Insane Tornado Video From Insane Videographers

I just watched video of a large tornado bearing down on a temporary oil-boom shantytown near Watford, ND on May 26, 2014.  The video was recorded by a guy living in one of the trailers that serves as housing for men working the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota.  While no one was killed, 9 people living in the trailers were injured by the tornado.

As you watch the video below (language NSFW) you'll hear some guys laughing about the situation they find themselves in.  I'm not going to fault them for that -- my life has never truly been in danger, so I can't say if I would laugh nervously or not.  But this does highlight an ongoing & bigger problem when it comes to protecting yourself from severe weather.

Mobile homes and trailers are NEVER a safe place to be during a tornado or severe thunderstorm with destructive winds.  In this case, I feel these guys were justified in leaving their temporary homes behind; I, too, would have chosen to take my chances in the steel safety cage and seatbelts provided by a vehicle.  In fact, in 2009, the American Red Cross and National Weather Service jointly released a tornado-safety statement that advises -- ONLY in the event that an underground storm shelter isn't available -- to get into a vehicle, buckle your seat belt and try to drive to the closest sturdy shelter.

However, it boggles my mind that these guys stopped their truck and recorded the tornado;  there's no other way to describe it -- that's plain foolish.

I'm left with a few questions; why didn't these guys just drive away from the tornado?  Did they freeze from fear?  Knowing they were in such a vulnerable position, with no permanent buildings in which to seek refuge, why didn't they evacuate the work camp when a tornado warning was issued?  Did they not have access to National Weather Service warning information?

And, most importantly, do you know where you would seek shelter if a tornado hit where you work or go to school?  A lot of us have a plan to take cover at home... but now is the time to have a plan in mind for other locations, too.  It is, after all, tornado season around here.

A Big, Gay Thank You!

The second annual GiveOUT Day is over... but not before your generosity overwhelmed (and briefly crashed!) the web server that processes donations. :)  It's amazing what you accomplished, and I can't thank you enough for your help.

By the numbers, the 2014 campaign raised $1,016,623 from 12,847 unique donors; the Greater Twin Cities United Way Arise Project, alone, raised $17,708 from 244 donors, including a $4,500 bonus for having the second-highest number of unique donors of any cause in Minnesota.

I am honored that $4,735 of that amount was collected on my donation page which, for the second year in a row, made me the top fundraiser for Arise.  Thank you for your generosity!

If you missed the opportunity to give to GiveOUT Day this year, there is still a chance to help the Arise Project.  They are hosting a Twin Cities Gay Pride Parade viewing party at Rosa Mexicano on June 29, 2014 from 10am to 1pm.  Purchasing a ticket to this event will get you a congestion-free street-side view of the parade as it goes down Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis, and proceeds benefit the Arise Project.  Click here to learn more about the event, and to buy tickets.

Misery Loves Company

There's a lot that you can say about this winter.  Some of the words are even fit for print.  While it's undeniable that many of us have had our fill of the cold, spring-winter (I call it 'Sprinter') has been a boon for at least some industries across Minnesota & Wisconsin.

Take, for example, the ski industry.  Lutsen Mountains, on the North Shore of Lake Superior, picked up at least a foot of new snow on Friday April 25th. They will be open for weekend skiing through May 4th -- the first time in their history that lifts have been spinning during the month of May.  At the same time, Vail, Colorado, ski slopes closed over a week ago.  The outdoor & snow-sports industry did suffer slower business during the incredibly cold months of January and February, though, so this extended cold-weather season might simply end up offsetting financial losses related to the cold.

So, while snowplow contractors, energy companies, and movies-on-demand services probably fattened their bottom lines this winter, WCCO's Bill Hudson tells us that the overall economic impact was negative.

"Negative" doesn't even begin to describe how most of us feel about the prospect of more cold.  To put things in perspective, I looked at Twin Cities temperatures for December 1st through today, April 29th; 150 days, total.  During that time, believe it or not, we set no low temperature records.

