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Light-Switch Spring For Upper Midwest (slush to 70s in 4 days – impact on river flooding?)

24 Apr 2013, 6:40 am


The Big Thaw



Kent from Eden Prairie writes “I heard that we set a record low temperature last Saturday, the first record low for the Twin Cities in nearly a decade (2004). For the sake of comparison, how many record high temps. have we set during this time?” Great question. 42 record highs for MSP since 2004. 1 record low – 42 record highs. Draw your own conclusion.



We’re predicting 70s as early as this weekend.



Cue the Hallelujah Chorus!



Pete Boulay at the State Climate Office thinks we’ll ultimately go about 186 days since the last 70-degree high on October 21. The all-time record? 218 days, back in 1917-18.



We’ve earned this warm front. 17.6″ snow; 3rd snowiest on record. 4th coldest April on record. Over 9″ of precipitation since January 1 @MSP, nearly 4″ wetter than average, to date. The drought is fading fast.



Take a photo of the drifts in your yard – they’ll be gone within 48 hours. The mercury eclipses 60F Friday, a surge from the southwest treats us to 70s Sunday; a few T-storms may fire up early next week. A “Knee-Jerk Spring”, like flipping on a light switch.



This sudden temperature spike and moderate rain is bad news for the Red River; major flooding in Fargo by Monday.


Flood Update From Twin Cities Meteorologist In Charge Dan Luna. Worst-Case Scenario May Be Avoided For Red River Valley. Yesterday I asked the MPX Chief about his thoughts on the flood potential. In short, as long as we don’t see heavy rain in the Red River basin in the next week or two we may avoid a worst-case flood scenario for Fargo and other towns along the Red River. Here is what Dan e-mailed to me Tuesday afternoon:

“In terms of weather returning to normal or above normal temperature for a change…

There is no question snow will melt rapidly in the next week. We have experienced rapid melts in the past and those are reflected in our probabilistic forecasts. We feel more confident about the melt and river forecasts today knowing temperatures will finally trigger a basin-wide melt for both the Red and upper Mississippi Rivers, finally.

We feel confident that there will be no significant rainfall during that melt period.

The upper end of our river forecast possibilities (meaning the higher river levels) factor in a rapid melt and heavy rainfall, based on decades of previous temperature and precipitation records.

Therefore, the upper end of our forecast possibilities is less of a threat now because we are not factoring in a basin-wide significant rain event. Anecdotally, we know that the headwaters area of the Red River basin has seen good infiltration of melt water. With our current modeling and observation technology we have no way of quantifying those effects on the current forecast. Without a significant precipitation event triggering a basin-wide melt and the fact that some water has infiltrated the soils, the potential for record flooding decreases significantly south of the Grand Forks area. However there will still be significant flooding, no question about it.

Thanks Dan.

Dodging A (Flooding) Bullet? NOAA’s latest 5-Day QPF, showing expected rainfall amounts, pulls the most moisture into the Mid South and Ohio Valley, with ligher amounts across the Upper Midwest, where rapidly warming temperatures will melt snow. Again, a worst-case scenario for flooding would be 60s and 70s + heavy rain. Hopefully we can avoid heavy rains the next 1-2 weeks.

Staggering Snow Statistics. 50.2″ of snow…in April…in Duluth? Even for Duluth that is a BOATLOAD of snow, in fact April 2013 now has the distinction of being Duluth’s snowiest month on record. In April!

Third Snowiest April For The Twin Cities. It’s the 4th coldest April (to date), and the third snowiest April in modern-day records, according to NOAA data. 17.6″ of snow since April 1 – by far the snowiest month of the winter season. I know, very odd.


Meteorological Whiplash. No, our weather has never (ever) been “average”. No such thing. But the swings in temperature and moisture seem to be getting bigger. Many of the areas that experienced extreme drought in 2012 are now in flood – a trend which may push closer to Minnesota and the Dakotas in coming days as record snows melt much too quickly. Details of today’s edition of Climate Matters: “Flooding is now replacing the drought as the big national weather story. Dozens of flood warnings are currently active in several states including Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan. Meteorologist Paul Douglas looks at what the changing jet stream has meant for moisture in the Central U.S.



