Winter - Thaw Likely Next Weekend

13 F. high in the Twin Cities Saturday (12:23 AM). Daytime high was +1F.
23 F. average high on January 16.
30 F. high on January 16, 2015.

January 17, 1996: A severe ice storm hits the western and northern Twin Cities with accumulations between a half an inch and an inch. A foot of snow fell over central Minnesota.
January 17, 1982: The citizens of Tower wake up to a frigid low of -52 degrees F.

Embrace the Burn: Dangerous Wind Chills Today
"January, month of empty pockets! Let us endure this evil month, anxious as a theatrical producer's forehead" wrote French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. Two frostbitten thumbs-up for Colette!

Look, if there was no January we might just take July for granted. Weather is a metaphor for life. Pain and suffering isn't optional. Power through the storms and bitter setbacks - there's always another warm front up ahead.

Right on schedule, a thaw is likely next weekend. 30s! I'm always amazed how good "freezing" feels after surviving a near-death subzero experience.

NOAA models pull El Nino-warmed 40s and even some rain into town by February 1. I'm skeptical it will get that mild and wet that fast, but my point is that a mild signal will return - sooner than you think.

Today? The coldest day of the year, with a chill factor as low as -35F. Exposed skin may become frostbitten in 10 minutes. Take it easy out there. ECMWF guidance keeps us below zero until 11 AM Tuesday.

Today we scrape bottom, with a unrepentant wind chill that may leave you anxiously trolling Expedia or for a dirt-cheap airfare to...anywhere.

Dangerously Cold. We've been through this drill before, but once wind chill values start to dip below -30F or so I start to get (a little) nervous. If you're dressed like an eskimo and physically active you're probably OK, but waiting at the bus stop? Not good. The local National Weather Service has some perspective: "A dangerously cold weekend is ahead, with wind chill values in the -30 to -40 degree range by late tonightWind chill values of this nature can cause frostbite in less than 10 minutesClick here to learn how to access hour-by-hour wind chills for your location from your computer or mobile phone..."

Wind Chill Trend. This morning may bring the coldest wind chill  values (-35 to -45F) with slow recovery in wind chill Monday as winds ease up a bit. Graphic: Twin Cities National  Weather Service.
Pioneer Cold. I wonder if settlers at Fort Snelling  in the 1830s got so annoyed with the perpetual polar chill that they threatened to pick up and move to Naples. Wait, there was no Naples back then. They just gritted their teeth and got throughit. Models predict 6 AM wind chills in the -30 to -35F range in the metro area. Graphic: Aeris Enterprise.

Windchill Warning. As expected we've reached warning criteria, meaning a significant risk of frostbite and hypothermia, a slow and sometimes fatal drop in body temperature. You might want to check in on friends, family and neighbors today to make sure their homes are staying warm enough.

A Fleeting Lobe of Polar Air. I see no evidence, at least not yet, that a negative phase of the AO will spark a meandering jet stream and a parade of polar invasions in the coming weeks, no sign of the prolonged "polar vortex" that had us shivering two winters ago. The animation above shows the core of the coldest air passing over Minnesota today and tonight. 2-meter temperature loop: NOAA and AerisWeather.

Thaw 6 Days Away. The griping, sniping and grumbling will continue into Tuesday morning, when temperatures finally creep above 0F. The mercury returns to "average" by midweek; a good chance of a thaw by next weekend. Source: WeatherSpark.

Firehose of Western Moisture. El Nino-fueled storms are about to return to the west coast, an atmospheric river of moisture, the fabled "Pineapple Express", a conga-line of storms stretching from California to Hawaii. There result may be more flooding rains from the Bay Area to Seattle next week - no storms of significance for Minnesota and the Upper Midwest.

Dripping Icicles. If the 2 week 500 mb forecast (GFS) verifies we'll see 30s in late January and early February, a Pacific flow returning across much of the USA. It still looks very stormy for the west coast with unusual warmth over the southern USA.

