Turning Around

No, spring is NOT right around the corner. Cold fronts are as inevitable as mosquito swarms, internet snark and cheap media hype. But you could make a strong case that, historically, temperatures bottom out this week. Today marks the midpoint of meteorological winter, which doesn't have the good sense to follow the calendar.

On average the coldest 90 days of the year come from December 1 to February 28, give or take. Looking at 1981-2010 January temperature averages (here, courtesy of the Minnesota Climatology Working Group) the midpoint of the coldest "mean" temperature - 15F - is today.

Although more gasps of numbing air are inevitable I don't see it getting colder than last week's almost surreal Mars-like chill.

Small comfort.

And we've picked up nearly half an hour of daylight since the Winter Solstice; almost an hour by the end of January. Woo hoo!

After a cold start the next clipper draws milder air into Minnesota; 32F by midnight before another temperature relapse. Winds will gust over 40 mph Thursday, whipping up serious blowing and drifting concerns, especially over western Minnesota, where NOAA has issued a Blizzard Warning. If your travels take you toward Alexandria or Fargo late tonight and Thursday proceed with caution and have a Plan B. A surge of 30s return by Sunday & Monday. Another slap of colder air arrives next week - but a pale imitation of last week's Polar Express.

Prepare for a family of nuisance clippers - the pattern just isn't ripe for any big, snowy dumpings anytime soon.

A (Faint) Whiff Of Good Weather News. Here we are, at the midpoint of meteorological winter. Average temperatures begin to rise within a few days as a higher sun angle finally begins to compensate for long nights and lingering snowcover over Canada. That's the focus of today's edition of Climate Matters: "WeatherNationTV Chief Meteorologist Paul Douglas shows the midpoint of meteorological winter. It can only go up from here. Many temps should trend milder, but its not all good news. The high pressure set up, similar to the one in 1976-1977, has helped January all time high temps to Oregon and the direst year on record for California."

Blizzard Watch Upgraded To Warning. Snow doesn't have to be falling to get a Blizzard Warning - if winds are strong enough visibilities can drop to zero just blowing around the snow that's already on the ground. The arrival of a blustery Alberta Clipper will spark 30-50 mph wind gusts tonight into Thursday, and Blizzard Warnings are now posted for (blowing/drifting) snow with potential white-out conditions over parts of southwest and western Minnesota. Details from the MPX office of the National Weather Service:


84 Hour Snowfall. NOAA's NAM model shows significant snowfall amounts downwind of the Great Lakes, classic lake effect snow squalls. As much as 2-4" of fresh powder may fall closer to Duluth and Hibbing. Map: NOAA and Ham Weather.

Canadian Slaps. Although not nearly as numbing as a week ago, the next cold surge arriving Thursday and Friday will trigger nighttime lows below zero over the Upper Mississippi Valley and Great Lakes; the freezing line (solid red line) pushing into the Florida Panhandle. 2-meter NAM guidance courtesy of NOAA and Ham Weather.

Recovery. After last week's surreal blast of polar air, temperatures have warmed quite rapidly over much of the Northern Hemisphere, Tuesday temperature anomalies well above average across eastern Canada and Siberia. We'll see more cold fronts (there's a safe forecast) but I still think last week was the worst of it. Image above: The Climate Reanalyzer.

An Early Start To Hurricane Season? "Subtropical" Storm May Be Forming. Could we wind up with Tropical Storm Arthur - in January? Highly unusual, but not unprecedented. Here's a clip from a good analysis at Capital Weather Gang: "...The official Atlantic hurricane season spans June 1 through November 30, but nature does not always obey our arbitrary boundaries.  On average, about 97% of tropical cyclone activity falls within the official hurricane season, while the remaining 3% is spread out among the six off-season months.  Looking back to 1851, only two known storms have formed during January: Hurricane #1 in 1938 (formed January 3), and Subtropical Storm #1 in 1978 (formed on January 18)..."

Image credit above: "Visible satellite image from 9:15 am this morning." (NASA).

National Hurricane Center To Use Test Storm Surge Maps During 2014 Hurricane Season. This is a new development - here's an excerpt courtesy of New Orlean's based nola.com: " The National Hurricane Center will issue maps showing potential flooding from storm surges during tropical storms and hurricanes on a trial basis during the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season that begins June 1, to warn residents of dangers other than wind associated with the storms, center Director Rick Knabb said Tuesday (Jan. 7)....Knabb made the announcement during a panel discussion on efforts by the center and the National Weather Service to move away from focusing on hurricane or tornado categories in public messages, and instead emphasizing information that helps the public understand specific risks posed by the weather systems..."

