Growing Risk of a “Light-Switch” Spring?

Some years we ease into spring; waves of increasingly warm air lapping northward. Other years we go from a shoe-full-of-slush to 60s in a blink of an eye. Jackets and shorts, in the same week. This will probably be one of those years.

According to NOAA data the average date of the first 60-degree high in the Twin Cities is March 23. Right. The latest we’ve ever gone before savoring 60 degrees? April 29, 1874.

The more snow we melt, the faster the sun can start to heat up the air. Although a few stubborn piles of snow will hang around the next 1-2 weeks, much of the snow will be gone by Sunday, when temperatures may brush 60F in the Twin Cities. Birds will chirp, pessimists will exhale, dark moods may finally lift a bit – after the toughest winter in 4 years. Expect a string of dry days until next Tuesday, when rain showers may pop up.

Dan Luna at the National Weather Service sees a perfectly orderly snow melt. There’s 1-2 inches of liquid water trapped in the snow. Unless we experience a parade of rain storms the next few weeks – we should avoid a worst-case flood scenario.

Snowfall Reports. Up to a foot of snow fell over far southern Minnesota Wednesday; just flurries in the Twin Cities. Click here for the latest snowfall updates from NOAA.

A Consistent Signal. Spring has had many false starts this (alleged) spring, so I don’t blame you for being skeptical. So am I, on some level. But NOAA, Canadian and ECMWF models are (consistently) showing 50s and 60s next week as we finally, almost grudgingly, make the turn toward spring. Twin Cities numbers: WeatherBell.

Mild Start to May. If this forecast for 500mb (18,000 foot) winds from NOAA’s GFS model verifies it spells a relatively warm start to May, with chilly, stormy weather for California and much of the western USA.

River Flood Potential Update. I had an e-mail conversation with Dan Luna, Meteorologist in Charge of the Twin Cities National Weather Service. I asked him to weigh in on the risk of flooding, in light of last weekend’s historic snowfall and the fact that there’s still over a foot of frost in the ground. Here is what he told me (updated): “We received a couple of isolated SWE reports of 2.0 inches in SW MN, with an isolated 2.8 inches near redwood Falls. We see about 1.5′ to slightly more than 2 inches of water contained in the snow pack across much of the area. This week into the weekend features a perfect orderly snow melt. It could not be better in terms of temperatures in the upper 30’s to low 40’s through Thursday with lows below freezing at night. Friday through Sunday see temperatures warming to the low 50’s with lows dropping to around the freezing mark; perfect! No significant rain, that could cause the snow to liquidate overnight is in the forecast through the weekend which add to the “perfectness” of snow melting. In addition due points will be relatively low; not causing snow to melt rapidly. By Monday of next week, most of the runoff from snow melt will be well on it’s way down the creeks and river systems. Snow that is forecast to fall over southern MN Tuesday night through Wednesday is not expected to provide much more to the potential of flooding in our state. It is amazing at this point in time that only one point on the MN River is expected to reach minor flooding; Montevideo. Much of this is due to the fact that we have been melting snow periodically the last 6 weeks. March was a dry month and April is running about an inch above normal. So at this point we are not very far out of bounds as to what we would expect in liquid precipitations. It is just the snow amounts are way out of bounds as evidenced by a new April record. We will have to pay close attention this month and into May; if we had widespread significant rains, we could expect widespread significant flooding, but that is not expected at this time…I actually think the bigger threat for flooding could come in May/June (after the snow melts). Rivers will be plenty high, soils wet, vegetation behind in terms of greenness and taking water out of the soils,  and if we get a significant convective system that produces widespread significant rains or a slow moving low pressure system, watch out.”

* For the latest flood forecast for Minnesota’s rivers and streams click here.

