IBI Watch 4/21/13

21 04 2013

Wacky, Wobbly Weather  //

To say this spring’s weather in the Twin Cities has been “interesting” would be a gross understatement. Following a winter that could best be characterized as “average,” (save the midwinter rains and warmer bottom-out temperature), winter has come limping back, zombie-like.  March and April can be described only in one (printable) way – cold!

To most typical small-talk gripes, I have been responding that this colder-than-average spring somewhat balances the ridiculously warmer than average spring of 2012.

So what is going on here? It is one of three things:

  • A return to “normal Minnesota winter”
  • Random variation
  • Further evidence of manmade climate change’s local effects

Forget the first option. Magical thinking. If you dig deeper into the NOAA site linked above – here it is again – you will see that winters, even one that seems like old times, are just not as cold as they used to be. Higher overnight lows and winter rain are far outside historical norms. And then there is this NOAA bulletin that, if the Twin Cities were really just “going back to normal,” it would somehow have separated itself from earth. Yup, 337 consecutive months of above-average temps are one thing, but any day now, it will bounce back. Uh-huh. Check the excellent two-minute video narrated by meteorologist Deke Arndt for an explanation – “Pockets of Cold in a Warming World.”

As for the second option, if you still believe that, you were not paying attention. Review the Arndt video, and listen for the phrase “but they are not random.”

The third option is the most interesting, of course. Remember that big Arctic melt last summer? It has a legacy, friends. And, here we go again. But the NOAA video, fine though it is, fails to delve into the underlying causes of the cold regimes that arrive and linger in certain parts of the world, even as overall averages continue their inexorable climb. For that explanation, we turn to Rutgers University coastal and marine science professor Jennifer Francis. First, an overview of her work from Mother Jones’ Chris Mooney. Here is the video itself, a mini-lecture that includes animation showing that the slowing, drooping, wobbling jet stream is the culprit for our miserable spring. It is also no doubt connected to many other “stalled-weather” phenomena, but that is a topic for future discussion.

It’s comforting – to a point – to understand the scientific basis for deviant weather patterns. On the other hand, this is just one more reason why climate change science simultaneously fascinates and terrifies me. If this much chaotic change happens when we have not even raised the global temperature quite a full degree Celsius, and raised atmospheric CO2 to not quite 400 parts per million, what lies ahead in the inevitable world of two or more degrees of increase, and 450, or 500 ppm?

Stay informed, and get involved with promoting a rational approach to the climate crisis here, here and here.

Incidentally, I am a certified presenter for the Climate Reality Project. How is this for irony? My first presentation was scheduled for this past week, but was postponed by an out-of season snowstorm. This of course gives me another climate chaos story to tell when I present on the rescheduled date, next month. I am happy to present to any Twin-Cities-based group, barring chaotic weather of course. Request a talk at the Climate Reality site, or contact me directly.

Our Subverted System

For sale. Not exactly cheap, but rich benefits accrue to the successful buyer.

It’s our government, naturally, and it has already been sold. The owners are not the rightful ones – citizens – but those “people” called out by Mitt Romney. Remember? He told us “Corporations are people, my friend.” If they ever were people, they have become hyper-powered people in recent years, though I hesitate to call them superheroes.

The power of corporations is on display frequently – Monsanto’s domination of agriculture, and Big Oil and Big Coal’s continued success at heading off further regulation for two examples. But this past week saw one of the most blatant trashings of the public will in recent memory. The Senate voted 54-46 in favor of a reasonable gun regulation that polls show overwhelming majorities support – universal background checks for firearm purchases. This happened despite the presence in Washington of family members of Sandy Hook victims, and former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.  But wait – Senate voted 54-46, in favor, and the measure failed?  Yes, of course – in this modern era of abuse of the filibuster by the modern Republican Party, it takes 60 votes to pass just about anything out of that broken body of government.  The Constitution says the Senate passes bills with a simple majority, but, well, you may remember what President W had to say on the Constitution.

