Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Locked in a dry, quiet pattern

Attack of the Light Drizzle! Speaking of storms - do TV meteorologists over-hype the weather, day-to-day? Are we consistently crying wolf, so by the time a real storm (whatever that is) arrives people don't take it seriously? "Coming up, news of a storm in time for rush hour. Will it be a half inch or an inch? A carnival of nightmare and death, tonight at 10." Was I guilty of this? Yes, probably, at times. Mea culpa. We were told to go out and "sell it", to generate more interest - to pull in viewers. Between the 'net, texts, tweets and cable news it's harder than ever to get people to stay up 'till 10 pm to get the latest weather report. People pretty much know most of what there is to know by evening - they've been grazing online for hours. Now all of us are "news directors." In truth a lousy inch CAN be a big deal if it arrives at precisely the wrong time, like an hour before rush hour, especially when it's colder than 15 F.

Check out "Attack of the Light Drizzle", focusing on a perceived weather marketing problem in the Boston market. The article is here.

Welcome to the weather equivalent of all or nothing, feast or famine. Mini snow-drought or snow-by-the-foot. We're coming on up two consecutive weeks with little more than a few feeble snowflakes racing past the window, resembling winter in Tucson. Since mid February central Texas (TEXAS) has seen far more snow than most of Minnesota. Baltimore residents are sick and tired of the color white - they've picked up 80" of snow, roughly 4 times what they should have seen as of late February, and another 4-8" is likely later today and tonight. Portions of New Jersey and Pennsylvania may pick up 8-16" of snow, with some 1 to 2 foot amounts over interior New England. What's going on? The most likely culprit: El Nino. This abnormally mild stain of ocean water in the equatorial Pacific has a tendency to nudge storms in a certain direction, favoring an unusually strong, energetic and tropical southern branch to the jet stream, the main superhighway for storms. During El Nino winters the storm track often runs from California into the deep south, then recurves up the east coast. Not every single storm or strange weather oddity can be ultimately chalked up to El Nino. But it's the loaded-dice principal. A warm Pacific increases the potential for rolling pairs of sevens, or in this case increases the prospect of more frequent, more intense storms tracking across the Dixie and the east coast. El Nino winters tend to be cooler, wetter/stormier for the south and east, but drier/milder for many of the northern tier states of the USA, and that seems to be playing out so far this winter. Canada: third or fourth warmest winter on record, to date, and most climatologists are pointing a finger at El Nino.

Just be glad your name isn't "Al Nino." During the severe El Nino of 1983, the event that really put this phenomenon on the map, Al Nino, a hapless resident of Los Angeles, received repeated, threatening phone calls from locals irritated about L.A.'s unusually cool, stormy and foul weather. No - I'm not making this up.

An Watery Monkey-Wrench. For the latest on El Nino click here to click over to NOAA's El Nino page. The reality: every El Nino is different. Roughly 2 out of 3 correlate with milder, drier winters for Minnesota. Snowfall so far this winter (41") is pretty close to average, to date, but temperatures are running 1-3 degrees milder across the Upper Midwest so far.

The big (snowy) Apple? The latest NAM model is hinting at 12-18" of heavy, wet snow for New York City, accompanied by high winds with a potential for near blizzard conditions from Thursday night into Saturday, moisture streaming inland from the Atlantic as a storm temporarily "cuts-off" and stalls offshore. The result may be near white-out conditions across much of New England with severe impacts to travel by air and land.

The Perfect Storm? Check out the latest storm track and chronology. The intense, moisture-laden nor'easter is forecast to stall out near New York City Friday and Saturday. That extra 48 hours of snowfall may result in some 12-18" amounts just inland, but the greater New York City area may receive a crippling snowfall from the early weekend storm. The very latest storm track/timing is here.

Anatomy of a Blizzard? Check out the "cut-off low" centered over Virginia. A counterclockwise wind flow circulating around this intense storm will pump a steady stream of moisture from the Atlantic, reaching Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York City and much of New England. Although heavy rain/ice is possible near the coast a northerly wind in the lowest few thousand feet of the atmosphere may spark heavy snow bands inland.

