El Nino Watch: A Brown Christmas This Year?

Overhead in Houston. "Uh oh. It may get down to FREEZING! OMG." Overheard in Willmar: "Did you hear? It's 'gonna get above FREEZING! Yippee Skippy!"

Here in the Land of Low Weather Expectations 32F is fairly big deal from mid-December into early February. 30s are more than tolerable, even pleasant if winds are light and the sun is peeking through.

NOAA now predicts a 90 percent probability of a weak El Nino this winter, which may keep steering winds more westerly much of the next 2-4 months - blowing milder Pacific air inland. We'll see cold frontal passages (take that to the bank) but maybe not quite as many Canadian flings as during an average winter.

Temperatures trend above average into late next week with highs inthe 30s to near 40F; about 5-15F milder than normal. My humble advice: if you like snow, get out and play in it this weekend, because there may not be much natural snow left a week from now.

Good news for commuters and holiday travelers. But this could be a rare "brown Christmas" in the Twin Cities. My hunch: Santa may have to rely on light rail this year. 

Dribs and Drabs of Snow Next 10 Days. With the expection of upstate New York into the higher peaks of New England, there probably won't be much accumulating snow between now and December 23, based on the 12z Thursday run of ECMWF. Map credit: WeatherBell.

El Nino Watch. NOAA's Climate Prediction Center has raised the probability of a winter El Nino event to 90%. Details: "...The majority of models in the IRI/CPC plume predict a Nino3.4 index of +0.5C or greater to continue through the winter and spring. The official forecast favors the formation of a weak El Nino, with the expectation that the atmospheric circulation will eventually couple to the anomalous equatorial Pacific warmth. In summary, El Nino is expected to form and continue through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2018-10 (90% chance) and spring (60% chance)..."

Post-Christmas Cold Slap, Not a Punch. NOAA's 2-week GFS forecast for 500mb winds suggests a modified zonal (west to east) flow returning for the western 2/3rds of the nation, with unseasonably cold weather lingering in New England the last week of December.

January Wish-Cast. NOAA's CFSv2 (Climate Forecast System) model predicts positive temperature anomalies for much of North America next month, based (at least in part) on a developing weak El Nino signature. Map: WeatherBell.

How to Cut Through the Nonsense in Winter Storm Forecasts. Jason Samenow at Capital Weather Gang has some sage words of advice; here's an excerpt: "...Social media has become the dominant platform for tracking winter storms but, to put it gently, all of the information flowing through the torrent of online streams isn’t always credible. To help you navigate what’s reliable, trustworthy information, here are seven things you should know:

1) Be skeptical of storm threats advertised more than a week out

On social media, some forecasters take pride in being the first to talk up the possibility of a snowstorm at long ranges, sometimes even 10 days to two weeks into the future. The limit of how far out we can reasonably predict weather systems is around seven to nine days. Occasionally, we can identify patterns favorable for snow up to two weeks or so in advance, but it’s rare..."

Photo credit: "A person walks through heavy snow in downtown Rochester, Minn., on Dec. 1, 2018." (Andrew Link/The Rochester Post-Bulletin via AP).

2018 Rainfall Records. Climate Central has produced a series of graphics focusing on rainfall records this year; here's an excerpt: "...Of 2,800 stations analyzed by Climate Central, 133 (across 21 states) saw record precipitation totals this year, and 685 saw yearly totals that were among the top 10 on record. 2018 is already the fifth-wettest year on record in the contiguous United States. Warmer air holds more moisture. Earlier analysis by Climate Central showed that 42 of the 48 states in the contiguous U.S. will see increased runoff risks from heavy rain by 2050. Heavy rain can damage or destroy infrastructure, homes, and businesses. It jeopardizes public health, washing sewage into waterways, kicking up polluting sediments, and creating habitats for disease-carrying insects. By laying down impermeable surfaces like asphalt, communities and developers have limited the soil’s ability to absorb precipitation. Just as climate change has made heavy rainfall more common in some areas, so has it encouraged droughts in others..."

