Friday, February 19, 2016

Fast-Forward Spring? January: "Most Abnormally Warm Month Ever Measured"

45 F. high in the Twin Cities Friday.
30 F. average high on February 19.
9 F. high on February 19, 2015 - after waking up to -11 F.

.37" rain fell yesterday at KMSP.

February 20, 1981: Due to the long spell of warm weather in the 60s, a farmer near Le Center is plowing some alfalfa ground.

Odds of Thunder in mid-February? Cooler Next Week

The symptoms of a warmer, more volatile climate will be harder to dismiss or deny as time goes on. This is just the tip of the (mushy) iceberg.

Like shorter, easier winters. Not every winter, but most. Erratic snows, more midwinter rain and ice events. Even thunder and lightning, when you least expect it.

Friday's cracks of thunder were unusual. Pete Boulay, at the Minnesota State Climate Office, told me it was the first February thunder since Feb. 25, 2000. It happens about once a decade, but earlier springs could make for a confusing March. Tournament snows or tornadoes?

We dry out today with less wind, peeks of sun and low 40s. The pattern favors big storms detouring across the Deep South, turning up the East Coast. Nothing but a few ornamental flurries here Tuesday.

Weather forecasters like it when (scores) of models agree. I think that happened once. NOAA's GFS predicts a quick shot of arctic air next Friday; maybe one night below zero. But the ECMWF (European) shows a brief, glancing blow of chilly air, with a shot at 50F a week from tomorrow.

Winter is fading fast.

Thunder on February 19. How Rare Is That? I honestly can't remember thunder and lightning during the month of February since I got here in 1983. So I asked Pete Boulay at the Minnesota Climate Office for his perspective. Here is what he e-mailed me yesterday:

"At first I was thinking that February thunderstorms aren't that rare. However, Looking at the past 68 years or so a thunderstorm happens at the Twin Cities International Airport about 1 in 10 years.

The last time that a February thunderstorm was reported at the Twin Cities International Airport was on February 25, 2000. I'm not sure if a thunderstorm was reported at the Twin Cities International Airport today, although at 10am there was a thunderstorm reported at the South St. Paul and Lake Elmo Airports."

Graphic showing monthly frequency of thunder at MSP courtesy of Iowa State University.

Tropical Storm-Force Gusts on Friday. Shortly before noon winds at MSP International gusted to 39 mph; the result of a tight pressure gradient. Winds were even stronger south of the metro area. Graphic: NOAA.

Next Windy Day: Thursday. The arrival of the next cold swipe, probably a glancing blow of colder air, turns up sustained winds of 25-30 mph Thursday with higher gusts. Chart: AerisWeather.

Mild Bias Continues. In spite of a late week cold push temperatures trend above average looking out the next 8 days, based on European guidance.  Low 40s today,  then cooling off a bit - a light mix possible Tuesday, then a rerun of February chill late week. But temperatures may rebound rapidly next weekend; more 40s a week from tomorrow? Chart: WeatherSpark.

First Week of March: Slightly Milder Than Average. Near-record warmth is forecast for the Rockies within 2 weeks; the coldest air rotating across Hudson Bay into eastern Canada. In spite of a northwest flow aloft a modified Pacific airmass may be able to penetrate into Minnesota. Occasional cold dips, but the trend is milder than average, a trend that may continue for much of March.

Warmer Than Normal Spring Shaping Up for Minnesota? So says NOAA CPC; Dr. Mark Seeley has more perspective in this week's installment of Minnesota WeatherTalk: "The NOAA Climate Prediction Center released new seasonal outlooks on Thursday of this week (Feb 18). The ensemble forecast of monthly anomalies favors a warmer than normal spring for Minnesota, March through May. The confidence or probability for this forecast is close to 70 percent. An early spring seems relatively assured. The outlook for precipitation anomalies over March through May is less certain for Minnesota with equal chances of above or below normal values for much of the state, and slightly favoring drier than normal conditions this spring in northern counties..."

March temperature anomaly credit: NOAA CFSv2 and WeatherBell.

