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Shifting Gears: Ice Dams & Potholes (thaw into Thursday; winter on temporary hold)

  • Blog Post by: Paul Douglas
  • February 24, 2013 - 9:59 PM

 

Pothole Weather

 

The coldest days of winter are behind us now. Today the sun will be as high in the sky as it was on October 15. You can feel the difference when you walk out the door now; that sun has a bit more attitude than it did earlier this month.

As temperatures rise and fall above 32F the freeze-thaw cycle is in full swing. Be on the lookout for ice dams, and potholes will proliferate in the weeks ahead. During the day snowmelt drains into cracks in roadway surfaces. At night that water freezes - and expands. Repeat day after day, add traffic to further weaken the asphalt or concrete, and you can wind up with some Apollo 11-size craters on area highways.

Everything is relative, as a buddy recently reminded me. "The west has earthquakes & wildfires, the south and east endure hurricanes." Suddenly the potholes, ice dams and cold fronts don't look quite so forbidding.

Heavy snow pastes Kansas City and Chicago into midweek, but I expect a quiet week here; highs top 32F into Thursday. I expect a few slushy, sloppy, plowable snowfalls in early March, but no more subzero air is brewing.

A word to snow lovers: make the most of the next week or so. It won't get much better than this.

 

New Snow By Midnight Wednesday. The NAM model prints out some 12-15" amounts from the Panhandle of Texas and Oklahoma into Kansas City and southern Iowa. St. Louis may pick up 2-5" of slush, with as much as 4" at Madison and possibly 6-8" in Chicago. No snowy problems for Minnesota or the Dakotas thru at least the end of the week.

 

Minnesota Snow Cover. This NOAA map is a bit hard to read, more of an eye test than a map, but it shows 7-11" snow on the ground in the Twin Cities metro, closer to 4-7" over much of southern Minnesota, about 10-16" in the Lake Mille Lacs area, 11" at Brainerd, 15-16" at Duluth and 23" on the ground at Grand Marais.

 

Minnesota Draining Its Supplies Of Water. When I speak in public I touch on water, and people are often startled when I tell them my long range prediction: water will quickly become the most precious natural resource of the 21st century, not oil or gas. Living in Minnesota, with our fabled 10,000 plus lakes, it's easy to take water for granted. Lake water levels are low from a persistent drought, but the greatest concern is underground aquifers, which take much longer to recharge. Here's an excerpt of an excellent article on the subject from The Star Tribune: "...Minnesotans have always prided themselves on their more than 10,000 lakes, great rivers and the deep underground reservoirs that supply three-fourths of the state’s residents with naturally clean drinking water. But many regions in the state have reached the point where people are using water — and then sending it downstream — faster than the rain and snow can replenish it. Last year, Minnesotans used a record amount of water, fueling a rising number of conflicts from the Iron Range to Pipestone. Now state regulators, who have never said no to a water permit, for the first time are planning to experiment with more stringent rules that will require some local communities to allocate scarce water. “It’s scary,” said Dennis Healy, who runs the Pipestone Rural Water System in southwest Minnesota. “The time is coming that there is going to have to be some rationing...”

 

Career-Limiting Behavior. O.K. Let me remind everyone that specific predictions of temperature and precipitation are pretty much impossible beyond 21 days, give or take, depending on the pattern. Good luck beyond 3 weeks, and many times the 3 day forecast is difficult. But we also track the Big Picture, the trends, looking at blocking patterns, oscillations, ENSO and other factors to get a sense of what the long-term picture will look like. It's rare to get two years that are nearly identical, and I believe 2013 will be a different kind of weather-year than 2012, which was overshadowed by record heat, drought, and fewer severe storms/tornadoes over the Plains. I'm pretty convinced I'll get at least 3 or 4 of my 6 predictions right - just not sure which ones. The YouTube clip is here, courtesy of WeatherNation TV. Main themes:

1). Minnesota's drought will ease.