The Big (snowy/icy/windswept) Apple. The NAM model is hinting at 3-4" for the eastern tip of Long Island, but closer to 14-18" from Manhattan and the Bronx westward to Newark and Princeton. Expect a massive weather-mess in the New York City area and much of New England through at least Saturday as the storm temporarily stalls out, pumping a firehose of Atlantic moisture inland. I expect a number of airports across the northeast (including New York City) to postpone or cancel hundreds, possibly thousands of flights from tomorrow into Saturday.

A Reasonable March? A very lamb-like start to March is predicted for next Monday, at least across Minnesota. The CPC is predicting a warmer March for the Pacific Northwest and the Upper Midwest, including the northeastern third of Minnesota, the main storm track forecast to stay well south/east of the state for the next few weeks, a continuation of the current pattern. Thank - or blame - El Nino for this weather rut, this atmospheric holding pattern.

Paul's Conservation MN Outlook for the Twin Cities and all of Minnesota

Today: Cold start, blue sky, milder than yesterday with less wind. Winds: E/SE 3-8. High: 24

Thursday night: Partly cloudy, not as cold. Low: 11

Friday: Partly sunny, closer to "average". High: 27

Saturday: Mostly cloudy - still unusually quiet for late February. Low: 13. High: 29

Sunday: Peeks of sun, a few passing flurries. Low: 14. High: near 30

Monday: A mix of clouds and sun. High: 29

Tuesday: More clouds than sun, dripping icicles return. High: 31

Wednesday: Feels like March. Mostly gray, but relatively mild. High: 33

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

More (temporary) fun with negative numbers

"Hey Paul, cold 'nuf 'fer 'ya?" Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!

No, frankly, it's not. I prefer an ambient temperature much closer to the current surface temperature of Pluto. Preferably closer to absolute zero, where all molecular activity ceases altogether. Yes, it's a bit nippy out there right now, but it's NOT the spirit-crushing, battery-draining, hair-freezing temperatures we endured the first 9 days of January. Consider it a minor relapse, a blunt reminder that spring comes only reluctantly at this latitude. The good news: it won't stay numbing for long, in fact I think we probably bottomed out Wednesday morning - subzero north and west of the Twin Cities, negative numbers greeting most residents of central and northern Minnesota. Factor in a 10 mph breeze and it feels like -10 to -25 F out there, make sure the kids (and assorted spouses) have a few extra layers on before venturing out the door. Another character-building day on the tundra.

Another snowy dumping. The latest GFS model prints out some 6-12" snowfall amounts for the Mid Atlantic states, as much as 1-2 feet of snow may pile up over the higher elevations of interior New England and upstate New York.

February recap. The last time we saw enough snow to gripe about was Feb. 14, when a whopping 1.6" fell, .7" fell on the 15th. Since then it's been a few dribs and drabs of flurries. Yes, the snow is looking pretty crusty and dirty out there right about now.

I'm impressed (a bit dazed?) by our current snow drought. It's been 11 days since we've had a "plowable" snowfall in the metro area (1.6" back on the 14th). Almost all our 14" of snow fell during the first half of the month - it's been amazingly quiet ever since, and I still don't see a storm on the southern or western horizon looking out through the first week of March. The GFS model brings an inch or two of slush into town the first weekend of March, but right now it doesn't look like a big deal. Residents of Baltimore, D.C. and Philadelphia would probably laugh at the amount of snow we've seen so far this winter. Many Mid Atlantic cities have seen nearly TWICE as much snow as we have so far this winter, and more is on the way. A classic nor'easter will work its way up the east coast, sparking near blizzard conditions for DC, Baltimore and Philly late Thursday into Friday morning, along with another half foot or more of snow. Amazing. El Nino? Possibly, although proving cause and effect with the atmosphere is problematic. Parts of central Texas picked up 3-6" of snow Tuesday, the heaviest amounts staying SOUTH of Dallas, near Waco and Lufkin. That same storm will gain strength as it pushes east, tapping moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic, dropping some 1-2 FOOT amounts over interior New England. Rain will mix in for New York and Boston, but just 50-100 miles inland they may be counting snow by the foot, not the inch.

