WeatherNation Blog

Record December Warmth, Snow and Cold Returns…

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Record warmth across much of the nation to start off meteorological winter has really put a damper on the actual start to winter across the nation… “Where’s winter” is a question that many are probably asking as we continue through this early December.

December 2010

December of 2010 was an exceptional year for many across the far north. For those who lived in Minneapolis, we had the snowiest December on record with 33.6″ of snow. Half of that nearly came in one storm… the same storm that collapsed the Metrodome! This is what it looked like after after the 17.1″ snowstorm on December 10th-11th of 2010.

National Snow Cover on 12/5/10

38.6% of the nation was covered in snow on this date 2 years ago.

National Snow Cover on 12/5/11

Even the fairly dismal winter of 2011 yielded a 32% national snowpack on this date.

2012 US Snow Cover

The extremely warm start to meteorological winter has put a huge dent in the US snow cover this year. As of 12/5/12, only 7.2% of the nation was covered in snow!

Record December Warmth

Look at the number of record highs that were either tied or broken across the nation over the last 7 days… that’s remarkable, no?

Arctic Alaskan Temperatures

As a general rule of thumb, when the Lower 48 is warm, Alaska tends to be quite cold. That certainly has been true as of late. Take a look at the HIGH temperatures across the far north on Tuesday.

First -50s in Alaska

This was a Facebook post from the National Weather Service out of Fairbanks, AK on December 1st:

Clear skies and high pressure resulted in another cold morning across the eastern interior of Alaska. Many locations reported temperatures colder than 40 and 50 below zero. Temperatures have remained cold during the day as well, with most valley locations unable to climb above 40 below zero in the afternoon. The community of Chicken once again reported the coldest official temperature in the US this morning with a low temperature of 56 degrees below zero. This morning marks the 3rd day in a row that the NWS observer in Chicken has reported temperatures colder than 50 below zero. Clouds moving into the interior on Sunday will provide some temporary moderation in temperatures, but readings will remain well below zero into the upcoming week.”

See more updates from them HERE:

BIG Changes Coming??

This is interesting… take a look at the NAO forecast through mid December. Note how the red (forecast lines) dip below the zero line. This indicates a predicted “Negative Phase” which would indicate the potential for colder air across the Lower 48. The information below is from NOAA’s CPC and explains the difference between positive and negative phases in the North Atlantic Oscillation:

Strong positive phases of the NAO tend to be associated with above-averagel temperatures in the eastern United States and across northern Europe and below-average temperatures in Greenland and oftentimes across southern Europe and the Middle East. They are also associated with above-average precipitation over northern Europe and Scandinavia in winter, and below-average precipitation over southern and central Europe. Opposite patterns of temperature and precipitation anomalies are typically observed during strong negative phases of the NAO. During particularly prolonged periods dominated by one particular phase of the NAO, anomalous height and temperature patterns are also often seen extending well into central Russia and north-central Siberia.”

Pacific Low Breaks Loose

It appears that the persistent Pacific low that was churning in the Gulf of Alaska (keeping cold air locked up north and triggering record highs in the Lower 48) will break loose from its position. The energy for that storm will settle into the Lower 48 by the end of the week/weekend ahead.

Here Comes the Cold…

Well, this is more like it… Forecast models continue to indicate a larger, more robust storm, developing this weekend/early next week from the chunk of energy that was sitting in the Gulf of Alaska for so long. Note how this larger storm tugs down colder air from the north. This will bring temperatures to near and even below normal levels by mid December.

Shovel Potential?

Not only will this feature bring back colder temperatures, but it will also be capable of bringing shovelable snow to parts of the nation through early next week. It’s still a bit uncertain on where and how much snow may develop, but more importantly, the potential is there! That’s something that we haven’t seen for quite some time. The image below suggests the placement of the low pressure system at the surface along with snow potential into the weekend based on the ECMWF (European) model run.

GFS Snow Potential

Here is the longer term GFS (American model) solution through AM Monday. Keep in mind that this forecast CAN & WILL CHANGE… Don’t take this literally just yet. There are still several unseen variables that will come into play as this ‘potential’ snow event(s) take place. What I take away from the extended model runs is that we can expect a return to more ‘normal’ December weather across the entire nation rather than the extremely and absurdly warm December conditions that encompassed much of the nation over the last few days.