2). Gradual moisture recovery across Midwest - drought persists over Central Plains and Southwestern USA.

3). Summer: warmer than average nationwide, but not as hot as 2012.

4). More severe storms and tornadoes than 2012 as jet core shifts south.

5). The Groundhot Lied. Spring comes late this year for Minnesota and northern tier cities.

6). More "Black Swan" weather events: extreme floods, higher risk of major urban tornadoes (recent trends show more large/violent tornadoes east of Mississippi River; another very active year for hurricanes).


A Bit of a Break. Where else on the planet, except for Moscow, Oslo and possibly Fairbanks, would the locals be relieved to see low to mid 30s? Here in The Land of Low Weather Expectations 30s in late February can be interpreted as a warm front. It should actually feel pretty good out there into Thursday, a slight cooling trend early next week. Nothing subzero is in sight looking out 2 weeks.

 

Spring 2013 Climate Outlook. Here's an excerpt of an interesting post (and some great visuals) from the Grand Forks office of the National Weather Service: "A change in the weather pattern brings an increased spring snow-melt flood risk and the hope to alleviate drought conditions for the growing season. Since October 2013 temperatures across the Red River Valley have generally averaged close to normal. The warmest temperatuers have been across the central portions of the basin with the coldest across the Upper Devils Lake Basin and along the International Broder region of north central Minnesota. Departures generally range from 1 degree below to 1 degree above the median..."

 

Despite Lingering Drought, USDA Predicts A Flood Of Grain. NPR has the story - here's a snippet: "Economists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, gazing into their crystal ball, see American farmers planting and harvesting huge amounts of corn, soybeans, and wheat this year. They're predicting a record harvest of corn: 14 billion bushels, up nearly 40 percent over last year's drought-crippled level. With supply up, prices will fall. The USDA thinks that the price of the average bushel of corn could fall by a third. And soybean production and price are expected to follow a similar track..."

Photo credit above: "John Honeywell uses a grain drill to plant winter wheat near Orlando, Okla., on Sept. 12, 2012. "Sue Ogrocki/AP Photo

 

Thin Snowpack In West Signals Summer of Drought. Here's an excerpt from The New York Times (subscription may be necessary to read full text): "After enduring last summer’s destructive drought, farmers, ranchers and officials across the parched Western states had hoped that plentiful winter snows would replenish the ground and refill their rivers, breaking the grip of one of the worst dry spells in American history. No such luck. Lakes are half full and mountain snows are thin, omens of another summer of drought and wildfire. Complicating matters, many of the worst-hit states have even less water on hand than a year ago, raising the specter of shortages and rationing that could inflict another year of losses on struggling farms..." (USA snow cover map above courtesy of NOAA).

 

February 23, 2012 Snow Cover. I was struck by the difference from last year at this time, when only 23% of the USA had any snow on the ground (vs. 56% now). The lack of snowcover was one factor in record March warmth and thousands of record highs. We'll see a warming trend next month, but I doubt we'll see anything equivalent to 2012, when flowers were blooming in Minnesota by late March. Just a hunch.

 

Earth's Average Temperature For January Ties As 9th Warmest On Record: NOAA. Details from Huffington Post: "The globally-averaged temperature for January 2013 tied with 1995 as the ninth-warmest January since record keeping began in 1880, according to a news release today from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The combined average January temperature over global land and ocean surfaces was 54.57 degrees Fahrenheit, or 12.54 degrees Celsius. This January marked the 37th consecutive January and also the 335th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th Century average, NOAA reported..."

 

Rime Ice. Thanks to Kim Twigg up in Crosby, who sent in this photo of ice crystals sticking to tree branches (and just about everything else) Sunday morning. Image: WeatherNation TV.

 

34 F. high in the Twin Cities Sunday.

32 F. average high for February 24.

30 F. high on February 24, 2012.

8" snow on the ground at KMSP.

