Pacific Breeze Returns – No Sign of a Painful Polar Vortex

Happy 2020! By the way, where’s my flying car? Think about it. Years ago when you daydreamed about the 21st century you pictured monorails, robotic butlers and romantic getaways to the moon.

Instead we got a warming climate, Amazon 2-day delivery and more streaming TV shows. The future isn’t quite what we expected. But I’m still happy to be around and have a front-row seat to what comes next.

Considering the next 4 weeks are, historically, the coldest of the entire year, I’m OK with 20s and 30s (above zero) for highs into mid-January. A refreshing jolt of single digits may arrive by mid-month, but I see no extended polar pain.

The maps look a lot different than the last 2 winters, when winds aloft howled (consistently) from the Yukon. This winter we’re seeing the Pacific Ocean flavor our weather more often, breaking up the inevitable cold fronts with more frequent thaws. Will this trend linger into February? Too early to say.

Thawing temperatures greet the New Year, with above average readings into Monday.

I’ll be thrilled if I don’t have to mutter ‘polar vortex’ this year!

Relatively Mild Into Mid-January. Both ECMWF (top) and GFS (bottom) show a correction by mid-January with a few days in the teens; colder – but not exactly polar, at least not yet. Meteograms: WeatherBell.

Colder Slap Within 2 Weeks. GFS is consistently predicting a buckling of zonal winds, allowing colder air to surge south by the third week of January. The pattern seems progressive – no sign that numbing air will linger for an extended period of time, but it’s wishful thinking to assume we won’t get slapped around by Old Man Winter during what is – historically – the coldest month of the year.

Australian Wildfires Trap More Than 4,000 People on Beach in Mallacoota. Daily Beast has the jaw-dropping details: “More than 4,000 people, including residents, hundreds of tourists, and children, are trapped on beaches near the town of Mallacoota on Australia’s east coast, surrounded as raging wildfires fueled by strong winds are barreling toward them. Officials are telling them they may need to jump into the sea to save themselves. David Jeffrey, a local business owner, told BBC News that he and other residents sheltering on an adjacent beach nearby were preparing to jump into the sea before sudden winds pushed the flames in the other direction…”

Top Five Weather Events of 2019 in Minnesota. Thanks to Pete Boulay and his colleagues at the Minnesota DNR State Climatology Office: “Here are the results of voting for the top five weather events of 2019 from the Minnesota State Climatology Office. Votes were cast from various weather enthusiasts including the National Weather Service, the University of Minnesota, State agencies and Facebook followers. Please visit us on Facebook  and post your own top five weather events for Minnesota.

#3 Record Snows of February 2019

February is not typically known as a snowy month. February 2019 was an exception. The Twin Cities total of 39 inches broke the old record of 26.5 inches by over a foot. There were five calendar days of at least 4 inches of snow. A typical winter usually sees two or three such events. Rochester also set its record of 40.0 inches, St. Cloud had 27.6 inches. This was also the snowiest February on record at 47 of Minnesota’s older National Weather Service cooperative observing stations, from all corners of the state.

#2 Another Very Wet Year in Minnesota

2019 was excessively wet across central and southern Minnesota. This caused many issues with high water and high stream and river flows for a good part of the year. Some annual precipitation records fell for major cities, including over 43 inches in the Twin Cities and over 55 inches at Rochester. Despite these high totals, no location threatened the statewide record of 60.21 inches, set at Harmony in 2018.

#1 Cold Outbreak: January 27-31, 2019

This arctic outbreak followed in the wake of a vigorous Alberta Clipper. It was noteworthy for having the coldest air measured in Minnesota since 1996, and the lowest wind chills since the 1980s. Cotton, MN had an air temperature of -56F and the Twin Cities saw -28 F. Many schools were closed for four days in a row, including the University of Minnesota on the 30th. US Postal mail service was stopped statewide. The Minnesota State Climatology Office was open as usual...”

2019 Was a Brutal Year for American Farmers. No kidding. Vox has a good summary of what was an awful year: “US farmers have taken a particularly harsh beating this year from a one-two punch of nasty flooding exacerbated by climate change and a trade war with China. Severe floods spurred by record rainfall soaked the southeast and the Midwest this summer, delaying plantings of corn and soy crops. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that the 12-month period ending in May of this year was the wettest 12 months on record in the United States. (NOAA’s full climate and weather assessment for 2019 will be available in January.) Flooding on the Mississippi River this year also set records for how long it lasted in several locations. In August, the US Department of Agriculture reported that farmers weren’t able to plant more than 19.4 million acres of cropland in 2019, the most since reporting began in 2007. Most of this area was spread across 12 states in the Midwest and Great Plains...”

