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Mother Nature Goes Off The Rails: Minnesota goes from 18″ snows to 100 degrees in 11 days

Off The Rails
Mother Nature is off her meds again. I’ve seen a lot of things in 30 years, but I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed frost to 100F in 58 hours. Like turning on a light switch: instant blast-furnace heat. It was 102F at St. James, but only 44F in Grand Marais. The Twin Cities broke the old record of 95F in 1932. We’re taking weather whiplash to a whole new level.
An omen for another sweltering summer to come? I doubt it. Overall I’m still predicting a cooler, wetter, stormier summer for Minnesota. Last year’s debilitating drought will be a dusty memory for most of the state in a few weeks.
Last summer saw 31 days above 90F; I expect closer to 10-15 this year. But every now and then we’ll see a sudden (breath-taking) heat spike, like yesterday.
We cool off a bit today – pleasant skies into Thursday before the next volatile warm front arrives with showers and T-storms Friday & Saturday. We may have enough low-level moisture (60-degree dew points) and wind shear for the first severe outbreak of 2013. Showers spill over into Sunday; another sharp cooling trend early next week.
In fact it may snow on Tuesday over the Minnesota Arrowhead.
Your choices this year? 100F or slushy snow.
Light Switch Summer Heat. 12 days ago (May 3) Blooming Prairie set a Minnesota state record with 18″ snow in May. Insert exclamation point here (!) Yesterday: 100-degree heat. What a month. I was in Mankato for a speech, where the high hit a sizzling 99. South St. Paul hit 99, with a record 98 at Twin Cities International Airport, a desert-like 102 at St. James. Amazing.

Weekend Severe Threat. There may be enough wind shear, low level moisture (and boundaries) for strong to potentially severe thunderstorms this weekend; the best chance of hail and damaging winds south/west of the Twin Cities. Map: NOAA SPC.

More Wet Than Hot. No signs of a heat dome setting up over the central USA, like last summer. The trend is toward a series of significant storms over the Plains, each one tapping moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, helping to ease drought conditions from Minnesota to Texas over time. Another significant storm is brewing for the weekend; heaviest rains over the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes. GFS loop: NOAA.

Minnesota Lakes Contaminated With All Kinds of Chemicals. Out of 50 Minnesota lakes studied only 3 were found to be chemical-free. Details from The Star Tribune: “Man-made chemicals, from cocaine to DEET to pharmaceuticals, are finding their way into Minnesota lakes in ways that no one understands. Some 50 lakes analyzed last year by state scientists contained at least some of 125 different chemicals. DEET, the insect repellent, was the most common, found in 76 percent of them. Only three of the 50 lakes were chemical-free. Bisphenol A, from plastic, was found in nearly half and cocaine was found in a third, according to a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency analysis made public Monday…”

Photo credit: Lake Nokomis, courtesy of Tom Wallace, Star Tribune.

* The MPCA (Minnesota Pollution Control Agency) reports are here.

The Blob That Ate New York. Here’s an excerpt of a Discover Magazine blog post focusing on last week’s torrential, tropical rains that triggered flooding in New York City: “Lately, I get the impression that New York City’s weather is more akin to the tropics than the Northeastern United States. And Wednesday’s torrential rain, accompanied by flooding, didn’t disabuse me of that idea. Much of the United States has felt the effects of a storm that lumbered slowly eastward the past week, and on Wednesday morning it reached New York. Feeding on water vapor streaming from the tropical Atlantic, the storm caused lots of flooding in the city. In an echo of Hurricane Sandy, water poured into the subway system in places…”

Image credit above: “An animation of infrared images from the GOES-13 satellite shows a massive system of convective clouds approaching and then enveloping the New York area on the morning of May 8.” (Source: Cooperative Institute for Satellite Meteorological Studies.)

