Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Mostly-Fine 4th of July Weekend

"Showers of Oil?" Check out this YouTube clip, actually there are multiple video clips on YouTube all showing pretty much the same thing: oily rain hitting the Gulf coast. Now under normal conditions oil doesn't evaporate. But some experts are theorizing that with all the recent chemicals being poured on the oil in the Gulf of Mexico, some strange reaction may be taking place that scientists are unable to explain. At first I dismissed this as a hoax, just a few people out with cameras trying to get attention. But the more I looked at this video the more I started to wonder if maybe there really is oil (somehow) mixing in with the rain falling on coastal communities. This has never happened before, a spill of this magnitude and duration. We are in uncharted waters - at this point I guess I wouldn't rule anything out. This catastrophe has humbled the alleged "experts", so who knows what is true and what isn't. Take a look. Tell me what you think.

Hurricane Alex. The first hurricane of the season, Alex is expected to strengthen into a strong category 1 storm, possibly a weak category 2 hurricane, hitting the coast of Mexico with 80-95 mph winds late Wednesday. A storm surge of 3-5 feet is possible, along with 10-15" rains inland. It appears that South Texas will see heavy thunderstorms and wind gusts to 50 mph, but the brunt of Alex will stay south of the U.S.

Landfall. A consensus of weather models predicts landfall around 8:15 pm this evening about 100-200 miles south of Brownsville, Texas, hitting the coast with sustained winds over 90 mph, gusts as high as 114 mph.

Flight Path. The "Hurricane Hunter" reconnaissance aircraft (big, sturdy turbo-prop aircraft) make multiple passes, punching through the core of the storm, measuring winds, barometric pressure and turbulence - "dropsondes" are released from the aircraft, small weather instruments (with parachutes) that measure weather conditions all the way from 10,000 feet down to the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. It's a bumpy ride, but these planes can sustain the turbulence. The only time they don't fly? When the hurricane comes ashore and passes over land. The reason (as I discovered when I flew into a hurricane in 2005): the risk of tornadoes increases exponentially once the hurricane encounters land - the last thing the crew wants to do is fly into a developing tornado funnel, capable of ripping wings off the aircraft.

Paul's SC Times Outlook for St. Cloudce and all of central Minnesota

Today: Bright sun, beautiful. Winds: SE 10-15. High: 79

Wednesday night: Clear and comfortable. Low: 60

Thursday: Starting to feel more like summer again, mostly sunny, warmer. High: 83

Friday: Partly sunny, feeling sticky. High: 85

Saturday: Hazy sunshine, muggy - a stiff breeze (South 15-30). High: 89

Saturday night: Showers and T-storms possible, especially western MN. Low: 68

4th of July: More clouds than sun, unsettled - showers/T-storms likely. High: 82

Monday: Better, sunnier and drier statewide with a drop in humidity. High: 84

Tuesday: Plenty of sun, still pleasant. High: 83

Look out the window. Exhibit A. Proof positive that - yes - Minnesota is still America's best kept secret. My oldest son, Walt, just graduated from Penn State (he's working with me at WeatherNation, helping out with post-production, editing, video challenges in general - I'm very proud of him). Most of the people attending Penn State are from the east, a significant percentage of his friends consistently mixed up Minnesota with Montana. He would bring up the lakes, the culture, the arts, the music scene, and they would always get this distant, vacant look in their eyes. "You live WHERE...?" Minnesota. My Mother in Law thought we were living in Milwaukee (easy to mix up the M-Cities, I guess). A favorite aunt wished me luck as I was about to fly back to "Indianapolis."

Most Americans have no idea what we have up here, and it's probably just as well. Let them swap urban legends of our winters (reinforced by the national media). "They test batteries in International Falls, don't they?" Minnesota, let's see: Prince, Jesse Ventura, and The Capital of Cold. In that order. Repeat. Once people come here, and see it with their own two eyes, their opinion of Minnesota forever changes. They sample our extraordinary suburbs. "You mean ALL the public schools are good?" Yep. "How can that be?" I shrug - visibly proud of my adopted state. "It's clean, safe, people actually take the time to smile and ask how you're doing - it's all an act, right?" Yes, Minnesota is composed of roughly 5 million actors, all pretending to be nice.