Brrr. It's Colder Here Than in Alaska. No kidding. But MSP is colder than Anchorage an average  of 50 days a year? Here's some perspective in an excerpt of a WXshift article: "Whenever the mercury plummets to particularly bitter temps anywhere in the U.S., an oft-heard refrain is, “It’s colder here than it is in Alaska!” But just how often is that actually the case, for, say New York City, or Chicago, or Atlanta? The answer turns out to be more days than you might think. A climatologist — who happens to be based in Alaska — created a set of maps that shows how often cities in the lower 48 have winter days with temperatures colder than those in Anchorage or Fairbanks. Virtually all saw at least one day a winter with temps lower than those in Anchorage, which given its more southerly and coastal location than Fairbanks has a comparatively mild climate. Even parts of Florida have between 1 and 5 days a winter that are colder than Anchorage..."

Map credit: "The typical number of winter days with low temperatures below those in Anchorage, Alaska, across the U.S." Credit:

AO Turns Positive Again. By January 20-25 the Arctic Oscillation creeps back up into positive territory, which means a more compact, less "wandering" polar vortex, with the coldest polar air staying well north of Minnesota. Could there be another relapse in February? Possibly - but odds are it wouldn't be as cold as this one, coming during what is historically the coldest week of the year in Minnesota. Source: NOAA CPC.

Low Winter Misery Index for MSP as of January 15. This may change in the coming days, but the first half of meteorological winter has been pretty tame, according to Dr. Mark Seeley. Here's an excerpt from this week's Minnesota WeatherTalk: "The Minnesota State Climatology Office has resumed and published an update on the "Winter Misery Index (WMI)" for the Twin Cities.  The WMI factors in colder than normal temperatures, accumulating snowfall, and snow depth as the season progresses.  So far this winter the WMI has accumulated only 14 points on this scale, a very modest number.  Last winter's WMI was a total of 55 points, and the winter before (2013-2014) totaled 207 points one of the highest values historically..."

Photo credit: AerisWeather meteorologist Todd Nelson.

What Is The Winter Misery Index? Leave it to a meteorologist (or climatologist) to make you feel worse than you thought possible. Here's an excerpt from the Minnesota DNR: "...The Winter Misery Index (WMI) is an attempt to weigh the relative severity of winters. The index assigns points for daily counts of maximum temperatures 10 degrees or colder and daily minimums of 0 or colder. If the minimum temperature is -20 or colder greater weight is assigned to the value times 8. For snowfall, one inch is assigned a point per calendar day. A four inch snowfall is times 4, and an 8 inch snowfall is times 16. The duration of a winter is noted by the number of days the snow depth is 12 inches or greater. All current measurements are at the Twin Cities International Airport. As of January 13, 2016 the winter of 2015-16 has 14 points. Eight points are for cold and six points for snow..."

Is El Nino Beginning to Fade? Government (NOAA CPC) sources suggest the pattern will become ENSO-neutral (no El Nino or La Nina) by late spring or early summer. Here's an excerpt from Reuters: "The El Nino phenomenon currently affecting weather is expected to weaken during the Northern Hemisphere spring and transition to normal conditions by late spring or early summer, a U.S. government weather forecaster said on Thursday. The Climate Prediction Center (CPC), an agency of the National Weather Service, was in line in its monthly forecast with a growing consensus that the much-watched phenomenon, which can roil commodities markets, will dissipate in the coming months..." (Image: NOAA NCEP).

Flood Lessons From The Missouri Flood Event. Emergency Management has some good reminders in the wake of extreme December flooding on the Mississippi River; here's the intro: "This is one very informative article about flooding, damages, insurance and your options for disaster relief. It even brought up an issue I had not thought of before. Check out Some Flood Victims in Missouri Didn't Have Insurance; Some Didn't Have Enough. Here are some key points:
  • Basic renters insurance doesn't cover flood damage. This is the one that was new to me -- just had not thought about it. The story alludes to the possibility of having it, but never saw it addressed before this article.
  • Paid for? Might still need insurance! I wonder if a home is paid for if people also drop their fire insurance? I personally know three people whose homes have had significant fires. It can and does happen.
  • Cost of flood insurance. If people think it is high, it is still not at market rates for the number of flood losses across the nation. Taxpayers in general are subsidizing their policies. Another form of entitlement program that people have gotten hooked on..."

