Wednesday, March 22, 2017

April Showers Come Early - Another El Nino Brewing?

36 F. high in St. Cloud Wednesday.
42 F. average high on March 22.
47 F. high on March 22, 2016.

March 23, 1966: A snowstorm brings a foot of snow to southern Minnesota.

No Drama, Just A Few Premature April Showers
“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome" wrote Anne Bradstreet.
Our youngest Naval Officer son is stationed in San Diego, the city with the best overall climate in America. Lukewarm sunshine. Palm trees. What's not to like? "Dad, I'm bored - every day is the same" Brett told me recently. "I miss Minnesota's lakes and four distinct seasons" he said, much to my surprise.
Minnesota DNR data shows a high fire risk for the Twin Cities. Until we green up, the risk of brush fires will persist. And latest guidance hints at an El Nino warm phase returning by summer and fall. Based on record warm water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico and an active subtropical jet stream I'm predicting the most violent spring for U.S. tornadoes since 2011. I hope I'm wrong.
After a false start the maps look like spring again: showery rains today into Saturday. ECMWF guidance shows highs near 50F into much of next week. No freezes or slushy slaps for the next 2 weeks as we limp into an uncertain spring.

Fire Risk Until Spring Green-Up. Rain over the next 3 days will help to keep topsoil and brush damp, reducing the fire risk slightly. But until we really green up a nagging wildfire threat will linger. Map: MN DNR.

Springier Next Week. It looks like 40s the next few days with (rain) showers and sprinkles - fairly unpleasant, but hardly unusual for late March. ECMWF guidance shows highs above 50F next week. Not time to break out the shorts, but things should be greening up within 2 weeks or so. MSP data: WeatherBell.

Winter Hanging On Out West - and New England. Don't write winter off just yet. GFS 10-day snowfall totals show impressive 1-2 foot snowfall amounts over much of northern New England and more fresh snow for the Rockies and higher elevations of the western USA. Spring is always two steps forward, one step back. Or is it the other way around? GFS animation: NOAA and

Active Pattern Continues into April. After an extended tornado drought I have a hunch 2017 will bring far more violent storms to the USA, the result of unusually warm water in the Gulf of Mexico and a persistent subtropical jet stream turning up the intensity of wind shear east of the Rockies. Looking 2 weeks out the flow is mainly zonal - no bitter slaps into the first week of April.

Another El Nino Brewing? According to NOAA NCEP ENSO-neutral may morph into another El Nino warm phase in the Pacific by late summer and autumn.

Gulf of Mexico Waters Are Freakishly Warm, Which Could Mean Explosive Springtime Storms. With unusually warm water in the Gulf and a persistent and powerful subtropical jet stream providing sufficient shear, there's every reason to believe the upcoming severe weather season will be formidable, possibly the most severe in 5-6 years. Here's an excerpt from Jason Samenow at Capital Weather Gang: "...The warm water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico, in particular, could mean that thunderstorms that erupt over the southern and central United States are more severe this spring. Berger explained in his Ars Technica piece: “While the relationship is far from absolute, scientists have found that when the Gulf of Mexico tends to be warmer than normal, there is more energy for severe storms and tornadoes to form than when the Gulf is cooler.” Victor Gensini, a professor of meteorology at the College of DuPage, agreed that the warm Gulf could intensify storms this spring but cautioned that additional ingredients will need to come together. “The water is only one piece,” he said. An additional key component for severe thunderstorms is a phenomenon known as the elevated mixed layer, a zone of hot and dry air at high altitudes that develops over Mexico’s high plateau and can flow into the southern and central United States. When it interacts with the warm, moist air from the Gulf, the resulting instability can give rise to explosive thunderstorms..."

Map credit: "Sea surface temperature difference from average." (

Most Active Start to Tornado Season Since 2008. Thanks to Johnny Kelly for passing this nugget along.

Freezing Temperatures Devastate South Carolina Farmers. More details via South Carolina Department of Agriculture: "Last week, temperatures dipped to record lows and now South Carolina peach farmers face the worst crop damage they have seen in ten years. Strawberries and blueberries were among other crops damaged during the freeze. Members of the South Carolina Peach Council and other industry representatives met Monday morning to discuss the severity of the damage to the peach crop, which was in early bloom due to an unseasonably warm winter. Farmers are hopeful to have ten to fifteen percent of their usual crop. Peach-lovers can still expect to see local peaches in July and August in limited quantities. Statewide, strawberries have experienced about a fifteen percent loss. Midland and Upstate blueberry farmers are reporting significant loss, similar to that of peaches. Information is still being gathered from blueberry farms in the lower part of the state..."

