When weather stalls bad things can happen. That was certainly the case this week: biggest tornado outbreak of the year so far (EF-4 strength in Arkansas), biblical 26-inch rains near Pensacola and raging wildfires outside Los Angeles.

A few take-aways from the latest tornado swarm. 1). Most of us are drowning in data, but NOAA Weather Radio is still the most effective way to get life-saving warnings, especially at night, when tornadoes produce a disproportionate number of deaths. 2). Research at the University of Alabama suggests that garage doors are often the weakest link in the chain. Once the garage doors come off the combination of wind & pressure can tear away at a home's structure. If you don't have a basement consider skipping a family vacation and reinforcing a closet to be a "safe room". You may thank yourself down the road.

A weak clipper sparks a few showers today - but the weekend looks dry with 50s and a ration of desperately needed sun. Sunday showers may brush southern Minnesota.

No hot fronts are imminent but we'll see 60s, even 70F by the middle of next week, with a few scattered T-storms. April was 5F cooler than average.

Welcome to the (very) reluctant spring of '14.

Easing Back into Spring. The jet stream lifts north next week, pushing strong to potentially severe storms into the Upper Midwest by the middle of next week. California remains dry; heavy showers pushing north across the Pacific Northwest. GFS Outlook: NOAA and HAMweather.

7-Day Rainfall Outlook. NOAA ensemble models shows some 1-2" rains for parts of Florida (including hard-hit counties in the Panhandle), and from Seattle to Bismarck, Madison, Flint and Rochester New York by Friday of next week.

Great Lakes Ice Cover. There may still be ice on stretches of Lake Superior in early June at the rate we're going. As of April 30, 2014 23.5% of the Great Lakes were still covered in ice. Source: NOAA GLERL.

A Discouraging Snowpack Update for California. There won't be much water to replenish low reservoirs in California this year, based on the latest findings from the California Department of Water Resources; here's an excerpt: "Anyone who doesn't think conservation is important should drive up the hill and take a look," said DWR Director Mark Cowin. "Coupled with half our normal rainfall and low reservoir storage, our practically nonexistent snowpack reinforces the message that we need to save every drop we can just to meet basic needs." More dramatically, today's electronic readings shows a dismal 7% of average water content in the northern Sierra snowpack that helps fill the state's major reservoirs which currently are only half full..." (Image above courtesy of Pacific Institute).

"Worse Than Hurricane Ivan". Hundreds Rescued From Gulf Coast Floodwaters. Pensacola picked up 15.55" of rain on Tuesday, a new 24-hour rainfall record. To put that into perspective Los Angeles has seen 15.9" of rain since January 1, 2012! Here's an excerpt from nola.com: "...In Gulf Shores, Ala., where nearly 21 inches of rain fell over a day's time, the scene resembled the aftermath of a hurricane. At the Sportsman Marina in Orange Beach, employee J.J. Andrews couldn't believe what she saw out the window. "We've got water up in our parking lots," she said. "Our docks are under water. It's worse than during Hurricane Ivan, is what they're saying. It's crazy." The 2004 hurricane dumped 3 to 7 inches of rain along the Florida Panhandle..."

Photo credit above: "In Foley, Alabama, some people couldn't get out of their homes on Wednesday, April 30, 2014, after flood waters surrounded their homes, many of which are built on stilts. The National Weather Service says the Fish River peaked at a record high level of 23.18 feet after more than 22 inches of rain fell in the area over two days. Some residents said the flooding was the worst they had ever seen." (AP Photo/Alex Sanz).

Long Island Mudslides. Photo and tweet above courtesy of Newsday.

Rainfall Reports:

6.06" Unionside, NJ

5.98" 5 miles SW of Queens, NY (NYC)

5.82" Roslyn Heights, NY

5.72" Midwood, Brooklyn (NYC)

5.12" Central Park (NYC)

Also: Baltimore, MD finished 0.1" shy of a new record for an April rainfall record.

BWI Airport: 8.60" of rain in April; Record (1889): 8.70" Wednesday's 3.06" of rain at BWI airport tied a daily record (1947).

* data courtesy of Chris Bianchi at WeatherNation.

Arkansas Tornado Rated EF-4. That's about as powerful as they get, capable of scraping even well-built homes down to foundation. Here's an excerpt from baxterbulletin.com: "...The scene was chaotic after Sunday’s storm: scraps of metal wrapped around tree limbs, brick homes reduced to rubble, bark stripped from trees. Tractor-trailers and heavy-duty SUVs were flipped over and flung like toy cars. The nation hasn’t had an EF5 storm since last May, when Moore, Okla., was hit by a twister that killed 24 and destroyed 1,000 homes. There have been only 59 EF5 storms since modern record-keeping began in 1950. Some residents in the hard-hit communities of Vilonia and Mayflower described hearing the storm, comparing it with the roar of a freight train or jet engine. Mayflower Mayor Randy Holland described it as “the loudest grinding noise I’ve ever heard...”

