Conservation Minnesota

Mother's Day Magic – Tracking Canada's Most Expensive Natural Disaster

70 F. high temperature in the Twin Cities Saturday.
67 F. average high on May 7.
76 F. high on May 7, 2015.

May 8, 1924: A snowstorm brings up to 4 inches to parts of Minnesota. Minneapolis sees a half inch of snow with St. Paul picking up an inch. Up to 50 mph winds accompany the snow.

Cheap Mother’s Day Gift: Showers in the 7-Day

“All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother” wrote Abraham Lincoln. I miss my late mother – she was a force of nature, a force for good.

Instead of a cheesy Hallmark card I got your mom something better: blue sky, light winds, low 70s – no waves of Kamikaze mosquitoes on Doppler. Today should be the day mom was fantasizing about a few short months ago.

Better yet, a few showers will drift into town this week, providing some welcome moisture. Northern Minnesota is under a Red Flag Warning, meaning a significant fire risk. The Fort McMurray conflagration and evacuation reads like something out of a horror movie – so let’s all agree not to complain about a little rain in the forecast this week.

The best chance of welcome puddles comes Monday afternoon into Wednesday. A half inch of rain may fall if we’re lucky. Cool, Canadian air leaks southward; we may wake up to upper 30s in the metro by Saturday morning – highs hold in the 50s next weekend.

Not to worry: GFS guidance pulls 70s and a few 80s back into town in 2 weeks.

It’s May, as in it MAY be nice outside.


Smoky and Smoggy. It isn’t often we have very poor air quality in Minnesota (no heavy industry immediately upwind) but smoke from Canadian blazes dropped air quality to very unhealthy levels for a time Saturday morning.

Welcome Surge of Rain. Not today – the sun will be out with low 70s by late afternoon (and less wind than yesterday). 4 KM NAM guidance shows moisture pushing north Monday afternoon and evening. Accumulated precipitation between now and 1 am Tuesday courtesy of NOAA and AerisWeather.

Wettest Day: Tuesday. Models are fairly consistent pulling the heaviest showers and possible T-showers Tuesday. I doubt we’ll pick up 1.5″ (like the GFS is predicting) but a half inch of rain would be most welcome right about now. Rainfall forecast: NOAA and Aeris Enterprise.

Not Convinced. I hope we pick up an inch of rain, like some models are hinting at by 5  pm Tuesday. My hunch is that one again the heaviest rains will track south of Minnesota this week.

No Metro Frost – But Keep a Light Jacket Handy. After low to mid 70s today the forecast calls for a cooling trend; 50s for highs by the weekend – GFS guidance hinting at upper 30s for wake-up temperatures 1 week from today. Two steps forward – one step back.

Canada Wildfire Explodes in Size; More Evacuees Reaching South. This may prove to be Canada’s costliest natural disaster, according to Reuters: “…In these conditions officials tell us the fire may double in size in the forested areas today. As well, they may actually reach the Saskatchewan border. In no way is this fire under control,” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley told a media briefing. She said it was clear Fort McMurray residents would not be able to return anytime soon, noting the city’s gas has been turned off, its power grid was damaged and the water is not drinkable. The fire had scorched at least 156,000 hectares (385,000 acres) by Saturday morning, the Alberta government said…”


The Fort McMurray Fire Created Lightning That Set Off New Blazes. These mega-fires literally create their own weather which can help to perpetuate the blazes until winds ease, humidity levels rise and rain arrives. Here’s an excerpt from VICE News: “…It takes an extreme fire to produce a thunderhead — and what happened at Fort McMurray may be a first, said Mike Flannigan, a wildfire researcher at the University of Alberta. “We’ve had these types of things with lighting before, but this may be the first documented case in which lightning started new fires,” Flannigan said. The blaze is so intense, witnesses have reported that broadleaf trees like aspens — known for being more resistant to fire than evergreens — “caught fire in one big whoosh” like a barbecue grill being lit. And if early damage estimates of $8-9 billion bear out, “It would be the most costly natural disaster in Canadian history,” Flannigan said…”


Lingering Smoke Plume. The late afternoon visible satellite loop (WeatherTap) showed smoke pushing across North Dakota into central and southern Minnesota, a mere hint at the disruption taking place across Alberta.


