Dr. Jeff Masters' WunderBlog

Top U.S. weather story of 2009: drought hits a 10-year low

By: JeffMasters, 7:05 PM GMT en Diciembre 30, 2009

The weather gods were unusually kind to the U.S. in 2009, as the nation had no hurricane landfalls, a relatively quiet tornado season, no billion-dollar floods, and the lowest drought footprint of the decade by year's end. According to insurance giant Munich Re, the four costliest 2009 weather disasters in the U.S., not including droughts, were:

$2.5 billion: February 10 - 13 Severe weather and tornado outbreak
$2.0 billion: June 10 - 18 Severe weather and tornado outbreak
$1.7 billion: April 9 - 11 Severe weather and tornado outbreak
$1.5 billion: March 25 - 26 Severe weather and tornado outbreak


Figure 1. Lake Whitney, Texas in February 2009 (left) and July 2009 (right), after exceptional drought conditions gripped South Central Texas. Image credit: wunderphotographer Icheney44.

Costliest U.S. weather disaster of 2009: the Texas drought
The costliest U.S. weather disaster in 2009 was the Texas drought. According to preliminary estimates, the agricultural losses from the Texas drought will cost close to $4 billion. The drought actually began in 2007 - 2008, and at the beginning of 2009 (Figure 2), much of Texas was already experiencing "exceptional drought"--the highest level of drought classified by the U.S. Drought Monitor. By summer, much below-average rainfall and scorching triple-digit heat caused the exceptional drought region to expand over a large region of South Central Texas. However, by September, the southern branch of the jet stream became more active, as it typically does during strong El Niño events in the Eastern Pacific, putting southern Texas in the path of a series of drought-busting rain storms that continued into the winter. By December, just a few spots of moderate to severe drought remained in Texas. While the short-term drought is over, longer-term drought remains in Texas. Area lakes have seen only modest rises, and will take months to show significant improvements. Lake Corpus Christi was just 33% of capacity on December 26, and other South Central Texas lakes and reservoirs were between 59% and 100% of capacity. With El Niño conditions expected to continue through winter and spring, there is a good chance that Texas will enter summer 2010 free of both short and long-term drought, though.


Figure 2. What a difference a year makes: Texas began the year with exceptional drought conditions over a small region, which expanded to cover a large portion of the state in the summer. Fall and winter rains broke the drought, and by December only a few small spots of drought remained over Texas. The Southeast U.S. also began the year with widespread drought conditions, which eased by summer. However, drought conditions developed over the Desert Southwest, including most of Arizona. Image credit: U.S. Drought Monitor.

Top U.S. weather story of 2009: drought at a 10-year low
As of December 2009, the U.S. was free of "exceptional drought" for the first time since June 2008, and had the lowest levels of the two highest drought categories--"extreme" and "exceptional"--since June 2005. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor archive, the 4.24% of the country experiencing severe or higher drought conditions in December 2009 was the lowest U.S. drought footprint of the decade (Figure 3). The previous low was 4.57%, in November 2005. This is very good news, since droughts typically cost the U.S. an average of $6 - $8 billion per year, and are our costliest weather-related disasters, according to FEMA. For comparison, Floods cause an average damage of $2.4 billion per year, and hurricanes, $1 - $5 billion per year.


Figure 3. Areal coverage of drought over the Contiguous U.S. from January 2000 to December 2009. Dark red colors are the highest level of drought, "exceptional"; bright red colors include the the next highest level of drought, "extreme (D3); orange colors include the next highest level of drought, "severe" (D2); light orange colors include next highest level of drought conditions, "moderate" (D1); and yellow colors include the lowest level of drought conditions, "Abnormally Dry" (D0). At the end of 2009, the Contiguous U.S. was experiencing its lowest drought footprint of the decade. Image credit: U.S. Drought Portal, National Integrated Drought Information System.

Drought is not increasing in the U.S.
Global warming theory predicts that although global precipitation should increase in a warmer climate, droughts will also increase in intensity, areal coverage, and frequency (Dai et al., 2004). This occurs because when the normal variability of weather patterns brings a period of dry weather to a region, the increased temperatures due to global warming will intensify drought conditions by causing more evaporation and drying up of vegetation. Increased drought is my number one concern regarding climate change for both the U.S. and the world over the next forty years. Two of the three costliest U.S. weather disasters since 1980 have been droughts--the droughts of 1988 and 1980, which cost $71 billion and $55 billion, respectively. The heat waves associated with these droughts claimed over 17,000 lives, according to the National Climatic Data Center publication, Billion-Dollar Weather Disasters. Furthermore, the drought of the 1930s Dust Bowl, which left over 500,000 people homeless and devastated large areas of the Midwest, is regarded to be the third costliest U.S. weather disaster on record, behind Katrina and the 1988 drought. (Ricky Rood has an excellent book on the Dust Bowl that he recommends in his blog post from January). However, despite significantly warmer temperatures over the U.S. over the past 40 years, drought has not increased, according to the U.S. Climate Extremes Index (blue bars, Figure 4). The portion of the U.S. experiencing abnormal drought and exceptionally wet conditions has remained nearly constant at 10% over the past century. A recent paper by Andreadis et al., 2006, summed up 20th century drought in the U.S.: "Droughts have, for the most part, become shorter, less frequent, and cover a smaller portion of the country over the last century. The main exception is the Southwest and parts of the interior of the West, where, notwithstanding increased precipitation (and in some cases increased soil moisture and runoff), increased temperature has led to trends in drought characteristics that are mostly opposite to those for the rest of the country especially in the case of drought duration and severity, which have increased."


Figure 4. The Climate Extremes Index for January through November for drought (the December stats are not yet available, but the Jan - Nov numbers will not be much different). The worst U.S. droughts on record occurred in the 1930s and 1950s. There has been no trend in the amount of the U.S. covered by drought conditions (blue bars) or by abnormally moist conditions (red bars) over the past century. About 10% of the U.S. is typically covered by abnormally dry or wet conditions (black lines). Image credit: National Climatic Data Center.

References
Andreadis, K. M. Lettenmaier, D. P., "Trends in 20th century drought over the continental United States", Geo. Res. Letters 33, 10, L10403, DOI 10.1029/2006GL025711

Dai A., K.E. Trenberth, and T. Qian, 2004: A global data set of Palmer Drought Severity Index for 18702002: Relationship with soil moisture and effects of surface warming", J. Hydrometeorol., 5, 11171130.

Gleason, K.L., J.H. Lawrimore, D.H. Levinson, T.R. Karl, and D.J. Karoly, 2008: "A Revised U.S. Climate Extremes Index", J. Climate, 21, 2124-2137.

Next post
Have a great rest of the decade, everyone, and I'll be back next decade with a new post on the top global weather story of 2009 (yes, I realize that the end of the decade is really on December 31, 2010, but I'll go with the flow on this! I want to thank all of you who helped out the Portlight charity cause this year, everyone who uploaded a wunderphoto, and everyone who participated in the great community we've built here at Wunderground! I look forward to 2010.

Jeff Masters

Drought Climate Summaries

Updated: 8:28 PM GMT en Diciembre 31, 2009

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The Lost Hurricane/Typhoon Hunters VI: Typhoon Bess, October 12th, 1974

By: JeffMasters, 2:20 PM GMT en Diciembre 28, 2009

It's getting to be the end of the year, and its time to conclude the 6-part series I began earlier this year honoring the memory of the hurricane and typhoon hunter missions that never returned to base. I've made a permanent link to the series on the "Articles of Interest" section of our tropical/hurricane page.