We've Passed Peak El Nino - But Many More Months of Extreme Weather is Likely. So is a La Nina cool phase in the Pacific later in 2016, as reported at VICE NEWS: "...And as it fades, scientists are now looking at whether the Pacific swings into a La Niña phase — El Niño's cooler twin. That pattern typically means drier weather across the southern United States and tropical South America, while bringing more moisture to places like Southeast Asia, Australia, and India. Mann said the odds are good that La Niña will follow in late 2016. "El Niño is like a spring," he said. "Once you set it going in one direction, it doesn't just return to the starting point. It tends to overshoot back in the other direction."

Photo credit above: "A heat wave in India killed 2,000 people and was followed by flooding that killed hundreds more." (Photo via EPA).

Fiji Pounded by it's First Category Five Storm on Record: Tropical Cyclone Winston. Jeff Masters has a good update at Weather Underground; here's an excerpt: "...Winston's central pressure was estimated at 920 mb at 1 pm EST Friday by the Fiji Meteorological Service. Winston is tracking north of its previous forecast track, and is now expected to make landfall on Fiji's second largest island, Vanua Levu, near Nambouwalu at approximately 0600 UTC (1 am EST) Saturday, as a Category 5 storm with 185 mph winds, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC). This would make Winston the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded in the South Pacific waters east of Australia..."

Composite radar loop: Fiji Weather Service.

January 2016: "Remarkably Warm Month for the Arctic". As much as 10-13F warmer than average. Probably just another cosmic coincidence. Here's an excerpt from Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis: "...January 2016 was a remarkably warm month. Air temperatures at the 925 hPa level were more than 6 degrees Celsius (13 degrees Fahrenheit) above average across most of the Arctic Ocean. These unusually high air temperatures are likely related to the behavior of the AO. While the AO was in a positive phase for most of the autumn and early winter, it turned strongly negative beginning in January. By mid-January, the index reached nearly -5 sigma or five standard deviations below average. The AO then shifted back to positive during the last week of January. (See the graph at the NOAA Climate Prediction Web site.)..."

Graphic credit: "The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of February 3, 2016, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years. 2015 to 2016 is shown in blue, 2014 to 2015 in green, 2013 to 2014 in orange, 2012 to 2011 in brown, and 2011 to 2012 in purple. The 1981 to 2010 average is in dark gray. The gray area around the average line shows the two standard deviation range of the data. Sea Ice Index data." Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Why Your Brain Actually Works Better in Winter. I beg to differ, but I'm keeping an open mind, what's left of it. Here's an excerpt from Science of Us: "...This suggestion that our mental function might actually be enhanced in winter is actually backed up by a (frequently ignored) study published in the late 1990s in Applied Cognitive Psychology. Researchers at the University of Tromsø in Norway tested 62 participants on a range of mental tasks in winter and again in summer (some completed them in winter first, the others in summer, thus balancing out any practice effects). This was just about the perfect setting for such a study, since the contrasts were so extreme: Tromsø is located more than 180 miles north of the Arctic Circle, meaning there is virtually no sunlight in Tromsø during the winter and no darkness in the summer..."

What Causes Turbulence? 10 Things You Need to Know. What you need to know is keep your seat belt fastened, even when the air is smooth. It can change in the blink of an eye. Here's a clip from Conde Nast Traveler: "...The Federal Aviation Administration says approximately 58 fliers are injured by turbulence each year. Two-thirds of that number are flight attendants or passengers not wearing seat belts when the bumps hit, which means that about 20 passengers—out of the 800 million who fly each year in the United States—are injured due to turbulence. And that usually happens at or above 30,000 feet..."

More Than 5 Million People Will Die From a Frightening Cause: Breathing. Some staggering statistics from The Washington Post; we've gone from second-hand smoke to second-hand CO2; here's an excerpt: "About 5.5 million people around the world die prematurely every year from breathing polluted air, and the majority of those deaths are occurring in China and India, where factories and coal-fired power plants are fueling economic growth, according to a report released Friday. The authors said the findings show that disease from air and household pollution ranks as the number two cause of death worldwide. It comes in right behind smoking, which the World Health Organization says kills 6 million people annually..."

