Wind Power = Ubiquitous in Europe. I'm just back from a week in Germany, France and Austria (tagged along with my 81 year old dad, who made it a point to see EVERY relative we still have other there in 7 days or less). We put on nearly 2,500 miles on the various Autobahns in about a week (Dad never met a rest stop or "Rasthof" he didn't like). Everywhere I turned there were wind turbines and wind farms, stretching as far as the eye could see. Also, many 300-600 year old homes had solar panels on their rooftops - pretty impressive how Europeans seem to be embracing alternative energy sources.
Shrinking Glaciers. Here is another image that is going to stick with me for awhile, a photo of the Grossglockner Glacier (The Pasterze). You see the photos, but until you see the melting glaciers up close it's hard to get a real feel for how much they've retreated in recent decades - they're now just a dark, stubbly shadow of what they were just 20-30 years ago, according to some of the locals I talked to in Austria.
More Mud Than Glacier. Another (panorama) shot of the Grossglockner glacier, called "The Pasterze". If you ever get to Germany or Austria take a small detour and drive the Grossglockner Highway. At an elevation of over 11,000 feet the view is incredible, and the hairpin turns are nothing less than a religious experience behind the wheel. Tap the brakes (and pray they still work) when you come back down into the valley.
2011: 3 times more weather disasters, nationwide, than average (NOAA).
"So many heat records of various types have been shattered this past summer that it is impossible to quantify them," he said. "Not since the great heat waves of 1934 and 1936 has the US seen so many heat-related records broken as occurred this summer. The back-to-back nature of the intensity of the past two summers should raise some interesting questions, questions I am not qualified to address."
Climate Prediction Center: Another La Nina Winter? No El Nino to save us this winter. La Nina cooling phases of the Pacific correlate with colder (often snowier) than average winters for the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest. Although I don't expect a winter as extreme as last (86.6" snow in the Twin Cities - 3rd most on record) another La Nina may incease the odds of another "old fashioned" winter for Minnesota. That's a polite way of saying...RUN!!! More from NOAA: "La Niña, which contributed to extreme weather around the globe during the first half of 2011, has re-emerged in the tropical Pacific Ocean and is forecast to gradually strengthen and continue into winter. Today, forecasters with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center upgraded last month’s La Niña Watch to a La Niña Advisory. NOAA will issue its official winter outlook in mid-October, but La Niña winters often see drier than normal conditions across the southern tier of the United States and wetter than normal conditions in the Pacific Northwest and Ohio Valley. “This means drought is likely to continue in the drought-stricken states of Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center. “La Niña also often brings colder winters to the Pacific Northwest and the northern Plains, and warmer temperatures to the southern states.”
U.S. Counts The Costs of 9 Months Of Unprecedented Weather Extremes. Here's an excerpt from The Guardian: "Ever since a massive blizzard causing $2bn of damage paralysed cities from Chicago to the north-east in January, nearly every month has been marked by a $1b+-weather catastrophe. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration (Noaa), there have been 10 major disasters already this year, leaving more than 700 people dead and property damage of over $35bn (£22bn). In the past 31 years the mainland states have suffered 99 weather-related disasters where overall damages and economic costs were over $1bn. This year has seen three times as many than as usual. NOAA will release its August data next week but Summer 2011 is expected to be the warmest on record. Chris Burt, author and leading weather historian, has complied a list of more than 40 cities and towns that have experienced record temperatures this year. "So many heat records of various types have been shattered this past summer that it is impossible to quantify them," he said. "Not since the great heat waves of 1934 and 1936 has the US seen so many heat-related records broken as occurred this summer. The back-to-back nature of the intensity of the past two summers should raise some interesting questions, questions I am not qualified to address."
100-Degree Days. According to NOAA there have been more than 70 days above 100 (black-shaded area) from southern California into southern Arizona and much of Texas.
Summer of 2011 Was NOT "OK". Oklahoma simmered under as many as 96 days above 100 over southwestern counties. Think about that: over 3 months of daytime highs above 100. Map courtesy of the Oklahoma Mesonet and madweather.com. No, it's not always a "dry heat".