Thunder Blizzard: April 13-16. The Minnesota DNR has a very good summary of last weekend’s meteorological craziness; here’s an excerpt: “An extreme, late-season winter storm struck Minnesota from April 13-16, 2018, producing everything from thunderstorm wind damage to prolonged blizzard and whiteout conditions.The storm came in three distinct rounds, each separated by anywhere between four and eight hours. The first round began on the morning of Friday April 13th, as severe thunderstorms tore into far southwestern Minnesota from South Dakota, knocking over power poles, damaging farm equipment, and producing a wind gust of 78 mph near Rushmore in Nobles County. Precipitation accompanied by 45 mph wind gusts then spread across the southern half of the state, with a mix of rain, sleet, freezing rain, and eventually snow, resulting in 1-4 inches of accumulation from the Twin Cities northward, and up to 8 inches near the Minnesota River in western Minnesota, before ending just after midnight...”

When Spring’s Snow Typically Happens. Read it and weep. Here’s an excerpt from “By spring, the sight of a blanket of snow may cause more aggravation among the snow-fatigued instead of the excitement it generated in October or November. We scoured National Weather Service records to compile both the average date of the final measurable (at least 0.1 inches) snow of the spring, and also the date of the latest spring accumulating snow on record. In some locations, that record latest date was in the summer...”

This Towering “Snow Canyon” is Carved Into One of the Snowiest Places on Earth. I felt a little better about nearly 80″ of snow this winter in the Twin Cities after reading this post at Capital Weather Gang: “There’s a mountain in Japan where the snow falls so heavily they don’t even attempt to clear it until spring. As much as 125 feet of snow falls on this mountain each year — around 1,500 inches. It is the snowiest place in Japan, and probably one of the snowiest places on Earth. Tateyama (Mount Tate) is one of Japan’s three holy mountains, located on the west side of the country near the Sea of Japan. It’s a popular destination for hikers in the warm months, and just as popular in late winter after workers carve canyon of snow onto the mountain peak...”

Photo credit: “The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route in Japan opened April 15 and features towering walls made of compacted snow.

It’s a Common Myth That Tornadoes Avoid Cities – But It’s Not True. Meteorologist Marshall Shepherd makes the case at Forbes: “…About a decade ago, Dr. Josh Wurman and colleagues published a paper in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society called “Low-Level Winds in Tornadoes and Potential Catastrophic Tornado Impacts in Urban Areas.” They used wind estimates from Doppler on Wheels mobile radars, census data, and modeling to estimate impacts of tornadoes crossing densely populated cities. Results were startling. For example, they argued that a large, intense tornado moving through parts of Chicago, Illinois could destroy nearly a quarter of a million homes and result in 4500 to 45,000 deaths. They did similar evaluations for Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Houston, Dallas-Ft. Worth, New York, and St. Louis. While this results may be exaggerated as noted by some scholars in the literature, I think the point that they convey is real…”

Image credit: FiveThirtyEight.

How Large Outdoor Venues Prepare for Severe Weather. It’s something that haunts me – how do you move 30,000 to 40,000 people in a few minutes if a confirmed tornado is approaching a stadium? Here’s an excerpt from “…The stadium is made of concrete and the main level and field are both underground. In the case of a tornado, fans in the upper decks would be brought to the main level and fans on the main level would be escorted down to underground tunnels. “If we have a full stadium and a weather event is bearing down on us, we could get all 40,000 people into a safer location within 15 minutes,” said Cook. But until fans are inside the stadium, their safety isn’t guaranteed…”

How Does One Prepare for Adverse Weather Events? Depends on your Past Experience. Science Daily has an intriguing post: “…The results indicate that people’s risk perceptions are highly influenced by a memorable past tornado experience that contributes to unwelcome thoughts, feelings and disruption, which ultimately increase one’s fear, dread, worry and depression. Also, the more experiences people have with tornadoes, and the more personalized those experiences, the more likely they are to believe their homes (versus the larger geographic area of their city/town) will be damaged by a tornado within the next 10 years...”

