Category Archives: weather

Cool, cool rain

“April showers bring May flowers”, or so the old expression goes. A winter with very few major snow events left the Twin Cities area dry. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources issued burning bans and restrictions covering over 80% of the state. Grass fires along roadways courtesy of cigarette butts burned in the southwest corner of the state. Help is on the way with the latest round of cooler and wetter weather through the middle of next week. Some cool, cool rain has already kick started spring bulbs, greened up yellow and brown lawns, and opened leaf buds on trees. Hennepin County is finally in the low fire danger category; last Thursday the fire danger was extreme.

April Fool’s day saw the first thunderstorm of the season. It dropped needed rain but came with unwelcome high winds. Cool, dry weather persisted until yesterday. Today’s rain is enough to ensure back yard firepits get a workout when the rain finally ends. Having friends sitting around a fire, talking and joking, and enjoying some barbecued food is a wonderful change from being trapped indoors for several months.

I created a new bulb garden around the Autumn Blaze maple in the front yard and planted the bulbs last week. The twenty hyacinth and twenty tulip bulbs will take a while to poke through because of their planting depth. The fifty grape hyacinths (muscari armeniacum) should pop up quickly since the planting depth is shallower. It took three trunk loads of rocks to complete the border. Lucy would be pleased with the result. She absolutely loved spring and fall.

One treat I had over Easter weekend was watching a pair of falcons build a nest in a large cottonwood tree. Southwestern Minnesota has a surprising variety of raptor species. There are a couple of breeding pairs in the area and the mourning dove and rock pigeon population in Luverne, MN is manageable again. Turkey vultures also soared in large lazy circles overhead. The prairie is still mostly brown, but there are signs of spring and new life. Prickly pear cactus plants are less shriveled and the trees are sporting small leaves or very fat leaf buds.

While the forecast for the next couple of days is cool, wet, breezy, and windy, nicer weather soon follows. Please take the time to enjoy a nice spring day with family and friends (or a nice autumn day for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere). Having a connection to the special people in your life helps get one though the dreary and dismal days.

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In like a lion, out like a lamb?

March is a fickle month for weather. The saying that March comes “in like a lion, out like a lamb” is not necessarily true according to Farmer’s Almanac. The Old Farmer’s Almanac mentions an astrological spin by saying that Leo is rising in the east early in the month while Aries is setting in the west later in the month. February went out with a cold snap and March may begin with a measurable snow event for the Twin Cities. Maybe this storm will spare Boston? They are getting the large snowfalls this winter that we received last winter.

Since last Thursday, there has been several forecast revisions. Each revision lowered the amount of snowfall, but the last two revisions increased the amount to 1″ – 3″ for the metro with some out-state areas getting closer to 6″. On the chance that the forecast could woefully underestimate the total snowfall, which is what my aching left knee is telling me, I picked up a few grocery items tonight. Unfortunately, Lund’s no longer carries pasties, so another pot of chili is in order. I am happy I do not need to leave the house tomorrow. My still-working friends have telecommuting as an option, and they will no doubt take advantage of the technology. Most of them live outside the clutches of Comcast, so they have reliable broadband.

Anticipated sustained winds in excess of 25 mph and wind gusts to nearly 45 mph promise a miserable commute tomorrow. Even a nuisance snowfall causes traffic snarls mostly because drivers are rushed, over caffeinated, rude and distracted. At times, I wonder if driver’s licenses are consolation prizes for buying a losing scratch-off lottery ticket. A verse from “Synchronicity II” by The Police is apt for the commuters stuck in traffic:

Only the rush hour hell to face
Packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes
Contestants in a suicidal race

My hope is that they make it home safely.