Unusually Dry August. Southern MN is drying out - so is the northern part of the state, with severe drought popping up over parts of the MN Arrowhead. Here are some highlights from Greg Spoden at the Minnesota State Climatology Office:
- August 2011 was a dry month across much of Minnesota. It was especially dry in the northeast, and in southern Minnesota counties. August rainfall totals in many areas fell short of the historical average by one to three inches.
- Rainfall totals in many northeast and southern Minnesota counties for the past six weeks totaled only one to two inches, a negative departure from the long-term average of three to four inches. When compared with the same six-week period in the historical database, 2011 late-July through early-September rainfall totals rank among the lowest on record in some locales.
- Topsoil moisture across 30 percent of Minnesota's landscape is considered to be "Short" or "Very Short".
- Stream discharge values remain high to very high in western and central Minnesota watersheds. The Red River of the North at Fargo fell below flood stage on August 27th. This reporting station had been above flood stage for 150 days in 2011. Conversely, stream flow in far northern Minnesota is quite low.
- Due to above-average growing season rainfall, many west central and central Minnesota lake levels are quite high relative to historical early-autumn values.
- The U. S. Drought Monitor released on September 1 depicts counties in both southern and northern Minnesota as "Abnormally Dry". Portions of St. Louis, Lake, and Cook counties are said to be experiencing "Moderate Drought". The Drought Monitor authors will likely present worsening drought conditions in both northern and southern Minnesota in their September 8 release.
* Click here for the latest Drought Monitor map, courtesy of NOAA.
Wildfire In Minnesota's Arrowhead. Here's a statement from the Duluth office of the National Weather Service: Lightning started a wildfire, called the Pagami Creek Fire, in the arrowhead of Minnesota back around August 18, 2011. By Sunday, September 11, 2011, the fire had grown to around 4500 acres. A lack of rain and unfavorable wind conditions have made containment difficult. An impressive smoke plume developed on 9/11/11. A 6 hour loop of visible imagery from the GOES satellite is available below. Click here for more information, including a time lapse of the smoke plume.
Boundary Waters Fire Doubles in Size. Here are more details from the Star Tribune: "ELY, Minn. - A forest fire in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area near Ely has more than doubled in size since Sunday. U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Jean Bergerson said Monday the Pagami Creek fire has grown to 11,000 acres, from 4,500 acres on Sunday. Bergerson says about 70 hikers and canoeists have been moved from Lakes Two through Hudson and the Isabella River. Several waterways, entry points and portages in that area have been closed, including the popular Lake One and Isabella Lake entry points. Bergerson says a crew of 20 firefighters paddled into the fire area Sunday night. She says helicopters and small planes were used to dump water on the fire Sunday."
* I took the photo above from seat 24A on the Amsterdam to MSP Delta flight, which landed around 7 pm Sunday evening. You can just make out the dark gray of the smoke plume from the Pagami blaze below
Texas Wildfire Destroys 1,500 Homes. Here are more details from the New York Times: "BASTROP, Tex. (AP) — The number of homes destroyed by a wildfire in Texas has risen to 1,554, officials said Sunday, and the figure is expected to increase as they enter more areas where the blaze has been extinguished. Seventeen people remain unaccounted for. Bastrop County officials, along with Representative Lloyd Doggett of Texas, sought to provide new information to the hundreds of residents who left their homes a week ago, when winds whipped up by Tropical Storm Lee swept across drought-stricken Texas and helped set off more than 190 wildfires statewide. The worst of the fires have consumed more than 34,000 acres in this area about 30 miles southeast of Austin. While sharing the news that the tally of destroyed homes would increase, officials also told about 100 residents who gathered at a news conference on Sunday that people would begin being allowed back into the scorched areas on Monday. A detailed plan will allow residents to enter the evacuated areas over the coming week, as firefighters and emergency responders ensure that the land has properly cooled, hotspots are extinguished and the fire is contained."
