A Risk of Flash Floods During a Drought

”Papa, tell me the story about the year we had floods during a drought?” Well Jordan, the year was 2021, and it was bone-dry. Parts of Minnesota were on fire. Farmer were worried, even the trees were stressed and losing their leaves early. And yes, we went from drought to flood in the meteorological blink of an eye.

Strange? You bet. But I’ve seen rainbows after a tornado, rain the middle of a blizzard. Nothing surprises me much anymore.

The chance of bumping into a big, wet, sloppy (noisy) storm increases as the day goes on today. Heaviest T-storms may bubble up the next few nights along a warm frontal boundary. My sense: most of us will see 1-2 inches of additional rain by Saturday night; a few spots could pick up over 3”. Yes please.

In spite of puddle potential 70s should feel good at the State Fair today. If you want better odds of dry weather, wait until Sunday, when northwest winds usher drier, more comfortable air into town. Warmest day at the lake? Saturday (mid/upper 80s) but watch for late day T-storms.

Excessive Rainfall/Flooding Potential

Nothing to See Here – Just Flood Potential During a Drought. Not everyone will experience flash flooding, but NOAA is highlighting portions of the Upper Midwest most likely to experience downpours capable of meeting flash flood criteria.

ECMWF Rainfall by Saturday Evening
NOAA NAM Rainfall by Saturday Evening

From Drought to Flood? It’s 2021 – anything can happen, and at this point nothing would surprise me. Training thunderstorms may create flash flooding in some communities by Friday and Saturday. Drought to flood in the meteorological blink of an eye? Wait for it.


DNR Launches Fall Color Finder Early. Stating the obvious: the drought is stressing trees, and the leaves are leaving (prematurely). Bring Me The News explains: “…The DNR launched the map earlier than normal this year because leaves have already started to turn due to the ongoing drought. The vibrant reds, oranges and yellows that decorate Minnesota’s landscape usually don’t peak until mid-September to early October in most of northern Minnesota. In the Twin Cities and central Minnesota, it’s typically in late September to mid-October. But with things already changing, peak fall color is expected to happen earlier this year, Val Cervenka, the Minnesota DNR’s forest health program coordinator, told Bring Me The News earlier this month…”

Thursday Future Radar

A Wonderfully Sloppy Pattern. Scattered showers and T-storms will be with us from today into Saturday night, followed by drying conditions Sunday into Tuesday as a stronger push of Canadian air arrives.

NOAA NDFD Temperatures for MSP
ECMWF Temperatures for MSP

Warm-ish. Probably not uncomfortably hot by the second week of September, but generally 80s, a few degrees above average, as the core of the heat remains south of Minnesota. Longer nights are brewing up cooler air – it won’t be long before a couple of real cold fronts sail southward out of Canada.

Fires Burn Through Minnesota Like A ‘Freight Train’: Nexus Media has headlines and links that hit way too close to home: “The Greenwood Fire barreled through northern Minnesota forests like a “freight train” Monday, doubling in size and burning so fiercely it created its own weather. “Once it starts rolling,” incident commander Brian Pisareck told reporters Monday night, “it starts to build up steam and feed off itself.” The intense heat from the fire, which had burned nearly 20,000 acres as of Tuesday evening, created pyrocumulus clouds (a.k.a. “fire clouds”) towering an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 feet into the atmosphere. Severe and exceptional drought conditions across Minnesota, the Northern Plains, and Western U.S., made worse by climate change, have set the stage for the massive conflagration, one of 13 within Superior National Forest, including four new fires on Monday alone. Those fires, and specifically the John Elk and Whelp Fires have forced the closure and evacuation of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.” (Greenwood Fire: New York Times $, Star Tribune, Duluth News Tribune, MPR, KSTP5, KBJR6, KMSP9, KARE11; Drought: New York Times $; BWCAW: Duluth News Tribune, Star Tribune, E&E $, Duluth News Tribune, AP, MPR; Climate Signals background: Drought, Wildfires).

Vehicles in a stream on Aug. 22 in Waverly, Tenn.
Mark Humphrey/AP

On Saturday a Catastrophic Flash Flood Unfolded in Tennessee. Here’s How it Happened. Capital Weather Gang has a very good overview – here’s an excerpt: “…Radars estimated that 21 inches of rain fell over the community in a single day; nine inches fell in just three hours. A rain gauge measured 17 inches of rain in 24 hours, which will set a new daily record for the state if confirmed. “[T]he chance of getting over 17 inches of rain in 24 hours in any year at Waverly, TN is much more rare than 1 in 1,000,” wrote Geoffrey Bonnin, a hydrologist retired from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in a Facebook message to the Capital Weather Gang. He said that amount of rain is so rare that NOAA doesn’t have sufficient historical data to quantify it any further...”