Springtime's Cherry Blossoms Have a Dark Side. The date of first bloom is coming consistently earlier, from Tokyo to Washington D.C., based on meticulous record-keeping. Here's an excerpt from TIME: "...The following numbers are one example of cherry blossoms have reached peak bloom earlier as temperatures have been getting warmer, courtesy of Takehiko Mikami, a meteorology professor emeritus at Tokyo Metropolitan University, whose calculations are based on data from Japan Meteorological Agency.
Average March temperatures in Tokyo:
1981-1990: 8.7°C [46.7°F]
1991-2000: 9.4°C [48.92°F]
2001-2015: 10.0°C [50°F]
Average full blossoming dates of cherry trees in Tokyo:
1981-1990: April 9
1991-2000: April 4
2001-2015: March 29
The same trend has occurred in Washington, D.C., as peak bloom has shifted early by about five days since 1921, and weather station measurements since 1946 show a temperature increase of 1.6 degrees Celsius (2.88 degrees Fahrenheit) per century..."

Why People Think Weather Forecasts Are Bad When They Are Actually Pretty Good. Dr. Marshall Shepherd explains weather-accuracy perception vs. reality at Forbes: "...The reality is that modern-day weather forecasts are pretty accurate so I decided to explore reasons people think they are bad. A field goal kicker could make every single kick during football season, but what if he misses the "big one" in the championship bowl game? He may be ridiculed or criticized, but is he a bad kicker? Probably not, but he did miss a kick with great impact. Weather forecast outcomes are very similar. The March Blizzard of 2017 happened. It really did. However, a vigorous debate ensued on whether it was a "bust" because it did not produce snowfall totals and blizzard conditions in the big cities along the I-95 corridor. Some argued that forecasters adequately conveyed the uncertainty with the forecast while others suggested that the National Weather Service made some errors in leaving Blizzard warnings up in the big cities though models seemed to be backing off..."

Healthcast: Air Quality Impacts Exercise. Outdoor air pollution is the world's biggest killer, claiming more lives, worldwide, than malaria and HIV/AIDS. meteorologist Kristin Clark reports: "Now a new study finds that simply exercising outdoors in poor air quality can be more detrimental to your health than not exercising at all. Researchers reveal that in some cities air pollution levels have increased to the point where just 30 minutes of cycling outweigh the benefits of the exercise altogether. As a cyclist myself this is a surprising stat. Seems counterintuitive, right? Exercise, no matter in what environment, should be good for our body and our overall health, right? Wrong. Air pollution is so bad in certain areas that even walking poses a serious health threat. Granted this finding holds true for only the most polluted cities on Earth. Zabol, Iran and Gwalior, India are the top two most polluted cities in the world according to the World Health Organization (WHO). More than 80% of people living in low-income cities that monitor air pollution are exposed to air quality levels that exceed WHO limits..."
Image credit: "Scale of PM2.5 particles. The human hair is 30 times larger than fine particles." Source: EPA

As the Captain: What Happens When Lightning Strikes a Plane? An interesting response at The Detroit Free Press: "...Lightning strikes will usually leave small burn marks or holes at the entry and exit point. Airplanes are designed to allow lightning to move along the skin of the airplane without doing damage. Occasionally, a static wick will be the victim of lightning exiting the airplane. I have been in airplanes that have sustained lightning strikes several times with very little damage.... In the air, airplanes are designed to dissipate the lightning quickly. I have been flying airplanes that were struck multiple times, and there was little or no damage sustained. All the surfaces are bonded, giving the lightning a pathway to pass back into the atmosphere. On the ground, there is a risk to people on the ramp if the airplane discharges the lightning. For the passengers, there is very little or no risk in either situation..."