* click here for a map of the latest wildfires in Texas, courtesy of the Texas Interagency Coordination Center.
Perspective. At some point you hear the statistics and your brain tunes out. What does 3.6-3.7 million acres really mean? The Atlantic has a series of maps showing how much land has been scorched by wildfires in Texas: "The scale of the Texas wildfires boggles the mind. 3.6 million acres or 5,625 square miles of the state have burned in the worst wildfire season on record. The five acres I grew up on seemed like a lot of land, so I find it impossible to grasp how many acres 3.6 million really is. To get a better intuitive sense for the size, I needed to map that area on places I know. So, I created this series of maps of major US cities on which I've superimposed a circle with an area of 5,625 square miles (a radius of about 42.3 miles). I think you'll agree these visualizations are terrifying."
RECORD EVENT REPORT NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE EASTERN NORTH DAKOTA/GRAND FORKS 400 PM CDT TUE SEP 6 2011 ...POTENTIAL MINNESOTA STATE RECORD PEAK WIND MEASUREMENT UNDER REVIEW... DURING THE EARLY MORNING HOURS OF SEPTEMBER 1ST 2011...A SEVERE
THUNDERSTORM PRODUCED DAMAGING WINDS ACROSS PORTIONS OF NORTHWESTERN MINNESOTA. BETWEEN 303 AM AND 314 AM THE AUTOMATED ROADSIDE WEATHER INFORMATION SYSTEM /RWIS/...NEAR DONALDSON MINNESOTA...RECORDED A 121 MPH PEAK WIND.
THE CURRENT STATE RECORD FOR MEASURED PEAK WIND AS RECOGNIZED BY THE MINNESOTA STATE CLIMATOLOGIST WAS A 117 MPH GUST. THIS PEAK WIND OCCURRED DURING A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM ON JULY 19 1983 NEAR ALEXANDRIA MINNESOTA. HIGHER PEAK WIND ESTIMATES HAVE BEEN BEEN MADE
IN CONJUNCTION WITH DAMAGE FROM VARIOUS TORNADO EVENTS ACROSS THE STATE. THE 121 MPH PEAK WIND IS CURRENTLY UNDER REVIEW BY THE NWS AND THE MINNESOTA STATE CLIMATOLOGIST OFFICE. SHOULD THIS BE VERIFIED...IT
WILL BE LISTED AS THE NEW OFFICIAL MINNESOTA STATE RECORD FOR A MEASURED WIND SPEED. A FINAL DETERMINATION WILL BE MADE IN THE NEAR FUTURE. FOR
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT THE NWS IN GRAND FORKS.
Eye Of The Storm. Here's a great shot of Hurricane Katia's Eye, taken on September 6 by "Astro_Ron" on the ISS, the International Space Station. Image courtesy of NASA and twitpic.
Severe Storms Batter Britain. The remains of Hurricane Katia are turbocharging the storm sweeping across the British Isles, according to Voice of America: "Britain is bracing for the most severe weather it has seen in 15 years as the remains of what was Hurricane Katia hit the country Monday. Britain's Met office has issued an “Amber Alert,” the second highest weather alert. Coastal areas could get hit with winds nearing 130 kilometers per hour, uprooting trees and causing flooding. The Met Office said the storm could impact parts of Northern Ireland, North Wales and Northern England, in addition to central and southern Scotland." (click here for a European satellite loop from sat24.com).
Futuristic Tornado-Proof Home Sinks Into The Ground At First Sign of Tornado. Well, that's practical, right? Good grief - kind of a cool concept, but probably not a scalable solution for millions of people living in tornado alley. Inhabitat.com has the details: "Had Dorothy lived in a home like this, she would have never met the Lion, the Tinman or the Scarecrow, but at least her house wouldn't have blown away and landed on a witch. Since it's unlikely we'll be able to completely avoid the dangers of tornados, our only remedy is to build in such a way as to reduce our risk from the damage of being in harm's way. Hong Kong-based 10 Design is working on a proposal for a tornado-proof house that easily belongs in the realm of a Star Trek movie. With the help of hydraulics, a high performance shell and solar power, the tornado-proof house retracts down into the ground at the first warning of an impending twister."
