Monday, March 7, 2011

Heaviest Snows Pass South/East Wednesday (1-3" possible in St. Cloud)

55.4" of snow so far this winter in St. Cloud.
13" snow on the ground as of Monday evening.
1-3" snow expected Wednesday, as much as 5" south/east of St. Cloud. Heaviest snow falls Wednesday morning.
1-2" slush possible Friday night.
1-3" more next Monday.

* National Weather Service may extend the Winter Storm Watch into parts of the Twin Cities metro today.

40s likely the third week of March. There are some (subtle) signs of spring in the long-range models.

* According to Greg Spoden over at the Minnesota State Climatology Office, 10 of the last 15 La Nina winters have resulted in over 20" snow for the Twin Cities area. If that's the case this year we'll come very close to breaking the all-time snowfall record of 98.6" in 1983-84. How does the saying go, "may you live in interesting times?" A little too interesting.

Probably "Plowable". We've been tracking Wednesday's storm for well over a week, watching the models flip-flop, trying to get a read on the (final) storm track - which should still be just far enough south/east of the St. Cloud metro for a glancing blow of snow, something in the 2-4" range, with as much as 5" possible close to home. I think we'll see a large east-west variation in snowfall totals across the immediate metro. The southern/eastern suburbs of St. Paul may see 5-7" or more, more than twice as much as portions of Wright and Anoka counties, where an inch or two may fall. Yes, it stinks being right on the edge of a significant storm.

The Real Reason For Wednesday's Snow? Is it a coincidence that the Boy's Hockey Tournament kicks off at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul on Wednesday? Interesting timing. What is it about tournaments and storms? More details on the tournament here.

Number Eight (and Rising). If we do wind up with 5 or 6" by Saturday we'll move up to # 5 or #6 in the rankings. Will we break the all-time record of 98.6" in 1983-84? Great question. I think we have at least a 30% probability of eclipsing '84. Odds favor that we'll wind up #2 or #3 for the winter season, but the way this winter is going - expect the unexpected, right? More details from the local NWS office here.

Trending Upward. Every computer run takes the storm track a little farther north and west (remember the "southward bias" I warned you about with the GFS model?) It turns out last week's projections may have been more accurate than what the GFS was printing out just 1-2 days ago. So it goes with long-range guestimation. Bottom line: the odds of 5 or even 6" of snow in the metro have increased. It won't be Snowmageddon, but Wednesday will probably be a slushy mess.

00z NAM/WRF Solution. .36" liquid by Thursday morning in St. Cloud; that's almost twice as much as the NAM was suggesting 48 hours ago. It turns out the southern storm may (in fact) take a more northward jog, heavier snow bands pushing into the immediate St. Cloud metro area, possibly enough for 1-3" close to home. I wouldn't be surprised to see some 3"+ amounts by late Wednesday night, especially south/east, toward Monticello and Elk River.

Cobb Method. With a snow/rain ratio ranging from 11:1 to 16:1 the Twin Cities metro area may wind up with as much as 4-5". Not exactly the end of the world - but enough to complicate your Wednesday just a bit.

Green = 4-6"  No, I don't think kids will get a snow-day on Wednesday, but you can bet commute times will be 2 to 3 times longer, due to big, fat, sloppy snowflakes. The Twin Cities metro area may pick up 4-6" snow. St. Cloud should pick up closer to 1-3" from Wednesday's snowfall.

On Our Way To 85". I suspect MSP will have an additional 5-7" of snow by next Monday, which would lift our winter snowfall subtotal up to about 84", give or take. That might be enough to crack the Top 5 List. We'll see. I still believe 3-6" is a reasonable range for Wednesday, a mix of rain and snow ending as an inch or two of slush Friday night, yet another system capable of 1-3" next Monday. Storms are spaced roughly 2 1/2 days apart, a very active pattern hanging on through much of March.

Winter Storm Watch. Winter Storm Watches have been issued by the National Weather Service for much of southeastern Minnesota and central Wisconsin, for as much as 6" of snow from Wednesday's storm. A slight northward jog in the storm track could push that 6" band into the southern/eastern suburbs of the Twin Cities, a possible advisory for the greater St. Cloud area. Each model seems to push the heavy snow band a little farther north/west. It wouldn't take much of a detour for MSP to pick up 6" tomorrow. There's a good chance the local NWS office will extend the watch into parts of the metro area today. For the latest watches/warnings from the NWS click here.

