Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Some of the Coldest Air of Winter Is On The Way - Moderation Next Week

-3 F. low Monday morning.
14 F. high yesterday at KMSP (1:18 am)
28 F. average high on December 12.
41 F. high on December 12, 2015.

December 13, 1995: A low pressure system moved across northern Minnesota, depositing a band of five to seven inch snowfall along a line from around Wheaton to north of St. Cloud and around Rush City. Alexandria received seven inches of snow. Meanwhile, in southern Minnesota, one to four inches of snow fell, along with one-quarter to one-half inch of freezing rain, which forced some school closures.=
December 13, 1821: An extended cold snap begins at Ft. Snelling. Highs were below zero for all but one day of a 19-day stretch.


Welcome to One of the 3 Coldest Weeks of Winter

I have a slightly different take on this week's cold wave. I just returned from Beijing, China, where the locals were friendly but the air was not. The smog was worse than anything I've experienced, in fact it made me sick. Imagine a week of smelling moldy, sweet and sour gym socks. Happy to be back in Minnesota, where the air is cold but fresh.

We should never ever take clean air for granted.

What I suspect will be one of the 3 coldest shots of the entire winter treats us to single-digit daytime highs and 4 subzero lows by Monday. Not record-setting. No need for Governor Dayton to close schools or call out the National Guard. This is Minnesota. We've been through this drill.

When it's this cold it doesn't take much moisture to squeeze out plowable amounts of powder, and models hint at snowy, icy roads Friday into early Saturday, followed by a harsh slap. ECMWF guidance predicts air temperatures near -18F at MSP Sunday morning. Ouch.

Expect 20s, even 30s next week, but there's little doubt we'll have a white Christmas and a real winter. We're due for one of those.

A Foul, Orange Fog. The only thing I can compare it to is living in an dirty aquarium. Beijing is ringed by mountains to the north and west; it sits in a bowl, and during the winter the combination of temperature inversions, hundreds of coal-fired power plants and pollution from the transportation sector creates a perfect storm of smog. The photo in the upper left was taken at Beijing International before we left; minutes later we were above the smog and heading home.

New Delhi's Air Pollution Rises Again. Pollution across parts of India rivals or even exceeds China. Details via The Wall Street Journal.

Wind Chill Advisory. The wind will make it feel like -25F today over western Minnesota; bitter cold that will spread into the rest of Minnesota tonight and Wednesday. I could see Wind Chill Warning criteria by the weekend. Map: AerisWeather.


Cold Air Pollution. Canada is invading (again); GFS data from NOAA shows the core of the coldest air arriving later this week across the Upper Midwest - another shot Sunday morning when air temperatures may dip below -20F from the Dakotas into Minnesota and Wisconsin. Wicked cold. Expect moderation next week with 20s and 30s for the same areas. Source: Tropicaltidbits.com.


Shut Your Mouth! No, really, breathe through your nose, not your mouth, especially if you live in Minnesota, where surface temperatures may fall to -25 to -30F Sunday morning. That's not wind chill, that's the actual air temperature. Bug-killing, relative-alarming cold. ECMWF guidance for Sunday AM: WeatherBell.


What Is The Polar Vortex? NOAA has a very good explainer, separating fact from hype: "...The polar vortex is a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both of the Earth’s poles. It ALWAYS exists near the poles, but weakens in summer and strengthens in winter. The term "vortex" refers to the counter-clockwise flow of air that helps keep the colder air near the Poles. Many times during winter in the northern hemisphere, the polar vortex will expand, sending cold air southward with the jet stream (see graphic above). This occurs fairly regularly during wintertime and is often associated with large outbreaks of Arctic air in the United States. The one that occurred January 2014 is similar to many other cold outbreaks that have occurred in the past, including several notable colder outbreaks in 1977, 1982, 1985 and 1989. There are several things the polar vortex is NOT. Polar vortexes are not something new. The term “polar vortex” has only recently been popularized, bringing attention to a weather feature that has always been present..."

This Too Shall Pass. Although (much) colder than last winter, I'm still not convinced the upcoming winter will be as cold as 3 years ago, when arctic air stalled for month after month in a holding pattern that created true misery. It's simply too early to know, but the odds of another winter similar to 2013-2014 are small. ECMWF (European) guidance shows 20s and 30s returning next week. Source: WeatherBell.