Image credit above: "This is an early version of the storm surge inundation map that will be tested by the National Hurricane Center during the 2014 hurricane season. The wording of the key shown in this map of the Fort Myers, Fla., area is likely to change in the test versions." (National Hurricane Center).

California Drought: What's Causing It? 2013 was the driest year in recorded California history, and a persistent ridge of high pressure continues to deflect wet, Pacific storms well north, prompting worries of an even more serious drought in 2014. Here's a clip of a good explanation from the San Jose Mercury News: "...With each passing week, California's lack of rainfall becomes more serious.  Last year was the driest calendar year in recorded history in California in most cities, with records going back 160 years. The first snowpack reading in the Sierra Nevada earlier this month found a snowpack of just 20 percent of normal..."

Weather graphic above: WeatherWest.com.

Australia's 2014 Heat Wave Picks Up Where 2013 Left Off. The continent Down Under is baking - another record year of heat and brush fires may be shaping up, according to this clip from Climate Central: "...The U.S. may just be climbing out of the freezer, but Australia has been sweating through a major heat wave to start the year. Heat records fell across a large part of the country in the first week of the New Year. The warm weather is currently centered over sparsely populated Western Australia, but it could hit major population centers along the east coast by late next week. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology released a special statement to chronicle the extent of the heat wave and its movement. While noting that it didn’t affect as wide an area as the January 2013 heat wave, the statement said the heat wave has been, “highly significant with substantial areas having their hottest day on record.” The heat wave comes on the heels of Australia’s hottest year on record during which a slew of records were shattered, including the country's hottest summer..."

Image credit above: "A map showing the highest temperatures recorded in Australia between Dec. 29, 2013-Jan. 4, 2014." Source: Bureau of Meteorology.

Death Dust: The Valley Fever Menace. As if we don't have enough to be paranoid about. Toxic, soil-dwelling fungus, swept hundreds of miles by dust storms? Here's a clip from a story by Dana Goodyear at The New Yorker: "...In 2012, valley fever was the second-most-reported disease in Arizona; two-thirds of the country’s cases occur in the state. There is no vaccine to protect against it and, in the most severe cases, no cure. The population of Phoenix has grown by ten per cent in the past decade, and newcomers have no acquired immunity. The elderly and the immune-compromised—including pregnant women—are most susceptible; for unknown reasons, otherwise healthy African-Americans and Filipinos are disproportionately vulnerable to severe and life-threatening forms of the disease..."

Image credit above: "Dust storms in the West stir up microscopic spores of the toxic soil-dwelling fungus Coccidioides immitis. The Centers for Disease Control reports a tenfold increase in infections, some of them fatal."

Single Digit Danger: Why Cold Weather Raises Heart Risks. Here's an excerpt of a timely and interesting article at Consumer Affairs: "...When temperatures plunge your chance of having a heart attack goes up if you already have a higher risk of heart trouble. Here's why: cold temperatures can constrict arteries and raise blood pressure, causing the heart to work harder or triggering tears or clots in the arteries. Compared to the summer months, people are 26% to 36% more likely to die in winter heart-related health issues, according to research cited by AARP..."

Are Snowflakes Really All Different? A great question, one that comes up frequently. Here's an excerpt of a good response at The Red and Black: "...For some time there was some debate about that, but there’s actually been some fairly recent research that suggests, yes indeed, it’s likely that all snowflakes are very unique,” said J. Marshall Shepherd, director of atmospheric science and the Georgia Athletic Association’s professor of geography. “There’s probably not two identical snowflakes that we could find...”

Scientists: Americans Are Becoming Weather Wimps. The reality: we're seeing fewer of the polar invasions that swept across the USA last week, especially since 2000. So now when it does get brutally cold for a few days it seems like the end of the world. Back in the 70s? Business as usual. Here's a clip from Yahoo News: "...In the past 115 years, there have been 58 days when the national average temperature dropped below 18. Carbin said those occurrences often happen in periods that last several days so it makes more sense to talk about cold outbreaks instead of cold days. There have been 27 distinct cold snaps. Between 1970 and 1989, a dozen such events occurred, but there were only two in the 1990s and then none until Monday. "These types of events have actually become more infrequent than they were in the past," said Carbin, who works at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. "This is why there was such a big buzz because people have such short memories..."

