Friday, January 24, 2014

The Polar Vortex Surges South Again Next Week (cold to rival early January?)


Perhaps I'm imagining this. It could be a weather-hallucination, brought on by years of standing too close to The Doppler.

A handful of scientists have theorized that rapid warming of the Arctic is impacting the configuration & speed of the jet stream over North America. More warming farther north = lower winds speeds; more waviness, more big kinks in the steering winds.

It's just a theory, but I could swear I'm seeing evidence of this on the weather maps. The weather, increasingly, seems to be getting stuck - patterns stalling for extended periods of time.

When the weather machine goes into neutral bad things can happen: biblical floods in Boulder, super-droughts in California, and our 2-month cold wave.

The truth: meteorologists have been tracking the "Polar Vortex" since the 60s; every now and then chunks of air over the North Pole break off and dive into the USA. What's unusual is the sheer persistence of this pattern.

Prepare for even more family togetherness. The next cold wave sparks 1-2 inches snow tonight; temperatures tumble Sunday, reaching potentially school-closing levels Monday. Monday's high? -10F. We wake up to -22F Tuesday with a windchill of -45F.

* Monday temperature anomalies above courtesy of Climate Reanalyzer.

Blizzard Watch West Of The MSP Metro. If your travels take you west of 7, 12 or I-94, travel conditions will get progressively worse out in open country just 30-60 miles west of town on Sunday. Not so much in the way of falling snow, but highs winds kicking up snow on the ground, creating ground-blizzard conditions. Details from NOAA:



An Acquired Taste. Monday-Tuesday may rival the level of ridiculous cold we experienced January 6-7, probably cold enough to close (many, if not all) schools Monday, possibly Tuesday as well. Overall Monday will be the coldest day with the greatest risk of frostbite, due to strong winds coupled with temperatures in the -10 to -20F range, making it feel like -45F in the metro, -55F in greater Minnesota. Tuesday morning should be the coldest morning, but winds ease a bit Tuesday, so the chill factor may not be quite as dangerous. The first week of February looks cold, but not as polar as the first few days of next week. Graphic: Weatherspark.

Lightning Strikes Twice. A couple weeks ago I speculated that the January 6-8 outbreak would be the coldest of winter. I'm not as sure today. Next Monday will come close to rivaling the extremes of January 6, when we woke up to -23F with a "high" of -12. Within a couple degrees. For all intents and purposes it will probably be AS COLD as it was early in the month. January data: Minnesota Climatology Working Group.

Running Out Of Colors. It's so cold the color table drops off at -20F. By Sunday the core of the Polar Vortex (I get a dollar every time I use that expression) pushes south out of Canada, subzero Monday and Tuesday from the Upper Mississippi Valley into the Great Lakes. Spring is nowhere in sight. NAM 84-hour 2-meter temperatures from NOAA and Ham Weather.

Flakes in New Orleans? A rhetorical question, I know, but yes, a little slush is possible as far south as Galveston and The Big Easy. The heaviest snows fall on the snow belts downwind of the Great Lakes.

Dangers Beyond Frostbite. Although heat claims more lives in the USA than winter cold, consistently low temperatures constrict blood vessels and increase blood pressure, increasing the potential for heart-related ailments, including heart attack. Today's edition of Climate Matters includes a look at how (and why) the pattern has been stuck for nearly 2 months, and how the same holding pattern is impacting weather from Honolulu to Sochi: "It seems like the weather, increasingly, is getting stuck." Meteorologist Paul Douglas explains this weather pattern that seems to be stuck in a rut. Swells, drought and a polar vortex! Learn how it is impacting everywhere from Hawaii/Alaska all the way to Europe. The Winter Olympics may feel more like the Summer Olympics!"

January School Closings May Lead To Makeup Days In June. I have a strong hunch that most Minnesota schools will close again Monday, probably Tuesday of next week. Kids should enjoy their days off now, because there won't be much celebrating in June, according to a story at The Star Tribune; here's a clip: "Can’t bear the thought of another snow day? Find the scroll of school closings painful to watch? Just wait until summer arrives and Minnesota schools are still in session. Some school officials are contemplating scheduling makeup days in June as their school calendars are on the verge of being blown up by a particularly bitter winter. Teachers and parents also have found their best-laid plans badly buffeted. Most Twin Cities metro area schools have canceled classes for three days this month, and Monday’s forecast of 5 below zero makes a four-peat appear possible..."

