Courtesy ShutterSparks via FlickrToday is Groundhog Day, that special day when world-renown weather prognosticator, Punxsutawney Phil, (a groundhog, mind you) makes an appearance in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania in order to let us all know just how much more winter we'll have to suffer through. Well, this morning, Phil came out of his rodent hole at 7:25am EST, and - for whatever reason - wasn't able to see his shadow. That's good news. It means we're going to have an early spring, and I'm okay with that - I've had it with winter. But, you might wonder, just how accurate have Phil's forecasts been in the past? According to the records, Phil's been right only about 39% of the time, which probably makes him no worse than most of his colleagues in the weather forecasting game. Anyway, if you want to, you learn all about Phil and Groundhog Day at Earthsky.org. And, happy Groundhog Day!
Get out there, if you can, and watch skaters take on the insane Red Bull Crashed Ice course here in downtown St. Paul. It's a great place to watch all sorts of physics in action. And bundle up. Winter's back, suddenly, and the laws of thermodynamics apply to you, too.
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Commence crying ... now!
Why is another brutal winter likely? Well, for a couple of reasons:
Primarily, the punishing weather is coming because of your bad behavior. I'm referring specifically to your naughty language, and the way you've been taking fivers out of your mom's purse. Did you think there would be no repercussions? Unbelievable. Obviously you've offended Thor, or something. (Not Science Buzz's own Thor, Thor the weather god. Well ... maybe also Science Buzz's Thor.)
Another big reason for the prediction is the angry girl-child herself: La Niña. As you probably know, La Niña is a cyclical weather pattern, originating in the Pacific Ocean off of South America. La Niña also treats the jetstream like a plaything, generally screwing things up for people.
So, you know, enjoy.
Buzzketeers, it's a big problem.
A ginormous, hulking, frozen, messy problem.
See, here in St. Paul, we've had a very snowy winter. (As of today, it has been the seventh snowiest winter on record. And the snow season isn't over yet.) When the City plows the streets, they have to put the snow somewhere. And one of the places they put it is the parking lot of the St. Paul Saints Midway Stadium, on Energy Park Drive.
Courtesy Liza Pryor
The 550-spot parking lot is completely -- and I mean COMPLETELY -- covered with snow. It's 30, even 50, feet deep. And it goes from Energy Park Drive north to the train tracks, and from the stadium west to the end of the property. It's impressive, peeps.
Courtesy Liza Pryor
And here's the problem, friends: the St. Paul Saints season opener is May 8th. And there's no way all this snow is going to melt before then. Baseball needs its parking lot back.
So how can we get rid of the snow? Trucking it away isn't an option, and minimal use of fossil fuels is a good thing. Buzzers, it's time to go all Mythbusters here and submit your ideas. If you've got a good one, you might get to see it in action.
With breaking weather news like "Hey! It's the coldest week of this winter," and "We're only 30 inches from breaking the record for annual snow fall," I'm beginning to wonder why we Minnesotans live here. And it's only January 20th. We have another two months of winter to go. At least. Sheesh!
Coupled with the winter weather and winter wind chill advisories -- not to mention the copious snow emergencies! -- of this winter is the fact that I've been waking up in the dark for far too long and leaving work after dark as well. I don't think I quite have seasonal affective disorder yet, but I could sure use some good news on the Spring front, couldn't you??
Well, here I am to brighten your day:
The sun is already setting after 5pm! It has been since this past Monday (the 17th). Your commute and evening will be noticeably brighter over the next few weeks. By February 24th, the sun will rise by 7am in Minneapolis. That's just over a month away! There will be at least two more minutes of sunlight EACH DAY for the rest of January and most of February. By February 21st, there will be over THREE additional minutes of sunlight each day. Finally, there are only 5 months until the Summer solstice, or the longest day of the year.
Hang in there Minnesota... we've got this!
(Not from Minnesota? I'm sorry; that's too bad. But, you can find your own sunrise and sunset information using this sun calculator.)
