Heavy Snowfalls at MSP: Perception versus Reality
It's nice to know it can still snow in the Twin Cities. I was beginning to wonder.
3 observations from Tuesday's snowy dumping: if it's snowing hard enough and traffic is heavy enough the plows just can't keep up, in spite of best intentions. Lower your expectations. If a meteorologist predicts 4-8 inches (most) people hear 8 INCHES! And if that much falls in a band 20 miles away from your house, but you see less, the forecast is wrong. Predicting down to the inch is about as challenging as handicapping the U.S. presidential race right now. Good luck.
Bob Seward sent me an e-mail, wondering why one-foot snows in the metro are so rare? According to climate guru Pete Boulay MSP has picked up 10 separate 8" snows since 2000. That compares with 12 snows over 8" from 1983-1999 and only 7 between 1966 and 1982. Details below.
No more monster-storms are brewing, just a coating to 1 inch today, maybe an inch or two Sunday PM. The approach of a numbing shot may whip up strong winds late Sunday. Getting home from that Super Bowl party may be slow and tricky.
Next week looks cold. Not brutal, just mildly "character-building".
45.3% of Lower 48 States Covered in Snow. That's down from 51.2% on January 3, 2016, according to NOAA. It's amazing how fast 2-3 feet of snow melted out east; where heavy rain fell yesterday. Map: AerisWeather.
"Where can I find current snow depth data for Minnesota? By current, I mean within 24 hours of a snow storm. I was looking this morning for snow depth at my cabin which is between Hackensack and Longville. I normally use the MN DNR snow depth site but it is updated only weekly after 2:00 PM on Thursdays. I’ve been waiting for there to be enough snow for snowshoeing this winter. Any help you could give me would be greatly appreciated."
- Doug Stark
Current Snow Cover Map. Here is a resource I use, which is updated regularly, and (from my experience) quite reliable. Click here for an interactive snow cover display, courtesy of NOAA's NOHRSC division.
"Why have a majority of snowstorms tracked south into Iowa the past few years? It seems likes snowfall of 12" is a rare event in the Twin Cities..."
- Bob Seward
Bob - El Nino winters tend to energize the southern branch of the jet stream, the prevailing winds aloft, whisking many (but not all) big storms south of Minnesota. There are exceptions to every rule, as was demonstrated on Tuesday. I turned to Pete Boulay for an answer. He sifted through Twin Cities weather records and this was his response:
"It's hard to parse out individual snowstorms (when does one end and another begin?) but I did look at the largest snowstorm for each year for the past 10 years in the Twin Cities for the 'CCO Good Question:
2006-07 February 28 to March 2, 2007 12.3 inches
2007-08 March 31 to April 1, 2008 5.9 inches
2008-09 January 12-13, 2009 6.0 inches
2009-10 December 23-26, 2009 9.4 inches
2010-11 17.1 inches December 10-11, 2010 (Note there was also a 13.8 inch event Feb 20-21 2011)
2011-12 4.4 inches December 3-4, 2011
2012-13 10.6 inches December 8-9, 2012
2013-14 9.9 inches February 20-21, 2014
2014-15 4.2 inches December 26-27, 2014
2015-16 9.2 inches February 2-3, 20156 (so far.. could still be a little more added)
So that is 4 events over the past 10 years...
It might be easier to look at eight inch snows in a calendar day. I took a look at the last 17 years and looking back in 17 year chunks...
8 inch snows:
10 times from 2000 to 2016
12 times from 1983 to 1999
7 times from 1966 to 1982
6 times from 1949 to 1965
"It is hard to beat the snowy 80's but there have been more 8 inch events in recent years compared to the 50's to the 70's."
- Pete Boulay, State Climatology Office. DNR - Division of Ecological and Water Resources.
The Mathematical Challenge of Answering a Simple Question. Minnesota State Climatologist Greg Spoden adds additional insight and perspective. Distinguishing "noise" from "trends" is easier said than done. Here is an excerpt of an e-mail I received from Greg on Wednesday:
"As Pete's review shows, double-digit snowfall totals in the Twin Cities are uncommon. By definition extreme events are rare. Trend detection in extreme events is a statistical challenge that goes beyond my simple-minded use of least squares regression. The author of (this post) touches on the problem. I note that Harold Brooks chimes in with a comment about this post. If anyone knows a thing or two about detecting trends in rare events, it's Harold.
