Saturday, April 18, 2009

Why you might want to have a Plan B (inside) Sunday

Forecast precipitation from the WRF/NAM model for the 6 hour period valid 12z (7 am) Sunday morning. The bulk of the rain passes just to the south and east of St. Cloud. The model prints out a whopping .01" of rain for STC, but over .25" for the Twin Cities. Here is another classic example where the Twin Cities metro forecast has absolutely no relevance to residents of St. Cloud and the rest of central Minnesota. That difference of 70 miles or so can be HUGE on a day like Sunday. Although gray, most of Sunday will probably be dry for the greater St. Cloud area, a few spits of rain/sprinkles, while the Twin Cities metro may see 3-5 hours of rain, enough for puddles, probably enough to spoil many outdoor events. Have a Plan B ready, just in case.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Global warming strikes again: up to 36" in Colorado

Sigh. Damn that global warming anyway. Looks like it’s causing some serious winter snowfall in Denver. On…..April 17: 9NEWS Meteorologist Ashton Altieri says rain in the metro area will continue to change into snow through the morning on Friday. Many areas above 6,000 feet had already reported snow and up to 10 inches of accumulation before sunrise on Friday. A WINTER STORM WARNING has been posted through Saturday morning for almost the entire Interstate 25 corridor as well as most mountain areas in Colorado. Most of southern Wyoming, including the Interstate 80 corridor, is also under a warning through Saturday at noon. The entire BLOG POST is here.

Note: The author of this blog has made a classic mistake, mistaking "weather" for "climate". Weather is CNN, climate is the History Channel. You can't look out your window and reach global conclusions, as tempting as that may be. One storm, one front, doesn't mean a thing. Professional skeptics and deniers love to point to one arctic front or one snowstorm and reach sweeping conclusions. It's short-sighted, bordering on laughable. In the same manner, one record high does not prove or validate global warming either! What's required is a careful, organized search of GLOBAL temperature records over decades, and there the trend is undeniable. It's true that temperatures have leveled off a bit since 2005, but we have NOT reversed 30+ years of warming. Rarely is the temperature trend ever a straight line, there are peaks and dips, but the overall trend in the last generation has been ever upward, and climatologists believe the upward trend will resume soon. The next time a friend or colleague or know-it-all neighbor points out the window at flurries and laughs about the "global warming hoax" gently remind them that it's weather, not climate!

80-mile stretch of I-70 in Colorado closed by snow

About 80 miles of Interstate 70 between Golden and Vail is closed because of adverse weather and multiple accidents.Westbound I-70 at mile marker 259 and eastbound I-70 at mile marker 80 is closed, that's from Vail Pass to Morrison Road.The Red Cross has opened two shelters in Silverthorne and Frisco in Summit County to help stranded travelers. Shelters were also set up in Idaho Springs and Georgetown. Stranded drivers should call 303-722-7474 for the latest on shelter locations. Information courtesy of the

Even deadlier than tornadoes (amazing, but true)

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration there are about 1.5 million car accidents with deer each year that result in $1 billion in vehicle damage, about 150 human fatalities, and over 10,000 personal injuries. The actual numbers are probably higher because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's figures for deer accidents, rely on inconsistent state reporting- there is no standard reporting of deer accidents in the country yet, and a "reportable deer accident" varies significantly between states. In an insurance claims statistics study conducted in 2004-2005 the top ten states for deer accidents were listed. According to this study, Pennsylvania drivers experience more deer collisions than any other state. The number of accidents increases with the deer migrating and mating season which occurs between the months of October and December. By comparison, the running 3 year average death toll from tornadoes in the USA is 91. Unbelievable.

World Sunlight Map

Watch the sun rise and set all over the world on this real-time, computer-generated illustration of the earth's patterns of sunlight and darkness. The clouds are updated every 3 hours with current weather satellite imagery. BTW, this looks GREAT on a big screen LCD, if you have a hook-up from your PC or MAC. The web site is here.

