Monday, March 7, 2016

Perfectly Normal - For April 28

64 F. high in the Twin Cities Monday. That's the average high for April 28 at KMSP.
37 F. average high on March 7.
44 F. high on March 7,  2015.

March 8, 2004: A vigorous Alberta Clipper brings an intense snow burst across the Twin Cities from 9:30 am to noon. 2.5 inches fell, with most of it accumulating in an hour at the State Climatology Office on the University of Minnesota St. Paul Campus. Numerous crashes were reported across the metro area with I-94 closed at Highway 280 and also at White Bear Avenue. In a rare scene, television programming was interrupted to report on the snow situation. By early afternoon most of the snow had moved into Wisconsin and road conditions rapidly improved.
March 8, 1892: A blizzard hits Minnesota, with 70 mph winds recorded at Easton. Duluth was hit especially hard with 60 mph winds causing large drifts. Residents were able to walk out of their second story windows.

Feeling Feverish - Another April Daydream

Considering we could be hip-deep in snow drifts, battling subzero wind chill and agonizing commutes, we should be counting our atmospheric blessings.

Today will be another soothing tonic for the soul with more 60s - more than 25F warmer than average.

We shouldn't be too shocked. According to the Twin Cities office of NOAA, meteorological winter was the 6th warmest since 1895. Not quite as balmy as 2012, when flowers were blooming in late March, but nothing like the Polar Vortex Winter of 2014, when we had 16 inches of snow on the ground on March 8.

If scientists are right, and I suspect they're on the right track, we'll see more mild, slushy winters than forbidding pioneer winters in the years ahead. Then again, there are exceptions to every rule, even slow and steady warming trends.

A shower is possible today; just enough rain to settle the dust. Slight midweek cooling gives way to more 50s by late week, even a shot at 60F by Friday.

Models hint at Sunday showers; possibly a bigger, wetter storm in 2 weeks. Mostly rain, but don't rule out a slushy March surprise. It's a little early for complacency - at this point nothing would surprise me.

A Very Persistent Signal. Yes, we've had warm fronts in March; we've set record highs in years gone by, but the sheer persistence of the warm bias is impressive. A couple weeks (straight) of temperatures 10-30F warmer than average? Symptoms of a weakening El Nino? Perhaps. After peaking above  60F this morning temperatures drop slightly, then mellow again later this week - another shot at 60F as early as Friday, with upper 50s to near 60F into the middle of next week. Source: WeatherSpark.

Mississippi River Flash Flood Potential Grows. NOAA's GFS model prints out excessive, 5-10" rainfall amounts from eastern Texas to near Little Rock in the coming days - a tropical storm's worth of rain in some communities. Some of that southern moisture may finally reach Minnesota the latter half of next week. 10-day accumulated rainfall forecast: NOAA and AerisWeather.

Bigger Puddles Late Next Week? Confidence levels are still low for precipitation amounts 9 days away, but there's a better chance of a more significant lawn watering late next week. Source: Aeris Enterprise.

Don't Pack Away The Jackets Just Yet. Although an extended period of cold weather is unlikely, models hint at a sharp temperature correction the end of next week, possibly a push of colder air behind a storm forecast to spin up across the Plains and track into the Midwest. Nothing subzero, but highs in the 30s within 2 weeks? I wouldn't rule it out.

Accumulating Snow Band Shifts into Canada. GFS guidance prints out accumulating snow for the Rockies and western coastal ranges, but east of the Rockies a period of snow-free weather is brewing, with the exception of upstate Maine. Perfectly normal - for early April.

Flood Forecast - Fairly Low Chance This Year. There's no snow and ground frost is less than usual - only a prolonged heavy rain event in the next few weeks could alter the formula. Here's an excerpt of an update from KEYC-TV meteorologist Mitch Keegan: "In the past 10 years, we've experienced some significant flooding across southern Minnesota and northern Iowa.  In fact, in 2010, we had spring flooding from snow melt and fall flooding from heavy rain. The latest spring flood outlook from the National Weather Service calls for a fairly low risk of flooding as we head into spring. The main reason why: nearly all of our snow pack has melted away.  The NWS says soil moisture continues to run high because of rain early in the winter, so the primary threat from any flooding this spring would come from heavy rain before the ground thaws..."

5 Underrated Tornado Chasing Areas. Minnesota made the list, especially southwestern counties, according to a post at U.S. Tornadoes; here's an excerpt: "...This region lies near the northern edge of tornado alley, and recent violent tornado events in the area include Bowdle (2010) and Alpena (2014). Don’t expect to chase up here early in the season, but if you can have patience and wait until late May and June, this is definitely a great spot to chase. The road network is about as good as it gets across the central U.S., and because it is relatively far removed from the southern Plains, where most chasers live, chaser convergence is often not as big of a problem as in Kansas or Oklahoma. Don’t overlook northwestern Iowa or southwestern Minnesota either. The favorable road network remains intact. Climatologically, tornado activity is common here into July, which can certainly extend the season..."

