Friday, January 15, 2016

Dangerously Cold by Sunday - How Scientists Link Extreme Weather to Climate Change

23 F. high temperature in the Twin Cities Friday.
23 F. average high on January 15.
35 F. high on January 15, 2015.

January 16, 1921: Winds gusting up to 59 mph create a 'sand blizzard' across southwest Minnesota and a snowstorm across the north.

70s Flashback: 80 Consecutive Hours Below 0F?
"It's not the heat, it's the humidity. It's not the cold, it's the wind chill." Leave it to a meteorologist to leave you feeling worse than you thought possible.

Over the next 3 days we'll get a taste of what it was like in the 60s & 70s, a concentrated scoop of polar-flavored gelato. And there WILL be a bitter aftertaste.

Air temperatures should stay below zero into Tuesday morning; a good 72-82 hours of negative numbers. Sunday wind chill values dip to -35, even -45F just south and west of MSP.

The first half of meteorological winter was tame, based on the Winter Misery Index, which factors snow and extreme cold. 2 winters ago we grappled with an extended "polar vortex" - but the harshest winters came during the 60s and 70s; not just days but WEEKS of subzero cold.

Just about the time you throw up your frostbitten hands in despair it'll warm up. I still see a thaw by the end of next week. Hunch: a slowly fading El Nino will keep us milder than average into spring.
"Nothing burns like the cold" wrote George Martin in "Game of Thrones".

Winter is coming? No, winter is most definitely here. What took you so long?

* 2-meter predicted temperatures going out 84 hours courtesy of NOAA's NAM model and AerisWeather.

Tales from the Tundra. Here is the ECMWF prediction for 12z (7 AM) Sunday morning air temperatures; in the  -16 to -19F range in the immediate metro. Notice how the relatively mild waters of Lake Superior keep temperatures above 0F downwind. Source: WeatherBell.

Eye-Watering Wind Chill. The same ECMWF model run consistenly drops wind chill values into the -35 to -45F, with the coldest values just south and west of MSP. Under these conditions frostbite on exposed skin is possible within 15 minutes. Take the cold seriously this weekend.

Nanook. NOAA models show Sunday wake-up temperatures in the -13 to -15F range, a few degrees "milder" than ECMWF. Remember you can't really feel colder than numb, so I'm not sure it matters much. A slow warming trend is likely next week. Graphic: Aeris Enterprise.

-40F Wind Chill Values? NOAA's same model set, including NAM and GFS show wind chill readings coming close to -40F just south and southwest of the metro area Sunday morning. I plan on sleeping in until next weekend.

Slow Recovery Next Week. European guidance shows a slow, unsteady warming trend next week, models hinting at a thaw by next weekend with highs well up into the 30s. Grilling weather. The only real chance of light snow comes Tuesday; with single-digital temperatures any fluff may pile up rapidly and I could see a couple slippery inches. Source: WeatherSpark.

Latest Snow Cover. I notice a serious lack of snow cover over the far north metro,  just a couple inches near Isanti, Cambridge and Princeton. There's actually significantly more snow south of MSP, about 3-6" in the Brainerd Lakes area, a little more near Alexandria, with some 12-20" piles of snow along the North Shore of Lake Superior. Source: NOAA.

Catching Our Breath by Late January. Here is the GFS prediction for 500 mb (18,000 foot) winds on Friday evening, January 29, showing a return of zonal, west-to-east winds aloft, hinting at 30s - the core of the coldest air lifting northward. Will another hunk of polar pain rotate southward anytime soon?

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..."

2015 Probably Blew Away Previous Records to Become Earth's Hottest Year. Mashable has an early look at a new global record, which beat the previous record (2014). Here's an excerpt: "During the next week, the official climate agencies around the world that are responsible for tracking the planet's average temperatures will almost certainly come to the same conclusion: 2015 was the warmest year on record. This would mean that 2015 would beat the previous warmest year, which occurred in 2014 — remember that? The combination of a record strong El Niño event plus the highest amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at any time in human history have given the climate system the equivalent of a Power Bar plus a shot of espresso. On Wednesday, one unofficial temperature tracking group, known as Berkeley Earth, revealed its determination that 2015 was by far the planet's warmest year, both on land and sea..."

Image credit above: "Global temperature anomaly for 2015 compared to the 1951-1980 average." Image: Berkeley Earth.

Soft In The Middle. What's up with the Midwest's relatively mild and soggy winter, to date? Here's an excerpt from onEarth that caught my eye: "...According to Doug Kluck, a climatologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Central Region, as many as 20 different factors may affect weather trends across the country at any given time, and he and other scientist are trying to figure out all the hows and whys in order to help Midwesterners prepare for the future. So far, what Kluck, and Michael Timlin, a climatologist with the Midwestern Regional Climate Center, have been able to parse out are longer-term trends, namely winters with less severe and shorter cold snaps (just like 2015’s). They’re also seeing bigger rain events with longer dry spells in between and have noted that minimum annual temperatures throughout the region have gradually gone up over the past 120 years or so..."

Photo credit above: "A Coast Guard helicopter surveys the region surrounding Cape Girardeau, Missouri, on January 3." Credit: U.S. Coast Guard Aircrews.

