Hanging Onto a (Slushy) White Christmas

Santa is chill, because we will have a white-ish Christmas this year, in spite of a prolonged, slow-motion meltdown. Daytime highs reach or top 32F from Friday into Christmas Day. If the sun comes out Sunday 40F isn’t out of the question, in spite of snow on the ground. The 6-7 inches in the metro now may melt/compact down into 3 inches by Christmas Eve, but Santa will not need his “rain-deer” this year.

So sorry.

Forecasting daytime highs this time of year is challenging. Snow cools the air from below, acting as a “brake” on the mercury. And snow melt, coupled with a low sun angle, means if fog and stratus (low clouds) does form it’s nearly impossible to burn off. Thick fog on Sunday? 32F. If the sun stays out for a few hours low 40s may result at MSP.

We won’t be adding to our snow cover anytime soon. The current pattern favors big storms on either coast, but no snowy, icy drama close to home.

A few slushy inches Christmas morning is a far cry from 1983, when a record 20 inches greeted Rudolph!

Christmas Stats. Statistically, there is a 74% probability of a white Christmas (1″ or more on the ground at MSP). Map credit above: Climate Central.

Weekend Warming Trend – Odds Favor Dry Christmas. The map sequence above is courtesy of Praedictix and AerisWeather.

European Model Temperature Guidance. If the sun stays out for a few hours Saturday and Sunday metro temperatures may reach or even exceed 40F. Temperatures cool back down closer to average next week. Graphic: WeatherBell.

A New Year’s Cold Correction? My trust/confidence level in a 2-week GFS forecast is low; the latest (12z Wednesday) run looks much colder than yesterday for the eastern 2/3rds of the USA as we sail into 2020.

Seasonal Snowfall To Date. Heaviest amounts, as one might expect, have been downwind of the Great Lakes and over the Rockies. No snow reported in Florida. Map credit: pivotalweather.com.

Australia Experiences Hottest Day on Record. Andrew Freedman has a post at Capital Weather Gang: “Australia had its hottest day on record on Dec. 17, with a nationally averaged temperature of 105.6 degrees (40.9), according to the country’s Bureau of Meteorology. This beats the old record of 104.5 degrees (40.3 Celsius) on Jan. 7, 2013. However, it’s a record that may not stand for long — perhaps for just 24 hours, as forecasters anticipate it could be broken both Wednesday and Thursday eastern time, as a searing, early-season heat wave roasts the country. “This hot air mass is so extensive that preliminary figures show that yesterday was the hottest day on record in Australia,” said BOM meteorologist Diana Eadie. It’s highly unusual for a national temperature record to be broken, but to be broken on two to three straight days is even more rare…”

Image credit: “Simulated “misery index” in Australia on Dec. 17, 2019.” (https://earth.nullschool.net)

Get Ready for Category 5 Winter Storms. Here’s an excerpt of a post I wrote for Medium: “Weather is democratic. An EF-3 tornado is just as destructive in Nashville as it is in Pittsburgh. A Category 2 hurricane threatening Tampa will have impacts similar to a Category 2 hurricane pinwheeling toward Houston. But winter storms are a different beast altogether. Half a foot of snow will all but paralyze Dallas and Atlanta, but 6 inches of powder falling on Minneapolis or Denver in January? Just another Thursday. The effects, the overall impacts, vary wildly based on a matrix of factors, including latitude, land-use, population density and general acclimation to snow and ice. As meteorologists, how do we do a better job of setting expectations with the public? In spite of Doppler and high-resolution weather models, it’s still all but impossible to predict snowfall amounts down to the inch...”

November 2019 Was Second Hottest on Record for the Planet. SnowBrains has a summary: “Mother Earth seems to be on repeat with another month of heat: November 2019 was the second-hottest November in the 140-year global climate record. Moreover, both the season (September through November) and the year to date (January through November) were each the second hottest in recorded history, according to scientists at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. The exceptional heat also was felt at both ends of the world: Sea ice coverage across the Arctic and Antarctic oceans fell to near-record lows in November…The year-to-date global land and ocean surface temperature was 1.69 degrees F (0.94 of a degree C) above the 20th-century average, which made it the second-warmest period of January through November in the 140-year record — just behind the same period in 2016...”

Image credit: NOAA.