So how is this failed effort at reasonable gun regulation further evidence of the corporate stranglehold over our system? Three ways. First, consider that most of the senators who voted against represent a small slice of the population. Second, consider that most of them take money from one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in the history of politics. Third, remember that, despite rhetoric about freedom, this organization is, like any good lobbying body, dedicated most of all to the unlimited, unregulated sale of its products. To my mind, this is just one of the most egregious examples of corporate control of politics, public will be damned.

Still not convinced that many of the largest corporations today rule the roost, disregard the public and don’t pay their dues?  Try this AlterNet piece on corporate tax cheating. Or how about this Nation of Change article on the real corporate terrorists? Or how about checking in on the coddled industry that was bailed out with taxpayer money five years ago?  Take that, you wealth inequality activists!

It does not have to be this way, and if it stays this way, we are in deep, deep trouble, friends. Here is a good snapshot of the layoff the land. Jim Hightower’s current Lowdown has a dirty laundry list of corporate purchasers of the last election. You will have to subscribe to read that one right away (It is in the April issue), but Hightower often writes powerfully on this all-important issue. Here is a recent commentary on tax fairness. In his April newsletter – which I strongly recommend – he lists three groups that deserve more support – Open Secrets, Sunlight Foundation and Public Campaign.

But to close, let’s return to the most pressing issue of corporate control – gun violence. This chart from Slate has been tallying the body count since the Sandy Hook school massacre. In this month’s Scientific American, Michael Shermer shines the light of reason on one of the most shameful aspects of the NRA takeover of American politics – the denial of science. In this and so many other areas, it is long past time for the public good to trump callous, fear-driven profits.

Founding Sustainers

Commentator Bonnie Blodgett makes a persuasive case that key founders of our republic, often claimed by the likes of “originalists” like the corporatist Justice Antonin Scalia, were actually originalists of another stripe – the USA’a first sustainability advocates. Recommended.

April 22 Earth Day. Heal Our World, Heal Ourselves. (Guest Post)

This is a guest post by Lynn Hasselburger – a blogger in her own right. Her work is also featured at Boomer Warrior, where you see my posts from time to time as well. Thanks to editor Rolly Montpellier for passing this along.

“Reaching a general understanding that sustainability is the ultimate issue will finally bring us face-to-face with the political challenge of forging a sustainable society during the next few decades. It is a challenge we can meet if we have the leadership and the political will to do so.”  – Gaylord Nelson

 

Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

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IBI Watch 1/6/13

6 01 2013

Forced Choices, Real and Imagined //

As a summer sub letter carrier in 1970s New York, I got a close-up look at popular anti-environmentalism. The union rep’s job was to update the workers on labor talk progress, but he could not resist mounting the anti-green soapbox. “Men,” he intoned, “You got a choice. Jobs . . . or a stinkin’ little fish.”

This was one of my first tastes of a forced choice of the imagined variety. In selling his opinion on a red-hot environmental issue of the day, the Tellico Dam snail darter controversy. He was also teaching me a valuable lesson – on environmental forced choices that are imagined or concocted for a political or monetary purpose. There are many of these around, and they generally share a common theme – you can either have a thriving economy, or you can have environmental protection, not both. Here are a few more phony forced choices. You can either have reasonably priced energy, or you can radically reduce mercury pollution from coal plants. You can have safe, reasonably priced motor vehicles, or you can have dramatically higher fuel efficiency standards with no games or loopholes. And – most pernicious of all – you can either have a healthy economy and job creation, or you can drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Unfortunately, some forced environmental choices are the real deal. You cannot have both a perpetually growing human population (seven billion and ever rising) and enough preserved wild lands to support large fauna. You cannot have both unfettered exploitation of fossil fuels and a planet that keeps temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. And most important of all, you cannot have ever-rising growth in atmospheric carbon dioxide and a planet that supports life as we know it.

