Friday, April 22, 2011

Damp Saturday - Spring Returns on Easter Sunday

A Cautionary Tale. Last night's tornado touchdown at Lambert Field in St. Louis sent shudders up my spine. I've always been worried about a large, violent tornado hitting a major airport terminal, which (when you think about it), is one of the WORST places to ride out a tornado. Why? Glass everywhere (potential projectiles on either side of you), no easy access to an underground shelter, no way to hear the emergency sirens or televised tornado warnings. What can you do?

1). Sign up for warnings on your cell phone. Don't depend on anyone else to get the information you need to stay safe.

2). Situational Awareness. If a tornado watch is in effect keep an eye on the sky, scope out the situation, and keep asking yourself, "where would you go if a tornado approached right now?"

3). Makeshift Shelter. If threatening weather approaches, and you can't get to a lower level basement in time, seek shelter in a rest room. As crazy as that sounds it will protect you from flying glass. Crouch down in a bathroom stall. Not a perfect solution, but it may save your life.

"Supercell." Here is the tornadic, rotating supercell (sometimes called mesocyclones) that ripped into Lambert International Airport outside St. Louis Friday evening. On conventional Doppler (reflectivity) displays - which measure the location of raindrops and hailstones, the swirling T-storms that often spark tornadoes look like a hook, or the number "6".

Doppler Velocity Field From STL. Here is the velocity field of the supercell seen above, the bright red smudge showing air moving rapidly TOWARD the radar site, the green-shaded region showing high-velocity air moving AWAY from the site. It's logical to infer violent rotation where those 2 fields meet. Again, it's rare to see the actual tornado itself on Doppler. The best we can do is see whether the parent thunderhead is rotating, and how rapidly. Tornadic T-storms often display more than 100 mph of "shear", 50 mph away + 50 mph toward. The Wadena tornado last June produced 130 mph of shear as I recall.


Tornado Causes Injuries At Lambert Airport. An update from KMOV-TV in St. Louis: "Several people at Lambert Airport in St. Louis were injured Friday after an apparent tornado touched down, spewing debris over the airfield, bursting glass int he concourse and damaging cars atop a parking garage.The tornado was part of a series of strong storms that struck central and eastern Missouri. Unconfirmed tornadoes were reported in several counties in the St. Louis area. Lambert spokesman Jeff Lea said he did not immediately have information about how many people were hurt, or how badly. He said the injuries were believed to be from glass that shattered as the storm hit the airport. An Air National Guard facility at the airport was reportedly damaged."

FAA: Due to TORNADO DAMAGE, the Lambert-St Louis International Airport (STL) was closed as of Apr 22 at 08:54 PM CDT. The date/time when the airport is expected to reopen is not known.

St. Louis Arch: "It moves up to 1" in a 20 mph wind and can sway up to 18" if winds hit 150 mph.

OH MAN RT @LakishaJackson: PHOTO2: Storm damage at Lambert Airport #kmov #stlnews

RT @LakishaJackson: PHOTO1: Storm damage at Lambert Airport #kmov #stlnews

Many people cut by shattering glass at Lambert-St. Louis airport, which is closed by apparent tornado

In Maryland Heights, Mo., structural damage reported for as many as 50 homes, roofs torn off

RT @TWCBreaking: From Jennifer Feldman at KSDK...view inside Lambert Airport in St. Louis:

Danger Will Robinson! There are consistent precursors to tornadoes: the greenish, evil-looking sky that often precedes a particularly severe thunderstorm. Personally I start to get nervous when large hail falls, anything larger than golfball-size. Why? Any thunderstorm with an updraft strong enough to keep large hail in the air may be violent enough to spin up a tornado. Again, a tornado is the visible manifestation of a particularly extreme updraft, pulled to the ground by a bouyant surge of warmer, drier air called the RFD, the "rear flank downdraft". The tornado that hit St. Louis was preceded by baseball to grapefruit size hail, that's 4-6" in diameter? 

Damage Reports. More raw data from the St. Louis office of the National Weather Service.

Easter Climatology. Professor Mark Seeley always has useful information and interesting nuggets in his WeatherTalk blog. Here is an excerpt focused on Easters gone by: "Easter falls rather late on the calendar this year at April 24th. The forecast calls for sunny skies and daytime temperatures in the 50s and 60s F, a nice Easter Day in historical context. Here in the Twin Cities Metro Area Easter Sunday has been as warm as 88 degrees F in 1977 (April 10), but as cold as -2 degrees F with a daytime high of only 15 degrees F in 1894 (March 25). It snowed 2.5 inches on Easter Sunday in 1929 (March 31) as the temperature never rose above 33 degrees F. Easter Sunday of 1951 (March 25) still had 22 inches of snow on the ground, so egg hunting involved digging snow."