Courtesy Mark RyanIn Homer’s epic poem, the Odyssey , the ruler of wind Aeolus gives the hero Odysseus a leather bag containing all the winds except the west wind. Odyssus keeps its contents secret but his men grow suspicious that he’s withholding treasure from them so they open the bag while Odysseus sleeps. The unleashed winds nearly destroy their ship and send it off course to the other end of the world.
In aeolian geology (sometimes spelled eolian), scientists study how landforms are created by wind, either through transportation, sedimentation, or erosion. Sand dunes, dune migration, cross-bedding, and scouring are some of the ways wind can shape the landscape. On Earth, discernible wind patterns in deserts are plainly visible from space, and similar patterns have been seen on other planets, such as Mars, leading scientists to conclude that wind played a role in forming those same landscape features there.
This informative webpage illustrates how some of it works, and how wind can be a powerful shaping force.
This same force was at work this past weekend in Minnesota. As seen in the above video, a winter blizzard barreled across the state bringing with it the usual high winds, low visibility, and drifting and blowing snow.
Courtesy Mark Ryan
Courtesy Mark Ryan
Courtesy Mark Ryan
Courtesy Mark RyanAfter the weather system moved out, it left in its wake (besides a collapsed stadium and lots of white stuff to shovel) some very cool (and familiar) aeloian shapes and patterns in the snow.With the help of the low-angled winter sun and my trusty camera, I was able to capture some of these wind-borne creations.
Lily, a 3-year-old pregnant black bear, made her den near a cabin in Ely, MN. Access to electricity, etc., meant that researchers were able to install a web cam in Lily's winter quarters. And today, their efforts may be rewarded. Biologist Lynn Rogers told the Associated Press that he thinks Lily's labor started today at around 2 pm. We should see cubs in the very near future.
Watch the live video stream for yourself. (A lot of people are trying to check it out. If you can't get through, try again later.)
Courtesy tree & j hensdill
Well, summer is officially over. The Weather Service switched to fall on September 1. The rest of the country likes to wait until the day after Labor Day. (The folks who hold out for the equinox are delusional, and best ignored.) So, it's time to update our on-going study comparing summer temperatures to winter temperatures.
For those of you just joining us, last February Buzz blogger extraordinaire Candace noted that the winter of 2008-2009 had been unusually warm. She asked if this meant the following summer would also be warm.
Well, I went to the website of the National Space Science and Technology Center, which very conveniently records the temperature for each month going back to December 1978. I crunched the numbers and found that, yes, there was a connection. Though summer temps fluctuate year-to-year, about half of that fluctuation can be tied to changes in winter temps.
Armed with this information, we anxiously awaited the temperature record from summer 2009. The results are in, and...
...well, this was obviously part of the other half. The winter of 2008-2009 was the 4th warmest in the recording period. The summer of 2009, however, was dead smack in the middle -- 16th out of 31. So disparate were these results that they actually brought down the average for the entire study period: the impact of winter temps on summer temps is now down to just 45%.
Still, for something as complicated as weather, that's a huge impact. So, while the winter-summer connection can't predict what will happen in any given year, over the long run it does still hold true.
Tune in next year for another exciting update!
Andrew Revkin, the blogger, is asking readers to send in photos or video (via Flickr or YouTube) of "...parts of your environs that you treasure, that are imperiled, or that otherwise matter." Doesn't say they have to be of New York, and Minnesotans know a thing or two about beautiful places and water in winter or both.
Last week, Candace asked whether there’s a connection between winter temperatures and summer temperatures. She noted that the winter of 2007-08 was pretty cold by recent standards, and the following summer was cool as well. Is there something going on here?
Liza searched the Web but couldn’t find anything definitive. I (after pooh-poohing the idea that this has been a warm winter – if you want to pay my heating bill, you’re welcome to it!) decided to crunch the numbers.
First, I went to this site. It records monthly average temperatures going back to December 1978.