March is coming in like a lion. The long-range forecasts think March may go out like a lion, too, with a disappointing number of snow icons on the calendar at AccuWeather for the last week of March. April has had some surprising snowstorms, including one in 1983 that collapsed the Metrodome roof for the third time. There are promising signs of spring, of course. The days are getting noticeably longer, even without screwing with the clocks on March 8 for Daylight Saving Time. There is more solar energy hitting the ground as evidenced by my solar lights staying on longer than a few moments. My forsythia cuttings started blooming in about two weeks. This tells me that (1) the forsythia bush survived the winter and (2) it is loaded with flower buds this year. Once the weather warms up to around 50°F for a couple of weeks, the blooming begins in earnest. The cold snaps are shorter in duration even if they are not less frigid. Many of the longer-range forecasts hint that perhaps some liquid precipitation will fall this next week.

Stay safe if you are on the roads tomorrow, even if the weather is nice. Getting home to loved ones is the best way to end a day. Those of you lucky enough to have a special someone should give that person an extra hug from those of us who do not.

forsythis cuttings in bloom

Two weeks in a vase and these forsythia cuttings are blooming.

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Brain freeze

Most people are familiar with “brain freeze“, that incredibly painful headache which occurs after ingesting ice cream or some other very cold foodstuff or beverage. The frequent and sharp cold snaps in this area are causing brain freeze of a different kind. People get headaches when they see the upcoming weather forecasts, or hear the incessant grumbling about the cold, and then their brains “freeze” or go numb to better cope. Cabin fever is nearly at pandemic levels. Some of the luckier souls booked flights to warmer areas. Those left to brave the arctic blasts piled on extra clothes and extra portions at meal time.

It gets cold in the upper Midwest during winter. Minnesota does not have a monopoly on mind-boggling and face-numbing wind chills, but for the past week, most of the coldest air keeps finding its way here. The East Coast is getting the brunt of the snow, but we’re taking on the cold. For example, Lucy’s hometown of Embarrass registered -41°F yesterday morning. About an hour later, Cotton reported -42°F. Those readings were air temperature, not wind chill. When it gets that cold, a barely perceptible breeze creates about ten extra degrees of wind chill cooling.

Some species, most famously bears, hibernate when it gets cold, but not all creatures have that luxury. Even though it was -12°F yesterday morning, a fox and a rabbit playing out the ancient saga of hunter and hunted created a ruckus audible inside the house. After a few seconds of zig zagging though the backyard and kicking up snow plumes, both parties exited the property by slipping through the three-inch gap between the gate and the gate post at full speed, though it appeared the rabbit did have a fraction of a second advantage. That meant the fox probably did not get dinner and a fur stole for its efforts. By noon the temperature rose above zero and a few squirrels ventured out looking to add to their larders. Chickadees and cardinals flitted about looking for a meal and a mate. Apparently, hunger and hormones clear brain freeze quickly.

For humans, not so much: I wish I had a nickel for every time I saw someone dressed in a parka, shorts and sandals yesterday afternoon. Most of the sightings were near the University of Minnesota campus, which is probably not the best advertising for its undergraduate and graduate education programs. Acts of defiance are effective only with proper forethought and belief conviction. Risking frostbite while auditioning for the Darwin Awards while hoping it goes viral on the social medium du jour merely proves cognitive dissonance.

If the number of vehicles dropping through the ice on lakes statewide is any indication, spring is on its way. The days are getting longer, the intense cold snaps are not lasting as long, and baseball spring training games start in under two weeks. Hope springs eternal, if you will pardon my pun. My management training included hearing the truism “hope is not a strategy” ad nauseam, but hope provides the starting point for a strategy. Hope is the engine that inspires a person to set a goal and devise a plan to achieve that goal. If one’s hopes pin on winning the lottery, one must first buy a ticket. Hope for the best, plan for the worst, and the result will always be somewhere in between.

Stay warm if your area is in the deep freeze. Good luck and be careful while clearing snow if your area is getting buried. No matter where you are, give your special someone an extra-long hug and enjoy the warmth. It helps thaw brain freeze faster than wearing a parka and shorts.

