Cloudy Start. Don't panic - a little "backlash", moisture wrapping all the way around Saturday night's storm, approaching from the NORTH, will keep us gray through the midday hours, but skies should clear (from north to south) during the afternoon - sun the rule from mid afternoon into the evening hours, along with gusty northwest winds, reaching 15-30 mph. at times.


36 Tornadoes in 10 Days. That's the unofficial number, the NWS office may tweak that number in the coming days, but I counted 6 more tornadoes Saturday, most south of the MN River. Damaging wind reports show up as orange icons, the green icons are flash flood reports, blue for severe hail. For a complete (text) rundown of all the damage reports compiled by the local NWS office in Chanhassen, click here.

* Over 2" of rain, officially, at MSP International Saturday night.

* 3-4" rainfall amounts over the far south metro, resulting in severe flash flooding. A month's worth of rain fell in less than 8 hours.

* This week: one of the best of summer? A drop in temperature and humidity as Canadian air pushes south.

* Next chance of T-storms: Saturday night and Sunday (4th of July), but right now now extended, all-day rains are expected for the holiday.

* Alex expected to strengthen into the season's first hurricane, at least a 40-50% probability the storm may come ashore over Texas by late Thursday or Friday.

Fear of the Unknown. Now that Tropical Storm Alex has passed over Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and it's out over the warm, 83-degree waters of the Gulf of Mexico, further intensification is likely - it may become a hurricane as early as Tuesday or Wednesday. The models are wildly divergent - there's still a good chance Alex will track back into Mexico. But several of the models hook the storm farther to the north, threatening coastal Texas the latter half of the week. Just what residents of the Gulf of Mexico were hoping NOT to see. Graphic courtesy of Ham Weather, a division of WeatherNation.

Paul's Star Tribune Outlook for the Twin Cities and all of Minnesota

Today: Cloudy start, then increasing sunshine this afternoon, still windy and comfortable. Winds: NW 15-25. High: 75

Monday night: Clear and cool (jacket weather up north). Low: 55 (!)

Tuesday: Bright sun, less wind. High: 77

Wednesday: Sunny and beautiful. High: 80

Thursday: Mostly sunny, a bit warmer, and more humid. High: 83

Friday: Hanging onto sun - still dry statewide. High: 84

Saturday: Good day for the lake or pool. Partly sunny, hazy and sticky. High: 86

4th of July: Less sun, unsettled - passing T-storm possible by afternoon/evening. High: 85

Welcome to the Land of All or Nothing. Either the sun is out, our we're battling horizontal rains, scattered tornadoes, the sirens are wailing, hail is bouncing off our windshields, and our cars are (conveniently) turned into boats. Such was the case over the weekend - at least 6 tornado touch downs on Saturday (5 in southern Minnesota, another reported touch down east of Crookston, up in the Red River Valley). A month's worth of rain fell from near Glencoe to Bloomington, some 2-4"+ amounts, enough rain to turn streets into rivers. Baseball-size hail (4" diameter) was reported from a few of these "supercell" thunderstorms, along with some unforgettable lightning displays (did you SEE the wild zigs and zags of lightning over the south metro Saturday night?) Unbelievable.

Sunday Magic. What a day, bright sun almost statewide (although I have to feel sorry for the locals up in Grand Marais, where the "high" was a meager 58). St. Cloud and the Twin Cities saw a high of 84. 24 hour rainfall in the cities: 2.15" - that's more than 2 weeks worth of rain during a 6-8 hour period Saturday night.

And then Sunday came along, winds swung around to the northwest, chasing the showers into Wisconsin by midday, the sun came out (and oddly, stayed out), and with the exception of white-cap-inducing, 30 mph gusts, it wasn't too bad at all out there. All or nothing.

Now we sit back and enjoy what may wind up being the "nicest week of summer", which is surely subjective, but if you like blue sky and comfortable humidity levels, you're in luck, at least through Thursday. A bubble of Canadian high pressure will loiter over the Upper Midwest for the next 72-96 hours, virtually NO chance of rain (or quality-time curled up in the fetal position in your favorite basement) between now and Saturday morning. That's right: at least 5 dry days in a row. We're due.

We've seen an estimated 36 tornadoes since June 16. That's more tornadoes than we usually see during an entire summer season, during one crazy 10 day period. All or nothing.

In today's print column I mention the quandary that all meteorologists face - when we see strong rotation on Doppler radar the urge is to get on the air and err on the side of safety. The problem? 7 out of 10 tornado warnings (issued by the local National Weather Service) wind up being false alarms. Sometimes (oddly enough) the most rapidly spinning storms (called "supercells") fail to spin up tornadoes.

Our worst fear? A camera thrust into the face of a tornado survivor who goes on to mumble, "there was no warning. The tornado struck without warning!" So we overcompensate, probably to excess. No, I'm not a hypocrite - when I was at KARE and 'CCO I interrupted more than my fair share of programming, not because I wanted to see myself on the tube (never did get used to that) but because I wanted to make sure we were on the air when conditions were truly life-threatening, when some poor community might truly get blasted off the map. That happened, in St. Peter and Granite Falls, it happened again in Siren, Wisconsin. I walked those towns after the tornadoes hit, counseled a group of shaken survivors in a church in St. Peter - what happened in those communities was etched into my memory banks. I will never, ever forget the looks I saw on the faces of the tornado survivors. Not one of them accused me of "interrupting their favorite show."

Is there too much coverage on local TV and radio? Possibly - yes. But when and where do you draw the line? As I mention in the column, do you honestly believe that people living in Wadena believe we over-hyped that tornado? It was an EF-4, winds over 175 mph, it scraped well-built homes right off their foundations.