4 Billion People Face Severe Water Scarcity, New Research Finds. Water, not oil or natural gas, will be the most precious natural resource of the 21st century. Here's an excerpt at The Guardian: "At least two-thirds of the global population, over 4 billion people, live with severe water scarcity for at least one month every year, according to a major new analysis. The revelation shows water shortages, one of the most dangerous challenges the world faces, is far worse previously than thought. The new research also reveals that 500m people live in places where water consumption is double the amount replenished by rain for the entire year, leaving them extremely vulnerable as underground aquifers run down..."

Study: NASA Satellites Show Areas Growing Drier, Wetter. Something climate models predicted 30 years ago; here's an excerpt from The Desert Sun: "...This concept of wet-get-wetter, dry-get-drier – they call it the rich-get-richer mechanism – has already been proposed as something that might happen under human-driven climate change. And we’re seeing something that’s consistent with that,” said lead author J.T. Reager, a hydrologist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. He stressed that the researchers can’t say whether or to what extent the shifts may be related to global warming – versus natural variations in climate – in part because 12 years is too short of a period to draw such conclusions..."

Map credit: "This map shows trends in total land water storage, as measured by NASA's GRACE satellites, between April 2002 to November 2014. The map, which was published in the journal Science, shows regions that grew wetter in blue and regions that grew drier in red. The map excludes glaciers and ice sheets." (Photo: Source: J.T. Reager and Jay Famiglietti, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

Is Humanity Getting Better? An Op-Ed at The New York Times makes the case; here's a clip: "...We can’t relax; the upward trends in time’s graphs may crest at any point. Yet batting away the positive facts is lazy, and requires only a lower form of intelligence. There are immense challenges: climate change, resource scarcity, overpopulation, and more. Still, these are the follow-on problems of species achievement, as the world gets more crowded and productivity grows. These are the burdens of our success. Something is happening — especially since World War II — as we add more energy to our species. What future generations might marvel at most will be if we, in the midst of it, do not see it." (Image: NASA).

Fusion: "We're So Close We Can Taste It." Yes, it would solve a global energy challenge and help us decarbonize much faster. Is it close, a panacea or technological inevitability? Here's an excerpf from How We Get To Next at Medium: "...I think there are three options. One is solar — they’ve made marvelous progress with solar, and solar would work if it comes down in cost and we solve the energy storage problem. The second technology that could do it would be advanced forms of fission, fast breeder reactors, etc., but those come with a new set of risks and concerns that at the moment we don’t want to address. And the third technology that can do it and provide millions of years of sustainable, carbon-free, safe energy is fusion. Of the three, fusion is probably the most attractive, in that fusion doesn’t take up much space, it’s safe, it doesn’t produce any waste that is significant, and we’ve got tens of millions of years of the simplest of fusion reactions..."

Photo credit: "Interior of the nuclear fusion reactor JET." Photo: EFDA

Electric Vehicles Will Triumph Because They're Better, GM Veteran Says. Here's an excerpt from Forbes: "...Set aside all the motivations with climate change, oil dependence—it’s just a better way to do a car. It’s simple.” Electric vehicle sales have been tepid and may remain tepid in the short term. Internal combustion engines will continue to dominate until 2025, Burns predicted, as the nation’s automotive fleet slowly turns over. “It’s just arithmetic.” But as automakers strive to meet the 2025 fuel economy standard—54.5 miles per gallon—they will come to realize that reengineering traditional vehicles is more expensive and difficult than adopting an electric drive train that emits no carbon..."

How Weather, and an "Interstate of Renewable Energy" Could Save The Climate by 2030. Meteorologist and uber-weather-geek (and I say that with all admiration) Dr. Marshall Shepherd takes a look at how we can wean ourselves off of fossil fuels sooner than most skeptics believe. Here's an excerpt at Forbes: "Stanford expert Mark Jacobson, who was not involved in the study, wrote an editorial to Nature Climate Change saying,
This study pushes the envelope…….It shows that intermittent renewables plus transmission can eliminate most fossil-fuel electricity while matching power demand at lower cost than a fossil fuel-based grid – even before storage is considered
Image credit above: "A snapshot of wind energy potential across the United States in 2012. (via Chris Clack/CIRES)." Source: NOAA Press Release.

