Why Does the USA Experience So Many Tornadoes?

NOAA reports over $300 billion in storm and wildfire-related damage in 2017. Which underscores the fact that America really is the Super Bowl of Weather. With over 1,000 tornadoes every year the USA leads the world on that count, too.

Why so many extremes? Geography plays a role. Unlike the Alps in Europe, which are oriented east-west, the Rocky Mountains run north to south, at last report.

The Alps provide a natural barrier, slowing the north-south flow of heat and moisture, to some degree. But no such natural roadblock exists here, which means hot, humidified air from the Gulf of Mexico can clash with cooler, drier Canadian air - resulting in a reliable display of atmospheric fireworks.

It's still to dry out there, but models show a chance of T-storms Thursday and Friday, with a better chance of rain and storms Saturday. Lousy timing, but we'll take it. Sunday still looks like the better day to wrestle with your lawn mower.

We cool off a bit next weekend, but 80F is possible today; 80s likely tomorrow and Thursday.

It was a long time coming but summer has arrived. 

Predicted Rainfall by Sunday Morning. GFS model guidance shows the heaviest amounts over the Red River Valley, where some 2-3" amounts are possible between now and early Sunday, which would put a serious dent in a growing dry spell. Let's hope NOAA's model has the right idea. Map: pivotalweather.com.

Easing into Summer. No heat spikes (yet), but there's a good chance we'll hit 80F Wednesday and  Thursday before cooling off a bit next weekend, according to ECMWF guidance for the Twin Cities. Graphic: WeatherBell.

Late May: Slow Simmer. Much of America is forecast to be warmer than average within 2 weeks, with the possible expection of the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes, where Canadian air may cool things off from time to time.

18 Lava Outbreaks, a Jungle Ablaze and a Hawaii Volcano Still Poised to Explode. USA TODAY has the latest: "Frustration, anxiety and unpredictable 2,000-degree lava are taking their toll on volcano evacuees on Hawaii’s Big Island while they await an “imminent” eruption that could rain down car-size boulders and ash onto this tropical paradise. About 1,700 people have been barred from their homes for 10 days as the Kilauea volcano pours lava through a rural neighborhood about 35 miles from Hilo, the island’s largest city. At least 36 structures have been destroyed by lava flows, including 26 homes. Plumes of poisonous gases are killing off trees and grasses left untouched by the lava. And now the volcano itself appears ready to explode, although the damage is expected to radiate only about 12 miles from the crater, leaving Hilo untouched..."

A Beginner's Guide to Hawaii's Otherworldly Lava. The Atlantic explains what's going on: "...For scientists, the defining quality of Hawaii’s lava is its chemistry. It’s what geologists call a basaltic lava, and this affects everything from its color to its hazards. There are roughly two types of lava—and both types are, of course, runny and hot. Kilauea’s lava is formed by the melting of an oceanic plate, which means that it contains less silicon dioxide—the same mineral that becomes quartz—than continental plates. As such, it’s extremely runny and super hot. It also doesn’t put up much resistance to gases, which can freely pass through it. (When a continental plate melts, you get an eruption more like Mount St. Helens: That lava is stickier, and it often traps gas until it suddenly all escapes at once...")

Photo credit: "Kilauea volcano’s summit lava lake." USGS Handout / Reuters.

La Nina Fades Into "La Nada" or ENSO-Neutral Phase. La Nina, a cool phase of the Pacific, has had a cooling effect downwind, across much of North America in recent months. That cooling effect is forecast to weaken in the coming months, according to NOAA: "...Our next order of business is to bid adieu to La Niña, as the sea surface temperature in the tropical Pacific returned to neutral conditions in April—that is, within 0.5°C of the long-term average. The temperature of the water below the surface remained above-average, as the large area of warmer-than-average subsurface waters continued to move slowly to the east (a downwelling Kelvin wave). This warm area will continue to erode the remaining cooler surface waters over the next few months. The tropical atmosphere is also looking mostly neutral. Rainfall over Indonesia was below average, and the near-surface winds were close to average, as La Niña’s strengthened Walker circulation faded..."