"Unusual travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God," wrote Bill Bryson. Tell me about it. I just returned from a 1-week, 2,500 mile tour of Germany with my 81-year old father. We saw family, and I had plenty of opportunity to exercise my lead foot on the Autobahn (which has more orange construction cones than Minnesota highways!) Autumn has come early to much of Europe, and we'll get a taste of early October by midweek as the first significant cold front of the season arrives. 60s today, 50s tomorrow - frost up north by midweek? It's too early - ugh. No big storms are brewing, just more 70s early next week.
Lake levels are dropping after an unusually dry August. Parts of the MN Arrowhead are in a severe drought, so a long soaking would be welcome news right about now.
And NOAA is confirming a return of La Nina (cooling phase of the Pacific), which may lead to a colder, snowier than average winter for the USA's northern tier states. No El Nino to save us this winter.
Arctic Ice Melts To Lowest Level On Record. The Sydney Morning Herald has the story: "LONDON: Ice at the North Pole has melted to the lowest level since satellite observations began in 1972, meaning the Arctic is almost certainly the smallest it has been for 8000 years, polar scientists said. If the trend continues, the Arctic will be largely ice-free in the northern summer 40 years earlier than anticipated in the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment report. Daily satellite sea ice maps released by Bremen University physicists show that with a week's further melt expected this year, the floating ice in the Arctic covered 4.24 million square kilometres on September 8. The previous one-day minimum was 4.27 million square kilometres on September 17, 2007. The National Snow and Ice Data Centre in the US is expected to announce similar results in a few days. The German researchers said the record melt was undoubtedly because of human-induced global warming. ''The sea ice retreat can no more be explained with the natural variability … caused by weather,'' the head of the Institute of Environmental Physics at Bremen, Georg Heygster, said." (photo above courtesy of NOAA).
Does Global Warming Portend An Ice-Free Arctic Summer? The story from the International Business Times: "Reports about an Arctic summertime sans ice due to global warming and natural swings in regional wind patterns are quite alarming. The extent of summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean reached a record low this week since satellite observations began in 1972, according to the University of Bremen's Institute of Environmental Physics. The area covered by the Arctic sea ice shrank to 4.24 million square kilometers (1.637 square miles) on Sept. 8, said researchers from the University. The historic low measurement is about a half-percent below the previous record low set in Sept. 16, 2007, said Georg Heygster, head of the Physical Analysis of Remote Sensing Images unit at the University of Bremen's Institute of Environmental Physics. The record set on that day was 4.27m sq km, reports the Guardian. The declining Arctic sea ice has also become significantly thinner in recent decades, though it is not possible to measure the shrinkage in thickness as precisely as for surface area, said the institute."
Study: Climate Change Little Affected By Shift From Coal To Natural Gas. I did a double-take after seeing this headline over at USA Today. Counterintuitive, don't you think? "What's better for the environment -- natural gas or coal? A new U.S. study suggests the answer is not clear cut. It finds that even though natural gas emits far less carbon dioxide than coal, switching to natural gas wouldn't significantly slow down climate change. The federally-funded research underscores the conflicting ways in which fossil fuel burning affects the Earth's climate. It says that while coal use causes global warming via emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide, it also releases relatively large amounts of sulfates and other particles that -- although bad for the environment -- cool the planet by blocking sunlight. Complicating matters is uncertainty over the amount of methane, an especially potent greenhouse gas, that leaks from natural gas operations. Computer simulations by Tom Wigley, a senior research associate at the Boulder-based National Center for Atmospheric Research, indicate that a global, partial shift from coal to natural gas would slightly accelerate climate change through at least 2050, even if no methane leaked from natural gas operations, and through as late as 2140 if there were substantial leaks. After that, the study finds that greater reliance on natural gas would begin to slow down the rise in global average temperature, but only by a few tenths of a degree."