Friday, April 19, 2013

Record Snows Upper Midwest - Waters Recede in Chicago by Sunday (flood potential grows in Fargo)

A Jaw-Dropping April

Well this is one way to end a drought. Not my first choice, but as we predicted months ago the pattern is radically different from 2012. I'm still forecasting a cooler, wetter, stormier late spring and summer for Minnesota. But there should be water in our lakes, streams and topsoil.

Old Man Winter should be medicated: 86" snow two winters ago at MSP, a paltry 22" last year, and now 63.3" this winter, to date.

April snow: 14" at MSP, the 4th snowiest April on record - but 41.7" in APRIL at Duluth - the snowiest ever! 120" for the winter at Duluth; 76.2" St. Cloud - for both cities the 4th snowiest winters on record. Remarkable.

If it gets colder than 26F this morning we'll break a record low set in 1888; the first record low for MSP since August 21, 2004. I'm ready to wave a white flag of surrender.

A high sun angle melts a fair amount of snow today; rain showers accelerating snow melt Sunday, a cold rain returns late Monday. We should see 50s by late week before a cooler front arrives - 60s pushed into early May.

I could wallow in self pity or troll Expedia for a southern escape. Instead I'm heading to the cabin to fire up my snowmobile.

Make Lemonade out of lemons!

* photo above: Brian Peterson, Star Tribune.

How Much Fell? Too much for late April. The northern and western suburbs picked up 8-10", with some 12"+ amounts closer to St. Cloud and Brainerd, as much as 18-24" for parts of northeastern Minnesota, according to NOAA.

May 5, 1857. Latest ice-out on record for Lake Minnetonka. This information is still tentative. Source: Minnesota State Climate Office. Median ice-out date on 'Tonka is April 13, according to the Minnesota DNR.

Snowiest Aprils In The Twin Cities? Welcome to the 4th snowiest April on record for the Twin Cities, with 14.1" so far. The graphic above is from the Minnesota State Climate Office. April, 1983 is still the record for snow at MSP, with a whopping 21.8" of snow. More details from the Twin Cities National Weather Service:

Paul - when was the latest significant snowfall (>3") in the Twin Cities? With the way this winter is going, I feel the need to prepare for the possibility of plowable snow in May. Has that actually happened before?

Fiona Ruthven

Fiona - I found the information at the Minnesota State Climate Office. Fun weather factoids to annoy friends and loved ones:
Latest Snowfalls In The Twin Cities. No, we didn't set a record for the latest 4"+ snow at MSP. That honor goes to April 29, 1984, when 6.6" of snow delighted residents of Minneapolis/St. Paul. We've seen 3" snows as late as May 20 (1892). Rare, but possible. Yikes.

Latest 60F In The Twin Cities? Minnesota State Climatologist Greg Spoden provides some details on how unusual our stunted spring really is. Bottom line: there have been only 7 years since the 1870s with a "first 60F" after April 19. Lovely. "The average date of the first 60 degree temperature in the Twin Cities is March 29. I suggest you avoid the word "typically" because the range of dates is so large (February 15, 1921 to April 29, 1874). Here are the only years where the Twin Cities had yet to reach 60 degrees as of today's date (April 19)."

1874 April 29 (latest 60F high on record in the Twin Cities)
1904 April 26
1947 April 26
1951 April 25
1975 April 25
1965 April 21 (year of the EF-4 tornadoes that hit on May 6 in the Twin Cities)
1876 April 20

Snowiest April On Record For Duluth. And it was the snowiest February - April period on record for Duluth as well, the 5th snowiest winter season overall. Details from the Duluth office of the National Weather Service.

Snowiest Winter Seasons In Duluth. At last report Duluth was (unofficially) up to 121.8", making it the 4th snowiest winter on record. Remarkable.

Stuck In A Cool, Wet Pattern. Status quo in the weather department - a clipperlike system pushes rain into the area Sunday, then winds shift, allowing colder air to surge into Minnesota Monday. A second wave of low pressure rippling eastward along the front may spark a period of rain changing to wet snow on Monday. I don't expect a big accumulation, but some slush is possible on lawns and fields, especially Monday night.