Freak Rains In Alaska. Looking to thaw out - head to Anchorage, or even Fairbanks, where a freakish late January rain froze on surfaces Thursday. Here's a clip from a story at Anchorage Daily News: "...Organizers have canceled the Northern Lights 300  sled dog race slated to start Friday in Big Lake because of unfavorable weather and trail conditions, according to the race’s website.  The 300-mile race trail begins in Big Lake, goes to Finger Lake and loops back around. It’s an Iditarod and Yukon Quest qualifier. Freezing rain iced roads and tangled transportation in Fairbanks on Thursday as warmer weather blasted usually frigid Interior Alaska..."

File photo above: "Matt Goff and his daughter Rowan check out a flooded Swan Lake Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Sitka, Alaska. The Goffs were spending the day looking at flooded sites around town. More than 4.5 inches of rain fell in a 24-hour period." (AP Photo/Daily Sitka Sentinel, James Poulson).

Read more here:
Predicting Super Bowl Snow Is An Epic Forecasting Challenge. LiveScience does an admirable job tackling the complexities and impossibilities of a 2-week weather forecast (for a specific point, like The Meadowlands in New Jersey). Here's an excerpt: "...This suggests that no one should put too much stock in any single prediction two weeks out. Even the official NWS local forecasts that go out seven days need to be viewed with some caution at the far end, since their skill is little better than climatology at that point.In other words, the average high, low and precipitation amounts observed on February 2 over the last 30 years may come nearly as close to being correct as a typical weather forecast issued seven days beforehand. It's also important to distinguish between "skill" and "accuracy." One could offer a firm prediction of "no snow" a month in advance of the Super Bowl, and chances are greater than 80 percent that the forecast would be correct — but not necessarily skillful..."

Image credit above: "The variable-mesh MPAS grid can be customized to feature higher resolution where added detail is desired, as illustrated here for North America." Courtesy MPAS.

Hundred Years Of Dry: How California's Drought Could Get Much, Much Worse. Time Magazine provides some historical perspective for the deepening drought afflicting California and the West Coast; here's an excerpt: "...Californians need to be ready, because if some scientists are right, this drought could be worse than anything the state has experienced in centuries. B. Lynn Ingram, a paleoclimatologist at the University of California, Berkeley, has looked at rings of old trees in the state, which helps scientists gauge precipitation levels going back hundreds of years. (Wide tree rings indicate years of substantial growth and therefore healthy rainfall, while narrow rings indicate years of little growth and very dry weather.) She believes that California hasn’t been this dry since 1580, around the time the English privateer Sir Francis Drake first visited the state’s coast..."

Photo credit above: "A marina on Lake Folsom sits dry and useless as an unseasonably dry winter in California stokes fears of a severe drought, near Folsom, Calif., Jan. 15, 2014. Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency on Friday, which will allow California to seek federal aid as it grapples with what could turn out to be the driest year in recorded state history for many areas." (Max Whittaker/The New York Times)

California Drought Spurs Some Cities - Not All - To Conserve. Climate Central weighs in on a deepening sense of crisis in California. With a little luck the rains will arrive in the coming weeks, but by then it may be too little too late. Here's a clip: "Californians are hoping big rains will relieve the drought emergency declared in the state last week. It could be in the form of a miracle March rainstorm, or a sudden drastic shift in the weather pattern that is keeping the winter rains away. The state is drying up quickly, but cities across the state are responding to the drought in a variety of ways — from imposing water restrictions immediately to doing nothing at all. Though scientists aren’t yet certain if climate change has contributed to the severity of the drought in California, the state just experienced its driest year on record in 2013 after an extremely dry decade with no end to the dry spell in sight. A persistent high pressure ridge is lingering off the West Coast, deflecting California’s typical winter storms away from the state..."

Photo credit above: "A panoramic view of an extremely low Folsom Lake in Northern California in January."
Credit: Stuart Rankin/flickr.

Rare Winter Wildfires Erupt In Northern Coast Range. Unusual for late January? Absolutely. in Portland, Oregon has the story and video; here's a clip: "Rare winter wildfires in the Coast Range, visible from as far as 20 miles away, continued to burn early Friday morning east of Arch Cape. The first was reported about 3 p.m. Thursday and second one about midnight south of the original fire, according to Seaside police. A Forestry official told KGW Friday morning that the first fire was about 25 acres and the second about 100 acres..."

