Wednesday, March 14, 2012

March 15: Soggy West - March Heat Wave East of Rockies

22.3" winter snowfall, to date, least since 1986-87 (17.4")
8th least winter snowfall at KMSP since 1884-85. Source: MN Climatology Working Group.

80 in Mid-March? Good grief, I thought 70 was a pretty big deal. The models are now hinting at enough warm air in all levels of the atmosphere, a June-like atmosphere, to support metro highs near 80 Friday and Saturday. If the sun is out for a few hours tomorrow and Saturday afternoon expect highs between 75 and 80. Just when you thought it couldn't get any stranger.

Early ice-out. Ice is already off many lakes across southern Minnesota. An ice-out 3+ weeks earlier than average is possible from metro lakes north to Gull, Pelican, Leech and the Whitefish Chain. Details below.

80 F. Wednesday in Miami, Houston and Chicago.

Robin Sightings. Thanks to meteorologist Todd Nelson, who snapped this photo of his first robin of 2012 up in St. Michael Wednesday afternoon.

Golf courses opening up in the Twin Cities metro, 4-6 weeks ahead of schedule? The last 10 Novembers have been warm enough for golf in the Twin Cities, but golfing in mid-March? Wow. The unseasonably warm weather is great news for restaurants and cafes, already setting up outdoor seating to attract patrons.

"Another sign it's warm in the Midwest - a very popular sweet corn place across the river from Dubuque, Iowa planted today. It's the earliest they've ever planted." - Justin Gehrtz, by way of Susie Martin. Amazing.

Wimpiest Winter Snowfalls In The Twin Cities. Data courtesy of the Minnesota Climatology Working Group.

14.2": 1930-31
15.4": 1888-89
17.4": 1986-87
17.5": 1967-68
19.1": 1958-59
20.6": 1920-21
21.1" 1980-81
22.3" 2011-12 (so far)
25.5": 2004-05

45.6": 125 year average (since 1884-85 in downtown St. Paul).

Wednesday Record Highs: some of the scores of records set in the Upper Midwest Wednesday.

68 F. Duluth (35 degrees above average).
57 F. International Falls

Don't Pack Away The Jackets Just Yet. In spite of this (historic) warmth, nights are still plenty long across Canada, there's still snow on the ground, and I expect a few more cold fronts before summer (truly) arrives. The GFS shows highs in the 60s and a few 70s through March 27, followed by a cool slap the last few days of the month; a few days with highs in the 40s and low 50s - nights may dip below 32 F. in the metro between March 29-31. Gardeners beware.

Plenty To Sneeze At. Suffering from allergy symptoms? I'm not surprised - our (instant) spring is bringing out the ragweed about a month ahead of schedule. Click here to get the latest (free) 4-Day Pollen Outlook, courtesy of

Tuesday Records Across The USA:

117 record highs
74 record minimum temperatures (warm nighttime lows)

2012 Tornado Touch-Downs. So far 20 states, including Hawaii, have experienced tornadoes so far in 2012. Source: SPC and stormchaser4850.

312 preliminary tornadoes, nationwide, so far in 2012.
55 tornado-related fatalities. Source: SPC.
550 tornado deaths last year, the most since 1917.

"[People] wanted additional confirmation," Myers says. "They wanted to know they were directly in the path of the storm. If they got it through the television, then they checked their radios. They checked their smartphones. They called people. Many people went outside to see if they could see it coming." - from an NPR article below. Aerial photo taken after the Joplin, Missouri tornado, taken by NOAA.

TV stations must stream their long form tornado coverage in a way that is accessible to all portable devices, not just some of them,” he added.  “And, make the stream easy to find either via a web page or app.” - Alabama TV meteorologist James Spann, in an article below from

390. Carbon dioxide levels just reached 390 ppm. From an article below at The Sydney Morning Herald: "Record levels ... greenhouse gases are now 390 parts per million in the atmosphere - the highest since modern humans evolved. Photo: Reuters."
MSP Temperature Trend. I have some very smart readers (and for that I am eternally grateful). Robert Konetzki, a PhD, sent me this graph yesterday, showing the rolling temperature trends here in the Twin Cities since 1940. Thanks Bob - I wanted to share your findings with everyone:
"I was quite surprised when I looked at the rolling 12 month monthly temperature average for MSP. For the first time in MSP history we surpassed 50.0F in October and have been averaging over 53F for the last two months."
Robert A Konetzki PhD