If you want to dive into the deep end of the statistical pool, the Journal of Climate paper describes a methadology for detecting trends in rare events. The author's cautionary talke, found in the abstract, is worth noting:
"The results demonstrate the difficulty in determining trends of very rare events, underpinning the need for long-period data for trend analysis, and point toward a careful interpretation of statistically nonsignificant trend results"
- Greg Spoden, State Climatologist, Minnesota DNR - State Climatology Office, Division of Ecological and Water Resources
Couple of Clippers. 12 KM NAM guidance brings a shot of light snow into central Minnesota today; another weak clipper arriving Monday with another coating. The best chance of a quick inch or two comes from Alexandria to St. Cloud and the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities over the next 36 hours. Source: AerisWeather.
Couple of Nuisance Snows. Our internal model ensemble sent out the alert (above) last night, predicing an inch of snow at MSP by 11 AM Thursday morning, another 2" by 5 PM Friday. Just to freshen things up a little. Source: Aeris Enterprise Mobile.
Super Bowl Blowing & Drifting. I'm not so concerned in the immediate Twin Cities metro, but open areas outside MSP may see extensive drifting Sunday PM hours. GFS guidance shows sustained winds of 25 mph with gusts to 35, capable of whipping up all that new snow on the ground. Source: Aeris Enterprise.
Colder Next Week, Not As Cold as 3 Weeks Ago. Longer-range guidance shows temperatures in single digits, possibly dipping just below 0F in the suburbs by the middle of next week - Wednesday morning may bring the coldest temperatures.
Another Storm Late Next Week? My confidence level is very low this far out, but GFS and NDFD data prints out over 1" liquid the weekend of February 13-14. Circle your calendar. Two big snowstorms for the metro in one winter? Too much to contemplate. We'll see.
Weekend Thaw - Then Colder. European model guidance shows winds peaking Sunday and Monday as much colder air drills southward, raising the specter of blowing and drifting. By Tuesday of next week there will be no doubt in your mind its February; a shot a subzero Wednesday and Thursday morning.
February Thaw. GFS guidance is consistent, showing a zonal flow returning by the third week of February, implying an extended thaw with 30s, even a shot at 40F. Next week will probably average a few degrees below average, but I expect a fairly rapid rebound within 2 weeks. Source: GrADS:COLA/IGES.
Weather Facts Throughout Super Bowl History. A soggy Sunday in the Bay Area for Super Bowl 50? El Nino winters tend to be wetter than average for California so the odds of puddles are higher. Here's an excerpt from an interesting post at Forbes: "...A recent article at Weather.com caught my eye because it asked the question, “Will El Niño Help Soak the Super Bowl? It is not an unreasonable question given the history of El Nino and wet conditions in California. According to Weather Channel meteorologist Jon Erdman,
Four out of five strong El Niño Februaries were wetter than average in the Bay Area….Taking an average of all five Februaries above, you’d expect measurable rain 16 days of the month. In other words, you’re more likely to see a wet February day during a strong El Niño in the Bay Area than a dry day..."
* More Super Bowl weather trivia can be found here, courtesy of Southeast Regional Climate Center.
Four Faunal Forecasters. The National Environmental Education Foundation has a story that addresses much-maligned groundhogs, wooly bear caterpillars, cows, crickets and others critters and their valiant attempt to predict the weather; here's an excerpt: "...Move over, Punxsutawney Phil. Groundhogs aren’t the only animals known to “predict” the weather. Phil may be the most famous, but he’s certainly not the most accurate. Here are four animals that are known for their weather wisdom. Some of these proverbs are true, while others are not. Can you guess which ones are real?
Fact or Fiction? The width of a Woolly Bear Caterpillar’s orange stripe can predict how mild the winter will be. Fiction! According to an old proverb, if the width of a Woolly Bear Caterpillar’s reddish-brown stripe is wider than usual, the coming winter will be mild. Conversely, a narrower stripe means the coming winter will be harsh. While some scientific evidence suggests that this may be related to the previous winter’s severity, there’s no correlation between the stripe’s width and the following winter’s severity..."
To Name or Not Name Winter Storms. Are you a fan of names for big winter storms? Should NOAA step up and take this over, like they do for hurricanes? Here's an excerpt from a story at JConline: "...Some social scientists have recently questioned the effectiveness of naming winter storms to raise public awareness if multiple or humorous names are going to be used. Despite the initial push back, winter storm naming appears to be accepted by the public and is becoming more popular. This winter, the UK Met Office and its Irish counterpart began to name winter storms. Norcross says that he would like to see the National Weather Service take over naming winter storms in the near future. That idea has an uncertain outcome, but the discussion will continue among all entities in the weather community..."