24 hour temperature trend. Note the 10 to 20 degree F. temperature drops over the Upper Midwest. No kidding!

Temperatures moderate statewide as the week goes on, a string of 30s next week as we thaw out one more time. Daytime highs should be near or above freezing almost every day next week. No more arctic swipes are in sight through mid March. This year March will definitely come in like a lamb. That means it will go out like a chipmunk, right? In like a yak, out like an aardvark. Never was good with animals....

Minnesota? Try again. How 'bout Lubbock, Texas, where 2-4" of snow fell Tuesday. Yes, I have an uncontrollable urge to ski Texas. I should get that checked out.

Paul's Conservation MN Outlook for the Twin Cities and all of Minnesota:

Today: Bright sun, numbing breeze. Winds: NW 5-15. High: 14

Wednesday night: Clear, still plenty cold. Low: 2 (subzero in the suburbs).

Thursday: Lot's of sun, not as cold. High: 22

Friday: Partly sunny, feeling a little better out there. Low: 5. High: 25

Saturday: Mix of clouds and sun, good travel conditions. Low: 9. High: 27

Sunday: Good weather to play in the snow. Intervals of sun. Low: 10. High: 28

Monday: Fading sun behind increasing clouds, closer to average. Low: 15. High: 30

Tuesday: Mostly cloudy, flurries or drizzle as we finally thaw out. Low: 19. High: 33

Monday, February 22, 2010

Tumbling Temperatures

A short & sweet (?) weather update tonight, because let's be honest here: there's precious little to talk about in the weather department. I'm OK with that, btw, because I know (from past experience) that our snow-drought will come to an end in a week or two. It can't stay this quiet much longer - at some point the other shoe (boot) will drop and once again weather will lead area newscasts. More reporters standing out in the snow and slush, telling us that it's snowing and slushing.

A blustery dusting. The chance of accumulating snow increases the farther north/east you drive across Minnesota today. An inch or so of snow is possible from Princeton to Hinckley and Duluth, maybe 3-6" for far northern Wisconsin (the result of lake effect snow).

You'll feel a new sting in the air today as temperatures tumble through the 20s into the teens, a raw northwest wind making it feel like zero later today. That's right: more wind-chill-babble clogging the TV and radio airwaves today. The mercury dips below zero over central and northern Minnesota the next couple of nights, but this will be a brief, glancing blow of arctic air. The core of the bitter air will pass off a few hundred miles to our north and east - this won't be anything like the first 12 days of January. The sun is simply too high in the southern sky, as powerful as it was the third week of October. By the end of the week daytime highs will recover well into the 20s - it looks like a string of low/mid 30s next week. Another thaw, more dripping icicles and gurgling drainspouts. It's been 2 weeks since we've seen enough snow to shovel and plow, and I STILL don't see a "plowable" snowfall looking out through the second week of March. The arrival of numbing air may set off a dusting of snow today, a few roads may get iced up, but I don't expect any widespread travel problems. Today's clipper is starved for moisture, that will limit just how many flakes fall out of that cold, slate-gray sky.

An historic January? According to NCDC much of the planet experience a warmer-than-average January. Red dots signify warmer temperatures last month, the larger the dot the greater the temperature departure from normal. The eastern two thirds of the USA and much of Europe/Asia had a colder than normal January, but that seemed to be the exception and not the rule worldwide. For all the climate information you can possibly digest click here.

Breaking climate news from the NCDC, the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina. We've been preoccupied by some of the bizarre weather, especially the records snows in the Baltimore/D.C. area a couple weeks back. Yes, 40" over 5 days from two separate storms is a pretty big deal. But stepping back, taking a big (global) picture it turns out that January was the 4th warmest since 1880. The world's oceans experienced the second warmest January on record, second only to 1998, the most intense El Nino year on record. Could the current El Nino be keeping the planet warmer than it would be otherwise? Absolutely. February is running 1-2 degrees F. warmer than average across most of Minnesota - the entire winter is running a few degrees above average across not only Minnesota and Wisconsin but most northern tier states of the USA, while readings are dramatically colder over the southeastern USA (and Florida). Blame (or thank) El Nino. Why not - it's an easy scapegoat. When anything goes wrong in my life I blame El Nino. It's the bane of my existence, frankly. I'd have a full head of hair (and weigh 10-15 pounds less) if it wasn't for that dang-blasted El Nino! At this rate I may have to organize a protest of some sort. Stay tuned....

