Remembering the March 29, 1998 St. Peter Tornado

“Paul, can you guarantee this forecast?” Cue the crickets. Nope. The only thing I guarantee is sunrise and sunset. Confidence levels are higher for some weather scenarios than others, but there is always uncertainty lurking under the surface.

The 7-Day is an enigma wrapped in a riddle, but meteorologists do a much better job setting expectations for life-threatening weather, thanks to NOAA’s network of Doppler radars.

On March 29, 1998 14 tornadoes ripped across southern Minnesota, including a huge EF-4 at Comfrey and and EF-3 at St. Peter. There were 2 fatalities and 30 injuries; 3,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed. It was a reminder of how volatile and deadly the transition to spring can be.

My concern: unusually chilly weather will linger into at least the first half of April. Our inevitable warm-up may be sudden this year, increasing the risk of violent storms. We’ll see. Just a hunch.

More slush is possible Saturday; again Wednesday of next week as unusually cold air percolates out of Canada.

I can virtually guarantee a late spring. Sadly, that’s an easy call.

Photo credit of tornado (above) in Hanska, Minnesota, on March 29, 1998, courtesy of Roy Janni.

1998 St. Peter Tornado Stirs Up Memories for Some, is a History Lesson to Others. Mankato Free Press reminds us of the atmosphere havoc over southern Minnesota nearly 20 years ago; here are a few excerpts: “…It was a storm with a strength uncommon for March. There were high temperatures, humidity and strong upper winds creating the perfect mix for a severe thunderstorm said Mark Seeley, a University of Minnesota climatologist and meteorologist…More than 3,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed by the tornadoes. Every single building on Gustavus’ campus was damaged, and more than 80 percent of the windows were broken, but few students were on campus because it was spring break…Six-year-old Dustin Schneider was killed when his family’s van was swept from the road near St. Peter, and 85-year-old Louis Mosenden died from injuries he sustained when the storm hit his farmhouse in Hanska. There were more than 30 people injured by the storm…”

The Twin Cities office of the National Weather Service has more details on the March 29, 1998 outbreak.

St. Peter to Commemorate 20th Anniversary of 1998 Tornado. Gustavus Adolphus College reports: “At 5:29 p.m. on March 29, 1998, an F-3 tornado ripped through Saint Peter, Minn., causing more than $120 million in damages, destroying approximately 400 homes, and taking the life of one boy. By 9 p.m., the American Red Cross was setting up shelters in the broken community, eventually bringing in 600 workers from 32 states and serving over 40,000 meals as the town worked to recover. More than 10,000 people volunteered to help the Saint Peter community cleanup and rebuild following the tornado, which was part of a record-breaking March supercell thunderstorm that spawned 14 tornadoes in Minnesota…”

File photo credit: Gustavus Adolphus College Archive.

Chilly Start to April. Easter Sunday will feel a little more like Groundhog Day, climatologically-speaking, with highs stuck in the 30s and a whiff of wind chill. Soak up low 50s Wednesday, because we have another significant temperature relapse before moderation the second week of April. Twin Cities ECMWF numbers: WeatherBell.

The “Nightmare” California Flood More Dangerous than a Huge Earthquake. The Los Angeles Times reports: “…Eighty years ago this month, epic storms over just six days caused widespread destruction across Southern California. Rain fell as fast as 2 inches for a one-hour period. Wide swaths of the San Fernando Valley were inundated; floodwaters in the Los Angeles River mowed down bridges and pulled apart railroads. Government officials responded with a major flood control campaign, building dams and deepening rivers and lining them with concrete to flush water out to sea before floodwaters could rise. But even those protections have limits. And history shows there is precedent for even more devastation. Several weeks of monumental storms would be all it would take to overwhelm California’s flood control system and cause widespread flooding and destruction…”

Image credit: “California has a risk of widespread flooding that could transform parts of the state into an inland sea.” (Los Angeles Times)

Nighttime Tornadic Storms are Dangerous; Not “Good Sleeping Weather”. Dr. Marshall Shepherd has some timely reminders in a post at Forbes: “…A 2008 study from Northern Illinois University found that while only 27% of tornadoes happened at night, 39% of tornado fatalities were nocturnal. They also found that 42% of “killer” tornadoes were nocturnal. The authors noted that winter and spring-transition seasons (November to April) had the highest fatality rates from nocturnal storms. This is surprising since those are not necessarily the peak months for tornadoes. The authors told Science Daily that fewer daylight hours and public underestimation of “preseason” storms may be factors. The study, published in the American Meteorological Society’s journal Weather and Forecasting, also found that one of the reasons tornadoes occurring during the period from midnight to sunrise are 2.5 times more deadly is related to geography. Nocturnal tornadic storms take a particular toll on vulnerable populations and housing structures in the American South…”

Map credit: “Where nocturnal tornadoes happen.” Walker Ashley/NIU and AMS. Click here for more details at Science Daily.