Researchers Digging Into Data On Quiet Hurricane Season. Last year's hurricane prediction was a bust - it was the quietest year in the Atlantic since 1982. What happened, and can a long-range hurricane forecast even be trusted? Here's a clip from a story at The Coloradoan: "...Gray and Klotzbach believe a significant cooling of waters in the eastern Atlantic associated with a weakening of the thermohaline circulation -- or the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation -- in the spring months was the primary reason for the inactivity. But there are significant disagreements between historical datasets about the conditions of the atmosphere during the June-November hurricane season..."

Graphic above:

Tsunami Alert. Russia's Emergency Ministry is predicting a significant earthquake/tsunami later this year off Sakhalin Island, in the far east. When did anyone start predicting quakes and tidal waves months in advance? Details from What, you don't read this on a regular basis? And yes, I need some new hobbies...

Large Fault Zone Still A Threat To Central U.S. One of these days the New Madrid fault will rupture, and people will wonder why nobody was talking about the threat. Here's an excerpt of a good reminder from Discovery News: "More than a century ago in December of 1811 and January of 1812, residents in the 600,000 square kilometers around New Madrid, Mo., suffered damages from some of the most powerful earthquakes in United States history. Seismologists recently warned that the New Madrid fault didn’t die and still threatens the area where Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas meet. During those 19th century New Madrid fault quakes, buildings suffered damage as far away as St. Louis and Cincinnati. As the ground fell out from underneath the Mississippi River, waves swept northward, creating the illusion that the river had reversed its course and whole islands disappeared. Closer to the epicenter of the quake, sand erupted from the ground, which dropped up to 6 meters in places..."

The Last Place On Earth Without Human Noise. Greenland? Antarctica? Good luck finding a remote spot with zero noise pollution, according to this story at The BBC. One hint: Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area is near the top of the Quiet List, so we have that going for us. Here's an excerpt: "...Unfortunately, Hempton says that there is absolutely no place on Earth that is completely free from human sound all of the time. A map of the established flight paths over the US, for example, “looks like a plate of spaghetti,” he says. Hempton is not alone in this pronouncement. “There are no places on Earth that I’ve been that haven’t been affected by human sound,” agrees Bernie Krause, an expert in bioacoustics and one of the founders of the field of soundscape ecology. “All over the Earth, not a day goes by when you don’t hear something...”

Image credit above: "Satellite imagery of artificial light, like this picture of Italy, can reveal the human activity you might want to avoid." (NASA).

The Geography Of The American Dream. The Atlantic takes a look at upward mobility and where, statistically, the most people are getting closer to that dream; here's an excerpt: "One of the most important lessons from today's blockbuster social mobility report is that place matters. (And, because your parents choose the place where you're born and live, parents matter.) Tucked into the appendix are two colorful maps of America that tell you where social mobility—the chance to move up the income ladder, a.k.a. The American Dream—is living and where it's not. First, the graphs. Then, five facts..."

A Death In The Database. As I gently remind my friends and colleagues, if the product is "free", YOU are the product. Here's an excerpt of a shocking and sobering tale from The New Yorker: "...Segmenting potential customers based on their traumas is the funhouse-mirror inversion of a popular retail strategy known as “life-stage marketing.” The idea is that during certain transitions—weddings, births, new homes—people will spend a lot of money, obviously, but will also be especially open to changing their habits. Crate & Barrel hosts engagement parties not only to persuade couples to register at its stores but to build new brand loyalties. Companies race to be the first to find these lucrative shoppers, which is how Target got in trouble several years ago for revealing that a teen-age girl was pregnant before she had told her father..."

C'mon Kids - Let's Go See The Creepy Robots That May Someday Take Your Jobs! Remind me not to visit South Korea anytime soon, and I suspect Disneyworld has nothing to worry about. Here's a clip from Gizmag: "Since 2007, the South Korean government has dreamed of Robot Land, a robotics research park and themed destination with rides, exhibitions, shopping, and even housing. Although the originally planned open date of 2012 has come and gone, ground was officially broken for the 300-acre park last year and a new timeline seems to indicate that Robot Land may now be on target to deliver on its promise of a themed world dedicated to robots..."

