Saturday, April 9, 2011

Slight Severe Risk (chance of seeing our first 70 of spring)

* Slight severe storm risk for southeastern Minnesota. St. Cloud is on the northern/western border of the slight risk.

* Moderate risk from Lake City and La Crosse, WI east to Madison and the Wisconsin Dells.

.86" rain expected by Monday morning in St. Cloud.

59 F. high on Saturday in St. Cloud (60 at Crystal and St. Paul).

71 F. high expected today, before winds shift to the west/northwest and temperatures begin to cool down.

Watches/Warnings possible today - the best chance of 1-2" diameter hail and an isolated tornado coming over southeastern MN and western Wisconsin.

35 mph. winds possible Monday, on the backside of today's intense storm.

Ripe For Severe Storms. The greatest threat of hail and tornadic storms should shift to our east later today. Wisconsin, Illinois, eastern Iowa are the most favored regions for severe storm development. A few strong/severe storms may flare up near the St. Croix River Valley and spin up tornadoes across west central and southwestern Wisconsin this afternoon, where the moisture and wind field is favorable.

Sunday Severe Threat. The Twin Cities region is still in a "slight risk" of severe storms, the greatest potential for hail, high winds and isolated tornadoes shifting into central/southern Wisconsin and the Chicago area, according to SPC.

Damage Reports. It looks like Iowa was hit pretty hard Saturday night - damage reports coming in from the town of Mapleton. Tweet courtesy of TweetDeck.

Wedge Tornado. There's no confirmation (yet), but this may be the tornado that hit Mapleton, Iowa. It looks like a "wedge", not the classic funnel. This may have been a large, long-lasting, especially violent tornado, possibly EF-2 or EF-3 strength. Thanks to Adam woydziak and Twitpic for the photo.

Ominous Tweet. Here's a late Saturday tweet from the La Crosse, WI office of the National Weather Service. The greatest risk of hail, damaging winds and isolated tornadoes will be across far southeastern Minnesota, from Lake City and Winona to La Crosse (and much of Wisconsin).

Severe Weather Awareness Week. Talk about good timing. This week is "Severe Weather Awareness Week" in Minnesota - expect a test of the emergency sirens on Thursday. Here are more details, courtesy of the National Weather Service: "Each day during our Severe Weather Awareness Week, a statement will be issued by the NWS Twin Cities providing more information about severe weather safety. The list of daily topics for Severe Weather Awareness Week is:
Monday, April 11th - Thunderstorms, Hail, Wind and Lightning
Tuesday, April 12th - Severe Weather Watches and Warnings, and How to Receive Severe Weather Information
Wednesday, April 13th - Flash Floods
Thursday, April 14th - Tornado Safety Information
Friday, April 15th - Heat Waves

Evidence Of A "Dry Tongue"? A wedge of dry, desert air wrapping into the storm's circulation may keep rainfall amounts down over parts of southwest and central Minnesota today, the heaviest rain forecast to fall over the Red River and east of the St. Cloud and the Twin Cities (some 1.5"+ amounts are predicted near Eau Claire, Wisconsin).

Warm Sector Blues. The warmth will feel good, highs well up into the 70s today - I wouldn't be shocked to see a few 80-degree readings over far southeastern Minnesota as the warm front lifts north. The more sun (and warmth) we do see, the greater the odds of severe storms redeveloping during the afternoon hours, especially south/east of MSP. The NAM solution above is valid around lunchtime today.

Coolest March Since 1994. Accu Weather has a review of one chilly March across the planet, probably a symptom of an unusually strong La Nina cooling cycle in the Pacific: "Remote Sensing Systems has released their satellite measured temperature data for the month of March 2011. March 2011 ended up as the coolest March globally since March of 1994. The actual global temperature anomaly for the lower troposphere last month was negative 0.026 C. This is also the first month since June of 2008 that the global temperature anomaly was in the negative. The RSS image below gives you a visual of where the warmer and colder than normal regions were across the globe for March 2011."

