Wednesday, January 4, 2012

January 5: The Great Snow Drought Of 2012 (a real cold front after Jan. 16?)

* 47 F. today's all-time record high, most recently in 1924. We stand a good chance of tying or breaking this record today.
10.3" snow so far this winter season in the Twin Cities metro.
44.6" snowfall as of January 4, 2011.

21.7% of USA covered with snow/ice as of January 4, 2012

47.8% of USA was covered with snow/ice on January 4, 2011.

58.1% of the USA was coverer with snow/ice on January 4, 2010. Source: NOAA's NOHRSC and

2.8 to 1. Daily high temperature records exceeded daily low temperature records across the USA in 2011 by a factor of 2.8 to 1. Source: NCDC, National Climate Data Center.

4 of the last 6 months in the Twin Cities were the "Top 10" warmest months ever recorded: July, October, November and December made the Top 10 list for their respective months. Source: NOAA.

October thru December: warmest such period across Minnesota in 80 years. Source: MN Climate Office.

31 tornadoes reported in Minnesota during 2011. Average is 27 for the year, statewide.

1 tornado-related fatality reported in Minnesota last year - the tornado that hit Minneapolis on May 22 claimed one life.

January 18-20: first subzero low temperatures of the winter season in the MSP metro area? It looks like real Canadian air is roughly 2 weeks away.

Miami: 78.27 F. in 2011. Warmest year ever recorded. Previous record was 1990, with an average temperature of 78.12 F.

West Palm Beach: 77.62 F. Warmest year ever recorded. Previous record was 1990, with an average temperature of 77.45 F.

Hartford: 69.23" precipitation in 2011, the wettest year on record.

$380 billion: estimated cost of global natural disasters in 2011; most expensive year on record, according to Munich Re (story below from USA Today).

Open Water On Lake Independence. This photo (courtesy of WeatherNation meteorologist Todd Nelson) made me do a triple-take: open water on Lake Independence, up in Medina, a far northwestern suburb of Minneapolis. Todd reported ice houses "within a few hundred feet of the water." Be careful out there. This is definitely not your grandfather's winter.

Unnaturally Nice. I just got home from a quick trip to San Francisco with my wife and youngest son, who is a senior at the U.S. Naval Academy. We couldn't believe our good luck, weatherwise: daytime highs consistently in the 60s; the mercury brushed 70 under a flawless sky during a visit to Stanford. Unreal. All the locals we talked to were thrilled, and a bit dazed. You see last winter at this time it wouldn't stop raining, with flooding in the city and record snows reported in the mountains as a parade of wild storms surged overhead. Hard to believe the weather can be so dramatically different from one year to the next, but a lot of people are scratching their heads in disbelief this "winter".

Snowcover on January 4, 2010. Data courtesy of NOAA and

Snowcover on January 4, 2011. More than twice as much snow than this year - with much greater snow depths.

Snowcover on January 4, 2012. The National Snow-Cover Problem. has a very interesting story about the contrast in snowcover across the USA from the previous 2 years at this point in time. It's not only the aerial coverage of snowcover, but snow depth that is sorely lacking from coast to coast: "Anemic describes it best. And again, this is on a national level. The snow cover you see in the Great Lakes and Appalachians was barely there as of a few days ago. We're at 21.7% of the country covered in snow now. A couple days ago, we were sub-20%. While the aerial coverage certainly is a stark contrast to the last few winters, note some of the more striking changes...out west.....Califronia is hurting terribly this winter....snow water equivalent is at 19% of normal, over the entire Sierra!"

Wednesday Record Highs:








Lucky Shooting Stars? Although the Quadrantid Meteor Shower peaked last night, conditions may be favorable to see a few meteors in the coming nights. Source: National Weather Service.

Review Of Minnesota Weather In 2011. The Minnesota State Climate Office has a good summary of another strange year of weather here in Minnesota: "However some places in southeastern Minnesota, including the Twin Cities have not seen the mercury dip below zero yet. Snowstorms were few and far between in the state, with northeastern Minnesota being clipped with some small snow events from time to time. The one significant snowfall over central and southern Minnesota happened on December 3-4 which dropped a swath of 2-5 inches over south central, south east and east central Minnesota. Fairmont saw 5 inches. A smaller event dropped 1-2 inches on December 16 over southeastern Minnesota. New Year’s Eve saw a rain and snow event over southern and central Minnesota that brought back a taste of winter. As 2011 drew to a close, concerns grew about the availability of soil moisture in the spring. It has been some time that central and southern Minnesota has been in a dry moisture situation over the winter months. Time will tell if the spring rains will come."