Alaska's Winter is So Warm, the Iditarod is Importing Snow and Shortening Its Start. Here's an excerpt from The Washington Post: "...When this year’s iteration of the Iditarod starts Saturday, the ceremonial route will be much shorter than normal — just three miles — because of a lack of snow. Alaska’s winter has been so mild that even that abbreviated route will have to be lined with imported powder. “It’s a rare occasion that there isn’t enough snow in Anchorage,” said Tim Sullivan, spokesman for the Alaska Railroad, which delivered seven cars full of snow to Anchorage for the event on Thursday morning..."

Nowhere to Go Amid Alaska's Melting Ice. Here are a couple of brief excerpts from a New York Times story, focused on the rapid changes already underway in Alaska: "...A recent study noted that Alaska’s glaciers have lost some 75 gigatons of ice every year from 1994 to 2013. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Alaska has been heating up twice as fast as the national average over the last 50 years, and the rising temperatures melt sea ice and thaw permafrost along the coast...“We hear about climate change and we hear about foreign countries like Moldova or some such island that is sinking and it’s all very remote and nebulous,” Mr. Taradji said. “The Alaska folks are here in the United States. They are folks on our team that are immediately threatened. It’s not something that is going to happen in several generations, it is something that is happening to them right now as we speak...” (Image: Nima Taradji).

Record Early Ice Out Dates on Minnesota Lakes. The ice came off Lake Calhoun on March 9, 2000. Lake Mille Lacs and Gull Lake? March 26, 2012. Click here for an interactive map with record (early) ice-out dates, courtesy of the Minnesota DNR.

Study: Atmospheric River Storms Can Reduce Sierra Snow. Here's an excerpt from NASA: "A new study by NASA and several partners has found that in California's Sierra Nevada, atmospheric river storms are two-and-a-half times more likely than other types of winter storms to result in destructive “rain-on-snow” events, where rain falls on existing snowpack, causing it to melt. Those events increase flood risks in winter and reduce water availability the following summer. The study, based on NASA satellite and ground-based data from 1998 through 2014, is the first to establish a climatological connection between atmospheric river storms and rain-on-snow events. Partnering with NASA on the study were UCLA; Scripps Institution of Oceanography, San Diego; and the Earth System Research Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado..."

Fracking Could Be Behind Startling Increase in U.S. Methane Surge, Experts Say. A coincidence? The timing is curious. Here's a clip from The Independent: "...New Harvard University research, drawing on satellite measurements, concludes that US emissions of methane – a much more powerful warming gas than carbon dioxide – have “increased by more than 30 per cent over the past decade”. The researchers say they “cannot readily attribute” the rise to any particular source but point out that US production of shale gas increased nine times during the same period, while other studies show that many fracking operations are emitting much more methane than  has been officially recognised..."

Within a Decade Electric Vehicles Could Be Cheaper Than Gasoline Vehicles. Then, Watch Out. David Roberts has the analysis at Vox; here's an excerpt that caught my eye: "...Right now, electric cars are still in the putter-along phase, as costs continue falling toward the sweet spot. How fast are costs falling? BNEF did a bottom-up analysis of four variables: "regulatory support for EVs; the cost of battery packs; the total cost of ownership of EVs relative to internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles; and EV consumer technology adoption forecasts." Long story short, here's what they found: Assuming oil prices rise slowly back to $70 a barrel between now and 2040 (more on that later), battery electric vehicles (BEVs) will become cheaper than ICE vehicles, in terms of total cost of ownership, around 2022..."

Image credit above: Blackrock

Making Concrete Green: Reinventing the World's Most Used Synthetic Material. "Green concrete"? Didn't see that coming, but I should have. Here's a clip from The Guardian: "...Yin’s research helped Queensland-based company Fibercon to develop Fibercon RMP47, a concrete reinforced with recycled plastic. The footpath at the Science Place site was constructed using the new material to demonstrate the potential capabilities of the building product, and the university was so impressed with it that it commissioned the Douglas campus path. Dr Rabin Tuladhar, senior lecturer at the university’s college of science, technology and engineering, supervised Yin’s work. He says using recycled plastic in reinforced concrete has great environmental savings..."

Photo credit above: "Construction on the Victoria Square precinct in the inner city suburb of Zetland in Sydney." Photograph: Dean Lewins/AAP.

