Friday, December 20, 2013

Heavy Snow, Ice, Flooding Rains, Record Warmth & Moderate Tornado Risk

Bottoming Out

Welcome to the worst day of the year to get a suntan. Or power the new solar panels up on the roof. Even though Earth is closer to the sun in winter than in summer a 23 1/2 degree tilt on its axis means the northern hemisphere will see the least daylight of the year today: 8 hours and 46 minutes of daylight at MSP.

Yes, it seems the sun sets shortly after lunch. Cheer up, we pick up nearly 4 minutes of daylight by New Year's Eve, almost an hour of daylight by the end of January.

Our coldest weather historically comes the third week of January. It takes a few weeks for a higher sun angle to compensate for long nights and cold air brewing over Canada.

For me December 21 is a psychological turning point. The Nadir. The Depths of Darkness. It's all uphill from here.

At least Old Man Winter won't complicate your shopping & travel plans too much. A major storm spawns tornadoes over the deep south today; heavy snow spreading into the Quad Cities, Madison & Milwaukee by Sunday. A reinforcing jab of Yukon Delight may spark a plowable, 2-3 inch snowfall here late Sunday, most of the snow coming after stores close.

We'll be lucky to climb above zero Monday; 20s Christmas Day before another relapse.

Looks like a real winter huh?

On Edge. If you're driving into Wisconsin or eastern Iowa you'll run into heavier snow Saturday night into Sunday, but the immediate Twin Cities area may pick up 2-3" of powdery snow Sunday and Sunday night. Projected amounts range from 3-4" at Des Moines to 7" at Madison, 10" near Green Bay, maybe an inch or two for Chicago. NAM data: NOAA and Ham Weather.

Another Arctic Smack. The duration of the arctic chill is dropping - slightly, from what we endured in early December. Subzero lows are likely Tuesday, again Friday morning of next week, double-digit negative numbers outside the MSP metro. By next weekend highs may be climbing into the 20s and 30s. Graph: Weatherspark.

Remarkable Extremes. Highs approach 70F. in Washington D.C. at the same time subzero air drills into the Dakotas, chill factors dropping to -30F. The result: an impressive snow, ice and rain storm, capable of whipping up tornadoes over the Lower Mississippi Valley. 84 hour 2-meter temperature prediction courtesy of NOAA and Ham Weather.

Welcome Winter Solstice. Paradoxically, the Earth is actually closer to the sun in the winter than it is in summer, but that won't help much in the coming weeks. As you muddle through a cold, dark Saturday realize we pick up 3 minutes of additional daylight by the end of December. Can spring be far behind? Yep.

Graphic credit: Tampa office of the National Weather Service.

Latest Minnesota Snow Cover. The map above, courtesy of the Minnesota DNR, does not include the snow that fell Thursday night. There's a good 8-20" snow on the ground over much of central and northern Minnesota, as much as 18-36" along the North Shore of Lake Superior.

An Increasingly Promising Winter For Minnesota Snow Lovers. A great winter for snowmobilers and cross country skiers? It sure looks that way. Here's an excerpt from Dr. Mark Seeley and his weekly WeatherTalk Newsletter: "...Snowfall has been both frequent and heavy for many observers in Minnesota this month. Both International Falls and Duluth report snowfall on 12 of the first 20 days. Many northern observers have recorded over 20 inches of December snowfall so far, including International Falls, Cass Lake, Grand Rapids, Leech Lake, Babbitt, Chisholm, Floodwood, Grand Marais, Grand Portage, Bruno, Cloquet, and Wright. Areas around Two Harbors have reported over 40 inches of snowfall. According to the DNR areas along the north shore of Lake Superior are reporting snow depths in excess of two feet...."