The most recent recent loss of a Hurricane Hunter flight came on October 12, 1974. An Air Force WC-130H (tail number 65-0965, call sign Swan 38), from the 54th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron based at Anderson AFB, Guam, was lost in the South China Sea while flying Category 1 Typhoon Bess. Bess had formed east of the Philippines on October 8, then passed over northern Luzon Island on the 11th, triggering flooding and landslides that killed 29 people and caused $9 million in damage. On the 12th, Bess emerged over the South China Sea as a minimal Category 1 typhoon with 75 mph winds, and "Swan 38" was sent out to provide reconnaissance information. The aircraft had only recently arrived at the 54th WRS after having been converted to WC-130H, and had previously spent eight years assigned to combat rescue as an HC-130H. Swan 38 departed Clark Air Base in the Philippines, and successfully completed its first penetration and most of an "Alpha pattern" peripheral track. They were preparing for their second penetration, on the north side of the storm about 400 miles northwest of Clark AFB, when the last radio contact came at about 2200. An investigation board later speculated the crew was on the final leg inbound to make a second fix when they encountered some catastrophic problem. No emergency communications were received. Four days of relentless searching by rescue aircraft and two surface ships proved unsuccessful, and the six crewmen were declared missing and presumed dead. The name "Bess" was retired from the active list of typhoon names as a result of the loss, and the call sign "Swan 38" was also retired. A plaque honoring the crew was affixed to the squadron building at Andersen AFB (the plaque was removed when the 54th closed in 1987, and it's whereabouts are currently unknown). The crew members, carried on AWS rolls as Killed In Action, were:

Capt Edward R. Bushnell
1Lt Gary W. Crass
1Lt Michael P. O'Brien
1Lt Timothy J. Hoffman
TSgt Kenneth G. Suhr
Sgt Detlef W. Ringler


Figure 1. Above: plaque dedicated to the crew of Swan 38 (WC-130H 65-0965), located at Kirtland AFB. Inset image, top left: Swan 38 during an engine-running crew change at Guam in 1974. Image credit: Tom Robison.

Sources: Air Reconnaissance Weather Association May 2008 Newsletter; New York Times 13 Oct 1974 58:1; http://www.awra.us/WhiskeyCharlie.html by Tom Robison, 1974 Annual Typhoon report of the Joint Typhoon Warning Center.

Other notes:
The Air Force has had 24 weather reconnaissance missions that have resulted in loss of life; only three of these were typhoon flights. A full list of the missions is at the Air Weather Reconnaissance Association web site.

Special addendum: a Cold War mystery
September 10, 1956: An Air Force RB-50G Superfortress flying in the vicinity of Typhoon Emma was lost over the Sea of Japan. This was not a typhoon hunting aircraft, as is often reported. The aircraft was stationed at Yokota Air Base, Japan, and assigned to the 41st Air Division, 5th Air Force, and was performing electronic of photographic intelligence of the Soviet Union, North Korea, and China. The military gave out a "cover story" saying that the aircraft was lost performing weather reconnaissance. From Bernie Barris of the Air Reconnaissance Weather Association, "This aircraft was NOT lost in a typhoon penetration, nor was it shot down by the Soviets, as was often speculated. It was an RB-50G on a Strategic Reconnaissance mission. Everything I've read is that they were on the fringes of the typhoon, but more than likely the plane was lost due to mechanical problems, which plagued the B-50 in the 1950's. The typhoon did impact search efforts. The Soviets never released any records of tracking or attacking this flight; it is one of those true Cold War mysteries."


Figure 2. A Popular Mechanics cover story from 1950 dramatized the dangers that the early typhoon hunters faced. From the article: "It is impossible for me to describe accurately or exaggerate the severity of the turbulence we encountered. To some it may sound utterly fantastic, but to me it was a flight for life. I have flown many weather missions in my 30 months with the 514th Reconnaissance Squadron. I have flown night combat missions in rough weather out of England, and I have instructed instrument flying in the States, but never have I dreamed of such turbulence as we encountered in Typhoon Beverly. It is amazing to me the ship held together as it did."

Next post
My final post of the year will be on Wednesday or Thursday. I plan to present my pick for the top U.S. weather story of 2009.

Jeff Masters

Hurricane

Updated: 6:20 PM GMT en Agosto 18, 2011

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The uncertain legacy of Copenhagen

By: JeffMasters, 8:39 PM GMT en Diciembre 22, 2009

The Copenhagen (COP15) climate summit is over, and leaves an uncertain legacy. What was accomplished in Copenhagen was far outweighed by what was not accomplished. While the final Copenhagen Accord affirmed that we must hold the warming of our planet below 2°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100 to avert dangerous climate change, no timetable for accomplishing that goal was specified. The promises made by the various nations at the summit would likely lead to a 3.9°C warming of the planet, according to an analysis by MIT's Sustainability Institute. Copenhagen did demonstrate that the hype preceding the talks was not undeserved--the stakes involved are huge, and we have an epic political battle on our hands that will afford high drama in 2010. Probably the best summary of the political battle at Copenhagen was posted by author Mark Lynas on the UK Guardian's web site. The title of the article was, "How do I know China wrecked the Copenhagen deal? I was in the room".

The leaders for greenhouse gas reductions
While the Copenhagen Summit made it clear that the coming battle will feature the U.S. and China, the voices of two tiny island nations--Tuvalu and The Maldives--will be important as well. When ranked by percentage of population located near the coast at an elevation of ten meters or less, the top five spots are held by small island nations with more than 90% of their population in this Low Elevation Coastal Zone--the Maldives, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Cayman Islands, and Turks and Caicos Islands (McGranahan et al., 2007). The very existence of these island nations are threatened by sea level rise due to climate change. The leaders of Tuvalu and The Maldives brought considerable attention to their plight at the Copenhagen conference, and President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives, in particular, has made his tiny country a force to be reckoned with in the coming battle.


Figure 1. President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives, Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed and 11 cabinet ministers donned scuba gear and submerged 4 meters below the surface of sea to hold the world's first underwater cabinet meeting on October 17, 2009, in order to dramatize the threat sea level rise poses to their country.

The leaders against greenhouse gas reductions
Canada has joined Saudi Arabia as a leading voice against efforts to control emissions of greenhouse gases. According to The Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI), which is published annually by Germanwatch and CAN-Europe, Canada ranks second to last in climate policy and in overall efforts to tackle climate change, among the 57 industrialized countries and emerging economies that together account for more than 90 per cent of global energy-related CO2 emissions. Canada's national statement at COP15 featured no commitments of money or targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and Canada also lobbied to change the "base" year from when emission reductions should be computed from 1990 to 2006. Croatia was the only other country to support Canada's position. The notorious political pranksters The Yes Men dramatized Canada's position by issuing a phony press release during COP15 claiming that Canada had come to its senses and was now going to work toward a 40 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions, the type of cut scientists say is necessary if we are to avoid dangerous warming of more than 2°C over pre-industrial levels. Canadian reporters immediately recognized the news release as a hoax. Canadian politics is heavily dominated by the fossil fuel industry, and Canadian reporters immediately saw the impossibility of the Canadian government performing an about-face on climate policy.


Figure 2. The top ten and bottom ten performing countries on the Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI), published annually by Germanwatch and CAN-Europe to rank the efforts to combat climate change of the 57 industrialized countries and emerging economies that together account for more than 90 per cent of global energy-related CO2 emissions. The ranking system factors in three scores: the emissions level (CO2 per primary energy unit, primary energy unit per GDP, and primary energy unit per capita); the emissions trend (whether emissions are rising or falling), and a subjective rating of the nation's national and international climate policy. Tall bars indicate a higher ranking, and thin bars represent a poor ranking. None of the 57 countries were doing enough to keep global warming below 2°C, so the top three spots on the list were left blank. Image credit: Germanwatch.org.

Comparison with the battle over CFC regulations and the ozone hole
On June 28, 1974, Sherry Rowland and Mario Molina, chemists at the University of California, Irvine, published the first scientific paper warning that human-generated chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) could cause serious harm to Earth's protective ozone layer (Molina and Rowland, 1974). They calculated that if CFC production continued to increase at the going rate of 10%/year until 1990, then remain steady, CFCs would cause a global 5 to 7 percent ozone loss by 1995 and 30 - 50% loss by 2050.

They warned that the loss of ozone would significantly increase the amount of skin-damaging ultraviolet UV-B light reaching the surface, greatly increasing skin cancer and cataracts. The loss of stratospheric ozone could also significantly cool the stratosphere, potentially causing destructive climate change. Although no stratospheric ozone loss had been observed yet, CFCs should be banned, they said. A huge international political battle ensued, one that eerily echoes many of the same themes as the battle over global warming. In a 1984 interview in The New Yorker, Dr. Rowland concluded, "Nothing will be done about this problem until there is further evidence that a significant loss of ozone has occurred. Unfortunately, this means that if there is a disaster in the making in the stratosphere we are probably not going to avoid it." These prophetic words were proved true the very next year with the discovery of the Antarctic ozone hole. Speedy action to save the planet from potentially disastrous loss of the ozone layer was realized with the swift implementation of the Montreal Protocol two years later, though.