Forecast discussion from the local NWS office:

Trending In The Right Direction. The GFS model shows temperatures trending a little closer to average over the next 15 days, highs consistently above freezing after March 14 or so. One more cold snap is likely this upcoming weekend, but nothing subzero is in sight. We may have seen our last subzero night of the winter season.

Looks Like March. Finally, we're seeing some initial signs of a real recovery in the temperature department, a string of 30s and 40s for the third week of March. Not exactly daffodil and crocus weather (yet), but more  evidence that a higher sun angle is starting to make a dent in our (La Nina tainted) atmosphere.

Direct Strike. Here is footage of the tornado that hit Rayne, Louisiana, forcing an estimated 1,500 people from their homes. One woman was killed (while trying to protect her daughter - a tree was swept into their home, with tragic results). A security camera at a drug store captured the arrival of the deadly winds, footage courtesy of YouTube.

Louisiana Tornado. Here's a different perspective, from inside the drug store, video courtesy of YouTube.

Webcam View Of Hawaii's Kilhauea Eruption. It's been an amazing site: curtains of lava shooting 65 feet into the air. There are even a series of live webcams where you can see the latest. More details from the San Francisco Chronicle: "Lava has been spewing up to 80 feet high from a fissure in Kīlauea's east rift zone since Saturday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey Hawaii Volcano Observatory, but the ongoing fireworks aren't easily witnessed: The fissure is in a remote area southwest of the Pu'u 'Ō'ō crater, whose collapse on Saturday has led to the dramatic and destructive fiery display (see the news video below,) But luckily for lava lovers, as of Sunday afternoon a new Webcam has been giving updates every 5 minutes of the periodic eruptions at the new site. It joins existing Webcams at Pu'u 'Ō'ō and of Halema'uma'u Crater at Kīlauea's summit. And if those images aren't dramatic enough for you at any given moment, check out the video clips and still images on the observatory's Kīlauea update page."

U.S. Farmer Fear The Return Of The Dust Bowl. Underground aquifers are being depleted at a rapid rate across the Great Plains; there's growing concern about water supplies, especially over the central and southern Plains. Here's a story summarizing a growing sense of agricultural paranoia from the U.K.'s Telegraph: "There is not much to be happy about these days in Happy, Texas. Main Street is shuttered but for the Happy National Bank, slowly but inexorably disappearing into a High Plains wind that turns all to dust. The old Picture House, the cinema, has closed. Tumbleweed rolls into the still corners behind the grain elevators, soaring prairie cathedrals that spoke of prosperity before they were abandoned for lack of business. Happy's problem is that it has run out of water for its farms. Its population, dropping 10 per cent a year, is down to 595. The name, which brings a smile for miles around and plays in faded paint on the fronts of every shuttered business – Happy Grain Inc, Happy Game Room – has become irony tinged with bitterness. It goes back to the cowboy days of the 19th century. A cattle drive north through the Texas Panhandle to the rail heads beyond had been running out of water, steers dying on the hoof, when its cowboys stumbled on a watering hole. They named the spot Happy Draw, for the water. Now Happy is the harbinger of a potential Dust Bowl unseen in America since the Great Depression. 'It was a booming town when I grew up,' Judy Shipman, who manages the bank, says. 'We had three restaurants, a grocery, a plumber, an electrician, a building contractor, a doctor. We had so much fun, growing up.' Like all the townsfolk, she knows why the fun has gone. 'It's the decline in the water level,' she says. 'In the 1950s a lot of wells were drilled, and the water went down. Now you can't farm the land."

"Fracking" Disposal Sites Suspended, Likely Linked To Earthquakes in Arkansas. Talk about a big oops! Water is injected into deep wells to extract natural gas, but this (controversial) process may be at least partially responsible for a series of tremors in Arkansas in recent weeks. More from the Huffington Post: "LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Two natural gas companies have agreed to temporarily suspend use of injection wells in central Arkansas where earthquakes keep occurring. Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy and Clarita Operating of Little Rock told the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission on Friday that they've stopped operation of the wells near Greenbrier and Guy pending the panel's  next regular meeting on March 29. Clarita's parent company is True Energy Services of Ada, Okla. The commission says there is likely a link between the wells and the earthquakes. There have been more than 800 quakes in the area in the past six months and a magnitude 4.7 quake – the strongest in Arkansas in 35 years – hit there Sunday. The high-pressure wells are used to dispose of waste water from natural gas drilling."