Winter Weather Terminology. Here's an excerpt of a great summary of winter precipitation types and terminology from the Des Moines office of the National Weather Service:
  • Blizzard: Blowing and/or falling snow with winds of 35 mph or greater, reducing visibilities to a quarter of a mile or less for at least three hours. Winds lofting the current snow pack and reducing visibilities without any falling snow is called a ground blizzard.
  • Freezing Rain: Caused by rain falling on surfaces with a temperature below freezing. The rain freezes upon contact with the ground. Large build-ups of ice can down trees and power lines and coat roads.
  • Sleet: Rain/melted snow that has begun refreezing when it reaches the ground. Sleet tends to be softer than hail and is easily compacted. Sleet can make roads slippery very quickly.
  • Wind Chill: The apparent temperature the body feels when wind is factored into the equation. See the Wind Chill page for more information.

What Is The Sperry-Piltz Ice Accumulation Index? Thanks to Des Moines uber-meteorologist Jason Parkin for passing this along, a scale that measure impacts from glaze ice on a scale from 1 to 5, much like hurricanes. Here's more information: "The Sperry–Piltz Ice Accumulation Index, or SPIA Index, is a forward-looking, ice accumulation and ice damage prediction index that uses an algorithm of researched parameters that, when combined with National Weather Service forecast data, predicts the projected footprint, total ice accumulation, and resulting potential damage from approaching ice storms. It is a tool to be used for risk management and/or winter weather preparedness. The SPIA Index is to ice storms what the Enhanced Fujita Scale is to tornadoes, and what the Saffir–Simpson Scale is to hurricanes. Previous to this hazard scale development, no such ‘forward-looking’ ice accumulation and ice damage index had ever been utilized to predict – days in advance – the potential damage to overhead utility systems, along with outage duration possibilities, from freezing rain and/or ice storm events."

Alerts Broadcaster: Issued Friday evening by Alerts Broadcaster.

* Risk grows of a major tornado outbreak Saturday; best chance PM hours - possibly well after dark in Mississippi.
* Ice Storm Warnings posted for much of Oklahoma for a significant accumulation of glaze ice capable of paralyzing travel and power outages.
* Chicago may pick up a couple inches of slushy snow, but the heaviest snow bands are forecast to stay north and west of KORD.

TPI: Cause For Concern. Our Tornado Prediction Index did a very good job with the November 17 tornado outbreak, pinpointing central Illinois 24 hours in advance. The same algorithms show a significant risk of large, supercell thunderstorms capable of EF2-EF4 tornadoes over southeastern Arkansas by mid afternoon Saturday, but the greatest risk comes over Mississippi during the late evening hours, well after dark. This could make tracking and verifying any tornadoes even more difficult, heightening the risk to the public. I expect a few large, violent, potentially deadly tornadoes across the Lower Mississippi River Valley during the PM hours Saturday.

Moderate Risk. We'll see if NOAA SPC elevates any of this region to a "high risk" by tomorrow, but a moderate risk implies an enhanced risk of (large, violent) tornadoes. There is a 45% risk of severe weather within 25 miles of any location in the purple-shaded region; a 10% or higher chance of significant severe weather within the hatched area. Facilities and staff from Louisiana and Arkansas into western Tennessee and Mississippi should be prepared.

Updated Snowfall Projections. Chicago may pick up a couple inches of slushy snow at the tail-end of the storm, precipitation falling as rain (mixed with a little ice) at the height of the storm Sunday. The heaviest snow band sets up from near Tulsa and Wichita to Springfield, the Quad Cities, Peoria, Rockford, Madison, Milwaukee and Green Bay Sunday as the storm pushes northeast. The Twin Cities may see a 2-3" snowfall Sunday.

Ice Storm Risk. Ice Storm Warnings are posted for Oklahoma, and for good reason. As much as a half inch of glaze ice may build up on highways and powerlines, especially north and west of Oklahoma City, a quarter inch for the Tulsa area capable of significant power outages. Ice is likely over central Missouri, but St. Louis should be spared any major icy headaches. A light glaze icing is possible into northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, reaching Lower Michigan by Sunday afternoon/evening. A very light coating of ice is possible over northern New England as well.