  • The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for January 2010 was 0.60°C (1.08°F) above the 20th century average of 12.0°C (53.6°F). This is the fourth warmest January on record.
  • The global land surface temperature for January 2010 was 0.83°C (1.49°F) above the 20th century average of 2.8°C (37.0°F)—the twelfth warmest January on record. Land areas in the Southern Hemisphere were the warmest on record for January. In the Northern Hemisphere, which has much more land, comparatively, land surface temperatures were 18th warmest on record.
  • The worldwide ocean surface temperature for January 2010 was the second warmest—behind 1998—on record for January, 0.52°C (0.94°F) above the 20th century average of 15.8°C (60.5°F). This can be partially attributed to the persistence of El Niño across the equatorial Pacific Ocean. According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center (CPC), El Niño is expected to continue through the Northern Hemisphere spring 2010. (source: NCDC)

Paul's Conservation MN Outlook for the Twin Cities and all of Minnesota

Today: Mostly cloudy, gusty, turning colder - a dusting of flurries possible. Winds: NW 15-25. High: 20 (falling)

Tuesday night: Partial clearing, plenty cold. Low: near 0 (-5 outlying suburbs).

Wednesday: Blue sky, numbing breeze. High: 15

Thursday: Lingering sunshine, not as cold. Low: 1. High: 22

Friday: Partly sunny. High: 28

Saturday: Mix of sun & flakes. High: 29

Monday: Closer to average, mix of clouds and sun. High: 31

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pothole season comes early...

Praying for a gradual thaw. The latest flood forecast has been released by NOAA. There is a better than 50/50 chance of "major flooding" from St. Paul to Hastings and Red Wing. The odds of major flooding in Fargo? 98% Hopefully our eventual spring thaw will be gradual (not accompanied by heavy rain). For the very latest details from NOAA hydrologists (river forecasters) - literally a science within a science - click here.

Good news for commuters. Bad news for snow-loving kids of all ages. The latest storm sliding off to our south will drop a "plowable" snow on much of the Midwest and Great Lakes. Models are hinting at a whopping half inch of snow Tuesday as colder air arrives - no breaking weather news anytime soon.

The last week or so has been unusually pleasant across Minnesota, temperatures running 5-10 degrees above average. Nice to be serenaded by dripping icicles and gurgling drain spouts, although all that melting snow has the unpleasant tendency to re-freeze at night, resulting in glare ice every morning. Water is one of the few elements that EXPANDS when it freezes at night, so all those little cracks in the pavement that fill up with water fill up with water by day, freeze (and expand outward) at night, literally pulverizing highways over time. Yes, we're heading into pothole season in Minnesota, the result of the freeze-thaw cycle. Like gravity (and taxes) it can't be avoided, I fear. Between the ice - and the potholes - and the wet patches throwing up a dirty spray on your windshield - driving can be hazardous - even with nothing falling from the heavens.

Saturday Highs. Click on the graphic to bring it full-screen. Highs were in the low to mid 30s from St. Cloud to the Twin Cities - cooler just south and west (where there is more snow on the ground).

That sloppy caveat aside, there has been precious little to complain about in the weather department in recent days. Saturday's high in the Twin Cities was a relatively balmy 35 (5 degrees above average, 9 degrees warmer than last year on this date). That makes 4 days above freezing since last Tuesday, February temperatures now +1 F. in the metro area - in spite of 13" of snow on the ground. While parts of America wrestle with snow and ice we experienced an odd "Air Pollution Advisory". We've seen at least 5-6 days in the last few weeks with unusually light winds and an "inversion" overhead, temperatures warming with altitude, trapping man-made pollutants near the ground. Mid-winter smog? I know. It's a little strange. Unusual, but not unprecedented. As I wrote last week, rain/ice is becoming more frequent during January and February - according to Professor Mark Seeley at the U. of MN the frequency of ice in Jan/Feb has quadrupled since 2003. We also seem to be seeing more air pollution events during the winter. A smoking gun? Not sure we can chalk this up to climate change (or even El Nino for that matter).