As was the case with the battle over the CFCs and the ozone layer, I expect it will take a obvious imminent climate change disaster to motivate governments to take strong action. I believed in September 2007 that such an event had occurred, when the Arctic ice cap lost more than half of its area, compared to levels observed in the early 1950s. I was astounded at the nonchalance the event earned in the press and among politicians. But, in hindsight I should not have been surprised, since the stakes are very much higher than the battle to ban CFCs--now we are talking about the fossil fuel industry, the very basis for our modern industrialized society. A very big, very obvious disaster in the making will probably be needed to motivate strong enough action to make a major difference in CO2 emissions. Our climate is certainly capable of generating such an event in the coming decade. Unfortunately, if we wait until a disaster is obviously imminent, we will have far less time to prevent a climate disaster than we had for the ozone depletion crisis. The lifetime of CFCs in the atmosphere is 50 - 140 years, but a substantial portion of the CO2 put in the air stays for thousands of years. According to the 2007 IPCC report, "About 50% of a CO2 increase will be removed from the atmosphere within 30 years, and a further 30% will be removed within a few centuries. The remaining 20% may stay in the atmosphere for many thousands of years."

References
McGranahan, G., D. Balk, and B. Anderson, 2007, "The rising tide: assessing the risks of climate change and human settlements in low elevation coastal zones", Environment & Urbanization, 19(1), 17-37.

Molina, M.J., and F.S. Rowland, "Stratospheric Sink for Chlorofluoromethanes: Chlorine Atom-Catalyzed Destruction of Ozone", Nature 249, 810-812, 1974.

Next post
Have a great Christmas, everyone, and I'll be back with a new post on Monday (at the latest).

Jeff Masters

Climate Change

Updated: 7:40 PM GMT en Agosto 16, 2011

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Eastern U.S. digs out from the Nor'easter of 2009

By: JeffMasters, 8:10 PM GMT en Diciembre 20, 2009

The mighty Nor'easter of December 2009 has moved out to sea, taking most of its snow with it, but a very white Christmas is in store for millions of U.S. residents, thanks to the 1 - 2 feet of snow the storm left behind, from the Smoky Mountains to Massachusetts. Winter begins tomorrow, but Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has already recorded more than an entire winter's worth of snow--a ridiculous 23.2 inches from this weekend's storm, the second heaviest snowfall in Philadelphia history. The all time record is 30.7 inches, set during the January 1996 blizzard. The normal winter snowfall for an entire season is 19.3 inches.

The 15 inches that fell at Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C. Saturday broke the all-time record for any single calendar day snowfall in December for Washington D.C., and was the third greatest snowfall in the city since records began in 1884. The previous December single calendar daily record was 11.5 inches set on Dec 17, 1932. The two-day snow total of 16.4 inches was the 6th highest 2-day snowfall on record for D.C., and December 2009 is now the snowiest December on record for the nation's capital,

In nearby Baltimore, the 20.5 inches of snow measured Saturday will go down as the fifth highest daily snowfall on any calendar day at Baltimore since snowfall records began in 1893. The storm total snowfall of 21.0 inches of snowfall on Dec 18-19 2009 marks the 6th highest two-day snowfall record for Baltimore. December 2009 is now the snowiest December on record in Baltimore, with 22.2 inches. The previous record was 20.4", set in 1966.


Figure 1. Visible satellite image from 12:01 pm EST on December 20, 2009, showing the Nor'easter of 2009 off the U.S. Northeast coast. Image credit: NASA/GSFC GOES project.

Some selected storm total snowfalls (in inches) from 1am Tuesday through 4am Sunday, courtesy of the National Weather Service:

...CONNECTICUT...
NORWICH 17.0
GROTON 16.0
STORRS 15.0
MANSFIELD 14.5
HADDAM 14.0
OLD SAYBROOK 12.0
LISBON 11.0
DARIEN 10.5
NEW HAVEN 10.5
MILFORD 10.0

...KENTUCKY...
HARLAN 7.0
BEATTYVILLE 6.0
WILLIAMSBURG 1NNW 6.0

...MASSACHUSETTS...
SANDWICH 16.0
ATTLEBOROUGH CITY 15.0
MIDDLEBOROUGH 15.0
WAREHAM 15.0
FRANKLIN 14.0
BOURNE 13.5
YARMOUTH 12.0
WAYLAND 11.5
NORWOOD 10.0
BOSTON 7.0

...NEW JERSEY...
ATCO 24.0
MEDFORD 24.0
NEWPORT 24.0
TABERNACLE 24.0
JACKSON 23.5
BLACKWOOD 22.0
SICKLERVILLE 22.0
SWEDESBORO 22.0
TOMS RIVER 21.0
TURNERSVILLE 20.5
CHERRY HILL 20.0
MOUNT HOLLY 16.6
ATLANTIC CITY 12.1

...NEW YORK...
UPTON 24.9
SAG HARBOR 20.0
NORTH BABYLON 19.0
COMMACK 18.2
ISLIP 17.1
MOUNT SINAI 16.1
ORIENT 15.0
STONY BROOK 14.9
FLORAL PARK 13.5
MASSAPEQUA 11.6
BROOKLYN MARINE PARK 11.5
LIDO BEACH 11.5
JFK ARPT 10.9
NYC CENTRAL PARK 10.9

...PENNSYLVANIA...
PHILADELPHIA 23.2
HILLTOWN 20.5
BROGUE 20.0
QUARRYVILLE 20.0
FOLCROFT 19.0
WEST CALN 18.6
SECANE 18.5
PEQUEA 18.0
UPPER CHICHESTER 18.0
ORRTANNA 17.1
WALLINGFORD 17.0

...RHODE ISLAND...
WEST GREENWICH 20.0
PORTSMOUTH 18.0
SOUTH KINGSTOWN 18.0
COVENTRY 17.0
HOPE 17.0
BARRINGTON 16.0

...WASHINGTON, DC...
AMERICAN UNIVERSITY 16.0
THE MALL 16.0

...DELAWARE...
WILMINGTON 17.0
HARTLY 15.5
NEWARK 13.9
WOODSIDE 12.8

...MARYLAND...
OLNEY 23.3
BETHESDA 23.0
COLUMBIA 23.0
DERWOOD 23.0
SIMPSONVILLE 1 SSE 22.9
GAITHERSBURG 1 NW 22.0
GERMANTOWN 22.0
BALTIMORE-BWI 21.1
GLENMONT 21.0
SMITHSBURG 21.0
ANNAPOLIS 20.8
MILLINGTON 20.0
FREDERICK 19.0

...NORTH CAROLINA ...
ROBBINSVILLE 12 W 24.0
ASHEVILLE 17.0
BOONE 16.0
EAST MARION 15.0
RUTHERWOOD 15.0
FLEETWOOD 14.0
WAYNESVILLE 13.8
WEST JEFFERSON 13.0
MARSHALL 7 N 12.0
GREENSBORO 4.5

...OHIO...
BRIDGEPORT 5.0

...VIRGINIA...
INDIAN VALLEY 26.0
MUSTOE 25.4
FISHERVILLE 25.0
ROCKY BAR 3 ENE 24.0
CROZET 1SSE 23.0
COVINGTON 22.6
CENTREVILLE 1 SE 22.0
ALEXANDRIA 19.0
DULLES INTERNATIONAL 18.0
REAGAN NATIONAL ARPT 16.4

...WEST VIRGINIA...
MARLINTON 26.0
FRIARS HILL 25.0
HORSE SHOE RUN 25.0
BECKLEY 24.0
HENDRICKS 24.0
JUMPING BRANCH 24.0
CANAAN VALLEY STATE 3SW 22.0
WILLIAMSBURG 22.0
GRANDVIEW 21.0
CHARLES TOWN 18.0


Copenhagen
Our Climate Change expert, Dr. Ricky Rood, has left Copenhagen's COP15 climate change talks, and is now facing a challenge of a different sort--how to get out of snowbound Washington D..C. His latest post, called The Party is Over: Copenhagen Devolved presents a fascinating look at what it was like to be at the conference, and what was (and was not) accomplished there. I'll be posting my own summary of the legacy of the Copenhagen talks soon.

Next post
I'll have another post Tuesday.

