Pull Huttner on Statewide Weather and Rare Geomagnetic Storm

CATHY WURZER: Do you remember when it was hot in June and July? Not so much here in August. Joining us at this time is MPR Chief Meteorologist Paul Huttner with what’s happening in our weather world. Hi Paul. Happy to see you again.

PAUL HUTTNER: Hi, Cathy. Thanks. What a beautiful day.

CATHY WURZER: It’s lovely. Here, I thought it was going to rain and then we were going to be stuck with– when I say, stuck with, we need the rain. But I thought we were going to be under umbrellas here for the next few days. But today turned out to be quite nice.

PAUL HUTTNER: Yes. There are some showers as you mentioned a few minutes ago, mostly around Grantsburg and Siren, Wisconsin to Hayward, Spooner. They’re drifting southeast, but I don’t think they’ll cut through the Twin Cities today. But our chances of rain will increase, especially tomorrow.

We will see still scattered but more numerous showers and thunderstorms around central and southern Minnesota. And even Friday, many areas could get between a half inch and an inch of rain by the time it ends early Saturday. Sunday looks like this weekend’s beautiful day – mostly sunny with highs of around 80.

CATHY WURZER: Say, I noticed something: Northern Minnesota has had significant rainfall this year. And there was an interesting story in the Star Tribune about how climate change is affecting precipitation patterns in the north and what that means for some lakes in the chain – some of these mining lakes are about to overflow.

PAUL HUTTNER: Yes. And you know what? I think Rainy Lake and the flooding there this spring is a signal for Minnesota. Because the climate changes our precipitation patterns in Minnesota. Here’s the big picture if you think about it this way – Minnesota has a general wetter trend with climate change.

We are warmer. There is more water vapor in the air. And that increases rainfall in general. Statewide, if you look at numbers from the Minnesota DNR Climate Task Force, Minnesota has been about three degrees warmer and 3 and a half inches wetter in precipitation every year since 1895. And most of that trend has accelerated in recent decades – the 10 hottest and wettest years have all occurred since 1998.

We’re also getting these heavier rains — these extreme rains, over 3 inches, which are increasing. And winter precipitation has increased by 15% in Duluth, for example, in the last 30-year normal update alone. So this has happened in the last 10 to 30 years only. And here’s the irony, Cathy– a lot of that is more snow up north.

Because even though the winters are warmer, it’s still cold enough for snow and that extra water vapor pushes out those deeper layers of snow. So when you have a situation like the one we had this spring in the north–and it happened on the North Shore as well, as I know you well know–a thicker snowpack, a rapid spring warming and then you put in a heavier spring and summer on top of that you can have these flash flood events that really go beyond what was predicted or modeled when some of these lakes were developed during of the past 50 years.

And it’s just common sense to say that we’re going to have extreme precipitation and runoff events that can overwhelm these mining lakes and, indeed, other northern Minnesota lakes. This is why there is concern about potentially catastrophic events as our climate continues to shift into high gear with this precipitation and snowfall.

CATHY WURZER: And some of these mine lakes are quite deep. So to think about that is staggering, really.

PAUL HUTTNER: Yes, it’s remarkable.

CATHY WURZER: I’m curious — let’s move on and talk about the crop report, because we’ve had recent rains. Then I hope it helped the crops.

PAUL HUTTNER: It does according to this week’s report. These come out Monday and assess rainfall and conditions across the state. And the line that caught my eye, row crops looking better after recent rains, from this week’s Minnesota Crop Report.

There were a few 2-4 inch bands of rain in the past week – one of the Southwest Twin Cities. I was a little over 2 inches here at the Southwest Metro Weather Lab. And then go west on Hwy 212 to Olivia, toward Granite Falls, 2-4 inches.

Another area of ​​southern Minnesota along I-90, 2-4+ inches. And then there were a lot of areas that got an inch or two. Thus, these areas that had been very dry received very critical and much needed rainfall at this time of year. And looking ahead, models with this system this week indicate widespread rainfall of about a half inch to 1 inch, possibly locally 2 inches to the north. So yes, it has been dry this summer in many places. But crops are doing well in most areas – over 60% of corn and soybeans are in good to excellent condition.

CATHY WURZER: Which is good news. Well, Sven Sungard and I were talking about the Northern Lights this morning on Morning Edition. And I, of course, admitted to spending years chasing the Northern Lights. I never saw them in Minnesota. What the hell? So it looks like we have a chance tonight. Is it correct?

PAUL HUTTNER: Yes, we do. And you’re right, the Northern Lights are hard to predict and hard to predict. But the NOAA Space Weather Center, where, by the way, I would love to work there one day, sounds like a really cool place.


PAUL HUTTNER: They’ve been tracking these bursts — the solar storms, these coronal mass ejections from the sun as they come toward Earth. And they actually call this one a CME cannibal. It means two of those things and one of them catches up with the other and kind of devours it, but potentially turns it into a bigger storm.

And the best chance is tonight overnight. Now we are going to have clouds and lots in central and northern Minnesota, but southern Minnesota is partly cloudy. So I think we will see breaks. So anytime tonight, it could happen. We could see Northern Lights and they say it could be as far south as Iowa, potentially.

But you’re right, it’s hard to see, especially if you’re near city lights. So if you can get into a dark part of the country, that’s the best way to see them, Cathy. I haven’t seen them for a long time. I remember a time in the late 80s, early 90s when they were just plain crisp on a winter night. It was the most amazing thing I have ever seen.

CATHY WURZER: Have you seen them in Minnesota?

PAUL HUTTNER: Yes, I did. It was actually from some of our old friends from WCCO. There was a house party where we were playing music and we all went out and stayed there. It was phenomenal.

CATHY WURZER: Wow. What a good memory. Alright, Paul Huttner, I appreciate it. Thanks a lot.

PAUL HUTTNER: Thank you, Cathy. Have a nice day.

CATHY WURZER: You too. Paul Huttner, of course, our chief meteorologist here at MPR News. You can listen to Paul and Tom Crann later this afternoon on All Things Considered. Also check out The Updraft blog at mprnews.org for weather updates.

And Paul Huttner does the Climate Cast – great news and science on climate change. Check this wherever you get your podcasts.



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