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Potentially Record Arctic Cold Wave About To Push Across USA

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Whole New Level Of Cold. Think this is cold? Not really, not compared to how it’s going to feel by Friday as one of the coldest airmasses in a decade plows south. The solid green line marks the location of the 0F isotherm, the red line is the freezing line. Oh to be only freezing. Map: NOAA NAM and Ham Weather.

One Unpleasant White Spot. Here’s a graphic and comment I received from Dean DeHarpporte, a consulting meteorologist in the Twin Cities: “Paul, I cant resist sharing with you this GFS 850mb prog for next Tuesday Dec. 10, at 12Z. I cant remember ever seeing a white color on this map, which is the coldest color classification available (- 30C).” (map: College of DuPage).

Bitter Outbreaks In A Warming World. How on Earth can we get arctic “invasions” if the atmosphere is warming? It’s a good question. Nature rarely moves in a perfectly straight line, and that certainly applies to the atmosphere. As one climate scientist told me recently “if we ever get to the point where we don’t see cold fronts or snow we’ll be too far gone to do anything about climate change.” The reality: in spite of a warmer atmosphere (globally) and rapidly warming oceans, bitter air will still find its way into the USA when prevailing jet stream wind patterns are favorable. As they will be over the next week or so. We focus on the coming cold wave and cold vs. warm weather records for the USA in today’s edition of Climate Matters: “WeatherNation Chief Meteorologist Paul Douglas looks at the coming cold snap for the United States and shows the bigger picture of the overall warming trends. This is the first time in 20 years that there were more cold weather records than warm weather records, and how does it play into the overall climate picture?

Federal Agency Releases Joplin Tornado Study. No building will ever be tornado-proof, but how can we strengthen national building codes to make commercial and residential buildings more tornado-resistant? Here’s a clip from The Washington Post: “…The overarching conclusion of our two-year study is that death and destruction from tornadoes can be reduced,” said Eric Letvin, the institute’s director of disaster and failure studies. “Our scientific understanding of tornadoes and their effects has matured substantially,” he added. “It’s time to begin developing and implementing nationally accepted standards and codes that directly address tornado hazards.” The May 2011 Joplin tornado killed 161 people and destroyed thousands of buildings, including homes, churches, businesses big and small, and one of the city’s two hospitals. The study found that all but 26 of the deaths came from building collapses…” (Images above: NOAA).

America’s Southern States, From Sunbelt To Stormbelt. Here’s a clip from a photo essay at The Guardian: “When Robert Leslie first visited the US as a child in the late 1960s, it was the world’s most productive country, driven by the sunbelt stretching across the south from Florida to California. Stormbelt is a collection of photographs taken between 2009 and 2012, when Leslie returned to the region. What he found was an area battling not just the economic recession, but also natural disasters such as hurricanes, forest fires and drought. Caption text by Edward Burtynsky.”

In A Tornado, What Would You Run To Save? The most likely answer: the things that can’t be replaced: photo albums, family heirlooms, your children (!) –  the list goes on. This is one (of many) good reasons to back up your photos in the cloud, just in case. Here’s an excerpt of a press release at Digital Journal that got me thinking (it hurt my brain so I stopped): “We’ve all asked ourselves the question: Should we ever be confronted with a natural disaster – a tornado, a hurricane, a flood – what is the one thing we’d go for that would give us solace, were we to lose everything? Most often, the answer would be: The photographs. It’s a universal sentiment that has found its way into “Running for Photographs,” a heartrending music video featuring family photos and keepsakes that were scattered hundreds of miles across the states and discovered in the aftermath of the recent tornadoes that pounded the Midwest. Dedicated to storm victims everywhere and to all those who help, the music video is posted on YouTube at”

The Accidental Birth Of Wrapping Paper. Who knew? The folks at Mental Floss – proving that some of the best inventions are accidental. Here’s a clip from a recent story: “Stationery purveyors J.C. and Rollie Hall ran into a problem during the 1917 holiday season: Business had been too good at their Kansas City, Mo., shop, and they’d run out of the white, red, and green tissue papers that were the era’s standard gift dressing. Poking around the shop, Rollie realized they still had a stack of fancy French paper meant for lining envelopes. On a lark, he placed the lining paper in a showcase and priced it at 10 cents a sheet. The paper sold out instantly…”

Music Lessons Boost Emotional, Intellectual Development. Yes, try to get your kids or grandkids to play an instrument – any instrument will due! Here’s a clip from Pacific Standard Magazine: “There is no longer any doubt that student musicians perform better than their peers on a variety of measures, including getting better grades. But thechicken-and-egg question lingers: Is this effect due to their musical training? Or are sharper, more motivated kids more likely to take up an instrument? While it doesn’t provide a definitive answer, new research from Germany presents evidence that improved academic performance truly is a result of musical training…”

Which Seat Should You Pick At The Movie Theater? Finally, some news you can use. It’s pretty intuitive, but it’s nice to see some scientific validation. Smithsonian.comhas the story and video clip; here’s an excerpt: “…As Holly Frey explains in this Brain Stuff video, these days theaters are pretty good at giving every seat a passable view. This wasn’t always the case. Theaters used to be build with a much smaller slope in the seating area, so you were simply sitting very slightly higher than the movie-goers in front of you, rather than in stadium seating. But as Frey points out, what you’re really worried about when you pick a seat isn’t the screen or the people in front of you—it’s the speakers. According to Frey, the audio sweet spot is 2/3 back and in the middle. That’s where audio engineers sit to balance the sound, and where you’ll get the full effect of the chopper buzzing by or the building exploding...”