 

Edging Ever Upward. With a sun angle as high as it was in mid-October you could feel the difference over the weekend; the sun packing (a little) more umph. Highs ranged from 26 at Alexandria to 33 St. Cloud and 34 in the Twin Cities. St. Cloud has 11" snow on the ground.

 

 

Paul's Star Tribune Outlook for the Twin Cities and all of Minnesota:


TODAY: Intervals of sun. Not bad. Winds: SW 5. High: 34

 

MONDAY NIGHT: Patchy clouds and fog. Low: 21

 

TUESDAY: Some sun, above average temps. High: 35

 

WEDNESDAY: More clouds than sun, quiet. Wake-up: 23. High: 34

 

THURSDAY: Partly sunny, happy to be bored. Wake-up: 22. High: 33

 

FRIDAY: Mostly cloudy, a bit cooler. Wake-up: 18. High: 29

 

SATURDAY: Weak clipper - few flakes. Wake-up: 15. High: 28

 

SUNDAY: Mix of clouds and sun. Dry sky. Wake-up: 14. High: 28

 

* photo above courtesy of my friend, Pete Schenck, who snapped this photo on his Lake Superior shoreline up in Herbster, Wisconsin.

 

Climate Stories...

 

Department Of Defense Launches Attack On Climate Change. Here's an excerpt from cleantechnica.org: "The U.S. Department of Defense has been among the most aggressive leaders on climate change action under the Obama Administration, and it has just stepped it up to the next level. Last week, DoD released the new Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, its blueprint for addressing the effects of climate change in a national security context. That includes global impacts such as geopolitical consequences, conflict acceleration and competition for food, water and other life-sustaining resources, as well as increasing demands on DoD resources for humanitarian relief..."

 

GOP Can Be Part Of Climate Change Solution. Here's a snippet of an Op-Ed at Boulder's Daily Camera: "...Time and again, conservatives exhort the power of the free market rather than government to make good things happen in our society. It's time, then, for Republicans to "walk the talk" and embrace a tax on carbon that returns revenue to the public.  Greg Mankiw, economic advisor to President George W. Bush and presidential candidate Mitt Romney, explains the conservative rationale for a carbon tax: "Economists have long understood that the key to smart environmental policy is aligning private incentives with true social costs and benefits. That means putting a price on carbon emissions, so households and firms will have good reason to reduce their use of fossil fuels and to develop alternative energy sources..."


 

"Climate Change Lowering Great Lakes Water Level". Here's a snippet of a story at Mlive.com that caught my eye: "...One thing I hear is, ‘This is all caused by drought,’” Gauthier told a room of about 40 people. “Don’t let people tell you this is caused by drought. We are in climate change. “There’s no politics here.” He said the lake’s current condition represented “a whole different paradigm.” “The last time the water was this low for this long was the Dust Bowl,” Gauthier said of the 1930s-era ecological event. He talked about the consequences of the low lake levels. Those include freighters which carry lighter loads, the reduction in hydraulic water power at sites such as Niagara Falls, impacts on the fishing industry, decreased recreational boating and collapsing seawalls..."

 

Study: Gas Taxes Are Six Times As Effective As Stricter Fuel-Economy Standards. Here's an excerpt of an article at The Washington Post: "What’s the best way to curtail gasoline consumption? Economists tend to agree on the answer here: Higher gas taxes at the pump are more effective than stricter fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks. Much more effective, in fact. A new paper from researchers at MIT’s Global Change program finds that higher gas taxes are “at least six to fourteen times” more cost-effective than stricter fuel-economy standards at reducing gasoline consumption. Why is that? One of the study’s co-authors, Valerie Karplus, offers a basic breakdown here: Fuel-economy standards work slowly, as manufacturers start selling more efficient vehicles, and people retire their older cars and trucks. That turnover takes time. By contrast, a higher gas tax kicks in immediately, giving people incentives to drive less, carpool more, and buy more fuel-efficient vehicles as soon as possible..."

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