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Si vis ver, para hiems

A Roman writer named Vegetius wrote a book called “The Epitome of Military Science” about 1,600 years ago. One line in the book became quoted widely, although it eventually shortened to “Si vis pacum, para bellum” (If you want peace, prepare for war). The Twin Cities metro area is preparing for spring (si vis ver), but is also preparing for winter (para hiems). January was delightfully warmer than normal with a few bitterly cold days, but February to date is chiller than average. Tanker trucks are slowly driving though the neighborhoods spraying a brine solution containing salt (sodium chloride) and calcium chloride on the mostly bare streets. Winter is half over according to the calendar, but the potential for freezing drizzle and 2″ – 4″ of snowfall has the various departments of transportation taking precautions. A sign that spring is getting closer is that baseball’s spring training season begins later this month. Pitchers and catchers report later this week. We hope for a quick end to winter. Another sign of impending spring is the over/under for vehicles falling though the ice on metro area lakes in a week is now three. Thankfully, there were no deaths or injuries reported from these incidents. Las Vegas betting establishments may have an updated betting book next week. I have a feeling the number will be at least one.

Perhaps a better adage is “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst”. Many rodents stash food just in case the winter is particularly harsh. Birds seek out high fat and oil content foods starting when the days shorten. Humans in Minnesota prepare by hauling the six different weight jackets and four different styles of boots out of storage thereby replacing the shorts, sunblock and sandals that got used on the four decent summer days we see in an average year. Jumper cables, a snow shovel and a snow scraper with brush took the place of beach towels and coolers in a vehicle trunk. Grocery stores heavily advertised ice cream treats at discounted prices while increasing prices for hot beverages and soups. Airline tickets to warmer destinations climbed higher.

Thus far, the seasonal snowfall is about 40% below the 30-year average to date. After an extremely wet June which quickly took the area from moderate drought to flooding, the lack of snowfall is prompting concerns of mild drought when spring finally arrives. At this point, it does not appears the area is stocking up on sand bags to stave off potential flooding. A potential salt shortage caused by last year’s crushing snowfalls has been a non-issue this year…so far. Constructions have benefited from the lack of snow and an average number of bitterly cold days, but have also endured occasional delays to unusually strong wind.

Uncertainty in weather forecasts causes preparedness problems. Road salt costs money, requires storage space, and is effective in a narrow band of temperatures. Calcium chloride is more expensive, requires storage space, but is more effective in a wider range of temperatures. Sand and gravel require storage space, work in most temperature ranges strictly for traction, but cause in increase of windshield damage claims. Given a limited budget and limited storage space, find the most optimal balance of removal methods based on information that is wrong seemingly 60% of the time. Or better yet, find a balance that can change according to conditions and get a properly working supply chain in place. Farmers plant crops, many of which are sensitive to drought, hail, too much rain or not enough sunlight. If a long-range forecast indicates a drier than average growing season for which the crops are planned and planted accordingly, but the year is wetter than expected, the farmer receives diminished yields or total crop failure impacting an entire year’s operating revenue.

Creatures face a similar dilemma, albeit without a well-coiffed highly paid talking head showing “wowie” eye candy computer graphics and pointing to a chroma key screen for about three minutes. Gathering food is energy intensive and increases the risk of ending up as a food source for another creature. Too much food can rot, draw scavengers and cause bacterial and mold infestations leading to disease. Too little food means the creature risks starving or freezing to death. They do not have the luxury of easily gathering more or less food, and they definitely do not have the advantage of cooperation and a supply chain.We try to prepare as best we can, hoping for warmth and sunshine while preparing for blizzards and deadly cold.

Once we lose hope, no amount of preparation will help. In addition to helping our loved ones out with provisions, we also help them with our love and support. There are always unexpected and traumatic events which arise which render plans useless: health issues, unexpected unemployment, relationship problems, loss of a loved one. It is then that one finds out how supportive family is and who are the true friends. Drawing on their love and encouragement rekindles hope, and hope creates the strength to keep moving forward.

If you are fortunate enough to have a special someone in your life, take the time to give that person an extra-long hug today. There is always room in the heart for one of those, they don’t expire or decay, and they provide  immeasurable strength. For those of us who do not, please try to make someone’s day brighter. Your kindness may provide the hope the recipient thought was lost.

