Inconvenient Tornadoes and Sketchy Weather Models

Food for thought: the NBC TV affiliate in Dallas is under fire for delaying an on-air tornado warning last Sunday by 6 minutes. Why? The Dallas Cowboys were marching down the field on national TV. Maybe they didn’t want to irritate viewers with Doppler radar? Ten tornadoes touched down nearby, including an EF-
3 with 140 mph winds. Ouch.

No weather model is infallible, including the ECMWF (European). A few days ago it was printing out 10-20 inches of snow for Minnesota next Tuesday. The latest run? A little slush, with the heaviest snow bands pushed into Wisconsin. Another compelling reason not to trust any specific snowfall prediction more than 24-48 hours away.

Expect 50s and sunshine today and Saturday, followed by a cooling trend next week. It’ll be cold enough for snow, and models are hinting at possible accumulation on Halloween, with highs in the low 30s. Confidence levels are low this far out. Stay tuned.

I don’t think we’ve seen the last 60-degree high of 2019. We’re due for a real warm front.


Of All the Mistakes a Local News Outlet Can Make – This Is The Worst. I have to agree with TV meteorologist Dan Satterfield, writing for AGU Blogosphere: “…It will take years for that station to gain the trust of viewers back. I’ve seen this before and nothing can be more damaging to the reputation of a television station. All of those weather promos telling their audience that they can trust them to give them advance warning of dangerous weather were a waste. KXAS almost certainly had far far more calls Sunday complaining about the interruption (when they finally did break into the game) than those who said thanks.  When people call complaining about their program being interrupted for severe weather (and believe me, the do in droves) most stations ignore it. They know that this information is far more important than a fictional sit-com or old rerun. It’s even more important than a live sporting event. So, you can call, but if the situation is serious, you are wasting your time. What happened in Dallas explains why…”


Dallas Tornado: Satellite Photos Reveal Twisters’ Path from Above. Capital Weather Gang has a good post; here’s the intro: “A damaging tornado ripped through northwest Dallas and surrounding areas Sunday night, one of at least nine to touch down amid a severe weather outbreak. Stunning before and after photos from satellites have since emerged depicting the tempest’s fury as up to 140 mph winds carved a path 15 miles long. The photos, from Planet Labs, are sobering, revealing the power and caprice of the voracious vortex. It also illustrates the scale — the major streets align on a roughly one-square-mile grid. At the bottom of the image below, running west to east, you see Walnut Hill Lane in Preston Hollow. Above that, you can see a clustering of large buildings within a field. Among these buildings are the Cary Junior High School, Edward H. Cary Middle School and Thomas Jefferson High School, below the red track…”

Image credit: “Satellite imagery from Monday reveals where Sunday night’s tornado carved a path of heavy damage through parts of northwest and northern Dallas.” (Planet Labs).


MSP Precipitation Numbers. Assuming zero in the bucket today (so numbers would be through Oct. 24th):

  • Year-to-date: Wettest on record
  • Full-year with no more precip : Tied for fifth (wettest: 40.32″ in 2016)
  • Fall-to-date: 18th wettest
  • Full fall season with no more precip : 40th wettest (wettest: 15.75″ in 1881)
  • October-to-date: 13th wettest
  • Full October with no more precip: 19th wettest (wettest: 6.42″ in 1911)

Statistics courtesy of Praedictix meteorologist D.J. Kayser. Photo credit: meteorologist Todd Nelson.






Unprecedented Wet Fall May Increase Spring Flooding Risk in 2020. I know it’s early to be talking about this, but NOAA’s Central Region is already concerned about waterlogged soil increasing the potential for severe river flooding and late planting in 2020. Click here for more details.



On Track for Wettest Year on Record. Check out the actual precipitation amounts (above) and departures from normal (below). More than 21″ wetter than average in Rochester? That’s absurd. Maps courtesy of Praedictix and AerisWeather.