Minnesota WeatherTalk from Mark Seeley

If you're a weather-weanie (ok, weather enthusiast sounds a lot better) you'll definitely want to add this link to your bookmarks. Professor Mark Seeley is a Professor at the University of Minnesota (Department of Soil, Water and Climate). Every Friday he posts a great Minnesota-centric article complete with headlines, explanations, phrenology (nature's reaction to weather changes) as well as timely questions and answers). Check it out here!

EPA to clear the way for regulation of warming gases

WASHINGTON -- The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday is expected to formally declare carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases to be pollutants that threaten public health and welfare, setting in motion a process that for the first time will regulate the gases blamed for global warming. E.P.A. officials, briefing members of Congress in advance of the ruling, said that the agency had found the science supporting the so-called endangerment finding “compelling and overwhelming.” The ruling triggers a 60-day comment period before any proposed regulations governing emissions of greenhouse gases are published.

The federal government is finally getting serious about regulating CO2 and other, potentially harmful, greenhouse gases. Here is the full text of the New York Times article.

Tracking Lightning here on Earth

(lightning data as of 10 am, Friday morning, 58,000+ strikes in the past 24 hours).

Vaisala Lightning Explorer
Vaisala Lightning Explorer displays recent lightning activity across the entire continental U.S. The lightning data displayed is 20 minutes delayed and updated every 20 minutes. Get the latest map available by clicking "Refresh" under the map. The map shows a 2-hour time period with lightning data color coded in 20-minute increments.

Lightning Data from the U.S. National Lightning Detection Network
Vaisala Lightning Explorer uses lightning data from Vaisala's U.S. NLDN, the most reliable lightning detection system in the U.S. The U.S. NLDN constantly detects lightning discharges anywhere in the continental U.S. Each symbol on the map represents one recorded lightning event.

Go ahead and bookmark this page for a quick check before heading out to the lake or ball field. But know that the data is delayed by 20 minutes so it's useful, but by no means "real time". If you want fresher, more current data you'll have to subscribe to Vaisala, but they have a number of different options, some quite affordable (if you have a weather-sensitive business and lightning is a constant threat). The 20 minute delayed lightning information can be found here.

Massive dust storms (on Mars)

Just like hurricane season or tornado season on Earth, Mars has stormy seasons, too. However, the Red Planet has dust storms, and they can be whoppers, which is bad news for the two Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity who rely on clear skies and sunshine for power. On April 21, Mars will be at the closest point to the sun in the planet’s 23-month, elliptical orbit. One month later, the planet’s equinox will mark the start of summer in Mars’ southern hemisphere. This atmospheric-warming combination makes the coming weeks the most likely time of the Martian year for dust storms, and given the current forecast based on data from the orbiting Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey, these storms could be severe enough to minimize activities of the rovers.

Click here for the entire article.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A movable border (thanks to global warming)

(Image of Monta Rosa glacier courtesy of Wikipedia. This is a strange article - sounds like something you might read in the satire site, The Onion. Because of shrinking glaciers the border between Italy and Switzerland is moving, as much as 30 feet or more. They are actually considering the notion of a "movable border" between the 2 countries, as glaciers shrink and the watershed below shifts over time - bizarre!)

How global warming can shrink glaciers and alter frontiers

ONCE frontiers were changed by armies. Now the job is done by global warming. Italy and Switzerland are preparing to make—or rather to recognise—alterations to the border that runs through the Monte Rosa massif of the Alps. Despite what romantically minded locals may say, the name of the massif has nothing to with the pink blush its peaks acquire at sunset. It comes from a dialect word meaning glacier. The massif has nine glaciers. In several places the line between the two countries is set at the watershed. Because of global warming, the glaciers have shrunk, so the watershed has shifted, “in some places by as much as ten metres”, says General Carlo Colella of Italy’s Military Geographic Institute in Florence. In January, after four years of work by the general and his staff, Silvio Berlusconi’s cabinet approved a change in the frontier.

Here is the entire article in the Economist.

