Severe Weather, Tech and Personal Responsibility

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from tracking weather for 45 years? Pay attention. Don’t rely on anyone else for your safety. Take responsibility to stay “weather-aware”.

Thursday’s outbreak in Iowa was pretty staggering: 3-4 supercells spawning at least 27 individual tornado reports. Yet only 17 injuries and no fatalities resulted. The Des Moines National Weather Service provided 43 minutes of lead-time for the Marshalltown tornado.

There were a few media reports of “no warning” with the duck boat sinking in Missouri that claimed 17 lives. Turns out warnings were issued but people may not have been paying attention. In an era of smart phones there’s no reason why you can’t get the information your family needs to stay safe, anytime, anywhere.

Don’t rely on meteorologists, sirens or the government. You have the power in your pocket or purse.

The sun breaks through this weekend; just isolated PM pop-up showers later today. A family of cooler fronts swoop in from Canada next week with a big September-like drop in humidity.

Odds favor more Dog Days in August so enjoy the break!

Photo credit from Thursday’s Iowa tornado outbreak: Ashley Fletchall.

Taking Responsibility for Storm Safety. At the end of the day hand-holding only goes so far. The technology is amazing, the National Weather Service does a consistently good job getting watches and warnings out, and meteorologists frame the threat as best they can in print, TV, radio and online. But situational awareness is critical: being “weather aware”, keeping tabs on rapidly changing weather conditions. When you’re outside it’s easy to lose track, but having apps that send out notifications (warnings, etc) and the ability to check radar before heading onto a lake or a golf course is essential. Don’t assume that people “in charge” are keeping up with the weather. When it comes to weather, it’s good to be perpetually paranoid. Because at the end of the day the government won’t save you – only you can take steps necessary to lower risk. it’s up to all of us to be personally responsible for the safety of ourselves, and our families.

A Break in the Pattern. Here’s a clip from Minnesota WeatherTalk: “Since last Sunday, many areas of Minnesota have welcomed below normal temperatures this week, bringing relief from what has been an exceptionally hot summer so far. Many of the temperatures around the state ranged from the upper 60s to low 70s F on July 19th, about 4 to 6 degrees F cooler. In northern areas this week overnight temperatures fell into the low to mid 40s F, with a low of 40 degrees F at Brimson (St Louis County). Except for far western Minnesota (Browns Valley, Marshall, Pipestone) most of the state experienced a relatively dry week as well, bringing some relief from the heavy rains and flash flooding that occurred in many areas during the first half of July…”

Relatively Comfortable Start to August. Well, GFS runs have been fairly consistent, suggesting blast-furnace heat for the southern half of the USA, but a series of cooler fronts keeping the northern tier of the USA in the 70s and 80s.

Heavy Rainfall Reports. Parts of Renville and Stevens counties picked up over 4″ of rain in 48 hours, with 3″+ amounts reported in Kandiyohi, Stearns and Redwood counties. Data: IEMBot.

Tracking Iowa Tornado Via Webcams. Check out the time-lapse of dueling tornadoes from Thursday’s outbreak, courtesy of IDOT: “This amazing Iowa Department of Transportation traffic camera captured the two Bondurant tornadoes on July 19, 2018. This camera is on I-80 westbound at 1st avenue in Altoona, Iowa.”

Only 6 Tornado Reports in Minnesota, To Date. Most were relatively small touchdowns in the Red River Valley. For most of the summer it’s been too hot and dry aloft, with insufficient wind shear required to generate large, violent tornadoes. Graphic: NOAA SPC.

The Duck Boat Tragedy Was Preventable Because the Storm Did Not “Come Out of Nowhere”. Dr. Marshall Shepherd reminds us of the importance of situational awareness and mobile warning technology on our phones in a post at Forbes: “The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides the following guidance developed in partnership with the National Safe Boating Council,

Before going boating, fishing, diving or enjoying other water sports, check the forecast from or your favorite weather source … If severe weather is predicted, stay home or go earlier than normal. Be prepared to head to shore quickly. Monitor storms via:NOAA Weather Radio,, Apps that have radar/lightning data …

At this point, it is instructive to revisit the AMS statement because the words provided by a collective of weather and emergency management experts are important to consider as the investigation in the duck boat incident unfolds: A common theme in the after-action reports and service assessments for these disasters is that the weather plan was inadequate to deal with a comprehensive portfolio of weather risk, or a weather plan didn’t exist...”

