No Prolonged Winter Spells In Sight

There is a bright (vaccinated) light at the end of this long, dark tunnel. Health experts believe the next few months will be better than the next few weeks. Which leaves us all in viral limbo this holiday season.

Personally, I’d rather be disappointed than devastated. On Thursday I’ll be home with my wife and dog, in
our personal bubble, reflecting on the many things I have to be thankful for. A smart Thanksgiving may lower the odds of a very sad Christmas, according to epidemiologists.

I’m thankful I’m not butt-deep in snow right now. My lawn is still supernaturally green; it looks like early October out there. We’re allegedly in a La Nina cooling phase of the Pacific, but the maps for December look like something out of a vigorous El Nino warming event. After a brief cold slap early next week, temperatures moderate by the second week of December with 40s, even an outside shot of 50F.

No big storms of any flavor are brewing anytime soon. Think of today as October 56th.

A shorter winter? Could be.

Turkey Day Climatology. The Minnesota DNR has some timely nuggets: “…The coldest Thanksgiving Day minimum temperature was 18 degrees below zero on November 25, 1880. The coldest high temperature was one below zero on November 28, 1872. The last time it was below zero on the morning of Thanksgiving was in 2014, with four below zero. 2014 had the coldest Thanksgiving high temperature since 1930 with a temperature of 10 degrees. Measurable snow fell on 29 of the past Thanksgivings back to 1884, about every five years or so. The most snow that fell on Thanksgiving was five inches in 1970. The last time there was measurable snow on Thanksgiving was in 2015 with 1.3 inches of snow. Historically, about one in three Thanksgivings have at least one inch of snow on the ground. The deepest snow pack is a tie with 1921 and 1983, both with 10 inches on the ground by Turkey Day. In 2019 there was seven inches of snow on the ground…”

Relatively Mild November. Dr. Mark Seeley has the details in Minnesota WeatherTalk: “The recent moderation in temperature looks to prevail through the Thanksgiving holiday until the end of the month. As such it is likely that November 2020 will end up falling among the 20 warmest Novembers in state history, quite a remarkable turn around from last month, when we recorded one of the coldest Octobers in history. For the year 2020 so far Minnesota has recorded 7 warmer than normal months and 4 colder than normal months. Overall, the year is tracking to finish as another warmer than normal year but by less than 0.5 degrees F…”

Warming Trend Into Saturday. With no snow on the ground the sun’s energy (what little there is in late November) can go into heating up the air vs. melting snow, so 50F is possible again Saturday afternoon. Colder weather returns early next week, but nothing polar is in sight. Map sequence: Praedictix and AerisWeather.

Mild Saturday, Then Temperatures Return Closer to Average. Both ECMWF (above) and NOAA’s GFS (below) show temperatures peaking Saturday, followed by a run of 30s (above zero). Credit: WeatherBell.

Cooler, But Pacific Influence Lingers Into Mid-December. We’ll see a few cold shots in the weeks to come (not surprising considering the Winter Solstice is less than a month away) but I see no sign of prolonged, polar air capable of considerable discomfort.

Record-Breaking 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season Draws To An End. Good riddance. NOAA has highlights and lowlights: “The extremely active 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is drawing to a close with a record-breaking 30 named storms and 12 landfalling storms in the continental United States. While the official hurricane season concludes on November 30, tropical storms may continue to develop past that day. NOAA’s seasonal hurricane outlooks accurately predicted a high likelihood of an above-normal season with a strong possibility of it being extremely active. In total, the 2020 season produced 30 named storms (top winds of 39 mph or greater), of which 13 became hurricanes (top winds of 74 mph or greater), including six major hurricanes (top winds of 111 mph or greater). This is the most storms on record, surpassing the 28 from 2005, and the second-highest number of hurricanes on record…”

2020 Joins List of 10 Most Extreme Atlantic Hurricane Seasons in Satellite Era. The Weather Channel has context: “The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is now among the 10 most active seasons in more than five decades following Hurricane Iota’s intensification into a Category 5 earlier this week. Since satellite detection began in the mid-1960s, Atlantic hurricane seasons have had as many as 30 named storms (2020) and as few as four (1983). Various factors in the atmosphere and ocean typically drive whether a given hurricane season is busy or relatively tame. But ranking the most extreme hurricane seasons isn’t as simple as examining the number of tropical storms and hurricanes that occurred in a given year. We need to dig a little deeper to capture the full picture...”