Graphic credit: "Monthly sea surface temperature in the Niño 3.4 region of the tropical Pacific compared to the long-term average for all multi-year La Niñas since 1950, showing how 2016–18 (blue line) compares to other events. Multi-year La Niña events are defined as at least 2 years in a row where the La Niña criteria are met. Both continuous events, when the Oceanic Niño Index (ONI) remained below -0.5°C, and years when the ONI warmed mid-year before again cooling, are included here. For three-year events, both years 1-2 and 2-3 are shown. Climate.gov graph based on ERSSTv5 temperature data."

Infrared Sound Can Detect Tornadoes an Hour Before They Form. Really? I'm intrigued - and keeping an open mind. HowStuffWorks has more details: "...A tornado can produce unique infrasonic waves even before tornadogenesis, or when the storm forms. In fact, scientists have known about the tornado-infrasound connection for several decades. Now, to learn more about this process, and to better understand how humans could harness this information, a group of scientists recently developed a long-distance, passive way of listening in on tornadoes. In doing so, we'd be able to deal with the fact that three-fourths of all current tornado warnings are false alarms, and thus too often ignored or not taken seriously. Infrasound could represent another source of data to add to our arsenal. "By monitoring tornadoes from hundreds of miles away, we'll be able to decrease false alarm rates and possibly even increase warning times," said Brian Elbing, an Oklahoma State University mechanical and aerospace engineering professor, in a press release discussing the research..."

File photo: Eric Anderson, AP.

Getting Affordable Flood Insurance. A story at Kiplinger may be timely and relevant for many: "...Check with private insurers. The growing private flood insurance marketplace provides new competition that offers some people more coverage at a lower cost. According to a study by S&P Global Market Intelligence, private flood insurers now account for 17% of all flood insurance premiums nationwide, with the biggest markets in Florida, California, Texas and New York. (Some homeowners in very high risk areas may be able to get coverage only from the NFIP.) Check with your state insurance department for companies selling flood coverage in your area, and ask your insurance agent about NFIP as well as private coverage. Some big-name companies provide private flood coverage—Chubb, for example, provides the coverage in 37 states, with more on the way. The average Chubb policy costs $440 per year. A growing number of small insurers also specialize in flood coverage..."

File photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP.

Hyper-Local Weather for Drone Technology. One of the companies I'm involved with, AerisWeather, has data sets and API's developed specifically for drone operators. Here's an excerpt of a recent post: "...Mother Nature however, is providing opportunities to those who know how to speak her language. Environmental conditions like temperature can be harmful to battery life, wind speed/direction effects travel time, and severe weather impacts a missions’ feasibility. UAS developers who are able to piece this puzzle together and take action against impactful weather data will have an upper hand in all things unmanned. AI is a powerful technology, especially if it’s fed with relevant data. In conjunction with the weather API provided by AerisWeather, developers can model, train, and automate UAS platforms to turn the planned (and evolving) environmental conditions in their favor. On the other hand, weather mapping allows UAV dispatchers and fleet managers the correlating data needed to operate their fleet more efficiently. UAS is in its infancy stages but growing at a quick pace; scrutiny is bound to be high in this already competitive landscape. Developers who are able to leverage this technology with the most relevant inputs are going to separate themselves from the masses..."

Noise Exposure is Becoming "The New Secondhand Smoke". As a result, many of probably have some level of (undiagnosed) hearing loss. The Washington Post reports: "...The Environmental Protection Agency has said that noise below an average of 70 decibels over 24 hours is safe and won’t cause hearing loss. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health says anything below an 85 won’t cause hearing loss for workers exposed to loud machinery. But those levels are way above recommendations made by the European Union. In 2009, the E.U. set noise guidelines of 40 decibels at night to “protect human health.” And it said steady, continuous noise in the daytime — such as the noise on highways — should not exceed 50 decibels. “We’re in active denial” about the effects of noise, said Rick Neitzel, director of environmental health policy at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “We’re far, far behind what Europe is doing...”

Photo credit: "Tucked deep inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is the Astor Chinese Garden Court, a quiet spot in a noisy city." (Mary Altaffer/AP).