Instant June. Speaking of weather-whiplash, check out the ECMWF model forecast for Sunday evening, showing a stiff southwest wind at all levels of the atmosphere; 70s pushing in the Upper Midwest, even some 80s as close as Iowa and South Dakota. From slush to grilling and chirping robins in 5 days? Looks like it. Map: WSI.

First 70 Since October 21, 2012. According to Pete Boulay, at the Minnesota Climate Office, the Twin Cities will probably go about 186 days in a row without seeing 70-degree temperatures. That’s not even close to the all-time record of 218 days. The mercury failed to reach 70F between September 25, 1917 and April 30, 1918. And if my sons are reading this, no, your old man does not remember this.

Years: 1871 to 2013
Conditions are: Max Temperature (F) less than or equal to 70
Minimum Days in the Run: 200

Time Period  No. of Days
1876-10-03 to 1877-04-21 201
1877-10-01 to 1878-04-21 203
1887-10-09 to 1888-04-25 200
1890-10-02 to 1891-04-23 204
1891-10-26 to 1892-05-16 204
1902-10-09 to 1903-04-26 200
1906-10-17 to 1907-05-11 207
1917-09-25 to 1918-04-30 218 
1925-09-29 to 1926-04-19 203
1939-10-07 to 1940-04-27 204
1943-10-12 to 1944-05-10 212
1959-09-25 to 1960-04-11 200
1960-10-17 to 1961-05-09 205
1981-09-27 to 1982-04-22 208
1982-10-07 to 1983-04-24 200
1983-10-03 to 1984-04-25 206
1994-10-07 to 1995-05-10 216


7-Day Precipitation. The map above, courtesy of NOAA, shows 2-3″ precipitation amounts just south of the Twin Cities in the last week, the southeastern half of Minnesota picking up over 1 to 1.5″ liquid. That compares with some 4-8″ amounts from southern Iowa into Illinois and Indiana, where record flooding has been reported on some streams and rivers. The drought is fading fast across the Midwest and Mississippi Valley.

Everybody Talks About The Weather, But It’s Not Easy To Predict. Amen brother. Here’s a clip from a story at the Press Republican that caught my eye – are we close to a 10-day forecast? Don’t hold your breath: “…With weather satellites proliferating, there have been tremendous improvements in global data collection over the last decade or so. Computing power has also moved forward rapidly, although the ability to run computations that divide the world into small segments demands a staggering electronic infrastructure. The models are the real sticking point, but the National Weather Service is making progress by taking a sort of “poll of polls” strategy, to borrow a phrase from political scientists. “We’re now finding that if you run an ensemble of models, merging an envelope of solutions from second and third models, you can extract a more likely solution,” Uccellini says. Testing on this combined-model approach has suggested that the National Weather Service may be able to push its official forecast out to 10 days, but no decision to do that has been made. (The agency moved from a five-day forecast to a seven-day one only in 2000.)

Tornado Data Could Help Forecasters Increase Warning Times And Reduce False Alarms. Here’s an excerpt of an interesting story from Jack Williams at The Washington Post: “…The Goshen data confirms that a second rear-flank downdraft created a secondary rear-flank gust front that strengthened, weakened and strengthened again as the tornado formed, died out and then reformed, she says. Supercells also produce front-flank downdrafts that spread out as front-flank gust fronts racing out ahead of the storm as it moves across the countryside. Many supercells, especially tornadic ones, have rear-flank gust fronts, but it is not known how many have the recently discovered secondary rear-flank gust fronts, says Josh Wurman, founder of the Center for Severe Weather Research. He says the Goshen tornado data increases researchers’ confidence that secondary rear-flank gust fronts are important to tornado formation…”

Graphic credit above: “This drawing shows what happened to the Goshen, Wyo., tornado over a period of 12 minutes. The blue arrows are the rear-flank downdraft and the red line is the front-flank gust front. The primary and secondary rear-flank gust fronts (RFGF) are labeled.” (Credit: Center for Severe Weather Research):
• 1) The weak circulation has not formed a tornado.
• 2) A tornado forms when part of the secondary gust front wraps around the circulation.
• 3) When the secondary gust front weakens winds drop below tornado speed and no funnel is seen.
• 4) The secondary gust front forms and the tornado re-forms and strengthens.

