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The Groundhog Lied: Two “Plowable” Storms On The Way

19 Feb 2013, 5:35 am

The Groundhog Lied

After a mostly quiet first half of winter – storms are ramping up. Fluke or trend? The beginning of the end of the drought? All good questions. I’m encouraged by what I see on the maps. Remember, every extra hour you spend gritting your teeth on slushy freeways in the coming weeks means more water in our lakes and on our farms.

Late March & April will be critical, after deep frost leaves the ground. Will big, wet storms keep coming like clockwork? The pattern looks wetter, but we’re not out of the (dry/dusty) woods just yet. It will be a slow recovery, if it comes.

The groundhog meant well, but the “6 more weeks of winter” forecast is pure fantasy, at least for Minnesota. Today may be the last single-digit high of winter; a subzero start Wednesday morning could leave you with a tingling, Yukon brain-freeze.

A digging trough of low pressure, a wrinkle of cold, unstable Pacific air, will eject a series of storms across the Plains. A plowable snowfall is expected Thursday night into Friday – but this won’t be The Big One. Another storm arrives Monday, maybe a few more inches; probably not a Crippling Whopper.

Latest 1981-2010 climate data shows average winter snowfall of 54.4 inches for MSP.

We may come close.

Projected Snowfall Amounts. I have a sudden urge to ski Nebraska, as much as 15″ from Thursday’s storm. The surge of energy and moisture will weaken slightly as it pushes northeast, but the GFS is still suggesting some 3-6″ amounts over central and southern Minnesota; more as you head south toward Iowa. I still think it will be plowable, but not The Big One.
European Solution. The ECMWF is printing out just over half an inch (liquid) Thursday night into Friday, which should be all snow. The next storm early next week may produce even more precipitation, but I expect a wet, slushy accumulation, possibly a few hours of mixed precipitation or rain.
Monday Slop-Storm? It’s early – this thing is still 6 days away. But the ECMWF model shows a storm near Omaha by midday Monday, with the rain-snow line pushing across central Minnesota. I’m also concerned about the “dreaded dry tongue”, sometimes called the “dry slot”, a surge of dry, desert air pushing in from the south, which may cut off the heaviest precipitation by Monday night. Again, the details on next week’s storm are still (very) sketchy.
Shocking Weather News: we actually have a series of “storms” to track on our maps. After getting off to a very slow start (with the exception of that one real storm on December 9) winter is finally showing up, a little late, but Old Man Winter may be about to make up for lost time. It looks like all-snow late Thursday into Friday; a second storm early next week may be a mixed bag of snow, sleet, even a little rain. No, this doesn’t put an end to our drought (the ground is still very frozen and very little of this snow will soak into the topsoil). That said, the pattern may be slowly shifting; more moisture from the Gulf of Mexico is reaching Minnesota. Hopefully that trend will continue for a few months and we’ll slowly pull out of the drought. That’s my forecast – more gut feel than sound science. More of a prayer than a prediction… 

Forecasters Worry About Another Drought In 2013. I’m a little more optimistic now, after watching the maps and trends carefully (more southern moisture from the Gulf of Mexico is finally reaching the Midwest after a long dry spell since last autumn). Here’s a snippet from a story at “…As the spring planting season nears, forecasters have expressed concern that much of the Midwest could remain starved for moisture, though they caution it’s too early to safely predict the weather several months out. The Midwest could see a late-summer increase in rainfall, but the relief will be much too late to help farmers, according to one prediction from a University of Missouri researcher.“The continuing conditions really look like they’re setting up for a very similar level of drought in the Midwest and West,” Roger Pulwarty, a director with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who focuses on drought, told lawmakers on the Senate Agriculture Committee last week…”

* the latest Drought Outlook from NOAA is here.


