Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Half a Winter? Maps Look More Like Late March

37 F. high temperature at KSTC yesterday.
30 F. average high on February 23.
26 F. high on February 23, 2015.

February 24, 1835: The temperature at Ft. Snelling falls 26 degrees in only three hours.

Half a Winter This Year - 40s This Weekend

“Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else” - Galatians 6:4.

Mark Twain once said "Comparison is the death of joy." Human nature is a stubborn thing. We can't help comparing ourselves to our peers and neighbors. Who's ahead, who's behind; the grass is usually greener elsewhere.

We compare today's weather with what came yesterday, or a 30-year average. This winter was tame, compared to an extended Polar Vortex 2 years ago.

Meteorologists compare model solutions, looking for trends and agreement. Finding the signal amidst the noise is an ongoing challenge. What to believe, when?

The arctic is running 7-14F warmer than average and I'm convinced there's a domino effect. I see more volatility in the system; the models are more erratic. Sunday's arctic front is now a no-show, in fact we may see 40s Friday into Sunday before a glancing blow of colder air late next week. A nuisance snow is possible late Sunday; any big, beefy storms detour south of Minnesota until further notice.

Yes, it's been half a winter.

What February? Where's the snow? Hint: it melted. NOAA's NHRSC interactive snowfall chart shows a lack of snow extending from the MSP metro into much of central Minnesota; a few stubborn piles leftover from our one and only real storm this winter (Groundhog Day) but you have to drive up to the North Shore to find a foot or more still on the ground. Blame (or thank) El Nino.

Arctic False Alarm. The much-advertised (and apparently erroneous) cold front for the weekend - that somehow got pushed later into next week - isn't even really showing up now. The warm signal is too strong; the brunt of any numbing shots probably passing north of MSP next week. In fact European model guidance hints at 40s Saturday; again Monday of next week. No major storms brewing, just a period of wet snow Sunday - maybe a light mix next Monday. More late March than late February. Source: WeatherSpark.

Heavy Snow for Chicago? NOAA's GFS model keeps the main storm track south and east of Minnesota for the next 1-2 weeks; a better chance of heavy (wet) snow for Chicago and Milwaukee, but only a few feeble clippers for Minnesota. 10-day accumulated snowfall potential: NOAA and AerisWeather.

Supercomputer Quietly Puts U.S. Weather Resources Back on Top. My oldest son works at Cray, but I would have published this link to a USA TODAY story anyway; here's an excerpt that increases my confidence in NOAA's ability to compete (with ECMWF): "...The brand-new Cray supercomputer — designed, owned and operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) — processes 3 quadrillion calculations per second. If that sounds like a lot, it is — you'd need about 12,500 high-end laptops to get close to that kind of power. Still, the supercomputer is merely the 18th fastest in the U.S. and 42nd fastest in the world, Michaud said. NOAA's purchase of the school-bus size device stemmed partly from competition from the top European weather model — better known in some circles by its acronym ECMWF (European Center for Medium-range Weather Forecasting). It predicted Sandy's now infamous and unusual left hook in 2012 days before the top American model — the GFS (Global Forecast System)..."

Photo credit above: "The room where the supercomputer sits must be kept at a temperature of between 69 and 72 degrees." (Photo: Jasper Colt, USAT).

North American Snow Cover Trending Lower Than Average. The chart above shows satellite-derived snow cover, compared to a plot of all winters since 2005, courtesy of NOAA NESDIS.

Not a Typo. As of early this morning surface temperatures average over the arctic are running about 14F warmer than average. And no, this isn't merely a reflection of El Nino. This is evidence of a much broader warming trend: atmosphere and oceans, including the Arctic Ocean. I've never seen an anomaly quite this.

Map credit: Climate Reanalyzer.

