In Defense of Summer Thunderstorms

During thunderstorm season I still stare up at the sky with 5th grade wide-eyed wonder. During the day towering cumulonimbus castles charge across the sky. At night the lightning can resemble a Stephen King novel: giant, mutant alien fireflies hovering nearby. I never get over that.

If we didn’t experience thunderstorms Minnesota’s climate would be similar to New Mexico. Precious little would grow here. If you hear thunder there’s lightning somewhere nearby. Keep in mind ANY thunderstorm is potentially dangerous. 1 in 10 will become severe, fewer than 1 in 100 will ever spin up a tornado.

A north breeze dries us out today with enough sun for low 60s. A weak clipper whips up a stray shower Thursday morning, but late week looks dry with a well-timed warming trend. Upper 70s to low 80s Saturday? Models are moving in that direction. 70s give way to 60s the latter half of next week (my kind of cool front) as we settle into May.

Have we seen our last metro frost? I’d give annuals another 1-2 weeks, just to be safe.

U.S. Drought Monitor

Extreme Drought As Close as the Dakotas. Remind me not to complain about the rain, even if it’s falling on a Saturday afternoon. Drought conditions are deepening across the western half of the USA.

Drying Out – Warming Up in Time for the Weekend. The arrival of May will be well-timed on Saturday with enough sun for upper 70s and even low 80s across parts of southern Minnesota. Please let this forecast verify – we need a little warm weather therapy right now.

ECMWF Temperatures for MSP
NOAA GFS Temperatures for MSP

April Precipitation and Departures from Average. Generally rainfall is above average for the month roughly north of I-94 and drier than average over southeast Minnesota and southwest Wisconsin.

Map of tornado tracks from the April 25-28, 2011, Super Outbreak, color-coded by intensity (EF0: aqua; EF1: light green; EF2: yellow; EF3: orange; EF4: red; EF5: pink). Notes: 1) Tornadoes are rated based on the worst damage along its track, which is almost always not representative of all the damage along its path. 2) These are general tracks.
NWS Southern Region Headquarters

10 Years After April, 2011 Tornado Super Outbreak, 16 Things We Will Never Forget. The Weather Channel has the look back; here’s the intro: “The April 25-28, 2011, Super Outbreak remains one of the worst tornado outbreaks in United States history. This single outbreak claimed over 300 lives, injured 2,775 and was responsible for $12 billion in total damage, making it the costliest tornado outbreak in U.S. history. Ten years later, there are jaw-dropping facets of this massive outbreak that remain burned in the memory of the meteorologists and journalists on our team – here’s a list of them…”

Meet the Man Who Led Alabama Through The April 2011 Tornado Disaster. James Spann is on an entirely different level – he was preordained to talk about supercells in real-time. Capital Weather Gang takes us back 10 years, recapping his live TV coverage and countless lives he saved that fateful night: “Not all heroes wear capes. Some wear suspenders. On April 27, 2011, the largest tornado outbreak in nearly 40 years tore through the South, spinning up 216 tornadoes on a single calendar day and claiming more than 300 lives. Hardest hit was the state of Alabama, where multiple EF5s and more than half a dozen EF4s carved deadly scars into the landscape. Residents of northern Alabama, many of whom had been awakened by an early morning band of severe thunderstorms, huddled in safe rooms and storm shelters for much of the afternoon and evening amid a relentless onslaught of rotating thunderstorms. For many, one man was their lifeline during the seemingly endless hours of fury: James Spann…”

Greg Carbin, Twitter

Decade After 2011 Tornado Super-Outbreak, Survey Reveals Americans Have More to Learn About Tornado Safety. Here’s a clip that left me gob-smacked from Cision PR Newswire: “…FLASH surveyed 1,000 residents and homeowners in tornado-prone states to measure awareness and understanding of safe and unsafe behaviors during tornadoes, the importance of certified safe rooms and storm shelters, and common terms used by meteorologists and the media. Top survey findings found that nearly 50 percent of respondents were unaware that safe rooms can provide near-absolute protection in most tornadoes, and more than 44 percent of respondents overestimated the cost of purchasing and installing a safe room. Additionally, 50 percent of respondents mistook a tornado watch for a tornado warning…”