Prediction: frustrated Minnesota snow-lovers. Close but no-go. The models are printing out an inch of liquid water from central Missouri into western Illinois (which may translate into 10-12" of snow). Chicago: potential for 6-8" or more. The forecast is valid from 7 am Sunday through 7 am Monday.

Blame (or thank) El Nino. Unusually warm water in the equatorial Pacific Ocean may be causing the storm track to become temporarily "locked", bringing more heavy snow from the central Plains to Chicago and Detroit. Click here to see the latest NOAA watches and warnings.

Back to reality. Here are Wednesday's predicted highs: close to 20 in the Twin Cities, holding in the teens across much of central and northern Minnesota. With a sun angle as high in the sky as it was during the third week of October it's getting increasingly difficult for temperatures to fall below zero. Difficult but not impossible. I'll be shocked if we don't experience at least a couple more subzero lows before spring arrives in earnest. Where the heck is Earnest, anyway?

I still don't see any real storms looking out 10-14 days. The models consistently keep any real "weather" passing off a couple hundred miles to our south. Another major snow/ice/rain storm may be shaping up for the east coast by the first week of March. Minnesota temperatures run 5-10 degrees below average this week, cooler than average weather probably hanging on through the first week of March. I do expect a warming trend the second week of March, more 30s likely. No dramatic warm-ups (good news for people living in flood-prone areas of the state). At some point that active storm track will probably shift northward - expect a stormier, more active weather pattern the middle and end of March. No, we haven't seen the last of the snow. Statistically we should pick up at least another 10-20" before the first daffodils of spring appear. Count on it.

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

Today: Intervals of sun, still milder than average. Winds: N 5-10. High: 32

Tonight: Patchy clouds. Low: 18

Monday: Mostly cloudy, feeling a cooler breeze. High: 29

Tuesday: Potential for a little light snow/flurries. Coating - 1/2" possible. High: 21

Wednesday: Cold sun, feels like February again. High: 19

Thursday: Blue sky - brisk. High: 18 (after waking up to 3 F).

Friday: Mostly cloudy, temperatures trending upward. High: 21

Saturday: Mostly gray, closer to average again. High: 27

Friday, February 19, 2010

Snow: the good, bad & ugly

While young men and women from around the world celebrate the fun side of snow and ice in Vancouver for the Winter Olympics, we're reminded of the high cost of snow and ice (where it's not nearly as wanted and appreciated). From "Planalytics", a weather-intelligence company:

* Last week's paralyzing snow from Dallas (12.5") to D.C. (40" over 5 days) left millions of Americans unable to get to work, no shopping, no retail, no restaurant visits, etc. A rough, back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that the subsequent loss of sales and productivity may have reached as high as $36-38 billion from last week's parade of snow and ice storms alone!

* It costs the federal government an estimated $100 million for every DAY it's shut down. Many federal organizations have been closed for nearly 2 weeks now.

* New York City estimates that it costs $1 million/inch to remove snow from the city's streets.

Vancouver, British Columbia. It's been in the 50s downtown, Olympic officials scrambling to keep snow on the slopes. The calendar says mid February, but as far as the atmosphere is concerned it looks and feels more like late March in the Vancouver area right now - probably the result of El Nino warming of Pacific Ocean water.

* El Nino is probably responsible for record-warmth from Vancouver across much of Canada, experiencing one of the 3 or 4 warmest winters on record. Some of this warmth is spilling over into the northern tier states, including Minnesota and Wisconsin - a few degrees above average for the winter, to date. The strong warming of Pacific Ocean water is thought to be at least partially responsible for an extra-energized southern branch of the jet stream, guiding big, wet (at times violent) storms across the Pacific into California, then eastward into Dixie and the eastern seaboard, each subsequent storm pulling unusually cool air south in its wake.