America's Landfills May Be Completely Full in Just 13 Years. We need new and better solutions to recycle and dispose of waste, as reported at The Outline: "...In that story, I noted that according to the state’s own estimates, New York sends roughly 265 tons (!) of processed poo to out-of-state landfills. A new report from SWEEP, a division of the nonprofit Northeast Resource Recovery Association, helps explain why that may be happening — the Northeast is piling trash on its landfills so quickly that they may be completely full by 2029.The report doesn’t have particularly good news for the rest of the country, either. “At current rates of net landfill capacity changes, by 2021 there will be approximately 15 years of landfill capacity remaining,” the report states, adding that, “Even this grave forecast may be optimistic...”

Photo credit here.

Plastic in Most Great Lakes Tap Water, Beer. No, not the beer! Duluth News Tribune has the story; here's a clip: "...Now a Minnesota researcher says she's tested municipal tap water taken from all of the Great Lakes and, not surprisingly, found plastic particles in almost all of them. The microplastics are even showing up in the plethora of beers now being brewed with Great Lakes water. In a study published this month in the journal Plos One, Mary Kosuth — a masters graduate of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health who now teaches environment courses at Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis — found that eight of nine tap water samples taken from all five Great Lakes had plastics in them. And Kosuth, a Duluth native, found that all 12 brands of beers she tested brewed with Great Lakes water had plastics inside..."

Photo credit: Creative Commons.

New Poll: Conservative Millennials Support Clean Energy. IJR Opinion has the post; here's an excerpt: "...A recent poll conducted by the Conservative Energy Network (CEN) and American Conservation Coalition (ACC) indicates that environmental and energy issues are incredibly important to millennials, regardless of their party affiliation. The environment and clean energy would be ideal starting points for a Republican effort to broaden the party’s appeal. Given their youth, millennials express greater interest in protecting the environment for future generations. In this poll, 79 percent of respondents felt that a pro-clean energy candidate cares more about their family’s future..."

Just Being Exposed to Fake News Makes You More Likely to Believe It. Here's a clip from The Nieman Journalism Lab: "...Familiarity with a fake news headline increases your likelihood of rating it as accurate. Here’s an updated version of Gordon Pennycook and David Rand’s paper on how simple exposure to fake news increases its perceived accuracy a week later; it will be published soon in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. “Using actual fake news headlines presented as they were seen on Facebook, we show that even a single exposure increases subsequent perceptions of accuracy, both within the same session and after a week. Moreover, this ‘illusory truth effect’ for fake news headlines occurs despite a low level of overall believability, and even when the stories are labeled as contested by fact-checkers or are inconsistent with the reader’s political ideology...”

Robot Dogs That Terrified People By Opening Doors May Be Coming to a Building Near You. Lovely. The Washington Post explains: "...SpotMini robots, first unveiled by Boston Dynamics in June 2016, could become commonplace following CEO Marc Raibert’s announcement Friday at a conference that his company will begin selling the robots to businesses next year. They might appear outside construction zones — surveying the sites and collecting building data — or outside offices, where they could use their cameras to provide security. They could also be used to get into hard-to-reach spaces, such as the stairwells of skyscrapers, where they could check for explosives or “bad things” that shouldn’t be there, Raibert said..."

Automation Will Affect One in Five Jobs Across the UK, Says Study. The Guardian reports: "...The thinktank Future Advocacy – which specialises in looking at the big 21st century policy changes – said at least one-fifth of jobs in all 650 constituencies were at high risk of being automated, rising to almost 40% in McDonnell’s west London seat of Hayes and Harlington. The thinktank’s report also found that the public was largely untroubled by the risk that their job might be at threat. Only 2% of a sample of more than 2,000 people were very worried that they might be replaced by a machine, with a further 5% fairly worried. Future Advocacy’s report has been based on a PWC study earlier this year showing that more than 10 million workers were at risk of being replaced by automation and represents the first attempt to show the impact at local level..."

File photo: "Rise of machines? Survey reveals most people are not very worried about being replaced by a machine." Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo.