Jeff Masters

Updated: 2:49 PM GMT en Diciembre 22, 2009

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Blizzard conditions engulf Washington D.C. and Baltimore

By: JeffMasters, 4:05 PM GMT en Diciembre 19, 2009

Snowfall rates of 1 - 2 inches per hour combined with strong northeasterly winds are creating blizzard conditions over Portions of Virginia, Maryland, and Washington D.C. this morning, as a mighty Nor'easter continues to gather strength along the East Coast. The surface low will continue to move northeast just offshore the North Carolina and Virginia coasts and strengthen this afternoon, spreading a wide band of heavy snow across much of the Eastern U.S. Washington D.C. had already received 7 inches of snow and Baltimore 6 inches by 7 am EST, with up to 22 inches expected by Sunday morning. This would make the 2009 Nor'easter the heaviest December snowstorm on record in those cities, and the heaviest snowfall seen since the 27-inch dumping during the February 2003 Nor'easter.


Figure 1. Visible satellite image from 10:30 am EST on December 19, 2009, showing the Nor'easter of 2009. Image credit: NASA/GSFC GOES project.

Blizzard warnings are also posted for New York's Long Island and Southeast Massachusetts. New York City is expecting up to a foot of snow, and coastal flooding from a 3-foot storm surge.

Some selected storm total snowfalls (in inches) from 1am Tuesday through 10am Saturday, courtesy of the National Weather Service:

...DELAWARE...
WOODSIDE 9.8
SMYRNA 8.0
DOVER 5.0

...MARYLAND...
HOLLYWOOD 11.0
LOTHIAN 3 SW 10.0
SILVER SPRING 1 ESE 9.0
TANEYTOWN 1 NE 9.0
WESTERNPORT 9.0
ANNAPOLIS 8.8
GLENN DALE 3 ENE 8.5
FREDERICK 8.0
ELKRIDGE 7.5
BALTIMORE 6.0

...NORTH CAROLINA ...
ROBBINSVILLE 12 W 24.0
ASHEVILLE 17.0
BOONE 16.0
EAST MARION 15.0
FLEETWOOD 14.0
WAYNESVILLE 13.8
WEST JEFFERSON 13.0
MARSHALL 7 N 12.0
ROXBORO 6.7
GREENSBORO 4.5

...NEW JERSEY...
BRIDGETON 7.3
HAMMONTON 5.7
ESTELL MANOR 5.5

...VIRGINIA...
GREENVILLE 3 E 22.0
AFTON MOUNTAIN 21.0
COVINGTON 21.0
CHARLOTTESVILLE 15.0
BLACKSBURG 14.2
RUTHER GLEN 14.0
LOUISA 12.3
SHORT PUMP 11.8
NEW MARKET 1 WSW 11.0
MANASSAS 1 ESE 8.0

...WEST VIRGINIA...
MARLINTON 26.0
FRIARS HILL 25.0
WILLIAMSBURG 22.0
GRANDVIEW 21.0
ELKINS 18.0
HINTON 17.0
ATHENS 16.0
BECKLEY 16.0
PRINCETON 14.4
CLARKSBURG 9.0

Tornadoes and flooding rains hit Florida
In Florida, severe thunderstorms associated with the Nor'easter's cold front spawned three tornadoes on Friday. The most significant one was a twister that hit Wauchula in Hardee County, damaging fifteen cars and buildings at an assisted living facility. An EF0 tornado hit southeast Key West and neighboring Stock Island, another tornado touched down near Homestead. None of the tornadoes caused injuries, though two people were injured by flying glass caused by a heavy thunderstorm in North Miami Beach. That city received 14.25 inches of rain in the 24 hours ending at 7am Friday. Heavy rains of up to 13.32" also hit Hollywood, flooding the downtown area and stranding cars.

Copenhagen
Our Climate Change expert, Dr. Ricky Rood, has gone from the frying pan into the snow machine--Ricky is snowbound in Washington D.C.! His latest post, from the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit, called The Party is Over: Copenhagen Devolved presents a fascinating look at what it was like to be at the conference, and what was (and was not) accomplished there. I'll be posting my own summary of the legacy of the Copenhagen talks early next week.

Next post
I'll have another post Monday.

Jeff Masters

Updated: 2:49 PM GMT en Diciembre 22, 2009

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Powerful Nor'easter poised to hammer Eastern U.S.

By: JeffMasters, 4:23 PM GMT en Diciembre 18, 2009

An intense and very wet Nor'easter is gathering strength over the Gulf of Mexico, and stands poised to generate heavy snow and possible blizzard conditions tonight through Saturday from the Smoky Mountains to New England, including the major cities of Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City. The storm has already dumped up to three inches of snow in western North Carolina, and a foot or more of snow is likely over the mountains of North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee. Flooding from the storms' heavy rains will be a problem in Mississippi and Alabama, where up to six inches have fallen (Figure 1).


Figure 1. Total rainfall from the Dec 18 - 19 Nor'easter, as estimated by Birmingham, Alabama radar.

Tornadoes threaten Florida
Severe thunderstorms capable of generating tornadoes have developed along the storm's cold front, which is advancing over Florida today. The Storm Prediction Center has placed most of Florida in its "Slight Risk" area for severe weather, and tornado warnings have already been issued for Homestead and Naples this morning, though no confirmed tornadoes have resulted from the warnings thus far. The threat of tornadoes will continue through mid-afternoon over Florida, then gradually decrease late this afternoon as the low-level winds align with the upper-level winds, creating less of the change of wind direction with height typically needed to create tornadoes.

You can track today's storm with our interactive tornado map and severe weather map.

Copenhagen
Our Climate Change expert, Dr. Ricky Rood, has left Copenhagen's COP15 climate change talks to resume his slightly saner life as a professor at the University of Michigan. His latest post, called The Party is Over: Copenhagen Devolved presents a fascinating look at what it was like to be at the conference, and what was (and was not) accomplished there. I'll be posting my own summary of the legacy of the Copenhagen talks early next week.

Jeff Masters

Updated: 9:49 PM GMT en Diciembre 22, 2009

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November 2009 was warmest or 4th warmest on record, say NASA and NOAA

By: JeffMasters, 3:46 PM GMT en Diciembre 17, 2009

The globe recorded its fourth warmest November since record keeping began in 1880, according to NOAA's National Climatic Data Center. NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies rated November 2009 as the warmest November on record, beating the 2001 record by 0.02°C. NOAA classified the year-to-date period, January - November 2009, as the fifth warmest such period on record. The November satellite-measured temperatures for the lowest 8 km of the atmosphere were the warmest on record according to the University of Alabama Huntsville data set, or fifth warmest, according to the RSS data set.


Figure 1. Departure of temperature from average for November 2009. Image credit: National Climatic Data Center.

Warmest November on record for Southern Hemisphere land areas
Southern Hemisphere land areas had their warmest November on record including Australia, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. November was 1.87°C (3.4°F) above average in Australia, and several statewide records were broken, with New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania, surpassing the previous largest maximum temperature anomaly recorded for an Australian state. The highest minimum temperature record for the continent was also broken, with an anomaly of 1.61°C (2.90°F) above average.

Third warmest November on record for the U.S.
For the contiguous U.S., the average November temperature was 4.0°F above average, making it the 3rd warmest November in the 115-year record, according to the National Climatic Data Center. That's a pretty remarkable swing from October, which was the third coldest October on record. Delaware experienced its warmest November on record, Wisconsin and New Jersey their second warmest, and five states had their third warmest November (Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Iowa, and North Dakota). Eighteen other states had an average temperature that ranked in the top ten. No states had below normal temperatures for the month.

Unusually low tornado activity in November
November was a quiet month for tornadoes in the U.S., with only 4 preliminary reports. November 2009 was the slowest November since 1980, which had 3 tornadoes, and tied for 3rd quietest since extensive records began in 1950. The autumn as a whole was also calm with only 80 tornadoes reported in the U.S., compared to the 2006-2008 year average of 164.

U.S. drought
At the end of November, 9% of the contiguous United States was in moderate-to-exceptional drought. This is the smallest November drought footprint since 2005. Drought expanded across Arizona, southern California, and southern Nevada, but improved over drought-stricken Texas. For the first time in many years, the U.S. Drought Monitor shows no areas in the highest classification of drought--exceptional drought. The second highest category of drought, extreme drought, covers only a small region of northeast Arizona.

U.S. fire activity
November, like September and October, saw below-normal U.S. fire activity in all respects.

Strong El Niño conditions continue
Strong El Niño conditions continue over the tropical Eastern Pacific. Ocean temperatures in the area 5°N - 5°S, 120°W - 170°W, also called the "Niña 3.4 region", were at 1.6°C above average on December 15, just above the 1.5°C threshold for a strong El Niño, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. The strength of El Niño was roughly constant for the 5 weeks ending December 15. NOAA's Climate Prediction Center is maintaining an El Niño Advisory. Current conditions and model forecasts favor continued El Niño conditions lasting through the Northern Hemisphere spring of 2010.