The Most Annoying Viral Weather Terms? Last week the national media mantra was "polar vortex". But other terms come to mind. El Nino, for one. Take the poll at the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang. Here's an excerpt: "Around every extreme weather event these days, invariably a term or name emerges for referring to it through social and broadcast media. Some of these descriptions are completely arbitrary, some have legitimate meteorological pedigree, some are scientifically dubious, and/or others might have a linkage to current events or a community. Depending on your personality and background, you may find these names fun or – alternatively – irritating..."

40 More Maps That Explain The World. I thought this was interesting - you can learn a lot from maps, as demonstrated by Max Fisher at The Washington Post; here's the intro: "Maps seemed to be everywhere in 2013, a trend I like to think we encouraged along with August's 40 maps that explain the world. Maps can be a remarkably powerful tool for understanding the world and how it works, but they show only what you ask them to. You might consider this, then, a collection of maps meant to inspire your inner map nerd. I've searched far and wide for maps that can reveal and surprise and inform in ways that the daily headlines might not, with a careful eye for sourcing and detail..."

Don't Go In The Water. At least off the coast of Japan, unless you want to wrestle with a giant squid. I'm feeling better about Minnesota's lakes, however frozen they might be right about now. Details in this excerpt from Huffington Post: "Although recent reports of an enormous, radioactive squid turned out to be false, a giant squid hauled in by a fisherman in Japan last week appears to be quite real, and quite weird. The giant squid, a legendary sea creature rarely caught by humans, was netted by Shigenori Goto off Japan's Sadogashima Island in Niigata Prefecture, reports Grind TV. Local video of the squid before and after its capture claims the bizarre-looking cephalopod weighs more than 160 kg (350 pounds) and measures over 4 meters (13 feet) long..."

28 F. high in the Twin Cities Tuesday.

23 F. average high on January 14.

14 F. high on January 14, 2013.

4.1" snow fell yesterday at MSP International Airport.

9" snow on the ground in the Twin Cities.

Minnesota Weather History on January 14 (courtesy of the Twin Cities National Weather Service).

1981: Over 24,000 Canadian Geese are at Silver Lake in Rochester.

1952: Glaze, Sleet and Ice storm across Minnesota from St Cloud south into Iowa. 1,100 Northwestern Bell telephone wires down. The Buffalo Ridge in the Pipestone area the hardest hit with 3/4 inches of solid ice on Northern State Power wires with icicles to 3 inches. Northwestern Bell reported ice to 1 1/2 inches of ice on their wires in the same area. Thunder and a shower of ice pellets accompanied the storm in New Ulm and Mankato. Minneapolis General Hospital treated 81 people, victims of falls on icy streets.

TODAY: Some sun early, feels like -10. Clouds increase, a coating to 1" snow later today. Winds: SW 10. High: 24 (rising into the 20s Wednesday night).

WEDNESDAY NIGHT: More snow showers and flurries - coating to an inch. Low: 22

THURSDAY: Mild start, then turning blustery and colder. High: 30 (falling during the day). Blowing/drifting outside the metro may cause travel problems.

FRIDAY: Numbing start, more sunshine. Wake-up: 0. High: 10

SATURDAY: Intervals of sun, not as harsh. Wake-up: 7. High: 24

SUNDAY: January Thaw. Dripping icicles. Wake-up: 20. High: 35

MONDAY: Mild AM, chilly PM winds. Wake-up: 27. High: 34

TUESDAY: Intervals of sun, still winter. Wake-up: 6. High: 13

Climate Stories....

U.S. Cold Snap Fuels Climate Debate. Is rapid melting of arctic ice having an impact on jet stream winds over the Northern Hemisphere? Here's an excerpt of an article at Nature: "...Arctic warming is leading to declines in sea ice and increased snowmelt on land. Because ice and snow are bright, they reflect sunlight back into space. When they melt, more solar energy can be absorbed by the Arctic. One theory is that a warmer Arctic will reduce the temperature differences between the Arctic and warmer latitudes, leading to a weaker jet stream that would be more likely to wander off course from time to time. “Of course, we can’t say that this particular pattern is due to warming, but it’s very consistent with what we expect to see happen,” says Jennifer Francis, an atmospheric scientist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, who published a study on this effect in Geophysical Research Letters in 2012..."

Image above: NOAA/NASA GOES Project.