Save Lives With Smarter, Slower Streets - Not Self-Driving Cars. Food for thought from WIRED.com: "...Almost 40,000 Americans died on the road last year. And a new study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety finds ugly driving trends have hit one group particularly hard: pedestrians. Nearly 6,000 pedestrian died in 2016, a 46 percent jump over 2009. And if robots won’t save the bipeds, who will? Your friendly carbon-based neighborhood traffic engineer can—and they don’t even need artificial intelligence or $75,000 laser sensors to do it. “If there is too much emphasis on autonomous vehicles solving the problem, when widespread deployability is decades in the future and not next year, I think it increases the temptation to hope that the technology is going to save us,” says Liisa Ecola, a transportation planner and senior policy analyst with the Rand Corporation..."

Image credit: Alta Planning.

It Turns Out Plants Need Sleep Too. A story at Quartz made me do a double-take: "...Since then, scientists have been able to prove these observations, recording trees’ nighttime activities and confirming that they do indeed sleep. Birch tree branches, for example, droop by about 10 centimeters at night, then lift with the sunrise. In conducting the experiment, scientists used lasers to record the branches’ movement, for fear that light from cameras would disturb the trees’ sleep. Rest is a delicate business, after all. Creatures need sleep, but we’re easily disturbed. Experiments with fruit flies have shown that a single light pulse jolts the insects’ circadian rhythms out of sync—research that may lead to a cure for jet lag someday. Likewise, urban trees that stand near street lights die younger because the nighttime illumination disturbs their slumber..."

We Created Poverty. Algorithms Won't Make That Go Away. Food for thought in an Op-Ed at The Guardian; here's an excerpt: "...In other words, we are increasingly turning to digital tools to rank and rate which struggling families most deserve support. The trouble with this practice of hi-tech triage is that it treats social problems as if they are natural disasters – random, temporary, inevitable occurrences – obscuring the political choices that produce them. Take the housing crisis I witnessed firsthand during my reporting in Skid Row and South Los Angeles. There are 58,000 unhoused people in Los Angeles county alone, more than the figure for the countries of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland combined. The unhoused population of Los Angeles county has risen every year since 2014; last year, it increased 23%..."

Photo credit: "In this 28 October 2017 file photo, a homeless man takes food from a trash can in Los Angeles’ Skid Row area, home to the nation’s largest concentration of homeless people." Photograph: Jae C Hong/AP.

I Went to a Flat Earth Convention To Meet Flat Earthers, Like My Mom. Don't feel too bad - seems we have a number of flat earthers in Congress and high levels of government. Vice explains: "...With that, I thought I'd got to the bottom of what attracted all these people to the flat Earth theory. Through believing, they have gained a sense of order to their lives—an alternative belief system. It's a crutch, almost, in much the same way faith can help religious believers feel more secure about the world and their place in it. And, in its essence, there's nothing too wrong about that. Where it becomes problematic is the general distrust for modern science—a very helpful thing in all of our lives, and something you'd be actively harming yourself to reject..."

Study: Sharks Like Jazz Over Other Genres of Music. Helpful to know. Big Think has the unlikely explanation: "...There's a reason for this preference to jazz among sharks. When prey is dying, it gives off a kind-of staccato beat as it flops around. The unpredictable groove of jazz music actually makes jazz the perfect music for sharks, who began to associate the music with food and even develop a "taste" (food joke!) for jazz as the test progressed. The sharks did, however, have trouble discerning between classical and jazz when both were played at the same time on opposite sides of the tank. Sure, it'd be pretty funny if the study had preferred the Jaws theme. But sadly that wasn't included in the test..."

Photo credit: Big Think, Wikicommons.

75 F. maximum temperature in the Twin Cities yesterday.

69 F. average high on May 14.

84 F. high on May 14, 2017.

May 15, 1998: Damaging tornadoes impact Minnesota. One tornado hits a flea market in Albany, killing one person and injuring 30 others. 102 homes are severely damaged in the northern Twin Cities due to another tornado.

May 15, 1969: Torrential rain occurs in Synnes Township, dumping 8 inches of rain in three hours.