Encouraging Moisture Trends – Latest Drought Details. Here’s an excerpt from the Minnesota Climatology Working Group: “Thus far this winter, precipitation totals have been somewhat above historical averages (maps below), except in west central and north central Minnesota where winter precipitation has been well above average. 2013 year-to-date precipitation totals top historical averages by more than one inch along a 75 mile-wide band centered along a transect from Wilkin County to northwest St. Louis County. Important points about winter precipitation and drought:

  • Precipitation deficits (negative departures from normal) over the past eight and one-half months are in excess of ten inches in some southwest and south central Minnesota counties. Somewhat smaller, but still significant, precipitation shortfalls were reported across Minnesota over the past six months.
  • As of late autumn, the soil moisture content in the plant rooting zone was near all-time low levels at many locations.
  • The liquid content of our present snowpack is unremarkable when compared with winters of the past. Snow water equivalence estimates across Minnesota range from zero to three inches in most places.
  • The soil moisture situation will remain mostly unchanged until spring because the deeply frozen soil (18-36 inches) assures that only a fraction of the overwinter precipitation will make it into the ground.
  • When the soils thaw, and if the spring rains come, the dry plant rooting zone will claim “first mortgage” on water infiltration. This means that spring recharge of unconfined aquifers will be less than typically expected. Water table well levels, and base flow to surface water systems, will be slow to react.
  • Without abundant spring rains, a number of critical drought issues involving agriculture, forestry, horticulture, tourism, and public water supply will begin to emerge.

* The latest U.S. Drought Monitor for Minnesota is here.

Why We Love Beautiful Things. Here’s a snippet of a fascinating article at The New York Times that explains how our brains process (and appreciate) the world around us – what makes something beautiful vs. ugly? “…Take color. Last year, German researchers found that just glancing at shades of green can boost creativity and motivation. It’s not hard to guess why: we associate verdant colors with food-bearing vegetation — hues that promise nourishment. This could partly explain why window views of landscapes, research shows, can speed patient recovery in hospitals, aid learning in classrooms and spur productivity in the workplace. In studies of call centers, for example, workers who could see the outdoors completed tasks 6 to 7 percent more efficiently than those who couldn’t, generating an annual savings of nearly $3,000 per employee…”

Climate Stories… 

Experts: Global Warming Can Strangely Trigger Less Yearly Snowfall, But More Potent Blizzards. It turns out the USA has experienced twice as many extreme winter snowfalls in the last 50 years than the preceding 60, according to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. Here’s the intro to a story at The Star Tribune: “With scant snowfall and barren ski slopes in parts of the Midwest and Northeast the past couple of years, some scientists have pointed to global warming as the culprit. Then when a whopper of a blizzard smacked the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow in some places earlier this month, some of the same people again blamed global warming. How can that be? It’s been a joke among skeptics, pointing to what seems to be a brazen contradiction. But the answer lies in atmospheric physics. A warmer atmosphere can hold, and dump, more moisture, snow experts say. And two soon-to-be-published studies demonstrate how there can be more giant blizzards yet less snow overall each year. Projections are that that’s likely to continue with man-made global warming…”

Photo credit above: “A boy digs around a car marked with a sign on a street in Windsor Locks, Conn., Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013. A behemoth storm packing hurricane-force wind gusts and blizzard conditions swept through the Northeast overnight.” Photo: Jessica Hill, ASSOCIATED PRESS – AP



What I Love About Winter.

“It brings me roaring energy on my solar panels on a cool, very sunny, winter day.”

– Mary Jo, Senior (trivia: solar panels are actually more efficient in the cold).

“Skating and being with my friends.”

– Isla, Edina, age 8

“Being able to skate outside like I always dreamed of as a teenager in wet, soggy Scotland.”

– Corral, Edina, age 46

“Minnesota winters (were) great…I could sled, snowboard, cross country ski, ice skate, fish, build igloos, snow shoe, but in the last 3 years I have not been able to do this because the climate has warmed my state.”

– Christine, Brooklyn Park

“The sound of my blades scraping the ice as Lake Calhoun belches and bubbles under my skates, and knowing that in 3 months I’ll be paddling in the same lake.”

– Paul, Edina, age 64

Why see Bill McKibben at St. Thomas at 7pm on 2/20 and Macalester at noon on 2/21?

On Sunday 50,000 people came from all across the country to do more than say “NO” to burning and pipeing dirty  Tar Sands Oil. They came to say “YES” to being a part of the most important social movement of our times. Creating the popular will that will lead our elected officials to work together to solve the largest problem ever to face humanity. As Mindy Ahler, executive director of Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light, a faith based organization to motivate congregations to take action on climate change says:

“Bill is a visionary and leader who has put his heart and body into the global climate movement.  It is an honor and a privilege to have him spend this much time with us to celebrate the season that defines living in Minnesota for me.  He models the call to action which engages and inspires those around him to do the same.

