Means To An End

"Hope is faith holding out its hand in the dark" wrote George Iles.

January is a tough month for most of us. You can't find the mercury in your thermometer, the sun - when visible - is scraping the southern horizon, holiday credit card bills are falling out of your mailbox. And the local weather dweeb is predicting a Conga-line of cold fronts, an IV-drip of meteorological misery.

But sneezes of Siberian air make everything we love about Minnesota possible: from pine trees and sugar sand beaches up north to loons, walleye and fertile fields to forced ingenuity. Surviving the cold; thriving in spite of anything Mother Nature can hurl at us, drives the engine of discovery & innovation. I may sound like a shill for the Chamber of Commerce, but the cold makes us better.

Now please excuse me as I check in for my Sun Country flight to Cabo!

Hold on, models continue to show a thaw by the end of next week. Today's clipper drops a slippery inch of powder, followed by one last subzero slap - for now. 2 more subzero nights, then a slow recovery next week. You'll be amazed and vaguely horrified by just how good freezing feels.

Go ahead and take a bow. You're surviving the coldest week of winter.

Another Clipper. Today's clipper may drop a quick inch or two of powder. With temperatures stuck in single digits and low teens there's a potential for more mayhem on the highways with wheel-track glazing. Leave extra time for the drive home this afternoon.

Gulf-Stream-Effect. We all know about lake-effect snows and what happened in Buffalo last month as bitter air flowed over an unusually mild Lake Erie, a cool 7 feet of snow just south of downtown. Note the streamers of moisture out over the warm waters of the Gulf Stream as air temperatures in the teens pass overhead. The next Alberta Clipper drops a few inches of snow from the Twin Cities to Chicago, Grand Rapids and Detroit today and tonight. 4 KM NAM accumulated snowfall: NOAA and HAMweather.

Send Up A Flare: Thaw Arrives in 8 Days. We're due for a break in the pattern, and it still seems to be shaping up by the end of next week. Today's clipper brings the last subzero slap (for now) into town tomorrow and early Saturday, followed by slow recovery next week. 30s will feel like a dream late next week. Which is a little sad and borderline pathetic, but true. Source: Weatherspark.

Recovery. Call it a late January Thaw (although maybe we had our January Thaw back in mid-December, come to think of it). GFS guidance from NOAA shows consistent 20s and 30s from next weekend to the 23rd of January. We'll see more subzero lows - I'm sure of it - but I'm not yet convinced we'll see the duration of subzero cold (and chill) we've experienced this week. I still think this is the worst of it. Then again I bought Enron stock, so buyer beware.

Increasingly Ripe For Snow by Late January? That may be more of a wish-cast than a forecast. Yes, I'd be perfectly content with 20s (above) and a parade of snowstorms. No ice, no freakish midwinter rain, just snow with temperatures mile enough to keep the freeways mostly-wet and passable. I know, I'm dreaming. But GFS guidance suggests a split flow returning with a moist southerly branch and a cold northern branch, which may increase the potential for accumulating snow close to home after January 20 or so. Credit: GrADS:COLA/IGES.

Do Plants Feel The Wind Chill? Short Answer Is No. Here's an excerpt of a blog post from Jack Falker in Edina who updates The Minnesota Rose Gardener. It's a little like the proverbial: "does my Lexus feel the wind chill?" Unless it sweats, perspires, the answer is no: "...Wind chill has no meaning for plants.  Unlike warm-blooded animals, they don't try to maintain a particular body temperature year-round". And another: "Of course, we know that  roses feel the winter cold and die back according to the level of protection afforded them.  And winter-winds do, of course, have an effect on that die-back, desiccating the canes, but the important thing to understand is that wind does not make a plant "feel" colder than the actual temperature, even though it shortens the time it takes for the plant to reach that temperature..."

Perils of Wheel-Track Glazing. Tires warm freshly fallen snow, sparking instant melting, then refreezing, resulting in glaze ice conditions well after the snow has stopped falling. Here's an excerpt of a good explanation from the Iowa Department of Transportation: "...The combination of light, blowing snow and cold surface temperatures could result in icy roadways due to a phenomenon called wheel-track glazing. "Wheel-track glazing" is caused by warm tires trapping theground-level light, blowing snow. As more vehicles travel over the same wheel tracks, a glaze of ice forms that becomes very slippery..."