Graphic credit: “The ACE (Accumulated Cyclone Energy) index takes into account not just the number, but also the intensity and longevity of storms and hurricanes.”

Word Choice Matters in Weather Communications. It turns out getting the forecast right is only half the battle. Here’s an excerpt of a press release from The University of Georgia: “…When a storm like Hurricane Zeta is heading for vulnerable shorelines, meteorologists and local officials need people to act fast. And the words they use when addressing the public can mean the difference between people getting to safety or trying to stick it out until it’s too late. Words like “violent,” “harsh,” “wild” and “unpredictable” are more likely to make people feel helpless and out of control when faced with extreme weather, according to new research from the University of Georgia. And that might put them off from making rational safety precautions. “Certain words just pack emotional associations,” said Alan Stewart, a professor in UGA’s Department of Counseling and Human Development Services based in the Mary Frances Early College of Education. “It’s important to find that middle ground where you alert the public and you empower them, but you don’t overwhelm them...”

Graphic credit: “New research from UGA suggests that some words used to motivate people to action in the face of bad weather may backfire.” (Graphic by Lisa Robbins/UGA)

Lightning “Superbolts” Can Be 1,000 Times Brighter Than Ordinary Flashes. Some breaking news, courtesy of Capital Weather Gang: “…Earlier this year, researchers confirmed a pair of ultra-long-distance lightning strikes in South America that spanned up to 442 miles and lasted for nearly 17 seconds. Ongoing research has turned to how much power these fierce discharges contain, as well as their relative rarity. A new paper published in the American Geophysical Union’s Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres found that roughly one third of 1 percent, or 1 in every 300 lightning strikes, could be classified as a superbolt…”

Image credit: “A mapped superbolt from February of 2019.” (NOAA/GOES/Michael Peterson).

Weather Service Tells Congress Radar Gaps Don’t Hurt Warning Accuracy, But Outside Scientists Disagree. Doppler works best within 75 miles of the radar site, beyond that the curvature of the Earth makes it impossible for the radar beam to see what’s really happening close to the surface. Here’s an excerpt of a story at Capital Weather Gang: “…Now, an overdue report to Congress from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which operates the National Weather Service, attempts to quantify the impacts of such gaps on warning performance. The results downplay the significance of the gaps, counter to the experience of some public- and private-sector meteorologists. Several meteorologists said the congressionally mandated report inadequately addresses the true impacts of these gaps, describing its methodology as inadequate and incomplete and its conclusions as “disappointing” and even “offensive.” The gaps, which the report identifies in some detail, occur in locations so far removed from radar sites that the beams emitted by the radar overshoot the weather they are intended to detect. The greater distance a location is from a radar site, the higher in the sky the radar scans for trouble...”

Map credit: NOAA.

It’s Official: Solar is the Cheapest Electricity in History. A story at Popular Mechanics caught my eye; here’s a clip: “…In a new report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says solar is now the cheapest form of electricity for utility companies to build. That’s thanks to risk-reducing financial policies around the world, the agency says, and it applies to locations with both the most favorable policies and the easiest access to financing. The report underlines how important these policies are to encouraging development of renewables and other environmentally forward technologies. Carbon Brief (CB) summarizes the annual report with a lot of key details. The World Energy Outlook 2020 “offers four ‘pathways’ to 2040, all of which see a major rise in renewables,” CB says…”

Image credit: Xcel Energy.