Freak Sandstorm in Germany Causes Deadly Pile-Up On The Autobahn. I've never heard of a sandstorm in northern Germany, near Rostock, close to the Baltic. This is a first. All I can think is that (unusually dry) farmer's fields provided an unusual amount of dust and dirt, whipped up by severe winds to produce a black cloud of grit, near-zero visibilities, which slowed traffic to a crawl, and then other drivers slammed into those stopped vehicles - a terrible situation. More from the BBC: "Sand and dirt were blown on to the four-lane A19 near Rostock, close to the Baltic Sea in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania state, on Friday. The pile-up involved 80 cars and three lorries, with 20 vehicles set ablaze. A combination of recent dry weather, ploughing of fields and high winds was blamed for the accident. At least 41 people were hurt. Many suffered serious injuries and there are fears the death toll could rise. One motorist, named only as Steffen, told reporters that "all of a sudden, there was a black wall of sand and then I couldn't see anything any more and I was pushed into another car". He added: "I have never seen anything like it before and it's difficult to describe. I think I will only later realise what happened. I think this is my second birthday today." All of the fatalities appear to have occurred on the northbound carriageway. One of the lorries involved there was carrying inflammable material and sparked several fires."

* Update: a local German prosecutor is looking into whether local farmers (and improper farming processes) were ultimately responsible for the freak sandstorm. Farmers responded by saying they had no control over the drought and dry conditions. At last report 80 cars were totaled, 8 people dead, 130 injured. The stretch of Autobahn where this happened has no speed limit.

South Korea Closes Schools Amidst Japan Radiation Fears. MSNBC has the latest: "Dozens of schools in South Korea closed Thursday amid concerns about radioactive fallout from Japan's nuclear disaster. Classes were canceled or shortened at more than 150 schools as rain fell across the country. Authorities said radiation levels in the rain posed no health threat. However, school boards across the country — Japan's closest neighbor — advised principals to use their discretion in scrapping outdoor activities to address concerns among parents, an education official said. "We've sent out an official communication today that schools should try to refrain from outdoor activities," the official added."

Drought Hits Southern U.S. Pretty Hard. Another possible symptom of La Nina, much of the southern USA is very dry. Here's an update from USA Today: "Those three words from Lyle Zoeller, an agricultural extension agent who works with farmers in Coryell County, Texas, likely echo the thoughts and prayers of farmers and residents across the parched southern USA. The drought may be over in California, but large portions of the Southwest, southern Plains, Florida and the Southeast are all still enduring severe to extreme drought conditions. "The biggest drought concern now is the southern tier of the U.S.," says climatologist Brian Fuchs of the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Neb. And no real relief is in sight for the spring and summer: Drought conditions are expected to persist and worsen for the next three months across the USA's southern tier and along the Mid-Atlantic seaboard, according to the Climate Prediction Center in Camp Springs, Md."

How Big Weapons Hit Tiny Targets From Incredible Distances. War via remote-control; a video-game with deadly consequences. Glad we're the ones with the breakthrough technology, right? Gizmodo has more details on what may or may not be going on in Libya right now: "So, let's say our armed forces had to lend a hand in a conflict without deploying troops on the ground (*cough* *cough* Libya *cough*). How would they do that? Simple: GPS. Oh, and Lasers. And mechanized ordnance that is better at navigating than any meatbag with a map. In a tense conflict like Libya, where nobody—including the American public—wants US troops stomping around, it might seem like military options are limited. They are: to a gang of super-smart, incredibly accurate missiles and bombs launched from the ocean and sky. In some cases, a missile's solo journey can originate from a submerged submarine hundreds of miles from its target. Which raises the question: Wait, how can it hit a target the size of a shipping container from, like, another country? It all starts with a plan. Before, say, a $607,000 Tomahawk land attack missile ever leaves the launch tube, it's programmed with a set of instructions—called a pre-mission plan—that tells it where to *ahem* land. The guide includes the latitude and longitude of the target as well as the coordinates for up to 15 other alternate endings. (Choose your own adventure, anyone?) Also loaded are stored images of the flight path, which come in handy later."

The Worst Honeymoon - Ever? Think you had bad weather on your honeymoon? It could have been worse, much worse, as reported in the New Zealand Herald: "A Swedish couple's honeymoon struck disaster six times - with the couple witnessing floods in Australia, destruction in Japan and the earthquake in Christchurch. During a four-month trip, newlyweds Stefan and Erika Svanstrom and their baby girl Elinor survived a snowstorm, a bush fire, a cyclone, the Queensland floods, the Christchurch earthquake and Japan's earthquake and tsunami. "One can only laugh at the misery - it is quite unlikely. But we have luck with love," said Mrs Svanstrom after arriving home in Stockholm.

