Gray Days Drag On – But Nothing Subzero!

Think of this as Seattle with lakes. My oldest son lives in Seattle and complains about a predictable treadmill of gray days. Locals are amazed when the sun does come out. “They still play outside in the rain and drizzle” Walt told me. “Why do you think Starbucks started out here? Caffeine has replaced vitamin D.”

Welcome to the cloudiest January since solar records were first started by the Minnesota DNR in St. Paul back in 1963. I own a few “light boxes”, fancy lamps that mimic the sun. Not sure they help, but they probably don’t hurt.

Expect a fistful of flurries today, maybe a slushy inch on Friday as a scrawny clipper drifts overhead. That’s our excitement for the week.

The big story is a stiff Pacific breeze kicking in this weekend. 40s on Super Bowl Sunday? Pretty amazing at this latitude on February 2.

Temperatures cool back down to average next week – a few numbing days brewing for mid-February.

But nothing like last winter. One year ago today MSP woke up to -28F with a ‘high’ of -13F. Ouch.

Photo credit: Paul Douglas

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…”

Warming Trend Into Sunday. Low to mid 40s on Super Bowl Sunday? Not too shabby for Minnesota on February 2. We cool off next week, back down closer to average by midweek. Maps above: Praedictix and AerisWeather.

What Cold Wave? We may see colder readings the second week of February, but after running 10-20F above average into Monday temperatures cool off a bit next week. Heavy parkas optional (for now). ECMWF guidance for MSP: WeatherBell.

Rapid Recovery? GFS guidance strongly suggests another warming trend within 2 weeks, after cooling down to or below average the second week of February. That flow looks pretty zonal, west-to-east, to me, suggesting temperatures at or just above average.

Gloomy January 2020. Confirming what we all suspected, here’s an excerpt from The Minnesota DNR: “So far though January 27, January 2020 has had the least amount of solar radiation for a January since solar radiation records began at the U of M St. Paul Campus Climate Observatory in 1963. January 22-28, 2020 has been cloudy for seven consecutive days. The last time there was a stretch of seven straight days of completely cloudy conditions was in October 2018. There’s been longer stretches in the past. The longest record of consecutive days with zero minutes of sunshine is fifteen days from October 30, 1972 to November 13, 1972. The 1972 streak is remarkable that on November 14 there was less than an hour of sunshine, then two more days of zero minutes of sunshine! The sunshine recorder was at the Twin Cities International Airport before June 1996 and moved to Chanhassen after that. The sunshine recorder has since been discontinued...”

Grand Forks Readies For What May Be a “Top Five Flood”. The Grand Forks Herald has the story; here’s a clip: “…According to National Weather Service data Grasser presented to Council members on Monday, there is an approximately 80% chance that floodwaters will exceed 46 feet — the threshold for “major” flooding — this spring. There is a roughly 1.5% chance they’ll rise above 60 feet, which is the height of the city’s levee system. Those calculations were based on conditions the service recorded on Jan. 20. The fall of 2019 was a particularly wet one, and that generally indicates a wet spring. President Donald Trump granted North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum’s December request for a disaster declaration in the state. That declaration frees up Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to help cities like Grand Forks fix up infrastructure damaged by fall storms and the ensuing spring floods...”

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”...”

GM to Invest $2 Billion, Create 2,200 Jobs at Detroit-Hamtramck Plant. A story at Crain’s Detroit Business caught my eye: “General Motors Co. will start making the Cruise Origin autonomous shuttle shortly after it starts making an all-electric pickup at the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant late next year. The Detroit-based automaker announced the production plan Monday morning as part of its planned $2.2 billion investment in the factory, which had been slated for closure prior to last year’s negotiations with the UAW. Cruise, based in San Francisco, showed the Origin for the first time last week. But the company’s first autonomous ride-hailing offerings will use the Chevrolet Bolt-based third-generation autonomous vehicle, which still has a steering wheel and brake pedals…”

Photo credit: Steve Fecht for General Motors Co. “General Motors Co. President Mark Reuss on Monday announces a $2.2 billion investment at its Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant to produce a variety of all-electric trucks and SUVs.”