Recent Scenes From Antarctica. "Nacreous Clouds over the NASA Radome (a weatherproof structure housing a 10 meter antenna inside). Nacreous clouds (or Polar stratospheric clouds) form high in the dry stratosphere, catching sunlight well after dusk, displaying brilliant colors. Original here. (Alan R. Light / CC BY). The Atlantic has a remarkable story with incredible photos from Antarctica: "Winter is coming back to Antarctica and, after a busy season for both scientists and tourists, most researchers stationed there have traveled north for the season. Among them were a Russian team that recently came within 30 meters of drilling into Lake Vostok -- a subglacial lake some 4,000 meters below the surface of the ice -- and the crew of the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, who have been burying a massive array of detectors deep in the ice. (They placed their final detector in December.) Gathered here are recent images of Antarctica, its environment, and some of the scientific work taking place there."

New System Can Warn Of Tsunamis Within Minutes. O.K. Tidal waves are one of the few things (along with volcanoes and earthquakes) we don't have to worry about here in Minnesota. has details on a new warning system that could make a real difference for coastal residents, worldwide: "Seismologists have developed a new system that could be used to warn future populations of an impending tsunami only minutes after the initial earthquake. The system, known as RTerg, could help reduce the death toll by giving local residents valuable time to move to safer ground. The study by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology appears in the March 5 edition of Geophysical Research Letters. "We developed a system that, in real time, successfully identified the magnitude 7.8 2010 Sumatran earthquake as a rare and destructive tsunami earthquake. Using this system, we could in the future warn local populations, thus minimizing the death toll from tsunamis," said Andrew Newman, assistant professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. Typically, a large earthquake ruptures at a rate near 3 kilometers/second and anywhere from 20 kilometers to 50 kilometers below the earth's surface. Because of the depth, vertical deformation of the crust is horizontally smoothed, causing the size of uplift to remain rather small. When these earthquakes occur in the ocean, the resulting waves may only measure about 20 centimeters high for a magnitude 7.8 event. Tsunami earthquakes, however, are a rare class of earthquakes that rupture more slowly, at 1-1.5 kilometers /second and propagate up to the , near the trench. This makes the vertical uplift much larger, resulting in nearby wave heights up to 10- 20 meters in nearby coastal environments. Such is the case of the Sumatran earthquake with reported wave heights of up to 17 meters, causing a death toll of approximately 430 people."

Daylight Saving Time. Don't forget to "spring forward" one hour before going to bed Saturday night. DST kicks off at 2 am Sunday morning - meaning twilight will linger until about 7:30 pm Sunday evening as we limp towards spring. Some details on the tortured history of Daylight Saving Time here.

Twin Cities Auto Show. Another sure-fire sign of spring: the Auto Show kicks off on Saturday, goes through March 20 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. More details here.

2011 Parade Of Homes. Yet ANOTHER sign of spring - the Parade of Homes kicks off this weekend, goes through April 3; over 340 homes to explore in the Twin Cities metro. Even if you're not planning on buying a new home, you can always get some great ideas during the Parade. Click here for details.

Magnetic North Shifting By 40 Miles/Year - Might Signal Pole Reversal. "Hey, don't sweat the flurries", because some very strange things are happening to the Earth's magnetic pole, as described in Mother Nature Network: "The magnetic north pole is currently shifting at a faster rate than at any time in human history — almost 40 miles a year — and some experts believe that it may be the beginning of a complete pole reversal, according to the Independent. The changes are already beginning to cause major problems for aviation, navigation and migratory animals which use the Earth's magnetic field to orient themselves. Some airports have even had to change the names of their runways to better correspond to their current direction relative to magnetic north. Ever since the magnetic north pole was first discovered in 1831, geologists have been tracking its progress. Unlike true north (which is marked by the Earth's axis), magnetic north is constantly on the move due to changes in the planet's molten core, which contains iron. Throughout most of recorded history, the pole has been positioned at or around Canada's icy Ellesmere Island, but if it keeps moving at its current rate, it won't be long before it sits above Russia instead. The thing that really makes the pole's current movement so unusual, however, is the speed that it is shifting. In the last decade alone, movement has increased by a third, throwing off compasses by roughly one degree every five years."