Lead Manufacturing Technologist
General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems

Minnesota's Historical Lake Ice-Out Dates. Here is detailed information on ice-outs, courtesy of the Minnesota Climatology Group: "The definition of lake ice-out varies from lake to lake, and individual to individual. For some, ice-out occurs only when the lake is completely free of ice. For others, ice-out is defined as the moment when navigation is possible from point A to point B. And yet for others, ice-out is when 90 percent of the lake is ice free. Due to the variable definitions of this rather subjective observation, the State Climatology Office attempts to contact the same individuals each year to maintain a consistent record. The table below summarizes historical lake ice-out averages and extremes for Minnesota lakes with 10 or more years of record."

Ice Already Off Lakes In Southern Minnesota. From Albert Lea to Tracy, the ice-out has already taken place just south of the metro. I suspect ice-out on Lake Minnetonka and White Bear Lake around March 22, more than 3 weeks earlier than average. Whatever happed to "average"? Check out an interactive map at the Minnesota DNR.

Records Fall Across Country As Temperatures Soar. Andrew Freedman at Climate Central has more details on our potentially historic March warm-up: "The weird winter of 2011-12 has given way to a truly odd March weather pattern, with a big dip, or "trough", in the jet stream out west, and a large ridge of high pressure in the East which is allowing warm air to flow from the South all the way up into Canada. Yesterday alone, 117 record daily high temperatures were set, along with 74 records for warm overnight low temperatures. This compares to just four daily cold high temperatures and two cold overnight low records. More records are likely to be set during the next 7-to-10 days, especially from the Midwest to the Ohio Valley, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast. These regions can expect high temperatures to run 20 to 30 degrees F above average for this time of year."

An Opportunity For Rain? A slow-moving eastbound cool front may squeeze out some heavy showers (and T-storms?) anytime from Monday night into Wednesday morning. Right now Tuesday looks like the wettest day. I'll be very surprised if we pick up an inch of rain, at the rate we're going, hoping for at least a quarter or half inch of badly-needed rain.

Isolated Weekend Thunderstorms? A vigorous warm frontal boundary, something you'd expect to see on the weather maps in late May or the first week of June, will approach Minnesota by Saturday - there may be just enough low-level moisture and instability for a few stray T-storms. Now we've skipped mid-May and leap-frogged into early June.

As Far Out As I Dare Look. The 500 mb (18,000 foot) 500mb wind forecast goes out 384 hours. Here is the prediction for March 30, which continues to show a strong zonal, west-to-east flow, hinting at 50s, maybe low 60s from southern Minnesota into Iowa. I think we'll cool down (a bit) in late March, but I still don't see a significant cold front looking out 2 weeks. Nothing "arctic" brewing.


"I decided to enjoy the evening on the deck. I felt something on my arm, looked down and discovered a lethargic mosquito attempting to get a little drink. I humored it for a couple seconds, then sent it to the fishes. I was wondering what is the earliest recorded mosquito sighting in the metro? Someone must keep track of such statistics.

Tom Brown, Brooklyn Park

Oh boy. It's too early for 'skeeters. Thanks for the note, Tom. Off the top of my head I don't have an answer, but I'll check around and see if I can find an answer. Intuitively, this has to be one of the earliest dates, but with ponds and wetlands thawing out rapidly and many already ice-free, I guess I'm not shocked that you had a close encounter yesterday. A six month summer means 6 months of mosquitoes - although if the drought lingers they may not be as bad as previous (wet) years. Stay tuned

5.06" Day Valley, California (Santa Cruz county). 1-4" fell across much of northern California. Details from NOAA.

Weather Service: Storm In Michigan Spawn Tornado. Stating the obvious - it's exceedingly rare to get a tornado in Lower Michigan before April 1. USA Today has the details: "COLEMAN, Mich. (AP) — Severe thunderstorms that moved across the state spawned a tornado, with property damage and downed trees reported in the Lower Peninsula. The National Weather Service said Tuesday no injuries were reported following the tornado about 6:45 p.m. Monday that had winds up to 90 mph. It was near the Midland County community of Coleman, about 120 miles northwest of Detroit. The tornado's path was about 5 miles long and was up to 125 yards wide. The weather service says a garage was destroyed, three barns were damaged and trees were uprooted."