Fortunately, we do have choices beyond heads in the sand – enact policies that drastically cut greenhouse emissions to keep the planet from warming beyond that two-degree threshold identified by most experts as the number beyond which lie catastrophic consequences. That’s not to say that we have not already seen our share of catastrophe with not quite one degree of warming.

The challenge is mustering enough political will in the US for overcoming the formidable power of the fossil fuel industry, and enacting policies that sharply reduce carbon emissions. That is no small challenge, thanks to a long-running propaganda effort funded by – you guessed it. Fox News is no help, but they at least provide some forehead-slapping comic relief. Here are ten of their stupidest contributions – most with video for maximum laughs.  To get an idea of the bill we are running up as we, thanks to Fox, Exxon Mobil, the Koch Brothers, etc., continue delaying climate-saving action, check this piece from Reuters.  And, sad to say, human nature itself makes confronting and solving the problem a special challenge. We have evolved to handle immediate risks effectively, but risks that appear distant, diffuse, impersonal, well, we’ll take the Scarlet O’Hara cue and think about it tomorrow. And AlterNet’s Maggie Klein argues that our emotions are keeping us from confronting and managing the threat.

One of the best, comprehensive yet concise, presentations of the case for action was offered on Moyers and Company this week. Anthony Leiserowitz presents climate change as a problem uniquely designed to challenge human nature. He also offers useful insights as well as an analogy that was new to me. I found one of his pronouncements a bit baffling – 40 percent of people in the world have not heard about human-caused climate change. But the analysis of the US public is oddly encouraging. Leiserowitz, a research scientist and Director of the Yale Project on Climate Change, splits America into six groups. Those groups divide according to their perception, ranging from fully informed and taking action, all the way to the denialist crowd. Here is the encouraging bit – the dismissive, “not happening,” conspiracy-theory crowd is only 8 percent of the public. That leaves many who are open to persuasion by facts and of course emotional appeals. And that is where his analogy might be helpful.  When doubters hear warnings about rises of two, three, even four degrees, those numbers seem trivial. And some of us in northern climes say, heh, heh, bring on the warmth. But if we can get doubters to consider what even a one or two degree rise in a human’s temperature means, and make the valid comparison between the finely tuned human system and the finely tuned climate system, maybe more doubters can see that one or two degrees is really a major change. The Yale expert closes with an exhortation – meaningful change on this vital issue cannot be strictly a top-down phenomenon.  It has to be a grass-roots effort. Sign a petition right here to tax carbon now. You’ll be glad you did. It’s just one of many steps that can help us avoid the very real forced choice – we can’t have both a life-sustaining planet and business-as-usual with burning fossil fuels. And if you need more encouragement, I strongly recommend this excellent and inspiring piece that Rebecca Solnit wrote for the Common Dreams site. 2013 = Year Zero for the climate crisis. I like that.

 

Climate Consequences Near and Far

I live in the coldest major metro area in the US. And until recently, winters here were very cold indeed. Though the Twin Cities are still cold compared to other US cities, the change in our temps and weather patterns has been profound. This chart published in the Star Tribune succinctly tells the tale of the warming trend. And of course the warming trend is not limited to winter. Conventional wisdom says a dramatic decline in Minnesota’s moose population is related to hotter summers. A major new research project aims to nail down the causes. Irony note here – we are spending all this money – justifiably – in an effort to save the huge, iconic beast – just months after a legal hunt on them. Want more irony? You won’t believe what they have to do now in northern Canada to guarantee frozen outdoor hockey rinks. And moving further north, we switch from irony to hubris and blind greed.

 

Apologies to Mother, and a Warning

From two major voices in the environmental movement, confessions of collective wrongdoing. First, David Suzuki acknowledges that we have spent 25 years pretty much not giving a damn about the natural world. George Monbiot zeroes in on 2012 when, with the effects of climate change all around us, we did a pretty good job of ignoring the natural world.  And finally a warning. Dave Gardner focuses on unfettered growth and its consequences. Though his article appeared in a British publication, Gardner’s movie Growthbusters really deserves a wider audience right here in the US.