Senate's Alternative To "HR1" Shows More Support For NOAA's Mission Of Saving Lives And Property. It appears NOAA may avoid a 30% budget cut, the proposed budget reduction now roughly a quarter of what it was a few weeks ago. More details from the National Weather Service Employees Organization: "(March 7, 2011) The Senate Appropriations Committee has released a proposed alternative to HR 1 that would make a $110 million reduction to NOAA operations for the remainder of the fiscal year, rather than the $454 reduction approved by the House. Of the $110 million cut, $104 million was from earmarks that are no longer funded. This effectively only cuts the NOAA ORF budget by $6 million. The Senate Appropriations Committee justified the higher funding levels for NOAA stating in their March 4 press release, "The House cuts an additional $340 million which would threaten critical weather forecasts and warnings." The full Senate has not voted on this proposal. However, your efforts to communicate the importance of funding the National Weather Service have clearly had a positive impact. The NWSEO is awed by the wide-scale participation and support of this grass roots effort to save the National Weather Service. We have been impressed by the professionalism and respect for office shown in your efforts. Your work has clearly made the difference.  Assuming the Senate adopts this proposal, the effort goes to convincing House Leadership of the important work of the NWS and fully funding NOAA. At this important stage, we ask you to contact Congressmen John Boehner and Eric Cantor and respectfully request that they support the Senate’s proposal for NOAA’s budget. These congressmen hold the key to the future of the NWS. Sample letters and talking points are available below. Please feel free to use these letters and also tailor them to the particular types of weather for your geographic area. The links below provide email addresses and phone numbers to help you in this effort. Your support of the National Weather Service is greatly appreciated. You are making the difference in helping the agency continue their mission of saving lives and property. Thank you.

Sample Letter
To email or call Speaker John Boehner
To email or call Representative Eric Cantor
Contact your representative - we need (an intact) National Weather Service, now more than ever.

Facebook. Show your support of the NWS by leaving a message on FB. Click here to learn more.

Gray Monday. What happened to "average"? The average high for March 7 is 36 F, according to the National Weather Service. Last year it was a balmy 47 F. on March 7 (we saw 60s by mid March). Seems like a different planet. Under a gray sky the mercury only hit 22 at Alexandria, 27 in St. Cloud and a brisk 30 in the Twin Cities. Nearly 2" snow fell Sunday night at MSP, an inch in St. Cloud. More climate data than you can possibly know what to do with here.

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

TODAY: Cloudy. Light snow possible by evening over far southern MN. Winds: E 15. High: 34

TUESDAY NIGHT: Snow becomes steadier, 1" possible by daybreak Wednesday. Low: 27

WEDNESDAY: Potential for 1-3" snow, heavier amounts south/east of St. Cloud. Heaviest snow falls Wednesday morning. Road will be slushy and slippery. High: 30

THURSDAY: Sun returns, easier commutes. Low: 21. High: 33

FRIDAY: A little rain, possibly ending as wet snow, maybe 1-2" at night. High:  36

SATURDAY: Snow tapers to flurries, gusty. Low: 24. High: 30

SUNDAY: Sunny start, clouds increase. Snow possible Sunday night. Low: 19. High: 33

MONDAY: Snow early (inch or so?), drying out PM hours. High: 35

Snow Tales

"It's spring fever.  That is what the name of it is.  And when you've got it, you want - oh, you don't quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!" wrote Mark Twain. Yes, we ALL want it so.

First, the good news: I think we've seen our last subzero night in the Twin Cities (total of 18, well below the winter average of 28). By the 3rd week of March we should see consistent 30s and 40s; a higher sun angle making a difference, in spite of a stubborn La Nina. And, we've gotten our "Winter Weather Boasting Rights" back. At 78.7" this is the 8th snowiest winter since 1891. If we pick up 3-5" by Saturday we'll be at #6, with a 1 in 3 shot of breaking the all-time record of 98.6", set in 1983-84. I didn't think we'd EVER break that one.