High temperatures, though, are a different story. During that same period:
     - 2 record-cold high temperatures were set
     - 54 out of 150 days featured high temperatures at least 15° below average
     - 73 out of 150 days featured high temperatures at least 10° below average (almost half!)

And now... heeeeer's sprinter!  A few more "fun" facts for you:
    - 1.74" of rain fell in the Twin Cities on Sunday April 27th, making it the rainiest day since July 13th, 2013 and the wettest April day since 2001
    - This has already been the 2nd wettest April on record in the Twin Cities; if today's rainfall pushes the monthly total to 7.01" or above this will be the wettest April on record
    - The Twin Cities has received more rainfall during the month of April than fell for the entire three preceding months

On average, lakes are icing out about a week earlier than they did last year (one of the latest ice-out years on record for many lakes).  And, again, there are some pretty spectacular sights... like this ice shove on Lake Mille Lacs.  Gorgeous... unless that's your house.

An ice shove on Lake Mille Lacs, courtesy of viewer Delores Beert.

An ice shove on Lake Mille Lacs, courtesy of viewer Delores Beert.


1° of Separation

Well, that was unpleasant.

This morning's mix of wintery precipitation prompted a round of "what is this stuff falling from the sky?" on Twitter and Facebook... and it's a good question.  We all know what rain and snow look like, but it can be harder to identify the 3 different types of precipitation that aren't quite rain and aren't quite snow.  First, some background.

Sleet forms when snow falls through a layer of warm air, causing it to melt, and then back into a layer of sub-freezing air that causes it to re-freeze into a pellet of ice.

Sleet forms when snow falls through a layer of warm air, causing it to melt, and then back into a layer of sub-freezing air that causes it to re-freeze into a pellet of ice.

Sleet falls from the sky as solid ice pellets that look like pebbles or large grains of sand.  It  accumulates more like snow, in that it tends to bounce off of things like tree limbs and power lines.  In order for sleet to form, there must be a layer of warm air overhead, sandwiched between 2 deep layers of sub-freezing air.  Snowflakes falling into the warm layer will either partially or completely melt before refreezing into little ice balls.  Sleet is different from hail, which only form in the presence of a thunderstorm.

Freezing rain forms when liquid water falls into a shallow layer of sub-freezing air, and freezes into a glaze of ice on contact with the ground.

Freezing rain forms when liquid water falls into a shallow layer of sub-freezing air, and freezes into a glaze of ice on contact with the ground.

As its name implies, freezing rain falls from the sky as liquid and then freezes into a glaze of ice on contact with the ground or other objects.  Freezing rain can form in one of two ways; when snowflakes fall through a layer of warm air, melt completely, and then encounter a shallow layer of sub-freezing air right near the ground, or when rain falls from a cloud and meets a shallow ground-based layer of sub-freezing air.  In both cases, the ice that forms can stick to tree limbs and power lines, creating the potential for power outages.


So, while some freezing rain fell early this morning in the Twin Cities, most of what pelted us in the face was sleet.  Some of you asked if a third type of precipitation -- graupel -- was falling today.  The answer is no, and here's why.  Graupel looks a lot like sleet but has a softer more "spongy" consistency, owing to how it forms.  Whereas sleet exists as a water droplet at some point during its trip down from the clouds, graupel partially retains its identity as a snowflake for most of the trip.  These snowflakes encounter a layer of water (or water vapor) in a sub-freezing environment; so-called "supercooled" water droplets.  This water deposits itself as an ice glaze on the outside of the snowflake, effective encapsulating it.  That's graupel.

Twice daily, at 7am CDT and 7pm CDT, the National Weather Service in Chanhassen launches a weather balloon to create a "sounding" of the atmosphere above. From that sounding we can determine how temperatures change overhead, and where any warm layers may be.  This morning's 7am sounding showed a layer of above-freezing air overhead (circled in red).  The warm layer began about 4,300 feet overhead and was about 2,000 feet deep; deep enough to melt falling snowflakes, and far enough off the ground to allow them to re-freeze.  Hence, sleet.