Image credit above:

NOAA Announces Significant Investment In Next Generation of Supercomputers. Some good news coming out of NOAA; here are a few excerpts of a Tuesday press release: "Today, NOAA announced the next phase in the agency’s efforts to increase supercomputing capacity to provide more timely, accurate, reliable, and detailed forecasts. By October 2015, the capacity of each of NOAA’s two operational supercomputers will jump to 2.5 petaflops, for a total of 5 petaflops – a nearly tenfold increase from the current capacity. Ahead of this upgrade, each of the two operational supercomputers will first more than triple their current capacity later this month (to at least 0.776 petaflops for a total capacity of 1.552 petaflops). With this larger capacity, NOAA’s National Weather Service in January will begin running an upgraded version of the Global Forecast System (GFS) with greater resolution that extends further out in time – the new GFS will increase resolution from 27km to 13km out to 10 days and 55km to 33km for 11 to 16 days. In addition, the Global Ensemble Forecast System (GEFS) will be upgraded by increasing the number of vertical levels from 42 to 64 and increasing the horizontal resolution from 55km to 27km out to eight days and 70km to 33km from days nine to 16..."

Japan Confirms 2014 Was Earth's Warmest Year. We should know whether NOAA, NASA and the UK Met Office agree with this assessment within the next 1-2 weeks. Here's the intro to an explanation at Mashable: "The first official temperature monitoring institution to report 2014's climate data has now confirmed what climatologists widely expected: 2014 was the planet's warmest year since thermometers began monitoring temperatures in the late 19th century. Other studies, using data from ice cores, tree rings, corals and other so-called "proxy" data shows the planet has not been this warm in at least 4,000 years, while other data shows that the level of the main global warming gas has not been this high in all of human history..."

The Best Places To Retire Abroad in 2015. Ecuador? OK. I'm trying to keep an open mind; details at Next Avenue; here's an excerpt: "Whether your dream is to retire abroad one day or the idea just offers a vicarious thrill, you’ll likely want to hear the winners in International Living’s just-released “World’s Best Retirement Destinations for 2015.” Mixing the latest data on everything from weather to retiree discounts with reports from its network of far-flung correspondents, International Living (a media company specializing in retirement abroad) ranked 25 countries for its annual Global Retirement Index. This year’s winner Ecuador nudged out the 2014 champ, Panama..."

Look At How Cheap Gas Is Everywhere. Huffington Post has the story; here's a clip: "...Even where the map is light-orange and yellow, gas is cheaper than $2.50 per gallon. Here's a link to the interactive version of GasBuddy's map, where you can search for prices by ZIP code, city or state. The national average price of a gallon of gasoline was $2.18 as of Tuesday morning, according to GasBuddy. That's the lowest since 2009, when the economy was still climbing out of the hole of the financial crisis and Great Recession..."

The Real Reason U.S. Gas Is So Cheap Is Americans Don't Pay The True Cost of Driving. CityLab has a story that made me do a double-take; here's the introduction to an article well worth your time: "Amid all the celebration over America's plunging gas prices—down some 40 percent since June—it's easy to forget a very basic fact: in a global sense, U.S. fuel has been cheap for years. In late 2012, for instance, the United States ranked toward the bottom of a world list of gas prices, wedged between the likes of Tunisia and Chad on one side and Russia and Kazakhstan on the other. Most first-world countries paid at least double what America did then, just as they do today...."

The True Price of American Energy Independence. CleanTechnica takes a look at the decoupling of America's GDP with oil prices in recent years, for a wide variety of good reasons. Here's an excerpt: "...And economists at our Energy Department foresee 2015 gas consumption at the same flat rate as 2014, down below 9 million gallons a day (from a mid-2007 high of about 9.3 million)—and maybe even less. Here’s how they explain the discrepancy:

  • Vehicle fuel efficiency has increased by about 25%.
  • Retirement of the baby boom generation has reduced miles driven.
  • People in their 20s and 30s now prefer to live closer to city centers..."

Bloomberg reports on How $50 Oil Changes Almost Everything.

Adventures in Mapmaking: Mapping a Fracking Boom in North Dakota. I've always enjoyed mapping, and now GIS, an appreciate the effort that went into the fracking map highlighted in a story at Wired MapLab; here's the intro to the story: "US oil production has been booming the past few years, due in large part to North Dakota’s Bakken formation, a rock layer tapped through fracking. Each well travels down about two miles, then turns horizontally and snakes through the rock formation for another two miles. There were 8,406 of these Bakken wells, as of North Dakota’s latest count. If you lined them all up—including their vertical and horizontal parts—they’d loop all the way around the Earth..."

Watch Bill Gates Drink Purified Poop Water. My new favorite headline, but the year is young, butterfly. This is what Windows leaves you capable of, after the 142nd blue screen of death a glass of poo-water sounds like a nice break. Here's a link and excerpt from Fast Company: "...The drinking water shown in the video was purified by the Omniprocessor, a system developed by Janicki Bioenergy that converts sludge into drinking water, electricity, and ash. The system boils sludge, separating the solids from the water vapor. The solids are fed into a hot fire, where they're converted into steam, which is in turn sent to a steam engine that powers the generator and creates excess electricity for the community. Meanwhile, the water vapor goes through a purification system to create clean drinking water..."