Photo credit above: "This Monday, April 28, 2014 aerial photo shows destroyed buildings and debris along U.S. Highway 64 in Vilonia, Arkansas. Vilonia was hit hard Sunday for the second time in three years. Four people were killed in a 2011 storm. Until this late April 2014 outbreak, the U.S. as a whole had by far the quietest start of the year for tornadoes. Longer trends show more tornado clusters recently." (AP Photo/Danny Johnston).

Truck Carried 27 Miles By Arkansas EF-4 Tornado. When I first saw this headline I thought "that can't possibly be true". But then I thought about the sustained updraft in a (confirmed) EF-4 with 180 mph. winds and I guess it's not beyond the realm of possibility. Here's a clip from USA Today: "A truck was reportedly carried 27 miles by a tornado Sunday night in Arkansas, according to meteorologist Darby Bybee of KHBS-TV in Fort Smith. Bybee reported that the truck was carried from Mayflower, Ark., to near Vilonia, Ark., a distance of about 27 miles. A report from the National Weather Service in Little Rock notes that an EF-4 tornado -- with winds of at least 180 mph -- traveled 41 miles on a path that included both Mayflower and Vilonia. The tornado killed 15 people..."

Photo credit above: "In this Sunday, April 27, 2014 photo, a person walks past cars strewn across Interstate 40 when a tornado struck the town of Mayflower, Ark. A tornado system ripped through several states in the central U.S. and left more than a dozen dead in a violent start to this year's storm season, officials said." (AP Photo/The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Benjamin Krain).

GOES Animation Of The April 27-28 Tornado Outbreak. You can see the supercell thunderstorms mushrooming to life, courtesy of NOAA and NASA: "This animation of NOAA's GOES-East satellite data shows the development and movement of the weather system that spawned tornadoes affecting seven central and southern U.S. states on April 27-28, 2014." Credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project.

* more details on using weather satellites to track tornadic storms from Space Daily.

Tornadoes, Dust Storms and Floods. What The Hell Happened This Week? There's a compelling body of scientific data that rapid warming of the arctic may be slowing jet stream winds at northern latitudes, creating more blocking patterns, more "closed lows" (sometimes called cut-off lows) that stall for days at a time. As I've said repeatedly (ad nauseum) over the years, when weather stalls bad things can happen. Meteorologist Andrew Freedman has a good explainer at Mashable; here's an excerpt: "...Blocking patterns such as this one often lead to extreme weather events, especially temperature and precipitation extremes. For example, a blocking pattern across Europe and Russia in 2010 led to the deadly Russian heat wave that killed thousands and contributed to massive wildfires, as well as the disastrous Pakistan floods that occurred around the same time. Another blocking pattern resulted in the deadly 2003 European heat wave, which killed an estimated 40,000 people..." (graphic above: Mashable).

How Can We Make Homes Safer From Tornadoes? Keying in on recent research from the University of Alabama, I take a look a structural steps we can all take to lower the risk of tornado-related damage. Step 1: reinforce your garage doors. That's the subject of today's Climate Matters.

Tornado "Scar". You know it's a bad tornado when you can see the debris path from low Earth orbit. Here's an image passed along by WCBI-TV of the EF-4 tornado that smashed into Louisville, Mississippi on Wednesday.

Tornado Survivors Install Safe Rooms. If you live in or near Tornado Alley, or Dixie Alley in the south, or Hoosier Alley in the Ohio Valley, consider skipping 1 family vacation and putting that money into a safe room. You may thank yourself down the road. Here's a clip from a story at the Pekin Daily Times in Pekin, Illinois: "...Both families are staying put, rebuilding their homes as the same locations. This time, each home will have a concrete safe room, complete with a steel door, in the basement. Their builders recommended adding a safe room when asked about it. The Bowers inspected a safe room at a home in rural Washington before making their decision. Neither couple could give an exact figure of how much their safe room will cost, but they said it will be in the hundreds, not thousands, of dollars..."

Small Changes Could Save Structures, Lives During Tornadoes, Reports UA-Involved Study. The University of Alabama has the details; here's an excerpt: "Surviving a tornado in a wood-frame residential home is enhanced by an intact roof and standing walls, but light-weight garage doors can be the weak link to allowing high winds and pressure changes into a home that can lead to the removal of the roof and collapsed walls, according to a study of damage left behind by a powerful tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, in 2013 by researchers from The University of Alabama and other institutions. “Once the roof over the garage is blown off, there usually is a significant hole into the main portion of the house,” said Dr. Andrew J. Graettinger, associate professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering and lead author of a report by a team of researchers..."