Toxic Impact of Hurricane Harvey Worse Than Public Was Told. Daily Beast has the details: “The toxic impact of Hurricane Harvey was far more widespread than authorities admitted at the time, according to documents pieced together by the Associated Press, which found more than 100 cases of chemical spills being reported in the storm’s aftermath. The hurricane that slammed into the Texas coast in late August last year caused widespread damage to numerous chemical plants and refineries, including one incident in which half a billion gallons of industrial wastewater mixed with storm water, land eaked out of a chemical plant in Baytown, east of Houston. The AP reports cancer-causing pollutants such as benzene, vinyl chloride, and butadiene were found in neighborhoods and waterways after the storm dissipated. Most of the incidents were never publicized and the potential toxicity of some of the biggest leaks were initially understated—and only a handful appear to have been investigated by Texas authorities...”

File image from August 25, 2017 courtesy of NASA ISS.

Stopping Hurricanes by Blowing Air Bubbles? Never say never, but I have my doubts. Here’s an excerpt of an explainer at Newsweek: “…The bubble curtain method involves placing perforated pipes below the water before pumping bubbles of compressed air through them. The idea is that the bubbles will rise, taking cold water with them that will cool the surface. The SINTEF team say that, ideally, the pipes should be placed between 100 and 150 meters below the surface to ensure that the water being carried to the surface is cold enough. “By bringing this water to the surface using the bubble curtains, the surface temperature will fall to below 26.5 degrees Celsius, thus cutting off the hurricane’s energy supply,” Eidnes said. “This method will allow us quite simply to prevent hurricanes from achieving life-threatening intensities.” The researchers say that such a system of pipes could be deployed on a large scale…”

Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios Acquires Weather Channel. Didn’t see this coming. Here’s an excerpt from Variety: “…Adding another pillar to his growing TV and film portfolio, Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios has reached a deal to acquire cable’s Weather Channel in a transaction valued at about $300 million. Entertainment Studios is buying the Weather Group, parent company of the cabler and the Local Now streaming service, from Comcast and private equity giants Blackstone and Bain. That group purchased Weather Channel for $3.5 billion in July 2008. The digital operations of Weather Channel were acquired in 2015 by IBM in a deal pegged at around $2 billion. “The Weather Channel is one of the most trusted and extremely important cable networks, with information vitally important to the safety and protection of our lives,” said Allen, who is chairman-CEO of Entertainment Studios…”

OIL & GAS: Headlines and links from Climate Nexus: “Shell faces shareholder push on climate change goals (FT $), JP Morgan facing shareholder backlash over oil sands financing (Bloomberg), how to compare climate risk across the biggest oil companies (Bloomberg), one of world’s dirtiest oil sources wants to go green.” (Bloomberg).

Graphic credit: Rebecca Zisser, Axios.

Central to Enbridge’s new Minnesota Pipeline Request is How Much Oil is Needed. The Star Tribune reports: “…The current Enbridge Mainline fails to meet refinery demand for crude oil, despite a series of expansions over the last 15 years,” Neil Earnest, a consultant for Enbridge, said in testimony filed with state regulators. And the company forecasts continuing growth in Canadian oil production well into the 2030s, even as changes in the global auto market portend weaker gasoline demand and national experts have predicted market changes because of that. The need for that oil will play a key role when the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission decides on Enbridge’s request to build its new Line 3, a decision expected in June…”

Photo credit: “Enbridge says its northern Minnesota pipelines are so full that oil is being rationed, hurting refineries including Flint Hills Resources’ Pine Bend Refinery in Rosemount.” JIM GEHRZ.

4 Simple Ways to Save Water. Planet Vision has some good advice, starting with replacing your showerhead: “…You may not have thought about replacing your showerhead: it’s there, it works, who cares? But showering uses 20 percent (28 gallons a day) of the water in your home so updating your showerhead is an easy way to reduce your consumption every day. Check out this short video for tips on how to change a showerhead. Chances are your shower uses about two to three gallons per minute, but updated showerheads use about 1.25 gallons per minute and cost as little as $12 to $20. Saving hot water will also save you money on your heating bill!...”

