Why Do We Care What a Groundhog Thinks?

Why rely on a groundhog to predict the weather? Duh Paul. A typical rodent doesn’t ask for time off or a raise. Got it. Hundreds of years ago people living in Europe believed animal behavior could predict winter’s duration. Bears, marmots and hedgehogs were observed and tracked to see when they emerged from their
dens. Germans preferred badgers, but there were none to be found when they emigrated to the United States. So they settled on groundhogs, specifically “Phil”, in a little town outside Pittsburgh – a tradition that has carried on since 1887.

My hunch/prediction/WAG: Phil will NOT see his shadow on Sunday, meaning an early spring! That would be nice. I’d settle for fewer subzero readings than average in February, which looks likely gazing at the maps.

A slick inch or two of slush today gives way to 40s on Super Bowl Sunday, followed by a cooling trend next week; back down to average.

No blistering polar invasions are brewing, but we’ll see single digits and teens by mid-February.

Keep a coat handy, eh?

Good Riddance Polar Vortex? Do you remember late January last year? It’s hard to forget. The coldest air since the mid-90s came hurtling south of the border. The Minnesota DNR State Climatology Office takes a frigid walk down memory lane: “The arctic outbreak from January 27-31, 2019 had some of the lowest air temperatures to visit Minnesota since 1996, and the lowest wind chills since the 1980s. Strong winds and arctic air on the heels of a feisty clipper-like snow storm  brought extreme cold to Minnesota, the likes of which have not been seen in decades. The bitter cold brought some natural gas shortages just north of the metro and power outages to about 7,000 in the southern and western suburbs. Xcel Energy asked customers statewide to reduce their thermostat setting to 63 degrees. There were also broken water mains, and emergency personnel were busy with frostbite reports. Schools were closed for four days for many in the Twin Cities and outstate. The University of Minnesota was closed on the 30th and postal mail service was stopped statewide…”

Map credit: “Map of lowest recorded wind chills as of 5 AM on Jan 30, 2019.” Courtesy: La Crosse National Weather Service.

Bad Timing. The best chance of a 3-5 hour burst of snow comes this morning, capable of gumming up AM Rush Hour in the metro with an inch or two of ill-timed snow. By afternoon temperatures are close to freezing and I expect mainly wet freeways for the drive home later today. Map: pivotalweather.com.

“Category 5” Winter Storm? Weather Service’s New Rating Scale is a Promising New Communication Tool. I wrote a story with Jason Samenow at Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang; here’s an excerpt: “…It’s only a matter of time before a simple numerical winter storm rating scale shows up in your local forecast on a routine basis. But it’s naive to believe you can capture the essence of any storm with just one number. Just like hurricanes, winter storms are complex, and the types and severity of hazards can change during the course of a storm. A number offers a convenient overview but is no substitute for detailed briefings from trusted sources on how a storm will evolve, regional differences, uncertainties and how to best prepare. Any winter storm is a golden opportunity for meteorologists to provide the things an app cannot: context, perspective and analysis. Every swirl of snow, ice and wind is a new creation — a unique, vexing puzzle for meteorologists to unpack. The challenges for meteorologists are twofold: accurately predict the weather and then accurately communicate impending weather to the public. Winter storm ratings, combined with supporting information, are another tool for advancing weather communication.”

File WSSI Index Map: NOAA.

Why Do We Use a Groundhog to Forecast the Weather? Great question! Mental Floss has the answer; here’s an excerpt: “...In Europe, the idea that winter’s duration could be foretold was carried over to animal behavior. Hibernating animals like bears, marmots, and hedgehogs were observed to see when they’d emerge from their dens. In Germany, the weather was anticipated by badgers. When Germans began settling in Pennsylvania, however, badgers weren’t so readily available: The easiest hibernating animal to locate was the groundhog. In 1887, a newspaper editor began circulating the idea that one groundhog in particular, Punxsutawney Phil, was a meteorological wonder. Before long, the entire country became preoccupied with Phil’s prognosticating, and an annual tradition was born…”