Looks Like A Holiday. The warning map is lit up with watches, warnings and advisories, Winter Storm Warnings from central Oklahoma to southern Wisconsin, Flash Flood Watches from Arkansas into Indiana, Ohioa and even western New York State. As much as 3-4" rain falling on frozen ground will result in almost immediate run-off and flooding of not only urban areas but some small streams as well. The very latest warnings are here.

Flash Flood Potential. Gulf moisture surging northward to fuel the weekend storm, and the result will be some 3-5" rains, almost 1-2 month's worth of rain falling in less than 36 hours. Areas that normally flood, poor drainage areas and small streams, may experience overflows this weekend from near Little Rock to Evansville, Indianapolis and Columbus.

Projected Rainfall Amounts. Our internal models show numerous 2-4" rainfall amounts from St. Louis and Louisville - as far north and east as Cleveland this weekend.

Snowfall Forecasts. The models may still be over-doing snow amounts for Chicago, but closer to Rockford I expect significant amounts, in excess of 6-7". The heaviest amounts may fall from Davenport and Moline to Madison and Milwaukee, where the atmosphere is cold enough for all-snow.

Near-Blizzard Conditions. Our internal BPI (Blizzard Potential Index) shows the greatest risk of low visibility and strong winds creating near-blizzard criteria from northeastern Missouri and far western Illinois into southeastern Wisconsin.

Maximum Hassle Factor at ORD and MDW. Taking a closer look at the projected BPI Sunday morning may bring the heaviest burst of snow and lowest visibilities with this storm, capable of disrupting travel by land and air. Conditions slowly improve Sunday afternoon with conditions pretty much back to normal (whatever that is) by Monday.

Summary: The risk of a major severe storm outbreak, including a few large, violent tornadoes, has increased since Friday morning. It's impossible to determine, this far in advance, whether major metropolitan areas of the Lower Mississippi Valley will be impacted, but we can't rule out that possibility. Facilities from Lake Charles and New Orleans to Jackson and Memphis should monitor weather conditions very closely over the next 24 hours and be prepared to take steps to enhance safety. Severe icing is likely from Oklahoma into central Missouri, a stripe of plowable snow from Kansas City to Madison and Milwaukee, flooding rains over much of the Midwest and Ohio Valley. Meanwhile record highs are possible out ahead of the storm, readings in the mid to upper 60s in Washington D.C., 70s across the Carolinas. It's one crazy weather map.

Paul Douglas - Senior Meteorologist - Alerts Broadcaster

Drones Could Revolutionize Agriculture, Farmers Say. Here's an excerpt from a story at Huffington Post: "...While Americans are abuzz about Amazon's plans to use self-guided drones to deliver packages, most future unmanned aircraft may operate far from the nation's large population centers. Experts point to agriculture as the most promising commercial market for drones because the technology is a perfect fit for large-scale farms and vast rural areas where privacy and safety issues are less of a concern. Already, farmers, researchers and companies are developing unmanned aircraft systems equipped with cameras and other sensors to survey crops, monitor for disease or precision-spray pesticides and fertilizers..."

2013: The Year "The Stream" Crested. Are we all taking a plunge into a never-ending information river, where "nowness" trumps perspective? Perhaps. Witness the rise of Twitter and Google Reader. Is there a place for updated summaries of information, web sites and blogs? Here's an excerpt from a thought-provoking story at The Atlantic: "...There are great reasons for why The Stream triumphed. In a world of infinite variety, it's difficult to categorize or even find, especially before a thing has been linked. So time, newness, began to stand in for many other things. And now the Internet's media landscape is like a never-ending store, where everything is free. No matter how hard you sprint for the horizon, it keeps receding. There is always something more.  Nowness also transmits this sense of presence, of other people, that you get in a city when you go to a highway overpass and look down at all the cars at any time of the day or night. Things are happening. I am not alone. Look at all this..."