NOAA Ocean Today

Flood Risk’s Impact on Home Values. A post at caught my eye; here’s an excerpt: “…In some states, such as Florida, as many as one in six homes are in floodplains. As more people have built more homes in areas exposed to cyclones, sea-level rise and other inundation hazards, flooding damage costs have skyrocketed. Since 2000, overall flood damages have quadrupled in the U.S. More frequent extreme weather could magnify the trend. In the next 30 years, flood damages to U.S. homes are projected to rise more than 60 percent, from $20 billion to nearly $32.2 billion a year, according to nonprofit research group First Street Foundation. While some states, such as Louisiana, require detailed flood risk disclosures, others require no risk disclosures of any kind...”


Raytheon Leads New Center Dedicated to Advancing U.S. Weather Forecasting. NOAA announced a new partnership with Raytheon, “EPIC”, Earth Prediction Innovation Center. Here is an excerpt from a recent NOAA press release: “…Extreme weather events, exacerbated by climate change, are increasing,” said Craig McLean, NOAA’s acting chief scientist and NOAA assistant administrator for Oceanic and Atmospheric Research. “EPIC will help the United States diversify the community that contributes to improving weather forecasting to save lives, protect property, and strengthen our economy.” “The creation of EPIC is a foundational piece in a major, multi-step effort by NOAA to expand and strengthen community modeling and help us accelerate the improvements in operational weather and climate forecasting,” said Louis W. Uccellini, Ph.D., director, NOAA’s National Weather Service. “This effort will improve forecasts and decision-support activities to ensure communities are ready for, and respond to, oncoming extreme weather, water, and climate events...”

Hennepin County Emergency Management Director Eric Waage, shown in 2013.
Star Tribune File

As Tech Evolves for Severe Weather Warnings, Hennepin County Leads the way. Star Tribune explains; here’s a clip: “…Hennepin County, the largest in Minnesota, is emerging as a national leader in analyzing dangerous weather events and expanding the technology beyond merely relaying warnings from the National Weather Service. The county has installed several dozen highly sensitive monitoring sites, called Mesonets, that measure wind speed, rainfall amounts, soil moisture and temperatures, ice conditions, lightning and radiation. The sensors are placed on a pole and surrounded by a 40- by 40-foot fence. Hennepin County weather officials developed a statewide manual for counties to activate siren warnings, and the county employs full-time meteorologists and a climatologist. County weather officials also are buying sophisticated software that will allow them to sound a siren for a specific section of a city depending on the threat…”

July 25, 2020 file image of Hurricane Hannah

The Average Hurricane Season is Officially More Intense. A post at Popular Science explains how “average” continues to evolve: “A new decade’s worth of hurricane data is in, and the revised average season is predicted to be longer and have more storms than before. Previously, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted an average of 12 named storms, six hurricanes, and three major hurricanes (those Category 3 and higher). But the new data, which covers from 1991 to 2020, adds two more named storms and one more hurricane to that list. This probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise, given that 2020 had a record-breaking number of storms—we ran out of names for new hurricanes—and was the fifth consecutive year of above-average hurricane seasons. But the update to the predicted averages cements what we already knew: hurricane seasons are getting worse…”

Is Minnesota’s Power Grid Ready for Widespread Electric Cars? Some answers from “Curious Minnesota” at Star Tribune: “…Electric vehicles still make up a tiny percentage of cars and trucks on the road in Minnesota — only about 18,000 registered vehicles were fully or partly powered by batteries as of February. But that’s up from just a few hundred a decade ago. Large auto manufacturers are jumping on the electric vehicle (EV) bandwagon. By 2040, nearly 60% of all passenger vehicles sold will be electric, according to an analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, an arm of the Bloomberg news and research firm. Americans drove more than 3.3 trillion miles in 2019, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Fueling that travel with electricity, rather than gas, will require a lot of power...”

Clockwise from top: Toyota bZ4X, Hummer EV, Rivian R1T and Ford F-150 Electric.