Visualizing Uncertain Weather. Scientific American highlights research showing the power of maps to tell the story and quantify uncertainty: "...As defined by the National Hurricane Center, the cone, “represents the probable track of the center of a tropical cyclone, and is formed by enclosing the area swept out by a set of circles (not shown) along the forecast track (at 12, 24, 36 hours, etc). The size of each circle is set so that two-thirds of historical official forecast errors over a 5-year sample fall within the circle.” But as a visualization—even with the on-image text disclaimer “NOTE: The cone contains the probable path of the storm center but does not show the size of the storm. Hazardous conditions can occur outside of the cone.”— that full context isn’t terribly clear..."

Is The Dark Really Making Me Sad? Here's an excerpt of a fascinating look at how a lack of sunlight can impact people's moods and mental health at Mosaic Science: "...Why should darker months trigger this tiredness and low mood in so many people? There are several theories, none of them definitive, but most relate to the circadian clock – the roughly 24-hour oscillation in our behaviour and biology that influences when we feel hungry, sleepy or active. This is no surprise given that the symptoms of the winter blues seem to be associated with shortening days and longer nights, and that bright light seems to have an antidepressive effect. One idea is that some people’s eyes are less sensitive to light, so once light levels fall below a certain threshold, they struggle to synchronise their circadian clock with the outside world. Another is that some people produce more of a hormone called melatonin during winter than in summer – just like certain other mammals that show strong seasonal patterns in their behaviour..."

Why Scientists Are Worried About a Landslide No One Saw or Heard. Atlas Obscura has an intriguinig story: "If a steep mountainside in a remote national park gives way and drops 200 million tons of rock into deep glacial water, will anyone hear? In the case of the massive landslide that fell into Taan Fjord, Alaska, the answer was no—and yes. No one heard the mountainside fall into the fjord on a rainy night on October 17, 2015. No one saw an almost unimaginably huge and powerful wave crest at 600 feet and sweep down the inlet. The tsunami obliterated forests on both sides of the inlet, and its rush to the sea dragged an iceberg over a marine spit and out into coastal Icy Bay. The enormous wave, an estimated 60 feet high in the middle of the inlet, traveled eight miles to open water and made it all the way to about five miles north of Icy Bay Lodge..."
Photo credit: "The giant scar of the landslide is put into perspective by the skiff surveying the damage." Photo by Bjørn Olson, Courtesy of Ground Truth Trekking

Minnesota Utility's Long-Term Plan Calls For More Renewables, Less Coal. Because they're cheaper. Here's an excerpt from Midwest Energy News: "Clean energy groups won a victory last week after Minnesota regulators approved a long-range plan by Otter Tail Power Company that will double its investment in wind power and close a coal plant within the next five years. Otter Tail’s updated 15-year “integrated resource plan” included suggestions from the groups Fresh Energy (which publishes Midwest Energy News), Wind on the Wires, Minnesota Center For Environmental Advocacy and Sierra Club. The plan calls for a portfolio with 400 megawatts (MW) of wind and 30 MW of solar; an ambitious energy efficiency goal; and the closing of the 140 MW Hoot Lake coal-fired plant in Fergus Falls by 2021. The utility — which serves customers in western Minnesota and the Dakotas — will generate more than 30 percent of its energy needs from renewables by 2031 under the plan..."

Analysis: Electric Vehicles Pay Their Fair Share in State Taxes. Here's an excerpt of a story at Great Plains Institute that caught my eye: "Recent tax policy analysis by the Great Plains Institute (GPI) for Drive Electric Minnesota found that electric cars pay just as much or more taxes as comparable gasoline vehicles. Like most other states, Minnesota uses a tax on the sale of gasoline and other motor fuel to pay for transportation infrastructure like highways and bridges, among other uses. This excise tax is paid by the consumer at the pump at a rate of 28.5 cents per gallon ($0.285 / gal), which means that the more one drives, the more taxes one will pay through the consumption of additional fuel. Since more driving causes more wear and damage to public driving infrastructure, this makes sense. This also means, however, that plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) do not pay any motor fuel excise tax..."

Energy Storage is America's Industry to Lose. Will we rise to the opportunity? Here's a clip from E&E News: "...She sees a market that is strapping on its boots for a steep and inexorable climb. Blunden and a growing number of experts believe that energy storage will be worth tens of billions of dollars in revenue within a decade, regardless of what the Trump administration does to harm or help. Batteries will start showing up everywhere, sending shock waves through the auto industry, the electric grid, the petroleum industry and the broader power sector, adding tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs to the economy. The question that Blunden keeps asking herself is whether that money and those jobs will go to Michigan and North Carolina, or flee to Shanghai or Seoul, South Korea. The problem, Blunden said, is that the United States is wandering into a global competition without much urgency or a plan. "Are we going to make the decision to take a significant share of the next wave of manufacturing growth globally?" Blunden asked. "Or are we just going to give it to [Asia]?..."