The Future of Driverless Transportation Is Delightfully Dull. I wonder how these robotic vehicles would perform in rush hour on 494 in the snow and ice. Now that might be the acid test. Here's an excerpt from a fascinating story at Wired: "...Audi, like every major automaker experimenting with autonomous driving tech, sees many hurdles—the technology, yes, but also regulatory issues, insurance questions, and consumer acceptance—that must be cleared before we have cars that drive themselves in all places at all times. So it is nibbling away at the edges, planning to introduce autonomous features one by one. It’s a slower timeline than Google’s “moonshot” approach, but one that gives everyone time to accept the technology..."

Animation credit: Josh Valcarcel/WIRED.

-9 F. morning low on Wednesday.

-1 F. high yesterday afternoon.

23 F. average high on January 7.

5 F. high on January 7, 2014.

January 7, 1902: January thaw across Minnesota. Twin Cities warms to 46 degrees. No, I don't remember this.

TODAY: Snowy clipper, winds increase with some blowing/drifting. Coating - 1" with icy roads midday and afternoon. Winds: NW 20-30. High: 15

THURSDAY NIGHT: Windy and colder again. Low: -8

FRIDAY: Fresh air - fresh discomfort. Feels like -30 early. Bright sun. High: 3

SATURDAY: Cold start. Clouds increase, winds ease. Wake-up: -11. High: 10

SUNDAY: Sunny intervals, not warm. Wake-up: -4. High: 9

MONDAY: Some sun, light winds. Wake-up: 1. High: 14

TUESDAY: Mix of clouds and sun, storm-free. Wake-up: 10. High: near 20

WEDNESDAY: Nice to be almost average again. Wake-up: 12. High: 22

Climate Stories...

Global Warming Changing Winter Cleanup, Says City of Montreal. More ice, less snow, a trend we're seeing more of during midwinter months over northern latitudes. Here's an excerpt from CBC News: "...Montreal crews have already spread their third round of salt and abrasives, but it hasn't stopped hundreds of Montrealers from slipping on icy sidewalks. “We are doing everything we can to address the situation. We were told that there was 500 people that were rushed to different hospitals across the city because of fractures. For me that's 500 more than the target which was zero,” said Chitilian..."

Bill Nye: 2015's Biggest Health Issue Is Climate Change. has the story - here's an excerpt: "...Of course, climate change might be linked to some severe weather patterns, such as storms, cold snaps and heat waves, all acute dangers to health and livelihood. If you have noticed your allergies always seem to be getting worse, that's likely because of longer pollen growing seasons, a side effect to a warmer planet, allergist believe. Then there's the spread of disease, such as the chikungunya virus, a mosquito-borne illness once only found in Africa and Asia that hit the Americas in late 2013 and was first locally acquired in the United States in 2014. Warmer seasons spread the habitat of disease-carrying mosquitos and other insects, such as the ticks that carry Lyme disease..." (Image: NASA).

Oceanographers have just identified the US coastal regions likely to experience 30 days or more of “nuisance” flooding every year.

And the answer is that most of the American coast will experience high waters that are 30-60 cms above local high tides, at least 30 times a year.

Nuisance flooding means just that − somewhere between an inconvenience and modest damage. But climate change, and its attendant sea-level rise, will make them much more frequent, and possibly more damaging.

- See more at:

Heat And Wildfires in Australia. Climate Nexus has a good summary of the trends Down Under; here's an excerpt: "As firefighters work to contain the worst bushfire in southern Australia for thirty years, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) released its 2014 annual climate statement, which, like the destructive fires, signals that climate change is already a reality in Australia. While heat waves and bushfires are common during Australia’s hot summer months, climate change is worsening the underlying conditions that fuel the most extreme heat and wildfire events. Important top lines to note include:

  • Climate change is causing higher temperatures and drier conditions in Australia.
  • Climate change is leading to more destructive extreme heat events and bushfires..."

Australia Is Burning, And Climate Change Is Making It Worse. Bloomberg Businessweek has the story.

Scientists Say Massive Wildfires Raging Across Australia Are A Symptom of Climate Change. VICE News has more perspective on the fires in Australia; here's a snippet: "Wildfires in South Australia ripped across 20,000 hectares of land, destroying several homes on Sunday. After yet another summer of catastrophic burning, Australians are debating whether the fires are the result of climate change, and whether enough is being done to stop them. The blazes had destroyed at least 26 homes as of Monday afternoon, but the full extent of damage may not be known for several more days..."

