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Flood Alert 03/04/2013

Posted by zoidion in Weather.
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Twin Cities ephemera: A succession of brilliant sunny days, just a bit above the freezing mark, with nights in the twenties, has greatly slowed the melt after last week’s rapid loss of snow cover. I always find it astounding how quickly the meltdown takes place—in years when there is snow to melt. But days are long and still getting longer, and the sun is as high in the sky as in early September—so no wonder.

The temperature reached into the mid-forties on the 29th, and at least the low fifties on the 30th, after a thunderstorm early on the morning of the 30th. Not a lot of rain fell: about a quarter-inch. At dawn on the 31st, the temperature was barely above freezing, then a blustery north wind blew away the clouds to usher in this week’s weather regime.

The back yard became a rubber-boot realm as I dashed around during the afternoon of the 29th, telling the tree cutting crew where to stack the big rounds and long skinny branches from the silver maple. I made sure they didn’t pile any near the stake that marks the comfrey plant that I introduced three years ago; I expect it will be a lot happier now in its newly sunny location. But I’ve had a lot of work to do, “processing” a lot of debris: the big and medium-size wood will go, eventually, into the firewood pile, while the skinny stuff will go into hugelkultur trenches that I’ll dig by hand—that will require some careful pacing.

March was a snowy month, and a cold one—the coldest in eleven years: five to ten degrees below normal across the upper Mississippi River / western Great Lakes / northern plains region. That has set the stage for potentially major flooding, particularly in the ultra-flat, slow-to-drain region of the northward-flowing Red River. (Paul Douglas has posted a two-minute summary of prospects for snowmelt flooding.) The upper (southern) Red River area still has snow containing four to six inches of water equivalent perched on the frozen ground. A warm shock with a heavy rain could precipitate major problems. The Bismarck Tribune puts homeowners’ situation in perspective:

As North Dakota faces another possible major flood this spring, federal officials are frustrated by the number of people in the state who lack insurance for such a disaster. Along the Red River and its tributaries in flood-prone Fargo and Cass County, the number of insurance policies dropped by more than 40 percent from 2011-12, FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] officials said. Residents there have battled flooding for five of the last seven years. “It’s an amazing phenomenon how people can go through these things, then drop their flood insurance and try to buy it back in time,” FEMA spokesman Dave Kyner said. “I guess that’s one of the most frustrating things for us here.” Flood policies in all of North Dakota declined 32 percent, which coincided with a dry year throughout the state. Policies must be in effect for 30 days for flood damage to be covered.

But are those without flood insurance generally being casual about the risk? I doubt it. Affordability is likely the issue. And how can many, even most, of those living in the flood plain remain there, in an era when subsidies such as federal flood insurance are drying up—so to speak? I expect a distinct trend of out-migration. And as the expected depletion rates in the Bakken region of western North Dakota take hold, expect even more. Perhaps then there will be renewed talk of consolidating the sparsely-settled Dakotas.

Jovian: That is the characterization for this past week, the one that in retrospect will likely stand out as most typical of the season. The primarily fair weather with a bump in temperature, followed by a markedly cooler stretch, reflects the predominance of the “Jupiter effect” outlined in the “Winter Won’t Quit” post’s outline for this spring. On the 30th March, the Sun reached the sextile, or sixty-degree point, in relation to Jupiter in the seasonal temperature chart, and on the 1st April, the Sun crossed the lower meridian of that chart; those dates coincided with clearing after brief rain and the shift to cold, clear and breezy conditions. (Also on the 1st, Jupiter crossed the lower meridian.)

As George McCormack pointed out in A Text-Book of Long-Range Weather Forecasting, the hallmark of Jovian influence is “northerly winds of moderate velocity and fine weather.”

But indications of the current week of the fourth quarter lunation (see chart below) are for significant rains—cold, driving rains: bad but not quite the worst conditions for areas with, or downstream from, much remaining snow-pack.