“Henri” Drenches Northeast; Death Toll at 21 in Catastrophic Tennessee Flash Flood Yale Climate Connections has a good overview of a deadly storm: “...As recently as the 1970s, flash floods in the United States sometimes resulted in 100 or more deaths. More recently, with heightened awareness of flash flood risks and improved communication of flash flood warnings, death tolls have tended to be much smaller. It appears the Tennessee disaster is the nation’s deadliest localized flash flood in decades. A flash flood on October 18, 1998, killed 31 people in San Marcos, Texas. Flash floods are typically driven by rapid water rises in small channels as a result of persistent thunderstorm rains. They are distinct from broader-scale river flooding and from coastal storm-surge flooding during hurricanes. Some larger-scale flooding events, such as the one that killed 27 people across Tennessee on May 1-3, 2010, include both flash and river flooding, as did the deadly inland floods associated with such tropical cyclones as Floyd (1999), Allison (2001), and Harvey (2017)....”

The Quarry at La Quinta (California)
Paul Douglas (caddy)

Playing Golf Might Help You Live Longer. You might want to forward this CNN story to your spouse or better half; here’s a clip: “…A 2009 Swedish study suggests golfers may live longer than nongolfers — as much as five extra years. Playing at least once a month may also lower older adult’s risk of early death. There are several physical health benefits to routinely playing golf, according to Dr. Jacquelyn Turner, an assistant professor at the Morehouse School of Medicine. A golfer herself, she says golfing can burn up to 2,000 calories walking 18 holes, the equivalent of five miles, depending on the course. Burning so many calories “gives you a lot of aerobic exercise that can decrease a lot of comorbidities such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol,” Dr. Turner says. She also points out other benefits of golf including higher HDL levels — “good” cholesterol — and stronger core muscles, which are especially important to prevent falls later in life. Being outside in the sun also helps with vitamin D exposure…”

84 F. Twin Cities high temperature on Wednesday.

79 F. Average MSP high on August 25.

90 F. High on August 25, 2020.

August 26, 1915: Unseasonably cold air leads to killing frosts across Minnesota, with a low of 23 degrees at Roseau.

THURSDAY: Showers, possible thunder. Winds: E 10-15. High: 74

FRIDAY: Heavy T-storms, small flood risk. Winds: SE 10-20. Wake-up: 66. High: near 80

SATURDAY: Warm, sticky sun. Late PM T-storms. Winds: S 10-20. Wake-up: 70. High: 88

SUNDAY: Cooler breeze. Dry with some sun. Winds: NW 10-15. Wake-up: 69. High: 81

MONDAY: Partly sunny and pleasant. Winds: W 5-10. Wake-up: 63. High: 82

TUESDAY: Mix of clouds and sun. Winds: SE 8-13. Wake-up: 62. High: 81

WEDNESDAY: Steamy again with a few T-storms. Winds: SE 10-15. Wake-up: 65. High: 86

Climate Stories…

Source: NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information

These Maps Tell the Story of Two Americas. The water-haves and the water have-nots. The New York Times (paywall) reports: “…This divide, a wetter East and a drier West, reflects a broader pattern observed in the United States in recent decades. The map above, created using data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, shows the Eastern half of the country has gotten more rain, on average, over the last 30 years than it did during the 20th century, while precipitation has decreased in the West. (Thirty-year averages are often used by scientists to glean big-picture climate trends from temperature and precipitation data that varies substantially year-to-year.) It’s not yet clear whether these changes in precipitation are a permanent feature of our warming climate, or whether they reflect long-term weather variability. But they are largely consistent with predictions from climate models...”

Firefighters work in an area affected by floods caused by heavy rainfall in the centre of Bad Muenstereifel, Germany, July 18, 2021.
REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen/File Photo

Floods to Heatwaves: Can We Tell If Extreme Weather is Linked to Climate Change? Thomson Reuters Foundation has a timely interview – here’s a clip: “…Climate scientists say global warming is making weather extremes more likely and frequent – with a flagship report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warning this month the situation is likely to worsen even if bigger efforts are made to rein in emissions of planet-heating gases. In a study out on Tuesday, an international team of scientists found climate change has made extreme rainfall events similar to those that led to July’s floods in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg – which killed at least 220 people – between 1.2 and 9 times more likely to happen. They also found that such downpours in Western Europe are now 3-19% heavier because of human-caused warming. “These floods have shown us that even developed countries are not safe from severe impacts of extreme weather that we have seen and (that are) known to get worse with climate change,” said Friederike Otto, associate director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford…”

Week Of Contrasting Extremes Illustrates American Climate Change: Links and headlines courtesy of Nexus Media: “The Mr. Hyde and other Mr. Hyde of extreme weather across the U.S. in the last week is largely consistent with how climate change is making extreme weather more extreme, scientists say. Across the Northern Plains and West, Extreme and Exceptional drought conditions are forcing North Dakota ranchers to sell off their cattle before they starve and creating the tinder-like conditions fueling multiple 100,000-acre megafires across California. “We’re at the epicenter of a changing climate,” North Dakota State University professor and state climatologist Adnan Akyuz told the New York Times. Meanwhile, extreme rainfall and subsequent flooding in the Eastern U.S., also a hallmark of climate change, killed at least 27 people in Tennessee and North Carolina in the last week while Henri dealt an estimated $4 billion worth of damage to the Northeast. “This is very abnormal,” Jim Rouiller, lead meteorologist at the Energy Weather Group, told Bloomberg. “There is also a stronger signal for global warming in the picture. I do believe now more than I have that it is occurring. I just don’t know the magnitude but the change is happening and it is going to keep on increasing.” (Bloomberg $, New York Times $; North Dakota drought: New York Times $; Henri damage: Bloomberg $; Climate Signals background: Drought, Extreme precipitation increase).