The National Weather Service Forecast: More Budget and Staff Cuts. Here’s a clip from Chicago Magazine: “…Nationwide, NWS staffers are struggling to keep up as jobs go unfilled for long periods due to attrition, according to a GOA report that says ongoing staff vacancies make it difficult for those remaining to “complete key tasks.” This is cause for concern given the frequency and intensity of weather-related disasters, including 16 separate events that each left more $1 billion in damages in 2017. “And those numbers don’t account for the human toll,” says Izzi. Weather and climate disasters killed 362 people last year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Some say the toll is much higher. A few months after Hurricane Maria hit, the New York Times reported that a more “reliable measure of the disaster’s human impact” was 472 deaths just in Puerto Rico alone…”

Photo credit: “Despite last year’s all-time high of extreme weather events, the NWS budget plan calls for more staff cuts and automation.” Photo: E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune.

Harsher Winters and Rising Seas: Study Finds Slowing Ocean Could Mean Climate Extremes. NBC News highlights new research into an apparent slowing of the Atlantic’s Gulf Stream conveyor belt: “…A major system of currents in the Atlantic Ocean that carries millions of cubic meters of water north each day is slowing down, according to a new peer-reviewed study published in the journal Nature. That system is known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC. “We know somewhere out there is a tipping point where this current system is likely to break down,” said study co-author Stefan Rahmstorf, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “We still don’t know how far away or close to this tipping point we might be. … This is uncharted territory…”

Image credit: National Academy of Sciences.

More Than 95% of the World’s Population Breathes Dangerous Air. The Guardian reports: “More than 95% of the world’s population breathe unsafe air and the burden is falling hardest on the poorest communities, with the gap between the most polluted and least polluted countries rising rapidly, a comprehensive study of global air pollution has found. Cities are home to an increasing majority of the world’s people, exposing billions to unsafe air, particularly in developing countries, but in rural areas the risk of indoor air pollution is often caused by burning solid fuels. One in three people worldwide faces the double whammy of unsafe air both indoors and out. The report by the Health Effects Institute used new findings such as satellite data and better monitoring to estimate the numbers of people exposed to air polluted above the levels deemed safe by the World Health Organisation. This exposure has made air pollution the fourth highest cause of death globally, after high blood pressure, diet and smoking, and the greatest environmental health risk…”

Photo credit: Oliver Berg, EPA.

Paul Douglas Talks Climate Change Ahead of NOVA Special. I’ve seen an advance screener of the 2-hour documentary, and KARE-11 footage makes the final cut in Wednesday’s 7-9 PM NOVA film. Here’s an excerpt from KARE-11: “…I think its funny, we are wired to experience weather, none of us are wired to experience climate. You don’t look out the window and see climate. But if you get clubbed over the head repeatedly and experience jaw-dropping historic weather events, it stops being a fluke, an aberration and it starts becoming a trend.” “At first I thought I was imagining, I thought maybe it was my meds, maybe I was hallucinating. And I reached out to other meteorologists and they were seeing the same things. Some of them not excited to be talking about it on the air,” Douglas continued. “As you know, if you try to connect the dots and you whisper climate change, you are going to alienate maybe 30 percent of the audience who think it’s a scam, a hoax, a liberal conspiracy. No. No. No.” “There’s more water in the air, you warm up the air two degrees, that’s 8 percent more water vapor, that’s jet fuel for these storms which drives these intense summer rains…”

Puerto Rico’s Power Outage is Now the Second-Largest Blackout in History. Hurricane Maria’s legacy lives on – here’s an excerpt from CNN: “Since the monster storm slammed into the American Caribbean territory in September 2017 and heavily damaged the power grid, more than 3.4 billion hours of electricity have been lost there. That makes it the second-longest blackout in world history, according to a report from the Rhodium Group, an economic research firm. The only blackout in world history bigger than Puerto Rico’s is the one that came after Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines in 2013. About 6.1 billion hours of power were lost after that massive storm…”

Graphic source: Rhodium Group analysis

U.S. Wind Energy Now Supplies More Than 30% in Four States. Clean Technica has the story; here’s a clip: “Wind energy is one of the fastest growing forms of electricity generation in the United States, with the largest share renewable electricity generating capacity in the country, and according to new information from the American Wind Energy Association, wind energy now supplies more than 30% of the electricity in four states — Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, and South Dakota…According to this latest report, wind power generated 6.3% of US electricity in 2017. However, wind’s impact can be better seen in its role in states like Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, and South Dakota, where it is generating over 30% of capacity...”