Plastic Within the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is “Increasing Exponentially”, Scientists Find. It’s now 4-16 times larger than previously thought, according to a summary at The Washington Post: “Seventy-nine thousand tons of plastic debris, in the form of 1.8 trillion pieces, now occupy an area three times the size of France in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii, a scientific team reported on Thursday. The amount of plastic found in this area, known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is “increasing exponentially,” according to the surveyors, who used two planes and 18 boats to assess the ocean pollution. “We wanted to have a clear, precise picture of what the patch looked like,” said Laurent Lebreton, the lead oceanographer for the Ocean Cleanup Foundation and the lead author of the study...”

The Cambridge Analytica Data Apocalypse Was Predicted in 2007. Here’s a clip from a story at “…Possibly even more disturbing than the idea that Cambridge Analytica tried to steal an election—something lots of people say probably isn’t possible—is the role of scientists in facilitating the ethical breakdowns behind it. When Zeynep Tufekci argues that what Facebook does with people’s personal data is so pervasive and arcane that people can’t possibly give informed consent to it, she’s employing the language of science and medicine. Scientists are supposed to have acquired, through painful experience, the knowledge of how to treat human subjects in their research. Because it can go terribly wrong. Here’s what’s worse: The scientists warned us about big data and corporate surveillance. They tried to warn themselves…”

Facebook Call, Text Message Data For Years From Android Phones. Ars Technica has a rather distressing post: “[Update, March 25, 2018, 20:24 Eastern Time]: Facebook has responded to this and other reports regarding the collection of call and SMS data with a blog post that denies Facebook collected call data surreptitiously. The company also writes that it never sells the data and that users are in control of the data uploaded to Facebook. This “fact check” contradicts several details Ars found in analysis of Facebook data downloads and testimony from users who provided the data. More on the Facebook response is appended to the end of the original article below. This past week, a New Zealand man was looking through the data Facebook had collected from him in an archive he had pulled down from the social networking site. While scanning the information Facebook had stored about his contacts, Dylan McKay discovered something distressing: Facebook also had about two years’ worth of phone call metadata from his Android phone, including names, phone numbers, and the length of each call made or received…”

How to Reduce Your Exposure on Facebook, or Cut Ties Altogether. The Wall Street Journal reports: “You’re fed up with Facebook . FB -5.67% It’s understandable. An outside developer violated the social network’s policies and shared the data of tens of millions of users with people he shouldn’t have. This isn’t the first time users have felt betrayed by the company, and a lot are feeling like this could be the final straw. The hashtag #deletefacebook has been trending on Twitter . Deleting your account is an option, but just know: It’s more complicated than just clicking a button. There are other ways to cope, if you’re conflicted about your relationship. From scaling back your account activity and Facebook’s data collection to full-on deletion, these are your options...”

Image credit: “Facebook’s data privacy scandal has driven many to contemplate ditching the social network for good. WSJ’s Katherine Bindley explains how, and suggests some non-permanent alternatives.” Photo illustration: iStock

This is a “Slow Roll”. Will Facebook Ever Be The Same? A rhetorical question from Vanity Fair: “...Indeed, the repercussions are massive in both immediate and longitudinal ways. Just a couple of days into the Cambridge crisis, Facebook’s stock has dropped by more than 20 points, which has led its market capitalization to fall by tens of billions of dollars. Senators Mark Warner and Amy Klobuchar have called for Mark Zuckerberg to testify before Congress. A British M.P. sent Zuckerberg a letter asking him to testify before Parliament. The Federal Trade Commission is exploring whether Facebook violated the terms of a 2011 consent decree around privacy. A shareholder has filed a class-action lawsuit. Facebook’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos, is reportedly leaving the company after battling with executives about the company’s response to Russian’s involvement in the 2016 election. A #DeleteFacebook campaign has surfaced across social media…”

Carnage Followed the First Automobile. How Many Deaths Will We Accept from Self-Driving Cars? Quartz has an interesting post; here are a couple of excerpts: “…Ultimately, experts tell us, autonomous vehicles will be safer, cheaper, and more convenient. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates 103 people are killed in the US in motor-vehicle accidents every day, and more than 94% of crashes are due to driver error (pdf). Autonomous vehicle could virtually eliminate a entire category of lethal crashes…States finally began requiring driver’s licenses in the 1930s. And only by the 1960s did systematic motor-vehicle safety efforts such as seatbelts arrived nationwide, along with the formation of federal agencies charged with enforcing standards. Change was slow to come, but it brought the death rate from around 25 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in 1921 to around 1.18 in 2016—a 93% drop…”

The Third Education Revolution. Prepare for a career of lifelong learning as we work side by side with increasingly intelligent machines, argues a post at The Atlantic: “Now a third wave in education and training has arrived, argue economists, educators, and workforce-development officials. The level of preparation that worked in the first two waves—adding more time to education early in life—does not seem sufficient in the 21st-century economy. Instead the third wave is likely to be marked by continual training throughout a person’s lifetime—to keep current in a career, to learn how to complement rising levels of automation, and to gain skills for new work. Workers will likely consume this lifelong learning in short spurts when they need it, rather than in lengthy blocks of time as they do now when it often takes months or years to complete certificates and degrees. With this third wave will come a shift in how workers perceive retraining, said Brent Parton, deputy director of the Center on Education and Skills at the think tank New America….”