“Now is the time for all good Minnesotans to come to the aide of the planet!” Mindy Ahler, Cool Planet Skier

Details and tickets at Cool Planet.

Why Republicans Should Embrace The Reality Of Climate Change. I almost fell off my couch when I read this Op-Ed at Forbes; here’s an excerpt: “We have reached the point where every rational person who believes in making decisions based on science and available data should, if not fully believe that human beings are warming the planet by releasing greenhouse gases, at least recognize that this is what the data seem to suggest and that it is what the vast majority of scientists who study weather believe is the case. Recognizing this does not force anyone to oppose pipelines, support a carbon tax, or start composting and wearing hemp shoes. It just opens us up to start aiming our fiery furnace of a political system at actually solving our problems. Go ahead, argue that the economic cost of anti-greenhouse measures doesn’t justify the benefit, especially if the planet is getting too hot…”


Call For Christie To Consider Climate Change In Shore Rebuilding. Here’s a segment from a good story at “….Christie sees larger environmental factors as irrelevant. “Maybe in the subsequent months and years, after I get done with rebuilding the state and getting people back in their homes,” he said, “I’ll have the opportunity to ponder the esoteric question of the causes of the storm.” While scientists acknowledge that evidence doesn’t yet exist to say climate change caused Sandy, they do know that sea levels are rising – maybe an additional four feet in New Jersey by 2100, according to a Rutgers University estimate. Research also shows that climate change may be making storms more intense. That means that, if there’s another storm surge of the kind that swept houses off foundations during Sandy, even more water may rush ashore. All of this must be evaluated before the state rebuilds, scientists say...”

Photo credit above: “Storm-destroyed house in Ortley Beach. N.J.Gov. Christie, in efforts to rebuild at the Shore, sees environmental factors as irrelevant.” MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff


Filipino Super-Typhoon An Ominous Warning Of Climate Change Impact. I tracked this typhoon for our corporate clients with offices in Manila – I couldn’t believe I was tracking a Category 5 hurricane/typhoon in early December, a symptom of unusually warm ocean water in the western Pacific. Here’s an excerpt from The Guardian: “…Lorenzo Balbin, the mayor of New Bataan, said the fury of the storm was far beyond the experience of anyone living in Mindanao. It would take 10 years to replace the coconut crop, he said. Some villages in Compostela Valley may be too unsafe to live in. Bopha, known locally as Pablo, broke records as well as hearts. At its height, it produced wind speeds of 160mph, gusting to 195mph. It was the world’s deadliest typhoon in 2012, killing 1,067 people, with 800 left missing. More than 6.2 million people were affected; the cost of the damage may top $1bn. As a category 5 storm (the highest), Bopha was significantly more powerful than hurricane Katrina (category 3), which hit the US in 2005, and last year’s heavily publicised hurricane Sandy (category 2)...”

Billionaire Has Unique Role In Official Washington: Climate Change Radical. Here’s an excerpt of a story at The Washington Post: “…But Steyer is taking on a more prominent public role. On Sunday, he spoke to a crowd that organizers estimated at 35,000, gathered on the Mall to call for a stronger national climate policy.“I’m not the first person you’d expect to be here today. I’m not a college professor and I don’t run an environmental organization,” he said. “For the last 30 years I’ve been a professional investor and I’ve been looking at billion-dollar investments for decades and I’m here to tell you one thing: The Keystone pipeline is not a good investment.” The move stems from an uncomfortable conclusion Steyer has reached: The incremental political victories he and others have been celebrating fall well short of what’s needed to avert catastrophic global warming. “If we can win every single battle and lose the war, then we’re doing something wrong,” he said, moments after consuming two mochas on the table before him…”



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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


One response to “The Groundhog Lied: Two “Plowable” Storms On The Way

  1. I miss the big snowstorms. We had a decent one earlier this season, but it has been awhile since we have had a ‘shut down’ storm.

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