Did A Giant Dam Cause China’s Latest Earthquake? This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of this effect – the weight of (new) water overhead putting additional weight and stress on unstable earthquake faults. Here’s an excerpt from Quartz: “…Scientists have long argued that the weight of water reservoirs can cause seismic shifts that trigger tremors, also known as reservoir-induced seismicity. (The Hoover Dam in the US, the Koyna Dam in India, and the Katse Dam in Africa are notable examples.) In 2009, Chinese researchers said the 150-meter tall Zipingpu dam (pdf), 5.5 kilometers from the epicenter of the Wenchuan quake, had clearly affected seismic activity and may have triggered a quake earlier than it would have naturally occurred. Yang Yong, a geologist in Chengdu, told the Financial Times (paywall) that the building of reservoirs in Sichuan province has caused more seismic activity.…”

A Year Of Outbursts From The Sun. It would be ironic if the next Black Swan event came from the sun, in the form of a solar flare (CME) capable of disrupting communications, or even the power grid. Here’s an excerpt from Jason Samennow at The Washington Post: “…But currently, the sun is exhibiting plenty of signs of life and could unleash a flare directed at Earth. Writes

Sunspot AR1726 has developed a ‘delta class’ magnetic field that harbors energy for strong eruptions. This has prompted NOAA forecasters to up the odds of M-class flares to 40% and X-class flares to 15% within the next 24 hours. Because of the sunspot’s almost-central location on the solar disk, any eruptions today would likely be Earth-directed.

We’ll keep you posted on any solar flares, and whether they might have any effect on our planet (e.g. on satellite/radio communication, auroras, etc.).”

Image credit above: NASA/GSFC/SDO)

Hubble And Hershel Show The Horsehead Nebula In A Spectacular New Light. Here’s an excerpt of a story that should interest astronomy buffs from “New near-infrared and far-infrared views captured by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Herschel space telescope have provided a spectacular new look at the famous Horsehead Nebula. The Horsehead Nebula lies some 1500 light-years away in the constellation of Orion, just south of Alnitak, the most easterly star in the famous belt. The nebula, also known as Barnard 33, spans approximately five light-years and is a popular viewing target for both amateur and professional astronomers…”

Image credit: “Hubble’s stunning near-infrared image of the Horsehead Nebula.” (Image: NASA)

Flexible Electronics Could Transform The Way We Make And Use Electronic Devices. Here’s an excerpt of an interesting story from Penn State: “Flexible electronics open the door to foldaway smartphone displays, solar cells on a roll of plastic and advanced medical devices — if we can figure out how to make them. Nearly everyone knows what the inside of a computer or a mobile phone looks like: A stiff circuit board, usually green, crammed with chips, resistors, capacitors and sockets, interconnected by a suburban sprawl of printed wiring. But what if our printed circuit board was not stiff, but flexible enough to bend or even fold? It may sound like an interesting laboratory curiosity, but not to Enrique Gomez, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at Penn State. “It could transform the way we make and use electronic devices,” he says…”

Photo credit above: “Example of a flexible-circuit film displayed by a member of Professor Tom Jackson’s Electronics Research Group on Penn State’s University Park campus.” Image: Patrick Mansell

Climate Stories….

New Method Proves – Again – Climate Change Is Real. Scientific American has the story; here’s an excerpt: “…The locations of weather stations, changes in instruments, the siting of weather stations in warmer urban areas, changes in land cover and other issues have all been cited as issues affecting the temperature trends often used to show that our planet is in fact warming. Compo’s method uses none of these. Instead, the researcher and his colleagues use historic measurements of air pressure and ocean temperatures, put into a model, to calibrate surface temperatures over the 20th century. That project, called the 20th Century Reanalysis, gets those pressure data from historic data sources like ship logs and Army bases, which are compiled by volunteers at and ACRE, two efforts that catalog old weather data and make them available to researchers. Those many, many pieces of air pressure data help Compo and his team piece together a snapshot of what was happening in the weather at a given point in time; every six hours since the 1870s, in fact...”