Potential for El Nino Phase Grows. According to NOAA CPC there’s a 70% probability of an El Nino warm phase in the Pacific Ocean by the winter months. Details via IRA at Columbia University: “The following graph and table show forecasts made by dynamical and statistical models for SST in the Nino 3.4 region for nine overlapping 3-month periods. Note that the expected skills of the models, based on historical performance, are not equal to one another. The skills also generally decrease as the lead time increases. Thirdly, forecasts made at some times of the year generally have higher skill than forecasts made at other times of the year–namely, they are better when made between June and December than when they are made between February and May. Differences among the forecasts of the models reflect both differences in model design, and actual uncertainty in the forecast of the possible future SST scenario…”

Southern Minnesota: Already a Year’s Worth of Moderate Rains. Senior Climatologist at Minnesota Climatology Office and Minnesota DNR, Kenny Blumenfeld, e-mailed me his thoughts about the frequency and intensity of rain so far in 2018: “The basics are that we are running wet, and that even though we have had a few big rains in Redwood Falls/Marshall, Mora, and Carlton this year, the real driver has been the large number of moderately-heavy rainfall days, especially in southern Minnesota. Some parts of the state (again, especially in the southern third to quarter of MN) already have seen 8-12 days with1-2” rains. That’s more like what you would expect in a full year, so we are running a bit ahead of schedule in that regard. The number of larger rains this year (2” or greater) has not made a clean break from history yet—which is not to downplay what happened in the hard-hit areas, but instead to make the point that heavy we always expect some excessive rains in Minnesota. Unfortunately, it’s coming on top of an already wet season (one with a high number of moderately-heavy rains).

One oddity is in the Redwood Falls area, where 5-7 inches fell on July 3. Last August 16-17, the same area received 7-9 inches of rain. Those are both very low probability rainfall totals in any year, so having them in back-to-back years is pretty unusual.

HEAT IMPACTS: Climate Nexus reports: “Dozens dead in Japan from record-setting, long duration extreme heat event (Washington Post $), ‘this was preventable’: football heat deaths and the rising temperature (InsideClimate News), wildfires rage in Arctic Circle as Sweden calls for help (The GuardianEarther, CNNNew York Times $), what climate change looks like in 2018 (FiveThirtyEight), Antarctica’s vulnerable ice shelves are in trouble, but their collapse would just be the start of our problems (Mashable), a mega-heat wave is gaining strength over Texas and the south-central United States (Washington Post $, Houston ChronicleBloomberg), human ‘fingerprints’ detected in Earth’s seasonal temperature changes (USA Today), climate change is disrupting the planet’s seasons.” (Bloomberg)

Wildfires Rage in Arctic Circle as Sweden Calls For Help. The Guardian brings us up to speed: “At least 11 wildfires are raging inside the Arctic Circle as the hot, dry summer turns an abnormally wide area of Europe into a tinderbox. The worst affected country, Sweden, has called for emergency assistance from its partners in the European Union to help fight the blazes, which have broken out across a wide range of its territory and prompted the evacuations of four communities. Tens of thousands of people have been warned to remain inside and close windows and vents to avoid smoke inhalation. Rail services have been disrupted…”

Photo credit: “Firefighters battle a blaze in a forest in western Sweden, the worst-hit country.” Photograph: Mats Andersson/EPA.

