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Digging Out (treacherous travel early - welcome to the coldest winter since 1978-79; 9th coldest since 1873)

Posted by: Paul Douglas Updated: February 21, 2014 - 8:32 AM

Digging Out

One of my amazing meteorology producers, D.J. Kayser, checked the models for next week, shaking his head. "At least the cold air will shut up the atmosphere." Good point. One of the few advantages of flirting with subzero weather? Cold Canadian invasions force the storm track too far south to get heavy snow. We can still get clippers; a couple inches of fluff here and there, but not the massive dumpings.

We're waking up to more school cancellations and white-knuckle commutes - what may be the biggest snow of the winter for many towns.

Snow shuts off this morning; travel conditions slowly improving as the day goes on. The sun stays out this weekend, highs stuck in the teens.

Maybe this cold surge will stop the ice dam leaking into my guest bedroom. Yes, meteorologists are impacted by the weather, too.

Long range models show an almost January-like surge of bitter air 1 week away: temperatures may have a tough time climbing above 0F next Thursday thru Saturday, March 1; the start of meteorological spring.

Right.

Pete Boulay at the Climate Office says this is the coldest winter since 1978-79; 9th coldest overall. 45 subzero nights so far in the Twin Cities. Can I interest you in a grand total closer to 55?

Ugh.

* as if I need to say this out loud, that's a file photo above. No, it's not that bad (yet). About 10" fell at MSP International last night.


How Much Fell? Here's a metro-scale snowfall map from NWS reporting sites and additional observers around the Twin Cities: 9" at Eden Prairie, Lakeville and White Bear Lake, 10" MSP International Airport, Blaine and North Saint Paul, 11" in South Minneapolis, 12" at River Falls, Wisconsin, but closer to 6" Prior Lake, 7" Bloomington and 8" at Fridley. Source: NOAA.


9th Coldest Winter, To Date, In The Twin Cities. Here's an excerpt of an e-mail I received from Pete Boulay, at the Minnesota Climatology Working Group: "As of yesterday the Twin Cities are at 10 degrees for the mean temperature of the winter, a tie for the 9th coldest, or the coldest winter since 1978-79:

http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/climate/journal/coldest_winters.html

We'll have to see how the rest of the month pans out! As for at or below zero lows currently the Twin Cities is at 45, a tie for the 20th most at or below zero lows or the most since the winter of 1981-82:

http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/climate/journal/at_or_below_zero_13_14.html


January Flashback? It won't get quite that cold; I still don't expect any more school-closing cold, but late next week may rival what we endured in early February, with highs near 0F and lows dipping to -15F in the Twin Cities metro, a chill factor dipping to -25F at times, based on latest ECMWF guidance. Enjoy teens today into Monday, maybe 20F Wednesday before a big tumble the latter half of next week. Graph: Weatherspark.


45 Day Wish-Cast. NOAA's CFS (Climate Forecast System) shows the big dip late next week, with a slow climb in March. Expect chirping birds, ringing church bells and public weeping in early April as highs hit 60F. Confidence level: low. But I thought might want to cling to a little long-range hope at this point. Graphic: NOAA and Ham Weather.


The Polar Vortex Is Coming Back. Again. Here's an excerpt from Weather Underground uber-meteorologist Jeff Masters, as featured in a story at The Atlantic Cities: "...If anybody wants to shoot the messenger, although please don't, consult this prognostication yesterday from the Weather Underground's Jeff Masters. Here's part of it:

Temperatures 20°F below normal will likely invade the Upper Midwest on Sunday, and gradually spread southeastwards during the week. The peak cold is predicted to occur late next week, with temperatures 20 - 35° below normal covering much of the eastern 2/3 of the country. As a result of these new model runs, the natural gas market has been soaring ever since early this morning, and is now approaching a five-year high of $6.

* Temperature anomalies next Thursday morning (departure from normal) courtesy of Climate Reanalyzer at the University of Maine.


Is Polar Warming To Blame For America's And Britain's Bad Winter Weather? What is natural variability, and is rapid warming of far northern latitudes having a domino effect at mid latitudes? Something is going on and I don't pretend to have the answer key, but the jet stream is definitely misbehaving. We passed "normal" jet stream fluctuations a long time ago. Here's an excerpt from a piece at The Economist: "...In the same way that a mountain torrent runs straight down steep slopes, while a slower river meanders across its plain, a weak, slow jet stream should swing north and south more, taking its weather with it. That meandering would also mean any weather fronts it propelled moved more slowly than normal, leading to more persistent weather patterns. And it would increase the likelihood of eddies splitting from the jet stream and sitting in the sky blocking atmospheric movement. This would further increase the persistence of weather patterns, and cause heatwaves, cold snaps and droughts. That, at least, is the theory. And climate models (mostly) agree with it..."


More Bite Left To Winter, But It Hasn't Been As Bad As You Think. Justin Gillis over at The New York Times puts our (extreme) winter into historical perspective. Here's an excerpt: "...On a ranking of the coldest Januarys for the last 120 years, this one fell right in the middle. January 2011, a mere three years ago, was colder. No state had its coldest January on record. In fact, the oddest weather in the country may have been related to heat, not cold. The temperature in Alaska was nearly 15 degrees above average for the month, giving that state its warmest January since 1985 and its third-warmest in 96 years of records. One Alaska town hit 62 degrees, tying the highest January reading ever recorded in the state. The cold in the East has been balanced, in a sense, by those bizarrely warm temperatures in the West..."

File photo above: AP.


