Thursday, August 16, 2012

August 17: Southern Downpours, Northwest USA Sizzles

141,412 cloud to ground lightning strikes yesterday as of 9:48 pm. Details from Vaisala below.
Latest Drought Monitor. The drought is holding pretty much steady across the state (not increasing in coverage or intensity). Although soil moisture is in good shape from the Twin Cities to St. Cloud, Brainerd and Duluth, far southern, southwestern and northwestern Minnesota is in moderate to severe drought. In fact a little more than a third of the state is in a moderate drought, or worse. The latest Drought Monitor is here.

August 15 marks the start of what is, historically, the most active 30-day period for hurricane activity in the Atlantic and Caribbean.

$ 15.97 trillion dollars: America's debt.

$ 15.3 trillion dollars: 2012 GDP (Gross Domestic Product). Source: Bloomberg. Photo: AP, Business Insider.

Weather Gone Wild. Here's an excerpt of an excellent cover story in this month's National Geographic Magazine: "...There’s been a change in the weather. Extreme events like the Nashville flood—described by officials as a once-in-a-millennium occurrence—are happening more frequently than they used to. A month before Nashville, torrential downpours dumped 11 inches of rain on Rio de Janeiro in 24 hours, triggering mud slides that buried hundreds. About three months after Nashville, record rains in Pakistan caused flooding that affected more than 20 million people. In late 2011 floods in Thailand submerged hundreds of factories near Bangkok, creating a worldwide shortage of computer hard drives. And it’s not just heavy rains that are making headlines. During the past decade we’ve also seen severe droughts in places like Texas, Australia, and Russia, as well as in East Africa, where tens of thousands have taken refuge in camps. Deadly heat waves have hit Europe, and record numbers of tornadoes have ripped across the United States. Losses from such events helped push the cost of weather disasters in 2011 to an estimated $150 billion worldwide, a roughly 25 percent jump from the previous year. In the U.S. last year a record 14 events caused a billion dollars or more of damage each, far exceeding the previous record of nine such disasters in 2008."

Photo credit above: "Supercell thunderstorm near Glasgow, Montana." Photograph by Sean R. Heavey, Barcroft Media/Landov.

Friday Severe Risk. The latest push (more like a shove) of cool, Canadian air sparks more severe storms today from Huntsville to Chattanooga to Lynchburg. Map above: SPC.

Today's Weather Map. The WRF model, valid at 4 pm today, shows a band of strong to severe storms stretching from West Virginia to the parishes of northern Louisiana. A bubble of cool, Canadian high pressure treats the Midwest, Great Lakes and Ohio Valley to comfortable sunshine, while the west continues to sizzle under a blazing sun.

Expansive Puddles. NOAA HPC is predicting some 2-4" rainfall amounts across much of the Deep South, the heaviest rains over the next 5 days forecast from Louisiana to Biloxi into central Florida. A dry sky lingers from the Midwest into the Pacific Northwest.

Lightning Explorer. Over 141,000 lightning strikes yesterday as of 9:48 pm (when I was posting this?) Good grief. Looking for lightning data, preferably for free? You may not be able to do better than Lightning Explorer, from Vaisala. One word of caution: data is delayed by 20 minutes. This is NOT real-time lightning information (which comes with a charge from any weather company, including my own, Ham Weather). But using Explorer you can see if lightning is nearby, and see the direction of motion of T-storm cells (the most recent strikes show up as white on the map). A useful tool.

Preparing Your Home For A Hurricane. Here's a very timely story from The Washington Post; an excerpt: "...First, Kahn recommends buying C and D batteries. They were the first things to fly off the shelves during the derecho, he said. Then, stock up on flashlights, A-cell batteries, toiletries, fans and emergency cooking supplies such as grills or hot plates that work on propane. “As soon as something like this is projected to hit, the battery-operated stuff gets wiped out immediately the same way bread disappears when a blizzard is coming,” he said. “So it’s in your best interests to skip that step and keep a small reserve handy.” When it comes to prepping your home for a hurricane, the two biggest threats are roof damage and flooding. Claude McGavy, the executive director of the National Association of Home Inspectors, said both are severely underestimated."

Photo credit above: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP - "The Martin Luther King Memorial is seen the morning after Hurricane Irene moved through the East Coast in 2011."