Map credit: “Corn planting was significantly delayed this year in states like Illinois and Indiana due in part to severe floods.” Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Decade in Review: 10 of the Biggest U.S. Weather Stories of the 2010s. SFGate has a pretty good list and recap of what made news since 2010, including Superstorm Sandy: “…This massive tempest, part-hurricane, part extratropical storm, killed at least 100 people in the United States and cost $65 billion, primarily due to massive amount of water it pushed into the Northeast coast and the resulting coastal flooding. The storm formed in the Caribbean, reaching peak strength as a Category 3 hurricane when it hit Cuba on October 25, 2012. From there, Sandy quickly swept northward ahead of an approaching cold front over the United States. The European’s ECMWF weather model latched onto the idea of Sandy’s virtually unprecedented left-hand turn toward the U.S. Northeast coast as much as a week in advance. The National Hurricane Center’s forecast called for a hit to New Jersey the evening of October 26, three days in advance. The storm roared ashore just south of Atlantic City, N.J. with 80 mph sustained winds on October 29...”

Sandy file image: NASA.

20 Experts Predict the Most Significant Weather and Climate Advances of the Next Decade. Dr. Marshall Shepherd has some interesting predictions at Forbes: “…As we move into the next decade, I wanted to pull out a “crystal ball” and see what’s next on the horizon for the weather and climate community. I reached out to a cohort of 20 weather and climate experts for their projections…”

I see the next decade featuring a significant application of machine learning methods to numerical weather prediction output. Systems like MOS will likely be replaced by such algorithms making for even better local point forecasting. Think of it as using statistical downscaling on output with horizontal grid spacings likely 1km (by the end of the decade) for hyperlocal forecasts. I do wonder if we have the proper calibrated observations to train such models, but perhaps we will see improvements in this area over the next ten years too. We may also see the first “operational” convection permitting global climate model by the end of the decade. That would be a significant leap for the climate research community.

Dr. Victor Gensini, Professor at Northern Illinois University

Photo credit above: “NASA’s ECOSTRESS is using AI and other advanced technology to study Earth.” NASA.

Minnesota Chalks Up the Wettest Year on Record. In case you missed this good summary at Star Tribune; here’s an excerpt: “…It appears 2019 will wind up being the wettest year on record in Minnesota, busting the record set in 1977, said Kenny Blumenfeld, senior climatologist in the State Climate Office. Although the entire state was significantly wetter than normal, the southern half was the soggiest with at least a dozen areas setting individual records, he said. By mid-December, Rochester had recorded 54.28 inches of precipitation — 10 inches more than the record set in 1990. And by mid-December, Minneapolis-St. Paul inched above the 2016 record of 40.32 inches. The wet conditions forced many farmers to plant later than usual, said Dave Nicolai, University of Minnesota Extension educator for crops. “Some never got their crops in the ground,” he said. “To be most successful, you like to plant starting in April, and then have a good fall...”

Amazon Rainforest Lost Equivalent of 8.4 Million Soccer Fields This Decade Due to Deforestation. has a harrowing update: “The Amazon rainforest has lost the equivalent of 8.4 million soccer fields over the past decade due to deforestation. That’s about 24,000 square miles, or about 10.3 million American football fields. Put another way, it’s the equivalent of losing Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts and New Jersey. The stunning figure is from the Royal Statistical Society, which chose it as its international statistic of the decade. The British organization is comprised of statisticians from around the world. “The statistic only gives a snapshot of the issue, but it really provides an insight into the dramatic change to the landscape that has occurred over the past decade,” Liberty Vittert, a visiting scholar at Harvard University and one of the statisticians on the judging panel for the RSS, told CNN...”