Hey, thanks for checking in on this Wednesday… Have a great rest of the week!

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @TNelsonWNTV

Limping Into Winter (“where’s the snow”? Only 7% of Lower 48 States snow covered)

Minnesota Snow Lotto

A few hardy snowbirds are extending their stay in Minnesota, while my e-mails from snow lovers become increasingly indignant. “I demand some snow. I want it now!” I hear you.

Sadly, Mother Nature doesn’t care.

According to NOAA 7 percent of the lower 48 states have snow on the ground. Last year at this time: 29 percent was snow covered. No, this doesn’t mean another wimpy winter is imminent, but I suspect another compressed, abbreviated winter for the USA.

Canadian air laps southward in waves, each push of chilled air spinning up a scrawny clipper. Enough cold air may be in place for a slushy accumulation Sunday – too early to speculate about amounts, but I doubt this will be “The Big One”.

Ignore the calendar: “Meteorological Winter”, marking the start of the coldest 90 days of the year, kicked off last Saturday, December 1.

Expect 40s by Thursday, a weekend near freezing, then 20s early next week. Seasonably cold, but nothing that will make you put your travel agent on speed dial.

According to State Climatologist Greg Spoden Monday’s 55 degree high was rare for December at MSP. Weather records kept since 1872 show a total of 20 December days with highs above 55 F.

Where’s The Snow? According to NOAA a little over 7% of the Lower 48 have snow on the ground. You have to drive up into far northern Minnesota to see a covering of white, which is a bit off for early December, a little more than 2 weeks from the Winter Solstice. Last year at this time snow was reported over 29% of the USA (exclusing Alaska and Hawaii).

Stay Off The Ice. As we stumble into another potentially anemic winter, with sub-freezing temperatures alternating with thaws, the quality and quantity of ice will be problematic, at least until we get a few (sustained) weeks below freezing. Remind your kids (and spouses) that the ice is far from safe. More details from the Minnesota DNR.


Another Close Call. We just can’t buy a storm this winter season – as expected most storms are detouring south/east of Minnesota, symptoms of a mild El Nino pattern, which tends to favor big storms for the west coast, and the southern and eastern USA. The drought signal continues to be powerful over the northern Plains. The predicted map for midday Sunday shows a little wet snow over southern Minnesota, the best chance of a light, slushy accumulation from Rochester into central Wisconsin. Right now I can’t get too excited about amounts here in the Twin Cities. ECMWF map above: WSI.

A Little Weekend Slush? No, I doubt it’ll be enough to ski on, or fire up the snowmobile, but a “nuisance” slush event is possible Saturday and Sunday, the most significant surge of moisture sailing just south and east of MSP. ECMWF guidance above for the Twin Cities (temperatures in Celsius). Don’t panic.

Warm Bias To Continue. The map above shows an experimental (NAEFS) temperature outlook for December 12 – 18, indicating a milder than normal bias for much of the USA and eastern Canada into mid December. A couple of clippers will pull cold air into the northern tier states, but no (savage) cold is in sight – yet. Image: NOAA.

Tracking Powerful “Atmospheric River” Winter Storms. Water vapor has increased by 4-5%, especially over the tropics, providing more fuel for storms. When weather patterns become locked or “blocked” these streams of concentrated water vapor, dubbed “atmospheric rivers” can focus a fire-hose of moisture on the west coast, as described in this story from NOAA: “…“With satellites, we can see the tell-tale water vapor signature of an incoming atmospheric river over the ocean. However, NOAA’s offshore observing systems do not measure another key factor — strong low-altitude winds,” said Martin Ralph, Ph.D., a research meteorologist and branch chief in NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo. “With our new sensors, we’ll be able to measure those winds and more, to understand just how much moisture is moving in, which largely controls how extreme the precipitation inland will become. This information will ensure that meteorologists and emergency managers have additional information to keep the public informed about these potentially destructive storms.” (Image: KQED).

