The Future is Wondrously Unknowable

“The future depends on what you do today,” said Mahatma Gandhi. I’m reminded of that quote when I listen to epidemiologists talk about flattening curves, wearing masks, physical distancing, and being responsible for our actions. More than ever, our behavior impact the health and lives of others.

Everyone wants to know how this will play out. Good luck. We can learn lessons from the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, which was 3-4 waves of infection over 2 years. In the immortal words of Dr. Michael Osterholm, “All models are wrong, but some are useful”.


While soaking rains drench the East Coast and tornadic storms strafe the Deep South, Minnesota’s weather appears fairly benign. A perfect sky today gives way to a few rumbles of thunder Friday. The weekend looks dry, with enough sunshine for low 70s Saturday and 60s Sunday. Showery rains arrive next Tuesday with a few 50s next week.

If you can’t wait to sweat it out, NOAA’s GFS model predicts 80 degrees in mid-May.

May as in it MAY even happen!

Spring is Sticking This Time. 70s by the weekend, and after a correction next week another warming trend 12-15 days away according to GFS (bottom). ECMWF and GFS for MSP: WeatherBell.

Moderately Warm. If this solution verifies with a sprawling ridge of high pressure over the western half of the USA Minnesota should be good for 70s and a few 80s and summerlike warmth edges ever closer to home.

Tracking Billion Dollar U.S. Weather Disasters By Month. NOAA NCEI presents extreme weather disasters in a new format, providing additional perspective: “…NCEI tracks U.S. weather and climate events that have significant economic and societal impacts and provides quarterly summaries of these events. Since 1980, the United States has sustained 265 weather and climate disasters where the overall damage costs per event reached or exceeded $1 billion (including adjustments based on the Consumer Price Index, as of April 2020). The cumulative cost for these 265 events exceeds $1.775 trillion. A new NCEI tool is designed to help users investigate the climatological (long-term) frequency of these events across the Nation and its regions. The climatology provides visualization tools, such as graphs and figures, for several regions and all U.S. states. This can be a useful way for decision-makers to utilize historical data to understand which types of large events typically occur at what times of year, by region…”

USA Has Seen Deadliest Tornado Year In Nearly a Decade. has the post; here’s an excerpt: “…So before the calendar switches to May, the United States has already seen more tornado fatalities than every single year since 2012. That’s why 73 is so significant of a number. The last time this many tornado deaths occurred in a single year was back in the infamous year of 2011; a total of 553 people died from tornadoes that year. Of course, that was the year of the unforgettable tornado outbreak that ravaged Alabama and other southern states in late April. For perspective, the annual average for tornado deaths in the U.S. between 1989 and 2018 was 69. We aren’t even four months into the year and we are above that number. Most of the tornado deaths occurred between April 11 and 22 when a devastating severe outbreak slammed the the South on Easter Sunday into the following Monday morning…”
Graphic credit: “2020 is already the deadliest tornado year since 2011 despite it not even being May yet.” (Source: WSFA 12 News)

Tornado Leaves a Mark on Rural Texas. Tornadoes so big their tracks show up on satellite imagery? Here’s an excerpt from NASA’s Earth Observatory: “…The Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 acquired this image showing the trail of damage caused by an EF-2 tornado that tore through Jasper and Newton counties in Texas. According to the National Weather Service, the storm had peak winds of 130 miles (210 kilometers) per hour. It damaged roofs and snapped trees along a track that extended 37 miles (60 kilometers). While this tornado passed through a rural area and caused no injuries, the same supercell storm system spawned several other tornadoes, some of which caused injuries, deaths, and severe damage to homes in several places in the region…”

Tornado Season Brings New (Coronavirus) Risks for Chasers. Ian Livingston reports for Capital Weather Gang: “Whisper the word spring, and the ears of storm chasers all across the world perk up. Thoughts drift toward the immense Great Plains, and the monstrous rotating storms, known as supercells, that contort into all sorts of shapes as they prowl across the rolling flatlands. We’re entering peak time for tornado season, which typically runs from April through June. In a typical tornado season, one might see many different types of chasers flocking to each storm. In addition to the storms themselves, this year brings another risk to the mix: the novel coronavirus. The coronavirus continues to tour the country, showing up in densely packed cities and rural crannies…”
Image credit: Ian Livingston.