Highlights, Firsts and Worsts of Hurricane Season 2019 and the Future of Hurricanes. The Union of Concerned Scientists has a good recap; here’s the intro: “Hurricane season ended on November 30, but not before Hurricane Dorian had decimated the Bahamas, taking lives and setting their infrastructure and economy back, potentially for years. On U.S. soil, Hurricane Barry and Tropical Storm Imelda had flooded Texas and the Carolinas, leaving billions in damage. All told, Hurricane Season 2019 storms were stronger, more rapidly intensifying, slower-moving, and dumped a lot of rain. And this trend may continue if no action is taken to combat climate change. The Tropical Weather Summary for the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season was released on December 1. Tropical cyclone activity this year was above normal with 18 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes. The long-term average Atlantic hurricane season has 12 named storms, 6 hurricanes, with 3 of those hurricanes becoming a major hurricane, Category 3 or higher…”

Would You Believe Lightning Can Help Us Know if a Storm Will Intensify? The Miami Herald has an interesting story focused on predicting hurricane eyewall replacement cycles and intensification: “…What she’s discovered, including that the pattern of lightning strikes in a storm is as important as the number, will be used in a forecast model during the 2020 hurricane season. Also noteworthy is how an eruption of lightning on one side of a storm could mean it’s in an environment where wind shear is working against the cyclone, forcing the system to become lopsided and possibly weaken. On the other hand, lightning a few hundred miles away from the center of a storm could be an indication that the environment is primed for intensification, putting forecasters on notice that strengthening is possible. As with Dorian, 2018′s Category 5 Hurricane Michael had a circle of lightning in its eyewall as it strengthened at the coast of Florida’s Panhandle…”

Yes, There’s Microplastic in the Snow. I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised; Quartz has the story: “This is the year we found microplastic in the snow.  Although microplastics have been popping up everywhere from the waters of Antarctica to our table salt, the idea that it could blow in the wind or fall as precipitation back down to Earth is extremely new. The main mode of microplastic transport, as far as we knew as recently as last year, was water. It had already shown up in drinking water a few years prior. But microplastic in snow suggests something different: Microplastics carried by wind, and settling out of the air along with the frosty flakes…”

Read more here: https://www.miamiherald.com/news/weather/hurricane/article238427398.html#storylink=cpy

The Next Nuclear Plants Will Be Small, Svelte and Safer. A story at WIRED.com (paywall) left me vaguely hopeful; here’s a snippet: “…NuScale’s reactor won’t need massive cooling towers or sprawling emergency zones. It can be built in a factory and shipped to any location, no matter how remote. Extensive simulations suggest it can handle almost any emergency without a meltdown. One reason is that it barely uses any nuclear fuel, at least compared with existing reactors. It’s also a fraction of the size of its predecessors. This is good news for a planet in the grips of a climate crisis. Nuclear energy gets a bad rap in some environmentalist circles, but many energy experts and policymakers agree that splitting atoms is going to be an indispensable part of decarbonizing the world’s electricity. In the US, nuclear power accounts for about two-thirds of all clean electricity, but the existing reactors are rapidly approaching the end of their regulatory lifetimes...”

Illustration credit: NuScale.

Mike Bloomberg Has a Plan to Clean Up Electricity and It Doesn’t Need Congress. Here’s a clip from a story at Vox: “…The premise of Bloomberg’s campaign is that he is an experienced, level-headed executive, ready to run things with a steady hand. In keeping with that theme, his plan for clean electricity — which targets 80 percent greenhouse gas emission reductions in the power sector by 2028 “moving toward 100% as soon as possible thereafter” — focuses entirely on executive powers. It presumes no legislative help. It contains only achievable promises, consistent with what can be done by a president, acting alone, within a president’s term. That is somewhat in contrast to the sweeping, speculative plans from the other candidates, and likely to make the plan unpopular among activists, but it is nonetheless a good perspective into what any Democratic president could do if Congress goes the wrong way...”

