Welcome to Minnesota. Land of 10,000 Lakes and pristine deep blue summer skies.
Not so much.
The sky over the land of sky-tinted water is a pasty white these days. It’s like somebody took a big sheet of wax paper and pulled it across the Minnesota sky.
The culprit? An elevated thick smoke plume driven by raging wildfires in Canada’s Northwest Territories.
The massive fires are spawning billowing pyrocumulus clouds high into the Arctic sky.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s satellites can see the plume from space. Here’s NOAA’s smoke viewer showing the plume drifting southward right over Minnesota.
The smoke plume has traveled about 1,500 miles to reach Minnesota.
Smoke particles are especially good at filtering out blues in the visible light spectrum. The result can be vivid reddish tones at sunset, and sunrise.
Here’s a good description from NASA.
As the Sun gets lower in the sky, its light passes through more of the atmosphere to reach you. Even more of the blue and violet light is scattered, allowing the reds and yellows to pass straight through to your eyes without all that competition from the blues.
Also, larger particles of dust, pollution, and water vapor in the atmosphere reflect and scatter more of the reds and yellows, sometimes making the whole western sky glow red.
Keep an eye out for reddish sunsets and sunrises the next few days if the smoke plume hang around.
Climate change connection?
It’s called a feedback loop. The theory loosely goes something like this.
- More heat, less snow = more wildfires.
- More fires = more wildfire soot blown aloft into the Arctic.
- Faster snow melt and Arctic warming may = altered jet streams and bring more heat to northern latitudes.
- More heat in northern forests = more wildfires.
Climate Central has a look at how Canada’s wildfires this year are the latest sign of a longer term trend, a big ramp up in large fires in the North American West that may be driven by –and accelerating — climate change.
The amount of acres burned in the Northwest Territories is six times greater than the 25-year average to-date according to data from the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center.
Boreal forests like those in the Northwest Territories are burning at rates “unprecedented” in the past 10,000 years according to the authors of a study put out last year. The northern reaches of the globe are warming at twice the rate as areas closer to the equator, and those hotter conditions are contributing to more widespread burns.
The combined boreal forests of Canada, Europe, Russia and Alaska, account for 30 percent of the world’s carbon stored in land, carbon that’s taken up to centuries to store. Forest fires like those currently raging in the Northwest Territories, as well as ones in 2012 and 2013 in Russia, can release that stored carbon into the atmosphere and contribute to global warming. Warmer temperatures can in turn create a feedback loop, priming forests for wildfires that release more carbon into the atmosphere and cause more warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s landmark climate report released earlier this year indicates that for every 1.8°F rise in temperatures, wildfire activity is expected to double.
In addition, soot from forest fires can also darken ice in the Arctic and melt it faster. The 2012 fires in Siberia released so much soot that they helped create a shocking melt of Greenland’s ice sheet. Over the course of a few weeks in July that year, 95 percent of the surface melted. That could become a yearly occurrence by 2100 if temperatures continue to rise along with wildfire activity.
Forecast: Status quo for now
Smoke aside, the weather maps look more like summer; temperatures in the low 80s warm a few degrees for a summery weekend ahead.
Rainy rerun in August?
Our mostly dry forecast with a few scattered thundershowers continues for now. In the longer range, the Global Forecast System seems to be locking on to a solution that could bring a return to heavy rains bay late next week.
Yesterday the GFS hinted at a significant low pressure system in Iowa with a rainfall bull’s eye over southern Minnesota, including the Twin Cities metro area. One day that far out is a blip. Two days gets our attention, but it remains to be seen if this is a model hiccup that far out.
The overall 16-day rainfall totals cranked out by the GFS has spiked dramatically in the past 48 hours. Rainfall of five inches or more in the next two weeks in the metro? It may be a fantasy, but the GFS is at again, two days in a row.