Why Clean Energy is Now Expanding Even When Fossil Fuels Are Cheap. Here's a clip from a Washington Post analysis: "...Looking out still further, the International Energy Agency said last year that between now and 2020, renewable energy will be the largest area for growth, and predicts 700 gigawatts of added generating capacity. In other words, while half of new generating capacity in 2015 was in the clean energy space, in coming years we may see that percentage grow even higher. Granted, there is still a ways to go before wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources are dominant in generating our electricity. Wind and solar provide about 5 percent of U.S. electricity right now, for instance. Here as across much of the world, electricity generation is still largely dominated by fossil fuels..."

Photo credit above: "Solar panels are seen in the Palm Springs area, California, in this April 13, 2015 photo." Reuters/Lucy Nicholson.

Clean Energy Investment By The Numbers. Here's an excerpt of an encouraging report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance: "
  1. Wind and solar’s capacity share rises. The 122GW of wind and solar installed in 2015 made up about 50% of the net capacity added in all generation technologies (fossil fuel, nuclear and renewable) globally.
  2. No impact from low fossil fuel prices. Neither the 67% plunge in the oil price in the 18 months, nor continuing low prices for coal globally and natural gas in the US restrained the boom in clean energy investment....

Methane Gas Crisis: How California's Porter Ranch Became a Ghost Town.  It's really a remarkable story; an invisible, slow-motion disaster that (some) are comparing to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico a few years ago. Here's an excerpt of an excellent and unsettling update at Newsweek: "...Methane, or CH4, traps about 85 times more heat radiation than carbon dioxide, when effects of the two are compared over a 20-year span, making it a much more potent contributor to climate change; according to the Environmental Defense Fund, the Porter Ranch methane leak was equal in mid-December to emissions of six coal-burning plants or 7 million new cars on the road. Despite its green image, California is second only to Texas in its contribution to the United States’ carbon footprint, and the Porter Ranch leak is believed to be adding 25 percent to the state’s daily methane output...

Photo credit above: "Signage directs prospective buyers to new housing developments under construction in the Porter Ranch neighborhood, January 3. Methane gas leaks from the SoCalGas Aliso Canyon Storage Facility well SS-25 in Porter Ranch have forced many residents to abandon their homes. SoCalGas is currently drilling a relief well that is expected to take months to complete and plug the leak." Patrick T. Fallon for Newsweek.

How Real is Reality? This NPR story gave me a headache, now I'm just passing it along. Here's an excerpt: "Each day when you wake up, the world is, for the most part, unchanged from the day before. The sun rises again in the east. Your underwear falls if you drop it. The water in the sink spirals down the drain like always. Just as important, your mattress won't turn into a sports car and you can't jump into the air and fly like Superman. Reality, in other words, seems pretty stubborn, pretty fixed — and pretty much independent of whatever is going on in your head. But is it? Is it really all those things?..."

TODAY: Wind Chill Warning. Bitter sunlight, feels like -35F. Winds: NW 10-15. High: -5

SUNDAY NIGHT: Clear and numb. Low: -16

MONDAY: Bright sun, winds ease a bit. Chill factor still dipping to -25F. Winds: NW 7-12. High: -1

TUESDAY: Sunny start, shot of light snow late in the day. Wake-up: -9. High: 10

WEDNESDAY: Mostly cloudy skies, happy to be average. Wake-up: 8. High: 23

THURSDAY: Blue sky, no drama. Wake-up: 13. High: 20

FRIDAY: Partly sunny, milder breeze. Winds: S 10-15. Wake-up: 13. High: 26

SATURDAY: Ring the church bells! Welcome thaw with peeks of sun. Winds: S 10-15. Wake-up: 16. High: 33

Climate Stories...

Farmers Hold the Key to Climate Change Action in the United States. Turns out many of the farming practices that encourage resilience to drought and flood may also help to soak up excess CO2. Here's an excerpt of an interesting interview at Grist: "...But you do see more people in agriculture talking about it in different ways. Greg Page, chairman of Cargill, is talking about the business imperative of making some changes [see Grist’s story on Cargill and General Mills]. Just the other day Monsanto announced that it was pushing on its supply chain to create a carbon-neutral environment for the company. You have the retailers and food companies demanding changes in the carbon footprint as well, demanding changes in fertilizer practices. During cap and trade, Monsanto and all these major ag companies largely stayed back. They had statements on their websites about their concerns about climate change, but they were not politically engaged. Now here they are out there making public commitments. Hopefully, long-term, we’ll see these industry demands leading to some shift in the politics..." (Image credit: Shutterstock).