What Will It Take to Clean Up the Electric Grid. The New York Times (paywall) provides some perspective. We’ve done very big things in the past – it can be done, and many argue it may be inevitable: “…The United States starts with an advantage. Most of the dams built in the first half of the 20th century, and most of the nuclear plants built in the second half, are still supplying power. More recently, wind and solar plants have grown to supply nearly 10 percent of our electricity. Altogether, 38 percent of American electricity already comes from low-emission sources. Getting the rest of the way in a decade, our modeling suggests, would require a national project of immense scale. New nuclear plants take too long to plan and build, and have incurred disastrous cost overruns, so they are largely off the table for a 2030 target. Instead, American workers would have to build about 120,000 new wind turbines and about 44,000 large solar power plants in a decade…”

The New China Scare. Why America shouldn’t panic about its latest challenger. A story at Foreign Affairs from Fareed Zakaria is an essential read; here’s an excerpt: “...Let’s be clear: China is a repressive regime that engages in thoroughly illiberal policies, from banning free speech to interning religious minorities. Over the last five years, it has intensified its political control and economic statism at home. Abroad, it has become a competitor and in some places a rival of the United States. But the essential strategic question for Americans today is, Do these facts make China a vital threat, and to the extent that they do, how should that threat be addressed?  The consequences of exaggerating the Soviet threat were vast: gross domestic abuses during the McCarthy era; a dangerous nuclear arms race; a long, futile, and unsuccessful war in Vietnam; and countless other military interventions in various so-called Third World countries. The consequences of not getting the Chinese challenge right today will be vaster still…”

Photo credit: “Visitors in front of a picture of Xi at the Beijing Exhibition Center, September 2019.” Jason Lee / Reuters.

A Third of America’s Economy is Concentrated in Just 31 Counties. Bloomberg has an eye-opening report: “…Just 31 counties, or the top 1% by share, made up 32.3% of U.S. gross domestic product in 2018, according to data released last week by the Bureau of Economic Analysis that included nearly 20 years of county-level GDP data. That’s despite these counties only having 26.1% of employed Americans and 21.9% of the population last year. Their combined GDP share is also up from a recession low of 30.1% in 2009. The nation’s economy is becoming increasingly concentrated in large cities and by the coasts—and less so in rural counties—spurring the question of whether rural areas will be increasingly left behind. The growing concentration of the country’s economic activity could impact a variety of things from infrastructure spending to labor mobility, but it’s unclear how rural areas will fare as their share of economic output continues to dwindle…”

Map credit: Note: Includes Fairfax County, Virginia combined with two independent cities, Fairfax City and Falls Church. Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The Gore, Guts and Horror of an NFL Fumble Pile. Maybe they do earn their money? A post at SBNation left me gasping for air: “…The man-weight was so great that he could hardly breathe, and players hurt one another for the fun of it. Nothing was safe or sacred when 2,000 pounds of unscripted National Football League flesh-and-muscle pressed down on anything lying beneath it — untuned baby-grand pianos crushing hapless players fighting for both the ball and for oxygen. Inside the pile, you kept your eyes closed, like a feeding shark, to guard against knifing hands that were trying to maim and blind, yank and punch scrotums, and dislocate fingers. The football changed hands often and ruthlessly. Late-comers dove into the jumble with their helmets first, heat-seeking missiles looking to break or dislodge anything in their way — the ball, even teeth. You couldn’t even trust your own teammates because in the heat of the scrum, it was often impossible to determine friend from foe…”

The Most Popular Christmas Cookie in Each State. Mental Floss has the honors; here’s an excerpt: “…In a festive endeavor to guess which type of cookie is most likely to be on your counter this Christmas, General Mills collected search data from BettyCrocker.com, Pillsbury.com, and Tablespoon.com, and created a map that shows which recipes are clicked most often in each state. Those universally adored Hershey Kiss-topped peanut butter cookies, known on Betty Crocker’s website as Classic Peanut Butter Blossoms, took the top spot in seven states, including Florida, Pennsylvania, California, Kentucky, Nevada, South Carolina, and Wyoming. And people don’t just love peanut butter in blossom form—Easy Peanut Butter Cookie Cups, Peanut Butter-Chocolate Cookies, and 2-Ingredient PB-Chocolate Truffles also made appearances on the list…”

Image credit: General Mills.

7″ snow on the ground Wednesday morning at MSP International Airport.

11 F. maximum temperature at MSP yesterday.

26 F. average high on December 18.

43 F. high on December 18, 2018.

December 19, 1983: Record lows are set across central Minnesota with temperatures ranging from fifty degrees below zero to the upper twenties below zero. Mora set their record with a low of 52 below, with 42 below at Little Falls, 41 below at Jordan, St. Cloud, and Cambridge, and 39 below at Long Prairie, Milaca, and Stillwater.