Study: Freshwater Helps Hurricanes Strengthen Faster. I had no idea - more breaking research on the hurricane front; here's an excerpt from The Petri Dish: "...Hurricanes feed off of fresh water, according to a report from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Researchers at the PNNL, Texas A&M University and the Ocean University of China examined ten years worth of data from tropical cyclones and found that when hurricanes move over ocean regions ripe with fresh water, they can quickly intensify. While researchers believe that the probability of hurricanes moving over fresh water is only 10 to 23 percent, the impact of the occurrence is quite dramatic. In fact, researchers think that a hurricane under such conditions can become 50 percent more intense. The findings are reported in a study that will be published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition."

Aircraft Radar Shows Pilots Airspace In 3-D. A local firm, Honeywell, is getting some well-deserved attention over a new way to visualize weather, up in the air. I hope my next Delta flight has this innovation (especially when I'm bumping my way across the Rockies). USA Today has the story; here's an excerpt: "...For the first time, the new radar, now being installed in business, military and commercial aircraft, allows pilots to "see" turbulence and other bad weather such as lightning and hail from nearly 70 miles away. The radar, manufactured by Honeywell, "looks at the airspace in front of the aircraft in three dimensions, which is an improvement over existing radars," says Honeywell senior chief engineer Ratan Khatwa. Current radars used by pilots now take only a two-dimensional slice of the atmosphere, the width and length, for instance, of storms crossing an area. "It provides information to the flight crew where the real weather hazards such as lightning and hail are which is not available today," he says."

Photo credit above: By H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY. "Honeywell's on-board aircraft radar gives pilots a better picture of storms and inclement weather in their path."

Enlightening. Thanks to Mulvaney Shane, who snapped this electrifying photo near Charlestown, Indiana on Thursday.

Flash Flood. Persistent thunderstorms sparked significant flooding across the New Orleans area; this photo courtesy of the local National Weather Service.

Hail And High Water. Thanks to Richard Pacheco, who drove through a severe hailstorm in New Mexico Thursday. On Twitter he wrote: "So much hail thought it was snow!!"

Seattle Heat. One of our (amazing) developers, Nicholas Shipes, sent in this photo from Seattle yesterday, where temperatures were approaching 90 F. Keep in mind few people in the Northwest have A/C. The vast majority of the year they don't need it. Pic courtesy of Twitter.

One Unusual Cloud. Ensign Brett Kruhoeffer, based in Pensacola (where he's training to fly helicopters for the Navy) shared this strange-looking cloud on Tuesday. What the heck is that thing? Wait a minute....

Tranquility Base. Thanks to Leslie Berg, who captured the serenity of a Mission Beach, California sunset.

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


Our trip out west to Yellowstone and Grand Tetons was super. I experienced "dry lightning" and saw an actual wall cloud on the way out there. The wall cloud held together only about 10-15 minutes, but had a decent thunderstorm with it. You know that smell you have when rain is darn near your doorstep or during the first few minutes of a shower, usually most noticeable during sprinkles?
Well, when we actually did encounter rain out west, there wasn't an odor with the rain.The one band of T-storms we saw on the way out had what I call a rain-cooled fresh smell. Was in the low 90s with a breeze from the south but the storm we had saw winds change from the north, and when the rain came though, temperatures fell 25 degrees. The rain events that didn't smell were east of Rapid City, and once in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Any reason why the rain out there didn't smell?

Aaron Coates
Hennepin County Sheriff's 911
Golden Valley

Aaron - there is considerable debate about the source of this smell (usually found before a rainfall). The best answer I could find was from (great name for a web site, huh?). Paul writes: "the smell after rain is actually the smell of bacteria - actinomycetes. They grow worldwide in damp soil. When the soil dries out, they die. But before they die, the make spores. These spores are really tough and can survive dry conditions for years. When raindrops hit the ground they make a mist of water and dirt, which you both breathe in and smell."

Why didn't you smell this in South Dakota or Wyoming? It may be a function of topsoil. Here in the Midwest we have rich, deep loamy topsoil, the envy of the world in many respects. But the farther west you go the thinner the topsoil becomes (and the fewer spores available to mix with rain). That's the only thing I can think of offhand. Thanks for a great question!

Reinvent The Toilet Fair In Seattle. No, you can't make this stuff up - but it's for a good cause, improving sanitation for billions of people. has the story; here's an excerpt: "In an effort to improve conditions for the more than 2.5 billion people worldwide with no access to safe sanitation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation last year awarded grants totaling US$3 million to eight universities to reinvent the toilet. At the two-day “Reinventing the Toilet” fair held in Seattle this week, where Bill Gates was on hand with 50 gallons (189 l) of fake feces made from soybeans and rice to put the various designs through their paces, a California Institute of Technology (Caltech) team claimed first place for their solar-powered toilet."