Severe drought plagues southeastern MN

Here is the latest update from the U.S. Drought Monitor. It shows that central Minnesota is in pretty good shape in terms of soil moisture (getting drier the farther east you go toward Elk River, Monticello and the Twin Cities). 16% of Minnesota is too dry (yellow-shaded part of the state). 10% of Minnesota is suffering through a moderate drought, including much of the Twin Cities. Severe drought conditions are impacting far southeastern counties, from Stillwater to Hastings, Lake City and Winona. Last year at this time 25% of Minnesota was abnormally dry, but there was no drought anywhere in the state. It's still early; this does NOT necessarily mean that we'll have to worry about a severe drought during the growing season - hopefully we'll get some rain in here soon (as early as Saturday night and Sunday). Until we get at least .50" of rain and spring green-up a nagging brushfire threat will linger.

To explore the Drought Monitor (click on specific regions and states) click here.

How Prepared is the Twin Cities for an F5 Tornado?

This is an eye-opening story from the Dallas Observer, pondering the unthinkable: a 1/2 to 1 mile wide tornado hitting downtown Dallas. Statistically it's just a matter of time. What would happen in the Twin Cities? Studies have been conducted for metro Chicago, showing a potential loss of life in the thousands, possibly the tens of thousands if the tornado struck during rush hour, when many commuters would be caught in their vehicles. As many as 100,000+ residents could be injured, with damage running into the billions, on a par with Hurricane Katrina. Nobody wants to imagine such carnage, but an F5 tornado hitting the immediate metro is not inconceivable (F4's hit the Lake Minnetonka/Fridley area in 1965). The state has witnessed at least 3 or 4 F-5 tornadoes, with estimated winds of 200-300 mph. An F5, by definition, means violence cable of carrying a well-built brick home completely off its foundation.

The full text of the article is here.

Red Flag Warning Posted

A Red Flag Warning is in effect for most of Minnesota. The combination of bright sun, 11 days in a row with no rain, relative humidity in the 10-15% and gusty winds this afternoon will enhance the risk of brushfires, which can spread rapidly once they flare up. The situation will remain dangerous until weekend rains, and the imminent spring "green-up", which is still 1-2 weeks away.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tracking brushfires from space (MODIS Satellite)

Here is an ultra-high resolution satellite image, courtesy of the MODIS Active Fire Mapping Program. These images are taken from a low-orbiting satellite about 200 miles above the ground, available a couple of hours after passing over Minnesota. The main purpose of these crystal-clear images is to identify and track fires from space. There are different "bands" of satellite imagery which make it easier to find the (hot) thumbprint of a growing fire. Click on the jpegs to see the highest-resolution imagery (you can see individual lakes, even smaller lakes across Minnesota).

This is a "true color" image of Minnesota, which will slowly transform into more of a green hue as leaves begin to bud statewide in the coming weeks. Check out the lingering snow cover across the Minnesota Arrowhead. One more weekend for snowmobiling along the North Shore?

For the main MODIS web page (definitely bookmark-worthy!) click here.

Climate change is 'biggest stress' on ocean


Experts on marine science, policy and law came together on Friday at the Stanford Law School for a symposium on managing ocean ecosystems in an uncertain future of climate change. The daylong panel discussion was hosted by the Stanford Journal of Law, Science and Policy. "The event was an amazing cross-section of state agencies, academic institutions, government and students," said Meg Caldwell, a senior lecturer at the Law School and at Stanford's Woods Institute for the Environment. Caldwell moderated a panel on protecting marine species."This was real-time education for policymakers," added Caldwell, who also serves as director of the Center for Ocean Solutions, a collaboration of Stanford University, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

The complete article is here.

Massive emissions cuts can save Arctic ice: study

(The shore of Deception Island in Antarctica, in 2008)
WASHINGTON (AFP) — Cutting greenhouse gases by 70 percent this century would spare the planet the most traumatic effects of climate change, including the massive loss of Arctic sea ice, a study said Tuesday. Warming in the Arctic would be almost halved, helping preserve fisheries, as well as sea birds and Arctic mammals like polar bears in some regions, including the northern Bering Sea, according to scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).But the massive cuts of greenhouse gas emissions advocated by the researchers would only "stabilize the threat of climate change and avoid catastrophe," said NCAR scientist Warren Washington, the study's lead author.

