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Lake-Worthy Saturday. Tools For Staying Safer During Severe Weather While Camping

  • Blog Post by: Paul Douglas
  • July 24, 2014 - 11:11 PM

Sitting Ducks

Camping in the North Woods can be a transcendent experience, at one with nature, disconnected from the rat race back home. Until severe thunderstorms turn those majestic towering pines into weapons of mass destruction.

Every summer the question arises: how do I protect myself when I'm cowering in a tent, trying to furiously dig a tornado shelter with a spoon? It's best to ride out storms in a shelter or even your vehicle. If none is available a cave or outcropping of rocks offers some protection against falling trees. There's no perfect solution.

Smartphone Doppler radar and warning apps don't always work, but NOAA Weather Radio has great reception statewide, even up in the BWCA. Take a portable radio and monitor the weather to lower the risk of unpleasant and dangerous surprises.

Storms rumble across the region this morning as warmer, stickier air pushes back into Minnesota. Plan your lake adventure for tomorrow - the sunnier, warmer, drier day of the weekend.

Southwest winds Saturday turn around to northwest Sunday - as temperatures fall through the 70s with a few windblown showers.

Next week looks dry and relatively comfortable; 80s returning by late week. Not a heatwave in sight.


Image credit above: Cherrystone Campground near Cherryville, Virginia Thursday, where at least 2 campers were killed and 24 others injured by high winds and falling trees. The Vane at Gawker has more details. Credit: @bl0windasies and WeatherNation.


Camping During Severe Weather. This question comes up every summer, and the truth is rather stark: you can only do so much to protect yourself in a tent, with trees nearby, trees that may come down when severe thunderstorm winds push through. If you have access to a shelter (of any kind) or even your vehicle that's always choice number one. Having a portable NOAA Weather Radio is a very good idea; here are more tips, courtesy of the Sioux Falls office of the National Weather Service:

Tornadoes:

  • Move to the campground shelter house. Get on your knees and cover your head.
  • If there is not a shelter house, evacuate your tent or camper and lie flat in a depression, such as a ravine, and cover your head with your hands.
  • Never get in your vehicle to escape a tornado!

Lightning, Wind and Hail:

  • If tenting, move to the shelter house or your hard-topped vehicle.
  • If no shelter is available, seek refuge in a cave or under a thick grove of trees that are taller than your tent.

Flash Floods:

  • Never camp next to streams, creeks, or rivers as heavy rain can cause water levels to rise rapidly.
  • Never cross rain swollen creeks, rivers, or streams as the under-currents will carry you downstream.
  • If flash flooding does occur, move to higher ground immediately!

Image credit above: Cherrystone Camp Ground, Virginia. @MDAnnunziata10.


Still Cleaning Up The Damage. A friend up on Pelican Lake (who lives near Breezy Point) sent me these photos late yesterday showing tree and dock/boat damage on the south side of Pelican from Monday night's severe storms.


New Technology Allows You To Send Texts Without Cell Service. This is another good idea, in the event the cell towers come down along with the trees - a fail safe for communicating with family, friends and emergency service providers. Gizmodo has more information: "Inspired by the downed cell towers and utility outages of Hurricane Sandy, the folks at goTenna wanted a way to keep smartphones connected even when the grid fails. What they came up with is a pocket-sized handheld antenna that lets users send texts and location info without cell service. And we got to see a prototype in action..."


A Tent Rated for 112 MPH Winds? Which sounds great, but will it protect me when that towering pine tree comes crashing down on me? That's an even bigger problem - camping in the North Woods has an obvious appeal, until the winds start gusting over 60 mph, and then those majestic trees take on a more sinister tone. Here's a clip from Gizmag: "...The tent features a reinforced version of the brand's Inflatable Diamond Grid meant to spread stress over a larger surface and maintain a solid structure in rough weather. According to the company, the Mavericks can stand up to 112 mph (180 km/h) winds, though it appears to have experienced just 96 mph (155 km/h) during an Ireland leg of the Storm Chase..."


I Want (free) FM Radio On My Smartphone! Another way to increase situational awareness - the ability to listen to radio weather reports, on your cell phone, anywhere you can get a cell signal. I didn't realize this, but smartphones have the capacity to receive FM signals, but (most) U.S. carriers have yet to activate this functionality, as described at Current.org: "...Every smartphone today contains an FM chip, but unlike in Europe, most in the U.S. are not activated. This will change if consumers put enough pressure on service providers to activate the chips in their phones. There is no cost for manufacturers to activate the FM chips. Sprint has worked with the radio industry and agreed to do this with almost all of its smartphone models. We know change is possible, but it’s fair to say that many consumers are not yet aware of how little this would require of cellphone manufacturers and how great the benefit would be for consumers and listeners..."