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).

Unprecedented: Simultaneous January Named Storms in the Atlantic and Central Pacific. This should give you an idea of how freakishly warm the oceans are - tropical storms and hurricanes in January? Here's an excerpt from Dr. Jeff Master's WunderBlog: "As we ring in the New Year with record to near-record warm temperatures over much of Earth's oceans, we are confronted with something that would have been unimaginable a few decades ago: simultaneous January named storms in both the Atlantic and Central Pacific. The earliest named storm on record in the Central Pacific, Hurricane Pali, formed on January 7, and now the Atlantic has joined the early-season hurricane party, with Subtropical Storm Alex spinning up into history with 50 mph winds in the waters about 785 miles south-southwest of the Azores Islands. The average date of the first named storm in the Atlantic is July 9; the Central Pacific also typically sees its first named storm in July..."

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..."

Hong Kong Scientists Engineer Plants for a Warmer Planet. Smart move. Here's a clip from a story at Nikkei Asian Review: "Two researchers at the University of Hong Kong have separately developed ways to genetically engineer plants that grow faster and are more resistant to drought. The modifications could significantly increase the yields of various crops and allow them to be grown on lAgragen, an agribusiness based in Cincinnati in the U.S, is the first company to license the technology, which it plans to apply to an oilseed crop called camelina. and with dry, poor-quality soil, helping farmers to adapt to global warming and strengthening food security..."

Photo credit above: "Camelina seeds." (Courtesy of Agragen).

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.

In Minnesota, Community Solar Shares Getting Snapped Up Fast. People living in Waverly seem to have the right idea; here's a clip from Midwest Energy News: "Less than a week after a Minnesota co-op announced it had sold out shares of its formerly struggling solar garden, solar developer Sunshare announced it has sold out its first project in Waverly, a town 35 miles west of Minneapolis. The Sunshare Waverly project has five co-located solar gardens, each of which has a capacity of one megawatt (MW). Under Minnesota state law, solar gardens are limited to 1 MW each, and regulators last year imposed a limit of five co-located gardens – per developer – at any one site..."
Photo credit: "The city government of Waverly, Minnesota will offset 100 percent of its electricity through a solar garden subscription."

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....

Connected Shower Head Changes Colors to Highlight Your Water Shortage. Gizmag has details: "It can be pretty easy to lose sight of your water usage when taking a shower. Indeed standing under that powerful stream is a perfect way to churn through a lot of both water and energy. The team behind Hydrao is aiming to build awareness around these important resources, with an LED-equipped shower head that changes color when you're overstaying your welcome..."

In Defense of Food. Here's a link to a recent doc at TPT2 and PBS that got my attention. It's back to basics: if it's a plant, eat it, if it was made in a plant, take a more cautious approach. Here's a description of the full episode, which is available here: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." With that seven-word maxim, US-based journalist Michael Pollan distills a career’s worth of reporting into a prescription for reversing the damage being done to people’s health by today’s industrially driven Western diet. In Defense of Food debunks the daily media barrage of conflicting claims about nutrition. Traveling the globe and the supermarket aisles to illustrate the principles of his bestselling “eater’s manifesto,” Pollan offers a clear answer to one of the most confounding and urgent questions of our time: What should I eat to be healthy?"
Cars and the Future. Talk about an underutilized and expensive resource. 90-95% of the time our vehicles are in the garage, on the street or in a parking lot - not being used. Is there a smarter, cheaper, more efficient way forward? Check out this story excerpt from Stratechery:  "...What is interesting, though, is that while change is certainly coming, it is coming on multiple axes: The Lyft news is about the secular shift from individually owned-and-operated automobiles to transportation-as-a-service, while the Chevrolet Bolt is about how the cars themselves are made. Meanwhile, Google, Uber, Tesla, and others are working on obviating the need for a driver at all. To put it another way, when it comes to questioning the future of transportation, the “What?”, “How?”, and “Where?” are all in play. It’s easy to predict a future where all of these trends coalesce: electrically-powered self-driving cars, summoned from our smartphones, take us where we need to go with plenty of time to finally beat Candy Crush..."

From Tesla, A New Car Smell That Vegans Can Get Behind. The New York Times has the story; here's the intro: "For the eco-conscious car buyer, Tesla’s luxury electric vehicles, with their neck-snapping acceleration, are proof that performance doesn’t have to be sacrificed at the altar of saving the environment. But for some discerning consumers, there is a nagging problem. The leather in the seats and steering wheel requires slaughtering animals, and the cloth substitute doesn’t quite measure up for a vehicle that can cost more than $100,000. Now, in response, comes the Tesla that even a luxury-minded vegan could love. Synthetic leather, in a shade Tesla calls Ultra White, is available as an option for the new Model X sport utility vehicle..."

Photo credit above: "Leilani Münter, a professional racecar driver, environmental advocate and vegan, with her vegan Tesla in Huntersville, N.C." Credit Travis Dove for The New York Times.