Air-Powered Lego Car Hits The Street. I'm feeling more inept than usual with my (previous) Lego creations. Check this out, courtesy of Gizmag: "The perfect do-it-yourself gift for budding designers and architects during the holiday season has to be Lego. The small blocks of plastic with millions of design outcomes have entertained many a child since the early 1950s. Now an ambitious duo has snapped together 500,000 pieces of the stuff to create the world’s first air-powered Lego roadster..."

Climate Stories...

In U.S. Winters Warming But Precipitation More Nuanced. Theory is giving way to reality - 30 to 40 years ago scientists speculated that warming would be greater at northern latitudes and that's what the data is showing. Here's an excerpt from a story at Climate Central: "...Climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions have in large part caused temperatures to increase by 1.5°F since 1895 in the U.S. Much of that increase has come since 1970, and different seasons are warming faster than others. Winters, which begin in the meteorological sense on December 1 and run through February, have warmed 0.61°F percade in the contiguous U.S. from 1970-2012. That's faster than the rate of 0.435°F of warming per decade experienced over the same period. Winter warming isn’t uniform, though. California and Nevada have only warmed at a rate of 0.17°F per decade over that time — the slowest winter warming region in the country — and the Southeast has gone up just 0.29°F per decade..."

Graphic credit above: "A map showing winter temperature trends in the U.S. from 1970-2012."

Santa Claus And Climate Change, A Letter To My Grandkids. Peter Gleick from the Pacific Institute shares a letter he hopes not to have to write in the year 2020. Here's an excerpt from Huffington Post: "...It's not that you've been bad. Rather the world's governments (sometimes run by bad boys and girls now grown up) have failed to address the long-worsening problem of climate change. Santa is the latest climate victim. As the last of the summer ice at the North Pole finally disappeared, Santa's workshop sank to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean. When the insurance companies cancelled most flood insurance policies, and Canada claimed the North Pole, Santa lost everything and became the latest climate refugee. This disaster has long been coming. Back in the early 2000s, Arctic sea ice extent and volume started to drop rapidly -- even more rapidly than scientists anticipated -- due to the rapid warming of the planet caused by the burning of fossil fuels, especially coal..."

Graphic credit above: Arctic ice volume through 2013 from the Polar Science Center

Climate Change Affecting Water Resources. Voice of America has the story - here's the introduction: "Scientists say climate change will not affect all regions of the world equally – especially when it comes to fresh water. The latest computer models indicate some places will get a lot less, while others get a lot more. Dr. Jacob Schewe and his colleagues say that “water scarcity is a major threat for human development” if greenhouse gas emissions remain unchecked. They’ve published their findings in a special issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “The reason we’re concerned is that it’s a very important issue for a lot of people. We all depend on water for so many different purposes. And water scarcity, where it exists, really impairs many things that people do and that people live on,” he said..."

Photo credit above: Reuters. "The sun is seen behind smoke billowing from a chimney of a heating plant in Taiyuan, Shanxi province December 9, 2013."

96% Of Network Nightly News' Coverage Of Extreme Weather Doesn't Mention Climate Change. ThinkProgress has the details in a story - here's an excerpt: "...But arguably the most visible and persistent climate event was the increase in ferocity of our weather. 2013 was marked by extremes in temperature and precipitation, conditions that fueled deadly wildfires, flooding, and storm surges. Despite those facts, America’s major television news stations mostly failed to mention climate change when reporting on events like deadly flooding in Colorado, the string of major wildfires across the American West, and bouts of unseasonable temperatures across the country. Those are the findings of a new survey released by Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), a progressive media criticism group..."

Photo credit: Shutterstock.

2013's Christmas Grinches - Stealing Christmas Warmth And Putting It Into The Atmosphere. Which companies and individuals get the Grinch Award. Check out the details at ThinkProgress: "Climate change is the most pressing challenge of our time, yet meaningful action to address this global threat seems increasingly elusive. What’s standing in the way? There are numerous individuals, organizations, and corporations that actively work to obstruct attempts to cut our carbon emissions, advance clean energy, and prepare communities for the devastating impacts of climate change. Here is a list of just a few of these thwarters who stood out in 2013...."