The four coastal observatories will include:

  • A Doppler wind profiling radar, which reveals the speed and direction of winds at several altitudes aloft;
  • A technique for extracting critical information from wind profiler data — the level in the atmosphere where falling snow turns to rain;
  • Global positioning system (GPS) water vapor instruments, which measure the total amount of water vapor above the site; and
  • Standard meteorological instruments (relative humidity, temperature, pressure, rain gauge).”

Physicist Happens Upon Rain Data Breakthrough. I love these stories of accidental discoveries and serendipity, but this is how the (sometimes awkward) arc of science works. Here’s a snippet from Science Daily: “…”It’s not often that you’re studying lunar dust and it ends up producing benefits in weather forecasting,” said Phil Metzger, a physicist who leads the Granular Mechanics and Regolith Operations Lab, part of the Surface Systems Office at Kennedy. Lane said the additional piece of information would be useful in filling out the complex computer calculations used to determine the current conditions and forecast the weather. “We may be able to refine (computer weather) models to make them more accurate,” Lane said. “Weather radar data analysis makes assumptions about raindrop size, so I think this could improve the overall drop size distribution estimates.” (Photo courtesy of Mike Hall).


UI Researcher Predicts More Intense North Atlantic Tropical Storms. Even if I had the money, I wouldn’t dream of buying a beach house on the ocean. No, Minnesota’s lakes are looking like a safer bet, long term. Here’s an excerpt of an article from The University of Iowa: “Tropical storms that make their way into the North Atlantic, and possibly strike the East Coast of the United States, likely will become more intense during the rest of this century. That’s the prediction of one University of Iowa researcher and his colleague as published in an early online release in the prestigious Journal of Climate, the official publication of the American Meteorological Society. The study is a compilation of results from some of the best available computer models of climate, according to lead author Gabriele Villarini, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and assistant research engineer at IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering, and his colleague Gabriel Vecchi of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Princeton, N.J….”

Image credit above: “NOAA’s GOES-13 satellite captured this visible image of Hurricane Sandy battering the U.S. East coast on Monday, Oct. 29 at 9:10 a.m. EDT. Sandy’s center was about 310 miles south-southeast of New York City. Tropical Storm force winds are about 1,000 miles in diameter. Image courtesy of NASA GOES Project.”

NASA Study Could Improve Hurricane Strength Forecasts. has the story here. Katrina image courtesy of NOAA.

Global Water Crisis: Too Little, Too Much, Or Lack Of A Plan? Here’s a clip from an illuminating story at Yahoo News: “…But superstorm Sandy’s deluge and flooding, says Geoff Dabelko, an environmental expert at Ohio University in Athens, is an example of how the term “global water crisis” can be misleading. It tends to imply that there’s just one kind of crisis – a water shortage. “The kind of dead-cow-carcass-in-the-desert image that global ‘water crisis’ evokes is very real for some people,” Professor Dabelko says. “But there are so many dimensions.” Too much water – whether from flooding, sea level rise, or more extreme storms – can be just as deadly as too little. While the balance between water supplies and the demands of a burgeoning population are further complicated by the effect of climate change on delicate hydrological margins, there are those who say there is enough water, if nations learn to plan for a different future – one in which past abundance is no guide…”

Top 5 Weather And Climate Challenges Facing White House. Meteorologist Andrew Freedman has the story from Climate Central; here’s an excerpt:

1) Building a More Weather and Climate Resilient Society

Hurricane Sandy, which killed 85 people in the U.S. and caused at least $72 billion in damage in New York and New Jersey alone, highlighted the need to bolster the resilience of coastal cities so that they can withstand the increasing threat posed by the 1-2 punch of global warming-related sea level rise and major storms. Steps that may need to be taken include installing sea walls or storm surge barriers to better protect populated areas, as well as potentially retreating from some vulnerable locations that are almost certain to flood again, given current sea level rise projections. It could also involve reforming the federal flood insurance program, which currently provides incentives to rebuild in vulnerable areas…”

Satellite image credit: NASA.

