In Praise of Snow - Minor Cold Slap Next Week

There is something magical about snow, especially watching it from your family room window, not stranded on I-35. It's nature's do-over, a fresh start, a clean sheet of white wonder as far as the eye can see.

A heavy blanket of snow has many benefits, insulating your garden and protecting small animals. A deep layer of snow can help soil manage temperature extremes, critical for some plants, including evergreens. Remember this the next time you're adrift in a snowy sea of brake lights during a soul-sucking commute.

Good news for the Loppet in Minneapolis this weekend: in spite a little compaction from Tuesday's record snow we should keep 6-10 inches on area trails.

Wait, snow on the ground, roads in good shape? For a brief moment in time everyone is happyish.

GFS guidance pulls 40s into Minnesota in about 2 weeks, so make the most of the snow while you can. A clipper will whip up strong winds late Sunday; blowing & drifting is likely outside the metro with a few inches of fresh powder possible Sunday night into Monday.

Next week will feel like midwinter with 1 or 2 nights near 0F. Not too shocking for mid-February.

Not a prolonged arctic intrusion, just a taste this time.

A Healthy Snowfall Offers Variety of Environmental Benefits. Today's weather blurb was, in part, inspired by a 2011 post at The University of Delaware that reminded me of the many advantages of a significant snowfall: "...This blanket effect makes snow an excellent insulator for gardens and landscapes, protecting these natural areas and their animal inhabitants against frigid temperatures and damaging winds. Snow also lessens -- to some extent -- the extremes of temperature fluctuation to which the soil is subjected, says Hansen. This can be critical for some plants, including evergreens. Even in mid-winter, if air temperature within the canopy of these plants rises during the day, the plants will try to take moisture from the soil. If the soil is frozen, the plants can actually die of thirst. The extent to which snow insulates depends on its depth. Generally, temperatures underneath a layer of snow increase about 2 degrees Fahrenheit for each inch of accumulation..."

Watching The Spring Flood Threat. Here's an early sign of spring. Minnesota State Climatologist Greg Spoden has an DNR update recapping January weather across the state of Minnesota, including this nugget that caught my eye. The combination of high streamflows, saturated soil, and record rains in late autumn may increase the threat of spring snowmelt flooding, although it's too early to reach conclusions. Much will depend on the volume of additional snow, and how quickly we warm in late February and March. Here's an excerpt: "Current conditions impacting prospects for spring snowmelt flooding:

- Present streamflows are high to very high relative to historical flows for the date.

- Soil profiles are moist to saturated in most areas.

- The high stream discharge and moist soils are due to record-breaking high precipitation totals in November/December.

- Frost depths are shallow relative to historical values due to very warm early-winter temperatures..."

Few Inches Sunday Night into Monday - Then Colder. Enjoy another fleeting thaw this weekend, because temperatures drop like a rock on Monday, accompanied by high winds and a few inches of snow, possibly even enough to shovel and plow. By the middle of next week there will be no doubt it's February.

Super-Sized Clipper. NOAA's 12 KM NAM brings a coating into town today; a relatively quiet (dry) Saturday giving way to 1-3" Sunday night into Monday ahead of the next arctic swipe. It won't be anything like Tuesday, but travel conditions from Sunday night into Monday could be pretty bad, especially outside the metro where sustained winds will whip up the snow already on the ground. Animation: AerisWeather.

Freshening Up The Snow. Between compaction and melting this weekend we will lose a few inches of our precious snow cover, but Old Man Winter comes to the rescue early next week with a few inches. NAM snowfall prediction between now and midnight Sunday.

Wind-Whipped. It's not the heat, it's the humidity. It's not the cold, it's the wind chill. And in the case of Monday's weather it may be more blowing than falling snow. GFS guidance shows sustained winds of 20-30 mph Monday with higher gusts, capable of near white-out conditions across greater Minnesota.

Not As Cold As 3 Weeks Ago. I know how shocked you must be: early February and we're tracking Canadian air? Wow. After peaking above freezing late Saturday into Sunday the big slide resumes, bottoming out close to 0F by Wednesday morning of next week. Graphic: Aeris Enterprise.