Two Summerlike Days - Then Another Premature Hint of September. Expect 80s today, possibly mid to upper 80s in the metro area Saturday before winds shift to the northwest behind the next cool front; temperatures dropping through the 70s Sunday with PM showers; h ighs in the 70s much of next week before warming up late in the week. The best chance of T-storms: this morning, more showers Sunday PM hours, then a dry period Monday into Thursday of next week. MSP Meteogram: Weatherspark.


60-Hour Accumulated Rainfall. NOAA's 4 km WRF model shows the heaviest rains between now and Saturday evening over the Carolinas and Virginias; the approach of another Canadian cool front sparking locally heavy rain from North Dakota to the Minnesota Arrowhead late Saturday. Source: HAMweather.


A Dry Heat. So is my oven but I wouldn't stick my head inside. Phoenix set a record high of 116F Thursday. Image above courtesy of Randy Musil in Phoenix.


I Want My Mamma. Cumulonimbus mammatus, to be exact, which always make me hungry for ice cream. Thanks to Camille Kolles who snapped this photo Thursday evening near Medora, North Dakota.


Washington's Largest Wildfire: Seen From Space and Aerial Drone Footage. Meteorologist Brian Sussman in Portland has a link to some incredible drone footage of recent fire damage; here's an excerpt of his post: "...But the thing that really has my attention: groundbreaking and heartbreaking footage of the fire’s devastation from a drone. Even though I’ve personally covered many devastating wildfires during my days reporting for KHQ in Spokane, watching the video had a big impact on me. It’s powerful..."


Why Are Wildfires On The Increase? Here's a clip from a story looking at U.S. wildfire trends at The Ridgefield Press: "...In a recent study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, researchers from the University of Utah analyzed a database of large wildfires in the western U.S. between 1984 and 2011 and found a significant increase in the number of large fires and/or the area covered by the blazes. From Nebraska to California, the number of large wildfires increased sevenfold per year over the study period, with the total area burned increasing by 90,000 acres a year on average..."


America Is Burning: The Fight Against Wildfires Gets Real. Men's Journal has a long, data-driven look at wildfire trends across the USA; they're burning bigger, longer and hotter. What is going on? Here's a clip: "...It's the same story throughout the South, much of the Southeast, and even parts of the Northeast – all of these regions have experienced record wildfires. Firefighters, forest managers, community leaders, and scientists tell the same tale: They've never seen so many fires of such size, intensity, and destruction. Another point of agreement: It's going to get much worse. "We can't manage wildfire any longer," says Miller. "It is out of our control..."

Photo credit: "In military terms, what these fires do is encircle the community. Then they close in," says fire-safety expert Bernhard Voelkelt, on land scorched by the May 2014 Etiwana Fire in Rancho Cucamonga, California." (Photograph by Peter Bohler).

Here Are Maps Of All 38,728 Tornado Warnings Issued Since 2002. The Vane at Gawker has another interesting story that provides more much-needed perspective. In the last 12 years only the area around Duluth, the Minnesota Arrowhead and a small patch of land from near Winona to Lake City, north and east of Rochester, has been tornado-warning-free. Maybe the bluffs on the Mississippi really do disrupt tornado inflow and help to inhibit formation. Here's an excerpt: "...These maps show all 38,728 tornado warnings issued between January 1, 2002 and around midnight on July 23, 2014. Over that twelve-and-a-half year span of time, there were three states that saw every square inch of land go under a tornado warning at least once: Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee..."


Florida More Vulnerable to Tornadoes Than Midwest. For a variety of reasons: southeastern tornadoes are often rain-wrapped and harder to detect and confirm from ground-level, fewer storm shelters, and a local population that is not as "tornado-aware" as residents of traditional Tornado Alley. Here's an excerpt from gainesville.com: "Oklahoma and Kansas may have the reputation as tornado hot spots, but Florida and the rest of the Southeast are far more vulnerable to killer twisters, a new analysis shows. Florida leads the country in deaths calculated per mile as a tornado races along the ground, followed by Tennessee, North Carolina, Ohio and Alabama, according to an analysis of the past three decades by the federal Southeast Regional Climate Center at the University of North Carolina..."