Minnesota Vows to Move Ahead with Clean Power. Here's the intro to a story at The Star Tribune: "Minnesota will push ahead with plans to develop cleaner power sources despite a U.S. Supreme Court order that has temporarily delayed a national clean power plan. Still in question is how much guidance state officials can expect from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after the justices stepped in Tuesday to stop implementation of the Obama administration’s attempt to address climate change with new limits on carbon emissions..."

Photo credit above: Elizabeth Flores. “While the Court’s temporary stay is a disappointing, it does nothing to diminish our resolve in Minnesota to keep moving forward on clean energy initiatives.” Gov. Mark Dayton."

Elon Musk Says a Tesla Truck Is Quite Likely in the Future. And why not? An electric-powered pick-up that can go 300 or 400 miles, powered by free energy from the sun (or the grid?) Here's an excerpt at "...In the past, we’ve seen reports that a Tesla Model 3 crossover vehicle is in the works. Even more recently, Elon Musk hinted that a Tesla branded pickup truck isn’t entirely outside the realm of possibility. During a recent interview in Hong Kong at the StartmeupHK Festival, Musk briefly touched on the potential for Tesla to build an electric truck. “I think it is quite likely we will do a truck in the future,” Musk said. “I think it’s sort of a logical thing for us to do in the future...”

In America, the Art of Doctoring is Dying. Here's a snippet from an eye-opening piece at The Washington Post: "...There is no doubt that the kind of medicine I was fortunate to practice is disappearing. Most doctors are employed by large group practices, hospitals or insurance companies. Many want to have personal connections with their patients but have too little time. Young primary-care doctors are relegated to assembly-line clinics; their patients pass through as widgets, not as individuals with complex inner lives, wrought family structures, varied spiritual and cultural beliefs — not to mention their individual capacities to understand and deal with their medical symptoms, diagnoses and multiple medications, as well as their own hopes and fears..." (Photo credit here).

Scientists' New Depressing Discovery About the Brain. Ideology trumps cognition, reasoning and basic math? I have to admit I'm shocked. Here's an excert from Salon: "...Kahan conducted some ingenious experiments about the impact of political passion on people’s ability to think clearly.  His conclusion, in Mooney’s words: partisanship “can even undermine our very basic reasoning skills…. [People] who are otherwise very good at math may totally flunk a problem that they would otherwise probably be able to solve, simply because giving the right answer goes against their political beliefs.” In other words, say goodnight to the dream that education, journalism, scientific evidence, media literacy or reason can provide the tools and information that people need in order to make good decisions..."

Lot's of People Are Losing Distance Vision, and No One Knows Why. Possibly from staring at small glowing screens 8 hours a day? Here's an excerpt from WIRED: "Modern life takes a toll on bodies. It’s easy to tick off the uniquely 21st-century diseases that plague humans today: obesity, heart disease, diabetes. But those are the visible afflictions, the ones that show up on expanding bellies and skyrocketing death rates. Out of sight, another epidemic is silently raging: myopia, or nearsightedness. Between the 1970s and the early aughts, the incidence of myopia in the US nearly doubled, to 42 percent. Myopia’s rise has been the starkest in Asia; one survey in Korea found a rate as high as 96 percent among teenagers..."

What If We Don't Need Advertising At All? Project VRM at Harvard has an intriguing story - here's an excerpt: "...The fact is, we are now in a digital world as well as an analog one. That alone rewrites the future in a huge way. Digital itself is the only medium, and the whole environment. It’s also us, whether we like it or not. We are digital as well as cellular. In the past we put up with being annoyed and yelled at by advertising. And now we’re putting up with being spied on and guessed at, personally, as well. But we don’t have to put up with any of it any more. That’s another thing digital life makes possible, even if we haven’t taken the measures yet..."

When To Stop Dating and Settle Down. The magic number is 37. While we all do the math in our heads here's a link and excerpt from The Washington Post: "...The magic figure turns out to be 37 percent. To have the highest chance of picking the very best suitor, you should date and reject the first 37 percent of your total group of lifetime suitors. (If you're into math, it’s actually 1/e, which comes out to 0.368, or 36.8 percent.) Then you follow a simple rule: You pick the next person who is better than anyone you’ve ever dated before..."