Electric Airplanes: Dreams of Electric Fleets. Will planes eventually become electrified and battery-powered. The challenges are daunting, but not insurmountable, reports Quartz: “…Weighed down by engineering challenges and without any big investments from airlines, electric flight has remained a quixotic experiment for decades. Now that’s changing. Private companies have put in the research to overcome those engineering issues, building planes that cost and emit less, finally making electric airplanes attractive for airlines and feasible for the masses. By 2035, the aviation industry could be 25% electric or at least hybrid, the investment bank UBS estimates. If these companies are successful, they will eliminate a huge proportion of the direct emissions for most commercial aviation, in the process transforming how humans move around the planet. But to do that, these companies have to move their innovative planes from prototype to commercial runways to 30,000 feet—no small challenge...”

We’re Celebrating Thanksgiving During a Pandemic: How We Celebrated During 1918 Flu Pandemic. USA TODAY reports that history is, in fact, repeating itself: “More than 200,000 dead since March. Cities in lockdown. Vaccine trials underway. And a holiday message, of sorts: “See that Thanksgiving celebrations are restricted as much as possible so as to prevent another flare-up.” It isn’t the message of Thanksgiving 2020. It’s the Thanksgiving Day notice that ran in the Omaha World Herald on Nov. 28, 1918, when Americans found themselves in a similar predicament to the millions now grappling with how to celebrate the holiday season amid the coronavirus pandemic. “Every time I hear someone say these are unprecedented times, I say no, no, they’re not,” said Brittany Hutchinson, assistant curator at the Chicago History Museum. “They did this in 1918…”

Image credit: “Red Cross Women sit at long tables making influenza masks in Chicago, Illinois in 1918.” Image provided by the Chicago History Museum. Graphic by Karl Gelles, USA TODAY.

I Spent a Year in Space, and I Have Tips on Isolation to Share. Astronaut Scott Kelly explains to The New York Times: “Being stuck at home can be challenging. When I lived on the International Space Station for nearly a year, it wasn’t easy. When I went to sleep, I was at work. When I woke up, I was still at work. Flying in space is probably the only job you absolutely cannot quit. But I learned some things during my time up there that I’d like to share — because they are about to come in handy again, as we all confine ourselves at home to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Here are a few tips on living in isolation, from someone who has been there...”

Photo credit: “Credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA.

What Donald Trump Taught the Electric-Car Industry. The acceleration to EVs continues, regardless of regulatory roadblocks in their path. Here’s an excerpt from The Atlantic: “…Today, more than two dozen automakers, electric utilities, EV-charging firms, and lithium companies are forming a new advocacy group devoted to pushing for electric cars on Capitol Hill. It’s called the Zero Emission Transportation Association, or ZETA. “Our goal is to change politics so that every new vehicle sold by 2030 is an EV,” Joseph Britton, ZETA’s founder and director, told me. ZETA won’t look for regulation that requires anyone to buy an EV, he said. Instead, it will push for policy changes that make EVs irresistible to consumers. In other words, ZETA will lobby Congress to build EV chargers, subsidize EV purchases, and help companies that make electric cars rapidly achieve scale…”

Photo credit: Paul Douglas.

Is This the End of College as We Know It? The Wall Street Journal (paywall) examines the trends and new options; here’s an excerpt: “…For traditional college students, the American postsecondary education system frequently means frontloading a lifetime’s worth of formal education and going into debt to do it. That is no longer working for millions of people, and the failure is clearing the way for alternatives: Faster, cheaper, specialized credentials closely aligned with the labor market and updated incrementally over a longer period, education experts say. These new credentials aren’t limited to traditional colleges and universities. Private industry has already begun to play a larger role in shaping what is taught and who is paying for it. For more than a century, a four-year college degree was a blue-chip credential and a steppingstone to the American dream. For many millennials and now Gen Z, it has become an albatross around their necks…”

Illustration credit: Brian Stauffer.

36 F. high in the Twin Cities on Tuesday.

36 F. average MSP high on November 24.

45 F. high on November 24, 2019.

November 25, 1977: Record lows are set across central Minnesota with lows in the teens below zero. Montevideo had the coldest temperature of 18 degrees below zero along with Long Prairie at 16 degrees below zero.