February Thaw? The 2-week GFS 500 mb wind flow forecast has been remarkably consistent, showing a shift in the pattern by late in the third week of February as winds aloft blow from the west or even the southwest. I expect more 30s, even a few 40s by the end of this month.

Current Snow Cover Map. Here is a resource I use, which is updated regularly, and (from my experience) quite reliable. You can zoom in and out, pan around the USA and find updated snow amounts for anywhere. Click here for an interactive snow cover display, courtesy of NOAA's NOHRSC division.

Here are a couple more, courtesy of the Midwest Regional Climate Center:

January Hits New Record Low in Arctic. Here's an excerpt from The National Snow and Ice Data Center: "Arctic sea ice extent during January averaged 13.53 million square kilometers (5.2 million square miles), which is 1.04 million square kilometers (402,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average. This was the lowest January extent in the satellite record, 90,000 square kilometers (35,000 million square miles) below the previous record January low that occurred in 2011. This was largely driven by unusually low ice coverage in the Barents Sea, Kara Sea, and the East Greenland Sea on the Atlantic side, and below average conditions in the Bering Sea and Sea of Okhotsk..."

GOES-R: A Weather Superhero With Lightning Vision. I am really looking forward to GOES-R going online with up to 1 minute satellite updates and a real-time lightning mapper; here's a preview of capabilities from Lockheed Martin: "Sure it's bright, loud and sometimes scary, but if you watch lightning from space, you can learn a lot about storms. The GOES-R satellite has a new instrument called the Geostationary Lightning Mapper that can take hundreds of images every second of all types of lightning. Think of it as a weather superhero with 'lightning vision.' When it sees an increase of lightning flashes, it can help weather forecasters predict a severe storm or tornado, and give us more warning to go to a safe place."

Security Cam Footage of EF-1 Tornado. This is the tornado that hit a high school in Crockett County, Mississippi. Here's more info and a link to YouTube video, courtesy of Michael Maness: "Raw security camera footage from an EF-1 Tornado that hit Crockett County High School on 2/2/2016. The EF-1 tornado’s path was reportedly 100 yards wide and spanned just more than two and a half miles, according to an NWS release. The tornado’s maximum wind speed is estimated at 95 mph. The tornado formed about 4:55 p.m. around three miles west to southwest of Alamo, according to the release. It is listed as having ended at 5:03 p.m. about two miles west to northwest of Alamo."

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..."

Map credit: Vox, and Elife "Global map of the predicted distribution of Aedes aegypti, one of the types of mosquitoes that spread Zika."

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.

U.S. Economic Growth Decouples From Both Energy and Electric Use. Here's an excerpt from Think Progress: "In a stunning trend with broad implications, the U.S. economy has grown significantly since 2007, while electricity consumption has been flat, and total energy demand actually dropped. “The U.S. economy has now grown by 10% since 2007, while primary energy consumption has fallen by 2.4%,” reports Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) in its newly-released 2016 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook. BNEF’s Factbook, which is chock full of excellent charts and data, cites studies attributing most of this change to improvements in energy efficiency..." (Graphic credit: BNEF).

France To Roll Out Futuristic "Solar Roads" to Power Millions of Homes. Why can't we do this in Minnesota? Use to solar to melt snow and ice, while we're at it? Here's the intro to a story at International  Business Times: "France is set to roll out over 1,000km (621 miles) of solar road that will deliver an eco-friendly way to produce enough energy to power millions of households. The project was announced by Ségolène Royal, the country's minister of ecology and energy, and will see these electric avenues hit highways over the next five years. The Wattway photovoltaic solar panels, which have been five years in development by Colas, will be laid over the top of existing roadways and harvest energy to provide electric power to approximately one household per metre. It is understood the amount of power will be sufficient enough for most household needs apart from heating..."

Photo credit above: "France has announced it will lay 1,000km of solar roads to power millions of homes." Colas.

A Renewables Revolution is Toppling the Dominance of Fossil Fuels in U.S. Power. Here's an excerpt from Bloomberg Business: "Renewable energy was the biggest source of new power added to U.S. electrical grids last year as falling prices and government incentives made wind and solar increasingly viable alternatives to fossil fuels. Developers installed 16 gigawatts of clean energy in 2015, or 68 percent of all new capacity, Bloomberg New Energy Finance said in its Sustainable Energy in America Factbook released Thursday. That was the second straight year that clean power eclipsed fossil fuels..."

