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Spring Paradox: Hoping for Rain & Warmth (just not anytime soon - because of elevated flood risk)

  • Blog Post by: Paul Douglas
  • April 2, 2013 - 10:01 PM

 

Spring Paradox

 

I'm just the messenger, but I get emotional about weather, just like everyone else. I want it to warm up, I want it to rain (hard) and ease our long-term drought. I just don't want it to happen in the next few weeks. The reason? River flooding.

NOAA data shows 4-7" of liquid water (snow water equivalent) locked in the snow pack over west central and northwestern Minnesota. Details below.

Trying to predict flooding is a science within a science; as much art as science, to be honest. Hydrologists factor the depth of ground frost, water content in the snow, the rate of expected warming and any rain (which accelerates snow melt) into their models.

The risk still appears greatest for the Red River, but residents living along the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers shouldn't let their guard down just yet.

None of us will take spring for granted this year. It is spring, right? Temperatures top 50F today; it may be warm & unstable enough for thunder Saturday. Skies dry on Sunday - more significant heavy rain events shaping up for Tuesday, again Thursday of next week; maybe 1" of liquid water (mixed with wet snow up north).

Old Man Winter is like the annoying uncle who just doesn't know when to go home.

 

Whispers of Spring. No tulips or daffodils blooming anytime soon, but highs should top 50 today and Thursday; ECMWF model guidance still hinting at upper 50s, even low 60s Saturday ahead of the next frontal passage. Showers, possible thunder Saturday, with the main event coming late Tuesday into Wednesday of next week, probably warm enough for rain. We can only hope.

 

Shifting Gears. We're heading into a wetter pattern, a storm in the upper atmosphere over the Desert Southwest forecast to eject a series of storms northeastward across the Plains into the Upper Midwest next week. A large north-south temperature contrast should set the stage for potentially significant rains, possibly even mixing with wet snow from North Dakota into northern Minnesota next week.

 

The Art Of River Flood Forecasting. I have a lot of empathy for the hydrologists (river forecasters) at the National Weather Service in Chanhassen. In spite of computer simulations predicting when and where a river will crest is still as much art as science, as I explain in today's edition of Climate Matters: "Springtime can mean sandbagging and water woes for folks who live along rivers and streams. If temperatures can gradually warm up, it can help ease flood concerns. But there are many more factors to consider when trying to forecast flood potential. Meteorologist Paul Douglas explains."

 

USA Snow Cover. Snow is on the ground over roughly 17% of the USA (lower 48 states), down from 47% of the USA back on March 3. Map above: NOAA.

 

Snow Water Equivalent. There's still a fair amount of liquid water trapped in the snow pack over west central and northwestern Minnesota, as much as 4-6" of water, according to NOAA estimates. The potential for river flooding, especially Red River Valley, will depend on a multitude of factors, including how quickly frost leaves the ground, how rapidly temperatures warm, and whether warm fronts are accompanied by significant rain, which would accelerate snow melt and raise the odds of flooding.

 

Current Flooding. NOAA data shows some major flooding in the Devil's Lake, North Dakota area, moderate flooding on the Duck River near Green Bay, minor flooding near Rochester and across southern Wisconsin. With warming temperatures and a wetter pattern seemingly imminent I expect river and stream flooding to be on the increase in the coming weeks.

 

Coldest March Since 2002. Not exactly record-smashing, but a departure from our trend of milder Marches and earlier springs since roughly 1998. Details from the Twin Cities office of the National Weather Service: "March of 2013 will be remembered for one thing, cold. After having a March in 2012 that had temperatures that belonged more in April, this March went the other direction as persistent cold air resulted in the Twin Cities, St. Cloud, and Eau Claire all having their coldest March since 2002. March also continued the trend started in February with Minnesota and Wisconsin being stuck in a bit more of a snowy and wet pattern, with the monthly snowfall total at St. Cloud putting them in as the 9th snowiest March of all time with Eau Claire experiencing its 5th snowiest March on record. The big storm this March occurred on the 4th and 5th, when a system dumped over 10" of snow along the Minnesota and Wisconsin border. There was a second snow storm that hit areas from Albert Lea through Eau Claire the hardest on the 15th. Certainly by the time the first significant that was observed the last few days of the month, it was a welcome occurrence!

In the end, tempertatures across the region for March of 2013 were 5 to 10 degrees below normal, snowfall was 6-12+ inches above normal (outside of southwest Minnesota), while melted precipitation was nearly 1" above normal (outside southwest Minnesota). Again, the southwest part of the state managed to watch the heaviest precipitation stay north or east of them, and as a result, southwest Minnesota ended up being the only part of the region to see below normal snowfall and precipitation."
 