The Science Of Cute. I found this article interesting - how do our brains calculate "cute"? Here's an excerpt: "Let’s pretend that a mewling, pooping annoying small thing is deposited in your lap. It needs constant input from you. Before long, it’s taken over your life. You find yourself lavishing attention on this new creature. Going out is a distant memory. But the thing is, the new baby is cute. Really cute. You can’t help but feel protective. You want to look after it. But why? Why do small helpless things – babies, kittens, puppies, pandas in baby form – turn even the most cynical human into a helpless wreck? Why don’t we have the same reaction to a baby lizard or fish or bird? What, in short, is this cuteness thing all about?"

* sunset photo above courtesy of Danny Kurily.

All or Nothing

"Only in Minnesota can you be ankle-deep in mud with dust blowing in your face." Our manic weather has always But now it seems we're either stuck in severe drought, or cowering thru a 1-in-500 year flood. Duluth comes to mind. Either a 95-degree barbecue - and we're the main course - or we're reaching for light jackets. This morning comes to mind.
According to NOAA NCDC - 46 percent of America has experienced extreme weather this year; a new record high. At this rate I may never leave my basement.

Talk about a time warp. It feels like early October, but jackets give way to a lukewarm afternoon; less wind and fewer scrappy cumulus clouds than yesterday. A dry spell of weather prevails into next week but models hint at a few instability showers around the dinner hour Saturday and Sunday. Most of the weekend will be dry and comfortable. Highs reach low 70s; dew points dip into the 40s. A deep cleansing breath.

Don't even think of retiring shorts and t-shirts. Heat builds north again next week. Although not nearly as hot as July, I could see a few 85-90 degree highs the latter half of next week.
A sweaty 90-degree state fair? 

Imagine that.

Climate Stories...

Climate Science As Culture War. Here's an excerpt of a fascinating and (in my opinion) deeply troubling story from Stanford Social Innovation Review: "...Today, there is no doubt that a scientific consensus exists on the issue of climate change. Scientists have documented that anthropogenic sources of greenhouse gases are leading to a buildup in the atmosphere, which leads to a general warming of the global climate and an alteration in the statistical distribution of localized weather patterns over long periods of time. This assessment is endorsed by a large body of scientific agencies—including every one of the national scientific agencies of the G8 + 5 countries—and by the vast majority of climatologists. The majority of research articles published in refereed scientific journals also support this scientific assessment. Both the US National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science use the word “consensus” when describing the state of climate science. And yet a social consensus on climate change does not exist. Surveys show that the American public’s belief in the science of climate change has mostly declined over the past five years, with large percentages of the population remaining skeptical of the science."

Photo credit above: "South Florida Earth First members protest outside the Platts Coal Properties and Investment Conference in West Palm Beach." (Photo by Bruce R. Bennett/Zum Press/Newscom

Survey Finds 2 Percent Of Canadians Don't Believe Climate Change Is Happening. Details from The Canadian Press and Yahoo: "REGINA - Only two per cent of Canadians who responded to a new opinion poll believe climate change is not occurring. The findings are in a survey conducted by Insightrix Research, Inc. for IPAC-CO2 Research Inc., a Regina-based centre that studies carbon capture and storage. The online poll of 1,550 people was done between May 29 and June 11. The results were to be released on Wednesday. "Our survey indicates that Canadians from coast to coast overwhelmingly believe climate change is real and is occurring, at least in part due to human activity," said centre CEO Carmen Dybwad."

Opinion: Severe Storms Prompted By Climate Change Require New Development Policies. Here's an excerpt of an Op-Ed an in New Jersey that caught my eye: "...Increased flooding also changes the aquatic ecological systems by changing spawning cycles, increasing the amount of sedimentation in streams and rivers (thereby reducing available oxygen and blanketing stream beds with sediment), and increasing the harmful impacts of runoff of fertilizers, pesticides and other pollutants, all resulting in loss of aquatic life. Storms of greater intensity do more damage to trees and other vegetation. They also over-saturate the soil, leading to weakened roots. Too much water can kill vegetation as much as can too little water. Soil saturation leads to basement flooding and unstable soil conditions, which may result in more sinkholes and problems with building foundations. There could also be impacts to septic systems that rely on the soil to remove and dispose of pollutants. Homes, buildings and roadways built near the coast, in flood plains or on poorly drained soils will most likely see an increase in problems due to these storms. However, all of us are likely to face additional complications from this trend..."

Photo credit above: "Two Trenton firefighters look at the damage a tree caused during a thunderstorm. The tree (on Cadwalader Drive) fell on some wires, causing the pole to fall down."