* 31 degree high in the cities Friday, after 3 days in a row above freezing Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. February temperatures are running 1.2 degrees above average so far.

* 40.6" of snow so far for the Twin Cities, very close to where we should be as of Feb. 20. But closer to 50-60" has fallen over parts of southern and western Minnesota, where as much as 5-10" of liquid water is tied up in the snow pack.

Probability of Major Flooding. NOAA is predicting a 96% chance of "major flooding" in Fargo, a 60% risk for downtown St. Paul. Red dots show towns with a greater than 80% risk of major flooding. Yellow dots indicate a 40-60% risk of major flooding, including St. Paul, Hastings and Red Wing. To explore NOAA's flood site for yourself click here.

* NOAA hydrologists (river forecasters) now say there's a 90% chance of flooding on the Mississippi in St. Paul, a 60% risk of "major flooding" in late March and April. It will all depend on how quickly spring arrives. Any sudden thaw, accompanied by heavy rain, will accelerate snow melt and flush snowmelt into area tributaries, increasing the potential for serious flooding. Last year's Red River flooding is still fresh in a lot of minds (60 days above flood stage in the Fargo area). There have never been two epic flood seasons, back to back. If it happens again in 2010 it would be truly historic.

* Friday night on TPTs "Almanac" program the question came up, "why do most Minnesotans believe it's been such a tough winter (when it really hasn't been). My answer: "We've become a state of big weather wussies." (sp?) We were spoiled for much of 2000-2009 with a handful of historically mild, snow-free winters. Some of us thought, "hey, great! This is the new norm." Not so fast. The atmosphere has an uncanny ability to "even things out". A few warm winters are often followed by a few unusually cold winter, but in the end it all pretty much evens out.

* Historically we have another 10-20" of snow left to go, but the odds of sustained, subzero weather are dropping off now with every passing day. The GFS model is hinting at a couple of subzero nights around the first weekend of March, but the odds of a few WEEKS of sustained, bitterly cold weather (like what we endured the first 12 days of January) are slim to 'nil.

Famous last words.

* Water vapor in the atmosphere has increased by about 5% in recent decades. A warmer airmass can hold more water. Basic physics. So does this mean the weather dice is loaded to favor more frequent, intense rainfall (and snowstorms?) Click here for an intriguing story in

* Do vacations boost happiness? Man, I hope so! Just THINKING about future vacations is enough to pull me out of a dark, slushy funk. The story in (and Yahoo) is here. Thanks to Tricia Frostad for passing this along!

White-knuckle Monday AM Commute? Long-range guidance is hinting at an inch, maybe 2" across the southern third of Minnesota Monday, the brunt of the snow passing off south of town.

Paul's Conservation MN Outlook for the Twin Cities and all of Minnesota

Today: Intervals of sun, seasonably cool. Winds: NW 5-10. High: 29

Saturday night: Partly cloudy, chilly. Low: 14

Sunday: Mostly cloudy, few flakes possible late. High: 27

Monday: Period of light snow, maybe an inch or two. High: 25

Tuesday: Flurries giving way to some PM sun. High: 23

Wednesday: Noticeably colder with blue sky. High: 21 (single digit lows)

Thursday: Plenty of sun - brisk. High: 22

Friday: Clouds increase, a bit closer to "average". High: 26

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Loading the Dice?

Weather Factoids

Forecasting a snowfall: the bigger the better. Wait a minute. Snow + TV = Ratings? Amazing! For a big dose of what you probably already knew click here.

Sportsmen key in global warming debate. Do the recent snowstorms in Dallas and D.C. refute climate change, or are these extreme events more evidence? Hunters and fishermen are already noticing changes, literally out in the field. For more click here to read a story from the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.

Minnesota's evolving winters. According to Professor Mark Seeley at the U. of Minnesota the frequency of ice events in January and February have QUADRUPLED since 2003. Coincidence? Maybe. For more details click here.

An Upside Down Winter. Classic El Nino winters are on the right, showing a trend toward cooler south and warmer north. But this winter has been an extreme case, with temperatures as much as 10 degrees warmer than average across Canada, some 8-10 degrees colder for the southeastern USA. This takes "odd weather" to an entirely new level.