 

A Violence Campaign

The pattern repeats. A horrific mass murder happens, and for a time it is omnipresent in the media. Then a few weeks pass, and it is back to business as usual. But business as usual itself is the problem. Several news organizations launched efforts in the wake of the Newtown massacre to track the daily tally of murders across the country in the days immediately following. In any rational place, a toll like this would prompt drastic action – as has happened in other countries. But the US, aka Wayne’s World, is something other than a rational place. I like Bill Moyers’ essay on the topic. It includes a cameo by a fictional expert on all manner of social issues. And though it is not directly related, the issue of “stand-your-ground” laws is covered in this NPR story. Sold as one way to do what the NRA’s CEO Wayne LaPierre prescribes, to “put more guns in the hands of good guys,” these laws appear, based on research, to have some contrary results.

 

Looming Battles in the Class War

Twice in the past week, newly re-elected House Speaker John Boehner acted in the public interest – first by allowing a vote on the “fiscal cliff” compromise without first requiring (as is his custom) support from the “majority of the majority,” and second by allowing a vote on relief for the states the bore the brunt of Hurricane Sandy. (The second vote came only after a blistering denunciation by fellow Republican, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.) But if you think we can expect this kind of collaboration as a new way of doing business, think again. Says who? Says Paul Krugman.

 

Sustainable Cities for a Better Future

I am happy to say that Minneapolis made this list of American cities cited for big steps in building a sustainable future. Many good ideas here, and many reasons for the honor. This slide show is worth a look.

 

“I do not believe in taking away the right of the citizen for sporting, for hunting and so forth, or for home defense. But I do believe that an AK-47, a machine gun, is not a sporting weapon or needed for defense of a home.” – Ronald Reagan

 

Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper, Hilary Ziols

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 11/18/12

18 11 2012

Sell the Goodies, Ignore the Costs //

You might say this describes the fossil fuel industry’s business model these many decades.  And those who enjoy those goodies – the CEOs, the shareholders and, yes, we consumers, particularly those who think there is nothing more important than low, low gas prices – continue to hope this model endures.  Recent media accounts crow about the United States’ current trajectory towards top-dog status in oil production.  Non-traditional extraction methods – fracking and horizontal drilling – are responsible for this dramatic uptick. But the costs I describe here are not exploration bills.  Rather, they are costs to the environment – so-called “externalities.”  And of course those magical new methods have their own unique costs that industry has so far hidden from public view. Well, mostly.

But leaving aside fracking, consider oil spills.  The Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010 continues to play out.  BP has just agreed to a record payout of damages, but even the $4.5 billion dollar figure is really just a fraction of the immense environmental damage.  Cynics might say it’s just a cost of doing business.  And just in the last few days, there is a report of another oil rig fire in the Gulf of Mexico, leading to at least one fatality.  Lest we think this is only an American problem, try this brand new story from Nigeria.

Then of course there is that inconvenient issue that won’t go away – the greenhouse gases that are loading the dice for destructive weather and radically altered climate.  This Scientific American article puts the chortling about “American energy independence” into stark perspective. The piece includes many informative links.  Here is a Tara Lohan piece on AlterNet on a similar myth-debunking mission. And don’t forget – it’s been warmer than average for awhile.  In fact, for a generation or so.  Every single month, no exceptions.  Man, what a fluke!  Anytime now, this will be recognized as a trend.  Maybe it needs more research.

Grand Climate Opportunity

It’s been a long time since I heard the issues surrounding human-caused climate change described as comprehensively and succinctly as did Naomi Klein in a recent interview with Bill Moyers.  No surprise there.  Klein’s The Shock Doctrine is a book I often recommend.  Her thesis – that the rich a powerful strategically capitalize on disasters of all sorts in order to become richer and more powerful – comes into play in the current climate-related disaster, Hurricane Sandy, and its aftermath. It applies as well to the grand crisis – the damage our greenhouse gases are doing to the planet that sustains us.