FEMA Frustrated By Drop In North Dakota Flood Policies. Not an encouraging trend, considering that major flooding is expected across the Red River Valley within the next few weeks. The Bismarck Tribune has the story; here's the intro: "As North Dakota faces another possible major flood this spring, federal officials are frustrated by the number of people in the state who lack insurance for such a disaster. Along the Red River and its tributaries in flood-prone Fargo and Cass County, the number of insurance policies dropped by more than 40 percent from 2011-12, FEMA officials said. Residents there have battled flooding for five of the last seven years. “It’s an amazing phenomenon how people can go through these things, then drop their flood insurance and try to buy it back in time,” FEMA spokesman Dave Kyner said. “I guess that’s one of the most frustrating things for us here.” Flood policies in all of North Dakota declined 32 percent, which coincided with a dry year throughout the state. Policies must be in effect for 30 days for flood damage to be covered..."

 

Torrential Rains Flood Argentina's Capital Killing 5. Amazing amounts of rain at Buenos Aires, as reported by Associated Press and The Washington Post: "Torrential rains in Argentina’s capital have triggered flooding responsible for at least five deaths. A record 6.1 inches (155 millimeters) of rain fell in just two hours in Buenos Aires on Tuesday. That’s equal to all of normal rainfall for April. The storm caused power outages, flooded subway lines and turned the streets into rivers..."

Photo credit above: Leonardo Zavattaro, Telam/Associated Press. "Cars and garbage containers lay piled up after flash flooding caused damage overnight in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday, April 2, 2013. According to city officials, at least five people were killed during the heavy rains."

 

Arctic Warming Blamed For Last Year's Warmth And This Year's Chill. Omaha.com has a good explanation of how changes in the Arctic may be having a domino effect at lower latitudes; here's an excerpt: "...The Arctic is warming at two to three times the rate of the rest of the globe. As it warms, there's less contrast between the temperature of Arctic air and the atmosphere farther south. As a result, the jet stream weakens. A strong jet stream tends to flow fairly directly, west to east. A weakened jet meanders at a slower pace, looping north and south.

The consequences:

» A weakened jet is more likely to form atmospheric blocks, which tend to create “stuck” weather patterns.

» The meandering allows Arctic air to plunge southward or warm air to surge northward.

» Combined, these two factors stack the odds in favor of prolonged hot or cold spells and contribute to stalled storm systems
..."

 

Tornadoes And Sequesters. Will the "sequester" and budget cuts impact the quality of severe storm and tornado forecasting? WJLA-TV's Bob Ryan takes a look - here's an excerpt: "...This week NOAA, also the parent agency for the National Weather Service (NWS), announced a hiring freeze at a time when its vacancy rate is already around 10%. I understand that this number is near 20% for the Washington DC area NWS Office. At this point, pause and consider public safety. As we enter the severe weather/tornado seasons, the Sequester has forced the hand of our NOAA management and possibly jeopardized the American public's safety, stifled scientific capacity, obliterated morale within NOAA/NWS, and dampened hopes for the next generation of federal meteorological workforce. Beyond safety, we have increasingly clear evidence that weather is important to our economy (see commentary by me and Nancy Colleton on the "next Commerce Secretary" at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nancy-colleton/the-next-secretary-commerce_b_2807671.html). Now to be clear, I know, personally, the senior level managers at NOAA/NWS very well. I know they will do everything within their power to adjust and mitigate impact. This commentary is really not about them.."

 

6, 7-Day Storm Forecasts As Good As Closer Ones A Decade Ago. Forecasting hurricane intensity is still terribly difficult, but NHC is doing an increasingly good job with the predicted "forecast cone" showing the expected path of hurricanes. Meteorologist Eliot Kleinberg reports at The Palm Beach Post: "Six- and seven-day National Hurricane Center forecasts conducted “in house” in 2012 had about the same margin of error that four- and five-day forecasts a decade ago, center senior specialist Dan Brown told a Thursday session of this week’s National Hurricane Conference. Errors were 240 nautical miles at Day Six and 300 nautical miles at Day Seven, which is “actually a pretty good forecast,” Brown said. But he noted that positions that far out are of limited value; even a 240-mile error margin on either side of a storm is a lot of ocean. The longer-range forecasts are part of a  suite of products the hurricane center is working on, Brown and hurricane center colleagues said. Among them: a graphic showing the potential arrival time of tropical storm force winds — “we heard loud and clear that this was a product that everybody wanted,” specialist Robbie Berg said — and a graphic showing predicted wind speeds over certain areas..."