Uncharted Waters. I use the word "waters" quite literally, because at the rate we're going 2016 may see unprecedented open water where there used to be ice, at the polar ice cap. With historic warmth over the arctic the prospect for melting than we saw during the previous record, 2012, is very real. The arctic is melting faster than climate models predicted; an inconvenient reality. Graphic: National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The Human Fingerprints on Coastal Floods. Climate Central takes a look at how rising seas (and land subsidence) are increasing the frequency and severity of coastal flooding; here's a clip: "...Since 1950, for example, we’ve seen parts of Chesapeake Bay rise by a foot, half that in Boston, and half that again in Honolulu. Amidst all this noise, new research led by Robert Kopp of Rutgers University, has extracted an essential signal: the amount of global sea level rise that has come from us. For the 20th century, Kopp and his colleagues’ central estimate is global sea level has risen about four-and-a-half inches. Extended through 2014 for our follow-on report, the estimate increases to six inches. These don’t sound like world-changing numbers, especially considering that many sea level projections for the this century run beyond three feet. But if you live in Annapolis or Charleston, Atlantic City or Port Isabel, our analysis shows that those inches have already changed your world..."

An Incredible 45 Day Storm Turned California Into a 300-Mile-Long Sea. Here's the intro of an analysis at Yahoo Finance: "A massive 19th century storm in the pacific United States opened up a 300-mile-long sea that stretched through much of the central part of California. And it looks like the state is due for another megaflood. For 43 days, from late 1861 to early 1862, it rained almost nonstop in central California. Rivers running down the Sierra Nevada mountains turned into torrents that swept entire towns away. The storm was caused by an atmospheric river, a large concentration of water vapor that can cause devastating storms. "[These storms] have the potential of hurricanes — or even more so because they go on for weeks," Lucy Jones of the US Geological Survey told NPR..." (Photo credit: A. Rosenfield).

Increasing Drought Threatens Almost All U.S. Forests. has a summary of new research findings; here's an excerpt: "Forests nationwide are feeling the heat from increasing drought and climate change, according to a new study by scientists from 14 research institutions. "Over the last two decades, warming temperatures and variable precipitation have increased the severity  of forest droughts across much of the continental United States," said James Clark, lead author of the study and an environmental scientist at Duke University..."

Photo credit above: "Drought has left little but skeleton trees in a forest of pinons in the U.S. Southwest." Credit: USGS.

To Prevent Another Dust Bowl, The U.S. Must Sow The Right Seeds. LiveScience and Yahoo Finance have an interesting story - here's a link and excerpt: "...Climate is more important than geography when predicting how well seeds will grow and establish themselves. Seeds don't care where their parents lived if the temperature suits them and if they get the right amount of sunshine and precipitation. 
  • Timing of seed planting makes a big difference. Year to year, even week to week, variation in weather patterns can affect the restoration success of a burned site.
  • The method of planting matters. Blowing seeds from a plane may be a fast way to cover a lot of territory, but it's not that effective. The seeds, dropped from large drums attached to the planes, scatter in the wind, sparsely covering the ground below. Their contact with the earth is also less secure than for seeds planted in furrows by a tractor. As a result, many of the seeds fail to establish themselves, and those few individuals that do will not compete as well in nature as will the densely planted seeds..."

National Geographic ScienceBlogs: Water, Security and Conflict. Violence Over Water in 2015. Is there a connection to what's happening in Syria and Libya? Here's an excerpt from Pacific Institute that raised a few eyebrows: "...Over the past century there has been an increase in the number of reported conflicts over water resources. Part of this increase is certainly due to better reporting in recent years, but growing populations, rising demands for water in water-scarce regions, and weak governance structures and institutions for reducing conflicts at the local and regional level may also be contributing to an increase. In the coming years, far more effort is need to both understand the nature of these risks and to develop diplomatic, economic, and institutional tools for reducing conflicts over water resources. The Pacific Institute will continue to be the leading source for collecting and analyzing information on these challenges..."

Chart credit: "Water conflict chronology events per year, 1930 to 2015." From the Pacific Institute.