Rare Spurts of Spring. ECMWF data keeps us chilly into Tuesday, followed by some warming late next week. Not sure if we'll see 60F by Friday (which would tie a record set in 1904 and 1947 for the second latest 60F on record for the Twin Cities, but we may come close. More rain is likely Saturday of next week.

Meteorological Mirage? Long-range models keep bringing spring into Minnesota, but the closer we get the more models push the warmth back, run after run. My confidence level is low, but GFS data brings 60s into Minnesota the first week of May, maybe even a day or two of 70s. But through most of next week winds aloft blow from the northwest, making it hard for any real warmth to reach our lofty latitude.

Storms Chip Away At Drought In Northern U.S. Last week nearly 20% of Minnesota was in extreme drought. That has fallen to 0% as of this week; severe drought has dropped from 66% to 21% of the state. The trends are encouraging, between heavy rain (and heavy snow). Here's an excerpt from a story at Climate Central: "Two weeks of storms and a slowly melting snowpack in the northern U.S. continued to chip away at the drought gripping the center of the country. But even as the drought has contracted nationwide, parts of the Texas and the Southwest have seen conditions deteriorate, and are likely to face another tough summer of drought. The northern part of the U.S. saw the biggest gains, which was welcome news for a region hit hard by drought for the past year. Drought contracted significantly across Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, the Dakotas, and Wyoming, as two spring storms dropped heavy precipitation on the region, and the winter’s snowpack began to infiltrate the soil....Areas of Minnesota and Wisconsin that had been under “moderate” drought were downgraded to “abnormally dry....”

* latest U.S. Drought Monitor for Minnesota is here - data from NOAA and USDA.

Whiplash Spring. From flood to drought, and back to flood (and record-setting April snows). It's been a volatile month, but Gulf moisture is consistently reaching the Upper Midwest; drought conditions are easing. In today's edition of Climate Matters we take a look at jaw-dropping snowfall amounts, and offer up evidence that the drought's days may be numbered: "Noticeable improvement in the drought conditions this month for several Midwest states including Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota. Meteorologist Paul Douglas has the silver lining to what's been a snow and rain filled April."

Rains Wash Away U.S. Drought, Shifting Farm Economy's Prospects. Here's a snippet of a Reuters article: "...These rains are really helping bring most areas out of drought status. And the rain encompasses all of the western Corn Belt that was previously dry," said Don Keeney, meteorologist for MDA Weather Services, a widely followed commercial forecasting firm. If the drought is ending, it would represent a sea change for the farm economy, where expectations for another dry summer had been baked in. Continued rainy weather could further delay spring plantings, cause a sharp fall in the price of farm commodities, and lower the cost of everything from hog feed to cereal ingredients. Lower feed prices would help livestock and dairy producers, but soft grain prices could cut into farmers' incomes and perhaps even cause farmland values to retreat from recent record highs..."

* Thursday 24-hour rainfall map from NOAA here.

Experimental Long Range Flood Outlook. There's a greater than 50% risk of major flooding on the Red River in the coming weeks. The timing of the crest is still very difficult, ultimately dependent on the rate of warming and any subsequent rain events into early May. Right now NOAA is saying a greater than 50% probability of minor flooding in the St. Cloud area.

Flooding Underway Nationwide. USGS and NOAA update a web site that shows the status of flood conditions from coast to coast - big problems from eastern Iowa into southern Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.

Fargo Flood Potential. This is an experimental long-range prediction for the Red River in Fargo, showing a 99% probability of a crest of at least 38.7 feet, but the ultimate crest could go higher. River hydrologists will be tracking melting snow (and temperature spikes and additional rain) very carefully to try to pin down when, and how high.