HydroClim Minnesota. Thanks to Greg Spoden from the Minnesota State Climate Office for the latest edition. Here are a few highlights:

- December 2011 was yet another dry month across much of Minnesota. In many counties, it was the fifth consecutive month of precipitation shortfalls. Some drought-stricken counties in southern Minnesota received near-normal precipitation, but it was not nearly enough to mitigate very large moisture deficits built up during the autumn.

- The U. S. Drought Monitor depicts every Minnesota county as experiencing some level of drought. Large sections of north central and northeast Minnesota are said to be undergoing Severe Drought or Moderate Drought. The Drought Monitor also places a large portion of southern Minnesota in the Severe Drought or Moderate Drought categories.

- The present snow depth is well below the historical median in nearly every Minnesota county.

- Monthly mean temperatures for December 2011 were very warm, topping the historical average by six to twelve degrees across Minnesota. It was the third consecutive month of abnormally warm temperatures. The final quarter of 2011 was the warmest October through December period in 80 years.

* the latest Minnesota Drought Monitor can be found here, courtesy of NOAA.

A Significant Shift In The Pattern? Both the AO (Arctic Oscillation) and NAO (North American Oscillation) have been strongly positive through December and early January, indicative of powerful westerly winds - an amazingly persistent pattern that has (to date) kept the coldest air of winter bottled up over northern Canada and Alaska. Based on NOAA guidance both indices are forecast to fall to or zero by January 16-18, which could mean a return to seasonably cold weather by the third week of January. This should mean a spell of days with highs in single digits and teens, probably the first subzero lows of the winter season between January 17-23. Just a semi-educated hunch.

Turning (Much) Colder After January 16? The 16-day GFS model shows 850mb temperatures (around 3,500 feet) dipping into the -18 to -22 C range after January 16 or 17, which may translate into highs in single digits and teens within about 2 weeks. Yes, statistically we are long overdue for a real cold front.

Waiting For (A Real) Winter. 500mb winds aloft on January 19 (GFS model) continue to show powerful westerly winds aloft, our air originating from Seattle and Vancouver, not the Yukon or Arctic Circle. That should mean occasional cold fronts (behind each Alberta Clipper) but I still don't see any persistent, drawn-out bouts of bitter air. Considering January is the coldest, snowiest month of the year - that's pretty extraordinary. Our "Lite" winter continues.

Nagging Snow-Drought. None of the models print out any snow, not even a lousy flake, until next Wednesday, when the arrival of colder air and a storm aloft may wring a coating out of the sky - just enough to dust the ground.

You Call This Winter? Much of the Upper Midwest is still (unseasonably) brown, including Chicago. "Snow plows sit idle in at a city of Chicago fleet garage Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011, in Chicago. The same year that brought "snowmaggedon" across much of Illinois is ending with a whimper, weather-wise. Temperatures are above normal, there's been more rain than snow _ and public works directors couldn't be happier. The mild weather has been a boon for cash-strapped cities that have hardly touched their salt supplies or snow-removal budgets. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)."

Waiting For Winter In Reno. From the Reno office of the National Weather Service (via Facebook): "A number of record high temperatures have been broken in the Reno area since Christmas Day. The record high has been tied or exceeded 9 out of the last 10 days at South Lake Tahoe, CA. At the Reno airport, a record high was observed 4 out of the last 7 days. Two more days of near record breaking temperatures are forecast before cooler temperatures arrive this weekend."

Surf's Up InSan Diego. 10 foot swells off the coast of La Jolla and Carlsbad? Surfers must be excited - evidence of big storms in the Gulf of Alaska traveling thousands of miles. Map courtesy of the San Diego office of the National Weather Service. "A storm system in the central north Pacific will generate large westerly swells through Wednesday morning over the San Diego coastal waters. Waves 3 to 6 feet are expected to develop this afternoon along west facing beaches, peaking at 5 to 8 feet with isolated sets to 10 feet overnight. Waves will decrease in magnitude mid-morning Wednesday through the afternoon. High surf is expected once again Thursday evening through Saturday."

Mother Nature Is Just Getting Warmed Up; December Heat Records Exceed Cold By 80% Annual Ratio Hits 2.8 to 1. The latest from Capital Climate and Joe Romm at Climate Progress:" New U.S. daily high temperature records exceeded daily cold records in December by a ratio of 1.8 to 1, a margin of 80%. The overwhelming excess of heat records continued into New Year’s Day, when the 116 high maximum records set or tied absolutely crushed the one lonely low minimum record…. The annual value [of the high/low record ratio] was 2.8 to 1, well above the 2.3 to 1 in 2010. Data from NOAA. Steve Scolnik at Capital Climate analyzed the data from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) and created the chart above. So if you live on the East Coast and thought it was unusually warm the last few weeks, you were right.  Although “unusual”  isn’t what it used to be.  As the figure makes clear, this was a very hot summer (see “Third Hottest Summer Globally, Second Warmest for U.S. With Stunning Weather Extremes, Texas Drought Worst in Centuries“)."