December 19, 1923: Unseasonably mild temperatures occur in Minnesota. Temperatures climb into the 60s at New Ulm. (Source: Twin Cities National Weather Service).

Burger King Offers Free Impossible Whoppers for Delayed Air Travelers. Sounds like a marketing coup to me. USA Today explains: “Burger King is offering holiday travelers a consolation for delayed flights – free Impossible Whoppers.  Now through Dec. 30, since hurried travelers can’t have it their way, the fast-food chain wants them to “Delay Your Way.” Unlike last year’s viral Whopper Detour promotion, which sent hungry burger fans to McDonald’s restaurants, to land this deal you’ll need to be at an airport, at least for the first leg of the trip, to get the free sandwich. “We know that holiday travel can be extremely rough, and there is nothing worse than all of those uncontrollable flight delays,” Chris Finazzo, Burger King’s president for North America, said in a statement. “We wanted to surprise and delight our guests by offering those with delayed flights across the country a free Impossible Whopper...”

THURSDAY: Peeks of sunshine, not as cold. Winds: NE 5-10. High: 26

FRIDAY: Some sun, risk of a thaw. Winds: S 5-10. Wake-up: 21. High: 32

SATURDAY: Mix of clouds and sun, not bad! Winds: SW 10-15. Wake-up: 22. High: 38

SUNDAY: Good travel, touch of March in the air. Winds: S 8-13. Wake-up: 25. High: near 40

MONDAY: Squirts of sun. Vikes by 10. Winds: W 8-13. Wake-up: 28. High: 38

CHRISTMAS EVE: Mostly cloudy, 3-4″ snow left at MSP? Winds: NE 5-10. Wake-up: 25. High: 34

CHRISTMAS DAY: Numerous Santa sightings. Gray skies. Winds: E 7-12. Wake-up: 26. High: 31

Climate Stories….

For Business, Climate Change Has Become Real. The Wall Street Journal (paywall) reports: “The debate over climate change intensified over the decade, amid several of the hottest years on record, several extreme weather events and the publication of a wave of reports on warming. That—along with attention to the issue by policy makers in many countries and increasingly heated rhetoric—brought the issue to the doorstep of business, in the form of environmental disclosures, carbon pledges and green investment. Big companies, like Amazon. com and Nestlé, set out ambitious—if long-term—plans to become carbon-neutral over decades. A few companies shifted their focus, such as Equinor AS, a European integrated oil company that turned toward renewable energy. The turning point for business came in 2015, with the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. More than 190 nations met to agree on a plan to tackle the problem of greenhouse-gas emissions, crystallizing the anxieties of governments and environmental activists the world over...”

FINANCE: Climate Nexus has links and headlines: “Goldman Sachs rules out financing for Arctic drilling. Will other U.S. banks follow? (Washington Post $), Bank of England to test climate risks at banks and insurers in 2021 (Reuters), investment bankers are now waging the war on coal (The Atlantic), the coming Wall Street battles over climate change (Axios), UK banks asked to tell BOE about risks from climate change (Bloomberg), for business, climate change has become real.” (Wall Street Journal $)

As Flooding and Erosion Rises, More Farmers Buck Tradition and Plant Cover Crops. Doing this also has the benefit of trapping CO2 in the ground – not releasing it into the atmosphere via crop tilling. A story at Star Tribune caught my eye; here’s an excerpt: “…In Minnesota, the shorter growing season is an obstacle, leaving a small window to plant cover crops. Missing it could mean the plants don’t germinate before the first frost, a costly outcome since seed costs $20 to $60 an acre. “It’s all about management,” said Larry Conrad, another one of the farmers planting cover crops near Dundas, Minn. The group of farmers have counterpoints to the arguments against cover crops. They say a crop like cereal rye absorbs moisture and heat in the spring, warming and drying perhaps even faster than a bare-dirt field and giving tractors something to drive on instead of bare mud. And a loss in corn yields will happen only if a farmer waits too long to knock down the cover crop in the spring, they say...”

Photo credit: “Elizabeth Flores – Star Tribune. “Tim Little dug up one of his fields planted with cereal rye, a cover crop, with help from Larry Conrad, left, and Mike Ludwig, right.”