The “Sweariest” States In The USA? Wait, Wisconsin is one of the least courteous states in the USA? Really? Here’s an excerpt from a story at The Atlantic: “…A new map, though, takes a more complicated approach. Instead of using text, it uses data gathered from … phone calls. You know how, when you call a customer service rep for your ISP or your bank or what have you, you’re informed that your call will be recorded? Marchex Institute, the data and research arm of the ad firm Marchex, got ahold of the data that resulted from some recordings, examining more than 600,000 phone calls from the past 12 months—calls placed by consumers to businesses across 30 different industries. It then used call mining technology to isolate the curses therein, cross-referencing them against the state the calls were placed from…”

Map credit: Marchex.

Climate Stories….

Panel Says Global Warming Carries Risk Of Deep Changes. It’s the unknown unknowns that keep scientists up at night. Here’s an excerpt from a Justin Gillis article atThe New York Times: “…It cited the outbreak of mountain pine beetles in the American West and in Canada. The disappearance of bitterly cold winter nights that used to kill off the beetles has allowed them to ravage tens of millions of acres of forests, damage so severe it can be seen from space. Likewise, a drastic decline of summer sea ice in the Arctic has occurred much faster than scientists expected. The panel warned that Arctic sea ice could disappear in the summer within several decades, with severe impacts on wildlife and human communities in the region, and unknown effects on the world’s weather patterns. Among the greatest risks in coming years, the panel said, is that climate change could greatly increase the extinction rate of plants and animals, essentially provoking the sixth mass extinction in the earth’s history...”

The Climate Bomb Redux. It’s hard to wrap your head around how much additional heat energy Earth’s atmosphere and oceans are retaining due to a sharp spike in greenhouse gases. This story at Discover Magazine tries to provide some perspective; here’s an excerpt: “Imagine four atomic bombs like the one that incinerated Hiroshima, Japan on Aug. 6, 1945 exploding in the atmosphere every single second of every day of every week and every month, year after year, ad infinitum. That, says John Cook and colleagues at the web site Skeptical Science, is a good way to understand the excess heat that is building up in the atmosphere as a result of humankind’s emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Four atomic bombs’ worth of extra energy, every second…”

Photo credit above: “Mushroom clouds blossom over Hiroshima (left) and Nagasaki (right) from atom bombs dropped by the United States on August 6 and 9, 1945.” (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

Bloomberg LP Launches First Tool That Measures Risk Of “Unburnable Carbon” AssetsInsideClimate News has the story – here’s the introduction: “In a move that underscores Wall Street’s growing unease over the business-as-usual strategy of the world’s fossil fuel companies, Bloomberg L.P. unveiled a tool last week that helps investors quantify for the first time how climate policies and related risks might batter the earnings and stock prices of individual oil, coal and natural gas companies. The company’s new Carbon Risk Valuation Tool is available to more than 300,000 high-end traders, analysts and others who regularly pore over the stream of information that’s available through Bloomberg’s financial data and analysis service. The move significantly broadens and elevates the discussion of “stranded” or “unburnable” carbon reserves—expanding it beyond climate groups and sustainability investors to the desks of the world’s most active and influential investors and traders…”

Photo credit above: “Bloomberg LP is now offering a Carbon Risk Valuation Tool through its terminal subscription service (seen here), which is available to more than 300,000 high-end traders, analysts and others.” Credit: CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

Subarctic Lakes Are Drying Up At A Rate Not Seen In 200 Years. Here’s a clip fromScience Daily: “…The drying of some lakes, which first became visible to the naked eye in 2010, was even more pronounced in summer 2013. “With this type of lake, precipitation in the form of snow represents 30% to 50% of the annual water supply,” explained the study’s lead author, Frédéric Bouchard, a postdoctoral fellow at Université Laval’s Department of Geography and the Centre for Northern Studies. The kind of desiccation seen by the researchers is without precedent in 200 years. Isotopic analyses conducted on the remains of phytoplankton accumulated in lakebed sediment show that the lakes have maintained water balance for 200 years. This stability was abruptly disrupted a few years ago…”

Photo credit above: “Desiccated lakes in Wapusk National Park near Churchill, Manitoba (Canada) are shown. Desiccation of shallow lakes has occurred recently in response to lower-than-average snowmelt runoff. This phenomenon appears unprecedented over the last 200 years.” (Credit: Hilary White).

Here’s How Climate Change Will Ruin Your Winter Vacation. Snowfall amounts have become more erratic in recent winters, nationwide. Some winters are great, but the majority leave skiers and snowmobilers frustrated. Here’s an excerpt from a story at The Huffington Post: “…The effects of climate change can be easy to miss for some, but for ski resorts that depend on natural snowfall for their businesses — which are increasingly having to invest in snowmaking technology due to a lack of natural snow — the changing global climate is impossible to ignore. A new report from geosciences journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences may bolster some resort’s fears of a shrinking ski season suggesting that by 2050, mountains in the Upper Colorado River Basin — which stretches across Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona — could cause the spring thaw to occur as many as 6 weeks earlier than usual because of global warming and the occurrence of extreme dust events in the region...”

Republicans Use Bible To Deny Man-Made Global Warming. Here’s an excerpt fromOpposing Views: “While oil and energy companies have poured millions into climate change denial, some Republicans have laid claim to a higher power in their denial of man-made global warming. In a video (below) created by, four Republicans cite verses in the Bible to claim that man-made global warming does not exist, even though it’s never actually mentioned in the Bible. Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) and former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum (who also opposes birth control) all deny climate change based on their bizarre interpretations of the Bible…”


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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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