Fog, Smog and a Reluctant Spring
- Blog Post by: Paul Douglas
- February 26, 2013 - 11:11 PM
Meteorological spring kicks off Friday, March 1. Forget the calendar - as far as the atmosphere is concerned - spring is 48 hours away. Historical weather data shows the coldest 90 days of the year, on average, are from December 1 to March 1.
Feeling better yet? We've picked up over 2 hours and 20 minutes of daylight since December 21. A higher sun angle means the odds of subzero weather drop off rapidly in March. That said, snow is on the ground over 54 percent of the USA, which will act as a brake on any warming in the weeks ahead. I still maintain that spring will come reluctantly this year, which may be good news.
Why? It should mean larger north-south temperature contrasts across America, helping to spin up bigger, wetter storms, taking the edge off our drought.
Yesterday's inversion (warming temperatures with altitude) coupled with light winds lead to a rare February air pollution alert. How long can you hold your breath?
No big storms; Monday's clipper may brush us with wet snow Monday; a few inches south of MSP. On the blog: keep expectations for March warmth low. A negative phase of the NAO should mean a cooler, stormier month.
More slush anyone?
* photos of hoar frost above from WeatherNation TV producer D.J. Kayser, taken at Watab Creek Park near Sartell.
Smog - Minneapolis Style. This midday Tuesday webcam frame-grab was courtesy of KARE-11, a combination of fog and smog trapped in the lowest few hundred feet of the atmosphere by light winds and an inversion (warming temperatures with altitude).
Late Winter Smog. Yes, this is a bit unusual for late February, but with major storms tracking well south/east of Minnesota and a weak area of high pressure producing clear to partly skies and light winds overhead, conditions are favorable for inversions, which allow man-made pollutants to accumulate near ground-level, posing the greatest risk to seniors, and people with heart/respiratory problems. Map from 6:20 am yesterday courtesy of AIRNow and the EPA.
What's An Inversion? The Salt Lake City office of the National Weather Service has a good explainer describing how inversions can form. They're even more likely in mountainous areas, which can create a "bowl effect", hills and mountains helping to trap pollutants near the ground, especially when temperatures are warming with altitude. Salt Lake City has seen an unusually high number of smoggy days this winter due to inversions: "On most days, the temperature of air in the atmosphere is cooler the higher up in altitude you go. This is because most of the suns energy is converted to sensible heat at the ground, which in turn warms the air at the surface. The warm air rises in the atmosphere, where it expands and cools. Sometimes, however, the temperature of air actually increases with height. The situation of having warm air on top of cooler air is referred to as a temperature inversion, because the temperature profile of the atmosphere is "inverted" from its usual state. There are two types of temperature inversions: surface inversions that occur near the Earth's surface, and aloft inversions that occur above the ground. Surface inversions are the most important in the study of air quality."
Winter Air Pollution Episodes. Winter smog is most likely under high pressure bubbles, when winds are light and natural and man-made pollutants can collect near the ground. Having snow on the ground cools the lowest few hundred feet of the atmosphere, sharpening inversions, trapping even more crud. Details in today's 2.30 YouTube edition of Climate Matters: "An air pollution health alert was issued Tuesday for folks in the Twin Cities and Rochester. Meteorologist Paul Douglas has more on what causes this winter smog."
Quiet. No weather headaches or drama thru the middle of next week. ECMWF data shows a cooling trend Friday and Saturday, then a rebound back up to near freezing from Sunday into most of next week. Monday's clipper will probably sail south of MSP; another chance of light snow next Thursday.
A Near-Clipping. The ECMWF model (WSI) shows a weak clipper passing south of the Twin Cities Monday, a potential for a few quick inches along the I-90 corridor of southern Minnesota.
Cold Start To March. After near-normal temperatures during the first week of March temperatures cool off by the second week of March, cooler than average weather east of the Rockies between March 8-12. No early spring this year. Map above: Ham Weather.
The White And Windy City. NOAA data shows 4-6" snowfall amounts over much of Chicago, as much as 10" for Waukegon and 8" for Milwaukee - the biggest snowfall of the winter so far, what has been a very slow winter for snow-lovers in Chicago.