Fort McMurray Google Crisis Map. Google has a helpful online tool that puts the fire(s) and road closures in perspective.


Explosive Growth. Canada’s CBC News has an animation that shows the mind-boggling spread of the Fort McMurray fire in the span of only 6 days.


Unusual Spring Warmth Helped to Set the Stage for Fort McMurray Conflagration. Here’s an excerpt from an explainer at NASA’s Earth Observatory: “…In early May 2016, a destructive wildfire burned through Canada’s Fort McMurray in the Northern Alberta region. Windy, dry, and unseasonably hot conditions all set the stage for the fire. Winds gusted over 20 miles (32 kilometers) per hour, fanning the flames in an area where rainfall totals have been well below normal in 2016. Ground-based measurements showed that the temperature soared to 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit) on May 3 as the fire spread. Satellite observations also detected the unusual heat. The map above shows land surface temperature from April 26 to May 3, 2016, compared to the 2000–2010 average for the same one-week period. Red areas were hotter than the long-term average; blue areas were below average. White pixels had normal temperatures, and gray pixels did not have enough data, most likely due to cloud cover…”

NASA map above: temperature anomalies (C) between April 26 and May 3.



This Week’s Wild Weather, Brought To You By The Letter ‘Omega’. Are blocking patterns becominig more frequent? For the better part of 10-15 years I’ve been sharing my personal (anecdotal) views that weather may be slowing down, more prone to stalling for extended periods of time, intensifying droughts and floods. Here’s an excerpt from WXshift: “…This is the reason the heat has surged into Canada, worsening the ongoing fire in Fort McMurray. (Climate change also played a role in setting the stage for earlier and more intense fires in the region.) Similarly, it is the reason that the Northeast U.S. has been so chilly. Omega blocks are fairly common in spring, as the jet stream begins to weaken and migrate northward for its summer residence. Like slower moving water near the side of a riverbank, as that flow slows down and moves away, it leaves behind spinning swirls. In the atmosphere, those swirls become blocks. While blocks are a normal part of weather, there is some tentative evidence that blocking may become more common with climate change. The warming Arctic may be the key driver and is a reminder that what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic...” (Image credit: WeatherBell).

What Canada’s Wildfire Disaster Looks Like From Earth and Space. Capital Weather Gang has interesting perspective on the devastating blaze impacting much of Alberta; here’s an excerpt: “…
Imagery of the blaze, obtained from cameras and sensors on Earth and in space, reveal the tremendous scale of this disaster and its intensity. In the surreal dash-cam video at the top of this post, you get a sense for how fast the fire, fanned by gusty winds, was spreading Tuesday. From the vantage point of space at the same time, it looked as if a bomb exploded. Satellite imagery from NASA reveals the likeness of a mushroom cloud over the torched region...”

Graphic credit: “View of Fort McMurray wildfire from space on Tuesday.” (NASA)


Dry Winter and Warm Spring Set the Stage for Canadian Inferno. Here’s the intro to a story at The New York Times: “A relatively dry El Niño winter, a warm spring that melted snow earlier and years of policies that left forests ripe for burning have contributed to the destructive wildfire that forced the evacuation of Fort McMurray in Alberta, scientists say. Global warming may have played a role, too, although experts cautioned that it was impossible to link an individual event like this one directly to climate change. But there is little doubt that global warming has affected the frequency and intensity of fires, and lengthened the fire season in Alberta, as it has elsewhere in North America…”
Photo credit above: “Wildfires in Fort McMurray, Alberta, on Wednesday. More than 80,000 people have fled the area.Credit Master Corporal Vanputten/Canadian Armed Forces, via European Pressphoto Agency.

