The Unsavory Art of Weather Prediction

Trolls are everywhere. “Paul, you just go with whatever the weather models tell you to say.” Thanks for reaching out! And no, that’s not how it works. Meteorologists rely on weather models for forecasts beyond 24 hours. The key: which model to believe, when? We examine model trends over time (wetter, drier, warmer, colder) and look for consensus. Pattern recognition comes into play. Weather patterns are never identical but often similar. And then there are days when future weather is unknowable. It’s a humbling profession.

The severe threat is over; showers taper today as cold exhaust on the backside of last night’s storm kicks in. Winds gust to 40 mph tomorrow and Friday. That said, we get the better end of this low pressure system. The western half of North Dakota may see 3 feet of snow with 8-foot drifts. Other than that, quite delightful.

A chilly Easter/Passover weekend may whip up a slushy coating Sunday night, but spring attempts another comeback with 60s and a few 70s the last week of April!

“We Want to Save Lives”. Volunteer Storm Spotters Help NWS Warn the Public. Doppler is great, but it only goes so far – we still need ground truth. And that’s where Skyward spotters come in, as highlighted in a post at The Providence Journal: …“Storm spotters play a critical role because they can see things that radar and other technological tools cannot, and this ground truth is critical in helping the NWS perform our primary mission, to save lives and property,” the Weather Service says. “Since the program started in the 1970s, the information provided by Skywarn spotters, coupled with Doppler-radar technology, improved satellite and other data, has enabled NWS to issue more timely and accurate warnings for tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and flash floods,” the Weather Service says…”

Climate Nexus

Extreme Weather Has Affected 1 in 3 Americans. Grist has a summary of new findings from Gallup: “One in three U.S. adults report they have been personally affected by an extreme weather event in the past two years. Most commonly, they report experiencing extreme cold, hurricanes, or snow, ice storms or blizzards. The results are based on Gallup’s annual Environment poll, conducted March 1-18. This marks the first time Gallup has asked Americans about their experiences with extreme weather events as part of this survey. Residents of the South (39%) and West (35%) are significantly more likely than those living in the East (24%) and Midwest (27%) to say they have recently experienced an extreme weather event. Southern residents are most likely to say they were affected by extreme cold (12%) or hurricanes (12%) and, to a lesser extent, tornadoes (7%)...”

Future Radar/Clouds

Showers Taper Today. While North Dakota endures a full-blown blizzard, rains showers should gradually diminish today as winds pick up from the west, drying us out a bit. Thursday and Friday will feel more like early March than mid-April, but I don’t see any slushy accumulation for the Twin Cities metro area.


Another Unfortunate Temperature Relapse. I blame Congress, but most meteorologists link our tardy spring to a nagging La Nina cool phase of the Pacific which refuses to let go, putting the brakes on warm fronts pushing too far north. Heavy jacket weather hangs on through the middle of next week before temperatures finally recover.

ECMWF Temperatures for MSP
NOAA GFS Temperatures for MSP

Now That’s More Like It. I am especially enamored with NOAA’s GFS model, which brings 60s and a few 70s our way by the last week of April. That would be nice.

Grudging Warming Trend. Late April looks milder, trending a bit closer to average – a lingering trough of low pressure over the central USA kicking up instability showers and T-storms. The south and west looks unusually warm 2 weeks out.

Predicted May – July Temperature Anomalies

(Very) Warm Bias Into July? NOAA’s ensemble of longer-range models, including NASA and NCAR hint at a radical shift to a hotter environment for most of the USA. At this point nothing would surprise me.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

National Weather Service Facing Helium Shortage for Weather Balloons. Say what? A story at Axios got my attention: “Just as the spring tornado season kicks into high gear, the National Weather Service is facing shortages in key gases it uses to fill weather balloons. Weather balloons are usually launched twice daily at about 100 locations nationwide and provide vital information for weather forecasting, from the temperature profile of the atmosphere to the winds aloft. They can help anticipate severe thunderstorms, for example. But several balloon sites have had to limit launches because of supply chain shortages of helium, plus a contract dispute concerning a supplier of hydrogen gas. With extreme weather events on the rise both in number and severity, due in part to human-caused climate change, America’s weather forecasting infrastructure is showing signs of strain…”