Researcher Defends Work Linking Arctic Warming And Extreme Weather. This is a little technical (from August of 2013), but I thought it relevant to the article linked above. The data set isn't long enough to make black and white statements, but there is at least some circumstantial and anecdotal evidence that rapid warming of far northern latitudes are impacting the jet stream, especially since the turn of the century. More research is needed to draw conclusive results, an idea echoed by meteorologist Jason Samenow in this older post at the always-interesting The Capital Weather Gang: "....On Monday, I wrote about a study that pushed back against a theory that a warming Arctic and melting ice are leading to a more volatile jet stream and an increase in extreme weather in the U.S. and elsewhere. Jennifer Francis, an atmospheric scientist at Rutgers University and leading proponent of the theory, has sent me some comments vigorously defending it. Her comments are technical, but I’ll try to extract the key points (I reproduce the comments, in their entirety, at bottom of this post)..." Image: NASA.

After Years Of Declines, U.S. Carbon Emissions Rose 2 Percent In 2013. The Washington Post has the story and details; here's the introduction: "The United States has been one of the few bright spots for climate-change policy in recent years. Thanks to the recession, improved efficiency measures and the shale-gas boom, the nation's carbon-dioxide emissions from energy fell 12 percent between 2005 and 2012. But the party's now officially ending, at least for those worried about global warming. In an early estimate, the U.S. Energy Information Administration says that U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions from energy sources increased 2 percent in 2013..."

Image credit: EIA, Washington Post.

The Very, Very Thin Wedge Of Denial. Why don't more climate doubters, skeptics and trolls publish their works and scientific findings? Here's a clip from a story at Slate: "...To me, one of the most fascinating aspects of climate change denial is how deniers essentially never publish in legitimate journals, but instead rely on talk shows, grossly error-laden op-eds, and hugely out-of-date claims (that were never right to start with). n 2012, National Science Board member James Lawrence Powell investigated peer-reviewed literature published about climate change and found that out of 13,950 articles, 13,926 supported the reality of global warming. Despite a lot of sound and fury from the denial machine, deniers have not really been able to come up with a coherent argument against a consensus. The same is true for a somewhat different study that showed a 97 percent consensus among climate scientists supporting both the reality of global warming and the fact that human emissions are behind it..."

Graphic credit: "Denial is a thin wedge indeed". Graphic: James Powell.

Weather Terminology 101. Here's a clip from an interesting article focused on weather and climate terms you may be hearing in the popular media these days, courtesy of onearth.org: "The “polar vortex” that froze North America in its tracks this week isn’t exactly new. Cyclones of frigid air swirl around the Arctic all the time. What’s different is that this latest polar vortex dipped far enough south to send Floridians scrambling for their mittens. The term also showed up all over my Facebook feed. Granted, I run with a lot of science journalists, but this time even my let’s-take-a-picture-of-my-breakfast friends (no offense, guys) were discussing the rare and strange interaction of the polar vortex with the jet stream and its possible relation to melting Arctic sea ice … driven by climate change. Thanks to wacky weather (and social media hashtags), meteorology geekspeak has hit the mainstream..."

Graphic credit: Mike Fernwood, Flickr.

A Spurious Jump In The Satellite Record: Is Antarctic Sea Ice Really Expanding? Here's an excerpt of an abstract at The Cryosphere: "...Furthermore, a number of recent studies have investigated physical mechanisms for the observed expansion of the Antarctic sea ice cover. The results of this analysis raise the possibility that this expansion may be a spurious artifact of an error in the satellite observations, and that the actual Antarctic sea ice cover may not be expanding at all."

Mohamed Nasheed: Some Conservatives Failed Over Mandela. Others Are Failing Now Over Climate Change. Here's a clip of an Op-Ed from the former Presidents of the Maldives, a Pacific island nation threatened by rising waters, at Conservative Home: "... As climate change bites, more and more world leaders are forced to grapple with its consequences: fiercer droughts, wildfires, storms and floods. A denialist, Conservative movement has no solutions to offer these countries and therefore risks irrelevancy. It also leaves Conservatives on the wrong side of history. Over the past few weeks, as the world commemorates Nelson Mandela, an uncomfortable spotlight has been shone on Conservatives who branded the ANC as terrorists in the 1980s. How will today’s crop of Conservative climate refuseniks explain themselves to future generations, in a world made hotter, nasty and poor by global warming? Strong action today to curb emissions should prevent catastrophic climate change. But if we ignore the issue for another decade, we face a world of soaring temperatures, ferocious storms and a climate out of control. Future generations will hold Conservatives responsible for wrecking the planet..."

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Clipper Blasts Through; Turning Colder with Blowing Snow

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Paul Douglas: Blizzard conditions just west of Twin Cities