Welcome Winter Solstice – Sunscreen Optional Today

With apologies to Winston Churchill, Minnesota’s darkest hour arrives around 4:23 pm today. Welcome to the Winter Solstice, when the sun’s direct rays pass over the Tropic of Capricorn, at 23.5 degrees south latitude.

Today is the shortest daylight of the year: 8 hours and 46 minutes. That compares with 15 hours, 27 minutes of daylight on June 21. Yes, we are all sun-starved and vitamin D deficient this time of year, but we pick up 3 minutes of additional daylight by New Year’s Day!

You should get a glimpse of a lazy, low-hanging sun scraping the southern horizon today, but the next clipper spreads more clouds into Minnesota this weekend. A coating is possible near the Canadian border, but most towns stay dry into Wednesday of next week. Beautifully boring for
that last minute dash to the mall.

A southern storm pushes heavy wet snow into Minnesota late Wednesday into Thursday, and there is a potential for a significant accumulation. It’s too early to speculate where then heavy snow bands will set up. If you’re bummed about a brown Christmas, how ’bout a white New Years? 

More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About the Winter Solstice. Here’s the intro to a good explainer at Vox: “The winter solstice is upon us: Friday, December 21, will be the shortest day of 2018 for anyone living in the Northern Hemisphere. If pagan rituals are your thing, this is probably a big moment for you. If not, the official first day of winter is neat for other reasons too. Technically, the solstice occurs when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, or 23.5° south latitude. In 2018, this will occur at 5:23 pm Eastern time on Friday. Below is a short scientific guide to the solstice and the longest night of the year.nThe winter and summer solstices, the seasons, and the changing length of daylight hours throughout the year are all due to one fact: Earth spins on a tilted axis…”

Map credit: Brian Brettschneider

Snow Potential Next Week. ECMWF shows a plume of heavy snow from near Denver to Sioux Falls and much of southwest and central Minnesota, impacting the northern/western suburbs of the Twin Cities next Thursday. Still too early for details, but at least there’s a chance of heavy, wet, sloppy snow the latter half of next week. Map: WeatherBell.

Model Whiplash: Milder Solution for Early January. Confidence levels remain low with NOAA GFS’s 500mb wind forecast roughly 2 weeks out, which keeps flip-flopping from moderate cold to Pacific warmth every other run. The latest run shows an almost October-like wind flow in early January with unusual warmth for most of the USA. Stay tuned, and keep your expectations lows.

11 Separate Billion Dollar Weather & Climate Disasters in 2018. NOAA NCDC takes a look at the most destructive events of this year. At the top of the list, an estimated $38 billion in damage caused by Hurricane Florence: “Hurricane Florence was a large and very slow moving hurricane that produced extreme rainfall across eastern North Carolina (up to 35.93″) and South Carolina (up to 23.81″), as prodigious amounts of rainfall were common in many locations. Florence made landfall as a category 1, at Wrightsville Beach, NC with damaging storm surge up to 10 feet and wind gusts reported over 100 mph. However, the majority of the damage caused by Florence was due to the rainfall inland, which caused many rivers to surpass previous record flood heights. The total damage from Florence in North Carolina is expected to exceed that experienced during Hurricanes Matthew (2016) and Floyd (1999)...”

September 12 Geocolor image of Hurricane Florence: NOAA and AerisWeather.

Rare December Tornado Rips Into Seattle Area. Capital Weather Gang takes a look at an unusual meteorological event: “It looked more like Kansas than Washington state Tuesday afternoon, as a powerful tornado tore through Seattle’s western suburb of Port Orchard. The twister caused major damage to at least one group of homes. According to local media, about 50 structures were damaged. The tornado also blew down many trees and caused power outages in the area. Thus far, there have been no reports of serious injuries. The tornado struck right around 2 p.m. local time as a vigorous atmospheric disturbance from the Pacific punched ashore. It originated from large vortex near Alaska that has kicked up massive waves on the West Coast in recent days...”

Strongest Washington State Tornado Since 1986? Fox News has details.

Are You Dreaming of a White Christmas? At least this year – dream on. Here’s an excerpt of a post at NOAA: “Minnesota. Maine. Upstate New York. The Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Practically anywhere in Idaho. And of course, the Rockies or the Sierra Nevada Mountains. These are the parts of the Lower 48* where weather history suggests you want to be if you’re looking for the best chance of a white Christmas. The map at right shows the historic probability of there being at least 1 inch of snow on the ground in the Lower 48 states on December 25 based on the latest (1981-2010) U.S. Climate Normals from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). The background map shows interpolated values for all locations…”

MnDOT Program Uses Living Fences to Combat Icy Crashes. I had no idea – The Star Tribune has details: “…Unknown to thousands of motorists speeding along the busy thoroughfare every day, Kornder’s standing corn rows are a critical part of a Minnesota Department of Transportation program to combat snow blowing onto the highway. The wall of corn acts as a natural fence of sorts, blocking snow from fanning across the road — and keeping cars from careening out of control on icy patches of the rural roadway southwest of the Twin Cities. “Even without a snowstorm, if you get the wrong wind and then get blowing snow, it would still pack on the highway and you would have a lot of accidents,” Kornder said. “One day I counted 17 cars in a ditch near my house...”