No worries today; light snow arrives late tonight and Wednesday. Although the heaviest snow bands pass south & east (Storm Watch for Rochester) we could still pick up 3-6" tomorrow, enough to plow& shovel. Expect big variations: 1-2" for Medina and Elk River, more like 6" from Stillwater to Rosemount and Northfield. Another couple inches may fall Friday night, again Monday. Mr. Twain was right.

February Arctic Ice Extent Ties 2005 For Record Low, Extensive Snow Cover Persists. It's been an remarkably mild winter for much of the Arctic region, temperatures running 10-20 degrees F. warmer than average in many areas, especially eastern Canada and Greenland. This mild spell has had an impact on ice coverage, as reported by NOAA's National Snow and Ice Data Center: "Arctic sea ice extent for February 2011 tied with February 2005 as the lowest recorded in the satellite record. Sea ice extent was particularly low in the Labrador Sea and Gulf of St. Lawrence. In contrast, winter snow cover remained extensive in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere. Overview of conditions:Sea ice extent averaged over the month of February 2011 was 14.36 million square kilometers (5.54 million square miles). This was a tie with the previous record low for the month, set in 2005. February ice extent remained below normal in both the Atlantic and Pacific sectors, particularly in the Labrador Sea and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. While ice extent has declined less in winter months than in summer, the downward winter trend is clear. The 1979 to 2000 average is 15.64 million square kilometers (6.04 million square miles). From 1979 through 2003, the February extent averaged 15.60 million square kilometers (6.02 million square miles). Every year since 2004 has had a mean February extent below 15 million square kilometers (5.79 million square miles)."

Serious Set-Back For Climate Science. NASA's "Glory" weather and climate satellite was destroyed before reaching low-orbit last week. It was scheduled to track aerosols and their impact on Earth's climate system, the loss of the satellite will inevitably delay important data on how these aerosols impact the overall climate system. Climate scientist Scott Mandia has more on the loss of Glory, and what it means for NASA and climate research:

"On Friday (March 4, 2011),  the Glory satellite failed to reach escape velocity and crashed to Earth.  In a recent reply to a news reporter, Dr. Bruce Wielicki of NASA eloquently described NASA’s role in studying climate and why the loss of this satellite was a huge setback for climate science.  Dr. Wielicki has graciously allowed me to repost his response here. “Your questions are good ones and I’ll try to put them in context. First: who am I? I have been a co-investigator or lead investigator on NASA Earth Science missions since 1980: ERBE, CERES, CALIPSO, CloudSat, CLARREO. So I am very familiar with space missions in general and climate missions (all of the above) in particular. If you need more details they are in the attached resume. The loss of the Glory satellite is a tragedy for climate science. The Glory satellite included two critical instruments: one to monitor the total energy reaching the Earth from the Sun, and a second to unravel some of the key remaining mysteries about tiny particles called aerosols: especially about the aerosols that humans emit when we burn fossil fuels in cars, power plants, or our homes. Aerosols remain one of the key uncertainties in how fast our fossil fuel burning is pushing the climate system to warmer levels. So the Glory mission was a key part of understanding how both natural (Sun) and human (aerosols) forcings are acting to change our current and future climate."

Waxman Takes On The "Science Deniers". A Congressional hearing this morning will pit 2 leading climate scientists against two well-known skeptics. Is it possible to legislate climate change away - maybe sweep it under the rug and hope that things go well long-term? Not if Congressman Henry Waxman has anything to say about it. From a story in the New York Times: "Mr. Waxman, the erstwhile chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and now the ranking Democrat under its new Republican leadership, is fighting a rearguard action on behalf of health, telecommunications, energy and environmental legislation passed in the last Congress, when Democrats held the majority and he wielded the gavel of arguably the most powerful committee in Congress.....Mr. Waxman concluded his remarks by comparing the climate change issue to the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. “We are at a pivotal time in which every member of Congress will decide whether they will be on the right side of history or the wrong side of history,” Mr. Waxman said. “Civil rights in the 1960s was a moral issue, and there was a right side and a wrong side. Climate change is an environmental issue. It is an economic issue. But it is also fundamentally a moral issue.” He warned that if policy makers do not recognize the seriousness of the threat of climate change and fail to act, “history will not judge us kindly.”

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