Demonstrators protesting Line 3, a proposed pipeline expansion from Canada to Wisconsin, march Monday in D.C.
Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post

Climate Activists Fear This Is The Last Chance for Biden, Congress, to Pass Meaningful Climate Legislation. The Washington Post (paywall) has the story – here’s an excerpt: “…The climate activists protesting the pipeline outside the White House were part of a larger movement of environmental activists demanding more from the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress. There is a rising frustration among many of those organizers, who say they helped turn out the vote in 2020 but are not seeing climate pledges translate into meaningful changes. They are worried that the opportunity to push through ambitious climate legislation will soon be gone — and that they may not have another chance. “He said he was the climate president,” Peltier — an Anishinaabe citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and a member of the Indigenous environmental justice organization Honor the Earth — said outside the White House on Monday. “Now he doesn’t care...”

The Banality of Apocalypse. All of us have camera-phones (well, most of us) and we all have a front row seat witnessing and documenting the impacts of rapid climate change. Gizmodo has an interesting post; here’s a clip: “…Meanwhile, almost every phone is now a camera, and in some cases, a camera good enough to shoot near-professional quality photos and videos. Pew Research data shows that 85% of American adults own a smartphone, and there are billions more in use around the world. Meanwhile, there are 1.9 billion daily Facebook users, nearly 200 million daily Twitter users, and TikTok just overtook Facebook as the most downloaded app on Earth. That does not even get to Instagram, WhatsApp, and other apps that help users disseminate photos or turn their phones into broadcast studios with a few taps. When disaster hits, it is inevitably documented and posted…”

Germany’s Deadly Floods Were Up to 9 Times More Likely Because of Climate Change, Study Estimates. CNN.com has details: “…The study, conducted by 39 scientists and researchers with the World Weather Attribution (WWA) project, also found that the most extreme rain was a once-in-400-year event, and that climate change increased the intensity of daily extreme rainfall by 3% to 19%. “These floods have shown us that even developed countries are not safe from severe impacts of extreme weather that we have seen and known to get worse with climate change,” Friederike Otto, the associate director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford, said in a statement. “This is an urgent global challenge and we need to step up to it. The science is clear and has been for years…”

Greenland: Rain Fell at Summit For First Time on Record. CNN.com reports; here’s a clip: “…For the first time on record, precipitation on Saturday at the summit of Greenland — roughly two miles above sea level — fell as rain and not snow. Temperatures at the Greenland summit over the weekend rose above freezing for the third time in less than a decade. The warm air fueled an extreme rain event that dumped 7 billion tons of water on the ice sheet, enough to fill the Reflecting Pool at the National Mall in Washington, DC, nearly 250,000 times. It was the heaviest rainfall on the ice sheet since record keeping began in 1950, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, and the amount of ice mass lost on Sunday was seven times higher than the daily average for this time of year…”

Good News: The Media is Getting the Facts Right on Climate Change. Grist has the post; here’s an excerpt: “…It might be kind of a chicken-and-egg situation: The media reflect their audience and help shape its views. Some 64 percent of Americans now say that reducing the effects of climate change is “a top priority,” according to Pew Research polling. Less than 40 percent gave that response five years ago. The previous study encompassing press coverage of climate science from 1988 to 2002 found that only 35 percent of it accurately reflected the scientific discourse. At the time, the U.S. media was consistently biasing reporting of the subject by presenting “both sides” of the “debate” as equally valid, according to the analysis. That initial study made a splash, getting cited by Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth and causing “introspection” among some journalists, Boykoff said. Despite being outdated, his article continued to be referenced nearly two decades later — which was why he figured it was time for an update…”

Bee Flight Suffers Under Temperature Extremes. ScienceDaily explains: “Rising temperatures could help some northern-latitude bees fly better, but more frequent extreme weather events could push them past their limits. Bees’ flight performance affects their ability to pollinate plants — a crucial service for many of our crops. Now, researchers from Imperial College London have measured the relationship between bumblebee flight performance and surrounding temperature. Measuring the motivation of bumblebees to fly and their flight endurance, the team found performance rose rapidly from the lower tested limit of 12oC and peaked between 25-27°C. Beyond this, however, they found performance started to decline. Their results indicate that whilst bumblebees found in more northern latitudes may see benefits to flight performance under future climate warming, populations in southern latitudes, where temperatures above 27oC are more readily exceeded, may be adversely affected. The results are published today in Functional Ecology…”