The Digital Dirt. How does TMZ (consistently) get so many scoops on Hollywood celebrities? Here's a clip from a story at The New Yorker: "...How does TMZ get this stuff?” Kurtz asked. “It’s so funny to me that people ask that question,” Levin replied. “We’re a news operation. I mean, that’s what you’re supposed to do.” Indeed, the site has built a deep network of sources, including entertainment lawyers, reality-television stars, adult-film brokers, and court officials, allowing Levin to knock down the walls that guard celebrity life..."

Inside the Sweet, Strange World of Cereal Box Collectors. Don't laugh, people are getting hundreds, even thousands of dollars for old cereal boxes. Who knew? Eater has the story; here's a clip: "...The most desirable boxes, then, are the ones with widest appeal: boxes emblazoned with popular cartoon characters, sports stars, or musicians, and those featuring a mail-in offer that could be sent off for some sort of limited-edition prize (think decoder rings and toy Navy boats). Often, the cereal box market intersects with other popular collectible categories. One of Fonseca's most prized items is a box of New Kids on the Block cereal from a brief test run in 1990; it never actually made it into production, making it extremely rare. A pair of boxes of Nabisco Wheat Honeys and Rice Honeys from the late 1960s with a Beatles Yellow Submarine tie-in recently popped up on eBay for an astronomical $11,000. Superhero-themed boxes are also wildly popular..."

Photo credit courtesy Jason Liebig

Coming To a Restaurant Near You? A restaurant in France is taking the art of fine dining to the next level. Not with fine food but with a projection system that keeps you entertained and enthused while you're waiting for the food to arrive. Click on the YouTube link for one of the more amazing videos you'll ever see.

TODAY: Sunny peeks, still mild. Winds: NW 8-13. High: 41

SATURDAY NIGHT: Partly cloudy. Low:  29

SUNDAY: Cooler, few flurries or sprinkles. Winds: N 10-15. High: 38

MONDAY: More clouds than sun, quiet. Winds: S 7-12. Wake-up: 23. High: 33

TUESDAY: Unsettled, light mix possible. Wake-up: 28. High: 36

WEDNESDAY: Intervals of sun, drying out. Wake-up: 29. High: 34

THURSDAY: Cloudy and colder, few flurries. Winds: NW 15-25. Wake-up: 26. High: 28

FRIDAY: Partly sunny and chilly. Winds: NW 10-15. Wake-up: 12. High: 23

Climate Stories....

Earth Kicks Off 2016 With the Most Abnormally Warm Month Ever Measured. This is more than El Nino. El Nino is standing on your tip-toes at the top of a flight of steps. Many are forgetting about the flight of stairs we're going up. Here's an excerpt at Slate: "It would be hard to top 2015—a year unlike any other in human history—but 2016 seems to be giving it a shot. According to the latest data from NASA, issued over the weekend, January was the planet's most unusually warm month since we started measuring temperature in 1880. No other month in the preceding 1,633 months has deviated this far from what was once considered “normal.” Data independently produced by Japan’s Meteorological Agency confirmed that last month was the hottest January on record globally. Last month broke the all-time January record by the widest margin of any month on record, a full one-third of a degree ahead of last year’s record pace. That means the planet is already on track for an unprecedented third straight year of record-setting temperatures..."

Image credit above: "January 2016 was Earth's hottest month yet, with the most unusually warm temperatures concentrated in the Arctic." NASA.

Global Warming Crushes Records. Again.  January warmth was extraordinary, as documented at Bloomberg Business: "...Results from the world’s top monitoring agencies vary slightly, but NASANOAA, and the Japan Meteorological Agency all agree that January was unprecedented. The El Niño weather pattern that started last year produced some of the hottest temperatures ever witnessed across great swaths of the equatorial Pacific. By some measures, this may now be considered the most extreme El Niño on record. It has triggered powerful typhoons, spoiled harvests in Africa, and contributed to vast fires in Indonesia..."