Photo credit above: "Dr. Andrew Graettinger, a University of Alabama researcher, examines a safe room that survived the tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma, in May 2013."

Origin Of "Tornado Emergencies". KOCO-TV in Oklahoma City just ran a story explaining the origin of the term Tornado Emergency, which implies a large, deadly, confirmed tornado on the ground, moving into a more populated urban area. Here's an excerpt: "It all started with the National Weather Service in Norman. As the meteorologists watched a large, violent tornado moving into town, they asked themselves if they were doing all they could to get the message out. Tornado warnings were common. But the term tornado warning is somewhat vague. Is it doppler radar indicated? Is it a small tornado? Is it a large tornado? The truth is it could be any. But on May 3, 1999 we weren't dealing with just any old tornado warning. We had a monster on our hands. And thus the need was there to hit the message as hard as possible. And so at 6:57pm, a meteorologist in Norman added the word "emergency" to this warning..."

38% of Lower 48 States in Moderate to Severe Drought. Here is the latest interactive update from the U.S. Drought Monitor.

3 Month Drought Progression. Here's another perspective on the drought, showing how conditions have changed since early February. Much of the Midwest has seen a rapid improvement in the long-term drought,  especially in the last week with some 3-5" rains. The Pacific Northwest is also in better shape than it was during the late winter months. But drought has intensified over the central and southern Plains and much of the Southwest. Source: U.S. Drought Monitor.

"There Will Be A Tsunami - The Question Is When" Underwater quakes can trigger tsunamis, so can underwater landslides. Israel has a history of tsunamis (which was news to me). Here's a clip from The Jerusalem Post: "...While earthquakes stronger than 7.5-magnitude have the potential to cause tsunamis, they can also be caused by underwater landslides, Goodman explained. The last tsunami recorded off Israel’s shores occurred in 1956, as a result of a large earthquake in Greek waters, she said. The last tsunami to cause any damage in Israel happened in the 19th century near Acre, she added. Caesarea most recently received a small tsunami in the 12th century, according to Goodman..."

Photo credit above: "Dr. Beverly Goodman conducts research in the Mediterranean Sea." Photo: MGM LABORATORY.

A Eulogy For Twitter. I really like Twitter, and derive a fair amount of value from the information streams and people/organizations I follow. It's often the fastest way to get information, although accuracy sometimes suffers as a result. Personally I hope it survives and thrives for the long haul, but the folks at The Atlantic are noticing some disturbing trends; here's an excerpt: "We've been trying to figure out the moment Twitter turned, retracing tweets to see whether there was something specific that soured the platform. Something is wrong on Twitter. And people are noticing.  Or, at least, the kind of people we hang around with on Twitter are noticing. And it's maybe not a very important demographic, this very weird and specific kind of user: audience-obsessed, curious, newsy. Twitter's earnings last quarter, after all, were an improvement on the period before, and it added 14 million new users for a total of 255 million. The thing is: Its users are less active than they once were. Twitter says these changes reflect a more streamlined experience, but we have a different theory: Twitter is entering its twilight..."

Image credit above: Matthias Töpfer/flickr.

Foods To Help You Age Better. Are Oreos part of a healthy Mediterranean diet? Still checking on that. In the meantime here's an excerpt of a story at PBS Next Avenue: "But it’s a 2014 study that could tie it all together into one healthy diet plan. As part of a five-year diet intervention, Spanish researchers asked overweight older adults (aged 55 to 80) to follow a healthy Mediterranean diet — whole grains, lots of produce, healthy fats, like olive oil — and then followed measures of obesity: waist size, body mass index, waist to height ratio. At the end of five years, participants showed improvements in obesity parameters and in telomere length..."

Half The People In Illinois and Connecticut Want To Move Elsewhere. Hey, it's only 1 out of 4 here in Minnesota, but the poll was taken before the Winter of Our Discontent, before the toughest winter in 30 years. I wonder what the number would be today? Here's a clip from Gallup: "Every state has at least some residents who are looking for greener pastures, but nowhere is the desire to move more prevalent than in Illinois and Connecticut. In both of these states, about half of residents say that if given the chance to move to a different state, they would like to do so. Maryland is a close third, at 47%. By contrast, in Montana, Hawaii, and Maine, just 23% say they would like to relocate. Nearly as few -- 24% -- feel this way in Oregon, New Hampshire, and Texas..."

"Wireless Underwear" - Because A Guy Just Can't Be Too Safe. If you're concerned about the RF signals coming out of that smart phone nestled in your pocket, consider this new invention, designed to protect your valuables. Gizmag has details: "Although there is yet to be conclusive evidence that radiation emitted by mobile phones and other wireless devices is damaging to male fertility, some studies have shown at least a potential link. This is why the makers of Wireless Armour have stepped in to try and provide some protection with nothing less than underwear that encases your nether regions in a Faraday cage..."

