Thursday, April 25, 2013

Instant Spring Upper Midwest (remembering historic tornado outbreak of April 25-28, 2011)

Ring the Church Bells!

Like a long-lost loved one suddenly showing up at your doorstep, spring will pay us a visit today. For the first time since November 22 the mercury should push past 60F. Neighbors will emerge from hibernation. Birds will chirp. The boss may actually smile.

Our tormented spring - cold, wet & snowy - has proven difficult for the construction industry & outdoor sports. Many programs are starting 30 days late, in search of suitable playing fields.

As predicted, Minnesota's drought is fading fast. 3 months ago 83 percent of the state was in severe drought or worse. The latest U.S. Drought Monitor shows that number has dropped to 16 percent. Yes, the snow was a hassle, but over 7" of precipitation since March 1 has replenished topsoil moisture, coming at a good time for spring planting.

What's next? One of the latest ice-outs in recent history (70s this weekend - as you gaze out an icy Lake Calhoun, White Bear and Minnetonka).


T-storms are possible late Sunday and Tuesday; steadier rain Wednesday as cooler air arrives.

I don't see any more accumulating snow - but a stalled "cut-off" low will keep us damp, chilly & rainy late next week. Savor this overdue warm front!

* photo above: Jenna Dorsey.

What A Week. I took the photo in the upper left Tuesday morning, after waking up to a fresh 5" snow. From shin-deep snow to 70, in 4 days? Even for Minnesota, where weather patterns are often manic, that's impressive. Minnesotans earn their springs - especially this year. File photo upper right from Marlo Lundy.

A Real Warm Front. Near 70F each of the next 3 days? I can live with that. Tuesday may even be warmer with stronger southwest winds ahead of a frontal passage capable of mid-70s; then significanntly cooler by the end of next week. Pack away the coats, but leave a few heavy jackets behind, just in case. The ECMWF model prints out over 1" of rain between Sunday evening and Wednesday of next week.

What A Concept: "Spring". The models are all in pretty tight alignment, showing upper 60s today, near 70 tomorrow and low to mid 70s possible Sunday afternoon before a few T-storms pop up. Savor the warmth, a reality check is brewing for the end of next week; probably not quite chilly enough for snow.

Dodging A Muddy Bullet? Major flooding is still expected along the Red River Valley next week, but a lack of significant rain may prevent a worst-case scenario for Fargo and Moorhead. NOAA's QPF rainfall summary suggests little rain for the Dakotas and Red River Valley, but the ECMWF model is wetter. Parts of the southeast will pick up some 2-4" rains over the next 5 days; the west is still very dry - drought conditions shifting south/west toward New Mexico, Arizona and California.

Drought Is Easing. The percentage of Minnesota in severe drought (or worse) has dropped from 83% to 16% in the last 90 days, according to NOAA and USDA. Much of the Twin Cities metro is now out of the drought, but still running drier than average. The trends are encouraging. For the latest U.S. Drought Monitor click here.

Chicago Logs Wettest April On Record, Midwest Rivers Swell. Washington Post meteorologist Jason Samenow has an update on historic flooding gripping much of the Midwest; here's an excerpt: "Heavy rains have drenched the Windy City this month, leading to its soggiest April on record. Through yesterday, 8.54 inches had fallen at O’Hare International passing the 8.33 inches recorded in 1933. Chicago has received frequent deluges in the last  two weeks, but a good chunk of the month’s rain occurred on April 18, when 3.54 inches flooded the city – the most measured so early in the calendar year in a single day. The heavy rains both in Chicago and surrounding regions of the Midwest have led to rising rivers and widespread flooding..." (14 day rainfall chart courtesy of NOAA and the Washington Post).