Photo credit: “Ted Kornder is a farmer who is working with MnDOT to maintain a living fence along Hwy. 169 in Belle Plaine. In Kornder’s case, it’s several rows of corn, which prevents snow from blowing across the busy roadway.” RICHARD TSONG-TAATARII.

Why DARPA Funded a Farm Tech Startup. Makes perfect sense to me. Fortune Magazine explains: “…One of the things we’ve seen is that regional unrest has been linked to circumstances that seem detached from national security—like the price of bread,” says Joseph Evans, a program manager in DARPA’s strategic technology office. “If we can get more accurate tools to predict famine, we can head off these types of situations with humanitarian versus military intervention.” To that end, DARPA has awarded Descartes a grant of $1.5 million, which will be used to analyze, monitor, and forecast wheat crops across the Middle East and Africa, regions of the world which produce about 60 million tons of wheat collectively—resulting in petabytes of crop data…”

Image credit: “Composite, multi-year image of the Southeast region of the Nile Delta, showing a mix of rice fields as well as irrigation areas.” Descartes Labs.

The “Green New Deal” is a Popular Mystery to Voters. Axios has the post: “A survey from Yale and George Mason universities finds that respondents really like the “Green New Deal,” a sweeping climate and economic proposal being pushed by a growing number of Democrats under the leadership of progressive newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.Details: 81% of registered voters either “strongly” or “somewhat” support these features of the deal: a move to 100% renewable power within 10 years, upgrades to grid and other infrastructure, and job training. This includes nearly two-thirds of Republican respondents…”

Algorithmic Catastrophe: How News Feeds Reprogram Your Mind and Habits. Uh oh. A post at Big Think explains a lot: “…A filter bubble is your own personal universe of information that’s been generated by algorithms that are trying to guess what you’re interested in. And increasingly online we live in these bubbles. They follow us around. They form part of the fabric of most websites that we visit and I think we’re starting to see how they’re creating some challenges for democracy. We’ve always chosen media that conforms to our address and read newspapers or magazines that in some way reflect what we’re interested in and who we want to be. But the age of kind of the algorithmically mediated media is really different in a couple of ways. One way is it’s not something that we know that we’re choosing...”

The Shrinking Middle Class. Fortune Magazine has an exhaustively-researched 27 page story on the reality that the haves have more, the have-nots have consistently less: “…People also don’t like to think of themselves as poor, or even as working class. To the extent that the U.S. has a class consciousness, it tends to be around the middle class.” All of which creates a challenge of measurement. If sizing up the middle class is difficult enough, it’s that much harder to say that circumstances within this group have changed. And yet that is precisely what we’ve devoted the 28 pages in this special report to saying—and showing. Life has gotten harder in recent years for millions of people within the middle class. Put simply: For too many, the American dream has been fading...”

Diner Finds Pearl In His Oyster Dish. AP News explains: “A lucky diner says he happened upon a pearl while eating an oyster dish at a famous New York City restaurant.Rick Antosh was out to lunch with a friend and ordered his usual at the Grand Central Oyster Bar on Dec. 5 — the $14.75 pan roast, a stew-like dish that includes six oysters. The 66-year-old tells the New York Post that he felt a small object rolling around his mouth after diving into the dish. “For a fraction of a second, there was terror,” Antosh told the Post. “Is it a tooth? Is it a filling?” The Edgewater, New Jersey, resident says it turned out to be a pea-sized pearl. He has not had the prize appraised…”

20 Best Christmas Movies Of All Time? Mental Floss has a pretty good list: “…We all have our own lineup of movies, old and more recent, that instantly leaps to mind when you think of Christmas. Movies that you watch on repeat without fail this time of year. Movies that have achieved Christmas immortality. Here are the 20 best movies that capture the heart of Christmas (in alphabetical order, as we love them all too much to play total favorites)…”

37 F. maximum temperature Thursday in the Twin Cities.

26 F. average high on December 20.

24 F. high on December 20, 2017.

December 21, 1993: Strong northwest winds gust to 35 miles an hour, causing near whiteout conditions over a wide area of southwest Minnesota from the late afternoon on the 21st into the early morning of the 22nd. Several car accidents occurred. A 30 year old man was killed when he lost control of his truck and slid into a ditch in the near blizzard like conditions. Counties affected include: Blue Earth, Brown, Chippewa, Faribault, Lac Qui Parle, Redwood, Renville, Watonwan, and Yellow Medicine.

December 21, 1939: This is the latest date on record for Lake Minnewaska to freeze over at Glenwood.