Scientists Inadvertently Create Mutant Plastic-Eating Enzyme. The Daily Beast explains: “An international group of scientists has accidentally created an enzyme that eats plastic, a discovery that is being hailed as a major breakthrough in the fight against pollution. The mutant enzyme stems from the 2016 discovery of a bacterium that had evolved to devour plastic at a waste site in Japan. Scientists from Britain’s University of Portsmouth and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory then altered that enzyme to study its evolution, but they later learned they had actually improved its ability to break down plastic. “Serendipity often plays a significant role in fundamental scientific research and our discovery here is no exception,” Portsmouth biologist John McGeehan said of the finding. Researchers say the enzyme can be further enhanced and used as a new recycling solution. An estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic waste winds up in the world’s oceans each year, wreaking havoc on the ecosystem…”

Photo credit: Carlos Jasso/Reuters.

When Will We Separate Women on TV From Their Bodies? An Op-Ed at caught my eye; here’s an excerpt: “…This might sound naive to many, but I didn’t understand just how commonly and flagrantly women are objectified or reduced to a body until I became a public figure on social media. Of course, men make comments to me in person, but the sheer volume of references to body parts or sex acts, lewd photos or comments I get on social media — no matter the context, what I’m wearing, saying or doing — has changed how I look at things. I now walk through the world understanding that no matter how I present myself and no matter my intentions or actions, I can’t always control how I’m seen. I don’t speak for all women, but for some of us, it can be a very uncomfortable feeling to be sexualized when you’re not seeking out that kind of attention or intending in any way to project sexuality...”

Too Hot for the Beaches: Turkmenistan Bans Imports of Bikinis. You can’t make this stuff up. Here’s an excerpt from Radio Free Europe: “…The Turkmen government has banned the import of new bikinis and other traditional swimwear, forcing swimmers and other beachgoers to use their old suits or come up with their own fashions. Owners of swimwear shops say customs officials have also in recent months halted the import of any swimsuits, as well as short pants for both men and women…it’s unclear what people without a bathing suit will wear in the arid Central Asia nation — and for those who like wearing shorts in a country where summer temperatures can reach 50 degrees Celsius. It’s also unclear whether old bikinis will also fall afoul of government fashion norms. New bikinis and shorts are just the latest in a long line of goods that the Turkmen government has decided aren’t acceptable for its people…”

Photo credit: “On the shores of the Caspian: Bikinis and shorts are the latest in a series of things the Turkmen leader apparently doesn’t approve of.”

THURSDAY: Partly sunny, milder. Winds: NW 5-10. High: 47

THURSDAY NIGHT: Mostly clear. Low: 24

FRIDAY: Plenty of sun, getting better again. Winds: S 3-8. High: 49

SATURDAY: Blue sky, thoughts of spring. Winds: S 5-10. Wake-up: 32. High: 53

SUNDAY: Sunny, risk of spring fever. Winds: SW 8-13. Wake-up: 39. High: 58

MONDAY: Much of the snow is gone. Still sunny. Winds: SW 8-13. Wake-up: 43. High: 61

TUESDAY: Weather sours, few rain showers. Winds: N 10-15. Wake-up: 45. High: 55

WEDNESDAY: Sunshine returns, drying out. Winds: NW 7-12. Wake-up: 34. High: 56

Climate Stories….

Here’s What Happens When You Tell People the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change. Here’s a clip from a post at ThinkProgress: “…The overwhelming majority of climate scientists  — 97 percent   — understand that humans are the primary cause of climate change. Yet, as a new peer-reviewed study in journal Nature Climate Change points out, “only 11 percent of the US public correctly estimate the scientific consensus on climate change as higher than 90 percent.” So what happens when you inform people about the actual consensus on climate science? Researchers in the Nature study did a survey experiment with 6,300 Americans and found exposing the survey respondents to the message about the scientific consensus increases their perception of the scientific norm by 16.2 percentage points on a 100-point scale…”

Image credit: “Scientific consensus results on the question of human-caused global warming.” CREDIT: John Cook.