Expanding Tropics Pushing High-Altitude Clouds Toward the Poles, NASA Study Finds. Here’s an excerpt from NASA: “A new NASA analysis of 30-years of satellite data suggests that a previously observed trend of high altitude clouds in the mid-latitudes shifting toward the poles is caused primarily by the expansion of the tropics. Clouds are among the most important mediators of heat reaching Earth’s surface. Where clouds are absent, darker surfaces like the ocean or vegetated land absorb heat, but where clouds occur their white tops reflect incoming sunlight away, which can cause a cooling effect on Earth’s surface. Where and how the distribution of cloud patterns change strongly affects Earth’s climate. Understanding the underlying causes of cloud migration will allow researchers to better predict how they may affect Earth’s climate in the future…”

Swarm of Earthquakes Strikes Mount St. Helens. Another eruption brewing or just business as usual? CNN reports: “In the past eight weeks, more than 130 small earthquakes have trembled beneath the surface of Mount St. Helens. At this point, “there is absolutely no sign that it will erupt anytime soon, but the data we collect tells us that the volcano is still very much alive,” the U.S. Geological Survey said. Seismologists reported that there are no anomalous gases, and no signs that the collection of magma, which is the molten rock beneath the surface of the Earth, is getting inflated in the recent swarm of earthquakes at the volcano…”
Image credit above: “Map view plot of earthquakes located by the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network from March 14, 2016 through May 5, 2016. Only high-quality locations are shown (8 or more observations with a 130 degree gap or less between observing stations).”

San Andreas Fault “Locked, Loaded and Ready to Roll” with Big Earthquake, Expert Says. Here’s the intro to a story at The Los Angeles Times: “Southern California’s section of the San Andreas fault is “locked, loaded and ready to roll,” a leading earthquake scientist said Wednesday at the National Earthquake Conference in Long Beach. The San Andreas fault is one of California’s most dangerous, and is the state’s longest fault. Yet for Southern California, the last big earthquake to strike the southern San Andreas was in 1857, when a magnitude 7.9 earthquake ruptured an astonishing 185 miles between Monterey County and the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles…”

Graphic credit above: “Although the Pacific plate is moving northwest relative to North America at about 16 feet, or 5 meters, every 100 years, the southern San Andreas fault has been quiet for more than a century.” (Thomas Jordan / Southern California Earthquake Center)



Here Comes The Next Huge Wave of Solar Panels. Huffington Post reports; here’s the intro: “The solar industry is booming. The millionth set of solar panels in the United States was installed sometime in the last two months, and industry leaders expect the number of solar-powered systems to double within two years. That’s a huge deal, experts say. While solar still only makes up 1 percent of the country’s energy mix, the swift rise in solar capacity portends a bright future for an energy source that, less than 10 years ago, a leading solar tech scientist dismissed as “green bling for the wealthy.”  Just 30,000 residential solar installations dotted the country a decade ago. Since then, the cost of generating power from solar has dropped by over 70 percent…” (Photo credit: Reuters).

First Autonomous Robot to Operate on Soft Tissue Outdoes Human Surgeons. Is surgery the next industry to be disrupted? Here’s the intro to a story at Ars Technica: “Step aside, Ben Carson. The once lauded ability to perform delicate operations with gifted hands may soon be replaced with the consistent precision of an autonomous robot. And—bonus—robots don’t get sleepy. In a world’s first, researchers report using an autonomous robot to perform surgical operations on soft tissue and in living pigs, where the adroit droid stitched up broken bowels. The researchers published the robotic reveal in the journal Science Translational Medicine, and they noted the new machinery surpassed the consistency and precision of expert surgeons, laparoscopy, and robot-assisted (non-autonomous robotic) surgery...” (Photo: Axel Krieger.)