Photo credit above: "A damaged house in Sunrise after a possible tornado." AP Photo.


How Airliner Data Improves Weather Forecasting. Capital Weather Gang has another interesting article that caught my eye - here's an excerpt: "...More upper-air observations improve predictions not only of upper air changes, but also of the resulting ground-level effects. NWS offices also receive airliner take off and landing soundings because all participating airliners transmit reports of the temperature, wind speed and direction, atmospheric pressure, altitude, and latitude and longitude from the time the wheels leave the ground until they touch down on landing..."

Image credit: "Visualization of ACARS weather data coverage."  (NOAA)


Cell Phone Towers Monitor African Rains. Here's another novel approach to creating useable weather data where there are no high-resolution Doppler radars, at least not yet. ScienceNews has the story; here's a clip: "Distorted cell phone signals could help track the rains down in Africa. While not always noticeable, cell phones get worse reception during rainstorms. Raindrops garble specific frequencies in radio signals, an effect compensated for by cell phone companies. Scientists realized these tainted transmissions could be used to reconstruct rain patterns near cell phone towers and since 2006 have successfully implemented the technique in developed countries such as the United States..."

Photo credit above: "Rain Check: Weakened signals during storms from cell phone broadcast towers like these helped scientists monitor African rains." orangecrush/Shutterstock.


Why Has The Sun Gone So Quiet? Discovery News has the article; here's a clip: "...So although we know this is the weakest solar cycle on record, we may just be seeing part of a longer-term cycle that we haven’t been able to recognize as we haven’t been taking detailed notes of solar activity for long enough. “It all underlines that solar physicists really don’t know what the heck is happening on the sun,” added Phillips. “We just don’t know how to predict the sun, that is the take away message of this event...”


Near Miss: The Solar Superstorm of July, 2012. Two years ago we came closer to potential disaster than many of us realized at the time. Hey, who needs electricity? Here's an excerpt of a story at Red Orbit that left me a little weak-kneed: "...Baker, along with colleagues from NASA and other universities, published a seminal study of the storm in the December 2013 issue of the journal Space Weather. Their paper, entitled “A major solar eruptive event in July 2012,” describes how a powerful coronal mass ejection (CME) tore through Earth orbit on July 23, 2012. Fortunately Earth wasn’t there. Instead, the storm cloud hit the STEREO-A spacecraft. “I have come away from our recent studies more convinced than ever that Earth and its inhabitants were incredibly fortunate that the 2012 eruption happened when it did,” says Baker. “If the eruption had occurred only one week earlier, Earth would have been in the line of fire..."

Image caption above: "This image was captured by ESA and NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) on July 22, 2012 at 10:48 PM EDT. On the right side, a cloud of solar material ejects from the sun in one of the fastest coronal mass ejections (CMEs) ever measured." Credit: ESA/NASA/SOHO.

Picture This: Twin Waterspouts and Amazing Aurora. Climate Central has a post with a few awe-inspiring photos and video clips; here's an excerpt: "...Because we clearly can’t get enough images of cool space weather, we’ve got another great photo this week from our favorite astronaut photographer and tweeter, Reid Wiseman. Wiseman, from his perch on the International Space Station, got a spectacular picture of the aurora australis (that’s the Southern Lights, or the aurora at the South Pole). Aurora’s are created when charged particles spewed out by the sun are funneled by Earth’s magnetic field toward the planet’s poles..."


The End Of The Road. Our infrastructure is in rough shape, especially our antiquated highway system. Minnesota roads are in pretty good shape (with a few notable exceptions) but drive in other parts of the USA and Canada and you'll wish you were on a horse to smooth out the bumps. Here's an excerpt of a story focusing on the problem at opencanada.org: "...Americans are well aware that U.S. infrastructure is in grim shape. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ latest report card on the condition and performance of U.S. infrastructure gives them an overall grade of D+ (the plus because the U.S. seems able to deal better with solid waste). More puzzling is the political storm over funding infrastructure maintenance and improvement. The problem of deteriorating, underinvested infrastructure blew up into a crisis in the United States early in the 21st century..."


Swarms of Mayflies on Doppler. Business Insider has the story of mayflies, so thick they showed up on Doppler radar out of La Crosse; here's an excerpt: "Once a year, the bugs emerge — millions of them. Every summer, they swarm en masse around the banks of the Mississippi River. It's mating season for mayflies. There are so many of them, in fact, that they can show up on weather radar. Check out this weather radar GIF from the evening of July 20, which shows clouds of flies leaving the Upper Mississippi River in Wisconsin and taking to the air to breed..."