Image credit above: “Compo’s method uses historic measurements of air pressure and ocean temperatures, put into a model, to calibrate surface temperatures over the 20th century.Image: Flickr/Jeff Kubina

Earth Said To Be The Warmest In The Last 1,400 Years. Here’s an excerpt from an article at “Earth’s temperatures increased more between 1971 and 2000 than during any other three-decade interval in the last 1,400 years, U.S. researchers say. Scientists at the Earth Institute at Columbia University said new regional temperature reconstructions covering all seven continents show the current ongoing period of man-made global warming reversed a natural cooling trend that lasted several hundred years. The reconstructed the temperature history of Earth’s continents by analyzing climate data from tree rings, pollen, cave formations, ice cores, lake and ocean sediments, and historical records from around the world, a Columbia release said Monday...”

Graphic credit above: “During Europe’s 2003 heat wave, July temperatures in France were as much as 18 degrees F hotter than in 2001.” Credit: NASA




Climate Change’s Human Connection Explained. Friend and colleague, Dr. Michael Mann at Penn State, explains in this story at Huffington Post; here’s an excerpt: “…Finally, perhaps most significant of all, only when human factors were included could the models reproduce the observed warming—both its overall magnitude and, equally important, its geographical pattern over Earth’s surface and its vertical pattern in the atmosphere. The primary such human factor was increasing greenhouse gas concentrations due to fossil fuel burning and other human activities. A secondary human factor, sulfate aerosols emitted from industrial smokestacks, also played a role, however. Like volcanic sulfate aerosols, these industrial aerosols have a cooling effect. Unlike volcanic aerosols, which reach the lower stratosphere, allowing them to spread out into a layer covering the globe, industrial aerosols remain confined to the lower atmosphere, leading to localized patterns of cooling that off set global warming in some regions. The pattern of warming predicted by the models from the combination of these two human effects on the climate provide a unique “fingerprint” of what the human influence on climate should look like if the models were correct, and the fingerprint matched. The surface and lower atmosphere showed an irregular pattern of warming, while the atmosphere aloft was cooling, just as the models indicated it should. The fingerprint predicted for natural factors alone—for example, from fluctuations in solar output—on the other hand, failed to match the observations…”



Graphic credit above: “Observed Global Temperatures (black curve) compared with the spread among model simulations that include only natural factors (blue band) and that include both natural and human factors (red bad). Only the model simulations that include human factors are able to reproduce the observed warming [from Second Assessment of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, 2009].





A Republican Senator On Climate Change: “It’s Real, We Need To Fight It.” Here’s an excerpt from a story at Fortune and CNN Money: “…Unlike many of her Republican colleagues in the Senate, Murkowski believes that climate change is real. She adds: “It doesn’t make sense to argue about how much global warming is caused by man—whether it’s 5% or 50%. The best approach is to have a no regrets policy.” To combat climate change, she argues that the nation needs to pursue all forms of energy but to move more towards cleaner and cleaner fuels as time progresses. “We owe it to ourselves to keep healthy this marvelous world we’ve been given…”



State Department Criticized By EPA On Pipeline Report. Here’s an excerpt from The New York Times: “The Environmental Protection Agency sharply criticized the State Department’s impact statement for the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, saying the report failed to adequately consider the climate change impacts of building the pipeline or to realistically assess alternative pipeline routes or modes of transport. In a relatively unusual public squabble between agencies, a top E.P.A. official said in a letter to State Department officials that the department’s latest environmental statement for the 1,700-mile pipeline provided “insufficient information” to adequately judge the project, and that the E.P.A. could not sign off on the pipeline unless more complete studies were performed…”