Perth Heat Melts The Internet. I knew it would come to this - that's when people will rise in revolt, when they can't access their favorite cat videos. The heat in Australia is building; here's another consequence courtesy of WAtoday: "Extreme hot weather in Perth sent the internet into meltdown on Monday night. Thousands of iiNet customers across Australia found themselves offline for about six-and-a-half hours after the company shut down some of its systems at its Perth data centre at about 4.30pm AEDST because of high temperatures, topping 44.4C. "Due to record breaking temperatures, iiNet Toolbox, Email and our corporate websites are unavailable. Apologies for any inconvenience caused," iiNet tweeted..."

Study Shows How Much Coal, Oil and Gas Must Stay Untouched To Solve Global Warming. Mashable has the article and crunches the numbers; here's an excerpt: "...The study means that the way that energy companies currently do business, which includes making spending hundreds of millions per year to find new oil, gas and coal reserves, is incompatible with solving global warming. This conclusion, if it is correct, could affect any investor who holds stock in energy companies, from major players like ExxonMobil and Shell to smaller companies that are involved in the natural gas "fracking" boom in the U.S. This includes millions of people who hold mutual fund and index fund investments..."

* The paper referenced at Mashable is here. An excerpt of the abstract: "It has been estimated that to have at least a 50 per cent chance of keeping warming below 2 °C throughout the twenty-first century, the cumulative carbon emissions between 2011 and 2050 need to be limited to around 1,100 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (Gt CO2). However, the greenhouse gas emissions contained in present estimates of global fossil fuel reserves are around three times higher than this and so the unabated use of all current fossil fuel reserves is incompatible with a warming limit of 2 °C..."

Stephen Harper: Oil's Worst Enemy. Maclean's has an interesting story - here's a clip: "...Unfortunately for Canada, the oil sands’ poor image isn’t just a question of bad PR. It’s threatening the future of Canada’s economy. Anti-oil sands sentiment has made it nearly impossible to build the necessary pipeline connections producers need to get all that oil to market. TransCanada Corp.’s crossborder Keystone XL pipeline is in danger of being axed by U.S. President Barack Obama. The industry’s backup plan, Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway pipeline to shipping terminals on the B.C. coast, has become bogged down in political and environmental controversy..."

2014 May Set A New Temperature Record. So Can We Please Stop Claiming Global Warming Has "Stopped"? Chris Mooney takes a look at data from JMA, the Japan Meteorological Agency, as well as the trends in recent years. The "temperature pause" is a political talking point, an ideological artifact, one not necessarily grounded in data and facts. Here's a clip from The Washington Post: "...Based on this data, 2014 was the hottest year on record for the globe. That surpasses the year 1998 (now in 2nd place in the JMA dataset) and 2013 and 2010 (now tied for 3rd). You'll also note, incidentally, that while the dataset is noisy, the upward trend is quite clear, and the decade of the 2000s is plainly warmer than the decade of the 1990s. So much for any "pause" in global warming. Japan's is the first major meteorological outlet to pronounce on how 2014 ranks for temperatures..." (Image: Japan Meteorological Agency).

Big Threat For Obama's Climate Efforts From GOP-Run Congress. Here's a link to the story at AP and ABC News: "President Barack Obama's determined efforts to combat global warming face their biggest trial yet as Republicans take full control of Congress this week. The GOP vows to move fast and forcefully to roll back his environmental rules and force his hand on energy development. The GOP's first order of business: the Keystone XL pipeline. The Republican-led House has repeatedly passed legislation to approve the pipeline, which would carry tar sands oil from Canada deep into the United States. The bills died in the Senate when Democrats were in control, but that will change Wednesday when a Republican-led Senate committee holds a Keystone hearing..."

Oil's Swoon Creates The Opening For A Carbon Tax. Implement a revenue-neutral tax on carbon pollution, one that doesn't grow the federal government, and put a definable signal into the markets that will accelerate innovation; new cleaner ways to generate electricity and power the economy. Here's an excerpt of an Op-Ed from former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers at The Washington Post: "The case for carbon taxes has long been compelling. With the recent steep fall in oil prices and associated declines in other energy prices, it has become overwhelming. There is room for debate about the size of the tax and about how the proceeds should be deployed. But there should be no doubt that, given the current zero tax rate on carbon, increased taxation would be desirable..." (File photo: AP).

Reverence For Life Underlies Catholic Case for Environment. Here's a clip from a story at The National Catholic Reporter: "...With the growing awareness of the enormous adverse effect that human behavior is having on the health of the planet, however, environmental concerns are moving from the periphery to the center. Climate change has raised environmental activism from the category of "nice" things to do to that of "must do" for the sake of life itself. Maturing along with the issue is the Christian understanding of creation and humans' place in the universe. In the new thinking, a revised and refined anthropology replaces a utilitarian view of earth's resources with one of complex connections and interdependence among species and with the earth itself..."

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