Saturday Memories. Persistent clouds kept temperatures a few degrees cooler than expected, although Crystal did record a high of 60. The mercury peaked at 59 in St. Cloud, St. Paul, 58 at MSP International Airport.

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

TODAY: Humid with scattered storms, some strong (best chance of severe storms: hail/high winds south/east of the Twin Cities). Winds: S/SW 10-20. High: 71 (dew points approaching 60 will make it feel muggy, for the first time since early October).

SUNDAY NIGHT: Lingering showers, turning windy and cooler. Low: 41

MONDAY: Shower or sprinkle early, then clearning. Windy. Gust to 35 mph. High: 55

TUESDAY: Plenty of sun, distractingly nice. Low: 39. High: 66

WEDNESDAY: Showers and T-storms return. Low: 43. High: 57

THURSDAY: Lingering showers, cool & damp. Low: 38. High: 51

FRIDAY: A cold rain, windy and foul. Low: 36. High: 50

SATURDAY: Rain tapers, slow PM clearing. Low: 36. High: 52

* It's still early, but right now Sunday appears to be the nicer, drier day of the weekend.

Tornado Cul-de-sac

We don't live in "Tornado Alley", which runs from Texas into southern Iowa. This is more like "tornado cul-de-sac"; an average of 25-30 tornadoes annually. Last year a Tornado Freeway was howling overhead, 113 separate touch-downs, the most in the nation. Professional storm chasers (who should have been loitering in Oklahoma City) were killing time at the MOA. Not a good sign.

The transition to summer means air near the ground is warming faster than aloft, setting the stage for extreme instability. Toss in low-level moisture (drippy dew points above 60) and wind shear, changing wind speed and direction with altitude, and you have a recipe for isolated tornadoes. Doppler helps to detect the spinning T-storms that spawn tornadoes; we still rely on "ground truth", professional spotters & law enforcement to confirm that rotation is, in fact, spawning a tornado. Last night's "MCS System" gives way to a warm, muggy Sunday, low to mid 70s possible before a cool front pushes the greatest severe risk to our east by evening. Warnings will be issued today, especially south/east of MSP.

Stay alert, don't rely on sirens or any 1 media source. There's still no substitute for common sense.

Arctic Ocean Freshwater Will Cause "Unpredictable Changes On Climate." The U.K. Guardian has details about the implications of an unusually mlld winter in the Arctic, temperatures that melted a lot of ice and turned it into a layer of fresh water on top of the normally salty Arctic Ocean: "A vast expanse of freshwater in the midst of the Arctic Ocean is set to wreak unpredictable changes on the climate in Europe and North America, new scientific analysis has shown. The water – comprising meltwater from the ice cap and run off from rivers – is at least twice the volume of Lake Victoria in Africa, and is continuing to grow. At some point huge quantities of this water are likely to flush out of the Arctic Ocean and into the Atlantic, which could have significant impacts on the climate. Scientists say they cannot predict when this will happen though. "This could have an influence on ocean circulation," said Benjamin Rabe of the Alfred Wengener Institute. "It could have an influence on the Gulf Stream." At present, the freshwater acts as a "lid", preventing the warmer salty water below from meeting the ice, which would melt if the two mixed, according to Rabe. But while it is currently stable, this situation is likely to change as atmospheric circulation patterns shift, and as greater quantities of meltwater spill into the "lake". There were signs of an atmospheric change in 2009 that could have precipitated such an outflow, but that episode did not last."