10-Day Snowfall Potential. NOAA's GFS model prints out a few feet of snow for the highest peaks of the Rockies and Cascades, with nearly a foot of new snow predicted for northern Illinois and southern Illinois. Should make for great fun at O'Hare. Plowable snows are expected from near Denver across the Midwest and Ohio Valley with lake effect downwind of the Great Lakes. No big snows for major east coast city centers just yet. Map: Tropicaltidbits.com

Tracking the Statistical Odds of a White Christmas. And by "white Christmas" we mean at least 1" of snow on the ground; here's an excerpt from a NOAA post: "...Where does history say you should be in the Lower 48 for the best chance of seeing a white Christmas? Most of Idaho, Minnesota, Maine, Upstate New York, the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and, of course, the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada Mountains all have a high probability of seeing a white Christmas. And, Aspen, Colorado, is just one of about a dozen locations boasting a 100% historical probability of seeing a white Christmas. This map is based on the 1981–2010 Climate Normals, which are the latest three-decade averages of several climatological measurements. This dataset contains daily and monthly Normals of temperature, precipitation, snowfall, heating and cooling degree days, frost/freeze dates, and growing degree days calculated from observations at approximately 9,800 stations operated by NOAA’s National Weather Service. You can find the Climate Normals for locations near you by using NCDC’s interactive map or search tool..."

Mild Christmas for Southern and Eastern USA. Bitter cold and more snow will make headlines from the Rockies into the Midwest and Great Lakes into next week, but moderation is likely for much of the USA by Christmas, especially east of the Mississippi River. Another cold smack is likely for northern tier states between Christmas and New Year's Day.

We're At The Plans on Planet Earth, But We're Not In Control. Here's the intro to a poignant story at The Washington Post: "Gazing over the countless transformations in Earth’s multibillion-year history, I am struck by the unique strangeness of the present moment. We suddenly find ourselves sort of running a planet — a role we never anticipated or sought — without knowing how it should be done. We’re at the controls, but we’re not in control. Climate change is the most obvious example, but it is one of a large number of ways in which we are modifying the planet. The scientific community is now converging on the idea that we have entered a new phase, or epoch, of Earth history — one in which the net activity of humans has become a powerful agent of geological change, equal to the other great forces of nature that build mountains and shape continents and species..."

Photo credit: "Apollo 8 Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell said from the moon, “The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth." (NASA).

Thousands of Invisible Oil Spills Are Destroying the Gulf. So reports Wired; here's an excerpt: "...While the Taylor Energy spill is the worst case scenario, it’s not the US’s only low-profile leaker. Every year thousands of oil and chemical spills occur in waters around the country, but unless you live in a highly impacted area like Louisiana, you probably only hear about a handful of them. That’s partly because the Coast Guard classifies many spills—up to 100,000 gallons—as minor or moderate, and small spills get less of everything: less media attention, less regulation, less environmental impact assessment, and most critically, less funding to clean them up..."

Map credit: "There are about 30,000 oil spills per year in US waters nationally. This map only shows the spills that have been reported since 2005." WIRED.

What To Watch For When Science Becomes Politicized. How do we make sound decisions when we all have our own "facts" to choose from? There's a web site for everyone! Here's an excerpt from Medium: "...There are a large number of people who think that science must have it wrong on a number of fronts. These include:
  • the safety and efficacy of vaccines,
  • the causal relationship between HIV and AIDS,
  • the effectiveness of fluoridated drinking water in reducing tooth decay,
  • the fact that human-caused emission of greenhouse gases are causing the Earth to warm,
  • or that someone’s sexual orientation is completely determined by their genetic makeup.
Chances are you have opinions on these matters. Chances are, if there’s an opinion you have that isn’t mainstream or in alignment with what scientists think, you have some sort of “conspiracy” argument lined up already..."

Image credit: "The global temperature anomaly for the year 2015, the hottest year on record until 2016 ends and breaks it." Image credit: NSA/GSFC/Scientific Visualization Studio.

Bill Gates and Investors Worth $170 Billion are Launching a Clean Energy Fund to Fight Climate Change. Here's an excerpt from Quartz: "Bill Gates is leading a more than $1 billion fund focused on fighting climate change by investing in clean energy innovation. The Microsoft co-founder and his all-star line-up of fellow investors plan to announce tomorrow the Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund, which will begin making investments next year. The BEV fund, which has a 20-year duration, aims to invest in the commercialization of new technologies that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in areas including electricity generation and storage, transportation, industrial processes, agriculture, and energy-system efficiency..."

Photo credit: "Power player." (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, Pool).

Where Could Trump Find An Example of a GOP-Led Clean Energy Plan? Texas. The Dallas Morning News has a terrific Op-Ed that underscores market forces, not regulation, will win the day - it's already happening in Texas: "...Even without a carbon tax, Trump could implement a successful, Republican-led clean energy transition. And there's one place he can turn for an example: Texas. Earlier this year, the Texas Clean Energy Coalition issued a report by The Brattle Group that showed market forces, not environmental regulations, are driving a clean energy economy in Texas. The market is enabling natural gas and renewables to provide all of the new power generation the state will need for the next 20 years, with no anticipated increase in wholesale power prices except for inflation..."