Is It Time to Scrap the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Rating Scale? Here’s a clip from a story I wrote for Medium: “…Hurricane experts are divided. Dr. Kerry Emanuel, Professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT, says two camps are emerging among hurricane experts, those who wish to modify the Saffir-Simpson scale, and those who want to scrap it and start over. Emanuel is in the second camp. He believes we should rate the threat, not the storm. Specifically, he envisions a new rating system that emphasizes threats to a specific location, as opposed to the current Saffir-Simpson scale, which is specific to the storm itself. “Most loss of life and damage in hurricanes is caused by water, not wind. In failing to rate the water damage, the Saffir Simpson scale is deeply deficient and should be discarded.” Emanuel envisions a better way to gauge risk, one that is location dependent. “Rather than rating the storm we should rate the total threat to specific places using, for example, a simple color-coded system, supplemented by concise, thoughtfully composed descriptions of the threat.” he said in a recent interview...”

Winter Weather Outlook From NOAA. Confidence levels are never high this far out. Just once I’d love to experience an “average” winter. Here’s a clip from NOAA: “Warmer-than-average temperatures are forecast for much of the U.S. this winter according to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. Although below-average temperatures are not favored, cold weather is anticipated and some areas could still experience a colder-than-average winter. Wetter-than-average weather is most likely across the Northern Tier of the U.S. during winter, which extends from December through February. While the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) climate pattern often influences the winter, neutral conditions are in place this year and expected to persist into the spring. In the absence of El Nino or La Nina, long-term trends become a key predictor for the outlook, while other climate patterns, such as the Madden-Julian Oscillation and Arctic Oscillation (AO), will likely play a larger role in determining winter weather…”



7 Things Your TV Meteorologist Wants to Tell You, But Can’t. Dennis Mersereau says all those things I wish I could have said at Considerable.com: “…It’s frustrating to miss your favorite TV show because someone 25 miles away is getting a severe thunderstorm. But cutting into regular programming to cover a tornado warning is a public service required by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). A network’s FCC broadcast license comes with the requirement that the station’s broadcast serves the public interest; during a tornado, that public interest is very much keeping those in harm’s way aware of what’s on the horizon. Broadcast meteorologists get flooded with hate mail and even death threats when they have to interrupt a popular show for severe weather coverage. These stations can’t divide their feed to show coverage only to people in harm’s way — over-the-air broadcasts don’t work like that.  It should go without saying, but keeping people safe from a tornado is more important than catching an episode that will appear online 12 hours later...”


Earthquake Devastation Will Be Our Fault. Popular Science and getpocket.com has a compelling, information-rich interview with seismologist Lucy Jones: “…As she travels from LA to places such as the U.K. and New Zealand—­advising communities on how to get ready for hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, and earthquakes—Jones is determined to change one piece of ­infrastructure that requires no political ­action: ­human networks. “Traditional preparedness messaging tends to be very isolating,” Jones says. “It says: ‘You’re going to be on your own; nobody’s going to be there to help you. You need to take care of your family.’” There’s an implicit message that your neighbor might become your enemy. Jones says just the opposite is true, and you should start planning with others. “You have networks with parents at your child’s school,” she says. “There are faith communities and social organizations. There’s your network. They’re a forgotten target on getting ready for an earthquake…”


The Antarctic Ozone Hole is the Smallest Since It Was Discovered. And it may have more to do with unusually warm weather than banning the chemicals that destroy stratospheric ozone, according to a post at CNN.com: “…This is only the third time in 40 years when warm temperatures caused by weather systems have actually helped limit the ozone hole, NASA said in a statement. This also occurred in 1988 and 2002. But the scientists say there is no connection they’ve identified to link the patterns with climate change. “It’s a rare event that we’re still trying to understand,” said Susan Strahan, an atmospheric scientist with Universities Space Research Association, who works at NASA Goddard. “If the warming hadn’t happened, we’d likely be looking at a much more typical ozone hole...”
Image credit: NASA.

Are Solar-Powered Airships the Future of Cargo Delivery? And why not? A story at Big Think got me…thinking: “…The aluminum framed airship will be powered by a pair of solar-powered engines and two conventional jet engines. Because airships rely on jet stream winds to propel them toward their destinations, they offer an advantage over cargo ships in efficiency and carbon emissions. Unlike the airships of the past, such as the infamous Hindenberg, which crashed in a disastrous burst of flames, Varialift’s airship will not be filled with hydrogen. It will use helium gas to lift off, which is a great deal safer. The airship takes off and lands vertically, more like a hot-air balloon than an airplane, which means that it doesn’t really require a special airway or crew…”

Image credit: “The French company Flying Whales aims to deliver cargo to remote areas via airships by 2023.” Photo courtesy of Flying Whales.