El Nino is in full swing, loading the weather-dice to favor more frequent, moist and intense storms across the southern and eastern USA. Freakish one foot plus snowfalls for Dallas, 80+" of snow in the suburbs of Baltimore, so much that authorities have run out of places to push the slush. Although every El Nino event is unique, the vast majority favor milder, drier weather over the northern tier states of the USA and Canada. Vancouver's blooming cherry blossoms and slushy ski runs are just the tip of the iceberg. Canada is enjoying /enduring the 3rd warmest winter on record as Pacific steering winds push well inland, boosting temperatures as much as 10 degrees F. warmer than average since early January. Meanwhile, numbing air from the Arctic Circle has been draining south across Hudson Bay and Quebec, circulating all the way into the Great Lakes and New England. In recent weeks these prevailing winds, the core of the jet stream, the main superhighway for storms, has been running from California to Oklahoma, Memphis and D.C., taking a detour well south of Minnesota. At some point the storm track will shift north again, but I don't see that happening through at least the first week of March. Our winter weather siesta will continue another 10-14 days. Good news for travelers. Bad news for snow lovers (although it won't warm up enough to melt significant snow anytime soon).

An Historic Snowfall. 40-45" in a 5 day period? This high-resolution satellite image was taken days after "Snowmageddon", showing the bright, intense white of fresh snow across the Mid Atlantic States (vs. the scalloped white of low clouds off the east coast).

The weak bubble of high pressure responsible for a week's worth of sunshine and temperatures a good 5 degrees above average (two days above freezing with dripping icicles!) will hang on through Friday. Once again today we may eclipse freezing under a partly-blue sky, a light northwest breeze, the sun as high in the sky as it was back on October 23. If you wander outside into direct sunlight you can really FEEL the difference now. We're picking up 1-2 minutes of additional daylight every day, average temperatures are on the rise, and with each passing day the risk of subzero weather drops off rapidly. I seriously doubt we'll see another subzero daytime high, although a couple more subzero lows are likely before warm fronts have the strength to reach this latitude.

Loading The Dice? Climatologists tell us that there is an estimated 5% more water vapor in the air today than there was a generation ago. A warmer atmosphere can hold more water. There is a growing body of evidence that this spike in water vapor is sparking more extreme precipitation events: flash floods, river flooding, and potentially increasing the odds of major snowfalls. Proving cause and effect with the atmosphere is never straightforward, and many factors may be involved, including a moderate to strong El Nino causing the storm track to temporarily "lock" over the southern and eastern USA. A complicated puzzle? You bet.

Paul's Conservation MN Outlook for the Twin Cities

Today: Plenty of sun, still milder than average. Winds: NW 5-10. High: 32

Tonight: Partly cloudy, still quiet. Low: 15

Friday: Less sun, more clouds, dry. High: 29

Saturday: Mostly cloudy, a few flurries possible. High: 27

Sunday: Overcast, more flurries, nothing more than a dusting. High: 26

Monday: A period of very light snow/flurries, maybe a coating. High: near 30

Tuesday: Flurries giving way to partial clearing, gusty winds. High: 26

Wednesday: Mostly sunny and chilly. High: 22

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The United (quirky) States of America

Paul's Conservation Minnesota Outlook for the Twin Cities

Today: Partly sunny, milder than average. Winds: NW 8-13. High: 33

Tonight: Partly cloudy. Low: 11

Thursday: More clouds than sun, slightly cooler. High: 29

Friday: Mix of clouds and sunshine, temperatures close to average. High: 28

Saturday: Mostly cloudy, still storm-free. High: 26

Sunday: More clouds, a few flurries (dusting possible). High: 28

Monday: Leftover clouds, flurries, no more than a coating. High: 31

Tuesday: Increasingly sunny, turning noticeably colder. High: 19

Welcome thaw. The mercury hit 34 F. on Tuesday, 5 degrees above average (in spite of 17" of snow on the ground). It was the first time in 11 days the temperature has gone above freezing in the Twin Cities.