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.

University of Missouri Tracking Students. George Orwell would be proud. Here’s an excerpt from “New students at the University of Missouri will be required to participate in a tracking program designed to measure and enforce class attendance, according to a new report from The Kansas City Star. Despite privacy concerns, officials defended the decision as one to the benefit of students, as the school’s athletics department has already been using the same app, SpotterEdu, to track certain student-athletes. While the app ensures that students are in the classroom during class times, it claims it does not track students’ locations anywhere else...”

Mercedes Truck Sets New Altitude Record. Did the drivers need supplemental oxygen? Jalopnik has the post; here are a couple of excerpts: “Wheeled vehicles can achieve near-airplane-like levels of altitude, though, if they can find ground high enough. And that’s just what a Mercedes-Benz Unimog U 5023 truck did, driving nearly 21,962 feet above sea level….In case you’re unfamiliar with Unimogs, they’re Mercedes-Benz line of tough, go-anywhere trucks with flexible ladder-frame chassis and portal axles that they’ve been making since 1948…Two of these Unimogs were being used on the highest volcano in the world, the Ojos de Salado in Chile to install emergency radio units at high-altitude camps up on the volcano…”

Image credit: Mercedes Benz.

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:

January 30, 1994: Duluth has a record low of -35.

THURSDAY: Overcast, more flurries. Winds: SE 7-12. High: 27

FRIDAY: Coating to an inch of slush possible. Winds: SW 3-8. Wake-up: 25. High: 33

SATURDAY: Skies brighten, temperatures mellow. Winds: W 10-15. Wake-up: 27. High: 37

SUNDAY: Touch of March. Super-nice for Feb. 2! Winds: W 10-20. Wake-up: 33. High: 46

MONDAY: Mostly cloudy and cooler. Winds: N 10-15. Wake-up: 32. High: 35

TUESDAY: Peeks of sun, storm stays south. Winds: NW 8-13. Wake-up: 20. High: 30

WEDNESDAY: Intervals of sun, seasonably chilly. Winds: S 7-12. Wake-up: 14. High: 25

Climate Stories…

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...”

The Pacific Ocean is So Acidic That It’s Dissolving Dungeness Crabs’ Shells. has the story: “The Pacific Ocean is becoming more acidic, and the cash-crabs that live in its coastal waters are some of its first inhabitants to feel its effects. The Dungeness crab is vital to commercial fisheries in the Pacific Northwest, but lower pH levels in its habitat are dissolving parts of its shell and damaging its sensory organs, a new study found. Their injuries could impact coastal economies and forebode the obstacles in a changing sea. And while the results aren’t unexpected, the study’s authors said the damage to the crabs is premature: The acidity wasn’t predicted to damage the crabs this quickly…”

File photo: NOAA.

Oh No, Not The Wine: Climate Nexus has headlines and links: “Climate change could dramatically shrink the world’s wine-growing regions and lead to a worldwide shortage of wine, new research shows. A study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that a rise of just 2 degrees C by 2100 could make 56 percent of the world’s wine-growing regions unsuitable for growing grapes, while a rise of 4 degrees C would lead to an 85 percent loss. Switching up grape crops to include more sustainable varietals, the author notes, could help mitigate some of this loss. “In some ways, wine is like the canary in the coal mine for climate change impacts on agriculture, because these grapes are so climate-sensitive,” study co-author Benjamin Cook told USA Today.” (USA Today, The Hill, The Guardian, Thomson Reuters Foundation, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Young Conservatives Want Climate Action. Here’s the intro to a post at republicEn: “According to a new survey issued by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, 80 percent of voters between the ages of 18 to 29 say that global warming is “a major threat to human life on earth.” 82 percent of women and 76 percent of men call climate change a “major threat.” “While the boomers are still trying to decide whether or not scientists can be trusted, our kids are saying, ‘Save the planet,” said Shane Bemis, the Republican mayor of Gresham, Oregon and co-chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ youth engagement efforts. This information comes at a time when Republican House leadership, in response to pressure from the rising generation of voters, is pulling together a package of bipartisan bills that would have some impact on climate change...”