PETA: “Hang It Up Phil”. CBS News reports: “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is calling for Punxsutawney Phil to be retired from Groundhog Day duty. Every year on February 2, Pennsylvania’s most famous groundhog is removed from his dwelling and held high in front a crowd of anxious onlookers, waiting to see if the large rodent sees his shadow. The outcome is said to predict whether we look forward to an early spring or six more weeks of winter. But PETA is hoping to put an end to the tradition. “Times change. Traditions evolve. It’s long overdue for Phil to be retired,” the organization’s president said in a letter…”

How Accurate Are Punxsutawney Phil’s Groundhog Day Weather Predictions? Don’t your breath, according to a post at Mental Floss: “…As Live Science reports, the Groundhog Club’s records show that Phil has predicted more winter 103 times, and an early spring just 19. Based on data from the Stormfax Almanac, that means Phil’s accuracy rate is an abysmal 39 percent. If you only look at weather records dating back to 1969, which are more reliable than earlier accounts, Phil’s job performance review gets even worse: those predictions were correct only 36 percent of the time. Almost starting to feel sorry for an apparently lousy employee who only has to work for a few minutes each year? According to meteorologist Tim Roche at Weather Underground, Punxsutawney Phil is much more successful when he doesn’t see his shadow…”

Serious Wind Chills. These were morning wind chills early Thursday from Alaska, as cold as -63 north of Fairbanks. As a rough rule of thumb, when Alaska is frigid, Minnesota tends to be milder than average, and vice versa. No kidding. Map credit: Praedictix.

Touch of March by Sunday. Temperatures continue to mellow over time, a gusty (Pacific) breeze may boost the mercury into the mid-40s. Not bad for the second day of February. Maps: Praedictix and AerisWeather.

An Inevitable Correction – But Not Quite Polar. ECMWF (top) keep temperatures above average into the second weekend of February. NOAA’s GFS (below) shows teens by the second week of February, but long range guidance hints at another (Pacific) warming trend by the third week of February.

Modified Zonal – With Occasional Slaps of Numbing Air. After a milder than average December and January look for temperatures below average by mid-February. The question is how long the colder air will linger, and whether a ridge builds over western Canada and the USA – pushing a steady flow of cold air south of the border.

Top Weather and Climate Stories of the 2010s. The Minnesota State DNR Climatology Office has a great recap: “The 2010s began with a severe weather barrage, pivoted towards heat and drought, and then finished with a spate of precipitation records, punctuating the wettest period on record in Minnesota. Toss in the 1st, 2nd, and 5th warmest, as well as the 7th coldest extended winters on record, and add to that some impressive late-winter snowfall statistics, and the decade had more than a typical share of variety and extremes. After considering all of the normal ups, downs, and surprises we expect from Minnesota’s climate, two main themes appear to dominate the decade’s big stories: aggressive precipitation increases, and winter swinging wildly between historically warm, very cold, and very snowy. Following is a quick summary of the top weather and climate highlights from each year of the 2010s…”

Photo credit: “Scenes of flooded streams like this one, from Minnehaha creek on May 8, 2019, became increasingly common across Minnesota during the 2010s.” Credit: Minnesota DNR State Climatology Office.

Electric Vehicle Maker Rivian: Expect Prices Lower Than Previously Announced. Why that’s a pleasant announcement. You’ll have to pay less than we projected for one of our all-electric pickups. It shows you what’s happening in the world of battery storage – ever more bang for the buck. Here’s an excerpt from Reuters: “Rivian founder and chief executive R.J. Scaringe told Reuters the mid-range R1T pickup truck with a glass sky panel that can change from blue to clear was about $69,000. It can travel 300 miles on a full charge. A similar range R1S SUV will sell for about $72,000. Rivian said the large battery could go 400 miles and the smallest could go 230 miles. Scaringe declined to say how many prospective buyers have so far spent $1,000 on a refundable deposit to hold their spot for a Rivian, but he said the reaction had been “really positive”...”

Living Near Major Roads Linked to Risk of Dementia, Parkinson’s and MS. The New York Post has the story; here’s the intro: “If you want to avoid getting dementia or Parkinson’s disease, get out of town. Literally. A new scientific study in Canada has added to the growing body of data that people who live in polluted or urban settings, especially if they live near major roads and far away from any parks, may be at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s, other forms of dementia, Parkinson’s disease, or multiple sclerosis…Living within 50 meters of a major road, or 150 meters of a highway, seem to be major risk factors...”