Symptoms of a Warming Planet: Reindeer Shrinkage. So reports Popular Science: "A lack of food due to global warming could be causing reindeer to shrink, according to new research. The weight of the average adult reindeer in Svalbard, an archipelago in the Norwegian Arctic, has gone down by 12 percent in the last 16 years. "Twelve percent may not sound very much, but given how important body weight is to reproduction and survival, it's potentially huge," Steve Albon of the James Hutton Institute in Scotland told the AFP. Hutton and his colleagues presented their findings this week at a meeting of the British Ecological Society. The researchers say this shrinkage has reached a critical point..."

File photo credit: Alexandre Buisse via Wikimedia Commons

Mapping The Year in Truck Spills. Atlas Obscura tracks some of the messiest, most jaw-dropping spills.




TODAY: Partly sunny, chilly. Winds: W 8-13. High: 9

TUESDAY NIGHT: Clear to partly cloudy. Low: -7

WEDNESDAY: Some sun, feels like -25F out there. Winds: NW 10-15. High: 5

THURSDAY: More sun, winds ease up. Winds: W 5-10. Wake-up: -9. High: 6

FRIDAY: Plowable snow, icy roads expected. Winds: SE 10-20. Wake-up: 0. High: 15

SATURDAY: Snow tapers, travel slowly improves. Winds: NW 10-15. Wake-up: 5. High: 8

SUNDAY: Subzero daylight. Frostbite risk. Winds: SW 10-15. Wake-up: -18. High: -3

MONDAY: Partly sunny, warming up a bit. Winds: SW 10-15. Wake-up: -10. High: 18


Climate Stories...

Climate Change Will Bring Wetter Storms In The U.S., Study Says. The New York Times has details: "Decades of research (and perhaps your own recent experiences on hot, humid days) have suggested that climate change will lead to an increase in big storms that cause flash floods, landslides and other natural disasters. Now, a new study shows that such intense precipitation will most likely increase across the continental United States, but with important regional variations. The study by scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., published on Monday in Nature Climate Change, found that across the country, rainstorms may become more frequent and intense if greenhouse gas emissions remain at current levels. The biggest increase would be in the Northeast and the Gulf Coast..."

Photo credit: Brad Birkholz.



Atmospheric Levels of Methane, a Powerful Greenhouse Gas, Are Spiking, Scientists Report. Chris Mooney has the story at The Washington Post: "The best news about climate change that we’ve heard lately is that for three years straight, the world’s energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide, the most important greenhouse gas, have been flat. The gas has continued to accumulate in the atmosphere, but emissions haven’t gone up, even as economies have continued to grow. But now we learn that there’s a major dose of bad news to accompany that: What’s true for carbon dioxide is not at all true for methane, the second most important greenhouse gas. Atmospheric concentrations of this gas — which causes much sharper short-term warming, but whose effects fade far more quickly than carbon dioxide — are spiking, a team of scientists reports in an analysis published Sunday in the journal Environmental Research Letters..."

Graphic credit: NOAA.

Investment Funds Worth Trillions Are Dropping Fossil Fuel Stocks. The New York Times reports: "Investors controlling more than $5 trillion in assets have committed to dropping some or all fossil fuel stocks from their portfolios, according to a new report tracking the trend. The report, released Monday, said the new total was twice the amount measured 15 months ago — a remarkable rise for a movement that began on American college campuses in 2011. Since then, divestment has expanded to the business world and institutional world, and includes large pension funds, insurers, financial institutions and religious organizations. It has also spread around the world, with 688 institutions and nearly 60,000 individuals in 76 countries divesting themselves of shares in at least some kinds of oil, gas and coal companies, according to the report..."

Photo credit: "Climate change campaigners at a demonstration in Paris in Dec. 2015. 688 institutions and nearly 60,000 individuals in 76 countries have divested themselves of shares in at least some kinds of oil, gas and coal companies, according to a new report." Credit Rex Features, via Associated Press.

Once an Oil Executive, Now a Crusader Against Fossil Fuel Stocks. The New York Times has the story.

Study Explains Why People Self-Silence When It Comes to Climate Change. The Centre Daily Times reports: "...Called “pluralistic ignorance,” the phenomenon presents itself when people who believe in climate change believe that others around them do not. Because we fear being perceived negatively, according to the research, it leads to a self-silencing spiral. Ignorance, in other words, is contagious. “What’s kind of interesting is that can potentially have the ironic effect of creating further pluralistic ignorance,” Geiger said. “So if people who are concerned about climate change don’t talk about climate change, people aren’t aware of the degree to which others are concerned...”



Local View: How Conservatives Could Address Climate Change. Here's an excerpt of an Op-Ed at the Lincoln Journal-Star: "George Shultz, Secretary of State under Reagan, has offered President-elect Trump advice including an admonition to take climate change seriously. "People who say the climate isn't changing are in the process of getting mugged by reality," said Shultz, referring to Trump's campaign claim that global warming is a hoax, promoted by the Chinese. Shultz supports a revenue neutral carbon tax. Trump appears to have softened his campaign position on climate change, most recently promising to have an "open mind" about it..."

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