FRIDAY: Partly sunny skies. Winds: N 5-10. High: 31

SATURDAY: More clouds, few flakes. Winds: SW 5-10. High: 35

SUNDAY: Mostly cloudy and breezy. Winds: NW 10-15. High: 31

CHRISTMAS EVE: More clouds than sun. Winds: E 5-10. Wake-up: 21. High: near 30

CHRISTMAS DAY: Cool and quiet Christmas. Winds: NE 8-13. Wake-up: 19. High: 29

WEDNESDAY: Clouds increase, wet snow late night. Winds: E 8-13. Wake-up: 18. High: near 30

THURSDAY: Potential for heavy wet snow. Winds: E 10-20. Wake-up: 26. High: 33

Climate Stories…

Rising Waters are Drowning Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. Bloomberg has the story: “By the middle of this century, climate change is likely to punch a hole through the busiest stretch of rail in North America. Parts of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor route, which carries 12 million people each year between Boston and Washington, face “continual inundation.” Flooding, rising seas, and storm surge threaten to erode the track bed and knock out the signals that direct train traffic. The poles that provide electricity for trains are at risk of collapse, even as power substations succumb to floodwaters. “If one of the segments of track shuts down, it will shut down this segment of the NEC,” warned members of Amtrak’s planning staff. “There is not an alternate route that can be used as a detour.” That was the conclusion of a three-volume, multi-year climate study undertaken with first Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. and then Stantec Inc...”


The Invading Sea. Can South Florida Be Saved. Here’s an excerpt of a post at theinvadingsea.com, from friend and colleague, John Morales, Chief Meteorologist at the NBC affiliate in Miami: “…Here in Florida, the threat is among the most severe in the U.S. We’ve seen the devastating impacts of major hurricanes. We can expect more. On our coasts and inland waterways, harmful blooms of blue-green algae and the red tide have suffocated marine life and strangled tourism and local economies. Climate change has likely made those situations even worse. Entire ecosystems, such as the Everglades, are threatened. Risks of sea-level rise are starting to impact real estate prices across Miami, putting pressure on coastal property prices, and leading to what some call “climate gentrification.” Construction workers and farmers are increasingly at risk of overexposure to heat, chancing hospitalizations and even fatalities. I could go on…”

What Would Jesus Do? Talking With Evangelicals About Climate Change. The Guardian has the story: “…I can’t help but imagine the sheer impact a faith-based movement could have on expediting climate action. Scott Coleman agrees. “I think that if our faith leaders in the south were more outspoken about the importance of creation care, it would go a long way in helping to depoliticize environmental issues in our region,” he says. “And if we could depoliticize environmental stewardship in the south, imagine the progress we could make with elevating environmental stewardship in southern culture.” I spoke with people of faith in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, and it became clear that the primary barrier to climate action is the fact that it’s been yoked with the liberal agenda. Climate activist and author Anna Jane Joyner, whose father is the pastor of a megachurch in North Carolina, writes that she grew up lumping “environmentalists in with hippies and liberals and all the other people who were probably going to hell”

Image credit: “What would Jesus do?” Illustration: Eiko Ojala.

Exxon Mobil Opposes Weakening Obama-Era Emissions Rules: Letter to EPA. A story at Reuters caught my eye: “Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N) sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in support of methane gas emission rules put in place under the Obama administration, according to a copy of the letter seen by Reuters. The administration of President Donald Trump in September proposed weakening requirements for repairing leaks of the greenhouse gas in drilling operations in a step toward rolling back an Obama-era policy that was intended to combat climate change. “We support maintaining the key elements of the underlying regulation, such as leak detection and repair programs,” Exxon Vice President Gantt Walton said in the letter dated on Monday…”

Image credit: “The logo of Exxon Mobil Corporation is shown on a monitor above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York, December 30, 2015.” REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo.

The World Faces Rising Costs of Climate Change as Oil Prices Drop. Forbes explains: “In the last few weeks, two important climate reports were released – the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) and the UN Emissions Gap Report 2018. Both studies highlight the risks of rising greenhouse gas emission (GHG) concentrations in the Earth’s atmosphere, and the potential consequences should these trends continue. The threats posed by a warming world are not just dangerous for the climate-dependent sectors of our economy (crops, livestock, and global fisheries), but bad for global security as well. The Trump Administration’s Pentagon calls climate change a ‘threat multiplier’ because it aggravates pre-existing societal stress factors...”

Hurricane Harvey file image: Fox News.

Americans Show Growing Support for Climate-Change Policies, Poll Says. The Wall Street Journal has details: “…Some 66% of poll respondents said some action was needed to address climate change, about the same share as in several past Journal/NBC surveys. The 45% share calling for immediate action was the highest since the survey began asking the question in 1999 and compares with 39% who supported immediate action in 2017. The urgency of the issue is viewed differently within each political party. Seventy-one percent of Democrats and 48% of independents see combating climate change as an immediate concern, while only 15% of Republicans do—the same share of Republicans who supported immediate action nearly 20 years ago, in a 1999 survey…”