Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Jaw-Dropping Warmth in the Arctic: As Much As 14F Warmer Than Average

35 F. high on Monday in the Twin Cities.
31 F. average high on February 22.
0 F. high on February 22, 2015, after waking up to -9 F.

February 23, 1981: Warmth returns to Minnesota with a high of 55 at Pipestone and a high of 52 at Luverne.

Why We Call It Winter. Light Mix Today

"No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn" wrote Hal Borland. According to the UK Met Office the word winters comes from the Germanic "wintar", which in turn is derived from the root wed, meaning 'wet' or water', signifying a wet season. Anglo Saxon ancestors measured the passage of time not in years, but winters.

As in "How many winters have you survived?"

Every winter is slightly different; the patterns are never identical. This randomness: interaction between land, air, water and the cryosphere/arctic makes it challenging to predict the state of the atmosphere at any point in the future. That's why the 7-Day is often a bust, in spite of supercomputers, satellites and bright, shiny Dopplers.

Our models can't account for all the variables in play,some we're not even aware of. It's a little like trying to predict a presidential election 9 months in advance.

A slushy coating is possible today; maybe a couple inches Sunday, as a numbing shot of air brushes the state. Highs may hold in the teens next Monday, but as a rule daytime highs top freezing into early March.

It's a slow-motion winter fizzle.

* Photo credit above: Bryan Hansel Photography.

8 Interesting Facts About Winter. The information in today's column about the origin of "winter" came from a story at the UK Met Office, which adds: "...You might surprised to know that in the northern hemisphere the earth is closest to the sun during winter. On January 2 2016 the Earth will reach perihelion (peri meaning 'near' and helion meaning 'sun') and the earth is 3.1 million miles closer to the sun than at aphelion (around July 5 when the earth is furthest from the sun). Earth's distance from the sun is not what causes the seasons (it is the tilt of the earth's axis) but it does affect the length of them. Around perihelion the earth is moving around 1 kilometre per second faster than at aphelion which results in winter being 5 days shorter than summer..."

Big Temperature Gyrations. A mild signal continues - but Sunday and Monday will be poignant reminders that it's still winter, at least in theory. European guidance hints at 40s Saturday; maybe an inch or two of snow Sundayas temperatures drop off and northwest winds increase. Highs may hold in the teens Monday before a quick rebound next week. Source: WeatherSpark.

Tornado Potential. El Nino has energized the southerly branch of the jet stream; powerful winds veering with altitude may create enough shear for rotating supercell thunderstorms by afternoon - a few may produce large, violent, long-track tornadoes, especially New Orleans to Mobile and southern Alabama.

Not a Typo. As of early this morning surface temperatures average over the arctic are running about 14F warmer than average. And no, this isn't merely a reflection of El Nino. This is evidence of a much broader warming trend: atmosphere and oceans, including the Arctic Ocean. I've never seen an anomaly quite this.

Map credit: Climate Reanalyzer.

Uncharted Waters. I use the word "waters" quite literally, because at the rate we're going 2016 may see unprecedented open water where there used to be ice, at the polar ice cap. With historic warmth over the arctic the prospect for melting than we saw during the previous record, 2012, is very real. The arctic is melting faster than climate models predicted; an inconvenient reality. Graphic: National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Experts Look at Buildings, Codes After Texas Tornadoes. Although a totally tornado-proof home is probably cost-prohibitive, making homes more tornado (and hail) resilient will be a booming market in the years to come; here's an excerpt from The Washington Times: "...Tornadoes don’t destroy homes instantly. Instead, they find weak points and progressively tear homes apart from there, says Chris Ramseyer, an engineering professor at the University of Oklahoma who specializes in structural design. “It finds the corner that’s weak, pulls it apart, and then it works on what’s left,” he said. Reinforcing that one weak corner, often the home’s garage, can save the entire structure. “The costs that you’re looking at are generally less than the cost of the granite countertop that the homeowner wants in the kitchen,” Ramseyer said..." (File photo: EPA).

Winter Records To Date. According to Climate Central the Lower 48 States have experienced 15,665 record highs vs.  10,177 record lows so far this winter. That doesn't prove anything, other than an extra-strong El Nino signal. But the Northern Hemisphere is consistently experiencing more record heat than cold, even during La Nina years, by a margin of 2 to 1.