Climate Stories…


Treat Climate Change As A “Waste Management Problem”. Spoken like a true engineer, and absolutely true. But we’ve never had a waste management problem of this scale and severity. Everything we do, everywhere we go, all things manufactured and consumed hinges on carbon, the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. But maybe this guy is onto something. Here’s an excerpt from Consumer Energy Report: “… The debate for me is over because I believe we have the technology available to us today to develop hydrocarbons and to use those hydrocarbons in ways in which we can use them fully and clean up after ourselves; with respect to physical waste, liquid waste, and gaseous waste. So if we approach the issue of global warming/climate change as an issue of waste management – which I would prefer to do – rather than some kind of global crisis which remains undefined and unresolved. Let’s deal with what we know how to deal with. We know how to deal with waste…”

How Has Climate Change Affected Your Winter Sports? What winter sports? Oh yeah – it’s meteorological winter out there, at least on paper. Lately it seems like Minnesotans experience all or nothing winters. Either we get buried under 70″ or more of snow (once every 4 or 5 winters, on average) or we see dribs and drabs of snow (last winter comes to mind). Here’s a clip from The PBS NewsHour: “The winter of 2011 was so unusually warm and dry, it left some ski resorts struggling to create enough powder to sustain their season. Winter sports enthusiasts are now facing the possibility of another warm, dry winter, which means more snow machines and fewer skiers, snowboarders and outdoor skaters. We want to hear from you — how have the changing seasons affected your favorite winter pastimes? Are you a skier, snowboarder or ice-skater who has had to travel farther to find snow and ice? Have fewer snow days meant less time sledding? Have winter tournaments or outdoor games been cancelled or rescheduled due to unseasonably warm weather?

Photo credit above: “A skier glides down a slope in Austria. Climate change threatens to alter winter weather patterns, which would affect beloved outdoor pastimes.” Photo by Dominic Ebenbichler/Reuters.

U.S. Price Tag For Allergies Will Rise Because Of Climate Change. Scientific American has the story; here’s an excerpt: “Researchers are probing the health and economic fallout from this year’s record allergy season to understand how warming weather and shifting rainfall may lead to more widespread and costlier allergy problems in the future. Already, doctors are seeing climate change alter how allergens disperse. “It played out in the form of the duration of the pollen season,” said Leonard Bielory, an attending physician and allergist at the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and a professor at Rutgers University’s Center for Environmental Prediction…” (Photo: Tricia Frostad).

Why Seeing Is Believing – Usually – When It Comes To Climate Change. Wait. Climate change requires connecting the dots and a concept known as “thinking”? Uh oh. We’re in trouble. Here’s an excerpt from an interesting article at Time Magazine:

One possible explanation for these low levels of belief certainty and perceptions of the threat as distant that climate change is difficult to perceive directly; `climate’ itself is a statistical abstraction, even though its impacts can be quite tangible. Current theories of cognitive science suggest that learning about abstractions requires analytical information processing, which involves cognitive effort is a scarce commodity, which people expend sparingly. Both low motivation to think about climate change and low ability to comprehend scientific information can impede people’s processing of the charts, graphs and models in the climate scientist’s toolkit.

In other words, climate change is hard to really see in one’s daily life, and understanding it requires “analytic information processing”—otherwise known as thinking. That’s not something people have a lot of time, inclination (and perhaps ability) to do…”



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Welcome to the WeatherNation blog. Every day I sift through hundreds of stories, maps, graphics and meteorological web sites, trying to capture some of the most interesting weather nuggets, the stories behind the forecast. I’ll link to stories and share some of the web sites I use. I’m still passionate about the weather, have been ever since Tropical Storm Agnes flooded my home in Lancaster, PA in 1972. I’ve started 5 weather-related companies. “EarthWatch” created the world’s first 3-D weather graphics for TV stations – Steven Spielberg used our software in “Jurassic Park” and “Twister”. My last company, “Digital Cyclone”, personalized weather for cell phones. “My-Cast” was launched in 2001 and is still going strong on iPhone, Android and Blackberry. I sold DCI to Garmin in 2007 so I could focus on my latest venture: WeatherNation. I also write a daily weather column for The Star Tribune And if you’re on Twitter, you’ll find me @pdouglasweather