Image credit: "In the next decade, the energy storage industry will go from the familiar, like the iPhone, into much bigger applications like electric cars and the power grid." Photos courtesy of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Pixabay, Dave Dugdale/Flickr (Tesla).

47% of Jobs Will Disappear in the Next 25 Years, Says Oxford University. White collar positions will continue to be disrupted, according to a summary at Big Think: "...According to Art Bilger, venture capitalist and board member at the business school, all the developed nations on earth will see job loss rates of up to 47% within the next 25 years, according to a recent Oxford study. “No government is prepared,” The Economist reports. These include blue and white collar jobs. So far, the loss has been restricted to the blue collar variety, particularly in manufacturing. To combat “structural unemployment” and the terrible blow it is bound to deal the American people, Bilger has formed a nonprofit called Working Nation, whose mission it is to warn the public and to help make plans to safeguard them from this worrisome trend. Not only is the entire concept of employment about to change in a dramatic fashion, the trend is irreversible..."

Image credit: BBC

Job-Stealing Robots? Millennials See Hope, Fear in Automation. Every threat is an opportunity, right? Here's a clip from LinkedIn: "...Dramatic shifts in the how and the where of the future of work recently prompted my 15-year-old to ask, “Mom, are robots going to take my job someday?” Timely question. Deloitte Global’s latest survey of millennials shows many are asking the same thing. While they recognize the benefits of automation in terms of productivity and economic growth, they also see it providing opportunities for value-added or creative activities, or learning new skills:
  • 40 percent see automation posing a threat to their jobs;
  • 44 percent believe there will be less demand for their skills;
  • 51 percent believe they will have to retrain; and
  • 53 percent see the workplace becoming more impersonal and less human. Which is news that should make every CEO sit up and take notice, given this generation’s use of social media..."

TODAY: Few rain showers - damp. Winds: SE 10-15. High: 43

THURSDAY NIGHT: More showers. Low: 40

FRIDAY: Milder with showery rains, heaviest over southern Minnesota. Winds: NE 8-13. High: 49

SATURDAY: Early showers, then slow clearing. Wake-up: 38. High: near 50

SUNDAY: Mostly cloudy, cool breeze. Winds: N 5-10. Wake-up: 37. High: 49

MONDAY: Still gray, cool and damp. Winds: N 7-12. Wake-up: 39. High: 48

TUESDAY: Partly sunny and milder. Winds: E 5-10. Wake-up: 36. High: 56

WEDNESDAY: Fading sunshine, stronger winds. Winds: E 10-20. Wake-up: 38. High: 57

Climate Stories...

Record-Breaking Climate Change Pushes World into "Uncharted Territory". The Guardian reports: "The record-breaking heat that made 2016 the hottest year ever recorded has continued into 2017, pushing the world into “truly uncharted territory”, according to the World Meteorological Organisation. The WMO’s assessment of the climate in 2016, published on Tuesday, reports unprecedented heat across the globe, exceptionally low ice at both poles and surging sea-level rise. Global warming is largely being driven by emissions from human activities, but a strong El Niño – a natural climate cycle – added to the heat in 2016. The El Niño is now waning, but the extremes continue to be seen, with temperature records tumbling in the US in February and polar heatwaves pushing ice cover to new lows..."

* The 28 page WMO (World Meteorological Organization) report on the climate is here.

More Extreme Weather Coming After Record 2016 Heat, WMO Says. Bloomberg provides more perspective on the WMO report: "Unusually warm weather in the Arctic is helping shift weather patterns this year from North America to the Middle East, after global warming shattered records in 2016, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Rising ocean temperatures that are melting polar ice sheets, killing marine life and flooding coastal communities may have increased more than previously reported last year, the WMO said in a report Tuesday. Average sea-surface temperatures hit their highest levels ever last year, and overall temperatures over sea and land were 1.1 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial period. At least three times this winter, the Arctic has experienced the polar equivalent of a heat wave with Atlantic storms driving warm, moist air..." (Map credit: NOAA NCDC).

