Late January Outlook: Numb & Number

A bit of good news as we reach the midpoint of January – the cruelest month for many Minnesotans not fond of winter’s soft embrace. We’ve picked up nearly 24 minutes of daylight since December 21. Based on heating degree day data, heating bills are 4 percent less than 30-year averages. And a supersized January Thaw has lead to an almost March-like first half of the month.

Don’t get too comfortable or smug. Odds still favor the “latest first subzero reading” at MSP on record. The immediate metro area probably won’t dip below 0F until Saturday night.

Looking ahead, Canada won’t be doing us any favors by late month. A sustained volley of numbing fronts arrive the last week of January with a series of subzero lows, even one or two subzero daytime highs. A
subtle yet blunt reminder that, in spite of a slowly warming planet, Minnesota winters are (still) not for
the faint of heart.

It would get even colder, if it wasn’t for a lack of snow at MSP. No big storms are brewing, either. Note to self: last winter 50.8 inches fell between February and April.



First Subzero of Winter (for the Twin Cities). Double-digit negative numbers up north; temperatures forecast to dip just below 0F by Sunday morning at MSP, where a lack of snow cover will limit how low the mercury can tumble. A fairly rapid warming trend is likely early next week, but more numbing, subzero cold may be shaping up for late January. Maps above: AerisWeather and Praedictix.


Heck, Let’s Go for the Record. If the mercury at MSP stays above 0F through midnight Friday the Twin Cities will set a record for the latest “first” subzero low on record, breaking the old record of January 18 (2012, 2002 and 1889). Data courtesy of the Minnesota DNR and State Climate Office.


Seriously Cold by Late January? My confidence level in the GFS is fairly low, due to a variety of reasons, including the federal government shutdown (the model is not getting the data validation it needs to perform optimally). But the GFS runs have been consistent, setting up a long-wave trough of bitter air from central Canada into the Midwest, with a few volleys of subzero air charging south of the border. Stay tuned, but we could easily make up for this extended January Thaw.


Heavy Snow Brings Chaos and Death to Germany and Austria. 6-9 feet or more of snow for parts of the Alps? Surreal. Here’s an excerpt from The Guardian: “…German and Austrian troops have been deployed to help residents trapped by the snow. About 300 German soldiers had been deployed by Friday as three Bavarian districts declared a state of emergency.The troops helped emergency services working around the clock to remove snow from roofs of buildings in danger of caving in under the weight. Schools remained shut and rail services were at a standstill in parts of southern and eastern Bavaria, as workers struggled to clear tracks of snow and fallen trees. Up to 100 flights out of Frankfurt and Munich were cancelled on Friday due to the weather…”

Photo credit: “A pair of snow-covered trains sit stranded at Berchtesgaden station in Bavaria.” Photograph: Lukas Barth-Tuttas/EPA.


Why Has Europe Had So Much Snow? The BBC reports: “Snow has caused significant disruption across parts of central Europe over the past few weeks – and there could be more to come. Heavy snowfall brought chaos to parts of Germany and Sweden on Friday, leaving roads blocked, trains halted and schools shut. At least 24 people are known to have died across Europe as a result of January’s severe weather. BBC Weather’s Matt Taylor looks at the causes behind Europe’s most recent deep freeze.”



The Weather Service is Open 24/7, Forecasters are Working Without Pay, and It’s Taking a Toll. Angela Fritz reports for Capital Weather Gang: “…More than 4,000 National Weather Service employees are working day and night without pay this month. Some have already missed a paycheck — only a day’s worth, if they happened to work Dec. 22. But they’re going to miss a big one this week. “I can go a couple pay periods and be okay,” Wright said. For others in his Nashville forecast office, though, “missing just one paycheck can be devastating.” The federal government has three levels of shutdown for employees: furloughed, excepted and emergency. The furloughed employees aren’t working, and they won’t get paid. The emergency workers are called in only if something terrible happens. Excepted employees continue working without pay for the duration of the shutdown, until Congress passes a bill to pay them back...”

File image: National Weather Service, Norman, Oklahoma.


Facial and Emotional Recognition: How One Man is Advancing Artificial Intelligence. If you missed this on 60 Minutes check out the transcript, courtesy of CBS News:

Kai-Fu Lee: AI will increasingly replace repetitive jobs. Not just for blue-collar work but a lot of white-collar work.

Scott Pelley: What sort of jobs would be lost to AI?

Kai-Fu Lee: Basically chauffeurs, truck drivers anyone who does driving for a living their jobs will be disrupted more in the 15 to 20 year time frame and many jobs that seem a little bit complex, chef, waiter, a lot of things will become automated we’ll have automated stores, automated restaurants, and all together in 15 years, that’s going to displace about 40 percent of the jobs in the world.

Scott Pelley: Forty percent of the jobs in the world will be displaced by technology?

Kai-Fu Lee: I would say displaceable.

Scott Pelley: What does that do to the fabric of society?