What Reviewers Said About The First Mac When It Debuted 30 Years Ago. It's been 30 years? Amazing, and now I'd be lost without my iMac and iPhone and iPad. I should get an iLife huh? Here's a clip of a great recap of that audacious moment from Smithsonian: "Nearly thirty years ago, on January 24, 1984, a 28-year-old Steve Jobs appeared onstage in a tuxedo to introduce a new Apple computer that had been in the works for years: the Macintosh. Two days earlier, during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII, Apple aired a commercial that brought already-high expectations for the Mac to a fever pitch. In the ad, a nameless heroine runs through a dystopian setting, where a face projected onto an enormous screen commands a room full of conformists to obey. Evading police in riot gear, the heroine smashes the screen with a giant hammer, freeing the audience. The message: IBM was 1984's Big Brother, and Mac was the audacious liberator..."

Giving New Meaning To "Great White Shark". In case you (somehow) missed this nugget, Rick Kupchella's has a great recap and video of the amazing artistry going on up in New Brighton; here's a clip: "The Bartz brothers of New Brighton have completed their latest snow sculpture masterpiece – a giant shark that fills their front yard. Now the teens are getting national attention for the feat. The Today show featured the story on Monday, noting that the three teens – Connor, Trevor and Austin – said they spent more than 90 hours creating the massive snow sculpture – and it beat spending time on their cellphones..."

Address: if you want to check it out head to 2700 block of 16th Street Northwest in New Brighton; it's near Totino Grace.

Climate Stories...

"Emissions have gone up faster than I thought and some of the effects of global warming are coming through more quickly, such as melting of the glaciers and the polar ice caps." - Lord Stern, The Guardian

Perspective. Cartoon courtesy of

Soon, Sochi Won't Be Cold Enough To Reliably Host The Winter Olympics. Here's a snippet of a story at ThinkProgress: "If the Winter Olympics were held in Sochi, Russia in 2050, the climate wouldn’t be reliably cold enough to successfully host the games. That’s one of the findings of a new study from researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada and the Management Center Innsbruck in Austria. The researchers looked at high and low emissions scenarios for the 2050s and 2080s and found that, by the 2080s, only six of the 19 cities that have hosted Winter Olympics in the past would be able to reliably host the games again if high emissions predictions play out..."

Photo credit above: AP Photo/Marco Trovati.

Climate Change Threatens Future Winter Olympics Venues. Here's an excerpt of a story at Canada's CBC News: "Memorable host cities for the Winter Olympics wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance of reliably hosting a Games in the next few decades amid climate change, according to a new report. At the rate the Earth continues to heat up, only six of the last 19 Winter Olympics locations would be cold enough by the end of this century to stage the Games, the joint Canadian-Austrian study says. A new joint study from Canadian and Austrian researchers says that amid climate change, only 11 of the previous 19 sites for Winter Olympics could host the Games in the coming decades..."

Photo credit above: "Global warming is progressing at such a rate that scientists say many previous sites of Winter Olympics would be too warm to host a Winter Games by the last half of this century." (Dominic Ebenbichler/Reuters).

Climate Change: The Winter Olympics' Great Thaw. Climate Central has a unique perspective on some of the new methods and technologies cities and countries are employing to counter warming winter temperatures for their Winter Olympics Games; here's an excerpt of the story: "...In 1952, hockey was moved to indoor rinks permanently with figuring skating and curling following suit in 1960. Refrigeration was added to bobsled tracks in 1972 and ski jumping ramps in 2010. Snowmaking for downhill skiing events became commonplace in 1992. This year, organizers of the Sochi Olympics have taken even more drastic steps to ensure the outdoor events go off without a hitch. “One thing Sochi is doing differently in their adaptation arsenal is they made snow last winter and stored it under tarps, in the same way some Swiss places have been protecting their glaciers,” he said..."

File photo above: "In this Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013 file photo insulated blankets cover a snow storage unit in the Rosa Khutor Alpine center in the mountain cluster in Krasnaya Polyana outside the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia. Sochi will have enough snow for the Winter Olympics in February, Russia's chief weather forecaster vowed Friday. Concerns about a snowless Olympics were raised after two test events in Sochi had to be cancelled last February because of a lack of snow or rainy weather. The resort city on the Black Sea is the only sub-tropical region of Russia." (AP Photo/Sergei Grits, File).

