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Slow-Motion Thaw: Last Week’s Snow/Ice Storm – Economic Losses Equivalent to a Moderate Hurricane

17 Feb 2014, 8:59 am

A Winter Hurricane

Evan Gold is an analyst with Planalytics. He estimates that last week’s snow and ice blitz over the southern and eastern USA cost the American economy close to $15 billion, the rough equivalent of a moderate hurricane. There was far less structural damage, but the impact to company’s bottom lines was significant. People were stranded at home; they didn’t go to restaurants or buy cars. Job productivity suffered; impacts to supply chains – there was a ripple effect.

Based on HDD, Heating Degree Days compiled by NOAA, we’ve spent about 10 percent more than usual to heat our homes this winter. Think of this stretch of numb as a forced savings plan.

A new paper at Harvard Business Review suggests that we are all hard-wired to attach more value to items (and ultimately spend more money) the warmer it is outside.

No kidding. Most of us are too busy hibernating to shop.

Winter Storm Warnings are posted this morning for 2-4 inches of snow; over a half foot possible east of the St. Croix. The worst travel comes this morning, with conditions improving somewhat for the drive home later today.

The big news: 30s return, even a shot at 40F by Tuesday. Models hint at a few more subzero nights early next week – but the sun is now as high in the sky as it was on October 25. At some point the Polar Vortex will run out of juice.

Oh blessed day.

Plowable. The high-resolution HopWRF model is hinting at a few bands of 4-6″ across portions of Hennepin and Ramsey county this morning, but most towns and suburbs will probably wind up somewhere in the 2-4″ range, especially west of the Twin Cities, still enough to shovel and plow, and turn the morning commute into a long, white-knuckle slog.

Winter Storm Warning. The local Twin Cities National Weather Service has issued a warning for the metro area, most of far eastern and southeastern Minnesota, and western Wisconsin, for a burst of moderate to heavy snow during the morning hours.

Future Radar. NOAA’s NAM model generates numerous products, including “Future Radar”, showing the timing of today’s snow event. Most of the snow should be winding down by lunchtime, afternoon temperatures topping 30F – the drive home later today a lot less stressful. In theory. Loop: Ham Weather.

About Time. For the first time in nearly 3 weeks the mercury rises above freezing Tuesday, again Wednesday and possibly Thursday, before cooling back down again. ECMWF guidance is hinting at a few more subzero nights early next week, but not exactly polar, school-closing cold. Graph: Weatherspark.

Cheering On The Solid Red Line. That red line marks the 32F isotherm, which I would much rather be tracking than the solid green (0F) isotherm, so we are making slow progress. A brief, tantalizing puff of Pacific air results in slushy sidewalks and drippy icicles Tuesday into Thursday, before Canada flushes another chilly airmass south of the border. 2-meter NAM temperature forecast: NOAA and Ham Weather.

One Group Sees Silver Lining In Winter’s Storm Clouds: Meteorologists. It’s amazing (to me) how quick some politicians are to throw meteorologists under the bus when they take heat from the public (Atlanta a few weeks ago, late last week it was New York City). Here’s an excerpt from an interesting story at The New York Times: “…That science has grown much more accurate and much more complex in recent years. It begins with huge troves of data fed through a variety of sophisticated analytic models. Adam Sobel, a professor of earth and environmental sciences at Columbia University, points out that this “big, automated, computationally intensive nonhuman process that produces the raw material of the forecast” still requires human beings to evaluate the results and turn them “into an actual prediction that can be communicated to people.…”

Photo credit above: “John Cristantello, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, checks forecasts at the NWS offices in Upton, N.Y., Feb. 16, 2014. Meteorologists have been working long hours through the extremely active winter season in the New York area,and their stress was compounded by a public row between Mayor Bill de Blasio and a number of prominent weathermen.” (Gordon M. Grant/The New York Times).

Sochi Among The Warmest Winter Olympics Host Cities. You’ve seen video of fans in shirtsleeves, athletes taking their shirts off to stay cool – during the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Here’s some perspective on the venue from NOAA’s “The 2014 Winter Olympics are taking place from February 7-23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. Sochi will be among the warmest cities to have hosted a Winter Olympic Games, with overnight low temperatures of 39°F (4°C) on average in February, and average daytime highs of 50°F (10°C). The map (above) shows the average minimum temperatures (overnight lows) for January and February from 1911-2011 for all the locations that have hosted the Olympic Winter Games, starting with Chamonix, France, in 1924 and ending with Sochi, Russia, in 2014…”

The “Hope Graph”. The sun is climbing higher into the southern sky. Some melting is likely next week, with an extended thaw possible by early March. Here’s an excerpt of an interesting post from Minnesota climate scientist Greg Laden that caught my eye – and gave me hope: “…About this time of year, some time in early or mid February, I make a graph. Using climatological data, I make a graph (I’ve done this with a table as well) showing what day we can expect, on average, for the daily high temperature to reach freezing. In theory, five or six days of the daily high reaching about freezing is enough to start the cascade of events that clears the roads and walkways of icy and hard-packed snow...”