Relief At Last? The pattern appears to be shifting; more Pacific moisture reaching the USA. Here's an excerpt of a story at Discover Magazine: "As I write this late Saturday night, clouds are thickening over the Front Range of Colorado, where I live, and weather models are predicting more than a foot of snow in some places. And this is just the first of three storms that are predicted to blow through Colorado through Thursday. As the image above shows, we can thank a veritable atmospheric fire hose out in the Pacific that is spewing precipitable water at the West coast, and thereby helping to spawn storms..."
Turbulence Ahead For Weather Satellites. There may be a gap in coverage - which could (in theory) impact the U.S. model forecast accuracy in the years ahead. Here's an excerpt from National Geographic News: "Like a celestial version of Pixar's industrious robot Wall-E, environmental-monitoring satellites continually whiz overhead, quietly performing their allotted tasks of taking data and beaming the information down to climate researchers and weather forecasters. But a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report highlights the fact that this monitoring network—which weather forecasters and climate researchers rely on—is in trouble. That's because these U.S.-owned satellites are aging, and there are serious concerns about whether their replacements will be ready by the time they start to break down, said J. Marshall Shepherd, president of the American Meteorological Society and a professor at the University of Georgia in Athens..."
Negative Phase Of NAO. The North Atlantic Oscillation has been negative for roughly 1 week, meaning a greater potential for Canadian air to surge south into the USA. Strong positive phases correlate with a strong zonal flow from the Pacific (what we experienced last March when the USA saw record-shattering heat). A negative phase of the NAO correlates with stormier, colder weather, especially east of the Rockies. A negative phase of the NAO is expected to linger into mid-March. No early spring this year, at least not for Minnesota, the Upper Midwest, and most northern cities of the USA.
NAO: Negative Phase. This graphic from NCEP/NCAR shows average temperatures anomalies of a negative phase of the NAO, Canadian air making a straight shot at the USA; more waves (dips and bulges) in the jet stream, capable of pulling polar air south, spinning up major storms in the process.
2012 and 2013: Meteorological Apples and Oranges. Last year at this time snow was on the ground over only 23% of the USA, with a powerful west to east wind flow, zonal winds from the Pacific, which warmed us up into the 70s and 80s in March. Nearly 14,000 heat records in March 2012, a taste of early summer in late winter! Don't expect a rerun this year. A negative phase of the NAO (North Atlantic Oscillation) is keeping mild, Pacific air from sweeping across North America - I expect a parade of cold fronts well into March. But this may be a good thing (in terms of the drought). A more vigorous north-south temperature contrast may set the stage for more vigorous storms, capable of pulling moisture out of the Gulf of Mexico, helping to ease the drought, especially over the Midwest. Details on today's climate overview: "Meteorological spring starts Friday, March 1st, but for most of the nation it will still look and feel like winter. Have you seen Amarillo, TX today? This is a sharp contrast from a year ago. Meteorologist Paul Douglas looks back at the record busting heatwaves last March and explains why he's not expecting a repeat this year."
Energy Company To Test Floating Solar Islands. Now here's a novel idea; details courtesy of gizmag.com: "Swiss energy company Viteos has announced that it is to build three floating solar arrays on Lake Neuchâtel. Viteos will work with tech company and "energy enabler" Nolaris to build the 25-m (82-ft) diameter islands, each with 100 photovoltaic panels..."
Putting Out A Newspaper Sans Power. We take so many things for granted, including the power necessary to keep all our tech running, 24/7. Here's an excerpt of a harrowing story from St. Cloud Times Executive Editor John Bodette outlining the difficulties in getting a newspaper published when (most) of the power goes out: "Good morning, St. Cloud area. I’m never taking electricity for granted again. I have said this before, but I’m saying it again. About 8:20 p.m on Feb. 16, we began losing power in the Times Media building. Apparently, a transformer went out in our northside neighborhood, causing an outage for thousands of customers, including us. Xcel told us that it would take until 1 a.m. to finish repairs. However, our deadline for the Sunday edition is 11:10 p.m., and we had loads of news pages in progress when the partial outage began..."
The Worst Foods For Sleep? So many of us are tossing and turning (and worrying) every night - here's an article that caught my eye from Huffington Post: "A glass of warm milk, a cup of chamomile tea, a few slices of tryptophan-laced turkey breast -- a number of foods are at least rumored to help us drift off to sleep. But, besides the obvious (hello, 4 p.m. Starbucks run), could there be foods that are actually keeping us up at night? For the most part, the research surrounding sleep and diet focuses on how your sleep patterns affect what -- and how much -- you eat, says Kelly Glazer Baron, Ph.D., M.P.H, a sleep researcher and neurology instructor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. We know that too little sleep clouds our food judgement and that the most sleep-deprived among us are likely to serve ourselves larger portions. We also know that both too little and too much sleep can lead to weight gain, for the reasons above and more..." (image above: MyZeo.com, which has 13 surprising facts about insomnia).