Why 2020 is the Turning Point for Electric Cars. Dan Neil reports for The Wall Street Journal (paywall); here’s the intro: “In an industry caught flat-footed by the rise of Tesla and China’s skyrocketing vehicle-emissions mandates of the past decade, 2020 came to be seen as the horizon of reasonable expectations, when global OEMs, startups, suppliers and investors could finally join the EV fray. That time has arrived… almost. A slew of new battery-electrics will debut next year, most as 2021 models. Some announced prices could change; and the to-market dates for some products may be delayed, depending on outside events, like Brexit. Note: Earlier this week, Congress declined to expand the federal tax credit for EVs, which sets auto makers’ eligibility for the credit at 200,000 sales. The Tesla Model Y isn’t eligible for the credit. Here’s what’s coming…”

Psychedelic Drugs May Help Treatment of Addiction, Depression and Anxiety. Magic mushrooms anyone? Here’s an excerpt of an interview at CBS News 60 Minutes: “For most, psychedelic drugs conjure up images of the 1960’s, hippies tripping out on LSD or magic mushrooms. But, as Anderson Cooper reported earlier this year, these powerful, mind-altering substances are now being studied seriously by scientists inside some of the country’s foremost medical research centers. They’re being used to treat depression, anxiety and addiction.  The early results are impressive, as are the experiences of the studies’ volunteers who go on a six-hour, sometimes terrifying, but often life-changing psychedelic journey deep into their own minds…”

Technology Doesn’t Win Wars. Why the US Pretends It Does. A post at Big Think made me….think. Here’s an overview: “Number eight on Big Think’s list this year says the future will not even look like wars to the traditional mind. The worst threat is systemic. It’s growing entropy in the global system. Today, when Russia wants to shake up Europe — the world — its operatives weaponize refugees. That is, by bombing civilian centers, they create an avalanche of refugees, which, in turn, creates Brexit and the rise of right-wing national parties that want to disembowel the European Union. High-tech is not the savior that many futurists pretend it is when it comes to warfare. As a matter of fact, McFate contends, much of our investment in it is ludicrous. “You know, we have not fought, we have not had a strategic dogfight since the Korean War. So why do we need more fighter jets? I do not know. . . . We’ve spent $1.5 trillion on the F-35. That’s more than Russia’s GDP...”

10 Worst Tech Product Launches of the 2010s. (paywall) looks back with a mix of nostalgia and horror: “…Apple wrote the manual for the smartphone: Control the platform, lock users in, and win the game. Amazon, looking to cut out the various middlemen between customers and its services, figured it could do the same … by launching a new smartphone platform in 2014. The company utterly failed at nearly every aspect of this endeavor, proudly unveiling a slow and a tragically unhip device with an unfinished operating system at an iPhone-worthy price. Users and critics laughed, and within six weeks Amazon slashed the cost to 99 cents. It still didn’t sell (though Amazon never released sales statistics), and the company wrote off $170 million in unsold phones before discontinuing it altogether...”

5″ snow on the ground at MSP.

24 F. maximum Twin Cities temperature on Tuesday.

24 F. average high on December 31.

32 F. high on December 31, 2018.

January 1, 2003: On this date there is an inch or less of snow on the ground from Duluth to the Iowa border. In the Twin Cities there isn’t even a dirty snowbank to be found.

January 1, 1997: Freezing rain causes numerous accidents along the North Shore. In Lake County, vehicles could not get up hills and were blocking roads. Highway 61 was closed for several hours from Two Harbors to Silver Bay.

January 1, 1864: Extremely cold air moves into Minnesota. The Twin Cities have a high of 25 degrees below zero.

NEW YEAR’S DAY: More clouds, hangovers. Winds: SW 8-13. High: 33

THURSDAY: Mostly cloudy and milder. Winds: SW 7-12. Wake-up: 28. HIgh: 38

FRIDAY: Clouds, chance of flurries. Winds: W 7-12. Wake-up: 20. High: 32

SATURDAY: Mostly cloudy and cooler. Winds: W 8-13. Wake-up: 14. High: 25

SUNDAY: More clouds than sun, gusty. Winds: NW 15-25. Wake-up: 17. High: 32

MONDAY: Mostly cloudy and quiet. Winds: NW 8-13. Wake-up: 16. High: 29

TUESDAY: Colder with a few flakes. Winds: NW 8-13. Wake-up: 13. High: 19

Climate Stories…

Greta Thunberg and Mass Protests Defined the Year in Climate Change. NBC News reports: “Most climate scientists will be quick to say that 2019 was the year that Greta Thunberg truly became a force to be reckoned with. The 16-year-old Swedish activist staged solo “Fridays for Future” school strikes that triggered a global phenomenon drawing millions of people into the streets to protest climate inaction. The teen has since become the face of that newly energized climate movement and was recently named Time magazine’s Person of the Year. “She represents the best of humanity,” said Benjamin Houlton, a professor of global environmental studies at the University of California, Davis. “She frightens those in power right now because she has a very clear message and she’ll continue to be an important crusader...”