18 Year Anniversary of La Plate (Maryland) EF-4 Tornado. WJLA-TV in Washington D.C. explains what happened in 2002, when a Kansas-size tornado struck: “The La Plata tornado peaked at an F-4 intensity, making it the second strongest tornado to strike the east coast of the United States. (The strongest remains an F-5 that struck Worcester, MA in 1953.) On April 28, 2002, a “Moderate Risk” for severe weather was placed over the D.C. area by the Storm Prediction Center. Hours later, the region would be struck by one of the strongest tornadoes ever recorded in the Mid Atlantic and the strongest since another F-4 tornado struck Frostburg, Maryland just four years earlier. The tornado carved a 64-mile path through 4 Maryland Counties and was moving at an astounding 58 miles per hour which is nearly a mile per minute giving residents little time to prepare…”

Largest Arctic Ozone Hole on Record Closes Itself Up. Because sometimes nature is inexplicable. CNET reports: “Something strange happened over the Arctic this year when a hole developed in the ozone layer. The European Commission’s Copernicus satellite program tracked the unusual occurrence, and now has evidence that the hole healed itself. The ozone layer acts like sunscreen for the Earth, protecting life from harmful ultraviolet radiation. The most famous ozone hole is the one that occurs annually in the Antarctic. Arctic ozone holes aren’t completely unheard of. There was a similar, event in 2011, though not as large. The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) described this year’s northern hemisphere hole as record-breaking and unusual…”
Image credit: “Data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite revealed a mini ozone hole over the Arctic in 2020. Includes modified Copernicus data (2020), processed by DLR/BIRA/ESA.”

The Secret Group of Scientists and Billionaires Pushing a Manhattan Project for Covid-19. Check out an eye-opening story at The Wall Street Journal (paywall): “A dozen of America’s top scientists and a collection of billionaires and industry titans say they have the answer to the coronavirus pandemic, and they found a backdoor to deliver their plan to the White House. The eclectic group is led by a 33-year-old physician-turned-venture capitalist, Tom Cahill, who lives far from the public eye in a one-bedroom rental near Boston’s Fenway Park. He owns just one suit, but he has enough lofty connections to influence government decisions in the war against Covid-19. These scientists and their backers describe their work as a lockdown-era Manhattan Project, a nod to the World War II group of scientists who helped develop the atomic bomb. This time around, the scientists are marshaling brains and money to distill unorthodox ideas gleaned from around the globe…”
Image credit above: “Tom Cahill, founder and managing partner at Newpath Partners in Boston.Kayana Szymczak for The Wall Street Journal.

Bored? Consider a Daily Tattoo. A story at BBC in the UK had me considering my options: “…I found myself pottering around, not knowing what to do and eating all the food in the cupboards,” Chris says. “So the idea of tattooing myself every day was to give myself a bit of direction. Without structure people are at a complete loss.” Each afternoon between 2pm and 4pm, Chris sits down to sketch designs inspired by his current situation. Then, once he’s made a cup of tea, he puts ink in a pot and unwraps a needle. He’s ready to transfer his drawing indelibly to his skin. “I find tattooing therapeutic anyway. Right now I’m drawing what’s on my mind,” he says. “And there’s not much else going through my mind at the moment apart from this monumental crisis…”

Photo credit: Chris Woodhead.

Why Do So Many Anchors Sound Alike? A question I’ve wondered about all these years. Mental Floss has a good explainer: “…The more contemporary practice of sounding linguistically neutral is often referred to as having a General American accent—which is a bit misleading, since there’s really not much of an accent at all. Also referred to as Standard American, Broadcast English, or Network English, General American was a term first used in the 1920s and ’30s by linguists who wanted to isolate a more widespread accent than the New England or Southern dialects. The scholar George Philip Krapp used the phrase in his 1925 book The English Language in America; linguist John Kenyon referred to it in his 1930 title American Pronunciation, where he insisted that 90 million Americans spoke General American…”

German Doctors Pose Naked to Protest Protective Equipment Shortages. CNN reports on the tactics some doctors are using to raise public awareness: “A website apparently featuring photos of German medical workers is calling attention to the working conditions and protective equipment needed by frontline workers amid the coronavirus pandemic. The website, “Blanke Bedenken,” shows photos of apparently nude people, some of whom are partially obscured by medical equipment, paperwork and other props, including stethoscopes, anatomical skeletons and even toilet rolls.  “We are your GPs. To be able to treat you safely, we need protective gear…”

Image courtesy of Blanke Bedenken.