How Do We Power Utopia? Some interesting ideas from How We Get To Next; here's an excerpt: "...That’s why I’m pretty pumped to be curating this month’s theme on How We Get To Next. It’s called Power Up, and it deals with the future of energy and power. The questions swirling around the issue of how to provide clean, safe energy to billions of people around the world have many answers, and we’ll explore as many of them as possible — from renewables, to nuclear, to as-yet-undiscovered innovations. We’ll also look at key trends like the global, fossil fuel divestment campaign; the vital importance of batteries in our daily lives; and the positive impact of electrification on vulnerable communities globally..."

Germany's Wendelstein 7-X Fusion Reactor Produces Its First Flash of Hydrogen Plasma. There will be breakthroughs we can't even imagine today. Here's a clip from Gizmag: "...After a decade of construction, the Wendelstein 7-X fusion stellarator was finally started up in December last year. The device is designed to be magnetically efficient enough to continuously contain super-hot plasma in its magnetic field for more than 30 minutes at a time. If this vision does one day become a reality, it could help to usher in an era of clean, reliable nuclear fusion power..."

Photo credit: "The outside of the Wendelstein 7-x stellarator with its conglomeration of equipment, ports, and supporting structure." (Credit: IPP, Bernhard Ludewig).

From Liquid Air to Supercapacitors, Energy Storage is Finally Poised for a Breakthrough. The Guardian takes a look at why energy storage is so important when talking about renewables; here's an excerpt: "...Energy storage is important for renewable energy not because green power is unpredictable - the sun, wind and tides are far more predictable than the surge that follows the end of a Wimbledon tennis final or the emergency shutdown of a gas-fired power plant. Storage is important because renewable energy is intermittent: strong winds in the early hours do not coincide with the peak demand of evenings. Storage allows electricity to be time-shifted to when it is needed, maximising the benefits of windfarms and solar arrays..."

Image credit above: "Tesla’s Powerwall captured attention at its launch, but the lithium-ion batteries it’s based on are just one of a host of energy storage technologies taking root in the UK." Photograph: Patrick T. Fallon/REUTERS.

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.

Why Are Americans So Angry? Personally I blame El Nino, but there may be more going on. Interesting to get a different perspective from the other side of the pond at The BBC; here's an excerpt: "Americans are generally known for having a positive outlook on life, but with the countdown for November's presidential election now well under way, polls show voters are angry. This may explain the success of non-mainstream candidates such as Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Bernie Sanders. But what is fuelling the frustration? A CNN/ORC poll carried out in December 2015 suggests 69% of Americans are either "very angry" or "somewhat angry" about "the way things are going" in the US..."

You Won't Be Happiest Until You Turn 65 Years Old. Well that gives me something to live for - here's an excerpt from Quartz: "Will you ever be happy? The answer, it seems, is yes. Likely when you’re a bit older. A recent government survey asked people in the UK to rate out of 10 how satisfied they were with life, as well as how anxious and happy they’d felt. The results showed that people aged 65-79 had the highest levels of life satisfaction and happiness, and the lowest levels of anxiety. But things appeared less rosy for those aged 45-59, who reported the lowest levels of life satisfaction..."

A Bicycle Helmet Made of...Wood? Here's another clip that caught my eye; courtesy of "...Known as Cellufoam, the shock-absorbing foam in the helmet is said to be similar to Styrofoam – except it comes from a renewable source, and it's biodegradable. Like similar products we've covered before, it's made by mixing a foaming agent with cellulose nanofibers derived from forestry industry byproducts. This means that trees don't need to be cut down specifically for foam production..."

Photo credit above: "The helmet features a wood outer veneer, wood-based foam on the inside, and paper straps." (Credit: Rasmus Malbert).

27 F. high in the Twin Cities on Thursday.

26 F. average high on February 4.

15 F. high on February 4, 2015.

7" snow on the ground at KMSP.