Wildfires Undoing Air Pollution Progress: Headlines and URL links via Climate Nexus: “Increasing wildfires across the western United States are erasing gains made in cleaning up air pollution, according to new research. A study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examines levels of fine particulate matter from monitoring sites in western states from 1988 to 2016, finding that poor air quality days are getting worse in western states while generally decreasing throughout the country in this same time period. Nine of the ten largest fires in the US by acreage have occurred since 2004. Climate change increases the risk of wildfires through warmer temperatures and drier conditions that lengthen wildfire season, increase the chances of a fire starting, and help a burning fire spread.” (E&E, Outside, Mashable, Background: Climate Signals on 2018 wildfire season).

Image credit: U.S. Air Quality.

Air Pollution in National Parks Nearly the Same as in 20 Major U.S. Cities, Study Finds. has a summary of new research: “Step out on a beach shore, up on a mountain peak, or into a sequoia grove, and many instinctively take the quintessential deep breath of fresh air. You know the one. The one where you breathe in so deeply through your nose that you feel your chest push up into your shoulders. You might want to rethink that deep breath. National parks have had similar ozone values to that of the 20 largest major cities in the US states from 1990-2014, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances. “The most striking finding was how similar ozone levels were in parks to metropolitan areas,” Ivan Rudik, co-author of the study and assistant professor of applied economics at Cornell University, wrote in an email...”

File image: National Park Service.

Welcome to the Meghalayan Age – A New Phase in History. I had no idea, but BBC News set me straight: “…We currently live in what is called the Holocene Epoch, which reflects everything that has happened over the past 11,700 years – since a dramatic warming kicked us out of the last ice age. But the Holocene itself can be subdivided, according to the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS). It is the official keeper of geologic time and it proposed three stages be introduced to denote the epoch’s upper, middle and lower phases. These all record major climate events. The Meghalayan, the youngest stage, runs from 4,200 years ago to the present. It began with a destructive drought, whose effects lasted two centuries, and severely disrupted civilisations in Egypt, Greece, Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, and the Yangtze River Valley...”

Image credit: 123RF.

Best Buy Should be Dead, But It’s Thriving in the Age of Amazon. It’s all about personal tech and value added customer support, argues a story at Bloomberg Businessweek: “…Best Buy, the last national electronics chain, is counting on these advisors to distinguish it from Inc., the company’s competitor, partner, and would-be vanquisher. With more than 1,000 big-box stores in North America and about 125,000 employees, Best Buy was supposed to have succumbed to the inevitable. “Everyone thought we were going to die,” says Hubert Joly, who was hired as chief executive officer in August 2012 after profits shrunk about 90 percent in one quarter and his predecessor resigned amid an investigation into his relationship with an employee. Instead, Best Buy has become an improbable survivor led by an unlikely boss. Joly was raised and educated in France, trained at McKinsey & Co., and previously employed by hospitality company Carlson, based outside Minneapolis, and media conglomerate Vivendi SA, where he greenlighted a little game called World of Warcraft…”

Photo credit: “Advisor Jess Kordash making a house call.” Photographer: David Williams for Bloomberg Businessweek.

Disposable America. The history of the straw tells us a lot about the march of “progress” over the year. Here’s a clip from a story at The Atlantic: “…Meanwhile, the country has shed manufacturing jobs for decades, straws contribute their share to a dire global environmental disaster, the economy continues to concentrate wealth among the very richest, and the sodas that pass through the nation’s straws are contributing to an obesity epidemic that threatens to erase many of the public health gains that were won in the 20th century. Local governments may legislate the use of the plastic straw, but they can’t do a thing about the vast system that’s attached to the straw, which created first disposable products, then companies, and finally people. The straw is the opposite of special. History has flowed around and through it, like thousands of other bits of material culture. What’s happened to the straw might not even be worth comment, and certainly not essay. But if it’s not clear by now, straws, in this story, are us, inevitable vessels of the times in which we live.”