Actually, it records temperature anomalies – whether the observed temperature in a given month is higher or lower than the average. They use the 20 years of 1979-1998 as their baseline. A reading of 1.00 means the temperature was 1 degree Centigrade (1.8 °F) warmer than expected. (One degree may not sound like much, until you realize it means 1 degree of every minute of every hour of every day. It quickly adds up to a lot of heat.) A reading of -1.00 means it was 1 degree cooler.
Using temperature anomalies is good for this exercise, as it removes the effects of global warming. Because global temperatures rose during the period under study, a “warm” winter in the late ‘70s might be considered only “average” today. In fact, that’s exactly what happened last winter. It was almost perfectly average by historical standards, but because recent winters have been so much warmer, it felt cold to us.
Getting back to Candace’s question: does a warm winter predict a warm summer? To answer this question, we have to calculate my all-time favorite statistical formula, the coefficient of correlation!
It sounds like a mouthful, but it’s a pretty easy concept to grasp. The coefficient of correlation measures how tightly two sets of numbers go together. For example, if you surveyed 100 people, and asked each one what year they were born, and how old they were, you would find that every single person born in 1990 was the exact same age. The first number (year of birth) and the second number (age) are linked together 100%.
OTOH, if you asked those people for the last digit in their telephone number, you would find no relationship whatsoever. A person born in 1990 is just as likely to have a phone number ending in 9 as ending in any other number, and the same goes for people born in every year.
Calculating the coefficient of correlation (or “coco,” as I affectionately call her), requires wading through a truly horrific battery of equations all to arrive at a number between 0 and 1. A coefficient of 1 means the two sets of numbers are perfectly synched together; a coefficient of 0 means there is no connection whatsoever.
So, I went back to the temperature data. First, I defined “winter” the same way the weather bureau does: December, January and February, the three coldest months of the year. (None of that solstice-equinox nonsense here!) I defined “summer” as the three warmest months: June, July and August, again following weather bureau standards. Using the Northern Hemisphere Land figures (sorry, they didn’t have anything Minnesota-specific), I came up with an average anomaly for every winter and every summer. I crammed the numbers into the formula, turned the crank, and came up with a coefficient of…
(drum roll, please)
OK, now what does that mean?
Well, in general, a score below 0.30 is considered inconclusive. It’s too close to zero—the “relationship” could just be random. A score between 0.30 and 0.50 is generally considered moderate—there’s a connection there, but it’s somewhat weak. A score over 0.50 is generally considered strong—there’s definitely something important going on there.
(This is especially true in highly complex systems, like weather, where a lot of different factors can affect your results. In a very simple system, you’d probably want a result much closer to 1.)
It all boils down to this: we can be more than 99% certain that, yes, there is a connection between a warm winter and a warm summer, or a cold winter and a cool summer. How much of a connection? For that, we need another figure, the coefficient of determination.
This one is much easier. Just square the coefficient of correlation. 0.71 squared yields 0.5041. That means 50% of the variability in summer temperatures is determined by the winter temperatures.
And “variability” is the key. Like I said, weather is an extremely complex system. Lots of things can affect the temperature for a day, a week, even a season. The fact that this winter is warmer than last winter does not guarantee that this coming summer will be warmer than last summer. (For example, the winter of 2003-04 was one of the warmest on record, but the following summer was one of the coolest in the study period.)
What this number does mean is, that of all the factors that will affect next summer’s temperatures, half of them seem to be connected to winter temperatures. And this winter was warmer than last winter.
Just for fun, I also ran the calculations the other way, to see if a warm summer predicts a warm winter. The coefficient of correlation was 0.54, and the coefficient of determination was 0.29. So, again, there is a connection, but it seems to b a good deal weaker.
A word of caution: one thing statisticians like to say is “correlation is not causation.” Partly because it’s fun to say, but mostly because it’s true. Just because two things are correlated does not mean one causes the other. We have not proven that warm winters cause warm summers. It could be that winter temps and summer temps are both boosted by some other factor – El Nino, perhaps. All we can say is that there is some sort of connection going on, and that it probably wouldn’t hurt to lay in some tanning cream now.