A Real-Life Invisibility Cloak Designed for the Military? The stuff of science fiction is rapidly becoming science-fact. Futurism explains: “Canada’s Hyperstealth Biotechnology already manufactures camouflage uniforms for militaries across the globe. But now, the company has patented a new “Quantum Stealth” material that disguises a military’s soldiers — or even its tanks, aircraft, and ships — by making anything behind it seem invisible. Earlier in October, Hyperstealth filed a patent for the material, which doesn’t require a power source and is both paper-thin and inexpensive — all traits that could make it appealing for use on the battlefield. According to a press release, it works by bending the light around a target to make it seemingly disappear. This light can be in the visible spectrum, or it can be ultraviolet, infrared, or shortwave infrared light, making the material what Hyperstealth calls a “broadband invisibility cloak...”

Image credit: Hyperstealth.


The Phone Call Isn’t Dead, It’s Evolving. The Wall Street Journal (paywall) explains: “…Talking was the most popular way to communicate via cellphone in the fall of 2012, with 94% of survey respondents having done so in the prior week, according to consumer-research firm MRI-Simmons. By the spring of 2019, talking had fallen to least popular, behind texting, emailing, posting to social media and using chat apps, with just 45% reporting doing it in the prior week. In other words, less than half had used their phone for an actual phone call. Multiple people I interviewed said when the phone rings unexpectedly, they assume someone has died. But some app developers and investors think voice communication over the phone isn’t the problem, just the act of making a phone call itself…”


Spotify Saved the Music Industry. Now What? Fortune has a smart piece, here’s a clip: “…Spotify’s overall prospects are so robust, according to BCG, that it ranks No. 5 on this year’s Fortune Future 50 list of the companies best positioned to generate long-term growth. But there’s no guarantee that Spotify will hold its position at the top of the charts. Encouraged by streaming audio’s growth, tech giants Apple and Amazon have entered the fray. Each has extraordinarily deep pockets—not to mention a home court advantage as the makers of the iPhones and Echo devices on which so many listeners access their music. Meanwhile, the maturation of major streaming music markets such as the U.S. and the U.K. has Spotify and its rivals chasing emerging opportunities in Brazil, Mexico, India, and “late adopter” nations like Germany and Japan…”


Inside Apple’s High-Flying Bid to Become a Streaming Giant. WIRED.com (paywall) takes us behind the scenes: “…On September 10, Tim Cook once again took the stage at the Steve Jobs Theater for Apple’s annual iPhone event. Gone was the pageantry, and the secrecy, around TV+, and in its place came a giddy, you-asked-for-it forthrightness. And this time, gamesmanship: The platform would launch November 1 (11 days before Disney); it would cost $4.99 a month (less than any other major streaming service). If you bought an iOS device, Mac, or Apple TV, you’d get a year of the service for free. “All of these incredible shows for the price of a single. Movie. Rental,” breathed Cook, in the reverential tone of someone who can’t quite wrap their mind around the enormity of what they’re saying. “Our mission,” he said, “is to bring you the best original stories from the most creative minds in television and film. Truly, stories to believe in. Stories with purpose...”

Image credit: “Wrenn Schmidt, Cass Bugge, Jodi Balfour, and Nate Corddry in a scene from For All Mankind.” Courtesy of Apple.


Pizza Hut is Reinventing the Pizza Box. The Washington Post reports on a new (better?) way to transport pizza pies; here are a couple of excerpts: “The round shape means there’s less waste (i.e., it’s better for the environment), and it’s made of sustainably harvested plant fiber. It’s industrially compostable. Less material also means it takes up less space on the shelves of Pizza Hut locations — and in your fridge…Burquier described the box as the result of a two-year development process along with Zume, the Silicon Valley start-up company whose pizza-delivery innovations include robots assembling the pies and trucks that bake your pizza en route to your home to cut down on what’s known in the industry as “dwell time.” Zume first introduced a round pizza box, which it called the Pizza Pod, in 2017. And Apple has a patented circular pizza box that it uses for the pizzas served in its campus cafeterias...”

Photo credit: Emily Heil/The Washington Post.