Photo credit above: "A camper sits upside down Tuesday, March 13, 2012, on John and Cindy Mikulin's property, who live off M-18 near the Shaffer Road intersection in Coleman, Mich. Severe thunderstorms that moved across the state Monday night spawned a tornado, with property damage and downed trees reported in the Lower Peninsula. The National Weather Service said Tuesday no injuries were reported following the tornado about 6:45 p.m. (AP Photo/The Midland Daily News, Nick King)."

What Is It Like To Be A Stormchaser On The Hunt For Tornadoes? A terrific story and overview from the UK "Metro": "Warren Faidley is the world’s first ever storm chaser. He even owns the trademark for the phrase but doesn’t he want to be known as one. He doesn’t mind if you call him a journalist, a lecturer, a photographer, a safety consultant, an author or an extreme weather adventurer.  But call him a storm chaser and you get a negative reaction.  ‘I don’t use the word “storm chaser” too much nowadays because it has become a word for the real screwballs – the idiots who go out and chase very dangerously that you see on TV,’ he said.  Mr Faidley, who is based in Tucson, Arizona, said the plethora of recent reality programmes on something he has been doing since the 1980s had denigrated the practice."

Photo credit above: "Tornado season is underway in the US (Picture: Alamy)."

What If Dorothy Had A Smartphone. Here's a fascinating article from NPR: "For many, the only way they learn a tornado is approaching are sirens. In the spring and summer, tornado sirens go off a lot more when twisters roar across Alabama, which has been hit by 900 since 2000, accounting for a quarter of all U.S. tornado deaths. "I am still surprised that so many people rely on just one source of getting warned, and that has to change," said Jim Stefkovich, meteorologist in charge of the Birmingham office of the National Weather Service. James Spann, a longtime television meteorologist at Birmingham's ABC affiliate, says the reliance on sirens has led to dozens of deaths over the years. "In the siren mentality, it's the idea that you're always going to hear a tornado siren before a tornado strikes. And I believe it's a farce."

Photo credit above: "This May 3, 1999, funnel became the F-5 storm that damaged thousands of buildings in central Oklahoma. University of Oklahoma storm chasers and observers are anticipating the annual tornado season as it approaches the central part of the country. Photo: J Pat Carter/AP."

Meteorologist James Spann On Tornado Coverage: "We're Not As Good As We Think We Are." When predicting the weather, especially severe, life-threatening weather, a big dose of humility is welcome. So I appreciate Mr. Spann's mindset, captured in this article from "In an interview with NPR, veteran meteorologist James Spann, who has become something of a severe weatherpundit during his time at ABC 33/40, highlighted the limitations he and his colleagues face when covering tornadoes. “We’re not as good as we think we are, and we have to accept that and work on it and be better, and admit the warning process has some work to do,” Spann said, referring to the public’s over-reliance on typical tornado warnings, such as sirens. Spann has long been an outspoken critic of the warning process. Following last April’s tornado outbreak, Spann wrote a long blog post about “the siren mentality.”

Study: 5 Million Face Increased Flood Risk. The story from "Rising sea levels combined with storm surges will put more than 5 million people on U.S. coastlines at risk of flooding during the next 30 years, according to new research. The combination could raise sea levels during storms to 4 feet above the high-tide line, threatening property that contains 2.6 million homes on 3 million acres of land, according to the report released Wednesday by Climate Central, a nonprofit research and journalism organization based in New Jersey. “Escalating floods from sea level rise will affect millions of people, and threaten countless billions of dollars of damage to buildings and infrastructure,” Climate Central's Ben Strauss, the lead author of the report, said in a statement."

Photo credit above: "CNN and Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office."

"Ask Paul." Weather-related Q&A:

"Nice to return from Florida to Florida, eh?

NWS saying the jet stream is to our north is not sufficient reason for these temps. We are talking 30+ above normal every day for nearly two weeks.
What's the cause? Is the whole continent warm right now?
Also, what's the precedence for a run of 10 days of 30 degree off the averages? When has that happened before?"

Adam Platt, Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine

500 mb winds: Saturday evening, Mar. 17.