November sea ice extent in the Arctic 3rd lowest on record
November 2009 Northern Hemisphere sea ice extent was the 3rd lowest since satellite measurements began in 1979, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). Only 2006 and 2007 saw lower arctic sea ice extent. During 10-day period in the first half of November, arctic ice extent decreased below the 2007 record minimum, but rose above record minimum levels by the middle of the month.

Ricky Rood in Copenhagen
Our Climate Change expert, Dr. Ricky Rood, is in Copenhagen for the COP15 climate change treaty negotiations. His latest post, called Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? makes for very interesting reading on how the U.S. is "wasting its intellect and time on disruptions designed to play to people at home".

Next post
I'll have another post late Friday.

Jeff Masters

Climate Summaries

Updated: 10:22 PM GMT en Octubre 21, 2011

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Why Southeast Greenland's glaciers have slown down since 2005

By: JeffMasters, 3:57 PM GMT en Diciembre 15, 2009

I'm in San Francisco for the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, the world's largest gathering of climate scientists. I saw ten or so great talks yesterday (and five really boring ones!) Here's a summary of the the most interesting talk I heard yesterday:

If you plan on owning ocean front property after the year 2050, you should pay close attention to the glaciers In Greenland. Greenland holds enough ice to raise global sea level by over 20 feet (6.5 meters), should its ice cap completely disintegrate--though such an event would likely take centuries to occur. Still, should the climate warm 2°C or more this century, partial melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet could readily raise global sea level by a meter or more by 2100. That's why scientists reacted with concern during 2003 - 2005, when all of the glaciers in southeastern Greenland accelerated in synchrony to speeds 30% to 210% faster than they had flowed in 1996. As they sped up, the glaciers began dumping huge amounts of ice into the ocean off the coast of southeast Greenland, more than doubling Greenland's contribution to global sea rise, to .57 mm/year. Would the glaciers keep accelerating, bringing about an increasing disintegration of the Greenland Ice Sheet? Nobody knew, since computer models of glacial dynamics were (and still are) in a primitive state.


Figure 1. Helheim Glacier in southeast Greenland, in three images captured in 2004, 2005, and 2006. The glacier accelerated significantly in 2005, and the face of the glacier retreated 5 km inland (middle frame) compared to 2004. However, by the summer of 2006, the acceleration ceased, the the glacier returned back to its 2004 position. Image credit: Ian Howat, University of Washington.

Well, it turned out that 2005 was the peak of the glacial acceleration event. The glaciers in southeast Greenland have returned to where they were eight or nine years ago--still causing a net loss of mass that is raising global sea level, but not as fast as in 2003 - 2005. In a talk titled, "Ocean regulation of glacier dynamics in south-east Greenland and implication for ice sheet mass changes", Tavi Murray and colleagues from the UK's Swansea University presented a plausible theory for why this strange synchronous speed-up and slow-down occurred. Using satellite, aircraft, and surface observations, the researchers found that air temperatures in the region did not vary much over 2003 - 2005 (Figure 2). Thus, a major increase in temperature could be ruled out as the cause of the glacier surge. However, study of the ocean temperatures near the coast revealed strong clues that ocean currents were responsible for the surge.

Figure 2. Ocean currents off the east coast of Greenland feature the cold East Greenland Coastal Current flowing north to south (white arrows) and the warm Irminger Current flowing south to north (red arrows). Image credit: Arctic Climate Impact Assessment.

Ordinarily, the southeast coast of Greenland features a cold water current flowing north to south, called the East Greenland Coastal Current (EGCC). Much of the cold water for this current is supplied by melting of the 14 glaciers in southeast Greenland that empty into the sea (two of these glaciers, Kangerdlugssuaq and Helheim, represent 35% of east Greenland's total glacial discharge). A few hundred kilometers offshore, a warm water current called the Irminger Current flows the opposite direction, bringing warm water from the North Atlantic northward. In 2003, it happened that weather conditions over Greenland brought an unusually low amount of run-off of precipitation. With little new mass pushing the glaciers seaward, the glaciers responded by greatly reducing the amount of ice they dumped into the ocean by the shore. As a result, the East Greenland Coastal Current slowed down and warmed, which allowed the warm Irminger Current to advance towards the coast, warming the coastal waters even more. All that warm water near the coast began melting the glaciers where they reached the sea, causing the glaciers all along the southeast coast of Greenland to accelerate and rapidly thin between 2003 - 2005. By 2006, the thinning glaciers had dumped so much new ice into the ocean near the coast that the waters cooled and the East Greenland Coastal Current re-established itself. This cooled the glaciers at their marine termination points and slowed down the glacial surge, putting the glaciers back where they had been before 2003. This is a classic example of a negative feedback process--a change in weather conditions which generates a response, but the response creates conditions that tend to dampen the response.


Figure 3. Average temperatures for the only station in southeast Greenland with a century-long temperature record, Angmagssalik (called Ammassalik on the map in Figure 2). Temperatures in southeast Greenland during the 1930s and 1940s were similar to today's temperatures, suggesting that glacial surges like we witnessed in 2005 may have also occurred in the 1930s and 1940s, before we had monitoring capability. Image credit: NASA Goddard.

Commentary
As I commented in my previous post, Arctic sea ice loss appears to have created a new atmospheric circulation pattern that brings more warm air in the Arctic, creating a positive feedback loop that causes even more sea ice loss. This positive feedback loop was a bad news surprise that our climate models did not predict. Now we have evidence of a good news surprise that no model predicted--a negative feedback loop that acts to keep the southeast portion of Greenland's Ice Sheet from runaway glacial acceleration. We can expect many more surprises--good and bad--over the coming decades, as our climate responds to the huge shove human activities are giving it.

Ricky Rood in Copenhagen
Our Climate Change expert, Dr. Ricky Rood, is in Copenhagen for the COP15 climate change treaty negotiations. His latest post, called Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? makes for very interesting reading on how the U.S. is "wasting its intellect and time on disruptions designed to play to people at home".

Next post
I'll have another post from the AGU meeting Thursday or Friday this week.

Jeff Masters

Climate Change Glaciers

Updated: 7:40 PM GMT en Agosto 16, 2011

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The climate is changing: the Arctic Dipole emerges

By: JeffMasters, 3:53 PM GMT en Diciembre 11, 2009

The dramatic loss of Arctic sea ice in recent years has created a fundamental new change in the atmospheric circulation in the Northern Hemisphere that has sped up sea ice loss and is affecting fall and winter weather across most of the Northern Hemisphere, according to several recent studies. Arctic sea ice loss peaks in September and October, exposing a large area of open water that heats the air above it. This extra heat has helped drive September - November air temperatures in the Arctic to 1°C (1.8°F) or more above average over about half of the depth of the lower atmosphere (Figure 1). This deep layer of warm air has grown less dense and expanded, pushing the top of the troposphere (the lower atmosphere) higher. The result has been a decrease in the pressure gradient (the difference in pressure) between the North Pole and mid-latitudes. With not as much difference in pressure to try and equalize, the jet stream has slowed down in the Arctic, creating a major change in the atmospheric circulation for the Northern Hemisphere.


Figure 1. Cross section of Arctic temperature anomaly from 1000 mb (the surface) to 300 mb (roughly, the height of the top of the lower atmosphere or troposphere). Cross section is taken along the Date Line (180°W), from 60°N latitude (left side) to the North Pole (right side), for September - November for the 12-year period 1998 - 2009. Three year averages were done to reduce the amount of year-to-year noise associated with natural variation. Other cross sections along different lines of longitude show similar results, though typically with more warming aloft and less warming at the surface. Image credit: NOAA/ESRL.