How Conservative Policy Can Harness Clean Energy. Here's an excerpt of an effective, thought-provoking Op-Ed at The Star Tribune: "...Top-down management, mandates and subsidies are just wildly inefficient at achieving our policy goals. From the “moral equivalent of war” to innumerable climate-change conferences, a crisis mentality goes off in search of once-and-for-all, single-shot solutions. This is not how progress works. Technological change moves incrementally, ideas coming together and begetting other ideas, one the byproduct of another, each causing improvement over time. That progress is happening in renewables now. Renewables will expand for another reason: They offer people freedom from the current centralized system of power generation. Utilities aren’t creatures of the free market, but a response of government to old cost models that created natural monopolies. Government regulators thought there could be only one electricity provider and needed to keep it whole..." (Image credit: Chris Van Es; NewsArt).

Scott Kelly Says He's an Environmentalist After His Year in Space. Seeing the planet from that perspective over a long period of time had an impact, according to a story at Mashable: "...You also notice how the atmosphere looks and how fragile it looks," Kelly said. "It makes you more of an environmentalist after spending so much time looking down at our planet..." For now, though, Kelly has come back to his home planet with a keener eye for humanity's collective impact on the land, sea and air. "We’ve got to take care of the environment," he said. "I do believe we have an impact on that [the health of the environment], and we do have the ability to change it if we make the decision to.”

A Change of Heart: Journalist Who Reported Minnesota County is "Worst Place to Live" Is Moving There. Karmic justice? Here's an excerpt of an interesting tale at The Grand Forks Herald: "...Ingraham triggered a social media storm after he penned "Every county in America, ranked by scenery and climate" in mid-August. The article listed the best and worst places to live in the contiguous U.S. based on measurable qualities, including sunny winters, temperate summers, low humidity, topographic variation and access to a body of water, researched by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Red Lake County, which is known for being the only landlocked county in the country surrounded by two neighboring counties, ranked last in Ingraham's article. In fact, almost every county in Minnesota and North Dakota had extremely low to low natural amenities, according to the article..."

Photo credit above: "Christopher Ingraham is greeted by a dairy cow during his tour of Red Lake County, "the ugliest county in the country" , on Thursday, August 27, 2015, in Red Lake Falls, Minn." (Logan Werlinger/Grand Forks Herald).

TODAY: Balmy, passing shower AM hours. Winds: SW 15-25. High: 63

TUESDAY NIGHT: Partial clearing, cooler. Low: 36

WEDNESDAY: Partly sunny and cooler - still well above average. Winds: NW 7-12. High: 48

THURSDAY: Mix of clouds and sun, quiet. Winds: NW 5-10. Wake-up: 35. High: 50

FRIDAY: Partly sunny, feverish again. Winds: S 8-13. Wake-up: 39. High: near 60

SATURDAY: Mild, Sunny start, late showers. Winds: SE 7-12. Wake-up: 43. High: 55

SUNDAY: Few showers, mainly AM hours. Winds: W 5-10. Wake-up: 45. High: 54

MONDAY: Partly sunny and pleasant. Wake-up: 43. High: 57

Climate Stories....

Florida Mayors Press Presidential Debate Moderators for Climate Airtime. Considering the fact (not theory) that rising sea levels are already an existential threat that would seem like a good idea; here's an excerpt at Reuters: "Mayors of 21 cities in Florida on Friday called on the moderators of next week's presidential debates in Miami to ask candidates how they would deal with rising sea levels caused by climate change, a concern of the state's coastal communities. "It would be unconscionable for these issues of grave concern for the people of Florida to not be addressed in the upcoming debate you will be hosting in the state," the mayors wrote in an letter to CNN, The Washington Post, Univision and the other media outlets hosting the Democratic and Republican debates on March 9 and March 10 in Miami..."

Photo credit above: "Republican U.S. presidential candidates (L-R) Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich pose together at the start of the U.S. Republican presidential candidates debate in Detroit, Michigan, March 3, 2016." Reuters/Jim Young.

How Broadcast Networks Covered Climate Change in 2015. Media Matters has an overview; here's an excerpt: "ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox collectively spent five percent less time covering climate change in 2015, even though there were more newsworthy climate-related events than ever before, including the EPA finalizing the Clean Power Plan, Pope Francis issuing a climate change encyclical, President Obama rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline, and 195 countries around the world reaching a historic climate agreement in Paris. The decline was primarily driven by ABC, whose climate coverage dropped by 59 percent; the only network to dramatically increase its climate coverage was Fox, but that increase largely consisted of criticism of efforts to address climate change. When the networks did discuss climate change, they rarely addressed its impacts on national security, the economy, or public health, yet most still found time to provide a forum for climate science denial. On a more positive note, CBS and NBC -- and PBS, which was assessed separately -- aired many segments that explored the state of scientific research or detailed how climate change is affecting extreme weather, plants, and wildlife..."