62 F. high in the Twin Cities on Wednesday.

64 F. average high on April 29.

58 F. maximum temperature at MSP on April 29, 2019.

April 30, 2004: After a high temperature of 91 on the previous day in the Twin Cities, the mercury tumbles to 47 degrees by the morning. St. Cloud sheds 50 degrees over 12 hours.

April 30, 1967: Tornadoes hit southern Minnesota. Some of the towns affected were Albert Lea, Waseca, Wells, and Owatonna.

THURSDAY: Sunny and spectacular. Winds: N 5-10. High: 69

FRIDAY: Partly sunny, stray T-shower. Winds: SE 10-15. Wake-up: 48. High: 66

SATURDAY: Plenty of sunshine, few complaints. Winds: NW 8-13. Wake-up: 51. High: 72

SUNDAY: Sunny, still very pleasant. Winds: N 5-10. Wake-up: 52. High: 69

MONDAY: Clouds increase, late showers. Winds: SE 8-13. Wake-up: 47. High: 62

TUESDAY: Soggy with periods of rain. Wake-up: 43. High: 59

WEDNESDAY: Windy and cool with sprinkles. Winds: NW 10-20. Wake-up: 42. High: 52

Climate Stories…

Meteorologists Say 2020 On Track to be Hottest Year Since Records Began. Where have we heard that before? Oh yeah – just about every year since 2000. I’m sure this must all be a cosmic coincidence. Here’s the intro to a Guardian post: “This year is on course to be the world’s hottest since measurements began, according to meteorologists, who estimate there is a 50% to 75% chance that 2020 will break the record set four years ago. Although the coronavirus lockdown has temporarily cleared the skies, it has done nothing to cool the climate, which needs deeper, longer-term measures, the scientists say. Heat records have been broken from the Antarctic to Greenland since January, which has surprised many scientists because this is not an El Niño year, the phenomenon usually associated with high temperatures. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calculates there is a 75% chance that 2020 will be the hottest year since measurements began…”

Image credit: NASA ISS (International Space Station).

More Days of Heavy Rain. Climate Central takes a look at the trends; here’s an excerpt: “...If the old adage is anything to go by, May should bring plenty of flowers (to much of the country)! While seasonal weather patterns like April showers seem to endure, long-term averages show that climate change is fundamentally changing other aspects of precipitation—making heavy rainfall events more common and more intense. In recent years, an increasing percentage of precipitation has come from intense, single-day events. Climate Central analyzed how heavy rain events are changing in U.S. cities since 1950. Since the amount of rain that falls in a heavy rain event varies dramatically from the Desert Southwest to the downpours of Florida, this analysis calculated trends in ½, 1, 2 or 3-inch events, as appropriate to the location (see Methodology for more details). Over the past 70 years, 79% (191) of the 242 stations analyzed recorded an increase in heavy rainfall...”

Tropical Deforestation Releases Deadly Infections. Ah, science. Climate News Network is connecting the dots: “As forest destruction continues unabated in Brazil, scientists are alarmed that, as well as spurring climate change, it may unleash new and deadly infections on humankind. There is growing awareness that large-scale tropical deforestation, as in the Amazon, not only brings disastrous consequences for the climate, but releases new diseases like Covid-19 by enabling infections to pass from wild animals to human beings. As one well-known Amazon scientist, biologist Philip Fearnside, puts it: “Amazon deforestation facilitates transmission both of new diseases and of old ones like malaria…”

How Concern Over Climate Change Correlates with Coronavirus Responses. I’m sensing a trend here. Here’s a clip from Morning Consult: “Adults who say they are not concerned about climate change are less likely than the general public to be taking personal actions to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus, new Morning Consult data shows. And in contrast, climate-concerned U.S. adults are more likely to be taking these actions, which include wearing masks in public, social distancing and disinfecting the home and personal electronics. In a poll conducted April 14-16, 54 percent of climate-concerned respondents said that they have “always” worn a mask in public spaces such as grocery stores or parks over the last month, whereas just 30 percent of the climate-unconcerned said the same — a 24-point gap...”