Tornado Activity Hits 60 Year LowUSA Today has the story; here’s an excerpt: “The USA in the past 12 months has seen the fewest number of tornadoes since at least 1954, and the death tolls from the dangerous storms have dropped dramatically since 2011. Just two years after a ferocious series of tornado outbreaks killed hundreds of Americans, the USA so far this year is enjoying one of the calmest years on record for twisters. Through Thursday, tornadoes have killed only three Americans in 2013; by the end of May 2011, 543 Americans had died. The seven people killed from May 2012 to April 2013 is the fewest in a 12-month period since five people died in September 1899-August 1900, according to Harold Brooks, research meteorologist with the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Okla…” (Photo: WGCL).

Another Twist To The Weather: Tornadoes Few, Far Between. Here are some interesting stats, part of story at “…The last time Iowa had a confirmed tornado was May 24, 2012. If no tornadoes occur through Wednesday, the state will surpass the record of 355 days set at the end of April 1956, he said. “To have gone this long without one is pretty extraordinary,” said John Lee, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Des Moines. Harold Brooks, research meteorologist for the National Severe Storms Laboratory, said preliminary numbers for May 2012 through April 2013 indicate that 197 tornadoes rated EF1 or stronger occurred in the United States. Lesser tornadoes weren’t factored into his analysis because they cause little damage and may even have gone unnoticed in the past, so the historical record is considered suspect...” (Photo: FEMA).

How Sequestration Could Affect U.S. Flood Warning SystemThe PBS NewsHourhas the story; here’s an excerpt: “The government’s automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration, are taking down up to 150 of the nation’s stream gauges — devices that provide life-saving flood warnings and help scientists track drought conditions. The first round of nationwide closures started this month. These streamside outbuildings shelter data-gathering equipment so it can be fed to satellites. They track temperature, stream flows and pollution levels. Stream gauges aren’t getting the same sequester-cut attention as airport control towers or Head Start classrooms. But for scientists, it stings to see them swept away by spending reductions. “To lose a gauge would be like losing a member of the family, almost,” said John Clemens of the U.S. Geological Survey…”

Photo credit above: “This stream gauge on the Boise River is one of several hundred in Idaho. The U.S. Geological Survey is shutting down up to 150 gauges to meet spending-cut requirements known as the sequester. Photo by Aaron Kunz/Earthfix.”

From Alerts Broadcaster (this alert went out Tuesday morning):

Here’s what we’re monitoring:

– Cyclone Mahasen is pushing toward coastal Bangladesh and Myanmar. Although a worst-case scenario should be avoided, coastal storm surge flooding may still result in considerable loss of life Wednesday and Thursday.

– There have been three separate X-class solar flares since Sunday. Activity is increasing on the sun; conditions increasingly favorable for geomagnetic storms that may disrupt communications, GPS and pose some risk to the power grid in the months ahead.

– Two volcanoes: one outside Mexico City is coming to life; another on Alaska’s Aleutians, capable of disrupting air travel to Asia if and when it erupts.

Cyclone Mahasen. The problem: much of Bangladesh is located near sea level; there are few places where the local population can perform a safe vertical evacuation. Mahasen may strengthen (slightly) today before coming ashore in the next 36-48 hours. The main threat will be heavy (10-15″) rains and a coastal storm surge from 2-7 feet. Bangladesh has deployed at least 8 army batallions – the general threat has been raised to a 4 on a scale of 1 to 6. Hundreds of thousands of people are being evacuated from low-lying areas.

Projected Track. The Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center models suggest that Mahasen may be a minimal (category 1) typhoon – same thing as a hurricane, when it comes ashore on May 17 (local time), with sustained winds of 60-80 mph, capable of a 2-7 foot storm surge and inland flooding.

Why Residents of Mexico City Are Nervous. The Popocatepetl Volcano is south/east of Mexico City, and it shows signs of imminent eruption. “Seismic activity has increased at the Popocatepetl volcano near Mexico City, leading authorities to alert towns in two central states and the capital. Mexico’s National Disaster Prevention Center says the white-capped volcano spewed a plume of steam more than one kilometre into the sky. The volcano shook during Saturday night, sometimes emitting glowing rock over the crater. The government deployed soldiers and federal police to the area Sunday in the event of a bigger eruption, and officials closed off an 18-square-kilometre zone around the cone of the 5,450-metre volcano. State authorities prepared shelters. Popocatepetl has put out small eruptions of ash almost daily since a round of activity began in 1994. The eruptions started strengthening two weeks ago and have increased even more this weekend.” Source: RSOE EDIS.