Nothing To Sneeze At. Seeley also has some great resources for allergy sufferers: "As spring progresses many citizens begin to suffer from allergies. There are many online resources to examine air quality and pollen forecasts. Some of those that might be useful include:"
Flood Update. According to USGS significant flooding is still taking place on many of Minnesota's rivers - water levels still above flood stage on the Red River north of Fargo, on the Minnesota River at Montevideo and New Ulm, and on the Mississippi River at Winona. Details here.

Soggy Saturday. The latest NAM model shows residual moisture wrapping around a strong storm over Quebec, Canada, keeping us mostly-gray much of Saturday with morning showers and sprinkles. Skies may brighten this afternoon, but all in all don't expect a great spring day. (map above valid 1 pm Saturday afternoon).

Relief By Easter Sunday. The NAM 18z map, valid 1 pm Sunday, shows a weak ridge of high pressure draped over Minnesota, enough sinking/drying air for intervals of sun with afternoon highs topping 60 over the southern third of Minnesota. Clouds and a few light showers may brush far northern Minnesota.

A Real Warm Front? The GFS is trending warmer with recent runs, a string of 60s likely the first week of May, maybe a few 70-degree days around May 4-5. Wouldn't that be nice.

Are Tornado Outbreaks In Virginia On The Rise? The Richmond Times-Dispatch examines a question which is on a lot of people's minds, from Oklahoma and Mississippi to North Carolina and Virginia, states hit hard by large, violent tornadoes in recent weeks: "For decades, the most tornadoes confirmed in Virginia in one day was eight on Oct. 13, 1983, Stenger said. The next big outbreak, Aug. 6, 1993, produced 18 tornadoes, including one that killed three people at a Walmart in Colonial Heights. That was the only double-digit outbreak in the 1990s, Stenger said. But in the 2000s, outbreaks of 10 or more tornadoes have occurred six times, Stenger said. That includes the record day of Sept. 17, 2004, when the remnants of Hurricane Ivan spawned 40 tornadoes. "Over the last 10 years it averages out to about one such outbreak every two years," Stenger said. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, weather experts switched from decades-old radar technology to sophisticated Doppler radars that are a lot better at detecting twisters. Still, it's possible that something — a warming climate, perhaps — also is increasing the number of tornadoes.

Home Insurers Caught Up In A Tornado. The Wall Street Journal reports on a growing dilemma facing homeowners and insurers in the wake of last weekend's massive tornado outbreak: "RALEIGH, N.C.—When tornadoes coursed through a string of Southern states last week, medical personnel and local fire departments were quickly on the scene, picking through debris and tending to the injured. Not far behind them came a group which has also played a critical role in bringing relief to stricken homeowners—insurers. The big home and commercial insurers compete against each other in part on their ability to respond quickly to disasters, with standing plans for bringing in workers from other parts of a state or region to rapidly assess damages and cut checks. Employees from Nationwide Insurance, for example, one of the country's largest insurers, drove a 45-foot motor coach from headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, to Sanford, N.C., over the weekend, and set up shop in a grocery-store parking lot. The years 2008 through 2010 were already the industry's costliest for thunderstorm damage—which includes hail, tornadoes and other severe storms—with a total tab of $30 billion, said Robert Hartwig, president of trade group Insurance Information Institute. But the current year is shaping up to be even more expensive than any of those three, according to Peter Lore, associate vice president for property technical claims with Nationwide. As of April 18, 617 tornadoes had been recorded, compared with 419 and 203 by April 30 of 2009 and 2010, respectively, according to the insurance institute, citing data from the National Weather Service."

Film On Branded Content Examines A Blurred Line. Product placements are everywhere these days - you can't watch a TV show or movie without seeing a blur of brands, products and services (placed there to help finance the production of the program). The New York Times examines a new Morgan Spurlock documentary which is taking on the subject head-on: “I think there’ll be a lot of interest in it” among moviegoers who are not part of the ad industry, Mr. Kurnit said, because “there really is an issue people are interested in here, the commercialization of our entertainment.” “We’re at a crossroads in terms of what people understand about” branded content, he added. “In the beginning, people thought it was interesting, but didn’t necessarily think a brand had anything to do with it. Now, they believe there’s some business going on here.”