How Rare Is a Tornado in February? Christian Science Monitor takes a look - here's a clip: "...Meteorologists also warn that winter tornadoes can be more dangerous than tornadoes in the spring. So-called rain-wrapped tornadoes can appear invisible to both human eyes and doppler radars. What's more, winter's shorter daylight hours increase the odds that a tornado will form at night, when the funnel cloud is harder to see and when people are less likely to be prepared. Southern states have historically experienced destructive tornadoes in February, with the worst being in February 2008 in Ohio Valley..."
Severe Storm Reports since January 27 courtesy of NOAA and AerisWeather.
Climate Data Now Key to Disaster Preparedness, First Responders Say. Here's an excerpt from InsideClimate News that got my full attention: "...Natural disasters such as flooding, hurricanes, drought and snowstorms have become more frequent or more intense due to climate change in recent decades, the experts said. In the 1980s, the U.S. averaged 29 disaster declarations per year. That average jumped to 74 per year In the 1990s and 127 per year in the 2000s. Nimmich, Spinrad and Livingston said shifting demographics—more people moving toward the coast and waterways directly in harm's way of most extreme weather—has also played a role in the cost and severity of recent natural disasters. Extreme weather today "is literally biblical in nature," said Spinrad. And because greenhouse gas emissions linger in the atmosphere for long periods of time, "we will have many decades to centuries of these continued [weather] patterns. It is a new normal, if you will..."
Photo credit above: "South Carolina's epic floods in 2015 served as a vivid reminder of climate change's impact on extreme weather." Credit: U.S. Coast Guard via Flickr
Higher Temperatures Make Zika Mosquito Spread Disease More. Another compelling reason why warming matters; here's an excerpt from The Associated Press: "The mosquito behind the Zika virus seems to operate like a heat-driven missile of disease. The hotter it gets, the better the mosquito that carries Zika virus is at transmitting its buffet of dangerous illnesses, scientists say. Although it is too early to say for this outbreak, past outbreaks of similar diseases involved more than just biology. In the past, weather has played a key role, as have economics, human travel, air conditioning and mosquito control. Even El Nino sneaks into the game. Scientists say you can't just blame one thing for an outbreak and caution it is too early to link this one to climate change or any single weather event. As the temperature rises, nearly everything about the biology of the Aedes aegypti mosquito — the one that carries Zika, dengue fever and other diseases — speeds up when it comes to spreading disease, said entomologist Bill Reisen of the University of California Davis..."
Ample Grain Stocks Could Dampen Impact of El Nino/La Nina Shift. Will we head into La Nina, a cooling phase of the Pacific, which correlates with a higher risk of late summer drought? Too early to tell. Here's an excerpt from Reuters: "When El Nino gives way to its little sister, La Nina, this year, as meteorologists are forecasting, the disruptive weather patterns may still be unable to disperse the bearish clouds that have hung over U.S. grains markets for years. Corn and soybean futures have gone haywire in past transition years, with prices soaring as yields withered. But plentiful supplies, both overseas and domestically, should provide a buffer against any disruptions this year and dampen any market rallies..."
Photo credit above: "A truck is loaded with corn next to a pile of soybeans at Matawan Grain & Feed elevator near New Richland, Minnesota October 14, 2015." Reuters/Karl Plume
Studying The Heart of El Nino, Where Its Weather Begins. The New York Times has an interesting story about how NOAA is researching the genesis of El Nino events in the Pacific; here's the intro: "In a Gulfstream jet more accustomed to hunting hurricanes in the Atlantic, researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were cruising this desolate stretch of tropical ocean where the northern and southern trade winds meet. It’s an area that becalmed sailors have long called the doldrums, but this year it is anything but quiet. This is the heart of the strongest El Niño in a generation, one that is pumping moisture and energy into the atmosphere and, as a result, roiling weather worldwide..."
Photo credit above: " Credit Kent Nishimura for The New York Times."
glittering.blue and scrolling around. Glittering Blue was created this weekend by Charlie Loyd. During the day, Loyd is a satellite-imagery analyst for Mapbox, though Glittering Blue is a side project. Himawari-8 captures a full-disk image of Earth every 10 minutes, and an image of Japan of similar quality every 150 seconds. It sits in high geosynchronous orbit over Japan, which means it orbits the planet exactly as quickly as the Earth rotates. It is always “synced” to Japan. That’s why it shows so much more of the Earth than other satellites and also why it shows this part of the Earth..."It’s satellite imagery as you’ve never seen it before. It simply looks like the Earth. I can only recommend going to
Image credit: JMA / Charlie Loyd.