The core of the fourth-quarter interpretation is water sign Pisces on the lower meridian, with windy Mercury right on the meridian; in addition, water sign Scorpio rises. The Moon is in cold, stormy Capricorn, making close angular connections with Mercury, Venus, Mars and Saturn (the latter’s significance augmented by being “lord” of Capricorn). The chart is little different whether cast for the Twin Cities or the Red River valley; the difference is in the terrain.

The recent period of Mercury’s retrograde phase means that Mercury remains in Pisces for a rather long time: 5 February to 13 April. The Mercury ingress-into-Pisces configuration remains in effect, and the main feature is a close conjunction of Mercury, Mars and Neptune. Pisces is not an especially windy sign—such as Gemini and Virgo, where Mercury is “lord”—but destructive water where the terrain is conducive, complicated by wind, is now ready to move. The wind (Mercury) chart’s layout—where Mercury-Mars-Neptune are close to the horizon—is additionally indicative of vulnerability.

The key element of rain in this equation calls crucial attention back to the lunation chart. And the timing? C. C. Zain is rather explicit: “The Moon . . . aspects to the Ascendant are of prime importance in predicting the days, and the time of day, when rain may be expected. . . . The conjunction and opposition of the Moon to the Ascendant of the Moisture Chart are most powerful to precipitate moisture. . . . Then come the square [ninety degrees] and the trine [one-hundred-and-twenty degrees].” (Weather Predicting, p. 26)

If that principle is to bear out in this situation, the conjunction and opposition are out of the picture, leaving the lunar square (before sunrise on the 6th) and trine (late morning of the 8th) as the possibilities. To me, the 6th seems more likely: the Moon shifting into watery Pisces.

The week following the New Moon on the 10th looks like another Jovian fair-weather period: a breather for surveying the damage, and, for many people, considering whether they have the will and the resources to continue with disrupted lives in place. A tough call.

(The Farmers’ Almanac for the period of the 4th-7th calls for “a wet spell” for the Great Lakes / Midwest region, and for the North Central: “Pleasant at first, then showers move over the Rockies and Plains, followed by fair skies.” Paul Douglas forecasts: “Heavier, steadier rain possible next Tuesday PM [the 9th] into Wednesday [the 10th] as we slide into a wetter pattern. Paul Huttner’s “Updraft” blog notes the probability of a “soaking rain” Friday the 6th into Saturday the 7th.)



1. David R. Roell - 04/04/2013

Hello Pete, Outstanding work for what we’ve all been curious about. I confess the details of weather forecasting are beyond me, i am impressed that you’ve picked it up.

We are elsewhere told that North Dakota has an outstanding state-run bank and that we should copy it, but in five years, no one has. Instead it looks as if we will see another round of emigration from the state. I wish them luck finding someplace to go.


zoidion - 05/04/2013

Hello Dave,
Thanks. While the principles seem easy to grasp, the details, especially of timing, seem difficult. McCormack did an amazing job with principles and examples, but he didn’t proceed with a season or year’s weather unfoldment. Zain went through the details—for L.A.: way too different a climate for me to translate to my area.
As folks witness and wrestle with the unraveling of the economic system, quite a few, I gather, are studying the ND state bank and looking for political ways to implement something similar in other states. I don’t have much sense of how those efforts are moving.
Take care,

2. starjoy967@aol.com - 04/04/2013

An interesting read…wondering how you got interested in weather, but I suppose it’s a long story…………M

zoidion - 05/04/2013

Thanks. It needn’t be a long story. Even as a kid, I was fascinated by the weather, and dreamed of becoming a “weatherman”–but I didn’t follow through on that. I love studying the sky; for example, yesterday morning I was about to drive to a friend’s house to pick him up for a daytrip, and noticed clouds that said “showers.” My friend hadn’t looked at the sky and was quite disbelieving until he switched on his “app” and saw the radar showing a thin line of showers moving through the area. The night before and the rest of the day were quite clear. That’s the kind of stuff that gives me a charge–and I got to marvel at the still nearly ice-full Lake Pepin, the part of the Mississippi River that sediment from the Chippewa River dammed up.

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