I'm getting e-mails from incredulous readers, staring out at RV-size piles of snow, wondering how on Earth we can still be in a drought? 44.8 inches in the metro so far this winter? 1 inch ABOVE average, to date? We may see our normal allotment of 54 inches of snow this winter season. A minor meteorological miracle.
State Climatologist Greg Spoden explains why that thick snow cover is more mirage than medicine. "Minnesota's 2012 crop drank from subsoil reserves established during an incredibly wet May. Those reserves are now gone. The soil moisture profile is critically depleted. The white veneer of snow on the landscape lies upon a frozen topsoil that will allow little infiltration. To recover from our present drought situation, abundant spring rains are required after the soils thaw" he wrote via e-mail.
We are seeing an uptick in wet storms. But will the rains still come, after we lose the 20-40 inches of frost in the ground? Time will tell.
We may hit 40F by Saturday with a cold rain, ending as a little Sunday slush. Models are hinting at 40s the end of next week; even a shot at 50F in 2 weeks.
Note to self: play in the snow ASAP. I'm happy to write you a note.
New England Nor'easter. The latest (00z) NAM model shows the storm that walloped parts of Virginia with 1-2 feet (but sparing the immediate Washington D.C. area) temporarily stalling, with moisture rotating all the way around the storm, approaching from the north tonight and Friday, enhancing the potential for plowable snows from New York to Providence and Boston, maybe a cool foot of snow just inland. A southwestern storm spreads rain into Minnesota Saturday, possibly ending as a little slushy snow Sunday, but any amounts should be light.
From Alerts Broadcaster:
* This is one of the most difficult forecasts in recent years: significant wet snow is still likely from New York suburbs into interior New England, but major city centers from New York to Boston wavering on rain-snow line, making final snowfall prediction even more problematic than typical.
* Rain mixes with snow Thursday; some melting on contact with warmer surfaces in New York City and Boston - but a slushy accumulation is still expected, with the greatest potential for accumulation Thursday night over the colder suburbs. Precipitation ends as light rain Friday; by then plowable amounts of wet snow are expected.
* 1-2" liquid water from this slow-moving coastal storm: high water content reduces risk of blowing/drifting, but increases potential for power outages, especially NYC suburbs to Providence and western suburbs of Boston.
Summary: one of my biggest pet peeves is having a meteorologist give me 4 different scenarios of what may happen. That's not a forecast, but a wish-cast, an excuse to cover your butt for any eventuality. I'm still predicting a heavy, wet slop-storm of rain and snow from New York City to Boston, with just enough slush to shovel and plow - probably plowable for most neighborhoods - but the heaviest amounts over the suburbs, with a moderate risk of coastal flooding at high tide and sporadic power outages a very real possiblity, especially well inland, away from the coast.
This will NOT be as disruptive as the February 9 blizzard, but there will be substantial impacts on facilities, travel plans and the power grid. Odds still favor a messy mix for major city centers, which will keep final snow totals down. Suburban snow totals will be more significant with this sloppy, fickle Nor'easter. The forecast is rarely black or white, but usually some nebulous shade of gray. This is one of those moments; a very difficult forecast, but the potential for disruption to operations is still significant. Another update Thursday morning.
Photo credit above: "A man pushes a snowblower around a giant pile of snow left by road crews in the Country Club Plaza shopping district of Kansas City, Mo., Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013. For the second time in a week, a major winter storm paralyzed parts of the nation's midsection Tuesday, dumping a fresh layer of heavy, wet snow atop cities still choked with piles from the previous system and making travel perilous from the Oklahoma panhandle to the Great Lakes. The weight of the snow strained power lines and cut electricity to more than 100,000 homes and businesses. At least three deaths were blamed on the blizzard." (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Image Credit: Photos.com
Has the definition of drought changed? I grew up during the Great Depression and drought mean farmers getting NO CROPS at all. How can this now be called a drought when the farmers continue to reap the biggest crops in the history of this country? As I peer out the windows of the senior's bus I see small ponds along the roadside as we travel to Willmar. When one can see ponds, how can this be called drought? When I grew up they could plant tomatoes in lake bottoms (eg. West Norway Lake in Kandiyohi county); there are pictures to prove that statement. Now that was drought - when the lakes dried up! What has happened to the above definition? Could you address this in your column? Thanks.
(Name Withheld By Request)
Great question, and I realize there's a disconnect when you look out at all that (new) snow in your yard, scratching your head, wondering how most of the state can be in severe/extreme drought? Frost levels are still 20-40 inches deep, which means melting snow will run off and not be able to soak into topsoil, where it's needed. I teed up your question with Greg Spoden, State Climatologist for Minnesota. Here is his response:
The reader raises a fair point. Modern drought monitoring attempts to describe the continuum between the extraordinary conditions he observed during the 1930s drought and no drought at all. The most widely used tool for doing so is the U.S. Drought Monitor, a multi-agency effort to detect and identify the nation's drought areas and assign those areas an intensity level. This effort requires a blend of science and subjectivity. Drought intensity categories are determined by the relative rarity of the climate anomaly (precipitation/temperature departures from average, length of the dry spell, etc), and the observed drought impacts. Some of those impacts are offered here.
Greg Spoden, State Climatologist
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources - Division of Ecological and Water Resources
University of Minnesota - St. Paul Campus.
Thanks Greg - appreciate the additional information and perspective on the drought.
Washington D.C. Is The Worst During A Snowstorm. Very true, and I had a (rare) LOL moment reading this post of "Noquester" from buzzfeed.com. Definitely worth a look. If you've ever been to Washington D.C. or have family there, this will resonate.
Photo credit above: "An iceberg in or just outside the Ilulissat fjord, which likely calved from Jakobshavn Isbrae, the fastest glacier in western Greenland, in May 2012. Polar ice sheets are now melting three times faster than in the 1990s." Ian Joughin/AP
Photo credit above: "A study published on Jan. 6 in Nature Climate Change estimates more melting of the Freenland and Antarctica's ice sheets than previously thought, which would raise sea levels and have "profound consequences for humankind." Photographer: Alexandre Trouvilliez/CNRS/ice2sea
Graphic credit above: "The first column is existing, planned and announced oil sands projects; the orange bars are oil sands production in the IEA future scenarios. Production is assumed to be 80% of capacity, following the IEA methods.