Western Wildfire Season "Likely To Set A Record". In the midst of historic drought, and a wet season that never came, come predictions of a rough year for wildfires. Here's an excerpt from CNBC: "Three years of severe drought have made plenty of misery for California and other Western states. Now to make matters worse, the extremely dry conditions are creating the potential for a devastating fire season. "All the pieces are in place for a really bad season of wildfires," said Malcolm North, a research ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service. "We're likely to set a record for fires this year..."

File photo: Department of Natural Resources.


Breakthrough In Drought Tolerant Crop Research. ABC7 in San Francisco has the story and video; here's an excerpt: "A three-year drought has farmers and food companies seeking new strategies in securing a stable food supply. The work of a southern California plant scientist could offer one solution in developing drought tolerant crops. Long lab hours paid off at the University of California, Riverside. Plant science research conducted here may one day change the food industry. A plant cell biologist at UC Riverside has made a major breakthrough in the development of drought resistant crops..."


Way Too Many Americans Go To Work Sick: Survey. No kidding. Huffington Post has the details on something you already knew; here's a clip: "Worried about lost wages, a backlog of work or punishment from the boss, more than one in four American workers recently surveyed said they show up to work while ill, even though they could sicken their colleagues. In a poll of more than a thousand U.S. adults in the midst of this year's flu season, NSF International, a public-health testing group based in Michigan, found that a quarter of those who copped to working while sick said their boss required them to. Thirty-seven percent said they needed the money, and 42 percent said too much work would pile up if they didn't clock in..."


Paralyzed Woman Walks Again With 3D-Printed Robotic Exo-skeleton. It sounds like science fiction ("Terminator") but it's scientific reality, as reported by Gizmag. Here's an excerpt: "3D Systems, in collaboration with Ekso Bionics, has created a 3D-printed robotic exoskeleton that has restored the ability to walk in a woman paralyzed from the waist down. The Ekso-Suit was trialled and demonstrated by Amanda Boxtel, who was told by her doctor that she'd never walk again after a skiing accident in 1992..."




36 F. high Thursday in the Twin Cities (12:11 AM).
 
31 F. average high on February 20.
 
19 F. high on February 20, 2013.
 
16" snow on the ground yesterday (before the storm hit).

TODAY: Treacherous travel early with blowing and drifting. Snow tapers; totals in most towns and suburbs ranging from 6-10". Windy & colder. Winds: NW 15-30. High: 17

FRIDAY NIGHT: Patchy clouds, cold wind. Low: 1

SATURDAY: Partly sunny and brisk. High: 13

SUNDAY: Blue sky. Unhappy robins. Wake-up: -2. High: 13

MONDAY: Couple inches of snow? Slick roads. Wake-up: 2. High: 11

TUESDAY: Blue sky returns. Still numb. Wake-up: -5. High: 10

WEDNESDAY: How can it be turning colder? Wake-up: -2. High: 8

THURSDAY: January flashback. Feels like -20F. Wake-up: -11. High: -1


Climate Stories...


Arctic Sea Ice Sits At Record Low For Mid-February. Climate Central has the story; here's the introduction: "Arctic sea ice growth has slowed dramatically in recent weeks, thanks in large part to abnormally warm air and water temperatures. Sea ice now sits at record low levels for mid-February. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, as of February 18, sea ice covered about 14.36 million square miles in the Arctic. The previous low on this date was 14.37 million square miles in 2006. The main culprit -- in addition to the overall trend of global warming -- is likely the rash of warm temperatures. With the polar vortex bringing cold air down to the U.S. this winter, warmer temperatures have been the norm in the Arctic..."
 
Graphic credit above: "A look at Arctic sea ice extent. The gray line is average for 1981-2010 and the dashed line shows the extent for 2011-12, the years when a record-low summer minimum occurred. The blue line is this year through February 18." Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Accounting For Global Warming Requires Looking At The Oceans. St. Thomas professor and climate scientist John Abraham has the story for The Guardian; here's the intro: "Separating the human and natural influences on the climate is a tough task. On the other hand, because it is exciting, scientists around the world are working on it every day. One of the most active questions scientists are trying to answer right now is, how much excess energy is the Earth gaining? Quantifying this excess energy and where it ends up, often called balancing the Earth's energy budget, is crucial for understanding the future of the planet..."
 
Photo credit above: "It looks lovely offshore, but there are dangers over the horizon." Photograph: Alamy.

Global Warming "Hiatus" Is An Illusion, Study Finds. Stronger trade winds may be "burying" some of that excess heat in deep ocean water, especially in the Pacific. The Street has a good summary - here's a clip: "...Recently, in a study published in the most recent issue of Nature Climate Change, a scientific peer-review journal, a team of scientists led by Australian Matt England found that warmer surface water in the Pacific is being pushed westward by equatorial trade winds that are much stronger than expected. As the warmed surface water hits the western continental shelf it is driven downward into the lower depths. The action of the trade winds effectively cools the observable surface temperature by mixing the heat into the deep water..."


Trees On The Move As Temperature Zones Shift 3.8 Feet A Day. Here's an excerpt of a fascinating piece at Krulwich Wonders on NPR: "...Something is not right. And though you can't know this, there's a reason: The whole planet is getting warmer, which means that temperature zones are shifting. Warmer areas are expanding, pushing cooler zones closer to the North and South Poles, so that the meadow, the forest, the tundra, the desert, the plains — wherever you live — your ecosystem is beginning to shift. Over the decades, the climate you prefer has started to migrate away from you, which raises an intriguing question: "If I'm standing in a landscape," asked Stanford ecologist a few years ago, "how far do I have to travel in order to change my temperature" – to get back to the climate that suits me?..."
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