There were times, in the recent past (I won't name names) where I wanted to get on the air (with a tornado warning) and get off again, but the news director told me to stay on the air, "keep talking Paul". But the threat is over? "Stay on the air Paul." Yeah, you don't have to take the calls from irate Oprah viewers. I'll never quite get over it either. No station in town wants to be the first one to go off the air. "It sends the wrong message," the consultants told us. People click around the dial with their remote controls - if a station isn't covering severe weather, viewers will find a station that is. And yet, if the tornado in question is 100 miles away, people quickly lose interest, and become irritated. "Why are you messing up my show, Paul?" A tornado on the ground, some town getting shellacked by Mother Nature, and (I'm not exaggerating) we would get scores of calls and e-mails. "Paul, it's not my county, that's 14 counties away, for God's sake - get off the air. We don't care!" Yet when I ask these callers what I should do if a tornado was bearing down on THEIR town, they don't know how to answer. "Well sure, I'd want to know, what are you, stupid?" Yes, I guess I am. Everyone wants to know when their town is in Mother Nature's cross-hairs, yet they have no patience if it's a county out in "greater Minnesota", well away from the metro area.

What we really have here is a technology problem: we're still using 20th century equipment to BROADCAST warnings to the entire state. It's ludicrous, almost laughable, that 85+ counties have to be warned when a tiny fraction of ONE COUNTY is under the gun. That's why viewers become a). irate, and b). apathetic. "It never materializes. The meteorologists are crying wolf again." We're using a shotgun, when a laser is what's called for.

Ultimately the Internet will fix this problem. New TV sets are web-enabled. Smart phones are GPS-smart. Soon we'll be able to pinpoint warnings for just those towns in the path of a tornado. Everyone else can keep watching Oprah or Deadliest Catch or the Twins ball game in peace. That's the way it should be. Until then we'll all have to grin and bear it, for at least another year or two. But our grandkids will look back and LAUGH that we had to spam an entire state, for microscopic storms that impact a minuscule portion of the viewing area. They won't understand why we had to do it that way. Right now we're limited by technology, but that will change, and sooner than you might think.

I'm tired - let's get off this topic. My head hurts, but I do understand the frustration out there. We're all tornado-weary at this point.

Hurricane Alex? The NAM/WRF models seems to strengthen Alex into a category 2 hurricane, which proceeds to hug the Texas coast, drifting to the north/northwest, coming ashore somewhere near Houston by Friday morning (this map is valid Friday morning). Steering winds over the Gulf of Mexico are light - confidence level on where this thing is ultimately heading is low. One saving grace - most of the oil is in the eastern Gulf of Mexico - Alex will be stirring things up over the western Gulf. That said, a sustained counterclockwise flow around Alex will push those underwater clouds of crude north, toward coastal Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and even the Florida panhandle - I wouldn't be surprised to see a larger volume of oil being pushed ashore this week. Again, I hope I'm wrong on this call.

Back to our weather - dry and gorgeous for the entire week, but by Saturday a southerly wind will begin pumping sticky air back into Minnesota, highs in the mid 80s with dew points rising through the 60s. By Friday and Saturday it will feel like summer again, and you'll get an undeniable urge to go jump in a lake. Most of Saturday looks dry, but an eastbound cool front may spark a few T-storms from Saturday night into Sunday - some clearing/drying possible on Monday, July 5.

4th of July (Atmospheric) Fireworks? The same NAM/WRF model brings a weakening cool front across the state Sunday, with a slight chance of mostly late-day T-storms. Notice the big red bulls-eye of heavy rain over Chicago/Milwaukee/Madison? Those are the soggy remains of "Alex", forecast to be swept almost due north over the weekend. It may be a VERY wet 4th of July for the Windy City, if this model verifies.

I realize how important the weekend forecast is (believe me, I get it), we'll keep scanning the maps and keep our fingers (and eyes) crossed, hoping for a mostly-promising 4th of July Outlook. Hey, what can possibly go wrong?

Star Tribune Monday (print) Weather Column

EF-5. KSN-TV's coverage of the F-5 tornado that leveled the town of Greensburg, Kansas on May 4, 2007. The tornado was 1.7 miles wide, lingered over the town for nearly 10 minutes, flattening nearly ever building in the city. 11 people lost their lives that night in Greensburg, but the death toll could have easily risen into the hundreds, had it not been for a 20-25 minute warning from the local National Weather Service office and TV/radio meteorologists tracking the tornado.

Outlook: weather hype

How much weather "coverage" is too much? By going "wall to wall" with tornado warnings are we creating a state of apathetic, storm-phobic citizens - crying wolf, desensitizing Minnesotans to severe weather? Not sure, it's a real dilemma.

It's true that 70% of tornado warnings wind up being false alarms; strong rotation rarely spins up a twister. But it's a fine line; nobody wants to be caught

with their Dopplers down. Would residents of Wadena, where an EF-4 tornado packing 175 mph. winds, struck earlier this month, believe there was "too much coverage?" Doubt it. The problem: we're using 20th century technology to broadcast the weather-equivalent of a needle in a haystack. Does it make sense to blast warnings to 85+ counties when only a fraction of ONE county will get hit?

The 'net will solve the problem, web-enabled TV's and smart phones.Only people in the direct path will get the warning, the rest of us can enjoy Oprah in peace. Stay tuned. 6 more tornadoes Saturday; 36 for the season?

At least we enjoyed a sunny (windblown) Sunday. Welcome to the nicest week of summer: dry, sunny skies through Saturday. A T-storm flares up on the 4th, while "Hurricane" Alex hits Texas.



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