Ozone Layer Faces Record 40% Loss Over The Arctic. At ground-level ozone (from vehicle emissions) combining with sunlight produces smog, but we need stratospheric ozone to protect us from the sun's harmful UV radiation. You've heard about the "ozone hole" - most prominent over the South Pole, but a smaller, weaker hole exists over the North Pole and far northern latitudes. A thinning of stratospheric ozone increases the potential for skin cancer, especially for Canada and Scandanavia. Here''s the story from AP and Yahoo News: "GENEVA – The protective ozone layer in the Arctic that keeps out the sun's most damaging rays — ultraviolet radiation — has thinned about 40 percent this winter, a record drop, the U.N. weather agency said Tuesday. The Arctic's damaged stratospheric ozone layer isn't the best known "ozone hole" — that would be Antarctica's, which forms when sunlight returns in spring there each year. But the Arctic's situation is due to similar causes: ozone-munching compounds in air pollutants that are chemically triggered by a combination of extremely cold temperatures and sunlight. The losses this winter in the Arctic's fragile ozone atmospheric layer strongly exceeded the previous seasonal loss of about 30 percent, the U.N.'s World Meteorological Organization in Geneva said. It blamed the combination of very cold temperatures in the stratosphere, the second major layer of the Earth's atmosphere, just above the troposphere, and ozone-eating CFCs from aerosol sprays and refrigeration. "This is pretty sudden and unusual," said Bryan Johnson, an atmospheric chemist who works in the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Earth System Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. Atmospheric scientists concerned about global warming focus on the Arctic because that is a region where the effects are expected to be felt first. "The Arctic stratosphere continues to be vulnerable to ozone destruction caused by ozone-depleting substances linked to human activities," the U.N. weather agency's secretary-general Michel Jarraud said."

Penn State Professor To Host PBS Special On Climate Change. The special is on tonight on TPT2. A few details from Penn State: "Richard Alley, Evan Pugh professor of geosciences in Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, is hosting a new PBS special on climate change and sustainable energy called "Earth: The Operators' Manual." The show will debut nationally at 10 p.m. on Sunday, April 10, including on WPSU-TV. Check local listings for other broadcast times. Alley -- a geologist, contributor to the United Nations panel on climate change and former oil company employee whom Andy Revkin of the New York Times has called “a cross between Woody Allen and Carl Sagan” -- leads the audience through an engaging, one-hour special about climate change and sustainable energy, set to premiere during Earth Month 2011. Alley’s book of the same name, a companion to the program, will be published by W.W. Norton & Co on April 18. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, Alley was awarded the prestigious Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement in 2009. “Earth: The Operators’ Manual” (“ETOM”) opens with a thorough grounding in Earth’s climate history and an overview of the current dilemmas, but its main thrust is an upbeat assessment of the many viable sustainable energy options. For previews of the special and additional content, visit at online."

What Can Cherry Blossoms Tell Us About Climate Change? The Washington Post has the answer: "This weekend, the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. wraps up, with organizers promising that Saturday's Cherry Blossom Parade will go ahead even if the federal government shuts down. The festival, a Washington springtime tradition since the 1930s, regularly draws thousands of attendees, and "brings in at least $126 million to the D.C. metro area each year, according to the National Park Service, making it the city’s largest annual tourism event by far." As popular as the cherry blossom is in the United States--many cities and towns now hold their own cherry blossom festivals--in Japan, the cherry blossom is associated with both the goddess of Mount Fuji in Japanese mythology, and with samurai culture. More recently, just as American meteorologists report on leaves "turning" in the fall, Japanese meteorologists follow the blossoming in the spring. This begs the question: since the blossoming is tied to the temperature, can the cherry blossom tell us anything about climate change? Yes, says Dr. Yasuyuki Aono of the Osaka Prefecture University. Since the mid-1990s, Aono and his colleague Yukio Omoto have been unearthing records of cherry blossom festivals in the former capital of Kyoto and nearby towns going back to the 9th century. Using the dates of the festival given in the records, and an equation that calculated the temperature in March of a given year based on when the cherry blossoms flowered, Aono was able to estimate March temperatures in the Kyoto area for the past 1200 years, a full thousand years farther back than most temperature data is available for."

Taking On Climate Skepticism As A Field of Study. An interesting blog post from the New York Times: "Andrew J. Hoffman, the Holcim professor of sustainable enterprise at the University of Michigan, has spent the last year or so applying his tools as a social scientist to researching the cultural and social underpinnings of the backlash against climate change science. He wrote of the need for such work earlier this year for Strategic Organization, a journal produced by Sage, a British academic publisher. We interviewed him by telephone from his office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he is on sabbatical. Following are excerpts, edited for brevity.

Question: The debate over climate science has involved very complex physical models and rarefied areas of scientific knowledge. What role do you think social scientists have to play, given the complexity of the actual physical science?

Answer: We have to think about the process by which something, an idea, develops scientific consensus and a second process by which is developed a social and political consensus. The first part is the domain of data and models and physical science. The second is very much a social and political process. And that brings to the fore a whole host of value-based, worldview-based, cognitive and cultural dimensions that need to be addressed."

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