Report: Climate Change Skeptics Could Reach Catastrophic Levels by 2020. Here's an excerpt of a morbidly funny "update" from The Onion: "...Specifically, the report revealed an alarming upsurge in the number of authors of discredited scientific studies questioning the reality of climate change, adversarial cable news show guests who scoff at the notion that humans can affect Earth’s weather patterns, and politicians whose opinions are controlled by fossil fuel company lobbying groups, all of whose increased presence in the world jeopardizes the planet’s vulnerable biosphere. Additionally, the report noted a shocking jump in the number of uninformed citizens among the public at large, whose widespread dissemination of misleading data, half-truths, and outright lies regarding climate trends has already facilitated the destruction of numerous natural resources and hundreds of species, while putting still others at imminent risk..."



82 F. high in the Twin Cities Thursday.

83 F. average high on July 24 (the average high has come down 1 degree).

78 F. high on July 24, 2013.

July 24 in Minnesota Weather History. Source: MPX office of the National Weather Service:

2000: An F4 tornado hits the town of Granite Falls. One person is killed and there is 20 million dollars in damage.

1915: Frost hits northeastern Minnesota.


TODAY: T-Storms early, then sticky sun. Dew point: 65. High: 84

FRIDAY NIGHT: Partly cloudy and humid. Low: 68

SATURDAY: Nicer day of the weekend. Warm sun. Dew point: 64. Winds: SW 10. High: 87

SUNDAY: Cooler with some AM sun, PM clouds and showers. Winds: NW 15+ Wake-up: 65. High: 75

MONDAY: Blue sky, comfortable. Dew point: 47. Wake-up: 59. High: 74

TUESDAY: Sunny and pleasant. Wake-up: 57. High: 77

WEDNESDAY: Partly sunny, few complaints. Wake-up: 60. High: 78

THURSDAY: Some sun, stray T-shower. Dew point: 59. Wake-up: 62. High: 82


Climate Stories...


Report: Gulf and Atlantic Coasts Not Prepared For Sea Level Rise. Not a fan of big government, regulation and taxation? Some of the same people who rail against "the feds" will be the first to have their hands out, after the next inevitable mega-flood, super-storm or historic drought, expecting compensation, which is ironic, considering the fact that all U.S. taxpayers will be chipping in to clean up the mess and rebuild. Along the coast the cycle of destruction and rebuilding may become increasingly difficult to justify - and pay for, over the long run. Here's an excerpt of a sobering story at National Geographic: "...Today the federal government tends to bear the brunt of the costs after big disasters like Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, but it wasn't always that way. "The share of money paid by the federal taxpayer has increased substantially," says Baecher, noting that the federal government paid roughly 10 percent of reconstruction costs after hurricanes in the mid-20th century. But after Sandy, the feds ponied up about 75 percent of the costs. Federal taxpayers are not always getting a good return on their investment, says the report. There has been too much spent on rebuilding and too little spent on planning, preparedness, and mitigation of risk along the coasts, leaving communities vulnerable..."

File Photo: Butch Dill, AP.


Scientists Urge For Funds To Prevent Coastal Disasters, Not Just Recover From Them. Following up on the story above; here's a clip from a Huffington Post article: "...Such a shift would help the U.S. "move from a nation that is primarily reactive to coastal disasters to one that invests wisely in coastal risk reduction and builds resilience among coastal communities," a statement accompanying the report said. Since 2001, water has reached flood levels an average of at least 20 days per year in six eastern U.S. cities, including Atlantic City, New Jersey and Charleston, South Carolina -- which has more than $200 million in flood-control projects underway, the Reuters analysis found..."

File photo above: Peter Morgan, AP.


Climate Change Hits All Pentagon Operations, Official Says. The Hill has an update on how the Department of Defense is factoring climate change and more volatility/instability into their longer term plans; here's an excerpt: "All Pentagon operations in the U.S. and abroad are threatened by climate change, according to a Defense Department official. "The effects of the changing climate affect the full range of Department activities, including plans, operations, training, infrastructure, acquisition, and longer-term investments," Daniel Chiu, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for strategy and force development, told senators at a hearing on Tuesday..." (Image: Wikimedia Commons).