The 2018 Hurricane Season Was Full of Extremes. Here's What We Expect in 2019. Popular Science has a good summary and look ahead; here's an excerpt: "...The Atlantic Ocean saw fifteen named storms this year, which is a few ticks above the average twelve. Eight of those storms went on to become hurricanes, and two of them—Florence and Michael—reached major hurricane status. Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina and crawled its way inland with historic rains before the storm lifted away a few days later. Hurricane Michael reached the Florida Panhandle as one of the strongest storms ever recorded at landfall in the United States, packing winds just a hair below category five status. The Pacific Ocean’s hurricane season was a much different story. This basin saw the most intense hurricane season ever recorded. The basin saw 22 named storms between the eastern and central parts of the Pacific, stretching from the west coast of Mexico to the Hawaiian Islands..."

Image credit: "Hurricane Florence in the western Atlantic, spinning its way toward the East Coast this year. Both the Atlantic and Pacific experienced intense hurricane seasons." NOAA.

California Wildfires Costs to Top Last Year's $12 Billion Record. The Daily Beast documents another costly, destructive year: "The financial cost of this year’s California wildfires is expected to soar past last year’s record of more than $12 billion, NBC News reports. Insurance claims and cleanup costs are both expected to hit unprecedented amounts, with the debris cleanup alone predicted to cost state and federal authorities at least $3 billion. Most of that work will happen in Northern California, where the deadly Camp Fire destroyed the city of Paradise and killed at least 86 people, making it the deadliest wildfire in the U.S. for a century. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spent $1.3 billion on debris removal in Northern California in 2017. Cleanup is expected to begin in January and take about a year to complete..."

Image credit: Reuters / Stephen Lam.

Xcel CEO Ben Fowke: Going Carbon-Neutral by 2015 is an Insurance Policy at "Little or No Extra Cost for Consumers". You can hear the interview at WCCO Radio; here's an excerpt: "...So why is this an important initiative for Xcel Energy? “First of all, as we’ve read the reports, the science of climate change suggests that it’s getting more dire, not better,” said Fowke, “Second, I think it’s really important to deliver what your customers want. Our customers want a cleaner energy product. And finally, I think if you do it right, there’s an opportunity for us to invest and drive opportunities that are good for our shareholders.” For those that question how much humanity impacts climate change, Fowke says he sees reducing carbon emissions as an insurance policy. “If that insurance policy is at little or no extra cost, I’m not sure why we wouldn’t do it,” Fowke told Paul and Jordana, “and I really hope what I can do in my role is to try and bridge some of this political divide and let’s just focus on the issue and let’s be pragmatic about it because I think we can solve it if we work together...”

Dr. Elon and Mr. Musk: Life Inside Tesla's Production Hell. There's a fine line between genius and madness (from what I read). Here's an excerpt of an eye-opening story at WIRED.com: "...When he arrived, Musk began marching through the factory. He walked along the assembly line, red-faced and urgent, interrogating workers he encountered, telling them that at Tesla excellence was a passing grade, and they were failing; that they weren’t smart enough to be working on these problems; that they were endangering the company, according to someone who observed him. Employees knew about such rampages. Sometimes Musk would terminate people; other times he would simply intimidate them. One manager had a name for these outbursts—Elon’s rage firings—and had forbidden subordinates from walking too close to Musk’s desk at the Gigafactory out of concern that a chance encounter, an unexpected question answered incorrectly, might endanger a career..."

Image credit: "Unfettered genius. Unpredictable rages. Here's what it was like to work at Tesla as Model 3 manufacturing ramped up and the company's leader melted down." Illustration by Mike McQuade, animation by Casey Chin.