Fact Check: How Electric Vehicles Help to Tackle Climate Change. Zeke Hausfather has an illuminating post at CarbonBrief: “Here, in response to recent misleading media reports on the topic, Carbon Brief provides a detailed look at the climate impacts of EVs. In this analysis, Carbon Brief finds:

  • EVs are responsible for considerably lower emissions over their lifetime than conventional (internal combustion engine) vehicles across Europe as a whole.
  • In countries with coal-intensive electricity generation, the benefits of EVs are smaller and they can have similar lifetime emissions to the most efficient conventional vehicles – such as hybrid-electric models.
  • However, as countries decarbonise electricity generation to meet their climate targets, driving emissions will fall for existing EVs and manufacturing emissions will fall for new EVs.
  •  In the UK in 2019, the lifetime emissions per kilometre of driving a Nissan Leaf EV were about three times lower than for the average conventional car, even before accounting for the falling carbon intensity of electricity generation during the car’s lifetime.
  • Comparisons between electric vehicles and conventional vehicles are complex. They depend on the size of the vehicles, the accuracy of the fuel-economy estimates used, how electricity emissions are calculated, what driving patterns are assumed, and even the weather in regions where the vehicles are used. There is no single estimate that applies everywhere...”

A Warming Arctic Turns Topsy Turvy. NASA’s Climate Program explains: “Last summer was hot in Alaska. How hot was it, you ask? Well, last summer was so hot, salmon were literally cooking themselves in the rivers. Bad joke? Perhaps. While you won’t find river-boiled salmon on the menu at your local seafood restaurant anytime soon, it’s a fact that last July, as Alaska and much of the Arctic experienced near-record warmth, the water temperature in some Alaskan rivers reached an unfathomable 82 degrees Fahrenheit (28 degrees Celsius). The abnormally warm waters led to mass salmon die-offs…”

Photo credit: “Clouds obscure Yellowknife and Great Slave Lake in Canada’s Northwest Territories. The ABoVE team is studying approximately 4 million square kilometers (more than 1.5 million square miles) of northwestern North America, spanning from Canada’s Hudson Bay to Alaska’s Seward Peninsula.” Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

First Federal Assessment of Arctic Ocean Finds Drastic Change. A story at Canada’s CBC caught my eye: “The top of the world is turning upside down, says the first overall assessment of Canada’s Arctic Ocean. The assessment, the result of work by dozens of federal scientists and Inuit observers, describes a vast ecosystem in unprecedented flux: from ocean currents to the habits and types of animals that swim in it. The Arctic Ocean, where climate change has bitten deepest, may be changing faster than any other water body on Earth, said lead scientist Andrea Niemi of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. “As the Arctic changes, the rest of the ecosystem is going to track with those changes,” she said. “There isn’t going to be a delay…”

Are Summers Longer Than They Used To Be? For much of America the answer is yes, according to climatologist and data/mapping guru Brian Brettschneider on his blog: “...Is summer longer than it used to be? Is Winter shorter than it used to be? To answer these questions, we first need to define what winter and summer are. Should we think of them as December-February  and June-August? If so, then winter and summer are exactly the same length every year. Of course this isn’t what you were thinking. What you really want to know is whether summer heat lasts for a longer period of time and if winter cold is shorter. The answer to these questions are an unambiguous yes for most places. The reason for this is simple, the climate is warming in most places. If the average temperature is warmer, then the comparison to what temperatures used to be like will change accordingly. Think of it this way, if you live in Omaha, Nebraska, and you imagine what summer is like (length and intensity) and then you move to Houston, Texas, you would experience a (much) longer period of summer conditions in Houston that what you are accustomed to…”