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Into the wild gray yonder

The holiday travel season is in full swing even with the light rain and heavy overcast here in the Twin Cities on the winter solstice. Terminal 1 at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport seemed to do brisk business today, and I am sure Terminal 2 was also busy. I dropped off a friend at the airport this evening for a flight into the wild gray yonder to visit family and friends.

Holiday travel has occasionally been fraught with peril. All the airline consolidations and the constantly changing TSA regulations create many opportunities for screw ups. Overbooking and bumping complaints are quite common. For example, my consulting collaborator had the booking airline change the flight time AND date a mere few days after purchasing the ticket in late October. The date change went unnoticed until Friday night because of a heavy work schedule. Fortunately, it was a “no harm, no foul” change, but it was still somewhat unnerving. It also stole one day away the family visit. Weather surprises cause delays and cancellations, but this seemed to be a case of overbooking a flight, and then bumping the passenger before check in to avoid offering Denied Boarding Compensation.

One of my favorite movies during this time of the year is “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”. I spent over fifteen years traveling extensively on business and occasionally fell victim to the foibles of missing a connection, getting bumped, or once (and only once) having my employer change my return ticket to ship me to another customer site rather than back home. I’m quite proud of the fact I have not been on a flight since April 2000, and I am in no hurry to end my streak. Another thing I am proud of is I never had a business trip spoil holiday plans. I would have endured a “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” trip to be home for the holidays, and came close to doing so a couple of times. Since most of my traveling was in the days before smartphones and when travel sites on the Internet were in a nascent state, I could not easily change my plans at the airport or car rental agency. It occasionally necessitated renting a car and driving an hour or two to a different airport in order to get a flight that got me home eight hours sooner.

Christmas is Thursday and many companies close early on Christmas Eve. Unsettled weather is here until Wednesday. Our current rain event might change over to snow now that all the snow has melted again. By Wednesday morning, the Twin Cities could have between 1″ – 4″ of new snow. Holiday traffic is usually slow and go, and the snow could snarl it badly. Other areas of the United States are forecasting heavy rain or heavy snow. Our forecast is a minor annoyance in comparison. Cancelled flights mean people will try booking travel on buses or renting cars to finish their trips. In some cases, the trip means spending the night in an airport terminal.

For those of you traveling into the wild gray yonder, I hope you safely arrive at your destination without any extra adventures or weather delays. Time with family and loved ones is precious, so take time to enjoy that gift. Be generous with the hugs and smiles. If you are flying, try being nice to the shower curtain ring salesman, because even well-meaning dolts need compassion, too. Just don’t let him handle your credit card.

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Drips to slips

There is a saying around here “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes”. The weather in the Twin Cities can go from a violent storm to almost perfect weather in a few short hours. It can go the other way just as quickly. Despite the notion that Minnesota is a frozen wasteland nine months (or more) of the year, it does rain in December. This year’s rain came as the Twin Cities cooled down from a record high temperature resulting it going from drips to slips in a few short hours. The storm was fairly weak with snarled thoroughfares and slick sidewalks as the only lingering side effects. The old Irish blessing starting with “May the road rise up to meet you” takes on a literal meaning when one’s feet skid outward and upward.

Some of the December rains in years past produced ice-coated landscapes resembling a glassblower’s sparkling masterpiece. One particularly ill-timed storm nearly thirty years ago stuck just before Christmas Eve. Power lines coated with a thick glazing of ice buzzed, vibrated, and sometimes snapped. Utility poles snapped from the extra weight and some roofs collapsed. Jagged chunks of ice fell from tree limbs and sometimes the tree would split. Cars that were stuck in ditches or were damaged in collisions lined the roadway. What was normally a four-hour drive became a seventeen-hour drive with stops every five miles to break the ice off the windshield and the wiper blades. It was difficult seeing the beauty outside because the side windows had a thick coating of ice on them. Perhaps the reason this area is called a “winter wonderland” because people wonder if the weather will stay nice or turn nasty.