A new atmospheric pattern emerges: the Arctic Dipole
In a 2008 article titled, Recent radical shifts of atmospheric circulations and rapid changes in Arctic climate system Zhang et al. show that the extreme loss of Arctic sea ice since 2001 has been accompanied by a radical shift of the Arctic atmospheric circulation patterns, into a new mode they call the Arctic Rapid change Pattern. The new atmospheric circulation pattern has also been recognized by other researchers, who refer to it as the Arctic Dipole (Richter-Menge et al., 2009). The old atmospheric patterns that controlled Arctic weather--the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and Arctic Oscillation (AO), which featured air flow that tended to circle the pole, now alternate with the new Arctic Dipole pattern. The Arctic Dipole pattern features anomalous high pressure on the North American side of the Arctic, and low pressure on the Eurasian side. This results in winds blowing more from south to north, increasing transport of heat into the central Arctic Ocean. The Arctic Dipole pattern occurred in all summer months of 2007 and helped support the record 2007 summer reduction in sea ice extent (Overland et al., 2008). Overland et al., 2010 also found that the Arctic Dipole pattern tended to create an increase in easterly winds in the lower half of the atmosphere of 40% in fall, between 2002 - 2008. Fall 2008 through spring 2009 featured the old AO pattern. The new Arctic Dipole pattern re-appeared in June - July 2009, but the old AO pattern dominated in August - September, resulting in greater sea ice extent than in 2007 and 2008. The Arctic Dipole pattern was active again in October, inactive in November, and reasserted itself this December. As a result, Arctic sea ice reached a new record minimum for a 10-day period in early November, increased above record lows during late November and early December, and appears poised again to reach a new record minimum later this December (Figure 2).


Figure 2. Sea ice extent in the Arctic for this year (blue line) compared to the record low year of 2007 (green line) and 1979 - 2000 average (gray line). One could make the ice loss looks less significant by using the full satellite data record from 1979 - 2008 for the average. Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Arctic Dipole blamed for colder winters in East Asia
It turns out that the new Arctic circulation patterns help to intensify the Siberian High, a large semi-permanent region of surface high pressure prevalent in winter over Siberia. According to Honda et al. (2009), this results in increased flow of cold air out of the Arctic in early winter over eastern Russia, Japan, Korea, and eastern China, causing colder temperatures. By late winter, the pattern shifts, resulting in colder than average temperatures from East Asia to Europe.

Arctic Dipole blamed for drier winters in Northern Europe
Francis et al. (2009) found that during 1979 - 2006, years that had unusually low summertime Arctic sea had a 10 - 20% reduction in the temperature difference between the Equator and North Pole. This resulted in a weaker jet stream with slower winds that lasted a full six months, through fall and winter. The weaker jet caused a weaker Aleutian Low and Icelandic Low during the winter, resulting in a more negative North Atlantic Oscillation--a pattern that usually brings reduced winter precipitation over Alaska and Northern Europe and increased precipitation over Southern Europe. A more negative NAO also tends to bring cold winters to eastern North America and Europe. Though it was not mentioned in the article, reduced Arctic sea ice may also cause dry early winter conditions in the U.S. and the Caribbean (Figure 3). The authors noted that strong La Niña or El Niño events can have a much larger influence on the wintertime atmospheric circulation, which will overshadow the changes due to Arctic sea ice loss.


Figure 3. Difference in early winter precipitation (November - January) between five years that had low Arctic sea ice (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009), and five years that had unusually high Arctic sea ice extent (1981, 1984, 1986, 1989, 1993). Note that low sea ice may be responsible for dry conditions in early winter for the Caribbean and most of the U.S.

Commentary
Arctic sea ice loss appears to have created a new atmospheric circulation pattern that brings more warm air in the Arctic, creating a positive feedback loop that causes even more sea ice loss. This feedback loop increases the likelihood that an ice-free Arctic in the summer will indeed come by 2030, as many Arctic experts are predicting. It's worth noting that such an atmospheric circulation shift was not predicted by the climate models. Indeed, the loss of Arctic sea ice over the past three years exceeds what any of our models were predicting (Figure 4). While we can rightly criticize these models for their inaccuracy, we should realize that they are just as capable of making errors not in our favor as they are of making errors in our favor.


Figure 4. Arctic sea ice extent from observations (thick orange line) and 13 model forecasts used to formulate the 2007 IPCC report (light lines). The thick black line is the multi-model ensemble mean, with the standard deviation plotted as a dashed black line. Image has been updated to include the observed 2008 and 2009 measurements. None of the models predicted the record 2007 sea ice loss. Image credit: Arctic sea ice decline: Faster than forecast by Stroeve et al., 2007.

References
Francis, J.A., W. Chan, D.J. Leathers, J.R. Miller, and D.E. Veron, 2009, "Winter Northern Hemisphere weather patterns remember summer Arctic sea-ice extent", Geophysical Research Letters, 36, L07503, doi:10.1029/2009GL037274.

Honda, M., J. Inoue, and S. Yamane, 2009. Influence of low Arctic sea - ice minima on anomalously cold Eurasian winters, Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L08707, doi:10.1029/2008GL037079.

Overland, J. E., M. Wang, and S. Salo, 2008: The recent Arctic warm period, Tellus, 60A, 589.597.

Overland, J. E., and M. Wang, 2010: Large-scale atmospheric circulation changes associated with the recent loss of Arctic sea ice. Tellus, 62A, 1–9.

Richter-Menge, J., and J.E. Overland, Eds., 2009: Arctic Report Card 2009, http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/reportcard.

Simmonds, I., and K. Keay (2009), Extraordinary September Arctic sea ice reductions and their relationships with storm behavior over 1979.2008, Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L19715, doi:10.1029/2009GL039810.

Wu, B., J. Wang, and J. E. Walsh, 2006: Dipole anomaly in the winter Arctic atmosphere and its association with sea ice motion. J. Climate, 19, 210-225.

Zhang, X., A. Sorteberg, J. Zhang, R. Gerdes, and J. C. Comiso (2008), Recent radical shifts of atmospheric circulations and rapid changes in Arctic climate system, Geophys. Res. Lett., 35, L22701, doi:10.1029/2008GL035607.

Jeff Masters

Climate Change

Updated: 6:39 PM GMT en Enero 11, 2012

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Bill Gray's 2010 Atlantic hurricane season forecast and views on global warming

By: JeffMasters, 3:27 PM GMT en Diciembre 10, 2009

A return to the pattern of above-average Atlantic hurricane activity we've seen since 1995 is on tap for 2010, according to the latest seasonal forecast issued today by Dr. Phil Klotzbach and Dr. Bill Gray of Colorado State University (CSU). In a departure from their usual forecasts, the Klotzbach/Gray team is issuing a range of numbers for storms, instead of forecasting a specific number. They are calling for 11 - 16 named storms, 6 - 8 hurricanes, and 3 - 5 intense hurricanes. An average season has 10 - 11 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 2 intense hurricanes. The new forecast calls for a near-average chance of a major hurricane hitting the U.S., both along the East Coast (40% chance, 31% chance is average) and the Gulf Coast (40% chance, 30% chance is average). The Caribbean is also forecast to have an average risk of a major hurricane.

The forecasters cited several reasons for an above-average season:

1) "Warm sea surface temperatures are likely to continue being present in the tropical and North Atlantic during 2010, due to the fact that we are in a positive phase of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) (e.g., a strong phase of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation)".

2) Hurricane activity in the Atlantic is lowest during El Niño years and highest during La Niña or neutral years. The CSU team notes that while we are currently experiencing moderate to strong El Niño conditions, it is very rare for an El Niño to last through two consecutive hurricane seasons: "Seven out of the last thirty-five years in an active era (20%) were classified as warm ENSO events. None of the past seven events had El Niño conditions persist through the second year, and every event except for 1951-1952 had an increase in tropical cyclone activity during the second year. It should be noted that an active era and the absence of El Niño does not guarantee an active season, as both 1952 and 2007 experienced near-average net tropical cyclone activity."

How accurate are the December forecasts?
The CSU real-time December forecasts have not shown any skill over the period 1992 - 2007, so we should view the latest forecast as an experimental research product. In 2008, CSU junked the old December scheme and came up with a new one. This year's December forecast uses the same formula as last year's December forecast, which over-forecasted the 2009 hurricane season. That forecast called for 14 named storms, 7 hurricanes, and 3 intense hurricanes, and we actually had 9 named storms, 3 hurricanes, and 2 intense hurricanes. However, the new scheme will need to run for 5+ years before we can get an idea of whether or not it has any skill.


Figure 1. Forecasts of El Niño conditions by 20 computer models, made in November. The longest range forecasts for July-August-September (JAS) at the right side of the image show that most of these models are predicting an end to El Niño by then. El Niño conditions are defined as occurring when the average sea surface temperature in the Equatorial Pacific off the coast of South America rises above 0.5°C (top red line). Image credit: Columbia University.