The Seasons Aren't What They Used To Be. Here's an excerpt of a poignant piece at The New York Times: "...Spring has been particularly hasty and irregular this year, but this is no anomaly. In the latter half of the 20th century, the spring emergence of leaves, frogs, birds and flowers advanced in the Northern  Hemisphere by 2.8 days per decade. I'm nearly 50, so springtime has moved, on average, a full two weeks sinnce I was born. And you? We now experience climate change not only through the abstraction of science, but also through lived experience..." (Image credit: NOAA).

Arctic's Winter Sea Ice Drops To Its Lowest Recorded Level. The New York Times has details. Graphic credit above: National Snow and Ice Data Center.

How Americans Think About Climate Change, in Six Maps. The New York Times has details: "Americans overwhelmingly believe that global warming is happening, and that carbon emissions should be scaled back. But fewer are sure that the changes will harm them personally. New data released by Yale researchers gives the most detailed view yet of public opinion on global warming..."

These Republicans Think Climate Change is Real. They Can See It In Their States. The symptoms of climate volatility will be harder to dismiss or deny. Here's an excerpt from News & Observer: "Republicans may have a president and a congressional majority that doesn’t believe climate change is a big threat or that the cause is driven by human activity – but they also have a bloc of congressional lawmakers with very different views. About 13 of the House of Representatives’ 237 Republicans are part of the Climate Solutions Caucus. Among them, Florida Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen represent south Florida, where rising sea levels pose a grave threat to coastal communities. “We’re already seeing the effects of rising sea levels,” Curbelo told reporters. “These are very real concerns.” The bipartisan caucus, which also has 13 Democrats, was established last year to promote economically viable options to reducing the risks from climate change. Though it hasn’t proposed specific legislation, it has brought some influential voices to the cause..."

Photo credit: "Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., speaks to reporters at the Capitol about climate change on Monday, March 20, 2017. He is flanked by Republican Reps. Mark Sanford of South Carolina (from left), Brian Mast and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania." Curtis Tate McClatchy

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Republican Green Groups Seek to Temper Trump on Climate Change. Here's a snippet from Reuters: "...Conservative green groups such as ConservAmerica and republicEn, along with politically neutral religious groups such as Catholic Climate Covenant and bipartisan groups such as the Citizens Climate Lobby, have ramped up efforts to recruit more congressional Republicans to work on addressing climate change since Trump's election. Conservative environmental advocates promote what they call "free enterprise" solutions to climate change, like a carbon tax. That stands in contrast to the approach of liberal environmentalists under former President Barack Obama, who backed bans on certain kinds of oil drilling and regulations aimed at discouraging petroleum use. But whatever their differences, the conservative groups say they have an important role to play. "Conservatives now have a chance to earn back the trust of Americans on environmental issues," said Alex Bozmoski, director of strategy for republicEn. "They can lead in a completely different direction that actually grows the economy while cutting greenhouse gasses..."

Climate Change is Certainly Causing More Powerful Storms. Here's a clip from an article at Salon: "...The ‘100-year flood’ now occurs more often than once a century,” Hansen said. Michael E. Mann, Director of the Earth System Science Center and Distinguished Professor of Meteorology at Penn State University, observed that the warming climate is actually causing more snow. “The oceans have been at record levels of warm the past two years (and climate change is a key contributor to that),” Mann said. “That record warmth means that there is more moisture in the atmosphere that is available both to help strengthen the storm and produce record snowfalls as the warm oceanic air is entrained in toward the eastern U.S. by the cyclonic winds of the storm. Climate model simulations indicate a likelihood for stronger, more snow-making storms, and that’s what we’re seeing...”

Superstorm Sandy file imagery: Mel Shapiro, NCAR.

Here's How Climate Change is Already Affecting Your Health, Based on the State You Live In. Yahoo News has the story: "Climate change is already beginning to wreak havoc upon the planet. In the short term, we're facing more winter storms, miserably hot summers, and a longer allergy season. In the long term, entire coastlines will likely disappear, threatening communities and wildlife. On a more local level, experts say the US will be unrecognizable in 100 years. But just how is all of this affecting you — your state, your coastline — right now? A new report from the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health reveals that different geographic regions in the US are facing a range of effects, many of which are already taking shape today. Some of them are as geographically specific as to affect only one state..."

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