The $25 Billion Impact Of The Wind Industry. Here’s a clip of an interesting story at “In a record-setting year, the U.S. wind industry’s 28 percent growth boosted its job count back to 80,000 and had a discernible impact on the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) by putting $25 billion in private investment to work, according to the industry’s newly released Annual Market Report. When the U.S. Department of Commerce revised its estimate of Q4 2012 GDP growth up from 0.1 percent to 0.4 percent, it noted as significant the increase in its estimate for nonresidential structures growth to 16.7 percent, up from 5.8 percent, according to IHS Global Insight (NYSE:IHS) economists and verified by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA)…”

Supreme Court Asked To Hear EPA Greenhouse Gas Challenge. Here’s the intro to a story from Thomson Reuters: “Top industry groups and a dozen states have asked the Supreme Court to review a lower court decision upholding the Obama administration’s plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions generated by power plants and vehicles. The parties, which had until Friday to submit petitions to the high court, are challenging a 2012 decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld rules issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The petitioners attacked the rules on various grounds, but all argued that the agency should not use the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions. “EPA’s ill-founded regulations represent a sweeping expansion of its regulatory power under the Clean Air Act and would impose new requirements on potentially millions of stationary sources across the country,” the American Chemistry Council (ACC) said on Thursday…”

Global Warming Study Suggests Human Causes Dating Back To 1800s. NBC News has the story; here’s an excerpt: “A long-term global cooling trend ended in the late 19th century, a reversal in temperature that cannot be explained by natural variability alone, according to a new study. The finding stems from 2,000-year-long continental-scale temperature records inferred from tree rings, ice cores, lake sediments and other so-called proxies from around the world. The records show variations in temperature caused by changes in Earth’s orbit, output of solar energy, and volcanic eruptions, noted Nicholas McKay, a climate scientist at Northern Arizona University and study co-author...”

Photo credit above: Darrell S. Kaufman / Northern Arizona University. “Kristi Wallace of the Alaska Volcano Observatory examines a lake sediment core from southern Alaska that shows intricate layering indicating environmental and climatic changes over centuries.”

This Faith In The Markets Is Misplaced: Only Governments Can Save Our Living Planet. I understand why many conservatives and big businesses are nervous about the implications of climate change. Their knee-jerk reaction: this will lead to expansion of government, more regulation…socialism! Once government sets a price on carbon (as it would for any other pollutant) the markets can react, and invest with greater confidence. Innovation will be critical for the new technologies necessary to power our economies (without a heavy reliance on fossil fuels). But until we have that price signal in the markets, it’s like shooting in the dark. Companies are loathe to invest, not knowing if they’re just pouring money down a dark hole. Some (smart) combination of government guidance and market innovation will be required. Here’s an excerpt of an Op-Ed at The Guardian: “In other ages, states sought to seize as much power as they could. Today, the self-hating state renounces its powers. Governments anathematise governance. They declare their role redundant and illegitimate. They launch furious assaults on their own branches, seeking wherever possible to lop them off. This self-mutilation is a response to the fact that power has shifted. States now operate at the behest of others. Deregulation, privatisation, the shrinking of the scope, scale and spending of the state: these are now seen as the only legitimate policies. The corporations and billionaires to whom governments defer will have it no other way…”

Photo credit above: “‘Why were too many permits issued? Because of the lobbying power of big business. Why did MEPs refuse to withdraw them? Because of the lobbying power of big business.’ Photograph: Mick Tsikas/Reuters.




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Welcome to the WeatherNation blog. Every day I sift through hundreds of stories, maps, graphics and meteorological web sites, trying to capture some of the most interesting weather nuggets, the stories behind the forecast. I’ll link to stories and share some of the web sites I use. I’m still passionate about the weather, have been ever since Tropical Storm Agnes flooded my home in Lancaster, PA in 1972. I’ve started 5 weather-related companies. “EarthWatch” created the world’s first 3-D weather graphics for TV stations – Steven Spielberg used our software in “Jurassic Park” and “Twister”. My last company, “Digital Cyclone”, personalized weather for cell phones. “My-Cast” was launched in 2001 and is still going strong on iPhone, Android and Blackberry. I sold DCI to Garmin in 2007 so I could focus on my latest venture: WeatherNation. I also write a daily weather column for The Star Tribune And if you’re on Twitter, you’ll find me @pdouglasweather

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