November 25, 1820: Ft. Snelling is in the middle of a three-day blizzard that would dump nine inches of snow.

WEDNESDAY: Mostly cloudy, damp. Winds: N 3-8. High: 37

THANKSGIVING DAY: Partly sunny, a nicer day. Winds: W 10-15. Wake-up: 31. High: 42

FRIDAY: Plenty of sunshine, still quiet. Winds: NW 7-12. Wake-up: 28. High: 39

SATURDAY: Mild sunshine, feels like October. Winds: SW 10-15. Wake-up: 27. High: near 50

SUNDAY: Mostly cloudy, gusty and colder. Winds: NW 15-25+. Wake-up: 30. High: 37=6

MONDAY: More sunshine, but chilly. Winds: N 10-15. Wake-up: 18. high: 26

TUESDAY: Plenty of blue sky, brisk. Winds: NW 8-13. Wake-up: 15. High: 33

Climate Stories…

With John Kerry Pick, Biden Selects a “Climate Envoy” with Stature. Here’s a clip from a New York Times explainer: “…On Monday, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. said he would name Mr. Kerry his special presidential envoy for climate, creating a new cabinet-level position. In that role, Mr. Kerry will need to convince skeptical global leaders — burned by the Trump administration’s hostility toward climate science and its rejection of the 2015 Paris Agreement — that the United States not only is prepared to resume its leadership role but will also stay the course, regardless of the Biden administration’s future. “The United States’ credibility on climate change has plummeted over the last four years,” said Nicholas Burns, a Harvard professor and a former longtime State Department official who served Republican and Democratic administrations. He called Mr. Kerry’s appointment a “powerful signal” that will help the United States, the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas emitter after China, start regaining global trust on the issue…”

Photo credit: Scott Kelly, NASA ISS.

Slew of Rapidly-Intensifying Hurricanes Portends Trouble in a Warming World. Consistently warmer (deeper) water increases the potential for rapid intensification, as witnessed during the 2020 hurricane season which extended deep into November. Capital Weather Gang explains: “…Rapid intensification typically occurs in high-end hurricanes that reach Category 3 or above. Scientists now say this is happening more frequently, as storms are given a turbo boost from rising ocean temperatures. During the 2020 hurricane season, the waters of the Atlantic were unusually mild, the result of human-caused global warming superimposed atop natural climate cycles. The increase in rapidly intensifying storms is “not surprising,” said Suzana Camargo, a hurricane researcher at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, because human-caused climate change is expected to increase the occurrence of these particularly dangerous storms, most prone to explosive development. According to Kerry Emanuel, a hurricane scientist at MIT, the 2020 Atlantic season provides a warning…”

Graphic credit: “Highest daily tropical cyclone wind change in a 24-hour period from 1851 to 2019, with Hurricanes Delta, Eta and Iota highlighted.” (Sam Lillo).

A Record Hurricane Season is Ending. What Does Climate Change Have to Do With It? More perspective from PBS NewsHour Weekend; here’s an excerpt of an interview: “…What that means for individual basins like the North Atlantic is a little bit harder to understand, in part because there are things like natural variability from year to year, right? But we do know our models do tell us that the storms are becoming more intense, both in terms of the the maximum wind speed, but also in the amount of rainfall. We expect about a 5 to 7 percent increase in rainfall within tropical cyclones, within hurricanes for every degree Celsius of warming that we have. And so if you see in the North Atlantic, right, if we were to flash forward 50 years in the North Atlantic is you know two or three degrees warmer than it is now, then you could start to expect upwards of over 10, maybe approaching 20 percent increase in tropical cyclone rainfall...”

Hurricane Zeta file image on October 28: NOAA and AerisWeather.