Consensus on Consensus. The paper referenced above by John Cook is here.

How do Climate Models Work? Carbon Brief has a good explainer; here’s an excerpt: “…A global climate model typically contains enough computer code to fill 18,000 pages of printed text; it will have taken hundreds of scientists many years to build and improve; and it can require a supercomputer the size of a tennis court to run. The models themselves come in different forms – from those that just cover one particular region of the world or part of the climate system, to those that simulate the atmosphere, oceans, ice and land for the whole planet. The output from these models drives forward climate science, helping scientists understand how human activity is affecting the Earth’s climate. These advances have underpinned climate policy decisions on national and international scales for the past five decades...”

Warming Climate to Nearly Double Demand for Cooling Appliances. Which increases the need for more energy, much of which will depend on the burning of fossil fuels. Which amplifies warming. The Guardian explains: “A burgeoning middle class and a warming world will result in energy demand for cooling overtaking that for heating by the middle of the century, researchers have predicted. Energy use for air conditioning, refrigeration and other cooling appliances will jump 90% on 2017 levels, experts estimated, posing a challenge for energy grids and efforts to curb climate change. The University of Birmingham said the rise would come even with conservative estimates of how much demand for cooling was likely to increase in China, India and hotter countries. “Cooling just really isn’t part of the big debate. And yet we lose 200m tonnes of food each year because of a lack of cooling. That has massive repercussions,” said Toby Peters, professor in cold economy at the university...”

Photo credit: ” The biggest energy demand for cooling comes from air conditioning to keep people comfortable, but it is also essential for stopping food from going to waste and protecting medicines.” Photograph: Kin Cheung/AP

How the Science of Persuasion Could Change the Politics of Climate Change. Conservatives making the (economic) case to other conservatives? Imagine that. Here’s a clip from MIT Technology Review: “…Now he’s president of the Niskanen Center, a libertarian-leaning Washington, DC, think tank he founded in 2014. He and his colleagues there are trying to build support for the passage of an aggressive federal carbon tax, through discussions with Washington insiders, with a particular focus on Republican legislators and their staff. A small but growing contingent of fiscal conservatives and corporate interests are arguing for similar policies in the United States. They include party elders like former secretary of state George Shultz, energy giants like Exxon Mobil, and nearly two dozen college Republican groups. Taylor and others believe it’s conversations like these—with political elites, and focused on policies they can justify in conservative terms—that could eventually lead to real action on climate change…”

Image credit: Nico Ortega.

New York City’s Real Estate Industry Must Lead Way on Climate – And It Is. An Op-Ed at Crain’s New York explains: “…Clearly, the real estate community must be at the forefront of the solution. The good news is, we already are. Building owners and managers recognize what must be done and we see it taking place. New boilers are more precise at calibrating heating levels and conserving energy; HVAC systems are cleaner and more efficient; better insulation and windows are more effective at reducing waste; innovations such as green roofs are regulating temperatures naturally. The switch by many buildings to natural gas, which burns cleaner and with less pollution than oil, has only accelerated. According to the Department of Environmental Conservation, natural-gas use in city buildings increased 25% from 2005 to 2015…”

Image credit: Lucas Jackson.

Shell Joins Exxon in the Climate Change Spotlight. Here’s an excerpt from The Houston Chronicle: “Royal Dutch Shell, one the world’s biggest oil companies, recognized that burning fossil fuels was raising global temperatures as early as the 1980s, but continued to produce and sell oil, gas and petroleum products, according to documents obtained and released by a European news site.Shell, which has its North American headquarters in Houston and employs about 12,000 here, joins Exxon Mobil as a target of intensifying questions about what oil companies knew about the role of fossil fuels in climate change and when they knew it. Exxon, headquartered in Irving, has received the brunt of the scrutiny in recent years, also facing accusations — which the company denies — that it knew about the climate repercussions of its business in the 1980s, but hid the evidence…”

Photo credit: “Royal Dutch Shell CEO Ben van Beurden speaks at the CERAWeek conference at the Hilton Americas, Wednesday, March 7, 2018, in Houston.” (Karen Warren / Houston Chronicle).