February 5, 1834: Unseasonably mild temperatures are felt at Ft. Snelling with a high of 51.

TODAY: Coating of light snow. Winds: S 8-13. High: 26

FRIDAY NIGHT: More flurries - a few slippery spots. Low: 21

SATURDAY: Mostly cloudy, PM thaw still on track. Winds: SW 7-12. High: 33

SUNDAY: Mild start, snow/drifting late PM? Winds: NW 15-30 (late PM) Wake-up: 28. High: 34

MONDAY: Cold wind, period of light snow. Couple inches of snow possible with low visibility and poor travel conditions. Winds: NW 15-25. Wake-up: 15. High: 18

TUESDAY: Mostly cloudy, feels like -5F. Winds: NW 10-20. Wake-up: 1. High: 10

WEDNESDAY: More sun, still deliriously numb. Winds: NW 7-12. Wake-up: -3. High: 12

THURSDAY: Cold start, chance of flurries. Winds: S 8-13. Wake-up: 2. High: 22

Climate Stories...
Glaciologists Anticipate Massive Ice Shelf Collapse. Other than that things are going quite well in Antarctica. Here's an excerpt from University of Alaska Fairbanks: "A team of researchers is traveling to a rocky outcrop in Antarctica to study a massive ice shelf that could crash down around them before the end of March. University of Alaska Fairbanks glaciologist Erin Pettit said that an ice shelf about 1,000 feet thick and a third the size of Rhode Island is on the verge of shattering into millions of icebergs during February or March, the end of Antarctica’s summer. If it does, the lead researcher and her team will be within viewing distance in a place they hope doesn’t live up to its name — Cape Disappointment..."
Image credit above: Ted Scambos. "A Landsat image from Jan. 6, 2016, shows summer conditions of the fast ice, glaciers and ice shelf in the Scar Inlet region of Antarctica."

El Nino and Global Warming - What's the Connection? has a story that attempts to connect the dots; here's an excerpt: "...The science here isas yet inconclusive.  One 2014 study suggests that super El Nino events could double in the future due to climate change. Using 20 climate models to examine possible changes in El Nino over the next 100 years, the scientists projected that extreme El Nino events could occur roughly every 10 years instead of every 20..."

Image credit above: "A visualization of El Nino". Credit: NOAA/Stuart Rankin.

The science here is as yet inconclusive. One 2014 study suggests that super El Niño events could double in the future due to climate change. Using 20 climate models to examine possible changes in El Niño over the next 100 years, the scientists projected that extreme El Niño events could occur roughly every 10 years instead of every 20.

Lisa Goddard, director of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, finds the study interesting, but questions its conclusions because observational evidence of El Niño only goes back a few decades, whereas scientists know that there is a great deal of natural variation in El Niño events over long periods of time. Moreover, said Goddard, "The models have limitations in their representation of El Niño and its variability."

Read more at:

The science here is as yet inconclusive. One 2014 study suggests that super El Niño events could double in the future due to climate change. Using 20 climate models to examine possible changes in El Niño over the next 100 years, the scientists projected that extreme El Niño events could occur roughly every 10 years instead of every 20.

Lisa Goddard, director of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, finds the study interesting, but questions its conclusions because observational evidence of El Niño only goes back a few decades, whereas scientists know that there is a great deal of natural variation in El Niño events over long periods of time. Moreover, said Goddard, "The models have limitations in their representation of El Niño and its variability."

Read more at:
Is Global Warming Behind D.C's New Era of Great Snowstorms? 7 of the 10 biggest snowfalls in Washington D.C. since 1889 have taken place since 1979. Jason Samenow has a fascinating post at The Capital Weather Gang; here's an excerpt that got my attention: "...As Capital Weather Gang’s Ian Livingston put it: “It seems the tempo of big storms for the city has increased.” The flurry of recent blizzards is even more impressive farther north:

Will Climate Change Move Agriculture Indoors? And Is That a Good Thing? Here's a snippet of an interesting story at Grist: "...It’s this indoor farming future that Allison Kopf, founder and CEO of the agricultural technology startup Agrilyst, is curious about. In an indoor farm, water doesn’t inconveniently evaporate. LED lights can lengthen the hours of sunlight so plants can grow faster. CO2 levels can be tweaked. Even as the weather outside goes haywire, plants farmed indoors can live out an optimized version of the weather that they coevolved with — the weather of the past. The best weather of the past. Or, as Kopf calls it, a “weather-independent environment.” Kopf’s journey to greenhouse tech was an unexpected one..." (Photo credit: Horticulture Group).