2011 Was Costliest Year In World Disasters. The story from USA Today: "While the USA suffered through a devastating year for weather and climate disasters, the world as a whole endured its costliest year ever for losses from natural disasters, with more than a third of a trillion dollars in damages in 2011, according to a report released Wednesday by global reinsurance firm Munich Re. The earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March caused more than half of the damage. Overall, although the number of disasters was about average and the number of fatalities below average, the overall direct property losses from natural catastrophes was $380 billion, making it the costliest year on record, according to Ernst Rauch, the head of Munich Re's corporate climate center."

Photo credit above: "Cars are abandoned on a flooded street after a strong earthquake in suburban Christchurch, New Zealand, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011. The powerful earthquake collapsed buildings at the height of a busy workday killing at least 65 people and trapping dozens in one of the country's worst natural disasters. (AP Photo/New Zealand Herald, Mark Mitchell) NEW ZEALAND OUT, AUSTRALIA OUT."

Billion Dollar Disasters. Notice a trend? It's a combination of a). more extreme weather and b). more Americans living in disaster-prone areas, along rivers, on the coast (vulnerable to earthquakes), more subdivisions in Tornado Alley, etc. Graphic above courtesy of USA Today.

Michigan Lake Effect. Keep the photos coming; this one from Elizabeth Howard Puglisi in Buchanan, Michigan. "The snow is coming down quite steadily. We are 14 miles from Lake Michigan, in the lake effect/snow band area."

Another Mega-Storm Wallops United Kingdom. The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang has the story - 3 major storms with hurricane-force wind gusts in just the last month: "For the third time in 30 days, a powerful storm with hurricane-force wind gusts has raked the British Isles. The storm, which caused damage throughout the United Kingdom, is being blamed for at least two deaths. Scotland appeared to be hardest hit, where strong winds knocked power out in 70,000 homes. Bus, rail and ferry services were disrupted. A wind gust of 102 mph was recorded at Blackford Hill in Edinburgh, the third highest on record, and strongest there since 1998 according to the UK Met Office."

Thousands Left Without Power After Scotland Hit By Another Winter Storm. The Courier (UK) has an update on the parade of devastating storms across the British Isles. Hardest hit: Scotland: "The Forth and Tay road bridges were closed to all vehicles for around five hours, with winds reaching speeds of 102mph on the latter, while the Friarton Bridge at Perth was closed to high-sided vehicles. Around 17,000 householders in Perth and Kinross and 15,000 homes in Fife suffered power cuts for several hours as lines were brought down. The Met Office placed many parts of the country on red alert — its highest warning — for several hours, with commuters warned not to travel as trees blocked many roads. Dozens of flights were cancelled and train and ferry services were suspended."

Global Snow And Ice Cover. Here is the latest snowcover around the planet as of January 4, courtesy of NOAA's Environmental Visualization Laboratory. "Description: The cryosphere (areas covered by ice, snow, glaciers, or permafrost) is an extremely dynamic part of the global system. Changes in the seasons and climate bring great changes to the expanse of Earth's cryosphere. Satellite data allows scientists to keep a constant eye on these areas."

Estimated Snow Cover Across USA As Of January 2 (source: NOAA's NOHRSC):

2012: 19%
2011: 48%
2012: 58%
2009: 38%
2008: 47%
2007: 41%

Why Some WWII Planes Were Painted Pink. I had no idea - but sheds some light on a rather curious story: "There’s a good reason why this Spitfire is painted pink. It helped its pilot hide in the clouds. Esther Inglis-Arkell explains how: To make sure they were rarely seen from above, these planes were painted to fly just under cloud cover. Although the planes were ideally meant to fly at sunset and sunrise, when the clouds took on a pinkish hue and made the plane completely invisible against them, they were also useful during the day. Clouds are pinker than we give them credit for. We perceive them as white against the sky because the particles in the sky scatter blue light, sending some of it down towards us and letting us see the sky as blue. Clouds scatter every kind of light, and against the intense blue sky look whitish gray. But their color depends on what kind of light gets to them, and what they are floating next to."

WSMV-TV Anchor Wonders (Out Loud) If Cold Weather Causes "Shrinkage"? Boy, do I ever miss local TV. When pondering the world's problems (or even something as simple as the weather floating above my head) this is always front-of-mind. has the story: "Throwing to meteorologist Dan Thomas during WSMV‘s 4 p.m. newscast on Tuesday, anchor Jennifer Johnson made an unlikely “Seinfeld” reference. Johnson and her co-anchor Demetria Kalodimos had been bantering about the shrinking contestants on NBC’s “The Biggest Loser,” when it came time to transition to weather (video above)."