8 Interesting Facts About Winter. The information in today's column about the origin of "winter" came from a story at the UK Met Office, which adds: "...You might surprised to know that in the northern hemisphere the earth is closest to the sun during winter. On January 2 2016 the Earth will reach perihelion (peri meaning 'near' and helion meaning 'sun') and the earth is 3.1 million miles closer to the sun than at aphelion (around July 5 when the earth is furthest from the sun). Earth's distance from the sun is not what causes the seasons (it is the tilt of the earth's axis) but it does affect the length of them. Around perihelion the earth is moving around 1 kilometre per second faster than at aphelion which results in winter being 5 days shorter than summer..."

Forests nationwide are feeling the heat from increasing drought and climate change, according to a new study by scientists from 14 research institutions.

Read more at:

Experts Look at Buildings, Codes After Texas Tornadoes. Although a totally tornado-proof home is probably cost-prohibitive, making homes more tornado (and hail) resilient will be a booming market in the years to come; here's an excerpt from The Washington Times: "...Tornadoes don’t destroy homes instantly. Instead, they find weak points and progressively tear homes apart from there, says Chris Ramseyer, an engineering professor at the University of Oklahoma who specializes in structural design. “It finds the corner that’s weak, pulls it apart, and then it works on what’s left,” he said. Reinforcing that one weak corner, often the home’s garage, can save the entire structure. “The costs that you’re looking at are generally less than the cost of the granite countertop that the homeowner wants in the kitchen,” Ramseyer said..." (File photo: EPA).

Soybeans to Solar: Boom is Boon for Landowners. Using farmland to generate clean energy? Details at Mankato Free Press: " When John Frey of Mankato received an inquiry about putting a solar array on his land, he didn’t need to be persuaded on the merits. Renewable energy was already his sole focus after retiring as a dean at Minnesota State University. Solar power, he said, is a virtual requirement if we’re to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. When 40 acres of solar panels go up on his rural Lake Crystal land, perhaps this May, he’ll be looking at it as part of a global solution to climate change. That’s a view shared by the manager of the project, Nathan Rogers of Ecoplexus. “Every kilowatt hour produced by solar is one not produced by nuclear or fossil fuels,” he said. An installation of this size in Minnesota powers about 500 homes..."

Photo credit above: Trevor Cokley.

U.S. Solar Surged 17% in 2015 Led By Demand for Rooftop Power. Here's an excerpt from Bloomberg Business: "Solar power developers added a record 7.3 gigawatts of capacity in the U.S. last year, up 17 percent from 2014 and surpassing natural gas installations for the first time. Residential installations climbed 66 percent, the fastest-growing segment, and accounted for 29 percent of all photovoltaic systems, according to a report Monday from GTM Research and the Washington-based Solar Energy Industries Association. California, North Carolina and Nevada were again the top three solar states. Utah jumped from 23rd to 7th, while New Jersey slipped to 10th from sixth..." (File image: Solar City).

Two Superpowers We Wish We Had. Bill Gates believes we need an energy miracle, a technological revolution that accelerates the push toward clean, renewable energy sources. Here's an excerpt of a post from Bill and Melinda Gates: "...New green technologies are allowing the world to produce more carbon-free energy from solar and wind power. Maybe you live near a wind farm or have seen solar panels near your school. It’s great that these are getting cheaper and more people are using them. We should use more of them where it makes sense, like in places where it’s especially sunny or windy. And by installing special new power lines we could make even more use of solar and wind power. But to stop climate change and make energy affordable for everyone, we’re also going to need some new inventions..."

No Bill Gates, We Don't Need "Energy Miracles" to Solve Climate Change. There's no silver bullet, but we already have plenty of silver buckshot to wean us off fossil fuels. Here's an excerpt from Joe Romm at ThinkProgress: "For six years, Bill Gates has been arguing that we need “energy miracles” to avoid catastrophic climate change. For six years, he has been wrong. In fact, Gates is more wrong now than he was in 2010. Why? Because in the last six years, we have seen that aggressive deployment of clean energy technology driven by government policies has — as was predicted — led to precisely the kind of game-changing cost-slashing innovation that Gates mistakenly thinks happens primarily from basic energy research and development (R&D)..."