Satellite Shots: Big T-storms in Texas, Mexico. Jesse Ferrell from Accu Weather has a good analysis of the massive thunderstorms that flared up over Texas on Wednesday, helping to ease the drought (and ongoing fire threat) in some counties: "Winds high in the atmosphere at 500 millibars (nearly 20,000 feet or so), which is where general steering currents reside, were west to east, which is why the thunderstorm anvil cloud is out ahead of the storm. But the overshooting tops punched through to even higher, and you can see their tops being streamed southeast over the general anvil, because prevailing winds (shown below) were Northwest to Southeast."

Lyrid Meteor Shower. Earth is entering a stream of dusty debris from Comet Thatcher, source of the annual Lyrid meteor shower. Forecasters expect the shower to peak on April 22nd with as many as 20 meteors per hour, although visibility will be reduced by bright moonlight. The best time to look, no matter where you live, is Friday morning during the hours before local dawn.  Visit for live meteor counts and more information.

Credit: This photo was taken by; GREGOR SRDOC, Astronomical society Vidulini. Location; Sorsoni near Rijeka (Croatia). Data; 21.4.2011 00:50:56 local time. (GMT 20.04.2011. 23:50:56) EOS400D, fisheye 8mm peleng f/3.5, exp 30s, ISO1600.

A Runny Sky. Yes, it was a fairly foul Friday with off and on showers and sprinkles. Rainfall amounts ranged from .03" at St. Cloud to .16" at MSP, .31" at Redwood Falls. Temperatures were more than 10 degrees cooler than average with highs within a couple degrees of 50.

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

TODAY: Light showers thru midday. Clouds linger much of the day (some brightening possible by afternoon). Winds: NW 10-15. High: 50

SATURDAY NIGHT: Clouds give way to partial clearing. Low: 37

EASTER SUNDAY: Plenty of sun - feels like spring! High: near 60

MONDAY: Sunny start, clouds increase PM. Showers Monday evening/night. Low: 40. High: 61

TUESDAY: Chance of showers, possible thunder. Low: 43. High: 57

WEDNESDAY: A drier day. Intervals of sun, a quiet spell. Low: 40. High:  58

THURSDAY: Mix of clouds and sun, "springy". Low: 41. High: 63

FRIDAY: Mild breeze, late-day thunder? Low: 46. High: 66

A "Winnipeg Spring"

I know, this is getting old. The Reluctant Spring of '11 limps on; the same La Nina pattern that unleashed 86.6" of snow on the Twin Cities is keeping the northern tier states cooler than average. Meanwhile the south is heating up (triple-digit heat in Texas fanning record brush-fires), resulting in a sharp north-south temperature contrast across the USA. Throw in 100-150 mph. jet stream winds and you have a ripe environment for severe storms, flooding rains and tornadoes.

April temperatures are running 1.4 F. warmer than average in the metro area. Nighttime lows have trended milder, but daytime highs have been stunted; it feels more like mid March out there. Since March 1 MSP has seen only 6 days above 60. Last year at this time we had already enjoyed 23 days above 60 F. A strange spring indeed. "Wrap-around" showers and sprinkles linger through midday, though skies may brighten this afternoon. Easter Sunday looks much better with a rerun of sunshine and highs near 60.

Models are hinting at some 70s the first week of May, a family of storms passing just south/east of Minnesota next week. Time to retire the winter wardrobe and take off the snow tires? I think so. I hope so.

Global Warming Doesn't Mean The End of Winter. No kidding. USA Today has the story: "Here's some good global warming news -- for folks who likes snowball fights and shoveling out their driveway -- we still have some chilly winters ahead, despite climate change. A 2008 series of National Academies of Sciences reports concluded average global atmospheric temperatures will likely rise from 2 to 11 degrees by the the end of this century, continuing a 1.4 degree rise over the previous one. Largely driven by greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, the temperature increase's effects are expected to vary across regions, with the poles showing the biggest jumps. So what does that average increase mean for cold winters? Although fewer, there will still be some colder-than-normal ones, says a forthcoming Geophysical Research Letters report headed by computer scientist Auroop Ganguly of Oak Ridge (Tenn.) National Laboratory."

Will Steger Laments The Global Warming Change Of Heart Of Tim Pawlentey. has the story: "Polar explorer Will Steger tells Mother Jones that he's baffled by the way former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has changed his tune on global warming. Steger had worked with Pawlenty on programs to fight climate change, but that ended in 2008, when Pawlenty began his run for president and came out against efforts to fight climate change. Earlier this month, Pawlenty said human efforts are only a minor contributor to global warming. Steger told Mother Jones that Pawlenty's new stance is unfortunate: "I'm baffled by that. But I think he's getting information from the wrong source and it's really too bad for our children. It's reckless." Steger, who achieved great fame with his dog sled journeys to the North Pole and Antarctica, has long been pushing for more awareness of global warming. He's appeared at schools, churches and business meetings, often bringing along his sled dogs to grab attention. He met first with Pawlenty in 2006: "It was a real heart to heart. I really believed that morally we were on the same level. We saw the moral imperative. And he understood, and back then, he chose to veer in another direction [from his party], which took a lot of guts. I have to respect that."