Klein’s comments overflow with quotable lines and insightful analysis.  She rightly points out that the recent election was between a “terrible candidate and a candidate who needs a lot of pressure.” She fingers climate change as the ultimate social problem in an era of rugged individualism. And here is an ironic twist that I somehow missed.  Apparently, the crown prince of pignorance (pretend ignorance), Senator James Inhofe, missed the most recent Heartland Institute conference because of illness.  The irony? He had contracted an infection from swimming in an algae- clogged lake.

Don’t call Klein a communist.  She says in the interview that the only system worse than capitalism for managing this consummate public space issue is – you guessed it – communism.  She calls for a “people’s shock” in response.  If you follow only one link in this post, make it this one.

The Shock Doctrine author is collaborating with Bill McKibben (350.org) on the latter’s “Do the Math” tour.  Readers in locations other than my home Twin Cities can still get tickets – which of course I recommend.  The math is simple and scary.  Big Fossil Fuel already has five times the amount of oil, gas and coal necessary to drive global temperatures up a total of two degrees Centigrade.  That’s right, all the climate destabilization we have seen – droughts, deluges, glacial melting, superstorms – comes from a mere one degree Centigrade rise. Keeping the conflagration from happening is up to us, and especially to young people.  Here is one of McKibben’s main strategies – student pressure on universities to divest from fossil fuel stocks.

This week saw another big event highlighting climate change and ideas for solving the crisis.  The Climate Reality Project ran its second 24 Hours of Reality.  More than 14 million people worldwide tuned in. Each hour covered a different region of the world and its issues, and featured expert panels and compelling video.  It is all archived here. The final hour featured a presentation by the Project’s founder, former Vice President Al Gore – billed as a continuation of his presentation in An Inconvenient Truth.  He includes some powerful math here as well – we put 90 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every 24 hours.  I highly recommend Gore’s presentation – which includes lots of current information proving the thesis of the entire event – dirty fuel produces dirty weather, and we have the means to correct the problems.  If you want a strictly audio version of his recent comments, here is a new, brief interview with NPR.

For something completely different, how about Al Gore, with music? That’s right.  This is a new discovery for me – the Symphony of Science. At first I found this weird. But it grows on you, and is part of an expanding collection of techno-musical videos on scientific topics.  But to close on climate change for now, why not commit to being part of the solution?  Take the pledge.

Bridges Away from Extinction

There is no doubt about it.  If we have any hope for preserving biodiversity, and particularly for keeping large mammals on the planet in places other than zoos, small islands of habitat just won’t cut it.  That’s the message of wildlife biologists, and is featured in a new book by Mary Ellen Hannibal.  In The Spine of the Continent, Hannibal explains the science, and discusses programs under way to link habitat by building infrastructure for animals to deal with the ways we have carved up the landscape.  That’s mainly our highways and roads of course. The prescription is not to destroy the roads, but create bypasses, overpasses and underpasses so that populations can mix across our artificial boundaries. Hannibal was interviewed by MPR’s Kerri Miller.  Look for the six-minute video interview highlight on the MPR site. Here is the website of an organization – Wildlands Network – working to build the network.  And if you want the big picture – served up by one of the best popular science writers of all – read this book that I frequently recommend.  That’s David Quammen’s The Song of the Dodo.

Logjam Breakup Imminent?

Just as it looks like we could see some movement on climate change, the fiscal cliff provides an opportunity to set some things right.  First – here is a Robert Borosage commentary that calls our recent election “the first class-warfare election of the new Gilded Age.” I could not agree more. Then, two more shockers.  First – unelected powerbroker Grover Norquist hinting that a carbon tax would be acceptable to his legions of vassals? The only thing more startling would be the prospect of an end to the grossly misused Senate filibuster.  Hey, we have that too! Maybe. Stay tuned.