2010 Atlantic hurricane season forecast from Tropical Storm Risk, Inc.
The British private forecasting firm Tropical Storm Risk, Inc. (TSR), issued their 2010 Atlantic hurricane season forecast on Monday. They are also calling for an active year: 13.9 named storms, 7.4 hurricanes, and 3.4 intense hurricanes. TSR predicts a 62% chance of an above-average hurricane season, 24% chance of a near-normal season, and only a 14% chance of a below normal season.

I like how TSR puts their skill level right next to the forecast numbers: 5% skill above chance at forecasting the number of named storms, 8% skill for hurricanes, and 14% skill for intense hurricanes. That's not much skill, and really, we have to wait until the June 1 forecasts by CSU, NOAA, and TSR to get a forecast with reasonable skill.

Bill Gray on global warming
I received this comment yesterday in my blog:
There is a problem with reality. It is reminiscent of a sci-fi story where half the people see one thing, and the other half see just the opposite. But there is only one truth, and an incorrect decision could lead to disastrous consequences. Who should we believe? The captain, who we've long admired and have great respect; or the first officer to whom we owe our lives? They are both good people, but only one of them is correct. The other has been misled. Post #639 presented by TomJonesAL of Dr. Bill Gray's scathing condemnation of the majority of the worlds scientific community's assessment of the current and projected trends of Global Warming can only give further pause to the average citizen who relies on common sense and the integrity of their leaders for an informed and accurate opinion. Dr. Gray is highly respected, but so too are the many members of the opposite train of thought, including Dr. Masters. So whom do we believe?

Climate science is an incredibly complex subject, and the science is too complicated for all but an expert to fully grasp. Complicating the issue is the fact that there is a large amount of natural variation, and we are now just beginning to to see a human-caused effect (or so many scientists are telling us). Clearly, we have to rely on scientists to figure out the problem and advise us on what is happening. But which scientist to trust? Obviously, one should not trust scientists receiving money from the fossil fuel industry--or the wind power industry, for that matter--since these scientists might have a vested interest in a particular view. You are also hearing statements from sources like the Wall Street Journal and Dr. Bill Gray that we can't trust climate scientists because they are "vested interest scientists wanting larger federal grants and publicity", as Dr. Gray puts it. So, if you reject those scientists as sources of information, you are left with non-climate scientists that you trust. I will try to give you some relevant background on Bill Gray and myself, so that you can come up with your own answer for which of us is more likely to have the correct answer.


Figure 2. Dr. Bill Gray at the podium of the 2006 American Meteorological Society hurricane conference in Monterey, California.

Bill Gray
Bill Gray has been an outspoken critic of the the science showing human-caused global warming, and of many of the scientists involved. His December 8, 2009 post on climatedepot.org is a typical example of his views. Dr. Gray is one of the greatest experts on hurricanes, and has published hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific papers on the subject. He has not published any papers on climate change. His expertise is primarily data-based observational science and forecasts using statistical models; he does no theory and highly distrusts all climate science done using General Circulation Models (GCMs). He has been a rabble-rouser at professional conferences I have attended, insulting colleagues and interrupting their talks. At one conference I was at, he chided a fellow researcher about his use of computer models to do climate research, saying, "I didn't know you as a religious person. That's a belief". Gray himself has not done research using the type of computer forecast models he is critical of. His primary career goals: "I am now giving more of my efforts to the global warming issue and in synthesizing my projects' many years of hurricane and typhoon studies". He has no ties to the fossil fuel industry, and told the audience at one talk I was at that he votes Democratic. You can find many profiles on Dr. Gray through a simple Google search on the term, "Bill Gray global warming", or by visiting his Wikipedia page.

Jeff Masters
Like Bill Gray, I have not published any papers on climate science. As I have spent most of my career developing Wunderground.com, I have published just five peer-reviewed scientific papers, and none since I got my Ph.D. My research has been on air pollution, and on airborne wind and pressure measurement in hurricanes. I did seven years of computer modeling during my air pollution science career. I used and modified the code of models that did 7-day weather forecasts, and of air pollution models that incorporated the full chemistry, solar radiation, and meteorology of the atmosphere. I do not have any experience using the General Circulation Models (GCMs) that were used to formulate the IPCC climate reports, though many of the components of the models I worked with are incorporated into GCMs. My modeling experience has led me to believe that the models used to formulate the IPCC report are valid scientific tools that are sufficiently accurate to give us a general idea of where our climate is headed. I belong to one environmental group, the Nature Conservancy. Politically, I do not label myself a Democrat or Republican, because I believe that both parties are fundamentally corrupted by the money large corporations give to them. I see an urgent need for campaign finance reform and limits on lobbying in order to restore the democracy our Founding Fathers envisioned. My primary career goal is to gain as deep an understanding of the atmosphere as possible and communicate that knowledge to those interested. I am looking forward to serving in that role for many more years--the next decade will be an extremely interesting one, and we should have a pretty definitive answer as to who is right by the end of the decade.

Next post
I'll have a new post Friday, there's a lot going on.

Jeff Masters

Updated: 5:39 PM GMT en Diciembre 10, 2009

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2000s: hottest decade on record; dangerous blizzard pounds Midwest

By: JeffMasters, 3:33 PM GMT en Diciembre 09, 2009

The end of the decade is upon us, and this decade was the warmest decade on record, according to NOAA and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The decade of the 2000s was 0.17°C (0.31°F) warmer than the 1990s, according to NOAA. The "official" scientific assessments on climate change, the IPCC reports, have been predicting that Earth's temperature rise should average about 0.19°C per decade, due to human-caused global warming. Thus, the warming over the past decade is about 10% below predictions--well within the uncertainties that natural variation in the climate can bring. Of course, one can look at shorter time periods and say that no warming is occurring. The hottest year on record globally was 1998, according to the UK's HadCRUT3 data set, and was 2005, according to the data sets maintained by NASA and NOAA. It is apparent from the plot of global temperature anomalies (Figure 1) that the global temperature rise has flattened out since 2005. One can correctly say that global temperatures have not increased since 2005. However, climate is measured on time scales of decades, so it is incorrect to say that the climate has not warmed since 2005. It is meaningless to any statement about climate on any time scale less than ten years. Thirty years is better, since the atmosphere has natural multi-decadal oscillations, and the solar cycle of 11 years is also important. Global average temperature oscillates 0.1°C between the maximum and minimum of the solar cycle, and we are currently in an unusually long minimum.


Figure 1. Change in global surface temperature anomaly as computed by NOAA (NCDC Dataset), NASA (GISS data set) and combined Hadley Center and Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia (UK) (HadCRUT3 data set). Uncertainty in the HadCRUT3 data is shown in gray. Image credit: WMO.

Mass front-page climate change editorial published in 45 countries
An unprecedented joint editorial urging action on climate change appeared in 56 newspapers in 45 countries yesterday. Many of the papers carried the editorial on the front page. The editorial began: "Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year's inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world's response has been feeble and half-hearted.". According to Editor & Publisher, the editorial was published in 20 languages including Chinese, Arabic and Russian. The text was drafted by the UK newspaper, The Guardian, in conjunction with editors from more than 20 of the papers involved. A number of U.S. papers supported the project and agreed with everything in the editorial, but only one--the Miami Herald--was brave enough to publish it.

Posts on the hacked climate scientists' emails
If you haven't read my posts on the hacked email affair, my attitude on the matter can best be summed up by a highly amusing political cartoon by Houston Chronicle cartoonist Nick Anderson. While an investigation is needed into whether the scientific data involved was properly withheld from other scientists, there is nothing in the hacked emails that affects the validity of any of the published peer-reviewed science on climate change. "Climategate" is a manufactured scandal designed to take attention away from the scientific consensus that human-caused global warming is responsible for most of the observed warming in recent decades, and that this warming will increase dramatically in coming decades. My posts on the affair:

Don't shoot the messenger
Embattled UK climate scientist steps down
The Manufactured Doubt industry and the hacked email controversy
Is more CO2 beneficial for Earth's ecosystems?

Ricky Rood in Copenhagen
Our Climate Change expert, Dr. Ricky Rood, is in Copenhagen for the COP15 climate change summit. Check out his blog over the next two weeks to hear an insider's view of what's going on.

Major winter storm blasts the Plains and Western U.S.
It's a bad day to be in Iowa, unless you happen to be a polar bear. I'll back up that startling claim with some hard data: at 4:35 am CST, Carroll, Iowa reported heavy snow, sustained winds of 38 mph, gusting to 48, visibility 350 yards, a temperature of 9°F, and a windchill of -17°F. The mighty storm responsible was centered over Lake Michigan this morning, and is bringing blizzard conditions to Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and northern Michigan. The storm has brought very high winds to large portion of the country. Sustained winds of 53 mph, gusting to 77 mph were reported in Ruidiso, New Mexico yesterday afternoon, and hurricane-force wind gusts were reported in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas yesterday. A peak gust of 105 mph was reported in Texas' Guadeloupe Mountains. Heavy rain from the storm has also brought localized flooding to California, Arizona, and Louisiana.