Click here for the entire article.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tracking the 8 Day Weather Yourself

(GFS Meteogram for MSP; image courtesy of

I'm dating myself, but when I went to school to become a meteorologist we used paper maps. Nobody in the late 70s could imagine the wealth of information that would be at our fingertips 20 years later. Today there are an estimated 6,000+ web sites in the U.S. devoted to weather; the National Weather Service has a wealth of information on-line, major universities are another good, trusted source of updated weather information.

Here is the GFS model prediction for the Twin Cities, looking out 7-8 days into the future. This "Meteogram" is fairly self-explanatory, tracking the expected highs, lows, probability of precipitation and cloudcover. The computer models are essential, but research shows that the best accuracy comes from a mix of man & machine, ie. meteorologists knowing when the computers are on-track, or out to lunch and way off the mark. Watch how the forecast for Day 4-8 changes (sometimes dramatically) over time as new data arrives and new models, simulations of how the atmosphere SHOULD flow, display contradictory forecasts. Spend a little time deciphering the models and you too will be pulling what few gray hairs are left on the top of your head. Long-range weather forecasting is definitely not for the timid!

A dark & deadly anniversary

(image courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society)

Today marks the anniversay of Minnesota's deadliest tornado. On April 14, 1886 a massive tornado descended on the St. Cloud/Sauk Rapids area. 800 yards wide, it remained on the ground for 20 miles, so large it didn't look like the classic tornado "funnel". When the winds subsided 74 residents of Sauk Rapids and St. Cloud had lost their lives, over 200 people were injured, much of Sauk Rapids wiped clean off the map. 11 of the fatalities were members of a wedding party, including the bride and groom. Historical lore claims that the winds were so strong and violent that survivors could see the bottom of the Mississippi River immediately after the tornado vortex passed.

For more information on Minnesota tornadoes, climatology, and a list of the worst twisters ever reported click here.

The Minnesota Historical Society has a huge library of images from the storm, free to browse on-line. Some of the images are truly incredible.

Fargo flooding from space

Held in place by reinforced levees, the swollen Red River snakes through Fargo, North Dakota, and Moorhead, Minnesota, in this image captured by the Advanced Land Imager on NASA’s EO-1 satellite on March 28, 2009. The river’s usual s-shaped curves north and south of Interstate 94 had been swallowed in a bulge of water. The main channel of the river is slightly darker than the flooded land in these areas, hinting at how extensive the floods are.

The Earth Observatory article is here.

Looks like the Red River will crest roughly 3 feet less than the historic crest of 40+ feet on March 28. The very latest NWS flood forecast for downtown Fargo shows a crest near 37 feet by Saturday. Residents in the Fargo/Moorhead area may yet dodge a bullet.

The Dire fate of Forests in a Warmer World

It's not easy to kill a full-grown tree — especially one like the piñon pine. The hardy evergreen is adapted to life in the hot, parched American Southwest, so it takes more than a little dry spell to affect it. In fact, it requires a once-in-a-century event like the extended drought of the 1950s, which scientists now believe led to widespread tree mortality in the Four Corners area of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. So, when another drought hit the area around 2002, researchers were surprised to see up to 10% of the piñon pines die off, even though that dry spell was much milder than the one before. The difference in 2002 was the five decades of global warming that had transpired since the drought in the 1950s. That led terrestrial ecologists at the University of Arizona (UA) to pose the question, With temperatures set to rise sharply over the coming century if climate change goes unchecked, what impact will it have on the piñon pine?

The entire Time Magazine article is here.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

One more blast of flurries?

Uh oh. Here is the 10-Day GFS Outlook for Wednesday morning, April 22. It's hinting at one more winter slap, with a cold north wind, even snow flurries and snow showers. Look at the bright side: even if it snows it can't stick around on your lawn for long - the sun is as high in the sky as it was in early September. But a word to the wise: don't pack away the heavy jackets and coats just yet.