A Bird Dog for Wild Weather

All eyes have been on the East coast of the US recently and rightly so.  Three weeks after the disaster of Hurricane Sandy, some still remain without power, and those are the lucky ones – their homes were not washed away. But here in the upper Midwest, we had our own weird weather sequence last week.  We are used to weather extremes here, but these events had the mark of today’s climate chaos.  Saturday – warmth and sunshine.  Saturday night – heavy thunderstorms with two extremely rare November tornadoes. Monday – the season’s first traffic-snarling snow squall.  The bird dog I speak of is a University of Minnesota meteorologist and severe weather enthusiast, Kenny Blumenfeld. Standing aside from mainstream media talking heads, he predicted the tornadoes!  He also had one of the best explanations of the link between Sandy and climate change. I posted that explanation in several climate change sites I frequent on Facebook.  I will post both the Sandy comments and the right-on forecast here.  Also – here is an offer for Minnesota-based IBI Watch readers.  If you would like to get on Kenny’s email list – make a comment on the blog site or send me an email.

“Sandy had an exceptionally high impact, mostly because we cram all those people (tens of millions of them) into an area the size of Iowa.
Meteorologically, Sandy was odd for the following reasons:

  1. pretty late in the season
  2. turned west at an unusually high latitude because
  3. it interacted with a strong mid-latitude weather system, which was “negatively tilted” and caused Sandy to take a sharp-left
  4. it hit an area that doesn’t get a lot of direct hits, because the predominant storm tracks run parallel to (rather than perpendicular to) that part of the coast

Now, this sort of thing is unusual, but not unheard of, but to go to the not-unheard-of places, you have to leave the domain of most TV weather maps, and head up to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.  Those areas get frequent direct hits from aging, transitioning tropical weather systems, which are occasionally still hurricanes at landfall.   Many of those storms interact with midlatitude weather systems, and they occasionally even get tugged westward by strong negative-tilt-related flow patterns. But in those areas, population 14, we don’t hear much of the results. 