Scientists Are Seeing a Dangerous Shift in Early-Spring Tornadoes. A warming signal coupled with natural variability (La Nina) appears to be priming the atmosphere for more outbreaks, earlier. reports: “…It’s the second year in a row the country has endured a record number of tornadoes in March, solidifying a trend toward more severe weather earlier in the year and raising questions among scientists, who’ve historically seen such weather peak from April to early June. Meanwhile, more severe storms happening farther east in the country could mean more disastrous and deadly tornado outbreaks are possible. Scientists suspect the climate crisis — which is changing the typical atmospheric patterns of moisture and instability — is playing a major role in the timing and location of severe weather. “Our future projections of how severe weather may change in the future are really showing two things,” Victor Gensini, an associate professor at Northern Illinois University and one of the country’s top tornado experts, told CNN...”

U.S. Drought Monitor

Drought is Threatening Hydro-power in the Southwestern US. has perspective on the implications of a 1200-year long drought: “News that Lake Powell, a reservoir on the border of Arizona and Utah, is slowly but surely drying up has spread far and wide. Behind the 1,320-megawatt Glen Canyon Dam and power station, Lake Powell plays an important role in providing power for some 3 million customers in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. But this year, the reservoir has hit a historic low, due to ongoing drought conditions in the region that have been attributed, at least in part, to climate change. The dam may even stop producing power if the situation continues to worsen, and this issue is not an isolated one in the American Southwest…”

The series of blizzards that hit the Red River Valley in eastern North Dakota this winter were mainly ground blizzards caused by blowing snow. Several accidents on the Interstate highways involving multiple vehicles highlighted the need for accurate and reliable forecasts to warn drivers of hazardous conditions.
North Dakota Highway Patrol photo.

The Blizzard-Whisperers. Can we do a better job predicting ground blizzards? Meteorologists at the University of North Dakota are working on that challenge, as outlined at UND Today: “…UND’s space studies and biology departments are providing facilities for weather instruments located at the Oakville Prairie Field Station and Observatory near Emerado. The North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network (NDAWN) at North Dakota State University and NWS offices in Grand Forks and Bismarck are also involved. Currently, there are instruments at airports throughout the region called ceilometers, used to give pilots information on cloud ceilings by projecting a laser beam straight up. According to Kennedy, these instruments could also be used to provide real-time data on blowing snow or precipitation to aid in making more accurate forecasts. “We’ll be able to develop algorithms that can detect blowing snow,” Kennedy said. “The idea is that we’ll pass this information on to NOAA – and if they think it’s useful – then perhaps we can find a way to make this happen with the instruments already out there…”

The GMC Hummer EV is a Brilliant Execution of a Terrible Idea. At least it’s an electric-powered monster. Here’s an excerpt from an analysis and review at “…I just hope that EV stereotypes are the only things Hummers will be crashing through. Weighing over 9,000 pounds, the GMC Hummer EV has twice the mass of many other gas-powered SUVs, let alone ordinary cars. In the event of a crash, that mass could represent a serious risk to others on the road. After spending a day test driving the Hummer on-road and off, I was impressed by its capabilities, but I was left worried that its mass paired with its power could be dangerous. And that’s because the Hummer EV is very good. It has absurd amounts of power. It has four-wheel-steering to help it turn as tightly as a compact car. It rides as smoothly as any other luxury SUV. But it weighs about three times as much as a Honda Civic...”