Even A Deluge Can’t Help California’s “Drought Of Epic Proportions”.

Here’s an excerpt of some good perspective on the west coast drought from Eric Holthaus at Slate: “…This week, Northern California’s Lake Shasta, the state’s largest reservoir and an important source of water for agriculture in the vast Central Valley, added only 2 percentto its total water storage and is still much below its historical average water level. This meager improvement comes despite getting hit square on with the recent atmospheric river event. As it turns out, that’s only a drop in the bucket. An incredible amount of rainfall—as much as three feet—would be needed to end accumulated rainfall deficits in the hardest hit areas farther south...”

California’s Drought Could Be The Worst In 500 Years.

Mother Jones explains how the historic drought gripping the west may soon show up at a grocery store near you; here’s an excerpt: “The Golden State is in the midst of a three-year drought—and scientists believe that this year may end up being the driest in the last half millennium, according toUniversity of California-Berkeley professor B. Lynn Ingram. Californians are scared, with good reason: Fire danger in the state is high, and drinking-water supplies are low. But the drought will have repercussions outside the state’s borders, as well…”

Photo credit above: “The remains of Cachuma Lake, the main water source for 200,000 people in southern Santa Barbara County.” Ruaridh Stewart/ZUMA.

Drought-Stricken California, Other States Prepare For Landmark Year In Fires.

The fact that fires are burning during the height of the (alleged) rainy season on the west coast doesn’t bode well for later in 2014, when things really heat up. Here’s a clip from The Washington Post: “…We’re seeing summertime weather conditions in January,” Hein said as two of his crews continued to mop up the smoking remnants of the Red Fire. “If we don’t get some rain now, just imagine what the summer is going to be like.” Across the Western United States, officials tasked with fighting forest fires worry that a confluence of factors, including climate change and human development, are conspiring to create conditions ripe for a landmark fire year...” (File photo above courtesy of ThinkProgress).

Stroke Risk Tied To Cold, Humidity, Weather Swings.

Here’s a clip from a story at that caught my eye: “There may be a link between weather and the risk of suffering a stroke, say researchers who analyzed climate trends and hospital records on millions of Americans. Cold weather, high humidity and big daily temperature swings seem to land more people in the hospital with strokes. As it got warmer, risk fell — 3 percent for every 5 degrees, the study found. ‘‘Maybe some of these meteorological factors serve as a trigger,’’ said Judith Lichtman, a Yale University stroke researcher who led the study…”


Warm Weather Leaves You In The Mood To Buy.

No kidding. And we tend to attach a higher price/value to objects when it’s warm outside. Confirming what may just be good old fashioned common sense, here’s a clip from The Journal of Consumer Psychology at What, you don’t skim this from time to time? “A series of five field and laboratory studies reveal a temperature-premium effect: warm temperatures increase individuals’ valuation of products. We demonstrate the effect across a variety of products using different approaches to measure or manipulate physical warmth and different assessments of product valuation. The studies suggest that exposure to physical warmth activates the concept of emotional warmth, eliciting positive reactions and increasing product valuation. Further supporting the causal role of emotional warmth, and following prior research relating greater positive feelings to reduced distance, we find that warm temperatures also reduce individuals’ perceived distance from the target products…”

Imagining An Alaska-Generated Tsunami Hitting Los Angeles.

Statistically it’s only a matter of time before a scenario similar to the one described by Alaska Dispatch becomes reality. Will L.A. and other west coast cities be prepared?

Image credit above: “A hypothetical magnitude 9.1 earthquake off the Alaska Peninsula could send a devastating tsunami to Los Angeles in as little as four hours, according to some researchers predictions.” Courtesy Vasily Titov, NOAA Center for Tsunami Research.

Will Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Death Be A Wake-Up Call?