How Clean Energy Became a Code Word in Washington. Energy independence applies to sources beyond dirty fossil fuels. At some point the GOP will acknowledge the obvious. Here's a clip at ThinkProgress: "...But at some point, something has got to give. ClearPath’s polling shows what lots of other polls show: Americans want clean energy. Even more strikingly, 70 percent of Americans accept that climate change is real and caused by humans. A correlating seven out of 10 want their state to comply with the Clean Power Plan. And this reality in voting districts is having an effect on the ground. Last fall, facing a tight re-election race against the Democratic governor, New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte became the first Republican senator to support the Clean Power Plan..."

What's Next in Computing? Medium has a long and interesting article about AI, drones, virtual reality, mobile intelligence and IoT; a worthy read. Here's an excerpt: "...I tend to think we are on the cusp of not one but multiple new eras. The “peace dividend of the smartphone war” created a Cambrian explosion of new devices, and developments in software, especially AI, will make those devices smart and useful. Many of the futuristic technologies discussed above exist today, and will be broadly accessible in the near future. Observers have noted that many of these new devices are in their “awkward adolescence.” That is because they are in their gestation phase. Like PCs in the 70s, the internet in the 80s, and smartphones in the early 2000s, we are seeing pieces of a future that isn’t quite here. But the future is coming: markets go up and down, and excitement ebbs and flows, but computing technology marches steadily forward."
Video credit: The Terminator (1984)

Sizzle For a Cause. If you want to sample some terrific food and support a very good cause come out to Cast & Cru Thursday evening - we always have an amazing time together! Details on the event here.

TODAY: More clouds than sun, dry. Winds: N 8-13. High: 35

WEDNESDAY NIGHT: Partly cloudy. Low: 25

THURSDAY: Chilly breeze, a few flurries in the air. Winds: NW 10-20. High: 33

FRIDAY: Chilly start. Glimmers of sun, average temps by late afternoon Winds: SW 8-13. High: 36

SATURDAY: Some sun, feels like late March. Winds: SW 10-20. Wake-up: 31. High: 46

SUNDAY: Mild start. PM rain/snow mix. Wake-up: 33. High: 43 (midday, falling thru the 30s by afternoon)

MONDAY: Overcast sky, damp breeze. Wake-up: 29. High: near 40

TUESDAY: Storm probably tracks south of Minnesota, brushed by a few flurries? Wake-up: 26. High: 33

Climate Stories....

Congress Actually Did Something Pretty Great on Climate Change. Some uplifting, encouraging perspective from Mother Jones; here's an excerpt: "In December, Republicans in Congress struck a deal with Democrats to extend a package of tax breaks for wind and solar energy projects. Prior to the deal, things looked bleak. The tax credit for wind had already expired the year before, and the one for solar was set to expire by 2016. So the extension, which came after Democrats agreed to support lifting the long-standing ban on US oil exports, was a big and unexpected win for clean energy—one that will help buoy the industry for the next six years. It could also prove to be one of the most significant actions taken by this Congress to reduce America's carbon footprint, according to a new analysis from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory..." (File image: Wikipedia).

Searing Heatwaves Could Become Annual Threat. Climate Central has a summary of new research into the frequency and intensity of extreme heat; here's an excerpt: "...Tebaldi and her co-author Michael Wehner of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory wanted to see how curtailing the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases might affect the severity of future heat waves. They used an NCAR climate model to look at how the odds of today’s 20-year events — or those that have about a 5 percent chance of occurring in any given year — would shift in the future under scenarios where emissions were and were not curbed. They found that for more than half of the world’s land area, such heat waves would become an annual event by 2075 (possibly even occurring more than once a year). Some of the worst affected areas were the northern tiers of North America, Europe and Asia, as well as the central part of South America..."