Starbucks Has New Phantom Frappuccino That is All-Black and Covered with Slime. Mental Floss has the terrifying details: “Starbucks is about to release a beverage that looks suspiciously like something Hocus Pocus’s Sanderson sisters might brew in their human-sized cauldron. If the Tie-Dye Frappuccino was Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, the Phantom Frappuccino is absolutely the Wicked Witch of the West. It’s a sinister-looking mixture of black sludge and green slime, and it seems about as edible as an oil spill… It’s a welcome break for anybody who started sipping pumpkin spice lattes way back in August and is already experiencing burnout. Unfortunately for Americans, this ghoulish drink is only available in Europe; Starbucks is launching it on October 26 for five days only...”

Photo credit: Starbucks EMEA.


44 F. high yesterday in the Twin Cities.

54 F. average high on October 24.

54 F. high on October 24, 2018.

October 25, 1887: Albert Lea sets a record low of -6 degrees F.

October 25, 1830: A ‘heat wave’ hits Ft. Snelling. The high temperature reached 80. Source: Twin Cities National Weather Service.


Rats Taught to Drive Tiny Cars to Lower Their Stress Levels. Yet reading this post from BBC had the effect of raising my stress level: “Researchers at the University of Richmond in the US taught a group of 17 rats how to drive little plastic cars, in exchange for bits of cereal. Study lead Dr Kelly Lambert said the rats felt more relaxed during the task, a finding that could help with the development of non-pharmaceutical treatments for mental illness. The rats were not required to take a driving test at the end of the study. Dr Lambert and her colleagues built a tiny electric car by attaching a clear plastic jar to an aluminium plate, fitted to a set of wheels. A copper wire was then threaded horizontally across the jar – the cab of the car – to form three bars, left, right and center…”

Photo credit: AFP. “The rats controlled the car by touching different parts of the copper wire.”


FRIDAY: Partly sunny, breezy. Winds: SW 10-15. High: 52

SATURDAY: Dim sun, nice to be average again. Winds: S 10-15. Wake-up: 39. High: 56

SUNDAY: Mostly cloudy and cooler. Winds: NW 8-13. Wake-up: 38. High: 45

MONDAY: Chilly with peeks of sun. Winds: W 7-12. Wake-up: 28. High: 41

TUESDAY: Clouds and flurries. Winds: NW 8-13. Wake-up: 28. High: near 40

WEDNESDAY: Partly sunny and brisk. Winds: NW 8-13. Wake-up: 23. High: 37

THURSDAY: Light snow for Halloween. Slushy? Winds: NE 7-12. Wake-up: 25. High: 34


Climate Stories….

Trump Administration to Begin Formal Withdrawal from Paris Climate Accord. The New York Times reports: “The Trump administration is preparing the formal withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change, according to three people briefed on the matter, a long expected move that nevertheless remains a powerful signal to the world. The official action sets in motion a withdrawal that still would take a year to complete under the rules of the accord. Abandoning the landmark 2015 agreement in which nearly 200 nations vowed to reduce planet warming emissions would fulfill one of President Trump’s key campaign promises while placing the world’s largest economy at odds with the rest of the globe on a top international policy priority…”

File image: Climate Reality.


Electric Cargo Bikes Put Minnesota Moms in Low-Carbon Lane. Star Tribune has the story; here’s an excerpt: “…Breen attributes the boost in cargo bike sales to families that want to ditch their cars altogether, or go “car light” — meaning they want to own just one car, or drive less frequently. “There’s really a lack of imagination around bicycles in this country,” Canning said. “People see them as a toy that you ride when you’re little, and then give up. We really want to emphasize that it’s a tool that can do so much more.” The most popular cargo bike at Perennial Cycle is the Spicy Curry E-bike by Yuba, which has a $4,500 price tag, which may seem financially daunting. But, Breen says, if a cargo bike is considered a means of transportation, it’s actually quite affordable when compared to the cost of keeping a car. The average cost to own a car is $9,282 a year, or $773.50 a month, according to AAA…”

Photo credit: JEFF WHEELER – Star Tribune. “Aimee Witteman on her commuting route home on West River Parkway in Minneapolis with her daughters Barrett, 3, and Georgia, 6, on board her cargo bike.”