Will Electric Trucks Create Millions of “Accidental Environmentalists?” The Wall Street Journal (paywall) poses the question – the short answer seems to be yes. Here’s an excerpt: “…Hundreds of thousands of consumers have preordered either the Hummer EV, the electric pickup truck from U.S. startup Rivian or Tesla’s Cybertruck. More have expressed interest in electric SUVs such as the Toyota bZ4X and Mercedes-Benz EQB, and electric versions of pickups such as the Ford F-150 and Chevy Silverado, a close relative of the Hummer. These vehicles are advertised with promises of long battery range, high towing capacity, all the extras typical of midrange luxury vehicles—and hardly a mention of their eco-friendly bona fides. If previous electric autos were marketed to people concerned about climate change, these are pitched to people more concerned about surviving its aftermath…”

The Aptera can go 150 miles after just 15 minutes at an ordinary charging station. Starting price is $25,900.
The Washington Post

Is This 25K Car the Future of Transportation? A story at The Washington Post (paywall) caught my eye; here’s an excerpt: “…Aptera Motors, a California company whose name comes from the ancient Greek for “wingless,” is rolling out the first mass-produced solar car this year. It’s a three-wheel, ultra-aerodynamic electric vehicle covered in 34 square feet of solar cells. The car is so efficient that, on a clear day, those cells alone could provide enough energy to drive about 40 miles — more than twice the distance of the average American’s commute. The Aptera must undergo safety tests before the company can begin distribution, which it hopes to do by the end of this year. Even then, it’s not clear that consumers will want to buy something that looks like a cross between the Batmobile and a beetle...”

Splinters in Space

Finland to Send a Wooden Satellite Into Orbit? I did a double-take after seeing a post on Ars Technica: “Late last year, we were extremely skeptical of reports regarding a plan for wooden satellites that seemed confused about what could be gained from using the natural material. But a wooden satellite looks like it might get to orbit later this year, via a project we can fully endorse. It’s a bit of silly advertising by a plywood manufacturer that will ensure that a student project gets sent to space. The project, based in Finland, is called the WISA WOODSAT, and it has taken a bit of an indirect route to orbit. The design is based on a CubeSat format called Kitsat, which is intended for student projects…”

54 F. high temperature in the Twin Cities on Tuesday.

63 F. average high on April 27.

74 F. MSP high on April 27, 2020.

April 28, 1994: Heavy snow falls over parts of Minnesota with 7.5 inches at Tower and 4.5 inches in the Twin Cities.

April 28, 1966: A heavy snowstorm leaves 10 inches of snow on the ground across a wide chunk of northern Minnesota.

WEDNESDAY: More sunshine, drying out. Winds: NE 8-13. High: 63

THURSDAY: Early shower, breezy and cooler. Winds: NW 15-25. Wake-up: 44. High: 59

FRIDAY: Sunny and pleasant. Winds: SE 5-10. Wake-up: 41. High: 67

SATURDAY: Warm sunshine, see if shorts still fit. Winds: W 8-13. Wake-up: 53. High: near 80

SUNDAY: Clouds increase, still lukewarm. Winds: N 7-12. Wake-up: 55. High: 75

MONDAY: Mostly cloudy, cooler breeze. Winds: NE 10-20. Wake-up: 56. High: 69

TUESDAY: Patchy clouds, risk of a shower. Winds: E 10-20. Wake-up: 53. High: 62

Climate Stories…


White House Pushing for 80% Clean U.S. Power Grid by 2030. Reuters has details: “The White House hopes to capitalize on growing support from U.S. utilities, unions and green groups for a national clean energy mandate by pushing Congress to pass a law requiring the U.S. grid to get 80% of its power from emissions-free sources by 2030, according to a senior administration official. The goal would fall short of President Joe Biden’s stated ambition of net zero carbon emissions in the grid by 2035, but is an interim milestone that could be passed without Republican support through a process called budget reconciliation. “Our goal is to enact this into law,” deputy White House climate adviser Ali Zaidi told Reuters. “There are multiple pathways to get meaningful progress in the power sector…”


Biden’s Climate Summit Launches the World Into a Climate Sprint. Here’s some perspective from “…Kerry’s visit to China yielded a joint statement saying the two countries are “firmly committed to working together.” When the summit finally rolled around in April, a handful of countries were ready to announce new climate targets. Canada upped its commitment to slash emissions to at least a 40% reduction from 2005 levels by 2030. Japan said it would aim for a 50% cut from 2013 levels by the end of the decade. The most important commitment, of course, came from the U.S.: the Biden Administration said the country would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2030 from 2005 levels, a significant ramp up from the U.S.’s Obama-era plan...”