The Guardians and the War on Truth. If you missed Time Magazine's Person of the Year, 2018's award honors the journalists attempting to uncover truth, and the ongoing war on objective facts: "...This ought to be a time when democracy leaps forward, an informed citizenry being essential to self-government. Instead, it’s in retreat. Three decades after the Cold War defeat of a blunt and crude autocracy, a more clever brand takes nourishment from the murk that surrounds us. The old-school despot embraced censorship. The modern despot, finding that more difficult, foments mistrust of credible fact, thrives on the confusion loosed by social media and fashions the illusion of legitimacy from supplicants.Modern misinformation, says David Patrikarakos, author of the book War in 140 Characters, titled after the original maximum length of a Twitter post, “does not function like traditional propaganda. It tries to muddy the waters. It tries to sow as much confusion and as much misinformation as possible, so that when people see the truth, they find it harder to recognize...”

Safer Cycling? Look to the Dutch. CityLab takes a look at cycling best practices in The Netherlands: "...Some traffic safety advocates refer to the maneuver as the “Right Hand Reach.” Michael Charney, a retired doctor in Massachusetts who has perhaps become the technique’s top evangelist, popularized the term “Dutch Reach,” since it’s a common practice in the Netherlands. Americans are slowly getting the hang of it, too, as more cyclists take the streets in major cities. Starting in January, a number of organizations, including AAA, AARP and the National Safety Council, will teach the reach to both driver-side and passenger-side vehicle users in a range of traffic safety courses, the New York Times recently reported..."

Photo credit: "Do look now: traffic safety experts say that drivers who open the car door with their right hand can save lives." Jim Mone/AP.

7 Easy Ways You Can Tell for Yourself That the Moon Landing Really Happened. If there's any doubt in your mind, a post at Popular Science may clear things up: "...Even today, you can still spot the landing sites for the Apollo missions on the surface of the moon. Images collected by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbit (LRO) and published in 2011 sharply illustrate the touchdown points of the Apollo 12, 14, and 17 lunar landers as astronauts made their way to the ground, as well as the paths taken by those crews as they walked and rode around the surface of the moon. A year later, NASA went on to publish other LRO images of the old Apollo 11 site. But wait, you say: what if the space agencies just faked those photos? Besides JAXA, plenty of other independent institutions outside of NASA, as well as amateur astronomers from around the world, have reported sightings of the remnants and signs of the past Apollo missions. If you have a pretty powerful telescope and a clear view of the full moon, you may have an opportunity to see the evidence of these missions yourself..."

Photo credit: NASA.

Taylor Swift Used Facial Recognition to Track Her Stalkers at a Concert. A post at Quartz made me do a double-take: "Security for Taylor Swift at California’s Rose Bowl in May 2018 included a facial recognition system monitored from almost 2,000 miles away. A kiosk set up to show highlights of the singer’s rehearsals secretly recorded the faces of onlookers, which were sent to a “command post” in Nashville, Tennessee that attempted to match those images to hundreds of images of known Taylor Swift stalkers, according to Rolling Stone….It’s unknown whether the footage was kept, or if it even identified any real stalkers—and if it did, what happened after they were identified. But concert venues are typically private locations, meaning even after security checkpoints, its owners can subject concert-goers to any kind of surveillance they want, including facial recognition..."

Photo credit: "Swift could be singing a different tune soon enough, says judge." Reuters/Lucas Jackson.

FRIDAY: Partly sunny, milder. Winds: SW 5-10. High: 36

SATURDAY: Sunny intervals, touch of November. Winds: S 7-12. High: near 40

SUNDAY: Mix of clouds and sun, pretty nice. Winds: W 7-12. Wake-up: 27. High: 40

MONDAY: Plenty of sun, slightly cooler. Winds: SE 5-10. Wake-up: 21. High: 32

TUESDAY: Some sun, still milder than average. Winds: S 10-15. Wake-up: 22. High: 38

WEDNESDAY: Clouds increase, late flurries? Winds: SW 8-13. Wake-up: 25. High: 37

THURSDAY: Mostly cloudy, still storm-free. Winds: NW 8-13. Wake-up: 23. High: 34

Climate Stories...