Most Trusted Source of Information? The Weather Channel. So says a poll from YouGov: “…YouGov asked 1,500 Americans where they get their news from and how much they trust a variety of prominent media organizations and news anchors. The poll, conducted from March 26 – 29, shows that while Americans are more likely to trust than distrust many prominent news sources, there are very few organizations that are trusted by more than a small proportion of Americans on both sides of the political aisle. In fact, the most Americans overall place trust in an organization that rarely covers domestic politics: the Weather Channel (52% of Americans trust it). The Weather Channel is trailed by the U.K. news outlet, BBC (39%), the national public broadcaster, PBS (41%), and The Wall Street Journal (37%)…”

57 F. Twin Cities high on Tuesday.

55 F. average MSP high on April 12.

49 F. MSP high on April 12, 2021.

April 13, 1949: A late-season snowstorm dumps over 9 inches in parts of the Twin Cities metro area.

WEDNESDAY: Windy, few showers. Winds: W 15-25. High: 47

THURSDAY: Few flakes. Winds gust over 40 mph. Winds: W 20-45. Wake-up: 30. High: 42

FRIDAY: Mostly cloudy, still gusty. Winds: W 20-40. Wake-up: 28. High: 39

SATURDAY: More sunshine, but chilly. Winds: NW 15-25. Wake-up: 26. High: 38

SUNDAY: Some sun, slushy coating at night? Winds: E 7-12. Wake-up: 25. High: 41

MONDAY: Light mix possible. Winds: NE 8-13. Wake-up: 30. High: near 40

TUESDAY: Sunny and nicer. Winds: NW 7-12. Wake-up: 28. High: 45

Climate Stories…

The U.S. is using much more low-carbon and carbon-free electricity today than projected in 2005.
Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, CC BY-ND

Electrifying Homes to Slow Climate Change: 4 Essential Reads. The Conversation dives in: “…As of 2020, home energy use accounted for about one-sixth of total U.S. energy consumption. Nearly half (47%) of this energy came from electricity, followed by natural gas (42%), oil (8%) and renewable energy (7%). By far the largest home energy use is for heating and air conditioning, followed by lighting, refrigerators and other appliances. The most effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from home energy consumption is to substitute electricity generated from low- and zero-carbon sources for oil and natural gas. And the power sector is rapidly moving that way: As a 2021 report from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory showed, power producers have reduced their carbon emissions by 50% from what energy experts predicted in 2005...”


Southeast African Tropical Cyclones Made Worse By Climate Change: Climate Nexus has details and links: “Climate change is making extreme rainfall across southeast Africa heavier and more likely during cyclones, a new analysis finds. The report from World Weather Attribution has special significance for communities in Madagascar, Mozambique and Malawi, where a record three tropicalcyclones hit within just six weeks of each other earlier this year, killing a combined 230 people and displacing hundreds of thousands. The WWA analysis found climate change, caused mainly by the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels, made the storms worse. It also highlighted the lack of data available in the region. “Strengthening scientific resources in Africa and other parts of the global south is key to help us better understand extreme weather events fueled by climate change, to prepare vulnerable people and infrastructure to better cope with them,” Dr. Izidine Pinto, a climate system analyst at the University of Cape Town, told the AP.” (AP)

Climate in the United States. This tool from USAFacts compares monthly temperatures and precipitation to 20th century averages to see the trends: “The United States has experienced a wide variety of extreme weather over the last 125 years, impacting people, communities, and geographies. Track monthly data on how counties experience severe weather, including precipitation and temperature.”

The Razor’s Edge of a Warming World. highlights the cities that may be most impacted by extreme heat in the years and decades to come: “…But some have argued that the Paris Agreement is flawed: Even though countries are required to submit plans to reduce emissions, there is no way of enforcing those pledges, and six years after Paris, we remain on a disastrous course. One recent study projected that, under current policies, the world is on track to warm by 2.7 degrees by 2100—a catastrophic scenario. So, without the will to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, what comes next? Around the world, profound transformations are already under way. Ski slopes are bare. Storms are worsening. Regions are becoming inhospitable for human life. In one future, the world warms by 2 degrees or more and these trends continue to their catastrophic ends. In another, we pull the hand brake now and limit warming to 1.5 degrees. “People don’t realize that every tenth of a degree matters,” Baum explains. Here are some places where they matter the most…”

