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Fun with Ana, Bill and Claudette

I have a friends in Florida who LOVE to call, e-mail, text, twitter, update their Facebook status, especially in January and February, ranting and raving about the many benefits of living in the Sunshine State. “Paul, how are ‘ya? The family good? How’s the new business? Still remember all 50 states? Excellent! So, I have to ask – how’s the weather up there? Yeah, Al Roker mentioned something about dangerous wind chills or something, didn’t catch the whole thing. I just want you to know our prayers are with you – hope the kids don’t come down with frostbite or anything. That would just be TERRIBLE!”

Well, a few years ago an old buddy calls me up, intent on sharing the the many (obvious) joys of living down in Naples, Florida – how he just couldn’t get over the fact it was 82 degrees (above!) at the same time the wind chill was -18 up in my neck of the woods. “A 100 degree temperature spread – holy cow, how is that even possible, Paul? Isn’t that CRAZY?” I mumbled something into the phone, and then something snapped. All civility, all decorum, just sailed right out the window into the numb morning air. I distinctly remember pausing, taking a breath and then telling him that an Alberta Clipper was on the way for tomorrow, a couple inches of powdery snow was quite possible, just a minor storm, but here’s the thing: Minnesota may be NANOOK several months out of the year, and yes, we see our fair share of storms, but…

Here in Minnesota our storms don’t have names.”

The chuckling (cackling?) on the other end of the phone died off suddenly and there was utter silence for a second or two. It took a little while for that to sink in, I guess. My buddy cleared his throat and tried to laugh it off, but after that little reality check he just couldn’t wait to get off that call with me. It must have brought back memories – long nights, falling asleep (or at least trying to) with the Weather Channel droning on and on in the background. Drills with the kids: packing up valuables, photo albums, contracts, mortgages, bills, stashing everything into waterproof containers, agreeing on an evacuation route, who would be in charge? Would they listen to local authorities and leave when they told them to leave? O.K. I grant you, Florida winters are wondrous things, but does it make up for living on pins and needles from June through October, staring out into the tropical Caribbean, hoping for the best? Not sure…

Sunday night IR Satellite Image showing a small, compact, tightly-wound Tropical Storm Claudette pushing ashore over the Florida panhandle.

Yes, we see an awful lot of weather up here, I will probably never be at a loss for things to talk about. But I can’t, in my darkest dreams, imagine watching a Texas-size storm pinwheeling toward my house, and not having a thing I can do about it (other than evacuate at the appropriate time).

So Tropical Storm Claudette is coming ashore over the Florida Panhandle this morning with 50 mph winds and some 3-5 foot seas, up to half a foot of rainwater may flood Mobile and Pensacola today as this tropical system pushes inland. Meanwhile Ana is weakening over the Lesser Antilles, still a few days away from Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands. Bill is more impressive, on its way to becoming a hurricane, possibly side-swiping Bermuda next weekend; a family of Canadian cool fronts probably keeping Bill’s 120-140 mph winds safely out at sea, a threat to ships and slow-moving whales.

I don’t know – that just helps to put things into perspective for me. A little like the George Carlin monologue.

“Checking my Hippy Dippy Radar I see some Soviet SS20 (missiles) so don’t sweat the thundershowers!”

After talking about hurricane potential, storm categories and whether or not millions of people will have to be evacuated, it seems a bit anticlimactic chatting about dew point, drought relief or the odds of feeling hot & sticky for the Minnesota State Fair.

Good news: the pattern seems to, in fact, be shifting – for the better. The drought does seem to be easing, the rains have returned in recent weeks, the showers and T-storms we should have experienced much of June and July have finally decided to show up, now that summer is mostly over. The drought won’t ease overnight – it will take 3-6 months to pull out of this dry rut, maybe longer.

August Rainfall to date

St. Cloud: 3.12″ (+1.24″)

Twin Cities (MSP Airport): 3.73″ (+1.56″)

Eden Prairie: 5.05″ (+2.88″)

St. Paul: 3.85″ (+1.68″)

Why the improvement in the moisture department? Instead of prevailing winds blowing from the west to northwest, out of Canada, forcing wet storms to detour well south of Minnesota much of July, our steering winds are now more variable, switching around from southerly to westerly to northwesterly, back around to the southwest – all these variations helping to spark the atmospheric shoving matches necessary to squeeze out significant moisture. Hopefully this is not a fluke, but a trend, and we’ll continue to see slow, steady improvement in the coming months, but any kind of widespread end of the drought probably won’t happen until sometime in 2010. And remember, I’m the naive optimist.

WRF/NMM Predicted Rainfall from 7 am to 1 pm today – dry weather prevails across Minnesota during the morning and midday hours, the atmosphere still quite dry (and stable).

WRF/NMM Rainfall Prediction from 1 pm to 7 pm today, hinting STRONGLY at more showers, and possible T-showers firing up in response to the sun’s heating of the ground and a fairly strong “lapse rate” overhead, temperatures cooling with altitude faster than usual. A 30-45 minute shower or T-shower is possible later today, but I don’t expect an all-day rain.

WRF/NMM Projected Temperatures at 7 pm this evening. Note late-day readings near 80 over Mankato, but holding in the 50s over far northern Minnesota, a 25 degree temperature contrast from north to south whipping up west/southwest winds as high as 20-25 mph. later this afternoon.

The front that sparked Sunday’s heavy, wind-whipped showers and northwest gusts to 30 mph (tell me the truth, do you think Tiger Woods was a little freaked out about our weather yesterday? I swear it helped to contribute to his shaky putts and drives toward the end) is long gone – northwest winds behind this wind-shift line pumping cooler, cleaner, more comfortable Canadian air back into Minnesota. The sun should be out this morning and most of Tuesday, temperatures fairly close to average for mid August. A few instability showers, even a stray T-shower may sprout this afternoon, especially over the northwestern half of Minnesota. Tomorrow looks sunnier, drier (and more stable – probably no late-day convection popping up). Computer models print out nearly a half an inch of rain Wednesday with showers lingering into Thursday, an unusually cool wrinkle of air may have us reaching for light jackets and sweatshirts late in the week, especially up north. But conditions slowly improve over the weekend with sunshine on the increase, temperatures mellowing – Sunday probably the warmer, more lake-worthy day the way things look right now.

The odds of severe T-storms are fairly small; low-level moisture will be sparse, the fuel necessary for hail-producing storms not present in sufficient quantities. I guess I could see some pea or marble-size hail with a few storms Wednesday and Thursday, but probably nothing bumping up against the 1″ diameter (quarter-size) threshold.

An early morning celestial sight!

This morning, Aug. 17th, Venus and the crescent Moon will gather in the eastern sky for a beautiful close encounter. For many observers in North America, the International Space Station (ISS) will make an appearance, too. It’s a dynamite way to begin your day. (credit:

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