Serious Weather Whiplash. A 1 in 60 year rainfall event for parts of Iowa and Illinois? Dr. Jeff Masters underscores the crazy swings in moisture the last couple of years: from record flood to record drought, and now back to record, historic floods for parts of the Midwest, Great Lakes, with implications along the Illinois and Mississippi River. Here's an excerpt of his latest Wunderground post: "It seems like just a few months ago barges were scraping bottom on the Mississippi River, and the Army Corps of Engineers was blowing up rocks on the bottom of the river to allow shipping to continue. Wait, it was just a few months ago--less than four months ago! Water levels on the Mississippi River at St. Louis bottomed out at -4.57' on January 1 of 2013, the 9th lowest water level since record keeping began in 1861, and just 1.6' above the all-time low-water record set in 1940 (after the great Dust Bowl drought of the 1930s.) But according to National Weather Service, the exceptional April rains and snows over the Upper Mississippi River watershed will drive the river by Tuesday to a height 45 feet higher than on January 1. The latest forecast calls for the river to hit 39.4' on Tuesday, which would be the 8th greatest flood in history at St. Louis, where flood records date back to 1861. Damaging major flooding is expected along a 250-mile stretch of the Mississippi from Quincy, Illinois to Thebes, Illinois next week...."

Graphic credit above: Wunderground. "The rains that fell in a 24-hour period ending at 7 am EDT Thursday, April 18, 2013 over Northern Illinois were the type of rains one would expect see fall only once every 40 years (yellow colors), according to METSTAT, Inc. ( METSTAT computed the recurrence interval statistics based on gauge-adjusted radar precipitation and frequency estimates from NOAA Atlas 14 Volume 2, published in 2004 ( METSTAT does not supply their precipitation recurrence interval forecasts or premium analysis products for free, but anyone can monitor the real-time analysis (observed) at:"

What's Up With All The Robins? I have noticed an unusual number of robins in my yard. Frankly, they look pissed. Naturalist Kirk Mona takes a look at what's going on in this informative story at; here's an excerpt: "...Here's the scoop. There are several factors at play. First off, we're doubled up on robins. Our summer resident robins mostly move south in the winter in search of food. Robins from further north, and I mean all the way up into Canada, also moved south this winter. Some of them went past the Twin Cities while some of them formed winter flocks and hung out around open water and ornamental fruiting trees. The slow start to spring and continued fowl weather including lots of snow up north has put a halt to migration. Pretty much the entire Mississippi Flyway's worth of robins are backed up in the Twin Cities right now. These are resident birds mixed in with a sizable percentage of all the birds in Canada. Like us, they are simply waiting for the weather to improve. This is about as far north as they dare go at this point...."

Ask Paul. Weather-related Q&A:

I really enjoy your blog... I just looked up the record data for this weekend and it looks like there is a good chance we set a daily record low temperature on Saturday. When was the last we had a daily record low temperature in the Twin Cities?

Marc Johnson
Plymouth, MN

Thanks Marc - appreciate you checking into the weather blog. You brought up an excellent question, so I checked with my friend and colleague, Pete Boulay, at the State Climate Office. Turns out it's been 9 years since a record nighttime low! Details:

Hi Paul,
We tied a record low on September 15, 2011 of 36 degrees that was also set 2007 and 1964. The last time the Twin Cities broke a record low was August 21, 2004 with 44 degrees. The last time we broke a record low maximum temperature was June 23, 2011 with 63 degrees.

Pete Boulay, Minnesota State Climate Office

Superstorm Sandy Jolted Whole Of America. Here's an excerpt of a remarkable story at Sky News: "Earthquake sensors located as far away as the Pacific Northwest detected the storm's energy as it surged towards the New York metropolitan region last year. The network typically records the sudden release of energy in the Earth's crust, but it can pick up shaking triggered by ocean waves, mine cave-ins and tornadoes. As Sandy lashed at New York City and New Jersey, the force of waves slamming into other waves shook the sea floor, which was recorded by the system of 500 sensors. The energy generated by Sandy was similar to small earthquakes between magnitudes 2 and 3, seismologists at the University of Utah estimated..."

Graphic credit above: "Image courtesy of Keith Koper, University of Utah Seismograph Stations."