49 F. high in the Twin Cities Thursday.
65 F. average high on May 1.
56 F. high on May 1, 2013.
.04" rain fell at MSP International Airport yesterday.
9.96" precipitation so far since January 1.
6.33" average precipitation at MSP, to date.

TODAY: Mostly cloudy, few showers. Winds: W 10-15. High: 56

FRIDAY NIGHT: Lingering clouds, still cool. Low: 40

SATURDAY: Partly sunny and breezy. Not bad.Winds: NW 10-20. High: 57

SUNDAY: Some sun, showers south/west of MSP metro. Wake-up: 39. High: 58

MONDAY: Early shower, then clearing. Wake-up: 43. High: near 60

TUESDAY: Springy again. Few T-storms. Wake-up: 45. High: 64

WEDNESDAY: T-storms, some heavy/severe? Wake-up: 50. High: 66

THURSDAY: Humid. More strong T-storms. Wake-up: 53. High: 72

Climate Stories....

- From Gavin Schmidt's TED Talk. Details below.

Heavy Downpours More Intense, Frequent In A Warmer World. Tell that to residents of Pensacola...or Boulder...or Calgary...or Nashville. Four thousand-year floods in Minnesota since 2004, according to the local climate office. Here's an excerpt from NOAA's climate.gov: "According to the 2009 National Climate Assessment, heavy downpours have increased in frequency and intensity during the last 50 years. Models predict that downpours will become still more more frequent and intense as greenhouse gas emissions and the planet’s temperature continue to rise. The map (above) shows predicted changes in the annual number of days of extreme rainfall (defined as rainfall totals in excess of the historic 98th percentile) across the United States by 2041-2070 as compared to 1971-2000 if greenhouse gases continue to increase at a high rate (A2 scenario). By mid-century, some places could experience two or more additional days per year on which the rainfall totals exceed the heaviest rains historically experienced in the area..."

The Emergent Patterns of Climate Change. The complexities, interactions and orders of magnitude when dealing with the Earth's climate system are staggering. Here is a link to an excellent primer, a TED Talk on climate models and detecting signals amidst the noise of everyday weather, courtesy of climate scientist Gavin Schmidt: "You can't understand climate change in pieces, says climate scientist Gavin Schmidt. It's the whole, or it's nothing. In this illuminating talk, he explains how he studies the big picture of climate change with mesmerizing models that illustrate the endlessly complex interactions of small-scale environmental events."

U.S. Corn Yields Are Increasingly Vulnerable To Hot, Dry Weather, Stanford Research Shows. Here's a clip from Stanford: "Corn yields in the central United States have become more sensitive to drought conditions in the past two decades, according to Stanford research. The study, which appears in the journal Science, was led by Stanford's David Lobell, associate professor of environmental Earth system science and associate director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment. "The Corn Belt is phenomenally productive," Lobell said, referring to the region of Midwestern states where much of the country's corn is grown. "But in the past two decades we saw very small yield gains in non-irrigated corn under the hottest conditions. This suggests farmers may be pushing the limits of what's possible under these conditions..."

The Right Lessons From Chernobyl. Clean, renewable power is the long-term answer, but in the short term solar, wind, geothermal, tides, etc won't be able to provide the scale we need to keep the lights on and the economy powered up. Here's an excerpt of an Op-Ed from The New York Times where they argue that the world still needs nuclear, with a few caveats: "...The center notes that since 1990 nuclear power has consistently supplied about one-fifth of the nation’s electricity and more than 60 percent of all zero-carbon electricity. The watchword here and in the world at large should be prudence. Prudence in the design, maintenance and operation of all nuclear facilities. Prudence also in the sense that policy makers not be spooked into shutting down a vital source of clean energy in a warming world. The great shield over Chernobyl should also entomb unfounded fears of using nuclear power in the future..."

Photo credit: The Atlantic.

FOX Smears Science Editor As A "Coward" After He Exposes Network's Climate Change Ban. But is there "football on other planets"? This is why I get all my breaking science news from FOX News. They're on top of it. Here's a clip from Raw Story: "The hosts of the Fox News morning show Fox & Friends called Scientific American editor Michael Moyer a “coward” on Thursday after he revealed on Twitter that the network had barred him from talking about climate change a day earlier. In a tweet after his visit with Fox News on Wednesday morning, Moyer explained that he wanted to talk about climate change during the “future trends” segment but the producers told him to “pick something else.” Moyer’s tweet obviously hit a nerve because Fox & Friends lashed out at him in a second segment on Thursday that was about 20 percent longer than the original interview..."

Older Post

April Wind Chill (second wettest April on record; 60s return next week)

Newer Post

Stumbling into Spring (Minnesota average ice-out coming 10 days earlier than 2013)