 
The Urban Heat Island Could Be Attracting Bugs. It's no secret cities and suburbs can be 5-15F warmer than outlying suburbs and farmland, and this has numerous consequences, including the potential to attract new and exotic bugs. Here's an excerpt from The Atlantic Cities: "...The study is kind of a groundbreaking effort in the research niche where insects, cities and weather intersect. As the scientists note:

Urbanization of an area changes the species that dwell in it. Previous studies have analyzed these effects in terms of loss of resources or changes to habitat, but this is the first research to focus on the effects of "heat islands" created in cities. Meineke explains that, "Urban warming can lead to higher insect pest abundance, a result of pest acclimation or adaptation to higher temperatures."

The study concludes that since current urban warming is similar in magnitude to the higher temperatures predicted by global warming in the next fifty years, their results may indicate potential changes in pest abundance as natural forests also grow warmer..."

 

Place Your Bets. This is from page 80 of my bootleg copy of the 2013 Old Farmer's Almanac, kept under lock and key in my desk drawer. Cool and dry? I hope not, for the sake of our perpetual drought. I'm betting on considerably wetter than last year, but also cooler and less humid, with more severe T-storms than we experienced in 2012.

 

Can We Patent Life? Here's an excerpt of an intriguing, if troubling story from The New Yorker: "...As they do, we edge closer to one of modern science’s central goals: an era of personalized medicine, in which an individual’s treatment for scores of illnesses could be tailored to his specific genetic composition. That, of course, assumes that we own our own genes. And yet, nearly twenty per cent of the genome—more than four thousand genes—are already covered by at least one U.S. patent. These include genes for Alzheimer’s disease, colon cancer, asthma, and two in particular—BRCA1 and BRCA2—that are highly associated with breast cancer. Myriad Genetics, a company that specializes in molecular diagnostics, holds the rights to those two genes. Anyone conducting an experiment on them without a license can be sued for infringement of patent rights. This means that Myriad can decide what research is carried out on those genes, who can do that research, and how much any resulting therapy or diagnostic test will cost. The same holds true for other genes and for any pharmaceutical company, scientist, or university that holds patents similar to those held by Myriad....


 

America Is Watching More TV Than Ever, Just Not On TV. The trends are consistent - we're increasingly tapping the Internet (and mobile devices) to get our TV fix. Here's an excerpt from Quartz: "It seems like only December 2010 that Americans admitted to spending as much time on the internet as they did in front of their televisions. Less than three years later, one-third of America’s internet users—and more than 80% of the population is an internet user—say they would consider ditching TVs altogether, according to a new report by market research firm eMarketer. That may not sound like a huge proportion but by next year, more than half of American internet users will be watching movies and television shows over the internet..."

 

What's In A Nickname? The Origin Of All 30 MLB Team Names. Here's an excerpt of a fascinating read from Mental Floss: "With the Major League Baseball season getting underway, here's the breakdown of how the league's 30 teams got their names...

Minnesota Twins: Minneapolis and St. Paul, which are separated by the Mississippi River and collectively known as the Twin Cities, argued for years over where an expansion team in Minnesota, should one arrive, would call home. When the Washington Senators moved to Minneapolis in 1961, club officials settled on Twins as the team nickname and unveiled an emblem showing two baseball players with hands clasped in front of a huge baseball..."
 

 

Samoa Air First To Charge Passengers By Weight. Let's hope this trend doesn't spread to U.S. carriers. And no, I don't think this is an April Fool's Day joke. Details from ABC News: "If it's an April Fools' Day joke, it's an awfully elaborate one. If not, Samoa Air has become the first airline in the world to do what was previously unthinkable: Charge passengers by weight. Yes, you get weighed. By a stranger. At the airport. Not that the idea hasn't been floated -- several times -- in the past. In fact, ABC News reported just last week a Norwegian economist was the latest to float the idea of an airline "fat tax." The Samoa Air homepage reads "We at Samoa Air are keeping airfares fair, by charging our passengers only for what they weigh. You are the master of your Air'fair', you decide how much (or little) your ticket will cost..."

 

38 F. high on Tuesday in the Twin Cities.

51 F. average high for April 2.

70 F. high on April 2, 2012. Ah, the memories...

0" snow on the ground at KMSP.

Coldest March since 2002 in the Twin Cities.

 

Struggling Into Spring. Winds eased (a bit) and temperatures warmed (a few degrees) yesterday, but it was still a far cry from average. Tuesday highs ranged from 31 at International Falls and Alexandria to 34 St. Cloud (4" snow left on the ground) to 38 Twin Cities and Grand Marais.

Historical Weather Nuggets. Information courtesy of the Twin Cities National Weather Service:

1999: Ice storm hits Duluth and the Arrowhead. An 800 foot television tower in Duluth collapsed due to the weight of the ice.