About fifteen years ago, I remember helping a coworker with car problems in mid-December, getting soaked while hooking up jumper cables in the pouring rain. Now I keep an umbrella and rain poncho in the car year around, although the snow shovel and the ice scraper get removed when the weather warms sufficiently. “Be prepared” is a way of life here, not just a motto.

Fortunately for the Twin Cities, the forecasts are biasing towards slightly above normal temperatures and dry conditions for Christmas. It may or may not be a white Christmas this year, but people appreciate safe travels and not needing to keep an eye on the weather or needing to leave early when enjoying time with family and friends. The drips to slips weather can wait until after the holidays.

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Scrambling towards the holidays

Here in the United States, we have three major holidays between the end of November and the beginning of January: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. Christmas and New Year’s have fixed calendar dates and are exactly one week apart. The trickier holiday is Thanksgiving which Americans celebrate on the fourth Thursday of November, a date range of between the 22nd to the 28th. Obviously, the later in the month Thanksgiving falls, the fewer shopping and preparation days there are before Christmas. This year, Thanksgiving was November 27th, allowing for the second fewest number of days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Retailers are keenly aware of that fact as people are scrambling towards the holidays. Thanksgiving does not fall on November 22th again until 2018.

The weather has mostly cooperated to this point. No blizzards, no ice storms, no extended period of sub-zero Arctic air settling in, so traveling to retail establishments is mostly unimpeded. Parking lots are staying filled with shoppers racing to complete their lists, checking them twice, and trying to stuff over-sized SUVs into parking spots that are too small for mopeds. Never mind that the driver spent twenty minutes trying to park because that closer spot saved him or her a minute or two of walking. College chemistry and physics courses should show videos of quickly moving shoppers in crowded stores to visualize kinetic theory and optimal packing theory. Many retailers hope that sales meet or exceed expectations despite fewer shopping days. Increasing revenue from online shopping is apparently cannibalizing Black Friday sales, and my hope is it ends Thanksgiving day sales.

In addition to the scrambling to get shopping, decorating, baking, and housecleaning tasks completed in a shorter time, there is the end-of-year scramble beginning in mid-November. Most businesses in the United States align their fiscal years to the calendar year. There are some businesses that start their fiscal year in February, March or June to avoid completing their year-end accounting while in the throes of a peak time for business. Strategy meetings, budget requests, accounts receivables collections, sales and earnings forecasts, staffing requisitions and other business centric critical tasks require large amounts of time, caffeine, analgesics, and antacids for completion. Even those best laid plans go awry when a C-level or D-level executive asks “Can’t we just…?” while pondering a project timeline. My consulting collaborator would say those executives have a befuddled facial expression much “like a dog looking at a phonograph“. Those three little words, “can’t we just”, take about a second to say but they will add days to project completion even though the deadline is immovable. No wonder people celebrate New Year’s with particular fervor (and sometimes with copious quantities of adult libations).

My Facebook and Twitter feeds are filling with tales and pictures of this year’s baking and decorating accomplishments. I consider baking successful if the smoke detector did not go off, I did not use a fire extinguisher or first aid kit, nothing dented or broke, I only swore in English, and the result was edible. Nearly everyone posting is working full-time, and many have kids still at home, yet they found time to make lefse, krumkake, pirakkas and other delicious but time-consuming seasonal delicacies. Christmas trees lovingly decorated with heirloom ornaments and some recent additions from Hallmark adorn living rooms despite a pet’s best attempts at turning the tree into an oversize chew toy. Scrumptious cakes, pies, pastries and treats with all the calories magically removed (or so we wish) pose seductively on counter tops and tables. It is all inspiring and wonderful, so thank you for sharing!

As you are scrambling towards the holidays, take a couple of moments to breathe and to collect your thoughts. You deserve the break because you earned it. If you are lucky enough to have a special someone, give that person a long and meaningful hug, and for that precious interval, leave the scrambling to quarterbacks and eggs.

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