A Wind Meter For Your iPhone? Yes, this may very well complete me. I'll be the envy of my peers the next time I go wind surfing, or paragliding, or bungee jumping. But will it work on my couch? Details here.
Is iWatch Gesture Control How Steve Jobs "Cracked The Code of iTV?" Calling Dick Tracy - he wants his watch back. Not sure I want to be checking e-mail on my watch, but the (alleged/rumored) watch may be a means to an end, according to this article at Gizmag: "In Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, the late Apple CEO is quoted as saying that he finally “cracked the code” of an Apple TV set. “It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine,” Isaacson quoted Jobs. “I finally cracked it.” What if Jobs’ secret was Apple’s rumored smartwatch? And what if that secret involved hands-free 3D gesture control? Not long ago, the internet was abuzz with rumors of an Apple smartwatch (iWatch?). Most of us have been focusing on the wearable device as an extension of an iPhone. Flexible touchscreen, voice control, and some version of iOS. Think Pebble on Cupertino-made steroids...."
36 F. high in the Twin Cities Tuesday.
33 F. average high for February 26.
39 F. high on February 26, 2012.
Paul's Star Tribune Outlook for the Twin Cities and all of Minnesota:
TODAY: Mostly cloudy. Winds: North 10-15. High: 35
WEDNESDAY NIGHT: Lingering clouds. Low: 22
THURSDAY: More clouds than sun, still quiet. High: 32
FRIDAY: Sunny intervals, a bit cooler. Wake-up: 17. High: 29
SATURDAY: Partly sunny, light winds. Wake-up: 14. High: 28
SUNDAY: Cloudy spells, turning milder. Wake-up: 15. High: 32
MONDAY: Chance of light snow from a clipper, mainly south of MSP. Wake-up: 23. High: 31
TUESDAY: Partial clearing, drier statewide. Wake-up: 24. High: 33
Polar Regions Will See More Snow Over Next Century, Less Everywhere Else. Snow less often, at our latitude, but when it does snow a better chance of extreme snow/blizzard conditions, especially if you live near the east coast. Here's an excerpt from redOrbit: "A newly-developed National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) climate model predicts that increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) levels will lead to less snowfall in most areas of the world – including the United States – over the next 100 years. In fact, research conducted by Sarah Kapnick of the Princeton University Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (AOS) program and Thomas Delworth, a senior physical scientist at the NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL), forecasts that only the polar regions and the Earth’s highest altitudes will receive more snow over the next century. “The decline in snowfall could spell trouble for regions such as the western United States that rely on snowmelt as a source of fresh water,” Catherine Zandonella, Office of the Dean for Research at the New Jersey-based university, reported on Friday..." (photo above: NASA).
Global Warming May Cause Extremes By Slowing Planetary Waves. I've mentioned this a few times, the tendency for weather patterns to become "stuck", meaning more intense droughts and a greater potential for flooding as storms hover over one area - longer. Here's an excerpt of a story at Reuters: "Global warming may have caused extreme events such as a 2011 drought in the United States and a 2003 heatwave in Europe by slowing vast, wave-like weather flows in the northern hemisphere, scientists said on Tuesday. The study of meandering air systems that encircle the planet adds to understanding of extremes that have killed thousands of people and driven up food prices in the past decade. Such planetary air flows, which suck warm air from the tropics when they swing north and draw cold air from the Arctic when they swing south, seem to be have slowed more often in recent summers and left some regions sweltering, they said. "During several recent extreme weather events these planetary waves almost freeze in their tracks for weeks," wrote Vladimir Petoukhov, lead author of the study at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany..."