Flood-Weary Fargo, ND Lobbies For Construction of 36-Mile Canal To Divert Water Around City. Here's an excerpt from The Washington Post: "...With the region finally thawing out from another unusually snowy winter and the river again rising, local leaders are using this year’s communitywide campaign to build support for a 36-mile canal that would steer the floodwater around Fargo and neighboring Moorhead, Minn., and fix the area’s nagging problem once and for all. But the plan, which has been kicked around for a few years, has drawn strong opposition from upstream farmers, homeowners and businesses, who don’t want the diversion channel carving through their communities. They say it’s nearly $2 billion price tag is a waste of money, and North Dakota legislators have balked at committing any of the state’s money until the federal government gives the OK and puts in money of its own..."

Photo credit above: The Forum, David Samson, Associated Press. "In this April 17, 2013 photo, sandbags made a sandbag central are slacked for deployment in Fargo, N.D., where the Red River has caused major flooding in 3 of the the past 4 years. With the region thawing out and the river rising again, local leaders are using this year's race to stave off flooding..."

Drought To Floods For Some; Dryness Holds On To West. More weather-whiplash. Here's a snippet of a post at Climate Central: ...“Improbably, flooding has now replaced drought as the Midwest’s greatest imminent concern,” said Brad Rippey, U.S. Department of Agriculture meteorologist, in a press release. “In fact, from April 20 to 23, the Mississippi River rose to one of its five highest levels on record from just south of Moline, Ill., to just north of St. Louis, Mo.” Numerous snowfall records were broken during the month of April, including in Boulder, Colo. and Duluth, Minn., which had their snowiest months of any month on record, while many other locations had their snowiest April on record. Meltwater from the snowpack should help ease drought conditions, although it remains to be seen how much relief actually takes place, since a sudden onset of mild spring weather could lead to a rapid melt, which would not allow the water to penetrate deep into the soil..."

Photo credit: "Commander Col. Christopher Hall (left) of the Army Corps of Engineers visits levee districts along the Illinois River as the St. Louis District flood fight teams support local efforts to brace for rising river levels on April 21, 2013." Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

America's Largest Tornado Outbreak: April 25-28, 2011. WeatherNation TV meteorologist Todd Nelson has an excellent overview of the mega-outbreak of late April, 2011, when 358 tornadoes touched down over a 4 day period: "2 years ago today, we started a near 4 day severe weather outbreak that spawned nearly 360 tornadoes from Texas to Canada. April 27th, was the most active and deadliest day with nearly 200 tornadoes; 4 of those being EF5′s, which typically occur maybe once per year! Approximately 350 people were killed in the outbreak over 6 states; 238 of those in Alabama alone. According to NOAA, this was the 4th deadliest outbreak in U.S. history, which also caused 11 BILLION dollars in damage. Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone who was affected by the events that unfolded 2 years ago."

Power Grids Iffy, Populous Areas Go For Generators. After last year's record derecho that battered the Washington D.C. area my relatives all fixated on what they wanted for Christmas: top of the list? Emergency, gas-powered electrical generators. At a time of increasingly severe storms and a sometimes unstable power grid it sounds like a pretty good idea to me, too. Here's an excerpt of a New York Times story: "...Generator makers do not release sales figures, but a report by the Consumer Product Safety Commission in 2006 estimated that more than one million generators a year are sold, with portable units making up roughly 90 percent of the sales. Leading manufacturers like Generac and Honda, however, said sales had been unusually strong in the last several years and that the percentage of standby units had risen steadily as Tropical Storm Irene, Hurricane Sandy and other major storms had led to widespread failures along the Eastern Seaboard. “The market has certainly increased, not just because of Sandy, but a plethora of weather events,” said Tom Pernice, marketing manager in the generator division at the American Honda Motor Company. “When you get a Sandy, a Rita, a Katrina, there are issues...”