America’s Electric Grid Has a Vulnerable Back Door – And Russia Just Walked Through It. More alarming news via The Wall Street Journal and Quartz; here’s an excerpt: “…The cyberattack on the 15-person company near Salem, Ore., which works with utilities and government agencies, was an early thrust in the worst known hack by a foreign government into the nation’s electric grid. It set off so many alarms that U.S. officials took the unusual step in early 2018 of publicly blaming the Russian government. A reconstruction of the hack reveals a glaring vulnerability at the heart of the country’s electric system. Rather than strike the utilities head on, the hackers went after the system’s unprotected underbelly—hundreds of contractors and subcontractors like All-Ways who had no reason to be on high alert against foreign agents. From these tiny footholds, the hackers worked their way up the supply chain. Some experts believe two dozen or more utilities ultimately were breached...”

Map credit: FEMA.


A New Cold War Has Begun. Focus your well-intentioned paranoia on China, much more so than Russia, argues a must-read post at Foreign Policy; here’s an excerpt: “…That future has arrived, and it is nothing less than a new cold war: The constant, interminable Chinese computer hacks of American warships’ maintenance records, Pentagon personnel records, and so forth constitute war by other means. This situation will last decades and will only get worse, whatever this or that trade deal is struck between smiling Chinese and American presidents in a photo-op that sends financial markets momentarily skyward. The new cold war is permanent because of a host of factors that generals and strategists understand but that many, especially those in the business and financial community who populate Davos, still prefer to deny. And because the U.S.-China relationship is the world’s most crucial—with many second- and third-order effects—a cold war between the two is becoming the negative organizing principle of geopolitics that markets will just have to price in…”


8 Predictions for What the World Will Look Like in 20 Years. God help us. Here’s a clip from a thought-provoking post at Intelligencer: “…You won’t have a computer, because everything will be computerized. Computers will be small and cheap, embedded in everything, and all the little rituals that I do to get through my day — like swiping a MetroCard or buzzing into the office — are going to be unnecessary. I might still use a desktop computer to make software. But mostly I’m going to ask my earbuds to play music, and those earbuds might also serve as a wallet. And my shoes will talk to my earbuds, and the song will speed up if I walk faster. I’ll be just a little walking cloud platform with lots of hard-drive space all talking to the internet. Companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Google will still exist but will need to fight to stay relevant in a world where people just don’t need that much more of what those companies sell...”

Illustration credit: Eugenia Loli.


Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the Perfect Ideological Compliment to President Trump. Gerard Baker showcases the appeal of AOC, arguably the anti-Trump, in an Op-Ed at The Wall Street Journal: “…The eye-catching proposals—the Green New Deal, universal free health care and education—seem like unfundable pipe dreams, and you don’t need a slide rule to know that a 70% top marginal tax rate really isn’t going to get you there. But if you think these messages—idealized symbols rather than developed policy proposals—don’t appeal to a rising generation of voters, for whom, opinion polling tells us, capitalism is a failure, then you need to get out more. Capitalism itself is in a strange place. On the one hand, it’s impossible to dispute that the market-oriented liberalization of the world economy over the last 50 years has produced perhaps the most explosive growth in prosperity in human history. But in the West we are profoundly ill at ease, not just with the widening inequalities it produces but with capitalism’s limitations in answering deeper human needs…”


The Remoralization of the Market. Wait, you mean it’s about more than return on investment? David Brooks has a worthy Op-Ed at The New York Times; here’s an excerpt: “…Social trust arises from a covenant: I give to my company, my town and my government, and they give back to me. But that covenant was ripped. Now the general perception is: When I give, they take. As we disembedded individuals from traditional moral norms we disembedded companies from social ones. Human beings are moral animals, and suddenly American moral animals found themselves in an amoral economic system, which felt increasingly alienating and gross. We wound up with the secession of the successful, and in many parts of the country we wound up decimating the social trust that is actually a prerequisite for economic prosperity...”


15 Times You’re Breaking the Law – And Didn’t Even Know It. This is a post from 2017 but just as relevent today; here’s a clip from thetalko.com: “…There are some states (like Illinois) where it’s actually illegal to leave a child under the age of 13 home alone and could result in the parent or parents being arrested for child endangerment. Of course, this doesn’t go for all states and there are even states that allow children as young as six-years-old to be left alone at home (in states like Kansas where apparently crime is a myth… sure). Thankfully, I was raised in California where apparently it was okay to leave your kids home alone ala Home Alone – though, I didn’t torture the heck out of robbers so we’re good…”




TUESDAY: Mostly cloudy, breezy. Winds: SW 10-15. High: 34

WEDNESDAY: Sunnier, closer to average. Winds: NE 5-10. Wake-up: 14. High: 25

THURSDAY: Mostly cloudy and brisk. Winds: NW 8-13. Wake-up: 17. High: 22

FRIDAY: Cold sun north, light snow far southern MN. Winds: N 8-13. Wake-up: 7. High: 15

SATURDAY: Mostly cloudy, feels like -10F. Winds: NW 10-15. Wake-up: 1. High: 10

SUNDAY: First subzero low at MSP. Sunny skies. Winds: W 5-10. Wake-up: -6. High: 12