Weather Extremes Provoked By Trapping Of Giant Waves In The Atmosphere. Here is an excerpt of the actual paper referenced above, at the Potsdam Institute For Climate Impact Research: "...“What we found is that during several recent extreme weather events these planetary waves almost freeze in their tracks for weeks. So instead of bringing in cool air after having brought warm air in before, the heat just stays. In fact, we observe a strong amplification of the usually weak, slowly moving component of these waves,” says Petoukhov. Time is critical here: two or three days of 30 degrees Celsius are no problem, but twenty or more days lead to extreme heat stress. Since many ecosystems and cities are not adapted to this, prolonged hot periods can result in a high death toll, forest fires, and dramatic harvest losses.
Anomalous surface temperatures are disturbing the air flows
Climate change caused by greenhouse-gas emissions from fossil-fuel burning does not mean uniform global warming – in the Arctic, the relative increase of temperatures, amplified by the loss of snow and ice, is higher than on average. This in turn reduces the temperature difference between the Arctic and, for example, Europe, yet temperature differences are a main driver of air flow...."
Can Accountants Succeed On Climate Where Others Have Failed? Here's a snippet of an interesting story at National Geographic: "This past week the Government Accountability Office, the federal government’s independent auditor and watchdog agency, added climate change to its list of “high-risk” threats to the nation’s fiscal health. “Climate change creates significant financial risks for the federal government,” the GAO report said. “The federal government is not well positioned to address the fiscal exposure presented by climate change, and needs a government wide strategic approach with strong leadership to manage related risks.” And for anyone concerned about getting the government to act on climate change, that raises a tantalizing question: Can accountants succeed where scientists and the environmental movement haven’t?"
Republican Tom Ridge: "Climate Change Is A National Security Issue." Here's an excerpt of a story that resonated with me from pennlive.com: "...The U.S. national security community, including leaders from the military, homeland security, and intelligence, understand that climate change is a national security threat,” Ridge said. “They're not talking about whether or not it is occurring – it is," Ridge said. "They're talking about addressing the problem and protecting the American people. It's time Washington does the same.” Ridge, a former Homeland Security secretary, appeared in Washington as part of an effort by the Partnership for a Secure America, a bipartisan foreign policy group. The 38 foreign policy leaders signed an open letter arguing the national security threat of climate change..."
Photo credit: "
Long Term Climate Change Trends Worry Experts. Here's a clip from a story at Indiana Public Media: "...Indiana University Professor of Atmospheric Science Sara Pryor is a lead author of the section that looks at how climate change could affect the Midwest, specifically. She says farmers could see future crops hurt by droughts similar to the ones the region saw last summer. “Both corn and soybean yields are decreased if we have warm summers, and if we have dry summers,” she says “So, given that our climate change projections are that the Midwest will become warmer and dryer in the summer, we certainly have expectations that crop yields will decrease.” She says if current trends continue, the growing region for crops will move gradually north. “Because our region is relatively flat, for one degree of warming, a crop has to move; all plants have to move, about 100 kilometers to keep at that same temperature.” However, she says, the farther north in the Midwest you go, the worst the soil quality gets..."
Can NASA Stop Global Warming? I'm skeptical that any technology can stop the warming altogether, although we may be able to launch solutions that slow the rate of warming. Here's an excerpt from Project-Syndicate: "...Obama should challenge NASA to address one of today’s most important issues, global warming, by developing safe, cost-effective technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the planet’s atmosphere and oceans. This mission could be accomplished in two phases.During the first phase, which could be completed by 2020, researchers would identify roughly 10-20 candidate geo-engineering technologies and test them in small-scale experiments. The second phase would include large-scale test demonstrations to evaluate the most promising technologies by 2025. Developing these technologies is crucial, given that, over the last half-century, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased from roughly 320 parts per million to almost 400 parts per million, heating up the planet and increasing the acidity of the world’s oceans. At this rate, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere will exceed 450 parts per million in roughly 25 years..."
Climate Change Is Cutting Humans' Work Capacity. Climate Central has the story; here's an excerpt: "It’s not just the heat, it’s the humidity that gets you. That’s the conclusion of a new study that finds climate change has reduced humanity’s ability to work by making the planet hotter and muggier. That one-two punch has already cut the world’s working capacity by 10 percent since humans began burning large amounts of oil, gas, coal and other fossil fuels at the start of the Industrial Revolution, found the analysis, which was published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change. Researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predict that dive will continue, reshaping daily life in the most populated areas of the planet as climate change intensifies. By 2050, a combination of rising heat and humidity is likely to cut the world’s labor capacity to 80 percent during summer months — twice the effect observed today...
© 2015 Star Tribune