Image credit: “The influence of 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg helped launch a global movement of climate action.” Chelsea Stahl / NBC News.

A Year of Climate Records and Three Great Climate Change Investments. A post at Forbes caught my eye: “…Carbon Engineering has found a way to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (called “Direct Air Capture” or DAC) and put it to use in industrial applications (specifically Enhanced Oil Recovery or EOR) or turn it into transportation fuel that can be used in any internal combustion engine…The exciting news for the team at CE is that Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, has commissioned the firm to build the first commercial-scale DAC plant in the Permian Basin in Texas. In September, the firm announced the plant’s capacity was being increased to 1,000,000 tons per year of CO2 capture. This is a big deal for Carbon Engineering’s investors and stakeholders, of course. But I don’t think it is too much to say that this project holds great potential for humankind…”

Photo credit: “Carbon Engineering’s test facility in picturesque Squamish, BC.” Carbon Engineering.

How Some Florida Communities Are Adjusting to Climate Change. Keep an eye on south Florida, which will be ground zero for adaptation and resilience in the USA. Here’s an excerpt of an interview at NPR: “…Well, in Florida, Miami Beach has really been at the forefront of this. For about a decade now, they’ve been dealing with this thing that sometimes people call sunny day flooding. It’s when the sun’s shining. There’s no rain, but the streets get flooded because of seasonal high tides. Sometimes, they’re called king tide, happens mostly in the fall. So several years ago, the city committed to begin spending several hundred million dollars on infrastructure – you know, pumps, seawalls, raising the roads. And you’re seeing other local governments throughout Florida follow suit. It’s a problem that they’re facing right now in the Florida Keys, you know, the island chain just off the coast here in Florida. On Key Largo this summer, because of a series of king tides, one community found its streets were flooded for at least three months...”

File photo: Emily Michot, Miami Herald.

SUVs Are Worse for the Climate Than You Ever Imagined. (paywall) reports: “…According to a summary analysis of a report by the International Energy Agency that was released on November 13, SUVs are the second-biggest cause of the rise in global carbon dioxide emissions during the past decade. Only the power sector is a bigger contributor. The analysis, which surprised even its own authors, found a dramatic shift toward SUVs. In 2010, one in five vehicles sold was an SUV; today it’s two in five. “As a result, there are now over 200 million SUVs around the world, up from about 35 million in 2010,” the agency reports. The preference for heavier SUVs is offsetting fuel-efficiency improvements in smaller cars and carbon savings from the growing popularity of electric cars. “If SUV drivers were a nation, they would rank seventh in the world for carbon emissions,” reported The Guardian…”

Greenland Ice Loss is at “Worst Case Scenario” Levels, Study Finds. A press release from UCI News caught my eye: “Greenland is losing ice mass seven times faster than in the 1990s, a pace that matches the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s high-end warming scenario – in which 400 million people would be exposed to coastal flooding by 2100, 40 million more than in the mid-range prediction. The alarming update resulted from the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Intercomparison Exercise, a project involving nearly 100 polar scientists from 50 international institutions, among them two from the University of California, Irvine. IMBIE researchers combined 26 separate surveys to compute changes in the mass of Greenland’s ice sheet between 1992 and 2018. Altogether, data from 11 different satellite missions were used, including measurements of the ice sheet’s changing volume, flow and gravity...”

Photo credit: “The more remarkable result from this study is that Greenland is melting along the lines of the highest rate of warming examined by climate models. In other words, we’re in the worst-case scenario,” says Eric Rignot, UCI professor and chair of Earth system science, shown here in Greenland with fellow researcher Isabella Velicogna, also a UCI professor of Earth system science.” Maria Stenzel / For UCI.

Climate Change Strikes at the Heart of German Identity: The Woods. Here’s a clip from a story at The New York Times (paywall): “...In the 1980s, fears that German forests were dying from acid rain — when the word “Waldsterben,” or “forest death,” was coined — led to widespread protests and galvanized the popularity of the nascent Greens party. Although laws to curb toxic emissions eventually led to a decrease in pollutants and a revival of the woods, that period left its mark on the trees that survived. More recently, rising temperatures caused by climate change are threatening German forests. Severe drought in 2018 followed by another exceptionally dry summer this year left trees across Germany vulnerable to bark beetles that lay their eggs just beneath the bark, which has killed trees and left large swaths of normally lush, green hillsides a sickly brown…”

Photo credit: “Lena Mucha for The New York Times.