Heat-Trapping Gas Levels Reach a New Record High, Despite Coronavirus Lockdown. has details: “No, the coronavirus lockdown did not solve climate change. Not even a little bit. In fact, the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere surged to a new record high this year, even as the pandemic brought the world to a standstill, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said Monday. While carbon emissions fell during the spring lockdown, the drop amounted to little more than “just a tiny blip on the long-term graph” and will not have any meaningful effect on the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, the WMO said in its annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases trap solar radiation in the atmosphere just like the glass traps heat in a greenhouse...”

A Warming Earth is Also a Wetter Earth. NOAA NCEI has the post; here’s an exerpt: “…Simply put, precipitation amounts are increasing as temperatures rise because warm air holds more water vapor: a 1°F rise in temperature equals as much as a 4% increase in atmospheric water vapor. Other factors can contribute to rainfall, including El Niño and La Niña. Rain events are included in reports and assessments that look at changes in climate. Both the Fourth National Climate Assessment, issued in 2018, and the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) Indicator Platform include heavy precipitation events as a chief topic. Big rain events have been methodically and more reliably reported since at least the 1950s, and patterns are changing. According to the USGCRP, most of the country has seen dramatic increases in big rain. “The biggest events are getting bigger, and big rain is taking up more of our annual rainfall budget,” Arndt notes…”

More Frequent, Severe Climate-Fueled Disasters Exacerbate Humanitarian Crises. Scientific American reports; here’s an excerpt: “...By combing through data on thousands of disasters the federation has responded to in the past decade, IFRC says that 83% of them were climate-related in some way, usually severe flooding, violent storms and deadly heat waves. “The number of such disasters triggered by extreme weather- and climate-related events has been increasing since the 1960s, and has risen almost 35% since the 1990s,” the new report says. “These extreme weather- and climate-related disasters have killed more than 410,000 people in the past ten years, the vast majority in low and lower-middle income countries,” IFRC says. “Heatwaves, then storms, have been the biggest killers...”

Image credit: NOAA.

Climate Change is Making Winter Ice More Dangerous. The New York Times (paywall) has the story: “New research on the connection between climate change and winter drownings has found that reported drowning deaths are increasing exponentially in areas with warmer winters. The study, published on Wednesday in the journal PLoS One, looked at drownings in 10 countries in the Northern Hemisphere. The largest number of drownings occurred when air temperatures were just below the freezing point, between minus 5 degrees Celsius and 0 Celsius (between 23 degrees Fahrenheit and 32 Fahrenheit). Some of the sharpest increases were in areas where Indigenous customs and livelihood require extended time on ice. Across the countries studied, children under the age of 9 and teenagers and adults between 15 and 39 were the most vulnerable to winter drowning accidents...”

Photo credit: Paul Douglas.

Burning Fossil Fuels Helped Drive Earth’s Most Massive Extinction. The New York Times (paywall) has an eye-opening story: “...Paleontologists call it the Permian-Triassic mass extinction, but it has another name: “the Great Dying.” It happened about 252 million years ago, and, over the course of just tens of thousands of years, 96 percent of all life in the oceans and, perhaps, roughly 70 percent of all land life vanished forever. The smoking gun was ancient volcanism in what is today Siberia, where volcanoes disgorged enough magma and lava over about a million years to cover an amount of land equivalent to a third or even half of the surface area of the United States. But volcanism on its own didn’t cause the extinction. The Great Dying was fueled, two separate teams of scientists report in two recent papers, by extensive oil and coal deposits that the Siberian magma blazed through, leading to combustion that released greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane...”

Study FInds Ticks Choose Humans over Dogs When Temperatures Rise. I had a sneaky suspicion, based on personal experience in recent years. The Guardian reports: “...but the stomach-churning scientific experiment has revealed that ticks carrying the deadly Rocky Mountain spotten fever (RMSF) disease are more than twice as likely to shift their feeding preference from dogs to humans when temperatures rise. The study, presentated at the annual meeting on the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), observed whether the ticks, which use smell to seek out a host upon whose blood to feed, scuttled along a plastic tube towards the dog or the human...”

Image credit: “One type of ‘brown dog’ tick particularly tended to shift their preference from the box containing the dog to the box containing the person“. Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.