Screenshot: Gizmodo

Joe Biden is Not Coming For Your Poorly-Cooked Hamburger. Oh thank God! No need to guard my back yard grill – that’s a huge relief. Here’s an excerpt from Earther: “Folks, Joe Biden is bringing big government into the kitchen. Your kitchen. Sleepy Joe, he’s coming for your sweet, beautiful meat. Your fridge, it’s going to be full of kale after Biden is done cleaning out your delicious hamburgers and Angus sirloin. Filet mignon? It’s gonna be a thing of the past in Biden’s America. Maybe you get it once a year—if you win the meat lottery. (You probably won’t because you know they rigged it. #StoptheVealSteal) Your grill? Forget about it, unless you want to put some turnips on it...”

Global Construction Review

Climate Change is a Bigger Challenge for Construction Than Covid-19. Say what? Here’s an excerpt of an Op-Ed at Global Construction Review that caught my eye: “…There will be a great deal of disruption from projects and built environment initiatives that are late, delayed or cancelled entirely as a result of the pandemic, requiring careful dispute resolution that, though precipitated by Covid-19, will be overtaken by issues surrounding a project’s green credentials going forward. In other words, while the pandemic has forced a pause in proceedings for which there will be legal ramifications in the short-term, climate change will be our greatest challenge and have a profound effect on how we build long into the future...”

Climate Nexus

How the U.S. Might Reach Biden’s Climate Goal. Here’s an excerpt from an analysis at (paywall): “…With the rise of solar and wind power, the US is well on its way to decarbonizing its energy production: Emissions from the sector have dropped 37 percent since 2005, though that’s partly due to the switch from coal to natural gas. But an ancient, fragmented national grid is standing in the way of a truly green energy system. The grid is actually two—the Western Interconnection and the Eastern Interconnection, which meet at the eastern borders of Colorado and Wyoming—plus a smaller independent one in Texas. While these separate networks can share a bit of energy across their borders, they’re not designed to work intimately with each other...”

Mixed cover crops fill a field outside Chestertown, Md., that is part of Harborview Farms on Dec. 18, 2020. Trey Hill’s grandfather, who founded the family farm, would clear his fields in the winter. But Hill believes cover crops are making his soil healthier as they absorb carbon dioxide from the air and lock it in the ground.
Gabriella Demczuk

Planting Crops, and Carbon Too. How do we get the yields we need while reducing carbon released into the atmosphere from farmers’ fields? The Washington Post examines the challenge: “…While his grandfather, who started the family farm along the Chesapeake Bay, always planted in the spring in a clean field, in Hill’s approach to farming, “you never want to see the ground.” As the winter cover crops grow, they will feed microbes and improve the soil’s health, which Hill believes will eventually translate into higher yields of the crops that provide his income: corn, soybean and wheat. But just as importantly, they will pull down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in the ground. Hill is at the cutting edge of what many hope will provide not just a more nature-friendly way of farming, but a powerful new climate solution…”

Zack Labe, Twitter

A Conservative Case for Smart Climate Action: Let’s Act Now. Here’s an excerpt of an Op-Ed at Chicago’s Daily Herald: “...Conservative principles of transparency and accountability are not in play related to fossil fuel pricing. As such, the competitive playing field is not level for innovation in renewable and low-carbon energy sources. Let’s discuss a solution that meets our conservative criteria. By correcting a well-known market failure (CO2 pollution is “free”), a carbon tax will send a powerful price signal that harnesses the invisible hand of the marketplace to steer economic actors toward a low-carbon future. The conservative solution is as follows: place a small but annually increasing “fee” on fossil fuel companies for the carbon emissions of their products. That fee is then returned to every American household in the form of a monthly “dividend” check. Credible studies show it will dramatically reduce carbon emissions without harming the poor or middle class, job growth or GDP growth…”