Breaking News And Social Media: Stop Fighting It. I was getting up to the second breaking news via Twitter Thursday night on the unfolding situation in Boston, when the 24/7 cable news channels were in taped programming. It's a great way to get breaking news - but with speed sometimes come less than optimal accuracy. Here's an excerpt of a post from 10,000 Words at "..Of course it's a fallacy to pit journalism and social media against each other. They worth together. Not always well, but if it weren't for both entities, neither one of them would be surviving right now. In the midst of the fight, it's hard to remember that we're in the middle of a watershed moment for both industries. This week, awash with bombings and filibusters, the kinks in the system were brought to center-ring. It's on the slower news days when everything works well. And that's something to remember. Information spreads more quickly than it used to but, as I'm sure or even learned this week, that doesn't mean it has to."

Going Green...

World's Largest OTEC Power Plant Planned For China. OTEC plants take advantage of natural variations in ocean temperature to generate electricity - the kind of innovation one would hope to see in the USA. has more details: "Lockheed Martin has been getting its feet wet in the renewable energy game for some time. In the 1970s it helped build the world’s first successful floating Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) system that generated net power, and in 2009 it was awarded a contract to develop an OTEC pilot plant in Hawaii. That project has apparently been canceled but the company has now shifted its OTEC sights westward by teaming up with Hong Kong-based Reignwood Group to co-develop a pilot plant that will be built off the coast of southern China. OTEC uses the natural difference in temperatures between the cool deep water and warm surface water to produce electricity..."

Image credit above: "Lockheed Martin and Reignwood Group plan to develop a 10 MW prototype OTEC pilot plant off the coast of southern China."

Fast-Growing U.S. Solar Industry Now Employs Over 119,000 - Lead By California, Arizona And New Jersey. New Jersey? Here's an excerpt of a story at Think Progress: "...Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association explains: Today, solar is one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States, providing good-paying jobs for more than 119,000 American workers. Over the past five years, the U.S. solar energy industry has experienced sustained growth thanks to rising demand, falling costs and new financing options. Since 2008, the amount of solar powering our homes, businesses and military bases has increased six-fold–from 1,100 megawatts to more than 7,700 megawatts today, which is enough to power more than 1.2 million American homes. Some of this growth is attributed to the fact that the cost of a solar system has dropped by nearly 40 percent over the past two years, making solar more affordable than ever for consumers. If we want to want to create new jobs, foster innovation and ensure prosperity for future generations of Americans, we must expand our commitment to using clean, renewable energy sources in the U.S. and around the world..."

Gallows Humor. Yes, even the snowmen (and women) are basking under a rarely visible April sun, trying to get a little tan going. Thanks to Katie Deibele from Excelsior for sharing this.

Climate Stories...

Carbon Bubble Will Plunge The World Into Another Financial Crisis - Report. The Guardian has the story - here's the intro: "The world could be heading for a major economic crisis as stock markets inflate an investment bubble in fossil fuels to the tune of trillions of dollars, according to leading economists. "The financial crisis has shown what happens when risks accumulate unnoticed," said Lord (Nicholas) Stern, a professor at the London School of Economics. He said the risk was "very big indeed" and that almost all investors and regulators were failing to address it. The so-called "carbon bubble" is the result of an over-valuation of oil, coal and gas reserves held by fossil fuel companies. According to a report published on Friday, at least two-thirds of these reserves will have to remain underground if the world is to meet existing internationally agreed targets to avoid the threshold for "dangerous" climate change. If the agreements hold, these reserves will be in effect unburnable and so worthless – leading to massive market losses. But the stock markets are betting on countries' inaction on climate change..."

* interactive Guardian map above is here.

Fossil Fuels And Vested Interests: A Society In Denial. Here's a portion of an Op-Ed at The Guardian: "The report released by Lord Stern and thinktank Carbon Tracker paints a picture of society in denial. It shows we're pumping almost $700bn (£458bn) of hard-earned savings and pensions annually into finding new reserves of fossil fuels, even though it's clear that almost all of those reserves will have to be written off to provide a decent chance of keeping the planet safe. The ever-inflating "carbon bubble" is only part of the bigger picture, because most of the world's fuel – around three-quarters in total and almost all the oil and gas – is owned not by listed companies but by governments. And we don't need only to stop expanding the world's fossil fuel reserves; we also need to get used to the idea that we can't burn most of what we already have..."