Tropical Cyclone Winston Makes Category 5 Landfall; Strongest on Record in Fiji. Here's a link to a terrific explainer and story update at The Weather Channel: "...Tropical Cyclone Winston raked across Fiji Saturday with Category 5 winds, the strongest landfalling tropical cyclone on record in the South Pacific archipelago. Winston is now located west of Fiji and is forecast to curl southward away from land while weakening the next few days. According to the U.S. Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC), Winston made landfall along the north coast of Fiji's largest, most populous island, Viti Levu, Saturday evening, local time (Fiji is 17 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern standard time), packing estimated maximum sustained winds of 180 mph..."

Weather Wise: How Are Tornadoes Identified? New dual-polarization Doppler is so sensitive it can track tornado debris lofted into the air, helping to confirm that a tornado is, in fact, on the ground. Here's an excerpt from Florida Today: "...But how do meteorologists know if a tornado has touched down or not? Obviously, eyewitness accounts or footage could help confirm things, but given that it was dark and the rotation was seen initially in an area without much, if any population, that wasn’t to be. Instead, during an event, forecasters look for a tornadic debris signature on radar. “If there is a tornadic debris sign on radar, that will give us confirmation,” Kelly said. “At that point, we would update the warning probably to OK, we have more confidence now that there is a tornado on the ground.” Kelly adds that the strength makes the debris signatures “more pronounced.” Essentially, the higher that the debris field is, the stronger the tornado is..."

Latest Moose Count Provides Little Good News. Here's an excerpt from The Star Tribune: "Minnesota’s moose continued their long decline in 2015. The state’s annual aerial survey, taken in January, estimated the state’s moose population at 4,020, up slightly from the previous year. But the change was not significant enough to signal a shift in the long downward trend, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said Tuesday. The population has dropped by more than half since 2006. Offering a glimmer of hope, moose numbers have stabilized somewhat in recent years, and the number of calves that survived their first year doubled compared to an earlier count..."

Photo credit above: BRIAN PETERSON. "This bull moose, sprouting new antler growth on its head, grazed in a swamp off the Gunflint Trail in northeastern Minnesota."

Peak Oil Returns: Why Demand Will Likely Peak by 2030. Here's a clip from an analysis at ThinkProgress: "...If China gets moving on electric cars then that would automatically lower prices and have a favorable ripple effect across the whole world,” as Ernst and Young auto expert Jean-Francois Belorgey has said. That is precisely what happened in the solar photovoltaics industry, which led to the exponential explosion in solar power worldwide this decade. We appear near the same kind of inflection point in batteries and electric cars that we were in PV. Yes, oil prices are low, but even at these prices, EVs still have a much lower per-mile fueling cost than gasoline cars..."

How Clean Energy Became a Code Word in Washington. Energy independence applies to sources beyond dirty fossil fuels. At some point the GOP will acknowledge the obvious. Here's a clip at ThinkProgress: "...But at some point, something has got to give. ClearPath’s polling shows what lots of other polls show: Americans want clean energy. Even more strikingly, 70 percent of Americans accept that climate change is real and caused by humans. A correlating seven out of 10 want their state to comply with the Clean Power Plan. And this reality in voting districts is having an effect on the ground. Last fall, facing a tight re-election race against the Democratic governor, New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte became the first Republican senator to support the Clean Power Plan..."

How America Is Putting Itself Back Together. Is America as big a basket base as some presidential candidates would like us to believe? The jury is out, but James Fallows renewed my abiding faith in the USA in his essay at The Atlantic; here's an excerpt: "...As a whole, the country may seem to be going to hell. That jeremiad view is a great constant through American history. The sentiment is predictably and particularly strong in a presidential-election year like this one, when the “out” party always has a reason to argue that things are bad and getting worse. And plenty of objective indicators of trouble, from stagnant median wages to drug epidemics in rural America to gun deaths inflicted by law-enforcement officers and civilians, support the dystopian case. But here is what I now know about America that I didn’t know when we started these travels, and that I think almost no one would infer from the normal diet of news coverage and political discourse..."