Reluctant Snowbirds

"January brings the snow, makes our feet and fingers glow" said Sara Coleridge. In theory, yes. Welcome to the coldest, snowiest month of the year in Minnesota, on average. This is the month that (allegedly) tests our collective souls; the month that separates the (snow) men from the snow birds, right? On paper, yes.

So far we've picked up a quarter as much snow as last winter, to date (10.3 vs 44.6 inches). According to the MN State Climate Office every county in the state is experiencing some level of drought. October thru December was the warmest period statewide in 80 years.

What's it going to take for a real storm? A fresh outbreak of bitter air. Although the first significant cold spell of winter is possible after January 17 I still don't see any major storms, or sustained subzero weather looking out 2-3 weeks. Beyond that the crystal ball gets murky, but keep in mind that average temperatures begin to rise again by Feb. 1.

Any snow in your yard will start to melt today as the mercury reaches the mid 40s - 20 degrees above average. Some thermometers over southwest and west central Minnesota will soar into the 50s; a rare January 60 degree high is not out of the question.

Until the AO and NAO (Arctic and North American Oscillations) go negative and powerful westerly winds subside, it'll be tough getting bitter air or snow into Minnesota.
In January. Surreal eh?

Climate Stories...

Top Climate Change Stories Of 2011. Andrew Freedman of the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang has a very good summary of the top climate stories of last year. Here's an excerpt: "For Earth’s climate system, 2011 was an extraordinarily turbulent year. The United States saw a series of record-busting extremes, from a devastating tornado season to an epic drought in a vital agricultural region. The fusillade of extreme events kept global warming in the public conversation even as it slipped to the bottom of the public’s list of concerns in the face of a grim economy, and as “climate” became a four-letter word in Washington.
1. Advances in understanding global warming and extreme weather
Two studies published in February in the journal Nature made it a lot clearer that manmade global warming is already playing a tangible role in influencing some types of extreme weather events. One study, led by researchers with Environment Canada, analyzed heavy rainfall events recorded at more than 6,000 sites across the Northern Hemisphere, and found that the growing amount of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere have likely increased the frequency of heavy precipitation events across this region."

Photo credit above: "In this undated image released by Discovery Channel, a mother polar bear and two cubs are shown during the filming of Discovery Channel's documentary series "Frozen Planet," premiering March 18, 2012. The series will encompass seven episodes including a program on climate change hosted by David Attenborough. (AP Photo/Discovery Channel, Chadden Hunter)."

New Hybrid Sharks Discovered: Signs Of Global Warming? The Christian Science Monitor has the story: "In what is being hailed as the world's first evidence of inter-species breeding among sharks, a team of marine researchers at the University of Queensland have identified 57 hybrid sharks in waters off Australia's east coast. The new sharks possess genetic material from both the Australian blacktip shark (Carcharhinus tilstoni) and the common blacktip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus). The Australian blacktip is smaller and tends to live in warmer waters near northern and eastern Australia. Its globally distributed counterpart, the common blacktip, is larger and favors cooler waters, including those along Australia's southeastern coastline. A press release from the University of Queensland quotes research team member Jennifer Ovenden, who suggested that other species of sharks and rays around the world could also be interbreeding."

Idea Of The Day: Climate Change Will Impact Human Migration And Conflict Worldwide. Here's a post from the Center For American Progress: "The costs and consequences of climate change on our world will define the 21st century. Even if nations across our planet were to take immediate steps to rein in carbon emissions—an unlikely prospect—a warmer climate is inevitable. As the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, noted in 2007, human-created “warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level.” As these ill effects progress they will have serious implications for U.S. national security interests as well as global stability—extending from the sustainability of coastal military installations to the stability of nations that lack the resources, good governance, and resiliency needed to respond to the many adverse consequences of climate change."

Climate Change Models May Underestimate Extinction, Study Shows. Bloomberg BusinessWeek has the story: "Climate change projections may “grossly” underestimate the extinction of animal and plant varieties because the models don’t account for species movement and competition, U.S. researchers said. Animals and plants that can adjust to climate change have a competitive advantage, while animals with small geographic ranges and specific habitat requirements are likely to go extinct under climate change, according to a study led by Mark Urban, an assistant professor at the University of Connecticut." Image above courtesy of NOAA.

San Francisco Bay. I snapped this photo a few minutes after take-off from SFO at an altitude of 10,000 feet - downtown San Francisco near the center of the photo, Oakland in the foreground, Marin County to the upper right. It felt more like early October than early January when we left. No complaints, although the locals I talked to were very worried about what a dry, storm-free winter might mean for future water supplies.