Boston Magazine's Heart-Shaped Shoes: The Story Behind The Beautiful Cover. Here's an excerpt of an emotional story at The Atlantic Wire: "For their May cover, following the Boston Marathon bombing, Boston Magazine has created an indelible image made from shoes worn by the marathon's runners. The cover, while evoking the horror of the bombing, is primarily a forward looking message. Text inside the heart created by the shoes reads: "We Will Finish the Race." Boston Magazine editor John Wolfson explained that the cover "helps us get out of the moment a little bit." "To me, the cover says perseverance, and the cover says unity," Wolfson said in an interview Thursday morning...

Daily Rituals: How Novelists, Painters, Philosophers And Film-Makers Find Time Each Day To Do Their Work. Here's an excerpt of a fascinating series from Mason Currey at Slate: "...One’s daily routine is a highly idiosyncratic collection of compromises, neuroses, and superstitions, built up through trial and error and subject to a variety of external conditions. That said, there are certain behaviors that cropped up over and over again in my research. A large number of novelists and poets, for instance, wake up early in the morning and try to get some words on the page before other obligations kick in. Composers, I've found, almost invariably take a long daily walk. And if you suspect that caffeine is the real engine of a good deal of creative activity, well, you may be on to something..."

Virgin's Creepy New In-Flight Flirting Service. This gives new meaning to "coffee, tea, or me?" Ugh. Just give me WIFI and let me sleep, please. Here's an excerpt from The Week: "Virgin America kicked off its new Los Angeles to Las Vegas route this week. That in itself isn't too newsworthy — plenty of airlines make the short hop from the City of Angels to Sin City. But the new in-flight option Virgin rolled out along with the new route has people talking — maybe even hooking up. The "seat-to-seat delivery" service lets Virgin passengers use their seat's in-flight entertainment console to order a cocktail, a snack, or even a meal for a flier in any seat in the cabin. Yes, says Mary Forgione at The Los Angeles Times, "it's a flirty seat-to-seat way to hit on someone in midair..."

Climate Stories...

Historical Climate Study Reveals Humans' Role In Current Warming. LiveScience has the story; here's an excerpt: "...The team of 78 authors identified a long-term cooling trend that ended late in the 19th century, followed by warming in the 20th century despite the persistence of natural factors from the previous period. "The natural forces driving the cooling are still present today, but since the 19th century, an additional, stronger, warming driver has been added: human activity," study researcher Paul Filmer, a program director in the National Science Foundation's Geosciences Directorate, said in a statement. "We cannot match the temperature records since then without factoring in this new driver..."

Image credit above: "This photo from NASA's Suomi NPP satellite shows the Eastern Hemisphere of Earth in "Blue Marble" view. The photo, released Feb. 2, 2012, is a companion to a NASA image showing the Western Hemisphere in the same stunning details. This photo was taken on Jan. 23." Credit: NASA/NOAA.

What If We Never Run Out Of Oil? As technology improves we can tap new forms of carbon, in previously inaccessible regions of the planet, under the Arctic, deep-sea, etc. But even though gas burns cleaner than coal and oil - is this race for new gas (and methane hydrate) deposits slowing the march toward a lower carbon energy future? Probably. Here's an excerpt from The Atlantic: "...“Methane hydrate could be a new energy revolution,” Christopher Knittel, a professor of energy economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told me. “It could help the world while we reduce greenhouse gases. Or it could undermine the economic rationale for investing in renewable, carbon-free energy around the world”—just as abundant shale gas from fracking has already begun to undermine it in the United States. “The one path is a boon. The other—I’ve used words like catastrophe.” He paused; I thought I detected a sigh. “I wouldn’t bet on us making the right decisions.

Image credit: Ralph Wilson, AP.