Greenland Ice Melt is Accelerating. BBC News highlights new research: “Greenland is losing ice seven times faster than it was in the 1990s. The assessment comes from an international team of polar scientists who’ve reviewed all the satellite observations over a 26-year period. They say Greenland’s contribution to sea-level rise is currently tracking what had been regarded as a pessimistic projection of the future. It means an additional 7cm of ocean rise could now be expected by the end of the century from Greenland alone. This threatens to put many millions more people in low-lying coastal regions at risk of flooding. It’s estimated roughly a billion live today less than 10m above current high-tide lines, including 250 million below 1m…”

Image credit: “Ice loss from 1992 to 2018 has occurred mostly around the coast.” (Imbie/ESA/Planetary Visions).

6 Extremely Depressing Climate Records We Broke This Decade. Here’s a clip from Buzzfeed News: “…As the planet has heated, Arctic sea ice has declined. The lowest levels of Arctic sea ice were recorded in 2012, and 2019 has tied for the second-lowest levels. “Each succeeding decade is lower,” Walt Meier, senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, told BuzzFeed News. “That’s clearly a declining trend.” Beyond the sea ice extent, Meier mentioned another worrying trend linked to the changing climate: Satellite imagery has revealed Arctic sea ice has been getting thinner as the thicker, older ice has melted. The big question for Meier and other scientists watching the Arctic is when we will experience our first ice-free summer. “It’s no longer a matter of if, it’s when — at least in current trajectory we’re going on,” Meier said…”

Graphic credit: “The minimum area of sea ice in the Arctic, averaged over a five-day period, in each year. The inset map shows the median extent of sea ice in September, the month in which the yearly minimum occurs.” Peter Aldhous / BuzzFeed News / Via nsidc.org

Arctic Report Card: Melting Permafrost is Transforming the Region into a Carbon Source. Andrew Freedman reports for Capital Weather Gang: “The Arctic is undergoing a profound, rapid and unmitigated shift into a new climate state, one that is greener, features far less ice and emits greenhouse gas emissions from melting permafrost, according to a major new federal assessment of the region released Tuesday. The consequences of these climate shifts will be felt far outside the Arctic in the form of altered weather patterns, increased greenhouse gas emissions and rising sea levels from the melting Greenland ice sheet and mountain glaciers. The findings are contained in the 2019 Arctic Report Card, a major federal assessment of climate change trends and impacts throughout the region. The study paints an ominous picture of a region lurching to an entirely new and unfamiliar environment…”

Photo credit: “Permafrost, seen at the top of the cliff, melts into the Kolyma River outside Zyryanka, Russia, on July 4. Melting permafrost is altering Siberia’s landscape and economy.” (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post).

Rolls-Royce Thinks It Can Make a Plane Greta Thunberg Would Fly In. CNBC.com reports: “Of all the headlines about Greta Thunberg’s U.S. tour this fall, one that traveled widely was this: The newly minted Time 2019 Person of the Year made her way from her native Sweden to America via sailboat, because she thinks jetliners emit too much carbon. The $800 billion annual market for airfares and the $700 billion market for equipment, led by jets, results in an aviation sector that produces about 2% to 3% of the world’s carbon emissions, according to jet manufacturer Airbus. Reducing them is among the industry’s top, and toughest, challenges for the next decade or more…”

Image credit: “The Rolls-Royce Accel project is working on a zero-emissions plane with a target speed of 300+ miles per hour. But the bigger challenge is a commercial electric airplane to serve regional air travel.” Rolls-Royce.

“Monumental” New South Wales Brushfires Have Burnt 20% of Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. This is the Australian equivalent of a national park here in the United States. I’ve seen the Blue Mountains – they are spectacular, but unusual heat is making them especially vulnerable to fire. Here’s a clip from an update at The Guardian: “More than 10% of the area covered by New South Wales national parks has been burned in this season’s bushfires, including 20% of the Blue Mountains world heritage area, state government data obtained by Guardian Australia has revealed. The amount of bushland destroyed within NSW national parks dwarfs that of the entire previous fire season, when 80,000 hectares were lost. Ten times that amount has burnt since July. The damage caused by fire in the Gondwana rainforest world heritage area in the north of the state is a “global tragedy” and an “absolute crisis” a Nature Conservation Council ecologist says...”