Industry Awakens To Threat Of Climate Change. When it starts showing up on the top line, or bottom line, many companies are quickly getting past climate denial and trying to figure out viable strategies for dealing with increased climate volatility in their supply chains. Here's a clip from The New York Times: "Coca-Cola has always been more focused on its economic bottom line than on global warming, but when the company lost a lucrative operating license in India because of a serious water shortage there in 2004, things began to change. Today, after a decade of increasing damage to Coke’s balance sheet as global droughts dried up the water needed to produce its soda, the company has embraced the idea of climate change as an economically disruptive force. “Increased droughts, more unpredictable variability, 100-year floods every two years,” said Jeffrey Seabright, Coke’s vice president for environment and water resources, listing the problems that he said were also disrupting the company’s supply of sugar cane and sugar beets, as well as citrus for its fruit juices. “When we look at our most essential ingredients, we see those events as threats...”

Photo credit above: "A Coke bottling plant in Winona, Minn. The company has been affected by global droughts." Andrew Link/Winona Daily News, via Associated Press.

More Global Warming Will Be Worse For The Economy, Says The Copenhagen Consensus Center. Here's a clip from an article at The Guardian: "The Copenhagen Consensus Center (oddly, located in Massachusetts) is a think tank headed by Bjorn Lomborg that advocates for what they consider "the best ways for governments and philanthropists to spend aid and development money." The group recently released a report that attempts to quantify the economic damage caused by various global problems, including climate change. Regarding climate change and its costs, the group states,
"Climate change is real and man-made ... After year 2070, global warming will become a net cost to the world, justifying cost-effective climate action."
Image credit above: "Bjorn Lomborg leads the Copenhangen Consensus Center, which has concluded that more global warming will be worse for the economy." Photograph: Camera Press.

Backers: Report On Rail Risks Boosts Keystone XL. Because there have never (ever) been any pipeline-related spills, right? Here's an excerpt of a story from AP and ABC News: "A government warning about the dangers of increased use of trains to transport crude oil is giving a boost to supporters of the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline. U.S. and Canadian accident investigators urged their governments Thursday to impose new safety rules on so-called oil trains, warning that a "major loss of life" could result from an accident involving the increasing use of trains to transport large amounts of crude oil. Pipeline supporters said the unusual joint warning by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada highlights the need for Keystone XL, which would carry oil derived from tar sands in western Canada to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Oil started flowing Wednesday through a southern leg of the pipeline from Oklahoma to the Houston region..."

File photo credit: "In the is Oct. 4, 2012 file photo, large sections of pipe are shown on a neighboring property to Julia Trigg Crawford family farm, in Sumner Texas. On Wednesday, Jan 22, 2014, TransCanada said in a statement on its website that it is delivering oil through the Gulf Coast portion of its proposed Keystone XL pipeline, from a hub in Cushing, Okla., to Houston-area refineries." (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, file).

NTSB Urges Oil Trains Be Routed Away From Population Centers. There were more rail-related accidents involving transporation of oil in 2013 than the previous 37 years, nationwide. Here's a clip from a story at The Star Tribune: "The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) expressed growing concern Thursday that accidents involving oil trains can cause “major loss of life,” and recommended that they be rerouted where possible to avoid populated areas. The safety board’s proposal, a direct response to last July’s oil train disaster in Quebec, reverberates in the Twin Cities, where 100-car crude oil trains have become a common occurrence. But diverting oil tankers away from cities, especially historic rail hubs such as Minneapolis and St. Paul, represents a daunting challenge because most major tracks pass through urban areas..."

Photo credit above: "National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt, right, views damaged rail cars in Casselton, N.D."

The Norwegian Carbon Capture And Storage Nightmare. Will we someday invent technologies to render carbon pollution harmless, turn it into an inert gas, or bury it (forever) in the ground? Perhaps - but it hasn't happened yet, nothing that can be scaled. Here's a clip from a cautionary tale in Norway from The Foreigner: "...In my perspective, the project was doomed to fail from the beginning. It was never true that effective CCS technology was readily available, no more in 2006 than today. Well-working carbon capture and storage that actually benefits the climate requires cost and energy-efficient carbon capture, efficient transport of the CO2, and safe storage. Furthermore, every part of this chain needs to be working well with the others at an industrial scale. None of this was present then, none of it is present now..."

Image credit above: "The only remaining trace of the "Norwegian Moon Landing" is a very big pile of documents." Photo: Nina Aldin Thune/Wikimedia Commons.
* more on carbon capture and storage technologies from Joe Romm at ThinkProgress.