Talk Climate Change Solutions, Win Votes: Yale Study. Here's an excerpt of an intriguing story from "Conventional beltway wisdom holds that if you're running for office, you don't touch climate with a ten foot pole. It's considered "politically toxic," albeit by a cohort that tolerates birtherism and Donald Trump participating in the political process. So unless you're gunning to represent one of those wacky radical leftist states like Vermont or California or Massachusetts, any meaningful engagement on climate issues is off the table. The politicos say so. Obama took the hint; he almost never mentions global warming in public. Romney's mum, too. But new Yale research (pdf) says that conventional wisdom is probably wrong. A new study from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication finds that there are indeed a group of climate issues voters who will be more likely to support a candidate who's pro-climate."

Photo credit above: Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

Study: TV Media Ignore Climate Change In Coverage Of Record July Heat Wave. Here's an excerpt from Media Matters: "Scientists say that human-induced climate change made this year's record heat more likely, and project that extreme heat will become more common in the United States. But a Media Matters analysis of media coverage of record-breaking heat in July finds that major television outlets rarely made the connection between heat waves and a changing climate. Only 14% Of Heat Wave Stories Mentioned Climate Change. In a study of major media outlets, only 8.7% of television segments and 25.5% of print articles reported on record-breaking July heat waves in the context of climate change."

Urban Heat Island Effect And Climate Change May Cause Scorching Summer Temperatures. It's a potential double-whammy: excess heat radiating up from concrete and asphalt, coupled with warming background temperatures. Here's an excerpt of a story from Climate Central and Huffington Post: "For scientists who worry about climate change, cities are just plain annoying. The acres of asphalt that cover roads and parking lots and roofs absorb enormous amounts of heat. In the summer, whirring air conditioners channel even more heat out of buildings and into the air. Climate scientists have to subtract this so-called urban heat island effect from their calculations if they want to get a true picture of how greenhouse gas emissions are warming the planet. For people who actually live in cities, however the urban heat island effect is more than just a mathematical annoyance. If you’re sweltering on a hot summer day, your body doesn’t much care where the heat is coming from. And according to a paper just published in Nature Climate Change, urbanization alone could drive local temperatures up by a whopping 7°F by 2050 in some parts of the U.S. — some two or three times higher than the effects of global warming (which would also be going on at the same time)."

Leading By Example: The Dutch Prepare For Climate Change. Here's an excerpt of an interesting article at "...The Netherlands is a country particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels, as two-thirds of its population lives below sea level. Throughout its history, the Dutch have understood the inevitability of change and how society must work with nature for effective strategies. In 2007, the Dutch began preparing for the changing climate in the upcoming two hundred years. They recognize that their nation will continue to combat rising seas, and must act expeditiously in order to prevent further encroachment. In State of the World 2012, Erik Assadourian outlines the 200-year plan put forth by the Dutch, describing their strategy to spend $1 billion a year on climate change adaptation. Through such policies, it is clear that the Netherlands is focused on the long-term public interest and not short-term private interests. The Dutch plan combines innovative techniques like building surge barriers and extending the coastline, with more traditional methods, such as fortifying levees."

Photo credit above: "Old Dutch canal." (Photo via Flickr, by Joepydo)

Methane From Fracking Triggers Climate Change. From what I understand about hydro-fracking, an important (and in my humble opinion - vital) energy source for America going forward, with far less greenhouse gas emissions than coal or oil, it would cost an additional 7% for operators to clean up fracking operations, so they won't pollute groundwater supplies or leak methane from drilling sites. There is a lot of concern about the environmental impacts of "fracking". Here's an excerpt of an Op-Ed at "Far from being a climate solution, fracking may be a disaster for our climate. Research indicates the methane leakage may mean that fracking is worse for the climate than coal and oil, particularly in the short term. Gas from fracking is mostly methane, a dangerous greenhouse gas that is up to 105 times more powerful at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide over 20 years. A recent United Nations Environment Program report shows that it is more urgent to reduce methane than CO2, given that methane is so much more powerful, has quicker climate impacts and will trigger runaway climate change sooner. According to the Nobel-prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we must immediately reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to avoid dangerous tipping points for the climate. Failing to do so will cause catastrophic impacts, far worse than the extreme heat and droughts this summer."

Photo credit above: . "A sign on a building Friday reads 107 degrees in Clovis, Calif. A recent United Nations Environment Program report shows the need to reduce methane, which is released by fracking, since the gas traps heat in the atmosphere."