The Power of Trees to Fight Floodwaters. Climate Central reports: “…By absorbing rainwater, reducing erosion, and creating more permeable soils, trees save nearly 400 billion gallons of stormwater runoff in the contiental U.S. each year. That’s enough to cover the state of Rhode Island in more than a foot of water!  Stormwater avoided totals are highest in certain urban areas that are prone to high runoff rates. Harris, Texas (home to Houston) leads the Forest Service’s county data, followed by Middlesex, Mass. (near Boston), Allegheny, Penn. (home to Pittsburgh), and Cook, Ill. (home to Chicago). Results are similar when aggregated by media market, with New York, Atlanta, and Boston ranking highest. Trees also avoid more stormwater in rainier regions, from the Gulf Coast to the Pacific Northwest…”


ExxonMobil’s Climate-Change Accounting Goes on Trial. Wait, two sets of books? Here’s an excerpt from CBS News: “…Starting in 2010, Exxon began telling the public that it had assigned a price to carbon internally to model how government regulation would affect its business. However, it used two sets of figures: A high number that it presented to investors and a lower number in internal documents. Effectively, it was telling investors that its business decisions had fully considered the effects of future government regulations, when they had not. The company made a number of oil-intensive investments, such as extraction in the Alberta, Canada, tar sands, that would have been dramatically less profitable if calculated with a high cost of carbon. Its dual sets of numbers also had the effect of discouraging investments in clean energy internally, because they appeared less profitable when the cost of carbon was low than when it was high…”



“Big Oil’s Response to Climate Change Straight Out of Big Tobacco Playbook”. MarketWatch has the story: “As ExxonMobil heads to court this week for a New York lawsuit accusing it of misleading investors about climate change, a team of researchers at George Mason, Harvard and Bristol universities tracked evidence of a decades-long campaign of alleged deception at the oil giant that the scientists say has confused the American public. Their report issued Monday draws parallels between the campaigns launched by tobacco companies to delay dangerous health findings from smoking to the fossil-fuel industry’s go-slow response to climate change.The authors highlighted the tactics used by the campaigns, “including trotting out fake experts, promoting conspiracy theories and cherry-picking evidence....”


The Most Important Thing You Can Do to Fight Climate Change: Talk About It. Dr. Katherine Hayhoe, climate scientist (and devout Christian) has an excellent TED Talk: “How do you talk to someone who doesn’t believe in climate change? Not by rehashing the same data and facts we’ve been discussing for years, says climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe. In this inspiring, pragmatic talk, Hayhoe shows how the key to having a real discussion is to connect over shared values like family, community and religion — and to prompt people to realize that they already care about a changing climate. “We can’t give in to despair,” she says. “We have to go out and look for the hope we need to inspire us to act — and that hope begins with a conversation, today.



The Impossible Fight to Save Jakarta, the Sinking Megacity. WIRED UK has a preview of what other coastal cities can expect in the coming years: “…Jakarta, a megacity of 30 million people, is sinking. In places along the coastline the ground has subsided by four metres over the last few decades, meaning that the concrete barricades are the only thing preventing whole communities from being engulfed by the sea. Although many coastal cities, from New York to Shanghai, have been forced by the threat of climate change to build high walls to protect themselves, there are few places in the world as vulnerable as Jakarta, where a decades-old problem of land subsidence has intersected with sea level rise caused by global warming, creating an existential threat to the city...”


Facing Unbearable Heat, Qatar Has Begun to Air Condition the Outdoors. A headline I didn’t think I’d see, courtesy of The Washington Post and SFGate: “…While climate change inflicts suffering in the world’s poorest places from Somalia to Syria, from Guatemala to Bangladesh,in rich places such as the United States, Europe and Qatar global warming poses an engineering problem, not an existential one. And it can be addressed, at least temporarily, with gobs of money and a little technology. To survive the summer heat, Qatar not only air-conditions its soccer stadiums, but also the outdoors – in markets, along sidewalks, even at outdoor malls so people can window shop with a cool breeze. “If you turn off air conditioners, it will be unbearable. You cannot function effectively,” says Yousef al-Horr, founder of the Gulf Organization for Research and Development. Yet outdoor air conditioning is part of a vicious cycle. Carbon emissions create global warming, which creates the desire for air conditioning, which creates the need for burning fuels that emit more carbon dioxide...”

File image: Wikipedia.