I know we have our issues and problems - I want to live long enough to see the Crosstown Commons (mess) completed. Summer construction is a bummer, the lakes are getting increasingly polluted, choked with runoff and millfoil. But overall the air is clean, pollution is minimal (compared to Chicago and the Philadelphia area, where I was born, where many days the sky was so hazy and orange you had trouble finding the sun - I kid you not). I do not take our relatively pristine environment for granted, not for a minute, which makes it hard for me to share a troubling story about the loon population (from Conservation MN - see below).

O.K. Sorry to sound like a shill for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, but sometimes we forget what we have here - we get caught up in our problem-of-the-day. One of the things I like most about the great state of Minnesota? You can see all the way to tomorrow - just about 40 miles in every direction. Every day we get to enjoy a (free) show unfolding overhead, with amazing clouds formations, awe-inspiring sunrises and sunsets - every day is different, every weather pattern unique. I know, what a weather-geek. Guilty as charged. I would lose my mind in Palm Springs, San Diego or Miami (after a couple of years....) Seriously, what do the meteorologists in those towns do?

Nice to get a break this week, after tracking nearly 200 severe storms over a 10-day period from June 17-26. No tornadoes up until June 17, then 36 in 10 days. Very odd. Southern Minnesota is finally drying out after drenching, almost tropical rains on Saturday. Welcome to the 4th dry day in a row (!) with bright sun, temperatures mellowing a few degrees (after a cool start, that is). A few towns up north are waking up to 40s, light jackets and sweatshirts - you'll be able to abandon any jacket by 9 am, highs approaching 80 by late afternoon as winds swing around to the southeast. Another perfect day.

No weather worries through Saturday as temperatures mellow, within 24-48 hours it will feel like summer again, with highs well up into the 80s - 90 is not out of the question Saturday afternoon (with a gusty south wind, blowing at 15-25 with a few gust to 30). Plan on a choppy boat ride on your favorite lake, but the sun should be out most of the day - showers and storms holding off until Saturday night (when some of the rain may be heavy at times).

Free Fireworks? Of course, you knew this would happen (months ago). Major holidays attract rain - works like clockwork. An eastbound cool front will spark showers and storms, the best chance of rain will come Sunday, the 4th, and a few of the storms could be hefty, even severe. Not an all-day rain, but maybe 2-4 hours of showers and T-storms. Have a Plan B for part of the day Sunday, the best chance of some rain coming midday and PM hours. The map shows accumulated rain expected from midday into the evening hours Sunday.

The 4th? Far from perfect, but probably not an all-day rain, maybe 2-4 hours of showers and T-storms as a cool front pushes across the state, winds easing, blowing from the west to northwest at 8-13 with a few higher gusts in the vicinity of T-storms. That front keeps sailing east, treating us to a mostly sunny, mostly-dry Monday. So two out of the three days look dry and lake-friendly. Not bad odds for the biggest weekend of summer.

Weekend Weather Highlights

Best lake day: Saturday: sunshine, gusty, but dry. Winds: S 15-30. High: 85-90

4th of July: More clouds than sun, 1-2 hours of showers/storms. Winds: W/NW 8-13. High: 82-87

Monday: Plenty of sun, drop in humidity, probably dry. Winds: W 10-15. High: 83-87

Spill Endangering Rare Bird Habitats. We've seen the heartbreaking (disgusting) picture of dead fish, pelicans and turtles. Ecologists are increasingly worried about the long-term impact on the bird population of the Gulf Coast - many Minnesota birds migrate to the Gulf region during the winter months - we have no idea what the long-term impact will be on the U.S. bird population. The story is here.

Green Slime. A ban on phosphorus in laundry detergent goes into effect this week in Minnesota, one of 15 states banning the harmful chemicals that run off into streams and lakes, accelerating the formation of algae that can reduce oxygen content, killing off fish and making some lakes unfit for swimming. The story from Conservation Minnesota is here.

Silence of the Loons? Minnesota's icon state bird, the loon, may be face imminent danger from the unprecedented oil spill in the Gulf. Loons migrate south for the winter, most of them fly to the Gulf coast, where they face a potentially perilous winter season this year - in all probability oil will be washing up on the Gulf coast for 1-2 years to come, even in a best-case scenario. What if anything can be done? The story from Conservation MN is here.

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