Opiate addiction in this country has reached epidemic proportions. Here’s an excerpt of an Op-Ed at The Los Angeles Times: “…Keep in mind though: Since the rise of the American automobile, traffic fatalities have been our leading cause of accidental death — until now. More people now die of drug overdoses — about 38,000 a year, according to the latest numbers from the National Center for Health Statistics. The largest category of drugs represented within that number is prescription opioids (16,000 roughly), according to the CDC…”


Climate Stories…

Kerry Mocks Those Who Deny Climate Change, Compares Them To People Insisting The Earth Is Flat.

Here’s an excerpt from the story from AP and The Star Tribune: “U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday called climate change perhaps the world’s “most fearsome” destructive weapon and mocked those who deny its existence or question its causes, comparing them to people who insist the Earth is flat. In a speech to Indonesian students, civic leaders and government officials, Kerry tore into climate change skeptics. He accused them of using shoddy science and scientists to delay steps needed to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases at the risk of imperiling the planet...”

Climate Change: Time For The Skeptics To Put Up Or Shut Up. 

Here’s a snippet of an Op-Ed at The Guardian: “If climate change sceptics have a coherent explanation for the events we are witnessing, it’s time they held an international conference and told us what they believe…”

Photo credit above: “A slogan is projected by Greenpeace activists on a cooling tower of Belchatow power station.” Photograph: Kacper Pempel/REUTERS.

Obama On California Drought: Climate Change Threatens The Nation. 

Here’s an excerpt from AP and The Huffington Post: “Warning that weather-related disasters will only get worse, President Barack Obama said Friday the U.S. must rethink the way it uses water as he announced new federal aid to help drought-stricken California. Obama drew a clear connection between California’s troubles and climate change as he toured part of a farm that will go unsown this year as the state faces its worst drought in more than 100 years. Even if the U.S. takes action now to curb pollution, the planet will keep getting warmer “for a long time to come” thanks to greenhouse gases that have already built up, Obama said...”

Photo credit: “In this Feb. 4, 2014 file photo a warning buoy sits on the dry, cracked bed of Lake Mendocino near Ukiah, Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown was governor the last time California had a drought of epic proportions, in 1975-76 and now is pushing a controversial $25 billion plan to build twin tunnels to ship water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to farmland and cities further south.” (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, file)

Newell: Climate Change Impacts Winter Sports. Here’s a clip of an Op-Ed at USA Today from Andrew Newell, a member of the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team now in Sochi: “…As a skier, my life revolves around winter and being outside. Years spent training have not only honed my skills, but also shown me the negative impacts of climate change first-hand. There have been countless times in the past 10 years when our early season competitions have been delayed or canceled due to lack of snow, or our spring and summer training camps disrupted due to erratic weather or insufficient snowpack. It’s no coincidence then that the last decade was also the hottest decade ever recorded...”

Future Forecast: More Severe ThunderstormsInside Science has the story – here’s an excerpt: “…We find that over the next three decades, over the eastern United States, there’s a region [where] there’s a robust increase in the occurrence of severe storm conditions,” he said. Diffenbaugh used climate models based on physics principles to project severe thunderstorm conditions for the next century. He found that global warming may increase the likelihood of these events…”

Climate Change Skepticism’s Funding Sources Are has a very interesting article that attempts to shine a light on who is funding an ongoing and organized effort at climate science denial; here’s a clip: “In the high-stakes conflict over U.S. climate-change policy, groups that deny or cast doubt on global warming brought in $7.2 billion from 2003 through 2010 – less than a third of it publicly traceable to the donors. In a recently released study of 91 such organizations, a Drexel University professor found that $5.2 billion of their funding was “dark money” from undisclosed sources. Also of unknown origin: $78 million channeled by major benefactors through a special nonprofit that then redirected the money while keeping the givers’ identities private…”

Photo credit above: “Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.) called “dark funding” “an identity-laundering scheme.” (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff)

A Conservative’s Middle Ground Solution For Climate ChangeLiveScience has an article and video that caught my eye; here’s an excerpt: “…At a recent conference in Washington, D.C. on “Building Climate Solutions,” he offered a handful of tips for changing the conversation and educating wider audiences on the impacts and opportunities of climate change. Here are four that are critical (see video for complete clips):

  1. Speak more like Apple, and less like Microsoft.
  2. Make the impacts of climate change relatable. It may be hard to comprehend the impacts of climate change in general terms, but people are certainly willing to listen when its happening to them.
  3. Environmentalism isn’t anti-growth — it’s anti-waste. Emphasize the economic opportunities that come with adaptation to climate change...”




About Me:

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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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