What It's Like to Defend Science Before the House Science Committee. Pacific Standard has an interesting tale; here's an excerpt: "...I try to bring facts," he says, "which is not always easy quite frankly because there's so much opinion in the room that if one nuances things at all people will sort of pounce on it. I think I just told facts today, the truth." But every so often, he'll try to inject a little emotion into his testimony as well. To explain why, he gestures over our heads at a Bible verse displayed on the brightly lit back wall of the committee's room in the Rayburn House Office Building. I've never noticed it before but it's clearly something he's studied: Where there is no vision, the people perish. "These guys believe that," he says. "These guys have an incredible responsibility, and we as citizens need to remind them of that responsibility..."

Image credit above: David Vogin.

Army Should Not Ignore Climate Change. Here's an excerpt of an Op-Ed at The Fort Hood Herald: "...The Army and Fort Hood took a big step into the future last week by breaking ground on a huge solar farm that, when combined with a wind-energy project, will provide 40 percent of the post’s energy. That’s the kind of innovation we need from government, commercial and private entities to slow down the ugly future of climate change. In any case, the Army should be looking at what kind of wars and conflicts may develop due to climate change in the next 20 or 40 years. To ignore what’s going on outside could turn out to be very costly..."

Humidity Could Be The Killer With Climate Change. Because we all know it's not the heat, it's the humidity. For the record the town of Bandar Mahshahr, Iran experienced a suffocating heat index of 165F last summer, so this is more than theoretical. Here's an excerpt from Cosmos Magazine: "...Coffel found that by 2060, an estimated 600 million people will live in regions at risk of heat waves producing wet bulb temperatures hitting 32 °C. Of these, 250 million could see heat waves with wet-bulb temperatures of 33 °C, and 50 million could see 34 °C – one degree shy of the limit. Even if these areas are never truly rendered uninhabitable, people living there will have to make major lifestyle changes, says Radley Horton, another Columbia climate scientist involved in the project. Outdoor labour will become increasingly difficult, for example: “We will see more [rest] breaks, more people working overnight, changes in clothing, less strenuous activity...”

Measuring Ocean Heating is Key to Tracking Global Warming. Here's an excerpt from a story authored by St. Thomas University climate scientist John Abraham at The Guardian: "...The answer to this question is clear, unassailable and unequivocal: the Earth is warming because the energy is increasing. We know this because the heat shows up in our measurements, mainly in the oceans. Indeed the oceans take up more than 92% of the extra heat. The rest goes into melting Arctic sea ice, land ice, and warming the land and atmosphere. Accordingly, to measure global warming, we have to measure ocean warming. Results for 2015 were recently published by Noaa and are available here. A recent paper by Karina von Schuckmann and her colleagues appeared in Nature Climate Change, and provides an excellent summary of our knowledge of the energy balance of the Earth and recent advances that have been made..."

Chance of Extreme Flooding Up By 43% Because of Global Warming, Scientists Warn. The study referenced is focused on Britain, but there is now little doubt that increased CO2 and warming is pumping more water vapor into the atmosphere, more fuel to "juice" storms. Here's an excerpt from Tech Times: "...Now, man-made greenhouse gas emissions have upped the chances of extreme flooding by 43 percent, scientists said, as increasingly warmer temperatures hold larger amounts of moisture that lead to heavier downpour. "What was once a 1 in 100-year event in a world without climate change is now a 1 in 70-year event," said Oxford University's Friederike Otto, co-author of the report. Their paper is the first research to look into the likely role of climate change in the winter flooding of Somerset Levels..."
Image credit above: "Global warming may unleash devastating and extensive flooding, scientists warn. As levels of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions increase, the chances of extreme flooding also goes dangerously high." Image: NASA.

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