John Podesta's Plan To Bypass Congress On Climate Change. The Washington Post has the story - here's a clip: "President Obama's newest adviser, John Podesta, will reportedly push the White House to focus more heavily on climate change in the coming year. Podesta is coming from the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank that put a heavy focus on climate policy. That's according to my colleague Greg Sargent, who cites a Politico report on Podesta's new role: "With chances of major legislation on climate change all but dead given congressional opposition, Podesta will push for aggressive executive action, in addition to backstopping new Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy on controversial new emissions guidelines for power plants..." (Image above: NASA).

Poll: Americans See Impact Of Global Warming. Here's a clip from a story at USA Today: "Most Americans say global warming is serious and want the United States to address it, but their support for government regulations has fallen in recent years, says a poll out Friday conducted for USA TODAY. Three of five say global warming is a very serious global problem, and two of three say it will hurt future generations either a lot or a great deal if nothing is done to reduce it, according to the poll of 801 U.S. adults done in conjunction with Stanford University and Resources for the Future, a non-partisan research group, which funded the research...."

Most Companies Still Releasing Unsustainable Amounts Of CO2 - Study. Reuters has the findings; here's the introduction to the story: "The majority of large global corporations that have reported their annual greenhouse gas emissions for several years now are still releasing more carbon dioxide than they should, a new study published on Wednesday showed. And most companies scrutinized in the study are still not using science-based thresholds to set emissions targets and to drive actions to reduce their carbon footprint. Coordinated by U.S.-based Climate Counts, an organization that measures the role corporations play on climate, the report tried to analyze emissions of 100 companies against science-based targets that seek to limit rising temperature to two degrees Celsius..."

White House To Get Aggressive On Climate Change? Here's a clip from The Washington Post: "...Environmentalists are looking at this today with a sense of optimism, since they have been pushing the White House for years to get aggressive on climate change with executive action, the only avenue available, given the reality of today’s Congress. But what would it look like if Podesta actually gets the White House to go through with this in a comprehensive way? One place to start for an answer is a report on what a president can accomplish with executive action that was written by one…John Podesta, before he joined the White House. It suggests an array of executive actions that a President can take on climate change..."

Photo credit above: "Can this guy get the White House to get tough on climate change?" (AP Photo/Eric Jamison).

Why Environmentalists Should Hope Nuclear Power Sticks Around. Here's an excerpt of an Op-Ed at The Washington Post: "...Some environmentalists cheer the closing of nuclear plants, even though it makes the anti-carbon effort tougher, and they argue that the country should put all of the planet’s eggs into the renewables basket. The pro-nuclear crowd predicts that a new wave of innovative technologies will make constructing new nuclear plants much more attractive, technically and economically. The country — and particularly environmentalists — should hope the pro-nuclear side is right; a renaissance in nuclear technology could offer the country a source of reliable, carbon-free electricity with safer designs than those of decades ago, all of which would be particularly helpful if renewables never burst out of their niche end of the market..." (File photo: CNN).

Climate And Economic Models - Birds Of A Different Feather. University of St. Thomas climate scientist John Abraham describes the differences in this story at The Guardian; here's an excerpt: "...We can see the two big weaknesses with business models. First, they do not follow any universal conservation equations. There is no analogy for mass, momentum, and energy in a business model. Second, behavior of economies in the past may not be a proper indicator of the future. Should we expect the U.S. economic recovery from the great recession be anything like the recovery from the Great Depression? Can stimulus or austerity success or failure be predicted by past stimulus or austerity cases? The answer is, we just don't know...."

Photo credit above: "Climate modeling is done on some of the world's fastest supercomputers, like the UK's HECToR." Photograph: Murdo Macleod.