It's Hard to Argue With Climate Change When You See 100 Years of Data at Once. Here's a clip fromm Science.Mic:  "...Now you can see some of these climate change effects in a chilling interactive, created by NASA, called the Climate Time Machine. It shows how temperature, carbon dioxide, sea level and sea ice on Earth have all dramatically changed over time. In the first section, you can see how global temperatures have risen from 1884 to 2015. Blue colors represent cooler temperatures, while red and yellow symbolize warmer ones..."

Zika Outbreak Could Be an Omen of the Global Warming Threat. Another coincidence? Is there a possible link? Here's an excerpt from The New York Times: "The global public health emergency involving deformed babies emerged in 2015, the hottest year in the historical record, with an outbreak in Brazil of a disease transmitted by heat-loving mosquitoes. Can that be a coincidence? Scientists say it will take them years to figure that out, and pointed to other factors that may have played a larger role in starting the crisis. But these same experts added that the Zika epidemic, as well as the related spread of a disease called dengue that is sickening as many as 100 million people a year and killing thousands, should be interpreted as warnings..."

Meet the Continental U.S.'s First Official Climate Refugees. People have already been dislocated from coastal sections of Alaska, now it's showing up in Louisiana. Next up, Florida? Here's an excerpt from Atlas Obscura: "A slow-motion disaster is unfolding on the Isle de Jean Charles, deep in the Louisiana bayou, where a group of residents just received $48 million in federal funding to relocate. These are the first official climate refugees in the lower 48 states. The Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians have lived in southern Louisiana for centuries, and, since 1880, a band of them inhabited the Isle. But several factors, including climate change, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and a series of destructive hurricanes have meant that the Isle de Jean Charles has lost 98 percent of its land since 1955..."

Photo credit above: "The Isle de Jean Charles after Hurricane Gustav in 2008." (Photo: Flickr/Karen Apricot).

Study Ties U.S. To Spike in Global Methane Emissions. Methane is 21 times stronger than CO2, a super greenhouse gas. Here's an excerpt from Climate Central: "...The Harvard study, published last week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, adds to mounting research that shows that the government’s official tally of methane emissions is not consistent with observations made by universities and other institutions. The official tally, taking what ‘s known as a “bottom-up” approach, calculates methane emissions based on expected leak rates at oil and gas well sites, not actual measurements. The Harvard researchers used a “top-down” method, calculating emissions based on actual satellite measurements, showing that U.S. methane emissions are far greater than those estimated by the government..."

Photo credit above: "An oil and gas well flaring gas in northeast Colorado." Credit: WildEarth Guardians/flickr.

* This isn't a great time to be in the snowboarding industry. Quartz has details.

Republicans' Favorite Climate Chart Has Some Serious Problems. Here's an excerpt from The Guardian: "...The chart, which tries to compare estimates of the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere to model simulations, is full of problems. Its purpose is clear – to make it appear that climate models are unreliable, and thus cast doubt on all of climate science and the tremendous risks posed by human-caused global warming. In other words, its purpose is to undermine climate policy efforts to reduce those risks by slowing global warming. But as with all charts of such singular, unscientific purposes, it’s simply another example of cherry picked data being presented in a multiply misleading way, as the annotated version below illustrates..."

Graphic credit: "John Christy’s chart, annotated to detail its problems." Illustration: Dana Nuccitelli.

A Rockefeller Explains: Why I Lost Faith in ExxonMobil, and Donated My Shares.  Here's an excerpt of an Op-Ed at The Los Angeles Times: "...I lost faith in Exxon Mobil's future value. A prime reason is that Exxon's valuation is based largely on the immense untapped reserves of oil and gas it owns. And yet if future generations are to inherit a livable world, most of those reserves must stay in the ground. Cynics may say that foreknowledge of the dire consequences won't stop humanity from using this fossil fuel. I would answer that Exxon Mobil may not have any choice in the matter. The company bases its growth and stability projections on increasing its sale of fossil fuels to developing countries. And yet those are the places that will be hurt first and worst by climate change — indeed, many are already suffering the effects. As those nations confront ecological harm and consequent economic damage — in some cases even possible economic collapse — will they really provide Exxon Mobil with the growth it forecasts?..."

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