Photo credit: “The first McDonald’s that Ray Kroc opened in Des Plaines, Illinois, is now a museum dedicated to the burger chain.” (Reuters/Frank Polich)

British Economists Prove It: Sports Destroys Happiness. Huh? Follow the logic and data in this story at The Washington Post: “Sports make the world a sadder place. Seriously. We’ve got data. Armed with 3 million responses to a happiness monitoring app, plus the locations and times of several years worth of British soccer matches, University of Sussex economists Peter Dolton and George MacKerron calculated that the happiness that fans feel when their team wins is outweighed – by a factor of two – by the sadness that strikes when their team loses. Which means, assuming a roughly equal number of fans on both sides, Sunday’s World Cup final between France and Croatia made the world less happy than it was the day before. On net, soccer is a destroyer of happiness…”

Photo credit: “Japan’s fans react after their country lost to Belgium in a knockout game in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.” (Petr David Josek/AP).

Minneapolis Has Fastest Mobile Internet Speeds in the USA? Engadget has details: “If you live in or often visit Minneapolis, Ookla has good news for you: the company says that locale tops the list of US cities with the fastest mobile internet, with a mean download speed of 44.92 Mbps. Ookla, which analyzed data from its Speedtest app from the first half of the year, said Minneapolis’ Twin Cities brethren Saint Paul was in second place, followed by Fort Wayne, Indiana; San Francisco; and Irvine, California. Atlanta and Pittsburgh followed those cities, while Minnesota was also the fastest state. In Q1 and Q2, Speedtest users ran more than 12 million mobile network speed tests on more than 2.8 million mobile devices. The company’s US Mobile Performance Report indicated that T-Mobile is the fastest overall carrier, retaining its crown from last year...”

File image: U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

Hackers Account for 90% of Login Attempts at Online Retailers. A story at Quartz made me want to burn all my credit cards; here’s a clip: “Selling stolen personal data is a big business for hackers: Somewhere on the dark web, your e-mail address and a few passwords are probably for sale (hopefully, old ones). Cyber criminals buy troves of this information to try to login to websites where they can grab something valuable like cash, airline points, or merchandise like expensive cheese. Yes, cheese. Online retailers are hit the most by these attacks, according to a report by cyber security firm Shape Security. Hackers use programs to apply stolen data in a flood of login attempts, called “credential stuffing.” These days, more than 90% of e-commerce sites’ global login traffic comes from these attacks. The airline and consumer banking industries are also under siege, with about 60% of login attempts coming from criminals…”

Photo credit: “Resistance is (mostly) futile.” (EPA/Ritchie B. Tongo).

What America Gets Wrong About China. Food for thought from Big Think: “…In many ways what happens is: China’s dominance, China’s massive size has been a fact of life in East Asia for literally centuries, so this is nothing new. So it’s not at all clear to me that we should view this as a “rising power” any more than we would view the United States as a “potentially rising power.” The other problem is if we use East Asian history one of the biggest lessons we would learn from East Asian history is that the dangers that arise to countries in the region are almost always internal, not external. So even for rising and declining powers, the fears or the threats, they are as much domestic as they are internal. So almost every single one of China’s dynasties over the centuries, the Tang, the Ming, almost all of them fell because of internal rebellion…”

Tech Companies Are Structured Like Wealthy Socialist States. A post at Quartz At Work made me rethink big tech companies: “...Even as I enjoy the free desserts, I can’t help but think that tech companies are structured like extremely wealthy socialist states, where a central governing body of executives determines and delivers services to employee-citizens.  I’m all for socialism, but this corporate version is currently nowhere near equitable.  Women and people of color are often paid less and promoted less, if and when they’re hired and retained as “citizens” at all. Moreover, the social systems at big tech companies tend to eclipse and exclude existing communities in the Bay Area, hence the anti-tech protest earlier this month that repurposed electric scooters to blockade a dozen commuter buses shuttling Google, Facebook, and Apple employees from their homes in San Francisco to their offices in Silicon Valley…”

Photo credit: “The office putting green.” REUTERS/Mark Blinch.

