Tundra Time continues, California reaches ‘Drought Critical’ phase

Tundra tales

This is one of those winters we can someday tell our grand kids about. Yes, the snow piles really, really were higher than your SUV.

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Snow mountain in Minnetonka. Paul Huttner/MPR News

It's hard to see around the corner and over the snow glaciers in your favorite Caribou parking lot, let alone spring. Did I mention spring begins 45 days from Sunday?


Some indicators early in winter pointed to a potential for a warming trend as we move into February. It does look slightly less Nordic in the next 2 weeks, but I don't see any huge warm ups in sight, yet.

If you love winter and great snow for skiing, snowshoeing and all things cryogenic, this is the winter for you. Minnesota's winter resort business and ski areas (and body shops) couldn't be happier.

Did I also mention that the groundhog will likely see his shadow in Minnesota Sunday as he fires up his 60-inch plasma to watch the Super Bowl? Yes, I think we can count on 6 more weeks of winter in Minnesota this year. I'm hearing that's OK with many of you -- just so winter doesn't spill into April (and May) again this year.

We do live in Minnesota after all!

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Image: La Crosse NWS

Weekend snow south

Our chilly but quiet weather will last this weekend in most of Minnesota. But if you are planning travel south or east along Interstate 35 or Interstate 94 to Des Moines, Iowa,  or Chicago, expect to run into snow. A good 6 to 10 inches will fall from south of Des Moines to Chicago this weekend.

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Image: Chicago NWS

The heaviest snow stripe with this system looks to run from just north of Kansas City, to south of Des Moines and straight into Chicago then off to lower Michigan.

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Image: NOAA NAM output via wxcaster.com

Super Sunday: Good day for an outdoor game

The football gods appear to be smiling on the NFL this year. I've been following the trends for about 10 days now, and Super Bowl Sunday still looks pretty good for Feb. 2.

Temps in the upper 40s with dry skies and northwest winds around 8 mph at kickoff? They'll take it and run with it.

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Image: Weatherspark

Minnesota (winter) nice

The next few days here at home look fairly quiet, and not as cold as what we endures early this week. I don't see any school closing arctic fronts (or snow dumps) on the horizon for now.

It will be chilly, but tolerable by Minnesota standards. A good weekend to get out and enjoy our wintry landscape and all the events that celebrate winter in Minnesota, if you're dressed for it.

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Image: Weatherspark

California drought: Running out of time

Some minor rain and mountain snow system will graze California in the next two weeks. It may be far too little, and too late.

The season for winter storms that dump precious snowfall in the Sierra and rain in California's valleys is nearing a close. It just might be too late to lay catch up from a drought that has rapidly deepened into the critical phase in under a year.

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Image: US Drought Monitor

Take a look at the remarkable contrast in snow cover in The Sierra Nevada Range in just 1 year via NASA's MODIS satellite.

Image: NASA

The San Francisco Chronicle has more on how drought is quickly turning to drought emergency that is threatening water supplies.

It is a bleak road map of the deepening crisis brought on by one of California's worst droughts - a list of 17 communities and water districts that within 100 days could run dry of the state's most precious commodity.

The threatened towns and districts, identified this week by state health officials, are mostly small and in rural areas. They get their water in a variety of ways, from reservoirs to wells to rivers. But, in all cases, a largely rainless winter has left their supplies near empty.

In the Bay Area, Cloverdale and Healdsburg in Sonoma County are among those at risk of running out of water, according to the state. The small Lompico Water District in the Santa Cruz Mountains is also on the list. Others could be added if the dry weather lingers.

"These systems all are experiencing challenges meeting customer need, and those challenges are exacerbated by drought conditions," said Matt Conens, a spokesman for the California Department of Public Health

Slate.com provides even more historical context.

The epic California drought isn't through breaking records. Worse yet, it’s still intensifying. Don’t taunt this thing—it’s a mean one.

On Thursday, the National Drought Mitigation Center upgraded about 9 percent of the state to an “exceptional drought,” the organization’s most intense level of drought severity. It’s the first time that any part of California has registered an exceptional drought in the 14-year history of the NDMC drought monitor.

Now, 14 years is an admittedly short period of time. But thanks to the magic of science (and tree rings), we can now safely say that California hasn't been this dry since around the time of Columbus, more than 500 years ago. What’s more, much of the state’s development over the last 150 years came during an abnormally wet era, which scientists say could come to a quick end with the help of human-induced climate change.

From Anthony Artusa, who authored today’s “exceptional drought” report:

The Central Sierra Snow Lab near the Donner Summit reports 8 inches of snow on the ground, the lowest for this time in January since at least 1946. In the general vicinity of Monterey to Bakersfield, conditions warranted a 1-category [upgrade], from extreme to exceptional drought. A few of the impacts within the exceptional drought area include fallowing of land, wells running dry, municipalities considering drilling deeper wells, and little to no rangeland grasses for cattle to graze on, prompting significant livestock sell off.

That puts the current California drought on par with recent major droughts in Texas (2010-11) and the Midwest (2012), both of which were multibillion-dollar disasters.

It may be too late in the season to catch up for California's water resources. If the jet stream pattern stays stuck for several more months, California will face some extreme choices. All of us will see some food prices spike at the checkout counter. Some good news? Daylight increasing rapidly

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You can feel it now.

The evenings are getting noticeably longer at the weather lab as we head into February. There is still some light in the west on clear evenings now during my usual 5:48 p.m. weather chat with Tom Crann on MPR News.

We've gained an hour of daylight since December, and we gain another 1 hour and 8 minutes in February!

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Image: sunrisesunset.com

Our total incoming solar energy doubles by about Valentine's Day compared to where it was Dec. 21.

The higher sun angle in February will start to work much more efficiently melting snow on roadways on milder days, but with plenty of highly reflective snow cover it takes some time for the atmosphere to recover from it's wintry daylight deprived temperature hangover.

The good news is it wont be long before the increased solar energy begins to modify incoming air masses.

The bigger question regarding how spring unfolds revolves around a potential shift in jet stream patterns from our persistent northwest flow.

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Image: Climate Reanalyzer

When will the persistent "ridge in the west, trough in the east" pattern give way? Tell me that, and I'll tell you when spring will arrive.