TUESDAY: Lukewarm sunshine. Winds: NE 5-10. High: 78

TUESDAY NIGHT: Clear to partly cloudy. Low: 57

WEDNESDAY: Warm sunshine, feels like summer. Winds: SW 7-12. High: 82

THURSDAY: Some sticky sun, few PM T-storms. Winds: S 8-13. Wake-up: 61. High: 83

FRIDAY: Humid, few T-storms western MN. Winds: S 8-13. Wake-up: 63. High: near 80

SATURDAY: Best chance of showers, T-storms - cooler. Winds: SW 10-15. Wake-up: 57. High: 68

SUNDAY: Sunnier, drier, nicer day of weekend. Winds: NW 8-13. Wake-up: 52. High: 72

MONDAY: Warm sunshine. Wake-up: 56. High: 76

Climate Stories...

Human-Caused Climate Change is "Supercharging" Hurricanes, Raising the Risk of Major Damage. ImaGeo at Discover Magazine connects the dots: "...The authors, led by Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, say their new research has implications for hurricanes generally. “While hurricanes occur naturally, human-caused climate change is supercharging them and exacerbating the risk of major damage,” they write. Hurricane Harvey offered an excellent opportunity to examine the “supercharging” phenomenon because it traveled by itself over relatively undisturbed water in the Gulf of Mexico. This meant there were fewer complicating factors for the researchers to contend with, including the impact of other storms. As a result, Trenberth and his colleagues could gain a detailed picture of how Harvey feasted on the record-breaking heat in the Gulf of Mexico. To do so, they used temperature data collected by Argo, a network of autonomous floats in the Gulf. They also used satellite-derived precipitation data provided by NASA’s Global Precipitation Measurement mission..."

Hurricane Harvey file photo: AP.

Climate Change to Blame for Bad Allergies. A warming climate certainly isn't helping, according to a post at US News: "Researchers are blaming climate change for the especially harsh spring allergy season and high pollen counts that are hitting most of the country. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, people in the Northwest and Southwest are getting hit the hardest. Additionally, the number of people suffering from seasonal allergies for the first time has increased, and the allergy season is lasting much longer than usual – about 27 days longer than past seasons, NBC News reported..."

One Federal Agency is Pushing for Urgent Climate Action. Eric Holthaus reports at Grist: "It’s well-understood at this point that the Trump Administration is no friend to science-based governance. But there’s one federal agency bucking that trend. The Bureau of Reclamation, a division of the Department of Interior, raised fresh alarm in a press release this week about the dire drought in the Southwest. “We need action and we need it now,” said Trump appointee Brenda Burman, who runs the bureau, in the release. “We can’t afford to wait for a crisis before we implement drought contingency plans...”

Pentagon Revised Obama-Era Report to Remove Risks from Climate Change. Maybe if we ignore it - it'll go away. Here's an excerpt from The Washington Post: "Internal changes to a draft Defense Department report de-emphasized the threats climate change poses to military bases and installations, muting or removing references to climate-driven changes in the Arctic and potential risks from rising seas, an unpublished draft obtained by The Washington Post reveals. The earlier version of the document, dated December 2016, contains numerous references to “climate change” that were omitted or altered to “extreme weather” or simply “climate” in the final report, which was submitted to Congress in January 2018. While the phrase “climate change” appears 23 separate times in the draft report, the final version used it just once..."

Photo credit: "Wave-driven flooding and overwash on Roi-Namur Atoll, Republic of the Marshall Islands, where the U.S. military’s Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site is located." (Peter Swarzenski, U.S. Geological Survey).

Inspiring Terms Are Simple. "Climate Change" Isn't. Here's a snippet of an Op-Ed at Bloomberg: "...The ambiguity of “climate change” plays into the problems that a Wall Street Journal op-ed identified last week in a piece headlined “Climate Activists Are Lousy Salesmen.” This is science, not advertising, and the terms that scientists come up with aren’t decided by public-relations experts using focus groups. Most of the burden of explaining climate changes, past and present, has fallen not to “activists” but to scientists, whether or not they have an interest in or aptitude for persuasion. According to historians, the same people who were fascinated by dramatic natural climate changes were the ones to discover that burning up lots of fossil fuel was likely to cause a short-term spike in the global temperature. The start of that spike is already measurable..."

File image: Jeff Williams, NASA.

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