* So far the metro area has experienced HALF as many subzero nights this winter compared to last (15 since December, 2009, compared to 29 last winter at this time).

* Feeling a little perkier? No, me neither. But if you do have a little kick in your step you can thank a higher sun angle (as high in the sky as it was on October 23). We've picked up 103 minutes of daylight since Dec. 21. Can spring be far behind? You betcha!

What a strange winter. Ski tournaments in Vermont have been canceled due to a quirky lack of snow. Meanwhile officials don't know what to do with the 40-50" snow still on the ground in the Philadelphia - Baltimore - Washington D.C. area, experiencing a truly historic winter, the most snow in 100-150 years of record-keeping. Last week Dallas was buried under 12.5" of snow, smashing a handful of records, by far the most snow that city has ever seen in modern-day records. Last Friday there was a moment where snow was reported in all 50 states (a coating on the Florida panhandle, snow on the summit of Hawaii's volcanoes).

More slush than ice. Cypress Mountain, outside Vancouver, where the snowboard festivities are taking place for the Winter Olympics. Recent rains and daytime highs in the 40s have created very challenging conditions for officials trying to keep ice in competition-ready condition.

Which makes the snow situation (or lack thereof) for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver that much more of a head-scratcher. It's been a remarkably mild winter for British Columbia, the best theoretical (guess) is that a strong El Nino is responsible for a persistent Pacific breeze, blowing unusually mild air into the Vancouver area. It has been so mild that CHERRY BLOSSOMS are blooming in downtown Vancouver right now! There was no snow in the city during January - NONE! As early as Christmas Olympic officials brought in snow-making machines. In recent weeks the "green" Olympics have been forced to truck in many, many tons of snow from surrounding mountains. It was 50 yesterday (in the city), temperatures well into the 40s on the slopes. Cyprus Mountain, home of the snowboarding competitions, has been hardest hit by the warmth and rain (and fog!) It's been a full-time job for officials to try to keep the ice in competition-form, and the forecast for the rest of the week calls for more 40s, but the rain may be winding down, which would be a blessing. Don't be surprised if more Olympic events are postponed, even canceled, due to the unseasonably mild, Marchlike weather. For a great summary of the unusually mild weather click here.

A long list of records. Here are 24 hours worth of weather records for the USA. Note the snow (and rainfall) records for southeastern Minnesota (from Monday's storm). More snowfall records for the Ohio Valley, and high temperature records for the Pacific Northwest (and the Vancouver, British Columbia area). Click here to go to Ham Weather, a division of WeatherNation, where you can see the individual city record details.

Yesterday felt great, highs reaching the mid 30s, a faint whiff of March in the air. Predicting highs with significant snow on the ground is always tricky. The snow acts as a refrigerant, cooling the air from below. The wind direction seems to make all the difference. And here I thought a high of 30 was going out on a limb. Boundary layer temperatures (a few hundred feet above the ground, the level at which there is no frictional component to the wind flowing overhead) are nearly as mild later today as they were yesterday, so we may nudge freezing once again. Temperatures cool off (slightly) as we slide into the weekend, a dusting/coating of flurries possible by Sunday or Monday of next week (a "nuisance snow" at most). Much colder weather returns next week, with 2-3 days in the teens (at least the sun should be out). Long-range guidance is hinting at a potentially major snowstorm for Des Moines and Chicago by the end of next week. That's still way out on the horizon, laughably early to talk timing and potential amounts for Minnesota, but it's conceivable we could pick up a couple inches of snow on the northern fringe of the storm by next Thursday. Stay tuned....

Close encounter of the snowy kind next Thursday, Feb. 25? Day 10 of the GFS model shows a significant storm pushing north across the Mississippi River Valley, brushing central and southern Minnesota with a couple inches of snow. This forecast WILL change over time, as new data arrives (4 new model runs/daily). Just know that the pattern may become considerably more active by the latter half of next week.

Blame it on El Nino? The barrage of winter storms steam-rolling across much of the southern and eastern US may be a symptom of a moderate El Nino. One possible silver lining? El Nino winters tend to be followed by milder tornado seasons across the USA. Time will tell if that's the case in 2010.