New Boat Designs Could Stop Aquatic Invasive Species. WCCO-TV had an interesting story starring an old friend and former neighbor, Gabriel Jabbour – here’s an excerpt: “…The idea is to eliminate nooks and crannies on boats where the nasty critters and weeds can hide. Boat builders have long designed watercraft largely for style and function. But the growing crisis over AIS destroying our lakes is about to change that. For as long as invasive plants and animals have infested Minnesota lakes, controlling the spread has been put on the boat’s owner. Soon, boat designers will be doing their part. Tonka Bay Marina’s Gabe Jabbour pulled together a panel representing all parts of the marine industry. The panel suggests that boat builders can help by redesigning hulls and engines. “This is one of many, many, many things that need to be done,” Jabbour said. “All of this area is full of water. There’s no way you could ever get into it…”

Why Do People Believe the Moon Landing Hoax or Other Conspiracy Theories? The Washington Post wades into the intellectual (swamp); here’s an excerpt: “Forty-nine years ago Friday, the Apollo 11 spacecraft delivered the first astronauts to the surface of the moon. The footprints Buzz Aldrin left in lunar soil are still around — and so are the throngs of conspiracy theorists who claim the entire landing was faked. For one thing, they argue, the flag the crew planted seemed to flutter in videos, which shouldn’t happen since there’s no wind on the moon. Besides, wouldn’t mini-meteors have killed the astronauts the moment they ventured outside? The “moon landing hoax” was among the first conspiracy theories to gain traction with the American public. In the years since, the theories have multiplied like jack rabbits, swarming all corners of the cultural landscape…”

Photo credit: “Conspiracy theorists say a flag that appears to be flapping in a nonexistent breeze is evidence the moon landing was faked.” (NASA)

Look Up at the Moon Every Night, Not Just During the Lunar Eclipse. How easy it is to forget that every day is a miracle. Quartz explains: “…Attachment and distractions prevent us from realizing that we already have what we need. According to Zen philosophers, existence is sufficient and there’s no need to grasp for power, money, or exciting experiences. The need to be thrilled and to seek more experiences—perhaps even the excitement of a lunar eclipse—is what causes our suffering, according to Kraft. Yet we can always capture the treasure, the moon of illumination hidden behind our personal clouds. “Even amid delusion, there is awakening. Even amid awakening, there is delusion,” he writes…”

Photo credit: “The blood moon matters most to those who look up every night.” (Reuters/Scanpix/Heiko Junge).

Tortilla Chips Can Spontaneously Combust? Who knew? I wonder what it does to our stomachs. Here’s an excerpt from KEYE-TV in Austin, Texas: “…Tortilla chips are often the instrument with which we Central Texans deliver hot foods to our mouths, like queso, salsa or even fajitas. But last week, the Austin Fire Department found some tortilla chips that were hot enough on their own. AFD shared photos on Facebook of a fire at a tortilla chip factory in East Austin last week that was caused by the spontaneous combustion of tortilla chips…Then, three days later, additional boxes of the same tortilla chips spontaneously ignited again. Firefighters contained that fire and drowned all of the other boxes that had yet to catch fire…”

82 F. high temperature yesterday in the Twin Cities.

84 F. average high on July 20.

89 F. high on July 20, 2017.

July 21, 2002: Dew points reach 84 degrees at Madison, Morris, and Olivia. This ties the all time highest dew point reading in Minnesota, as recorded by the State Climatology Office.

July 21, 1934: Extreme heat hits western Minnesota, and the temperature topped out at 113 at Milan.

SATURDAY: Air Quality Alert. Some (smoky) sun, stray PM shower. Winds: N 8-13. High: near 80

SATURDAY NIGHT: Clearing skies. Low: 64

SUNDAY: Sunnier, drier, nicer day of weekend. Winds: NE 5-10. High: 83

MONDAY: Some sun, passing T-shower possible. Winds: W 10-15. Wake-up: 67. High: 85

TUESDAY: Mix of clouds and lukewarm sun. Winds: NW 7-12. Wake-up: 65. High: 82

WEDNESDAY: A few bands of showers, T-storms. Winds: NW 10-15. Wake-up: 66. High: 79

THURSDAY: Sunny intervals, hints of September. Winds: NW 10-15. Wake-up: 60. High: 76

FRIDAY: More sun, very comfortable for July. Winds: NW 5-10. Wake-up: 58. High: 75

Climate Stories….