What's Next in Computing? Medium has a long and interesting article about AI, drones, virtual reality, mobile intelligence and IoT; a worthy read. Here's an excerpt: "...I tend to think we are on the cusp of not one but multiple new eras. The “peace dividend of the smartphone war” created a Cambrian explosion of new devices, and developments in software, especially AI, will make those devices smart and useful. Many of the futuristic technologies discussed above exist today, and will be broadly accessible in the near future. Observers have noted that many of these new devices are in their “awkward adolescence.” That is because they are in their gestation phase. Like PCs in the 70s, the internet in the 80s, and smartphones in the early 2000s, we are seeing pieces of a future that isn’t quite here. But the future is coming: markets go up and down, and excitement ebbs and flows, but computing technology marches steadily forward."

Video credit: The Terminator (1984)

The Promise Rio Couldn't Keep. ESPN reports on the health risks to athletes and fans in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Between Zika Virus and filthy water the challenges are significant; here's an excerpt: "...Profound and intractable as the city's sanitation problems are, the precise risks to Olympic athletes competing on any given day this summer are hard to calculate. Some got sick at sporting test events last year, but none of these cases has been publicly, definitively connected to the water, as opposed to food or another source. "Epidemiology is a science of population health, not individual health," says Joseph Eisenberg, a University of Michigan professor of epidemiology who studies waterborne disease pathways. "It's statistical association, not deterministic." In the event of a large-scale outbreak, suspect environments would be tested, he says. But no team of scientists in hazmat suits rushed to the scene to investigate the microbes that caused stomach bugs in a smattering of athletes..."

"Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel: The World's Northernmost Ice Hotel. If you're looking for something really off the beaten path check out the story at Atlas Obscura: "Perched at the top of the world amidst snow and darkness, the Igloo Hotel inverts a conventional dread of winter in favor of harnessing the season's best elements for the enjoyment of its visitors. Situated 20 kilometers outside the nearest town of Alta, alongside a river of the same name, the Igloo Hotel at Sorrisniva holds the title of “world’s northernmost ice hotel.” Constructed in a t-shape, the hotel consists of 30 rooms, a restaurant, and an ice bar. Everything about the place, from its walls to the interior — even down to its bed frames and the glasses in its bar — are constructed from pure, frozen Scandinavian water..."

Photo credit above: "Pelts and roses at the Igloo Hotel." Photo by arcticroute.com on Flickr | Copyright: Creative Commons.

Sizzle For a Cause. If you want to sample some terrific food and support a very good cause come out to Cast & Cru Thursday evening - we always have an amazing time together! Details on the event here.

Creepy or Collectible? Why People Spend Thousands of Dollars to Collect Celebrities' Hair. There, I'm feeling normal again, after reading an article at The Washington Post; here's a clipping (sorry): "...The pursuit of famous hairs combines two great pastimes of the human psyche: collection and celebrity obsession. Most people have felt the rush of collecting something, be it stamps and baseball cards, or something much weirder like belly button fluff or traffic cones. The thrill of the hunt and the satisfaction that comes when you find something you’ve been looking for is understandably addicting. Collections and celebrity love mix easily. Fans collect autographs, film and TV memorabilia, magazines, et cetera. The longer-lasting the subject’s fame, the more valuable the object..."

Photo credit above: "A U.S. auction house sold this clipping of John Lennon’s hair for $35,000." (Reuters/Heritage Auctions).

TODAY: Light mix, wet roads.  Winds: SW 8-13. High: 38

TUESDAY NIGHT: Sprinkles and flurries taper. Low: 25

WEDNESDAY: Partly sunny, seasonably cool for late February. Winds: N 8-13. High: 36

THURSDAY: Mix of clouds and sun, a dry sky. Winds: NW 10-20. Wake-up: 22. High: 33

FRIDAY: Some sun, turning milder. Winds: SW 10-15. Wake-up: 24. High: 38

SATURDAY: Thaw continues, better travel day. Winds: NW 8-13. Wake-up: 33. High: 44

SUNDAY: Couple inches of snow? Colder wind. Winds: NW 15-25. Wake-up: 27. High: 29 (falling rapidly)

MONDAY: So this is what winter feels like! Bright sunshine. Wake-up: 4. High: 17

Climate Stories....