MONDAY: Clouds increase, late flurries? Winds: S 15-25. Wake-up: 4. High: near 20


Climate Stories…

Ocean Warming is Accelerating Faster Than Thought, New Research Finds. Who cares? A rapidly warming ocean can fuel wetter storms, more intense hurricanes and help to accelerate sea level rise. Here’s a clip from a New York Times article: “…A new analysis, published Thursday in the journal Science, found that the oceans are heating up 40 percent faster on average than a United Nations panel estimated five years ago. The researchers also concluded that ocean temperatures have broken records for several straight years. “2018 is going to be the warmest year on record for the Earth’s oceans,” said Zeke Hausfather, an energy systems analyst at the independent climate research group Berkeley Earth and an author of the study. “As 2017 was the warmest year, and 2016 was the warmest year.” As the planet has warmed, the oceans have provided a critical buffer…”



The Oceans are Warming Faster Than We Thought, and Scientists Suggest We Brace for Impact. More perspective at The Washington Post: “…The oceans are warming faster than climate reports have suggested, according to a new synthesis of temperature observations published this week. The most recent report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made what turned out to be a very conservative estimate of rise in ocean temperature, and scientists are advising us to adjust our expectations. “The numbers are coming in 40 to 50 percent [warmer] than the last IPCC report,” said Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and an author on the report, published in Science Magazine on Thursday. Furthermore, Trenberth said, “2018 will be the warmest year on record in the oceans” as 2017 was and 2016 before that…”

Sea surface temperature anomalies (C) courtesy of NOAA NCEP.



A $3 Billion Problem: Miami-Dade’s Septic Tanks Are Already Failing Due To Sea Rise. The Miami Herald reports: “Miami-Dade has tens of thousands of septic tanks, and a new report reveals most are already malfunctioning — the smelly and unhealthy evidence of which often ends up in people’s yards and homes. It’s a billion-dollar problem that climate change is making worse. As sea level rise encroaches on South Florida, the Miami-Dade County study shows that thousands more residents may be at risk — and soon. By 2040, 64 percent of county septic tanks (more than 67,000) could have issues every year, affecting not only the people who rely on them for sewage treatment, but the region’s water supply and the health of anyone who wades through floodwaters...”

Photo credit: “A Miami-Dade neighborhood that relies on septic tanks experiences flooding during the 2016 King Tide. A new report commissioned by the county shows that half of the county’s septic tanks break down yearly, a problem that sea level rise will worsen.” Miami-Dade County.

Read more here: https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/environment/article224132115.html#storylink=cpy
Read more here: https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/environment/article224132115.html#storylink=cpy

Katharine Hayhoe: “A Thermometer is Not Liberal or Conservative”. The Guardian has an interview with Dr. Hayhoe; here’s a clip: “...It’s a vicious cycle. The more doom-filled reports the scientists release, the stronger the pushback from politicians whose power, ideology and funding depends on maintaining the status quo, and who are supported by those who fear the solutions to climate change more than they fear its impacts. Opposition to climate change is a symptom of a society that is politically polarised between those who cling to the past and those who recognise the need for a better future. Fossil fuels have brought us many benefits – and I’m grateful for their contribution to my life – but the solution to our current crisis is to stop using them. That change can be scary, especially for those with most to lose financially from this shift. If you feel threatened, the instinctive reaction is to push back…”

Photo credit: “Katharine Hayhoe: ‘Fear is a short-term spur to action, but to make changes over the long term, we must have hope.” Photograph: Randal Ford.


Winter: Fastest-Warming Season for Most of USA. Climate Central reports: “But winter is the fastest-warming season in 38 states, where the changing climate is harming local economies and ecosystems. Climate Central has shown that more winter precipitation is falling as rain, affecting western snowpack and nationwide winter sports industries. According to a report using 2015-2016 data, the winter sports of downhill skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling contributed over $20 billion to the U.S. economy. Low snow years saw an average loss of 17,400 jobs and over $1 billion. In less snowy places like the Southeast, fruit trees are suffering with less natural chilling time, hurting a multi-billion dollar industry. With warmer winters, even the apples from Thanksgiving pies may be threatened…”


Tunnel Vision. How do cities, large and small, handle increasing runoff from super-sized rainfall events? Slate has a cautionary tale; here’s an excerpt: “…In fact, far from building a catchall for Chicago wastewater until the end of time, the MWRD is now encouraging local projects—initiatives like rain barrels and green roofs and detention ponds—to keep water out of the system. The rainstorms are too big for the bottle. Much of the American landscape sits at the precarious intersection of sprawl and climate change. In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey flooded more than 150,000 homes in Harris County, home of Houston. Only half of them were in federally designated flood plains—the low-lying land, often along tidal bays, creeks, and rivers, which FEMA believes might be inundated during the heaviest rain. Of the rest, some flooded because Harvey was a once-in-10,000-year storm…”

Photo credit: “Construction workers lean in to discuss the project over the noises echoing throughout the Deep Tunnel.” David Schalliol.