Climatically, it gets even more interesting, at least for me.  Sandy may or may not have been attributable to the deus ex machina we know as global warming.  It’s a tough position for scientists who appreciate nuance: global warming is at this point *undeniable*; oceanic warming is one of the theoretically-expected and already-observed results of global warming; tropical weather systems derive their source energy *entirely* from oceanic heat content.  Thus, global warming could be, would be, should be, and is leading to more and even stronger hurricanes.  But, as we all know, there were hurricanes, including very strong ones, before global warming, and they operate on scales that are smaller (in both time and space) than global warming.  This makes attribution very very difficult.  If you are a meteorologist or a climatologist and you want to get a good spanking, you will write a paper attributing some individual event to global warming.  It’s a scientific no-no.
On the other hand, any reasonable person should be able to add it up: oceans will be warmer, which means they will stay warm-enough-for-hurricanes later into the fall, and at higher latitudes.  Add to that the fact that even with global warming, the lights still go out in the high Arctic region by early fall–the sun goes down.  Without the sun shining, the temperatures in far northern areas begin to fall, quickly.  But at the same time, it’s still plenty warm in the northern hemisphere tropics.  So, by fall, a strong hemispheric temperature gradient forms.  This is very important, because it is this temperature gradient that really gets the strong mid-latitude (i.e., non-tropical) weather systems going.  In the summer, it’s warm in the Tropics, but it’s also relatively warm in the Arctic.  The temperature gradient is weak, and consequently, you have little in the way of energetic weather systems.  But by fall, it’s show time, and this will remain true–even if to a slightly lesser extent–well into the future.
So, warming oceans should lead to an expanded hurricane season.  At the same time, the loss of sunlight during mid fall will create the important temperature gradient that leads to our strong non-tropical weather systems.  Make a Venn Diagram in your head: the circle representing the season for hurricanes is now (increasingly) overlapping with the circle representing the season for non-tropical storms.  Thus, as hurricanes and other tropical weather systems continue later and later into Autumn, they will have better chances of interacting with non-tropical weather systems.  Kind of like Sandy did.  The first one is always unusual, but it won’t be unusual for all that long.
Several readers, friends, colleagues etc. have urged me to use this event get soapboxy about global warming, but I don’t need to.  The evidence speaks for itself.  The recent cover of Bloomberg Businessweek said it pretty well:
http://news.wsiu.org/post/bloomberg-businessweeks-cover-its-global-warming-stupid
Besides, I have a different soapbox.  As a guy who grew up obsessed with hazardous weather, I had to tease out which part of the obsession was about the weather, and which part was about the results and our reactions, both of which are non-meteorological.  And do you know what?  They’re close to equal.  I will spare you the essay within the essay, and just say that we better learn, quickly, to take care of our disadvantaged, lower-access populations, and also our pets.  Because these groups keep getting hurt, killed, and permanently displaced during major weather events, and we look like great big jerks for allowing it.
And now that we’re all a little bit uncomfortable, let’s talk about the weekend.
Today, once upon a time, looked pretty freakish.  But, the models have been doing that a lot this fall–generating freakish storms for a few days, before settling on something much more pedestrian.  But this system in reality is neither; let’s call it a pedestrian-jaywalker, one-too-many whiskeys into its evening.
Basically, a massive area of low pressure hit the Pacific Northwest a few days back, and, as always happens, exhausted itself in the process of crossing the mountains.  The large trough and circulation system split into three pieces:  one is up in James Bay, acting as a high-end, low-impact hyper-blizzard (just imagine 2-3 inches of snow per hour for most of a day, amid 40-60 mph winds and temperatures around zero); a second one is weakening in the Wyoming/Dakotas/Montana border region and had produced near-blizzard conditions in northern Montana on Thursday and yesterday; the third one is just getting into western Nebraska and is morphing into the main playmaker right now.

 This storm system will be pretty talented.  In the southerly flow out ahead of it, temperatures will sail right through the 50s and go well into the 60s, with 70s possible in far southern Minnesota and Iowa.  In the northwesterly flow on the other side of the system, temperature will fall through the 20s and into the teens and even single digits in the western Dakotas.  Rain and scattered thunderstorms are likely in the warm areas, snow and blowing snow in the colder areas, with a decent ice storm possible on the cold side of the buffer zone between the two.
The conditions are running a bit short of ideal for severe weather, but it is close.  The wind fields are nearly perfect, we have decent–but not excellent–upper-level support, but we are really lacking instability.  Today will probably be cloudy, leaving temperatures around 60, maybe 65.  If the sun comes out for a couple important hours, we may see 70 as far north as the Twin Cities, which by the way, would be very special.  Did you know it’s November?  Even with the sun, however, dew points should remain in the 50s, putting them on the very low end of the reliably-generating-severe-weather spectrum.  If moisture transport becomes even more efficient and the dew points can get up into the low 60s, and if the sun comes out, well, then this evening will be severe weather bonanza.  The pattern of wind shear–the way the winds increase and shift from southeasterly, to southerly, to southwesterly with height–is just about perfect for tornadoes.  But the lack of instability is not.  So at this point, widespread or significant severe weather doesn’t seem too likely.

Instead, we can expect waves of rain and thunderstorms this evening and overnight, with the strongest storms possibly producing some small hail or gusty winds.  Given these wind fields, a brief tornado is still possible, but nothing violent or long-lasting–unless the moisture levels jump dramatically.

Many Happy Gift Returns

You may have heard Mitt Romney’s explanation for his loss in the recent election. Once again, Jon Stewart calls it.

“The human brain now holds the key to our future. We have to recall the image of the planet from outer space: a single entity in which air, water, and continents are interconnected. That is our home.” – David Suzuki

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

Contributed links to this posting – Jeanine Bontrager, Allyson Harper