Seas Are Rising at the Fastest Rate in the Last 28 Centuries. Climate change will more than a minor inconvenience for residents of Miami Beach, Norfolk or coastal Louisiana. It already is. Here's the intro to a story from Justin Gillis at The New York Times: "The oceans are rising faster than at any point in the last 28 centuries, and human emissions of greenhouse gases are primarily responsible, scientists reported Monday. They added that the flooding that is starting to make life miserable in many coastal towns — like Miami Beach; Norfolk, Va.; and Charleston, S.C. — was largely a consequence of those emissions, and that it is likely to grow worse in coming years. The scientists confirmed previous estimates, but with a larger data set, that if global emissions continue at a high rate over the next few decades, the ocean could rise as much as three or four feet by 2100, as ocean water expands and the great ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica begin to collapse..."

Photo credit above: "Waves striking the promenade in San Sebastián, Spain, earlier this month. Scientists warned on Monday that flooding driven by climate change is likely to worsen in coming years." Credit Juan Herrero/European Pressphoto Agency

Kasich Talks of Climate Change at VT Event. Three cheers to a Republican presidential candidate brave enough to acknowledge the science, evidence and facts and not resort to ideology-driven cop-outs or fossil-fueled fairy tales. Here's an excerpt from Burlington Free Press: "...Given that I’m a scientist, I believe in science, what do you think about the science of climate change?” Rovner asked. “I know that human beings affect the climate,” Kasich said. "I know it’s an apostasy in the Republican Party to say that. I guess that’s what I’ve always been — being able to challenge some of the status quo.” Kasich went on to say that “we need to develop all of the renewables,” including battery technology to store solar power..."

That Sinking Feeling. Keep an eye on South Florida in the coming years - and think twice before purchasing beachfront property. Here's an excerpt from American Prospect: "...In Southeast Florida, the sea could rise three feet by 2060, and that doesn’t count temporary storm surges from increasingly intense hurricanes. Seventy-five percent of Florida’s population lives in coastal counties that generate 79 percent of the state’s total annual economy. The infrastructure in these coastal counties had a replacement value of $2 trillion in 2010 and is estimated to increase to $3 trillion by 2030. Of the 2.6 million people who live in Miami-Dade County, nearly 129,000 of them are living less than three feet above sea level. The county alone has more people living less than four feet above sea level than in any other state except Louisiana. The county’s estimated beachfront property value is more than $14.7 billion—not including infrastructure..."

Photo credit above: AP Photo/Lynne Sladky. "A cyclist and vehicles negotiate heavily flooded streets as rain falls, Tuesday, September 23, 2014, in Miami Beach, Fla. Certain neighborhoods regularly experience flooding during heavy rains and extreme high tides. New storm water pumps are currently being installed along the bay front in Miami Beach."

For Russian Farmers, Climate Change is Nyet So Great. NPR takes a look at the reaction to a rapidly-warming Siberia; here's an excerpt: "...But that's not how it appears to the popular imagination, says George Safonov, who heads the Center for Environmental and Natural Resource Economics at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. He says there's a big temptation in northern countries to believe that warmer weather can bring economic opportunities, such as improving conditions for farming. "Before 2010, we had a rising harvest rate for crops, and that was explained as a very positive impact of climate change," he says. "It was not easy to convince people that this is not correct." The problem, Safonov says, is that while warmer weather might open up more land in cold regions such as Siberia, it's already causing havoc on existing farmland in the south..."

Temperature anomaly map valid 12z this morning courtesy of Climate Reanalyzer.

Short-Term Climate Sensitivity on Vegetation Productivity. Certain ecosystems appear to be more vulnerable than others, according to research highlighted at MicroCap Magazine: "...Seddon, adds, “We have found ecologically sensitive regions with amplified responses to climate variability in the Arctic tundra, parts of the boreal forest belt, the tropical rainforest, alpine regions worldwide, steppe and prairie regions of central Asia and North and South America, forests in South America, and eastern areas of Australia.” The researchers say they have developed a quantifiable response measurement, called the Vegetation Sensitivity Index (VSI), that can show how ecosystems are challenged by short-term climate anomalies, such as a warmer June than the average, a colder December, or even a cloudy September. The team says the index can supplement other methods of monitoring and evaluating the health of ecosystems across the globe..." (Map credit: Verisk Maplecroft 2014).

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