Photo credit: Paul Douglas.

Should People Who Drive Wear Helmets? Streetsblog NYC poses the question, with at least one surprising result: “…New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo “if he might consider helmet mandates for car drivers, given that vast numbers of car drivers who in fatal crashes die as a result of head trauma, as opposed to bicyclists, who are often killed in ways that would render a helmet useless.” “I’m thinking,” the governor said after a long pause. “I don’t know enough. I’d like to see the data.” Here you go, governor: the data exist, and they are truly scary. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons says about 1.7 million cases of Traumatic Brain Injury occur every year in the United States, and that “between 50-70 percent … are the result of a motor-vehicle crash…”

Photo credit: “A motoring helmet.” Photo: Copenhagenize.com.

7″ snow on the ground in the Twin Cities.

26 F. maximum Twin Cities temperature yesterday.

25 F. average high on January 30.

-13 F. high on January 30, 2019, after waking up to -28 F. at MSP.

January 31, 1893: The temperature drops 40 degrees in five hours during a blizzard at Park Rapids.

How Much Would You Pay for a Gatorade Bath? Fox Business has the “creation story” of this ongoing tradition: “...For Gatorade, the surprise sports drink baths at the end of the Super Bowl have been a massive marketing coup. Since 1987, Gatorade baths that aired on television during the Super Bowl have generated more than $20 million in equivalent advertising value across television, radio and other mediums, according to calculations by Apex Marketing, an analytics firm. The Pepsi-owned company paid nothing to gain the additional exposure… The tradition began during the 1986 NFL season, when New York Giants linebacker Harry Carson started pouring coolers of Gatorade over the head of head coach Bill Parcells after victories. Even Gatorade officials were surprised…”

FRIDAY: An inch or two of slush, slippery roads. Winds: SW 5-10. High: 33

SATURDAY: Risk of a little sunshine. Winds: SW 7-12. A dry day. Wake-up: 26. High: 36

SUNDAY: Hello late March! Some sun, windy. Winds: W 10-20+. Wake-up: 30. High: 46

MONDAY: Mostly cloudy and cooler. Winds: N 8-13. Wake-up: 27. High: 35

TUESDAY: Overcast, average temperatures return. Winds: N 5-10. Wake-up: 17. High: 25

WEDNESDAY: Threat of sunshine, light winds. Winds: S 5-10. Wake-up: 6. High: 22

THURSDAY: Clouds increase, pretty quiet. Winds: S 7-12. Wake-up: 4. High: 26

Climate Stories…

The Trump Administration is Helping 9 States Prepare for Climate Change. Grist has details: “...In 2018, Congress devised a plan to help disaster-ravaged states actually prepare for extreme weather for a change, and President Trump signed off on it. It’s the first time national legislation has designed block grants to help states prepare for future disasters, rather than just clean up damage from ones that have already occurred. That money, $16 billion of federal funding, will soon be released — more than half will go to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the rest will go to nine mainland U.S. states. The states that got the most money to prepare for climate change all went for Trump in 2016 and are all under at least partial Republican control: Texas is getting upwards of $4 billion, Louisiana is getting $1.2 billion, Florida $633 million, North Carolina $168 million, and South Carolina $158 million…”

Map credit: NOAA NCDC.

Climate Change is Making it Much Harder to Be a Young Farmer. Old farmers don’t have any easier either, sadly. Mother Jones explains: “…There are about 340,000 farms in the United States—17 percent of the total—whose operators have been farming for less than 10 years, according to the Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Resource Management Survey. Two-thirds of these farmers say they are already experiencing climate change, a 2017 survey by the National Young Farmers Coalition found. “With climate change, it’s hard to put your finger on single events,” says Ben Whalen, who has farmed for three years at Bumbleroot Organic Farm near Portland, Maine. “But we’re accepting the reality that the weather is just going to get more extreme and unpredictable. That’s the mindset that we’re adopting as we start planning for the future of the farm...”