Shelby Challenges Seniors to “Get Out of their Seats”. Don’s a good friend – so he won’t care if I show up and heckle him (from my seat). Here’s an excerpt at Eden Prairie News: “…The first part of our lives is basically lived in a cocoon of protection and tutelage and then we go out into the world and struggle,” he said. “It is a slog for a lot of people to get through to a point when they can at last retire. Then society tells us that we’re of no use. We’ve served our useful purpose. Now why don’t you just slip into the background and be quiet and let the new generation handle the world? “And it’s a shame that all of that accumulated wisdom, knowledge and experience is cast aside by commentators and media that tells people that they’re now aged, the elderly, the senior citizens. “The message is wrong. We have a lot more to give. We have the most to give,” Shelby said...”


32,000 People Sign Up For Priviledge of Dining in the Nude. CNN has the hard-hitting story that may leave you with a diminished appetite.

The House of Mugs. Hey, why not? Everyone has a favorite mug, right? Here’s an excerpt from Atlas Obscura: “At the very end of an unpaved country road stands a cozy home, completely covered in coffee mugs. The owners, Avery and Doris Sisk, created their quirky attraction almost by accident. It started over 15 years ago with a box-lot of 15 mugs picked up at a flea market. It seemed like a good décor decision at the time, so they hung them up. More and more have been added over the years, and now – at least 20,000 mugs later – Avery and Doris have created a destination. Their cabin in the woods is dripping in cups and mugs of all kinds, the gates and fencing too…”

Image credit here.



Course of a Day. Thanks to thechive.com for giving me incentive to head to Caribou for a java-transfusion.


MOTHER’S DAY: Sunny. Perfect. Winds: NE 5-10. High: 72

SUNDAY NIGHT: Mostly clear. Low: 52

MONDAY: Sunny start, showers arrive PM hours. Winds: SE 10-20. High: 66

TUESDAY: Periods of rain likely. Winds: SE 15-25. Wake-up: 51. High: 63

WEDNESDAY: Unsettled with showers, thunder. Winds: SW 10-15. Wake-up: 55. High: 69

THURSDAY: Mostly cloudy, shower or sprinkle. Winds: NW 10-20. Wake-up: 51. High: near 60

FRIDAY: Touch of October. PM pop-up shower. Winds: NW 10-20. Wake-up: 48. High: 55

SATURDAY: AM frost up north? Periods of sunshine. Winds: NW 8-13. Wake-up: 38. High: near 60


Climate Stories…

We Need to Talk About Climate Change. Meteorologist Eric Holthaus connects the dots and explains why it’s necessary to talk about the conditions that prime the pump for extraordinary events; here’s an excerpt from his essay at Slate: “…Many people have expressed outrage at the fact that climate change is being mentioned as a contributing cause to this fire. It is “insensitive” to the victims to bring up something so political at a time like this, they argue. I want to be clear: Talking about climate change during an ongoing disaster like Fort McMurray is absolutely necessary. There is a sensitive way to do it, one that acknowledges what the victims are going through and does not blame them for these difficulties. But adding scientific context helps inform our response and helps us figure out how something so horrific could have happened. We’ve reached an era where all weather events bear at least a slight human fingerprint, which, as Elizabeth Kolbert points out in the New Yorker, means “we’ve all contributed to the latest inferno...”


The Fire in Canada Looks a Lot Like Climate Change – And That Should Scare You. Or at least get your attention – again. Here’s an excerpt from an Op-Ed at CNN: “…This is an example of what we expect — and consistent with what we expect for climate change,” said Mike Flannigan, a professor of wildland fire at the University of Alberta who’s been studying climate change and wildfire for decades. “This fire is unprecedented,” he said, referring to its local impact. It’s impossible for scientists to say global warming caused this specific fire, of course, but polluting the atmosphere is creating conditions that make such disasters more likely, bigger and costlier. “In Canada, our area burned (by wildfire) has more than doubled since thLe early 70s,” Flannigan said. “And we’ve published work that states that this is because of human-caused climate change…” (Image credit: metronews.ca).