The NHL Just Said Climate Change Threatens The Future of Hockey. Press Progress has the story; here's a snippet: "...The National Hockey League now says it is worried that climate change could have a devastating impact on the future of hockey in coming decades. "Our sport can trace its roots to frozen freshwater ponds, to cold climates," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman says in a letter accompanying the league's Sustainability Report, released Monday night. "Major environmental challenges, such as climate change and freshwater scarcity, affect opportunities for hockey players of all ages to learn and play the game outdoors." But the NHL isn't dropping its gloves to fight climate change just because it's a worthy cause — it's also in their "vested interest" as a business..."


Scientists Identify Potential Tipping Point. Here's an excerpt of a story at Nature World News that got my attention: "Scientists have long been concerned that global warming may push the Earth's climate system past a "tipping point," and a new study from Oregon State University (OSU) may have finally identified that threshold. According to the research, synchronization of climate variability in the North Pacific and North Atlantic Oceans is that tipping point - where rapid melting of ice and further warming may become irreversible. This is what happened a few hundred years before the rapid warming that took place at the end of the last ice age about 15,000 years ago..."

Photo credit above: "Scientists have long been concerned that global warming may push the Earth's climate system past a "tipping point," and a new study from Oregon State University (OSU) may have finally identified that threshold." (Photo : Christine Zenino (Wiki Commons).


The Dark Snow Team Investigates The Source of Soot That's Accelerating Greenland Ice Melt. It's all interconnected and interrelated, as we're discovering (the hard way). Here's an excerpt of a Guardian story from St. Thomas scientist John Abraham: "...A number of natural processes cause ice to darken. The simple process of melting causes ice crystals to deform and reflect less light. In addition, pollen, sea spray, desert dust, pollution from industry and shipping cause darkening. However, there are also other causes. Recently, newly published research strengthens the idea that wildfire soot has driven extensive melt over the ice sheet, and in addition, that layers of refrozen water are themselves darkening factors that drive further melt..."

Photo credit above: "The Mount McAllister wildfire burns 34 miles (56 km) west of Chetwynd in British Columbia, in this handout photo taken July 14, 2014. Wildfires like this are one source of black soot." Photograph: Reuters.


The Danger of "Balanced" Climate Science In The Media. Because television likes a good on-air food fight. It's good for ratings. We should debate climate science right after the big gravity debate, and after we clear up whether the Earth really is round. NASA could have faked those photos from space. Wait, did we really even go into space? Did I mention the Earth sure looks flat from my window? All those scientists must be wrong. In it for the money! Sorry, I'm off my meds. Here's an excerpt from EcoWatch: "...The media, in attempting to offer “balanced stories” does a disservice to the public and policymakers by giving small handfuls of climate change contrarians significant attention despite the fact that nearly all climate scientists agree that climate change is underway and that it is human-caused. When they share equal airtime it sends the message that the science is more uncertain than it is. The questioning of science by the American right wing clearly does not accurately reflect the scientific consensus, and is detrimental to those interested in moving our economy down a sustainable path. Why then does the media still give skeptics equal amount of air time?..."


Climate Change: If We Pretend It Isn't Happening Will It Go Away. That seems to be the mandate of many in Congress today: if we just remove the funds we won't be able to study climate change and maybe we can just ignore the trends altogether. Yes, let's be conservative about everything! Except the environment and the atmosphere, of course. We'll just take our chances there. Here's an excerpt from The Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists: "...On July 10, the House approved the fiscal 2015 Energy and Water Appropriations bill on a 253-170 vote. In the bill, Congress unfortunately cut funding for such things as renewable energy, sustainable transportation, and energy efficiency; perhaps even more worrisome, however, were a series of amendments successfully attached to the bill. Each would, in its own way, specifically prohibit scientists at the Energy Department from doing precisely what Congress should mandate them to do—namely perform the best possible scientific research to illuminate, for policymakers, the likelihood and possible consequences of climate change..."


Neil DeGrasse Tyson: "Cherry-picking Your Science Because It Conflicts With Your Philosophy?" Salon has an interview with the host of "Cosmos"; here's an excerpt: "...In science, when you perform experiments and observations, and when the experiments and observations begin to agree with one another, and they’re conducted by different people — people who are competitive with one another, people who are not even necessarily in your field but do something that relates to your field — you start seeing a trend. And when that trend is consistent and persistent, no matter who’s doing the experiment, no matter where the experiment is being done, no matter whether the groups were competitive or not, you have an emergent scientific truth. That truth is true whether or not you believe in it...."

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