Climate Change is "Shrinking Winter". BBC News reports on new findings: "Snowy mountain winters are being "squeezed" by climate change, according to scientists in California. Researchers who studied the winter snowfall in the mountains there revealed that rising temperatures are reducing the period during which snow is on the ground in the mountains - snow that millions rely on for their fresh water. They presented their findings at the American Geophysical Union meeting - the world's largest gathering of Earth and space scientists. "Our winters are getting sick and we know why," said Prof Amato Evan, from the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, who carried out the investigation. "It's climate change; it's rising temperatures..."

Image credit: "Satellite images from 2002 (left) compared with 2017 (right) highlight the decreasing snowpack." NASA.

2018: The Year in Climate Change. The New York Times has a post of climate-related stories this year.

More Floods and More Droughts: Climate Change Delivers Both. The New York Times reports: "More records for both wet and dry weather are being set around the globe, often with disastrous consequences for the people facing such extremes, according to a study published Wednesday that offered new evidence of climate change’s impacts in the here and now. Extreme rainfall, and the extreme lack of it, affects untold numbers of people, taxing economies, disrupting food production, creating unrest and prompting migrations. So, factors that push regions of the world to exceptional levels of flooding and drought can shape the fate of nations. “Climate change will likely continue to alter the occurrence of record-breaking wet and dry months in the future,” the study predicts, “with severe consequences for agricultural production and food security...”

File image: NOAA.

"People Talk About Deep Sadness": Scientists Study Climate Change Grief. The Canadian Press and The Guardian have the story: "...Mental-health researchers around the world are taking notice of what people feel when the world they've always known changes gradually or suddenly from climate change. Some call it environmental grief, some call it solastalgia — a word coined for a feeling of homesickness when home changes around you. The American Psychological Association has released a lengthy report into solastalgia. So has the British medical journal The Lancet. Australian farmers report rising levels of depression as their drought-stricken lands blow away. An international group of climate scientists maintain a website entitled Is This How You Feel? House of Commons committees have discussed it. Health Canada is exploring the topic. "It is gaining more traction," said researcher Katie Hayes from the University of Toronto..."

Arctic Sea Ice Trends. Climate researcher Zachary Labe takes a look at the trends.

Image credit: "Animation of changes in average September sea ice extent from 1979 through 2016 – with noteworthy natural variability and a long-term decline." Data is freely available from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at https://nsidc.org/data/seaice_index/

NOAA: Arctic Warming at Twice the Rate of the Rest of the Planet. Here's a clip from UPI.com: "NOAA issued its annual report card for the Arctic this week. Not surprisingly, the marks were poor. Numerous studies have detailed climate change's outsized impacts on the Arctic, and the latest report card echoed the scientific consensus. According to the report, surface air temperatures in the Arctic are warming at a rate twice as fast as warming across the rest of the planet, and the last twelve months were no exception. "This year's report shows that the Arctic region experienced the second-warmest air temperatures ever recorded," researchers reported. Warming trends caused a record low sea ice extent in the Bering Sea throughout 2017 and 2018, leading to a 500 percent increase in biological activity in some locations..."

Photo credit: "Though longterm ice loss trends continued throughout much of the Arctic, many parts of the region experienced increased snowfall in 2017 and 2018." Photo by NASA/Nathan Kurtz.

Arctic Ocean Has Lost 95% of its Oldest Ice - A Startling Sign of What's to Come. Chris Mooney has the latest research findings highlighted at The Washington Post: "Over the past three decades of global warming, the oldest and thickest ice in the Arctic has declined by a stunning 95 percent, according the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s annual Arctic Report Card. The finding suggests that the sea at the top of the world has already morphed into a new and very different state, with major implications not only for creatures such as walruses and polar bears but, in the long term, perhaps for the pace of global warming itself. The oldest ice can be thought of as a kind of glue that holds the Arctic together and, through its relative permanence, helps keep the Arctic cold even in long summers. “The younger the ice, the thinner the ice, the easier it is to go away,” said Don Perovich, a scientist at Dartmouth who coordinated the sea ice section of the yearly report..."

Image credit: "The annual report released Dec. 11 found that 95 percent of the Arctic’s oldest and thickest floating sea ice has been lost."

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