1982: A sharp cold front causes the temperature at Lamberton in Redwood County to drop from 78 to 7 degrees. This 71 degree change in 24 hours is the maximum 24-hour temperature change in Minnesota.

1837: Snowstorm rages for four days at Ft. Snelling and dumps 9 inches.


 

 

TODAY: Sunny start, late PM clouds. More like spring. Winds: S 15. High: 52

 

WEDNESDAY NIGHT: Patchy clouds, not as chilly. Low: 37

 

THURSDAY: Mix of clouds and sun. High: 49

 

FRIDAY: Dim sun - cool breeze. Wake-up: 35. High: 48

 

SATURDAY: Breezy and noticeably milder. Passing shower, possible thunder? Wake-up: 39. High: near 60

 

SUNDAY: Cooler with some sun; a drier day. Wake-up: 36. High: 48

 

MONDAY: Mostly cloudy and damp. Wake-up: 35. High: 47

 

TUESDAY: Heavier, steadier rain possible. Wake-up: 37. High: 43

 

Climate Stories....

 

Public Alarm Over Climate Change Grows. Here's a clip from The Yale Daily News: "Yale researchers have found that Americans are growing increasingly alarmed about climate change. On March 15 Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, appeared on national television saying that Americans are ready for the government to “end the silence” on climate change. He cited a study called “Global Warming’s Six Americas,” published on March 6 by researchers from the YPCC and the George Mason Center for Climate Change Communication, which showed that the number of Americans alarmed about climate change has increased from 10 percent in 2010 to 16 percent in 2012. Researchers from Yale and George Mason are now questioning whether public alarm about climate change is connected to weather extremities such as February’s 38-inch blizzard. “There is something fundamentally different in the way Americans are engaging with the issue of climate change at this moment,” Leiserowitz said. “Our political leaders have been silent about the issue and the media has been very quiet. Now we are beginning to talk about it again...”

 

Climate Denialism Has Peaked. Now What Are We Going To Do? Here's an excerpt of an important essay at EcoEquity: "...The denial of the challenge, on the other hand, always came ready-made.  As Francis Bacon said so long ago, “what a man would rather were true, he more readily believes.”  And we really did want to believe that ours was still a boundless world.  The alternative – an honest reckoning – was just too challenging.  For one thing, there was no obvious way to reconcile the Earth’s finitude with the relentless expansion of the capitalist market.  And as long as we believed in a world without limits, there was no need to see that economic stratification would again become a fatal issue.  Sure, our world was bitterly riven between haves and have-nots, but this problem, too, would fade in time.  With enough growth – the universal balm – redistribution would never be necessary.  In time, every man would be a king. The denial had many cheerleaders.  The chemical-company flacks who derided Rachel Carson as a “hysterical woman” couldn’t have known that they were pioneering a massive trend.  Also, and of course, big money always has plenty of mouthpieces.  But it’s no secret that, during the 20th Century, the “engineering of consent” reached new levels of sophistication.  The composed image of benign scientific competence became one of its favorite tools, and somewhere along the way tobacco-industry science became a founding prototype of anti-environmental denialism.  On this front, I’m happy to say that the long and instructive history of today’s denialist pseudo-science has already been expertly deconstructed.[3]  Given this, I can safely focus on the new world, the post-Sandy world of manifest climatic disruption in which the denialists have lost any residual aura of scientific legitimacy, and have ceased to be a decisive political force.  A world in which climate denialism is increasingly seen, and increasingly ridiculed, as the jibbering of trolls..." (photo above: NASA).

 

Trillions Of Dollars Are Pumped Into Our Fossil Fuel Addiction Every Year. How are the most profitable companies on Earth still getting subsidies? Skeptical Science has the story; here's an excerpt: "A new report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that overall global fossil fuel subsidies amount to about $1.9 trillion annually.  As large as this number sounds, it's actually an underestimate for many reasons.  The IMF report lists several of these reasons, including the fact that it's simply impossible to obtain data for all fossil fuel subsidies in all countries.  However, the biggest contributor to the conservative dollar figure is related to the social cost of carbon. The social cost of carbon is an estimate of the direct effects of carbon emissions on the economy, and takes into consideration such factors as net agricultural productivity loss, human health effects, property damages from sea level rise, and changes in ecosystem services.  It's the economic damage caused by CO2 via climate change.  The IMF report uses an average US government agency value of $25 per tonne of CO2 emissions; however, there is substantial evidence and research suggesting the value should be much higher.  Dave Roberts provides some references in his post on the report, and we go into detail on the subject here..."

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