Graphic credit above: "Climate change has helped shift the odds of extreme heat." Credit: WXshift

A Climate Scientist Who Decided Not to Fly. Grist has the story; here's a clip: "...Hour for hour, there’s no better way to warm the planet than to fly in a plane. If you fly coach from Los Angeles to Paris and back, you’ve just emitted three tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, 10 times what an average Kenyan emits in an entire year. Flying first class doubles these numbers. However, the total climate impact of planes is likely two to three times greater than the impact from the CO2 emissions alone. This is because planes emit mono-nitrogen oxides into the upper troposphere, form contrails, and seed cirrus clouds with aerosols from fuel combustion. These three effects enhance warming in the short term..." (Image: YES! Infographic).

Science Confirms It: Denial of Climate Change Is All About The Politics. Here's a clip from a Washington Post article: "...Now, some clarity is being offered in the form of a new analysis published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, which reviews all the existing literature on climate change beliefs and pulls out the broad conclusions that can be drawn from all the combined research. The findings highlight two major ideas about the public’s feelings on climate change. First, the analysis suggests that out of all the personal characteristics examined by scientists so far, political affiliations, worldviews and values were the most significant predictors of a person’s beliefs about climate change. Second — and perhaps somewhat disheartening — a person’s belief in climate change doesn’t necessarily translate into big support for climate-friendly action..."

Photo credit above: "Demonstrators gather before the start of the People’s Climate March in New York on Sept. 21, 2014." (Timothy Fadek/Bloomberg).

Seas Are Rising at the Fastest Rate in the Last 28 Centuries. Climate change will more than a minor inconvenience for residents of Miami Beach, Norfolk or coastal Louisiana. It already is. Here's the intro to a story from Justin Gillis at The New York Times: "The oceans are rising faster than at any point in the last 28 centuries, and human emissions of greenhouse gases are primarily responsible, scientists reported Monday. They added that the flooding that is starting to make life miserable in many coastal towns — like Miami Beach; Norfolk, Va.; and Charleston, S.C. — was largely a consequence of those emissions, and that it is likely to grow worse in coming years. The scientists confirmed previous estimates, but with a larger data set, that if global emissions continue at a high rate over the next few decades, the ocean could rise as much as three or four feet by 2100, as ocean water expands and the great ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica begin to collapse..."
Photo credit above: "Waves striking the promenade in San Sebastián, Spain, earlier this month. Scientists warned on Monday that flooding driven by climate change is likely to worsen in coming years." Credit Juan Herrero/European Pressphoto Agency

Kasich Talks of Climate Change at VT Event. Three cheers to a Republican presidential candidate brave enough to acknowledge the science, evidence and facts and not resort to ideology-driven cop-outs or fossil-fueled fairy tales. Here's an excerpt from Burlington Free Press: "...Given that I’m a scientist, I believe in science, what do you think about the science of climate change?” Rovner asked. “I know that human beings affect the climate,” Kasich said. "I know it’s an apostasy in the Republican Party to say that. I guess that’s what I’ve always been — being able to challenge some of the status quo.” Kasich went on to say that “we need to develop all of the renewables,” including battery technology to store solar power..."

That Sinking Feeling. Keep an eye on South Florida in the coming years - and think twice before purchasing beachfront property. Here's an excerpt from American Prospect: "...In Southeast Florida, the sea could rise three feet by 2060, and that doesn’t count temporary storm surges from increasingly intense hurricanes. Seventy-five percent of Florida’s population lives in coastal counties that generate 79 percent of the state’s total annual economy. The infrastructure in these coastal counties had a replacement value of $2 trillion in 2010 and is estimated to increase to $3 trillion by 2030. Of the 2.6 million people who live in Miami-Dade County, nearly 129,000 of them are living less than three feet above sea level. The county alone has more people living less than four feet above sea level than in any other state except Louisiana. The county’s estimated beachfront property value is more than $14.7 billion—not including infrastructure..."

Photo credit above: AP Photo/Lynne Sladky. "A cyclist and vehicles negotiate heavily flooded streets as rain falls, Tuesday, September 23, 2014, in Miami Beach, Fla. Certain neighborhoods regularly experience flooding during heavy rains and extreme high tides. New storm water pumps are currently being installed along the bay front in Miami Beach."

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