Potential Threat To Cross-Pacific Air Travel. USGS is watching the Cleveland Volcano, which – according to local officials on the scene is “very hot” and capable of imminent eruption. It poses significant risk to cross-Pacific air travel if it does erupt in the coming days.

* More on Alaska’s smoldering Cleveland Volcano from Discover Magazine.

Solar Activity Surges. Tuesday evening brought the 4th X-class solar flare since Sunday. Details from “A sunspot on the sun’s eastern limb is crackling with powerful X-class solar flares. AR1748 announced itself during the early hours of May 13th with an X1.7-class eruption (0217 UT), quickly followed by an X2.8-class flare (1609 UT) and an X3.2-class flare (0117 UT on May 14). These are the strongest flares of the year so far, and they signal a significant increase in solar activity. NOAA forecasters estimate a 40% chance of more X-flares during the next 24 hours. All of these flares have produced strong flashes of extreme ultraviolet radiation. Here is the view of the latest eruption, which registered X3.2 on the Richter Scale of Solar Flares, from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory:..”

Solar Jitters. There have been three major X-class solar flares since Sunday; a much more active region of the sun’s disk is rotating toward Earth. Minor radio disruptions have been reported, but no major geomagnetic storms. A G3-G5 geomagnetic storm has the potential to bring down portions of the power grid, depending on polarity/alignment of the incoming CME, or Coronal Mass Ejection. In simple English: if this burst of energy strikes us at the wrong angle it could not only disrupt communications (satellite and terrestrial), but GPS, even bring down transformers capable of massive black-outs. The 11 year solar cycle peaks later in 2013. I suspect these X-class flares were just a warning shot across the bow.

A Space Weather Primer. We’ve experienced 3 separate X-class solar flares since midday Sunday. The risk of geomagnetic storms is small, but not zero, and we need to pay attention to “space weather” in the coming months. The solar cycle peaks later in 2013, but some of the most intense solar flares and CME’s are often observed going into and coming out of a peak. Details from WeatherNation TV: “WeatherNation Chief Meteorologist Paul Douglas goes over some of the more active space weather we saw in the past couple of days. Paul Douglas goes over CMEs and solar flares and how they can impact life on Earth.”

Weather And Arthritis Pain. No, it’s not your imagination – there is a link between changes in the weather and many people’s susceptibility to arthritis pain. Cold fronts, sudden drops in temperature, can be especially painful. More details from The Arthritis Foundation: “It’s not your imagination; the weather can cloud your health. Here’s what research reveals about the connection between weather and arthritis pain. Changes in temperature or barometric pressure, a measure that refers to the weight of the surrounding air, trigger joint pain, though researchers aren’t entirely sure why. In 2007, researchers at Tufts University in Boston reported that every 10-degree drop in temperature corresponded with an incremental increase in arthritis pain. Increasing barometric pressure was also a pain trigger in the Tufts study. In fact, studies in cadavers have found that barometric pressure affects pressure inside the joints. In one experiment, when pressure in the hip joints was equated with atmospheric pressure, it threw the ball of the hip joint about one-third of an inch off track…”

10 Hotel Secrets From Behind The Front Desk. I did not know this. If you spend a lot of time in hotels this is one article you should check out; here’s an excerpt from Mental Floss: “…The term “walking a guest” sends shivers down any manager’s spine. Since the average no-show rate is 10 percent daily, hotels will overbook whenever possible. The sales and reservations departments are encouraged to book the property to 110 percent capacity, in the hopes that with cancellations and no-shows they will fill every room. What happens when the numbers game doesn’t play in the hotel’s favor? Someone gets walked. The hotel will now pay for the entire night’s room and tax (plus one phone call—how cute is that?) at another comparable hotel in the area.

A guest is more likely to get walked if:
1. He booked using Expedia, hence he has a deeply discounted rate and is less important.
2. He never stayed here before and may never visit the city again.
3. He’s a one-nighter.

Photo credit: Michael Cunard.



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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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