Illustration credit: Corey Brickley.

Understanding Speed and Velocity: Saying “NO” to the Non-Essential. A post at Farnam Street resonated; here’s a clip: “…Certainly, offers of work are good problems to have. A lot of people struggle to find work, and here I was, a few weeks out of university, saying no to my boss. But saying yes to everything is a quick road to mediocrity. I took a two-thirds pay cut to work for the government so I could work with incredibly smart people on a very narrow skill (think cyber). I was willing to go all in. So no, I wasn’t going say yes to things that didn’t help me hone the craft I’d given up so much to work on. “Instead of asking how many tasks you can tackle given your working hours,” writes Morten Hansen in Great at Work, “ask how many you can ditch given what you must do to excel.” I did what I needed to do to keep my job. As John Stuart Mill said, “as few as you can, as many as you must.” Doing more isn’t always moving you ahead. To see why, let’s go back to first-year physics…”

.8″ snow fell yesterday at MSP International Airport.

40 F. maximum temperature Monday in the Twin Cities.

47 F. average high on March 26.

44 F. high on March 26, 2017.

March 27, 1946: A record high of 78 is set at Redwood Falls.

Orange Snow Blankets Parts of Russia. First yellow snow, now orange snow? reports: “Skiers and snowboarders were met with orange-tinted snow in Sochi, Russia, this weekend. The usually powdery white snow turned colors due to a sandstorm that blew across the Sahara Desert in North Africa. “We’re skiing on Mars today,” exclaimed one social media user as he skied down the slopes. The sandstorm made its way through Greece up to Russia and was so big that it could actually be seen via NASA satellite imagery...”

TUESDAY: Peeks of sun, a drier day. Winds: NW 8-13. High: 46

TUESDAY NIGHT: Mostly clear. Low: 30

WEDNESDAY: Partly sunny, feels like spring! Winds: SW 10-15. High: 52

THURSDAY: Intervals of sun, cooler breeze. Winds: NW 8-13. Wake-up: 28. High: 43

FRIDAY: Gray, a little wet snow possible. Winds: W 7-12. Wake-up: 27. High: 39

SATURDAY: Wet snow, slushy accumulation north? Winds: E 10-20. Wake-up: 29. High: 36

SUNDAY: Drier for Easter Sunday. Partly sunny. Winds: NW 10-15. Wake-up: 19. High: 38

MONDAY: Mix of clouds & sun, still cool. Winds: W 8-13. Wake-up: 25. High: 41

Climate Stories…

The Climate is Changing for Climate Skeptics. Here’s the intro to a post at Huffington Post: “Climate change skeptics may have outlived their usefulness to the fossil fuel industry. That was one of the key takeaways from a five-hour climate tutorial held Wednesday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. Judge William Alsup, who has a history of digging into the scientific and technical details of the cases before him, ordered the tutorial to better understand climate science before presiding over a case in which the cities of San Francisco and Oakland are suing the five largest fossil fuel companies ― ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, ConocoPhillips and Shell ― over the damages of climate change. Although both sides presented the science that would seem to most help their cases, it was clear that the age of discrediting climate science in general is over…”

Inside Exxon’s Climate Change Strategy. Axios has analysis and context: “ExxonMobil is betting on two costly technologies — carbon capture and biofuels — and overly optimistic data to drive its climate-change strategy.

Why it matters: As the world’s largest publicly traded oil company, Exxon is the face of America’s fight over climate change and fossil fuels. While other oil majors like Shell and BP are branching out to wind and solar, and investing in electrification technologies, Exxon has made its existing natural gas and liquid fuels business the focus of its climate strategy.

Exxon is at the center of lawsuits alleging big oil companies knew about and concealed the dangers of climate change for decades, and a record share of its investors have urged it to be more transparent about the risks climate poses to its business. That’s a trend proliferating within other publicly trading fossil-fuel companies...”