TODAY: Windchill Advisory.  Mostly cloudy, feels like -25. Winds: NW 10-20. High: -1

SATURDAY NIGHT: Partly cloudy and frigid. Low: -15

SUNDAY: Dangerously cold under partly sunny skies. Winds: NW 10-15. Wind chill: -35. High: -5

MONDAY: Bright sun, still numb. Winds: W 5-10. Low: -16. High: -2

TUESDAY: Period of light snow, couple inches PM hours? Low: -10. High: 9

WEDNESDAY: Flurries taper,  clouds linger. Low: 8. High: 19

THURSDAY: Partly sunny, still chilly. Low: 7. High: 17

FRIDAY: Mostly cloudy, above average - finally. Low: 3. High: 26

* guidance strongly hints at a thaw by next Saturday with highs in the 30s.

** Photo courtesy of my friend, Jack Falker, who lives in Edina.

Climate Stories...

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.

We Have No Way to Predict the Unintended Consequences of Geoengineering. Slate and Newsweek take a look at how frantic last-minute, man-made attempts to cool the Earth could backfire if there's no international consensus: "...Now is the time, with the wind from Paris at our backs, to set international norms for how geoengineering technologies are tested and deployed and to consider how the U.S. would navigate a global landscape in which different nations want to engineer the climate to different ends. Would Russia want to warm Earth beyond 2 degrees Celsius to turn Siberia into a fertile growing region? Will Vanuatu find a sympathetic billionaire to shield the planet from the sun so that sea levels do not rise so high? More research on geoengineering could help us anticipate the possible ways the technologies could be used..."

Photo credit above: "To prove that reflecting sunlight with sulfates can safely cool Earth, experiments must be large enough in geography and long enough in time frame." Dado Ruvic/Reuters

Michigan Researchers Put Price Tag on Climate Liability for Fossil Fuel Plants. Midwest Energy News has the story; here's the intro: "Coal-fired power plants across the country could be billion-dollar liabilities for utilities if their greenhouse gas emissions are challenged in court, according to researchers at Michigan Technological University. Should an entity — individuals, groups or governments — take legal action against utilities for their plants’ greenhouse gas emissions and contributions to climate change, researchers have developed a way to determine the amount of monetary damages that might be awarded to plaintiffs.  These polluting plants, therefore, could have significant impact on shareholders, researchers say..."

Here's Why Nobody Made It Up Mount Everest Last Year. Climate change and warming glaciers is part of the answer; here's an excerpt at Smithsonian: "...Earlier this year, scientists learned that the size of Everest’s glaciers decreased by 20 percent between 1961 and 2007 and predicted that  some parts of the glaciers could decline by as much as 99 percent by 2100. Veteran climbers tell Holley that melting, shifting ice will make the mountain even more dangerous for climbers..."

A Crime Justified by Climate Change? Activists Caught in Legal Showdown. The Guardian has the story; here's a link and excerpt: "A jury in Washington state is hearing evidence on whether the threat of climate change is a justifiable defense for criminal acts, the first time such a defense has been allowed in an American court. On Thursday, in a tiny municipal courtroom amid the strip malls and ranch houses of this suburban community north of Seattle, defense attorneys for five climate activists will call the final witnesses in their “Hail Mary pass” that has set up a historic legal showdown..." (Image: NASA).

Migration and Climate Change Top Risks Facing Global Economy. Here's the intro to a story at Financial Times: "Forced migration and climate change are the biggest risks facing the global economy this decade, according to 750 experts surveyed by the World Economic Forum. The warning was published in the 11th edition of WEF’s Global Risks Report and in advance of the annual gathering of global leaders at Davos next week. More than 60m people are displaced worldwide, compared with 40m at the end of the second world war. Last year 1m migrated to Europe. The majority of the world’s forced migrants are internally displaced within Africa and the Middle East..." (Photo credit: AFP).

* The report from WEP, The World Economic Forum, is here.

Where Presidential Candidates Stand on Energy, Climate. Check out a good summary at The Des Moines Register; here's an excerpt: "...Trump has called climate change a hoax and said he thinks “the scientists are having a lot of fun.” He said climate change fears have made it more difficult for U.S. manufacturers to compete with nations such as India. Trump has said he supports domestic energy production to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Trump has not said whether he supports a wind energy production tax credit, but has expressed support for the Renewable Fuel Standard..."

From Climate Change to "Technofossils" We're Revising Earth's Geological History. Here's a snippet of an interesting story at MinnPost: "...For a generation or so, scientists in certain circles have bandied about the notion of “the Anthropocene” – a new division in Earth’s geologic time scale to reflect humankind’s pervasive influence on planetary systems, especially by driving climate change and species extinction. Now a  cross-disciplinary team of 22 researchers argues that human-caused change in virtually all the planet's systems – including its very geology, through the introduction of  “technofossils” and other forms of “new rock” – is so pronounced that future scientists will see our influence as an unmistakable boundary marker in the ice cores, lake sediments and other samplings long used to chart the planet’s 4.5 billion-year-old record..."

Photo credit above: "An ice core from west Greenland shows a line marking what scientists call a shift from the Holocene epoch to the Anthropocene with glacial sediments giving way to nonglacial organic matter."

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