Methane Emissions Surged by a Record Amount in 2021, NOAA Says. Here’s a clip from “Global emissions of methane, the second-biggest contributor to human-caused climate change after carbon dioxide, surged by a record amount in 2021, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said on Thursday. Methane, a key component of natural gas, is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide but doesn’t last as long in the atmosphere before it breaks down. Major contributors to methane emissions include oil and gas extraction, landfills and wastewater, and farming of livestock. “Our data show that global emissions continue to move in the wrong direction at a rapid pace,” Rick Spinrad, the NOAA administrator, said in a statement. “The evidence is consistent, alarming and undeniable...”

Calls For Cutting Methane Growing Louder: Climate Nexus has more perspective and links: “The recognition of the need to quickly cut methane pollution, and the cumulative calls to do so, are greater than ever before, the Washington Post reports. Methane, the primary component in what the industry calls “natural gas,” is the second-most abundant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, trapping over 80-times more heat than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame. This, combined with the availability of options to reduce methane pollution, like fixing leaky pipelines and electrifying home heating and cooking, makes it a significant part of humanity’s most plausible pathway to limiting warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) above preindustrial levels. Reducing methane pollution has featured prominently in recent IPCC reports on the causes of, and solutions to climate change, and while the U.S. government has made moves to lead the international community in the efforts to cut methane emissions, global energy sector methane pollution is 70% higher than official figures.” (Washington Post $, The Guardian, Gizmodo)

Climate Central

National and Global Emission Sources (2020). Climate Central has a good overview; here’s an excerpt: “…At 22% of national emissions, the Industrial sector emits a significant share of the U.S. total. Industrial emissions are the result of producing commodities (such as steel and cement) through manufacturing, food processing, mining and construction. Maintaining buildings (by heating and cooling them, managing their waste, etc.) falls into the ‘Commercial and Residential’ sector, accounting for 12% of emissions. Finally, agriculture accounts for the remaining 9% of emissions, including through soil management practices as well as methane from livestock and manure. Now at 414 ppm, atmospheric CO2 concentrations are higher than at any time in the past 800,000 years, which directly relates to the planet’s temperature. The world has committed to keep warming well below 2℃ (3.6°F) globally, and that comes with the challenge of a carbon budget—a low-carb diet, if you will. Scientists estimate that humans can only emit 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide and reasonably hope to meet the 2℃ target—a budget that would be exhausted in 15 years if emissions continue at the current rate of 36.6 gigatons of CO2 a year...”

Climate Central

U.S. counties that would be impacted by six feet of sea level rise are shaded in blue. Inland counties are shaded in red according to how many migrants they would receive from coastal areas.

As Climate Fears Mount, Some in U.S. are Deciding to Relocate. Yale E360 reports; here’s an excerpt: “…After being forced out of their home, the Brazil family joined other Americans escaping the worsening impacts of climate change. These migrants include New Orleans residents who fled their city after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Houstonians who were driven out by flooding from Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Other communities have begun to disappear entirely. Residents of the coastal Louisiana community of Isle de Jean Charles, which sits just a foot or two above sea level, are being pushed out by rising seas. Inhabitants of coastal Native Alaskan villages such as Shishmaref and Newtok — where more intense storm surges caused by declining sea ice are eroding coasts weakened by melting permafrost — are being relocated. Increasingly, worsening climate effects, including heat waves, wildfires, floods, droughts, and sea level rise, are leading a growing number of Americans to have second thoughts about where they are living and to decide to move to places that are perceived to be less exposed to these impacts, according to anecdotal reports and a growing volume of academic research. Some, like the Brazil family, are forced to move to safer areas, while others are well-to-do homeowners who are choosing to leave before fires or floods drive them out...”