Ozone Hole Prime Player In Climate Change. The Vancouver Sun has the details in this story: "A Canada - U.S . study , described as a "game changer" for climate science, says Australia can blame its increased rainfall on the hole in the ozone layer over the Antarctic. The hole has had a profound impact on the Southern Hemisphere, altering the climate all the way to the equator, changing wind patterns and increasing rain in southern Australia by about 35 per cent, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science. "It's somewhat like a domino effect, one change leads to another," said Michael Sigmond, a climate scientist at the University of Toronto. He co-authored the report with researchers at Environment Canada and Columbia University in New York. The study's impact could -and should -be felt at international climate talks, say the researchers. "This could be a real gamechanger," co-author Lorenzo Polvani, from Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said in a release. Until now, the thinning of the ozone layer had not been linked to changes in climate."

Difference Between "Weather" and "Climate". There is still onging confusion about the important difference between these two terms. Mark Seeley has an excellent explanation in this week's WeatherTalk blog:

"Over the years many of you have asked me to distinguish between the words "weather" and "climate?" Here are some possible answers. I always describe weather as the environmental conditions that exist right now and climate as the historical average for the date. As climate (averages) changes over time, the probability for specific types of weather changes as well. But there are many other, more clever distinctions made through analogies by colleagues in the American Association of State Climatologists, including:

climate trains the boxer, weather throws the punches
climate is like your baseball batting average, weather is your current time at bat
climate tells you what clothes to buy, weather tells you what clothes to wear
climate is what you expect, weather is what you get
climate is the Dow Jones Average, weather is an individual stock
climate is my personality, weather is my mood today
climate is the tide, weather is the individual wave
climate is the traffic, weather is an individual car

A City Built On Oil Discovers How Precious Its Water Can Be. Much of Texas is in the grips of one of the worst droughts on record. The New York Times takes a look at a growing water shortage over the central and southern Plains states: "MIDLAND — The oil business is booming, but there is something more precious in Midland right now: water. Since the beginning of October, barely one-tenth of an inch of rain has fallen on the city, the oil and gas capital of West Texas. Two of the three reservoirs that Midland and other Permian Basin cities rely on for most of their water are getting close to empty. The third is below 30 percent of capacity. This month, for the first time, Midland imposed water restrictions, forcing homeowners to water their lawns less, and schools to let their football fields grow scrubby. If the rain does not start soon, “it’s going to get bad,” said Stuart Purvis, the utilities manager for Midland. All of Texas is extremely dry, and the parched vegetation is fueling huge wildfires across the state — prompting Gov. Rick Perry to urge prayers for rain this weekend. But the situation in the Permian Basin is particularly serious."

"The Most Embarrassing Vote Congress Has Ever Taken?" Environmentalist Bill McKibben from has an opinion of recent legislation in Washington D.C.: "At this week’s Power Shift 2011 conference in Washington, D.C., longtime environmental activist Bill McKibben critiqued how the United States has failed to take steps to address climate change. He is the founder of the environmental organization—the name references the 350 parts per million many scientists say is the safe limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. "Think about our own country—historically, the biggest source of carbon emissions. Last summer, the Senate refused to even take a vote on the tepid, moderate, tame climate bill that was before it," says McKibben. "Last week, the House voted 248 to 174 to pass a resolution saying global warming wasn’t real."

As Consumers Cut Spending "Green Products" Lose Allure. The New York Times has the story: "When Clorox introduced Green Works, its environment-friendly cleaning line, in 2008, it secured an endorsement from the Sierra Club, a nationwide introduction at Wal-Mart, and it vowed that the products would “move natural cleaning into the mainstream.” Sales that year topped $100 million, and several other major consumer products companies came out with their own “green” cleaning supplies. But America’s eco-consciousness, it turns out, is fickle. As recession gripped the country, the consumer’s love affair with green products, from recycled toilet paper to organic foods to hybrid cars, faded like a bad infatuation. While farmers’ markets and Prius sales are humming along now, household product makers like Clorox just can’t seem to persuade mainstream customers to buy green again."

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