The Moon's Tidal Forces May Affect How Much It Rains. I didn't see this coming; an excerpt from an eyebrow-raising story at Smithsonian.com: "The moon has long been linked to the ebb and flow of ocean waters—as the gravity of the moon pulls on Earth, the oceans bulge toward it ever so slightly and water levels fluctuate. Now, scientists have discovered another way that silvery body in the sky affects its closest neighbor’s water. A new study suggests that the phase of the moon changes how much it rains on Earth. Scientists spent two years tracking and verifying the phenomenon, they write in a release. It all started when a doctoral student at the University of Washington spotted a very slight oscillation Earth’s air pressure that corresponded with different moon phases. His research team then used 15 years of weather data to tie that oscillation to rainfall back on Earth..." (22 degree halo file photo: Steve Burns).
The U.S. Bet Big on American Oil and Now The Whole Global Economy is Paying The Price. Here's the intro to an analysis at Quartz: "Oil has wrong-footed our leading experts—again. At the beginning of 2014, the world was marveling in surprise as the US returned as a petroleum superpower, a role it had relinquished in the early 1970s. It was pumping so much oil and gas that experts foresaw a new American industrial renaissance, with trillions of dollars in investment and millions of new jobs. Two years later, faces are aghast as the same oil has instead unleashed world-class havoc: Just a month into the new year, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 5.5%..."
Photo credit above: "The unfathomable." (AP/LM Otero).
China Blows Past the U.S. in Wind Power. Here's the intro to a story at ClimateWire and Scientific American: "China solidified its standing as the world’s wind energy behemoth in 2015, adding almost as much wind power capacity in one year as the total installed capacity of the three largest U.S. wind-producing states: Texas, Iowa and California. New data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance show China installed just under 29 gigawatts of new wind energy capacity in 2015, surpassing its previous record of roughly 21 GW set in 2014..." (Image credit: Efergy.com)
German Scientists to Conduct Nuclear Fusion Experiment. Here's the intro to a story at The Guardian: "Scientists in Germany are poised to conduct a nuclear fusion experiment they hope will advance the quest for a clean and safe form of nuclear power. In a test expected to be attended by Angela Merkel, the chancellor, researchers will inject a tiny amount of hydrogen into a special device and heat it until it becomes a super-hot gas known as plasma – mimicking conditions inside the sun. The experiment at the Max Planck Institute in Greifswald, north-east Germany, is part of a worldwide effort to harness nuclear fusion – a process in which atoms join at extremely high temperatures and release large amounts of energy..."
Photo credit above: "The nuclear fusion research centre at the Max Planck Institute in Greifswald." Photograph: Stefan Sauer/AP.
Xcel Energy Says Its "Nearly Certain" It Can Comply With Federal Clean Power Plan in Minnesota. I was encouraged to read this in the Star Tribune; here's an excerpt: "As many U.S. power companies fight the federal Clean Power Plan, Xcel Energy took a different path Friday, declaring the utility’s Minnesota operations are “nearly certain” to comply with the plan’s greenhouse gas reductions through cost-effective investments over the next decade. The strategy, which Xcel first laid out last year and firmed up in a regulatory filing late Friday, calls for $6 billion in wind and solar energy investment, retirement of two Minnesota coal-burning units, construction of a nearly $1 billion natural gas-fired generator and further investment to retain the carbon-free energy from its two nuclear power plants..."
Photo credit above: Glen Stubbe. "Two coal-burning units at the Sherco power plant in Becker, Minn., will be retired sometime in the 2020s, to Xcel Energy said."
We're Drowning in Cheap Oil, Yet Still Taxpayers Prop Up This Toxic Industry. George Monbiot has an Op-Ed at The Guardian; here's an excerpt: "...Strangely, the same rules do not apply to the oil companies. Your friends get protection. The free market is reserved for enemies. Yes, I do mean enemies. An energy transition threatens the kind of people who attend the Conservative party’s fundraising balls. It corrodes the income of old schoolfriends and weekend guests. For all the talk of enterprise, old money still nurtures its lively hatred of new money, and those who control the public purse use it to protect the incumbents from the parvenus. As they did for the bankers, our political leaders ensure that everyone must pay the costs imposed by the fossil fuel companies – except the fossil fuel companies. So they lock us into the 20th century, into industrial decline and air pollution, stranded assets and – through climate change – systemic collapse..."
Illustration credit above: ‘Oil companies have already been granted ‘ministerial buddies’ to ‘improve access to government’ – as if they didn’t have enough already.’ Illustration: Andrzej Krauze.