IMPACTS: Headlines and links courtesy of Climate Nexus: “Arctic sea ice missed a record low this winter–barely(New York Times $, AP, Vox), Arctic Ocean ice near record low for winter, boost for shipping (Reuters), a heat wave left Arctic sea ice near a record winter low–this town is paying the price (InsideClimate News), global CO2 emissions rise after Paris climate agreement signed.” (E&E)

In Alaska, a Town Threatened by Climate Change Gets Federal Funding to Relocate. Climate change refugees are already a reality in Alaska and coastal Louisiana, the tip of the (melting) iceberg. Here’s an excerpt from Think Progress: “The small coastal village of Newtok, Alaska has secured more than $15 million in funding to begin relocating households to safer ground inland. The funding is part of the $1.3 trillion spending bill signed Friday. This amount, however, is still just a fraction of what’s required to relocate the whole village. Located along the banks of the Ninglick River, the land on which the community of roughly 350 people lives has been eroding away since the late 1950s. They have been trying to relocate since 1994 but securing funding has remained elusive and the effects of climate change — sea level rise, stronger storms, and melting permafrost — have made the situation increasingly urgent...”

Father and Son Pair Trek Antarctica to Highlight Climate Change. Check out the story and link from CBS News: “Melting ice on Antarctica is impacting sea levels all across the globe. That’s why a father-and-son explorer team, Robert and Barney Swan, set out on an expedition to cross the continent on foot. The goal for this marathon trek was to highlight the importance of combating climate change. Their story can be heard in the “Green Miniseries Part I: The Promise.” It’s part of the Global GoalsCast, a podcast created to inspire listeners to make the world a better, and more sustainable place…”

Image credit: “Robert and Barney Swan journey to Antarctica to highlight the impacts of climate change.” CBS News.

Cardinal Ribat: A Christian Obligation to Confront Climate Change. Here’s a snippet from The Washington Examiner: “…My vocation has led me to hours of crisis inside the homes and businesses of many people who suffer the consequences of a warmer world. As a person of faith, I believe that God calls us to care for one another. Because climate change hurts so many people, solving it is central to our faith. That’s among the reasons why it’s been the subject of papal teaching for decades, starting with Saint Pope John Paul II, continuing through Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and finding expression today in Pope Francis. Last week, I visited the U.S. Congress. There and elsewhere, I spoke with leaders from both sides of the political spectrum who see, as I do, that addressing climate change is one of the most important ways to serve our sisters and brothers in Christ. I learned that the U.S. military has identified climate change as being one of the world’s biggest threats…”

Photo credit: “Driven by fossil fuels, climate change isn’t a political issue, but a human issue.” (AP Photo/Branden Camp).

What on Earth? Why Climate Change Skeptics are Backing Geoengineering. “It’s not really happening, but just in case it is, let’s hack Earth’s atmosphere to try to lessen the symptoms. What can possibly go wrong?” Here’s an excerpt of an eye-opening post at Reveal: “…The increasing interest in geoengineering, including from climate change skeptics, owes partly to growing pessimism about humanity’s capacity – and political will – to ward off the worst effects of climate change without some major technological breakthrough. Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates has invested both in Keith’s research and in a for-profit company Keith founded to try to capture carbon from the atmosphere. In 2015, two major U.S. environmental groups, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council, supported small-scale research into projects that one writer has dubbed “hacking the planet.” Several Trump allies are considerably more gung-ho, with some explicitly portraying geoengineering as a cheap alternative to radically transforming a U.S. economy that is still about 80 percent dependent on fossil fuels…”

Image credit: “In a spring 2017 mission, engineer Leslie Field of California marks an area on North Meadow Lake in Barrow, Alaska, before sprinkling tiny reflective silica spheres on the ice to try to keep it from melting. Field’s geoengineering project would cost an estimated $1 billion a year, and some experts call it unrealistic and ineffective.” Credit: Courtesy of Ice911.

National Parks Are About to Get a Bunch of Birds They Didn’t Ask For. Earther explains: “…If climate change continues on its current trajectory, 20 of the 25 warblers that currently occupy the park will have no suitable climate. They could be forced to move or perish. Meanwhile, other species could swoop in to take their place. Acadia is just one datapoint in a massive new study published in PLOS One on Wednesday that looks at how climate change will impact birds across the national park system. Similar stories are likely to play out everywhere from Yosemite’s granite high country to Yellowstone’s bubbling hydrothermal basins, with the study projecting nearly a quarter of bird species will turnover in parks by 2050. That means that the 300 million annual visitors to parks will, in the future, have a completely different experience. And it means managers will have to make some big decisions on what landscapes they conserve and what species they manage for…”

Photo credit: “A boreal chickadee who won’t have habitat in Acadia National Park by 2050 if climate change continues unchecked.” Photo: Audubon Society.