The Guardian Stops Accepting Ads from Fossil Fuel Companies Over Climate Change. Details via TheHill: “The Guardian announced Wednesday that it will no longer accept advertising from fossil fuel companies, citing the industry’s “decades-long effort” to prevent climate action. The policy, effective immediately, will apply across Guardian Media Group, including the newspaper’s British edition as well as digital versions in the U.S. and Australia, print editions of the Observer and Guardian Weekly, and the company’s digital apps. In its statement, the company notes that it has received feedback asking it to go further and ban advertising from industries that are major contributors to carbon emissions, such as the automobile or vacation industries...”

Amazon Staffers Risk Jobs to Call Out Its Climate Change Policies. And now things get extra-interesting, as organic, bottom-up activism and idealism meets raw capitalism in action. Can you put a gag order on employees and hope criticism doesn’t escalate? Good luck with that. Here’s an excerpt from Entrepreneur Magazine: “A new policy at Amazon, which can result in punishment or termination for employees who publicly criticize the company’s stance on climate change, has prompted more than 350 employees to speak out in protest. The employees claim the company is trying to silence their activities, which includes urging Amazon to phase out fossil fuel use, and to stop making its cloud computing services available to the oil and gas industry. “It’s our moral responsibility to speak up, and the changes to the communications policy are censoring us from exercising that responsibility,” Sarah Tracy, a Software Development Engineer at Amazon, said in a statement on Sunday…”

How Thawing Permafrost is Transforming the Arctic. PBS NewsHour explains the changes taking place: “...What we do know is that if the Arctic continues to warm as quickly as climatologists are predicting, an estimated 2.5 million square miles of permafrost — 40 percent of the world’s total — could disappear by the end of the century, with enormous consequences. The most alarming is expected to be the release of huge stores of greenhouse gases, including methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide that have remained locked in the permafrost for ages. Pathogens will also be released. But less well appreciated are the sweeping landscape changes that will alter tundra ecosystems, making it increasingly difficult for subsistence indigenous people, such as the Inuit, and Arctic animals to find food. The disintegration of subterranean ice that glues together the peat, clay, rocks, sand, and other inorganic minerals is now triggering landslides and slumping at alarming rates, resulting in stream flow…”

As Climate Risks Worsen, U.S. Flood Buyouts Fail to Meet the Need. Yale E360 explains: “...Managed retreat is a long-term process that involves the deliberate unbuilding of vulnerable areas and the subsequent relocation of people, homes, businesses, and infrastructure. As climate change increases the risks of flooding, sea level rise, and other hazards, more people will need such assistance to relocate, and there will be an increasing urgency to provide it, often in the form of buyouts. But the current federal policy, planning, and financing processes that support home buyouts are time-consuming, rife with uncertainty, and full of ambiguity, and can leave people in purgatory…”

The Next Coronavirus Nightmare is Closer Than You Think. Daily Beast has the post: “Zombie Viruses. Drug-resistant fungi. “Super-shedding” animals. Even as officials around the world are scrambling to control a new and increasingly deadly coronavirus outbreak, public health and infectious disease experts are sounding the alarm about climate change making the risk of other novel afflictions much more explosive. In recent years, scientists have linked most emerging infectious diseases to animals, especially wildlife. Much of that wildlife is being displaced by global warming and habitat loss, putting stressed species that are more susceptible to infection in closer contact with humans. Recent efforts have revealed a large reservoir of worrisome viruses and other microbes in animals that could spell disaster if they spill over and infect humans…”

Deep Decarbonization: A Realistic Way Forward on Climate Change. Here’s another except from a story at Yale E360: “...Decarbonization requires a string of technological revolutions in each of the major emitting sectors. We count 10 sectors that matter most, including electricity generation, cars, buildings, shipping, agriculture, aviation, and steel. These 10 sectors account for about 80 percent of world emissions. Creating technological revolutions will require different actions in different sectors. In agriculture, one of the most promising options would be to reorient crops so they pull even more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and store that carbon underground — something that doesn’t happen when a field gets re-plowed every season. Some experiments show how this can be done with existing crops, but the real opportunity lies with crop engineering — breeding plants to store more carbon in their roots and then growing them with no-till methods that leave carbon undisturbed...”