How Climate Change May Be Fueling Canada’s Fire Season. The Washington Post has additional perspective; here’s an excerpt: “…Robinson has suggested that earlier melting, like what we’ve seen in the northern hemisphere this spring, can give forests and grasslands a chance to dry out earlier and provide the potential for a longer fire season. It’s a point other experts have raised as well. “The earlier the snow melts, the longer the fire season — so the more days during which fires can ignite and burn,” said David Martell, a forestry professor and fire expert at the University of Toronto, by email, although he noted that he’s unaware of any studies that have explicitly investigated this connection…”

Photo credit above: “A photo provided by the Canadian Armed Forces shows a view of the wildfires in Fort McMurray, Alberta, on May 4.” (Canadian Armed Forces via European Pressphoto Agency)



Fort McMurray and the Fires of Climate Change. We know that fire season is increasing, and the frequency of large fires is on the increase. But can we connect the dots with the current conflagration in Alberta? Elizabeth Kolbert summaries the trends in a story at The New Yorker; here’s an excerpt: “…You can say it couldn’t get worse,” Jolly added, but based on its own projections, the forest service expects that it will get worse. According to a Forest Service report published last April, “Climate change has led to fire seasons that are now on average 78 days longer than in 1970.” Over the last three decades, the area destroyed each year by forest fires has doubled, and the service’s scientists project that it’s likely to “double again by midcentury.” A group of scientists who analyzed lake cores from Alaska to obtain a record of forest fires over the last ten thousand years found that in recent decades, blazes were both unusually frequent and unusually severe. “This extreme combination suggests a transition to a unique regime of unprecedented fire activity,” they concluded...”

Photo credit above: “A helicopter flies past a wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alberta, on Wednesday. The blaze has spread through an area covering more than three hundred square miles.Credit Photograph by Jason Franson / The Canadian Press / AP.




Abrupt Sea Level Rise Looms as Increasingly Realistic Threat. If anything climate models have underestimated the rate of sea level rise. Here’s the intro of a good summary of the uncertainty involved at Yale Environment 360: “Ninety-nine percent of the planet’s freshwater ice is locked up in the Antarctic and Greenland ice caps. Now, a growing number of studies are raising the possibility that as those ice sheets melt, sea levels could rise by six feet this century, and far higher in the next, flooding many of the world’s populated coastal areas. Last month in Greenland, more than a tenth of the ice sheet’s surface was melting in the unseasonably warm spring sun, smashing 2010’s record for a thaw so early in the year. In the Antarctic, warm water licking at the base of the continent’s western ice sheet is, in effect, dissolving the cork that holds back the flow of glaciers into the sea; ice is now seeping like wine from a toppled bottle…”

Photo credit above: Christopher Michel/Flickr. “West Antarctica’s glaciers and floating ice shelves are becoming increasingly unstable.”



Is There a Right Way to Talk About Climate Change? The Christian Science Monitor reports; here’s an excerpt: “Framing climate change as a collective, rather than individual, problem can make Americans care more about the issue, say two doctoral candidates in political science at UC San Diego in a paper published Wednesday in the journal Climatic Change. Contrary to popular opinion, climate communication researchers say personal appeals are largely ineffective. Instead of focusing on individual guilt and fear to illicit environmental action, activists, organizations, and politicians will see better results by framing the issue of climate change as a collective effort already moving in the right direction…”


Skepticism About Climate Change May Be Linked to Concerns About Economy. ScienceDaily has an interesting story – here’s a link and excerpt: “Americans may be more likely to accept the scientific evidence of human-caused climate change and its potentially devastating effects if they believe the economy is strong and stable, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association. The findings may help explain why many Americans haven’t been swayed by public education and advocacy efforts indicating that climate change is being caused by humans. People who are concerned about the economy and who are strong supporters of the free market system may be more skeptical about climate change and downplay its potential effects, the study found. The research was published online in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General...”

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About Paul Douglas

Paul Douglas
Paul Douglas is a meteorologist, author, entrepreneur, and software expert in Minneapolis-St.Paul, Minnesota. He is a nationally recognized meteorologist with over 30 years of broadcast television and radio experience.
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