Conservatives Come Out For Renewable Energy Projects. They may be swimming upstream (today), but there are a handful of Republicans who are trying to do the right thing, and use tax code to encourage renewable energy sources to compliment our fossil fuel sources. Here's a clip from The National Journal: "Defying conventional wisdom in the era of Solyndra, conservatives in Washington are coming out to back renewable energy. Specifically, some conservative groups, including Americans for Prosperity, as well as conservative Republicans such as Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas support the idea of expanding a business structure known as a “master-limited partnership,” or MLP, which is currently available only to oil, natural-gas, and coal-mining projects, to also be available to renewable-energy projects. Sens. Christopher Coons, D-Del., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, are introducing legislation Wednesday that would do just this. A bipartisan group of House members is expected to follow suit this week with a similar proposal. In simplified terms, MLPs are businesses set up as partnerships that are taxed only once—via the shareholders—not at both the shareholder and corporate levels, as publicly traded corporations are..."

Photo credit above: "Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan." (Chet Susslin).

Climate Change Making Allergy Season Even Worse, Experts Say. Great news! Most years spring arrives sooner, autumn lingers longer - leaving more time for sniffling and sneezing, according to this except of a Medill School article: "Allergy sufferers know it's spring when they start sneezing, getting itchy eyes and other symptoms. Now experts say that climate change is only making things worse. The changing climate has brought early spring, late-ending fall and large amounts of rain and snow, which are some of the contributing factors that prolong pollen seasons, according to allergists. “The planet is getting warmer,” said Melrose Park allergist and immunologist Dr. Rachna Shah. “Allergy season has been longer than usual, as plants are stronger and are able to produce more pollen. It’s a trend that we can’t deny.” Over the last couple of years pollen season has started two to four weeks earlier and extend four weeks longer into the fall, said Dr. Clifford Bassett, medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York..."

Photo credit above: Kleopatra / / CC BY-SA. "Allergy season is longer and plants are producing more pollen due to climate change."

Oceans Are Feeling The Heat. Here's an excerpt of a post from Skeptical Science and LiveScience: "Most discussions of global warming focus on the temperature of the air at the Earth’s surface, where over the past decade warming has slowed. This has resulted in misleading declarations that global warming has "paused." However, failing to consider the heating of the oceans misses the bulk of global warming.  Global warming hasn't paused, it's accelerating, especially in the oceans, according to a new study published online in the journal Geophysical Research Letters (GRL). In fact,  only about 2 percent of global warming from the increased greenhouse effect is used in heating the air, while about 90 percent heats the world’s oceans, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change..." (Image: Key West National Weather Service).

California's Dream To Be The Saudi Arabia Of Solar Dries Up In The Desert. Quartz has an interesting story - here's an excerpt: "...So why are big solar thermal projects in the desert fizzling, while installations of rooftop photovoltaic panels in cities and suburbs continue to set records? It’s all about money, technology and location, location, location. Unlike photovoltaic panels, which directly convert sunlight into electricity when photons strike silicon cells, solar thermal power plants deploy mirrors called heliostats, which focus the sun on a liquid-filled boiler to generate steam. The steam in turn drives an electricity-generating turbine, like those found in conventional power plants. Solar thermal plants are more efficient than solar panels at generating electricity and are less prone to having a passing cloud interrupt power production. The heat they generate can also be stored in molten salt and released at night to keep the turbine going..." (file image: Wikipedia)

Arctic Air Chemistry Could Be Altered By Sea Ice Loss, New Study Finds. Here's a clip from a story at Our Amazing Planet and Huffington Post: "...Now, a team of scientists have found evidence that the Arctic warming and melting sea ice could be changing the chemistry of the Arctic atmosphere through reactions that happen on the snow that sits atop the sea ice and in the air above it. These reactions purge pollutants from the atmosphere and destroy toxic surface-level ozone (which differs from the protective ozone layer higher up in the atmosphere). Air temperatures in the Arctic are 7 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) higher now than they were in the period from 1986-1996, according to the National Snow & Ice Data Center, which keeps tabs on the seasonal fluctuations in sea ice. Satellite records have shown that the area of the Arctic Ocean covered by sea ice at the end of the summer melt season has declined by 30 percent over the past three decades, the NSIDC says..."