Influence of Climate Change on Record U.K. December Rains. El Nino was a factor, but it may have been dwarfed by a warmer, wetter climate. Here's an excerpt from "Applying three independent methodologies of extreme event attribution, we show that temperatures and precipitation in the UK in December 2015 were extremely unlikely even in a warming world with observed SST patterns, including El Niño, as an additional driver. This indicates that random weather noise played a very large role in December’s weather. At the same time, the event was much less likely in the representations of a climate without human influence, showing that climate change greatly affected the odds of such a month occurring. The observed temperature anomaly is so far outside the expected distribution that the odds are difficult to determine. We find that anthropogenic climate change approximately doubled the occurrence probability of the event for lower return times..."

Republican Presidential Field Tilts Rightward on Climate Change. Here's a clip from a Wall Street Journal article: "...Shifts by Mr. Rubio and some of his rivals on the issue recall an inconvenient past that many in the GOP would like to forget: Republicans, not Democrats, first championed market-based systems to control pollution, as a way to avoid more direct regulation. Until 2008, many Republicans, including then-presidential nominee John McCain, supported cap-and-trade to address climate change. Once Mr. Obama won the White House, Republicans swiftly unified against nearly all of his initiatives, including a cap-and-trade bill that would have set limits on carbon emissions and allowed companies to trade pollution credits to comply..."

How Scientists Link Extreme Weather to Climate Change. I'm fascinated by attribution studies, which is still emerging science. How is a warmer (in many cases wetter) atmosphere increasing the probability of specific events? Here's an excerpt of a good explainer at Carbon Brief: "...Human influence is making some events much more likely, others a bit more likely, and still others less likely. It is very important we don’t just focus on the events that have been made much more likely, because a small increase in the risk of very high-impact events could be just as important or more so. Eventually, we may start to see events that simply could not have occurred at all in the absence of human influence on climate, so I guess for such an event one would have to say it was made infinitely more likely to occur. But for most of the short-duration, localised events that most people think of as weather, that point is a very long way off indeed..."

A Visual Forecast for the End of the Century. I found this interesting, courtesy of Climate Central and Scientific American: "...Multiple factors likely contributed to the recent warmth, including the effects of El Niño, and the unusually strong polar vortex. However, the science points to global warming as the primary cause which, if left unchecked, will cause a steady rise in temperature in for decades, at least, and maybe more . The graphic below from Climate Central looks ahead to see where this trend might take the U.S. by 2100..."

Climate Change Called Top Risk for Economy. Because it flavors many other troubling trends and hot-spots. The military calls it a "threat multiplier", impacting water supplies, where crops can be grown, migration patterns - the list goes on. Here's an excerpt from TribLIVE: "...That's the first time that an environmental concern has topped the list of global risks of the WEF's Global Risks Report and comes after what meteorologists say was the hottest year on record. “Climate change is exacerbating more risks than ever before in terms of water crises, food shortages, constrained economic growth, weaker social cohesion and increased security risks,” said Cecilia Reyes, chief risk officer at Zurich Insurance, which helped develop the annual Global Risks Report. The survey of nearly 750 experts and decision-makers from a variety of fields, locations and ages was conducted in the autumn of 2015 before the global warming targets agreed upon in Paris in December..."

No, Satellites Are Not The Best Way To Measure Warming. Here's an excerpt from a story at Slate that helps to explain what satellites can and can't do (well): "...The key thing to take away from this is that satellites measure radiance: energy radiated by the atmosphere as microwaves. They come from the air, but also from the surface, clouds, and more. Scientists then use models of what’s emitting these microwaves to disentangle all that and convert it to a temperature. But those models are sometimes not terribly accurate. The best measurements have been and still are from thermometers in situ, at various stations across the globe, on land, over sea, and in the air. These data need adjusting sometimes too, but not nearly as much as satellite data. Thermometers more reliable..."

Image credit above: "The MetOp-B satellite, one of many that use microwaves to measure the Earth's temperature." Drawing by ESA/Eumetsat.

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