During the Most Important Year for Climate News, TV Coverage Fell. Following up on the Media Matters report here's an excerpt of a story at The Guardian: "...Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) reacted to the Media Matters report:

As the co-founder of the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, I read Media Matters’ new study and it’s a wake up call to the news networks. The most important long term global and national issue shouldn’t be getting short-thrift. People need more information, not less.
These findings may help explain why Americans aren’t concerned about climate change. We rely on the media to inform the public, and on the most important issue of our time, the US broadcast news media are failing to adequately inform Americans. As Rep. Israel notes, they’re moving in the wrong direction and need to do much better."

Why We Can't Rely on Market Forces Alone to Fix Climate Change. Why? We're still awash in fossil fuels. Here's an excerpt from "...This overwhelming conclusion is brought home by a new paper from three economists: MIT’s Christopher Knittel and the University of Chicago's Michael Greenstone and Thomas Covert. They look at trends in fossil fuel production and pricing versus cost trends in renewables and batteries, and find that, absent market interventions, fossil fuels are likely to continue to be burned for many years yet. "If the past 35 years is any guide, not only should we not expect to run out of fossil fuels any time soon, we should not expect to have less fossil fuels in the future than we do now. In short, the world is likely to be awash in fossil fuels for decades and perhaps even centuries to come," the paper says..."

Many of World's Lakes are Vanishing and Some May be Gone Forever. New Scientist has the article; here's a link and story excerpt: "...The surface waters of the world's lakes have warmed on average by 0.34 °C per decade since 1985. Sweden's Lake Fracksj√∂n is the fastest warming lake in the world, increasing 1.35 °C per decade, outpacing the rise in air temperature around it. Close behind is Lake Superior, one of North America's Great Lakes. "The combination of cleaner skies, increasing air temperature and a shorter period of winter ice cover is behind this rapid warming," says Catherine O'Reilly from Illinois State University. This rapid warming is disrupting lake ecosystems. In European lakes, cold-loving fish such as Arctic charr decline while populations of warm-water fish such as carp increase. The latter feed on zooplankton, leaving fewer zooplankton to control damaging algal blooms..."

Image credit above: "Satellite images show Lake Poopó still held water in April 2013 (left), but was dry by January 2016 (right)." Jesse Allen/NASA.

Climate Change Offers Some Benefit to North Dakota. Less severe winters? Yes, but more invasive pests and species and much harder rains during the warm season. It's a threat, and an opportunity for reinvention and resilience. Here's an excerpt of a story at The Bismarck Tribune: "...A lack of extreme cold temperatures will likely be one of the more noticeable changes, Akyuz said. “The folks today already remember that we don’t usually get negative 40s anymore, like we did in the past,” he said. “So that will be felt even more.” Climate predictions and their repercussions vary significantly from state to state, Akyuz said. “If you were interviewing somebody from Iowa and Illinois and Missouri, I’m sure the state climatologist of the respective states would be more alarmed,” he said..."

Climate Change Resistant Crops Needed. Threat - and opportunity. Here's the intro to a story at MSN News: "More investment is needed to develop climate change resistant varieties of crops to prevent paying the "ugly" price of food shortages, an expert has warned. Rising temperatures are set to hit key crops, damaging food supplies and sparking national security and geopolitical threats, according to Dr Cary Fowler, former head of the Crop Trust and member of the board advising US government aid agency USAID on agriculture. Investing in developing varieties of crops that are resistant to drought, floods or high temperatures, were "low-cost investments with a big pay-off", he suggested. But a failure to do so could prompt starvation, malnutrition and war or unrest..."

The Mercury Doesn't Lie: We've Hit a Troubling Climate Change Milestone. Bill McKibbon has an Op-Ed at The Boston Globe: "Thursday, while the nation debated the relative size of Republican genitalia, something truly awful happened. Across the northern hemisphere, the temperature, if only for a few hours, apparently crossed a line: it was more than two degrees Celsius above “normal” for the first time in recorded history and likely for the first time in the course of human civilization. That’s important because the governments of the world have set two degrees Celsius as the must-not-cross red line that, theoretically, we’re doing all we can to avoid. And it’s important because most of the hemisphere has not really had a winter. They’ve been trucking snow into Anchorage for the start of the Iditarod; Arctic sea ice is at record low levels for the date; in New England doctors are already talking about the start of “allergy season...”

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