Nielsen Plays Catch-Up as Streaming Wreaks Havoc on TV Raters. The way people consume entertainment is morphing rapidly, the television business is being rapidly disrupted. So are the companies tries to measure who is watching what - when. Here's an excerpt at The New York Times: "...Nielsen, the 93-year-old company that has long operated an effective monopoly over television ratings in the United States, is facing blistering criticism from TV and advertising executives who see it as a relic of television’s rabbit-ears past as the digital revolution transforms how people consume entertainment. New competition — notably the $768 million merger this week of the media measurement companies comScore and Rentrak — is forcing Nielsen to evolve..."
Why Hollywood's Super Bowl Ads Smack of Desperation. Here's an excerpt from Forbes: "...On February 7th two dinosaurs will be mating, live on television, in hopes of keeping themselves alive just a little bit longer. The big match-up at this year’s Super Bowl won’t be the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers, it will be the strange alliance of television networks and movie studios, as movie studios are now among the biggest Super Bowl advertisers. Normally rivals for our limited attention, movie studios and broadcast networks are now in a symbiotic relationship designed to keep both from extinction..."
Photo credit above: "Photograph by Marc Piscotty — Reuters.
For The First Time More Than Half of Americans Will Watch Streaming TV. eMarketer has the story.
24 F. high temperature in the Twin Cities Wednesday.
26 F. average high on February 3.
16 F. high on February 3, 2015.
7" snow on the ground at KMSP.
February 4, 1984: The event termed the 'Surprise Blizzard' moves across Minnesota and parts of the Dakotas. Meteorologists were caught off guard with its rapid movement. People described it as a 'wall of white.' Thousands of motorists were stranded in subzero weather. Only a few inches of snow fell, but was whipped by winds up to 80 mph. 16 people died in stranded cars and outside.
FRIDAY: Dusting or coating of flurries possible. Winds: S 7-12. High: 26
SATURDAY: Mostly cloudy, thaw feels good. Winds: SW 10-15. Wake-up: 19. High: 32
SUNDAY: 1-2" snow late. Blowing/drifting? Winds: NW 15-30. Wake-up: 24. High: 31 (falling by afternoon).
MONDAY: Gusty and cold with flurries. Winds: NW 15-30. Wake-up: 16. High: 19
TUESDAY: Peeks of sun, feels like 0F. Winds: NW 7-12. Wake-up: 4. High: 10
WEDNESDAY: Spurts of sun, feels like February. Winds: NW 10-15. Wake-up: -2. High: 9
Groundhog Decade: In This Movie, It's Always The Hottest Decade on Record. Here's the intro at ThinkProgress: "Somewhere on a Hollywood movie set for Groundhog Day, Part Two: Bill Murray wakes up to find he’s just lived through the hottest decade on record, just as he did in the 2000s, just as he did in the 1990s, just as he did in the 1980s. And he keeps waking up in the hottest decade on record, until he gains the kind of maturity and wisdom that can only come from doing the same thing over and over and over again with no change in the result. Ah, if only life were like a movie. Here is global mean surface temperature — by decade..."
Graphic credit above: "Global Average Temperature by Decade." CREDIT: HotWhopper.
Climate Change in Charts: From Record Global Temperatures to Science Denial. The Guardian lays out the evidence (in chart-form); here's the intro: "Much has been written about climate change in recent months, what with that record-breaking hot year we just had and the qualified success of the Paris climate talks. But if there’s one criticism I’d have of the media coverage, it’s this. Not enough graphs. So here are six that you might have missed, but that tell us a few things about the state of the climate and the state of the public’s thinking on global warming..."
Graphic credit: "Chart showing average global temperatures from 1850 to 2015 according to three major datasets." Photograph: Met Office, UK.
Five Facts That Reveal a Warming Planet. Here's a snippet of an Op-Ed at livescience.com: "...Here, in an effort to set the record straight, are five facts about climate change everyone needs to know.
1) Climate change never took a break.
You may have heard that, according to satellite data, there has been no significant warming for the last 18 years. This is grossly misleading. Eighteen years ago, El Niño drove up global temperatures , making 1998 an exceptionally hot year. Contrarians use 1998 as a baseline because subsequent warming appears modest by comparison. However, the mercury has continued its inexorable rise. Since the 1880s, average temperatures have risen 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit, on average. 2015 was the hottest year on record, according to NOAA, and 2016 will likely be even hotter..." (Image credit: NASA).
Long Term Global Warming Requires External Drivers. Here's a summary of new research at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke: "By examining how Earth cools itself back down after a period of natural warming, a study by scientists at Duke University and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory confirms that global temperature does not rise or fall chaotically in the long run. Unless pushed by outside forces, temperature should remain stable. The new evidence may finally help put the chill on skeptics’ belief that long-term global warming occurs in an unpredictable manner, independently of external drivers such as human impacts..."