Free AC; Drought to flood in 3 weeks; Why siren “policy” needs to change

Blustery and refreshingly cooler today

Gusty winds W-NW 15-30 mph today

Whitecaps on Minnesota lakes today

Quick look forecast: (Click to enlarge)

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Source: Twin Cities NWS

9.34″ May rainfall at MSP Airport

4″ to 7″ rainfall reports near Brainerd last weekend

Docks under water on Gull Lake Chain near Brainerd

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Docks under water on Lake Margaret (Gull Chain) near Brainerd on Memorial Day.

Credit: Donn Johnson – Lake Shore Villages

Drought to flood in 3 weeks in a good chunk of Minnesota

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Source: Getty Images

Sirens sounded Sunday around the metro, but what did they mean?

April Flashback: Free AC this week

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Source: Twin Cities NWS

Just when you thought summer might take hold Sunday with temps in the 90s, our next cold front swept in with vivid lightning, thunder, heavy rain and a cooler breeze.

We’ll (enjoy?) free AC this week. Look for gusty winds today, and sizeable waves and whitecaps on Minnesota lakes. Cool air aloft will keep the atmosphere irritable, and that means puffy white cumulus clouds will build as the day wears on. Showers will be numerous in northern Minnesota, and scattered in the south. Don’t like the sky/weather? Just wait 15 minutes and it will change today.

From drought to flood in 3 short weeks

We’ve just witnessed a remarkable turn of weather events in Minnesota. We’ve literally gone from drought and high fire danger, to flood…with rivers spilling over and docks under water in just 3 weeks in a good chunk of Minnesota.

This is already the wettest may on record for several Minnesota locations. Floodwood, Mora, Chanhassen and Forest Lake have broken May rainfall records with over 9″ of rain this month. The 9.34″ at MSP Airport ranks as the 2nd wettest, just about 1″ behind the wettest May (10.33″) in 1906.

The Brainerd area was the target for heavy rainfall last weekend. The Gull lake Chain rose quickly and created instant “floating docks” at the LSVA condo complex on Lake Margaret on the Gull Chain. There’s a lot of extra work for lakeshore owners this year in Minnesota with rapidly rising water levels!

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Sunday rainfall over 4″ pounded the Brainerd Lakes area.

Source: NOAA

Check out how quickly Minnesota has gone from drought to flood.

91% of Minnesota in drought (D1-D4) on April 3rd

60% of Minnesota in drought on May 1st

10% of Minnesota in drought as of May 8th

Numerous Flood Warnings and docks under water on May 27th

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Source: U.S. Drought Monitor

This is why it’s dangerous (and not scientifically credible) to blast out headlines touting any specific weather pattern (drought/flood/cold/snow) will last for days, weeks, months, all of 2012 etc. The “state of the science” of meteorology just doesn’t allow us to say what weather patterns will hold for a month, summer or season. Last winter’s record warmth after predictions of a bitterly cold winter, and this spring’s rapid turnaround are proof.

Weather in Minnesota can turn on a dime. We’ve literally gone from 0 to 60, from one “extreme” to another in a few days in Minnesota this year!

Sunday Sirens: What did they mean?

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Source: NOAA

Sunday’s storms blew up pretty quickly. I was out on Lake Minnetonka Sunday afternoon with a few hundred other “boating enthusiasts” as cumulus towers began to build and the skies began to darken to the south.

We headed for shore, and by the time we got home the sirens were sounding in Excelsior. There were also reports of sirens blaring in Eden Prairie and Minneapolis.

I was a bit surprised by this, as no tornado warnings had been issued, no funnels or tornadoes had been sighted. My son was also on the lake, and called me confused as to why the sirens were going off. Several MPR listener tweets Sunday expressed the same confusion. Sirens were blaring, but what did they mean?

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(By the way I really appreciate the specific reports and tweets during severe weather! I hope you understand I’m seriously multi tasking and can’t possibly reply to most of them during live severe weather coverage.)

Sunday was a great example of why I believe siren policy in Minnesota has to change. Sirens around Minnesota are owned and operated by local communities or counties, not the State of Minnesota or the NWS. Local communities make the call on when…and why to sound the sirens. That makes for a confusing patchwork of reasons that you may hear a siren during severe weather.

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Source: Twin Cities NWS

Did Sunday’s sirens mean get off the lake? Did it mean there was a tornado? A severe thunderstorm warning? Enemy attack? Chemical spill? The sirens created quite a bit of confusion Sunday at a time when clarity of message was needed.

That’s why I feel strongly that we need to look at developing a uniform policy for sounding sirens in Minnesota. When we hear a siren, we should know what it means. Why not develop a uniform policy that tells people exactly what a siren means?

We have the capability to sound different types of siren alerts. We could conceivably come up with a few simple siren alerts that have clear meaning. Short burst = local/national emergency or enemy attack? Long 3 minute wail = damaging winds or tornado? etc.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers today, but it seems an initiative from state and local Homeland Security, NWS, and media could come up with a simple, easy to understand uniform siren code so that everybody will know what a siren means when we hear it. Why not convene a “siren committee” to come up with the next generation of siren alerts? (Sirens 2.0)

We could then trot out a PR campaign with a nifty little jingle to help the public remember. Does anyone remember the “Weatherball” song?

I would be happy to lend some of my energy, MPR air time and Updraft blog space to promote a new siren policy that makes sense for Minnesota.

It’s 2012 people. We have smart phones that can basically cook you breakfast, cable/satellite/high speed broadband, WiFi and even robotic Roomba vacuums that will buzz about and clean your floors while you sleep.

Maybe it’s time to look at bringing our “siren policy” into the 21st century?

What do you think? Here’s a chance to let our siren policy makers at the local and state level know.

PH