Adam - it's a baffling pattern, no question. The AO (Arctic Oscillation) is still trending very positive, meaning overwhelming westerly winds aloft, with bitter air trapped over northern Canada and Alaska, a pattern we witnessed most of the winter. An unusually strong Pacific storm is amplifying a trough of low pressure in the west, which is increasing a south/southwest wind flow aloft east of the Rockies, an unusually strong high pressure bubble over the southeastern USA. Right now near-record warmth is blanketing the eastern 2/3rds of America -  highly unusual for mid March. Here are some additional thoughts from Pete Boulay, at the Minnesota Climatology Working Group:

One difficulty in those kind of statistics is that "normal" changes every 10 years so it is hard to compare. Here's a few candidates though...

and this month had 3 (30 averages) above normal.

I'm just talking average temperatures here, not just the maximum temperature.

In order for the next ten days to be 30 plus above normal, the average temperature (including the low) will have to be 62-64 degrees, we will be close to that, but some of the days the average will be in the mid 50's.

If we see more than five 70-degree temperatures, that would be unprecedented in the Twin Cities Climate Record, but it is hard to count our 70s before we have them. :)

Thanks Pete (and Adam).
Dear Paul,

"We keep hearing all the dire effects of Global warming and rising sea levels.  Some of these effects should be visible now.  Have the oceans increased any measurable amount?  Given the best predictions we have now can you give a timeline of each year and expected rise in ocean levels?"

Thank you.

Rod - great question. I tell people who are skeptical by nature that, even if you choose not to believe the thousands of peer-reviewed Phd climate scientists who predicted some of the trends we're seeing show up on the maps today, at least believe your own eyes. A trend toward drought west of the Mississippi River, more frequent weather extremes, more flash flooding, warmer (shorter) winters, all of these things were predicted 25-30 years ago. And it's happening. If you step back, look at the big (global) picture over time, you can't pretend that the patterns aren't changing, at least not with a straight face. For some professional skeptics and deniers there will never be enough "evidence". They will continue to cherry-pick and look for excuses to deny the obvious. I encourage people not to look for evidence of climate change by looking out at their back yard thermometer, but take a good, long look at your yard: new flowers, insects, birds and plants growing (earlier) that weren't there a generation ago. It's a slow-motion transformation, but it's happening. The New York Times just ran an extensive article on the risk of rising sea levels to an estimated 3.7 million Americans. Florida is most at risk. We've already seen sea levels rise 8", and an additional rise of 1-2 feet is possible by the end of this century. The big wild card: Greenland, which appears to be melting much faster than the weather models predicted it would.

Answers From the Real Climate Experts. I asked a few of America's leading climate scientists for an update on sea level rise:

"6 inches is the amount for the 20th century with an error bar, but it is 2.2 inches since 1992 (3.2 mm/yr) since Topex/Poseiden went up), so 8 inches is not bad." - Kevin Trenberth

"Wikipedia graph (below) shows just under 20cm since 1900 (i.e. 7.9 inches). Locally it can be higher (twice this in New Orleans, also in Chesapeake bay), smaller trends in Maine (glacial uplift)." - Gavin Schmidt

DARPA Wants Swarms Of "Disposable" Satellites To Provide Almost-Live Images On-Demand. has a fascinating article; here's an excerpt: "DARPA, the United States' defense technology research agency that's created such notable projects as the Internet you're using right this moment, is now looking for help in creating a swarm of "disposable" eyes in the sky. It is seeking technical assistance from a wide range of fields - from auto racing to optics - to create the means to provide on-demand satellite imagery for troops on the front lines. The agency's SeeMe program (Space Enabled Effects for Military Engagements) aims to achieve what currently available military and commercial satellites cannot - near real-time satellite images of an area that could be used to plan military missions from the field."

Delta Shelter Provides Almost Indestructible Living Space. Yes, but is it tornado-proof? Another article from the always-interesting "What do you do when you want to build a worry-free home on land that also happens to be a 100-year flood plain? If you're smart, you'll do what the owner of Delta Shelter did and have Olson Kundig Architects build you a metal fortress to withstand the elements in style. The compact 1,000 sq ft (93 sq m) steel-walled hideaway with a footprint of only 200 sq ft (18.6 sq m) looks ready to handle whatever the Washington wilderness can throw at it - even, perhaps, a 1,000-year flood."