House Votes to Denounce Carbon Taxes. Where Was the Climate Solutions Caucus? InsideClimate News has the latest: “The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed a resolution denouncing the idea of a U.S. carbon tax as detrimental to the economy, one week before a Republican-sponsored bill to create a carbon fee is set to be introduced. It was a win for a coalition of groups funded by the petrochemical billionaire Koch brothers and other wealthy, right-wing opponents of climate action. And it revealed weak resolve for bucking GOP leadership among most of the 43 Republican members of the Climate Solutions Caucus. If the bipartisan caucus had held firm, the resolution would have been handily defeated. Instead, only six Republicans—four of them caucus members, including Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida, who plans to unveil the carbon fee measure next week—joined most Democrats in opposing the resolution. Seven Democrats voted with the GOP...”

Judge Waves Off NYC Climate Suit: Headlines and links courtesy of Climate Nexus: “A federal judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit brought by the city of New York against five major oil companies seeking damages for the impacts of climate change. US District Judge John Keenan wrote in his decision that the named companies–Exxon, BP, Shell, ConocoPhillips and Chevron–do not contest that climate change is a “fact of life,” solutions “must be addressed by the two other branches of government.” The decision mirrors a ruling last month in California, where a judge threw out a suit brought by San Francisco and Oakland on the grounds that solutions to climate change were a better fit for the executive and legislative branches. NYC representatives say the city, which announced in January plans to divest its $189 billion public pension fund from fossil fuels, will appeal the judge’s decision.” (New York Times $, Reuters, CNBC, AP, Bloomberg, The Hill, ThinkProgress, InsideClimate News, NY Daily NewsNew York Post, Washington Examiner)

File image: UK Met Office.

2018 Global Heat So Far. Climate Central has an update, taking a close look at global trends: “With the release of the monthly global temperature analysis from NOAA today, it is a good opportunity to compare temperatures so far this year to their historical levels. And as greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere, the heat goes on both globally and here in the U.S. Globally, the past four years have been the hottest four years on record, and 2018 so far is coming in as the 4th hottest. All-time record heat has peppered the Northern Hemisphere this summer. Here a few stats compiled by Weather Underground:

  • Glasgow, Scotland had its hottest day on record, reaching 89°F on June 28.
  • Montreal, Canada set a new all-time high, reaching 98°F on June 29.
  • Ouargla, Algeria had the highest temperature on record in Africa, reaching 124°F on July 5. This is believed to be the hottest temperature reliably measured in Africa...”

We Can’t Hide From Global Warming’s Consequences. Because they have a way of sneaking up on all of us; here’s an excerpt from a post at EcoWatch: “…Unusually high temperatures in the Arctic are causing sea ice to melt, exposing more dark sea areas, which absorb more heat than ice, causing feedback loops. Those are exacerbated by melting permafrost releasing more methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. All of it is weakening the polar jet stream, which in turn affects temperatures in mid-latitudes. As U.S. meteorologist and geoscientist Nick Humphrey explains, “The weakening is causing the polar jet to become much wavier, with greater wave ‘breaks’ and blocking patterns where waves sit in the same place for weeks [and] promote extreme weather patterns (extreme cold relative to normal as well as extreme heat, very wet, and drought conditions)...”

Photo credit: “Sea level rise is a natural consequence of the warming of our planet.” NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Fossil Fuel Industry Spent Nearly $2 Billion to Kill New U.S. Climate Action, Study Finds. Details via ThinkProgress: “Legislation to address climate change has repeatedly died in Congress. But a major new study says the policy deaths were not from natural causes — they were caused by humans, just like climate change itself is.Climate action has been repeatedly drowned by a devastating surge and flood of money from the fossil fuel industry – nearly $2 billion in lobbying since 2000 alone. This is according to stunning new analysis in the journal Climatic Change on “The climate lobby” by Drexel University environmental sociologist Robert J. Brulle. The most important conclusion of Brulle’s is that spending by those in favor of climate action was dramatically overwhelmed by the big fossil fuel suppliers and users…”