Toilet Paper Crisis Averted In New Jersey's Capital City. Oh thank God. The "story" from Yahoo News: "(Reuters) - The great toilet paper crisis in New Jersey's capital city is over. Police, firefighters and other Trenton city workers down to their last sheets as the result of a City Council budget battle were rescued late Tuesday by animal rights advocates who offered six months of free rolls printed with a message about filthy slaughterhouses and the resulting fecal matter found in meat. New rolls of paper were expected to begin arriving in city offices and facilities on Wednesday, thanks to the donation from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and an emergency appropriation of $16,000 by the City Council." Photo credit:

Image courtesy of the Tucson Urban Gardener on Facebook. Well said.

Spring Break Optional

Sign outside a Tucson, Arizona gardening store: "It's spring. We are so excited we wet our plants." Get ready to do a lot of watering in the coming weeks/months. As we slip deeper into drought I have a (strong) hunch we'll be dealing with inadequate soil moisture, low lake water levels, brushfires, even watering restrictions by summer.

If it's 80 in mid-March, what's it going to be like in July?

One silver lining to our new, warmer Minnesota: no need to flee to Florida for Spring Break. This year Spring Break is coming to us. I see 5 more days above 70 through Tuesday of next week; models hinting at 80 Saturday afternoon. 80! That's the average high for June 19. Remarkable.

The upper atmosphere may be too warm for T-showers through the weekend; the best chance of rain Tuesday. A few long-range models are hinting at cooler weather the latter half of next week (50s). You may even need a light jacket. But for the next 5 days shorts and T-shirts will be perfectly fine.

"Is this warmth evidence of climate change?" The honest answer: we don't know. Even if you choose not to believe thousands of climate scientists, believe your own eyes. Our weather patterns are changing.

* photo credit above here.

Climate Stories...

Minnesota Electricity Could Be 100% Renewable, 100% Local. Here's a report from CleanTechnica: "A new report released yesterday by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research shows that Minnesota can meet 100% of its electricity needs with in-state wind and solar power, and (with ample energy efficiency investments) at a comparable cost to its existing electricity supply."

Graph credit above: "The following chart from the report illustrates how wind, solar, other renewables, and storage adjust to meet customer demand during a typical week in July, with both supply and demand being flexible."

Record La Nina Linked To Climate Change. Details From The Australian: "THREE of the nation's leading climate scientists have linked the past two years of record wet weather to climate change in their strongest findings yet on the impact of global warming on the nation's climate. Professors Will Steffen, Matthew England and David Karoly, in a paper to be released today by the Climate Commission, find global warming may have contributed to the strength of the La Nina event and the heavy rainfall and flooding. They also contend that the heavy rains do not contradict the trend towards drier weather for southern and eastern areas of Australia and find that despite two years of above average rains, southeast Australia continues to suffer from a cumulative rainfall deficit." Photo credit:

Baptists And Climate Change. Here's a story from The Yale Forum On Climate Change And The Media: "America’s roughly 52 million Baptists hold a wide range of views on environment, and for many of them, scripture is the key to their attitudes toward climate change.  When God created the first man and woman, he blessed them and then, Genesis teaches, delivered instructions that would resonate for millennia: “Fill the Earth and subdue it,” he said. “Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” In 2007, the Southern Baptist Convention drew on this passage in a resolution on global warming declaring that Christians should exercise dominion over the Earth, and that the U.S. government should reject mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions."

Carbon Emissions Hit New Record. An update from The Sydney Morning Herald: "GREENHOUSE gases have risen to their highest level since modern humans evolved, and Australian temperatures are now about a degree warmer than they were a century ago, a major review by the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology has found. The national climate report, to be released today, said Australia's current climate ''cannot be explained by natural variability alone'' and that emissions resulting from human activity were playing an increasingly direct role in shaping temperatures." Graphic credit above: NOAA.

A new report released yesterday by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research shows that Minnesota can meet 100% of its electricity needs with in-state wind and solar power, and (with ample energy efficiency investments) at a comparable cost to its existing electricity supply.
Florida At Highest Risk For Flooding From Sea Level Rise, Report Finds. A few details from the Miami Herald: "The analysis was based on a projected potential rise of four feet, with increased damage from hurricane storm surge and flooding from seasonal high tides compounding the threats. Overall, Florida also ranks as the most vulnerable to sea level rise, with some 2.4 million people, 1.3 million homes and 107 cities at risk from a four foot rise, according to the report. Louisiana, by comparison, has 65 cities below the four-foot mark. New Jersey and North Carolina have 22 each, Maryland 14 and New York 13." Photo credit above: NASA.