Some snow amounts from the storm so far (with distances in miles from the city included, where appropriate):

...ARIZONA...
FLAGSTAFF 7.8 SSW 30.4
JACOB LAKE 24.0
WILLIAMS 0.4 SW 20.0
GRAND CANYON SOUTH RIM 18.0

...CALIFORNIA...
KIRKWOOD SKI AREA 48.0
ALPINE MEADOWS 45.0
SODA SPRINGS 40.0
KINGVALE 1.3 WSW 37.0
NORTHSTAR 36.0
CISCO 5 ENE 35.0
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE 8 SSW 31.0
MAMMOTH LAKES 14.0

...COLORADO...
PAGOSA SPRINGS 9.1 NNW 33.0
CARBONDALE 8.2 S 24.8
CRESTED BUTTE 6.2 N 24.5
DURANGO 24.0
BAYFIELD 7 N 23.5
DOLORES 22 NE 23.0
GREELEY 2.3 SE 22.0
PAGOSA SPRINGS 3 SE 22.0

...IDAHO...
WESTON 4.0
POCATELLO AIRPORT 3.7
BOISE 6.7 SE 3.5

...KANSAS...
MARYSVILLE 14.0
LINCOLN 5 NE 12.0
CONCORDIA 5 SSE 11.0
HAYS 13 WNW 9.0
SALINA 8.0
ABILENE 5 SSW 7.0
MANHATTAN 7.0

...NEBRASKA...
TECUMSEH 13.5
ORD 12.0
OMAHA 3 N 8.6
KEARNEY 8.0
INDIANOLA 6.0

...NEW MEXICO...
LAS VEGAS 8.4 NW 8.0
SANTA FE 3.3 NE 5.5
TAOS PUEBLO 2.8 NW 5.2
GALLUP 8.1 NNW 4.8

...NEVADA...
HEAVENLY VALLEY 34.0
MT ROSE SKI AREA 23.0
CARSON CITY 1.3 NW 18.0
RENO 7.1 N 13.7
SUN VALLEY 0.9 N 10.5

...SOUTH DAKOTA...
SIOUX FALLS 6.0

...UTAH...
VERDUE 8 WNW 25.0
SPRINGDELL 23.0
ORDERVILLE 19.0
SPRINGVILLE 10.0

...WYOMING...
SAND LAKE 11.0
DIVIDE PEAK 9.0
LARAMIE 27.3 WSW 6.0
CHEYENNE 26.7 NE 4.3

Next post
I'll have a new post Thursday; there's a lot going on.

Jeff Masters

Climate Change

Updated: 7:41 PM GMT en Agosto 16, 2011

Permalink

EPA rules greenhouse gases threaten public health; winter storm pounds U.S.

By: JeffMasters, 4:03 PM GMT en Diciembre 08, 2009

In a press release yesterday the EPA announced: "After a thorough examination of the scientific evidence and careful consideration of public comments, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today that greenhouse gases (GHGs) threaten the public health and welfare of the American people. The ruling comes in response to the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision that GHGs fit within the Clean Air Act definition of air pollutants, and paves the way for the EPA to regulate CO2 as a pollutant. In the event Congress does not pass legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions, the EPA now has the power to do that on its own. In the words of the press release, "President Obama and Administrator Jackson have publicly stated that they support a legislative solution to the problem of climate change and Congress. efforts to pass comprehensive climate legislation. However, climate change is threatening public health and welfare, and it is critical that EPA fulfill its obligation to respond to the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that determined that greenhouse gases fit within the Clean Air Act definition of air pollutants." The first EPA rule to limit CO2 would likely affect cars and light-duty trucks. Over 23% of U.S. greenhouse gases emissions are caused by on-road vehicles. Rules drafted on September 15, 2009, if imposed, would require vehicles sold between 2012 - 2016 to average 35.5 MPG.

Release of hacked emails had "organization and orchestration", UEA official says
Prof Trevor Davies, pro-vice chancellor at the University of East Angelina where the "climategate" hacked email controversy began, said in an interview yesterday: "A lot of people have remarked that it seems an unlikely co-incidence that this happened just before Copenhagen. There are indications that the people who stole this data and documents have had them for some time. They have clearly had the chance to go through them and we have had to check them ourselves. I think from the way that this has mushroomed and the very rapid responses on various blog sites, it seems to me that it has some organization and orchestration".

Meanwhile, in the U.S., the FBI is investigating death threats made against two U.S. climate scientists involved in the emails. Clearly, meteorologists involved in tornado and hurricane chasing are risking their lives in the cause of science, but who would have thought that meteorologists sitting behind a computer crunching numbers would be risking their lives? Crazy life!.

Other posts on the hacked climate change email affair
Don't shoot the messenger
Embattled UK climate scientist steps down
The Manufactured Doubt industry and the hacked email controversy
Is more CO2 beneficial for Earth's ecosystems?

Ricky Rood in Copenhagen
Our Climate Change expert, Dr. Ricky Rood, is in Copenhagen for the COP15 climate change summit. His post on the "climategate" affair is one of the more intelligent and diplomatic commentaries I've seen.

Major winter storm blasts the Plains and Western U.S.
Meanwhile, back in North America, it is winter. The season's first widespread heavy snow event is here, with a fierce winter storm that is the pounding the west. The storm will dump heavy snow along a wide swath across a large region of the country, from California to Michigan. The storm brought blizzard conditions and a foot of snow to northern Arizona today. Fierce thunderstorms with winds gusts up to 74 mph hit the Phoenix region, causing widespread tree damage and power outages for 250,000 people. California's Sierra Mountains recorded over 3 feet of snow, and 1 - 3 feet of snow is expected in the mountains of southern Utah and in Colorado. Up to a foot of snow is expected tonight through Wednesday across Kansas, Iowa, southern Minnesota, and southern Wisconsin, with blizzard conditions likely in Iowa.

Some snow amounts from the storm so far (with distances in miles from the city included, where appropriate):

...CALIFORNIA...
ALPINE MEADOWS 42.0
KIRKWOOD 40.0
CISCO 5 ENE 35.0
KINGVALE 1.3 WSW 29.0
HOMEWOOD 2 SE 27.0
PROSSER CREEK RESERVOIR 24.0
FAIR PLAY 2.8 ESE 17.0
PLACERVILLE 2.9 WNW 13.0
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE 13.0
VOLCANO 5.4 NE 12.5
GRASS VALLEY 5.5 ESE 11.5
COLFAX 3.1 SW 11.0
ALTA SIERRA 0.4 WSW 10.0
SUSANVILLE 3.2 SSW 8.8
LAKE OF THE PINES 8.0
NEVADA CITY 5.4 W 5.2
FOLSOM 3.4 ESE 0.5
CARMICHAEL 1.4 W 0.3
SACRAMENTO 8.0 NE 0.1

...NEVADA...
HEAVENLY VALLEY 24.0
MT ROSE SKI AREA 23.0
CARSON CITY 1.3 NW 18.0
DAYTON 1.7 SW 13.0
RENO 7.1 N 12.0

...ARIZONA...
FLAGSTAFF 11.6
WILLIAMS 8.0
BELLEMONT 7.2
GRAND CANYON ARPT 3.0

...COLORADO...
DELTA 10.2

...UTAH...
VERDURE 8 WNW 25.0

Next post
My next post will be Wednesday.

Jeff Masters

Climate Change

Updated: 7:41 PM GMT en Agosto 16, 2011

Permalink

Don't shoot the messenger

By: JeffMasters, 3:13 PM GMT en Diciembre 06, 2009

Monday, December 7, marks the opening of the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. At that meeting, the leaders of the world will gather to negotiate an agreement to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The new agreement will be the world's road map for dealing with climate change, and the stakes are huge. It is fitting that the conference begins on the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, for the Copenhagen conference is sure to be an epic political battle. Indeed, the battle has already been underway for several weeks, with most of the action centering on a PR assault launched by the anti-CO2 regulation forces that sensationalized the contents of the hacked emails from the University of East Anglia. The Wall Street Journal has long been at the forefront of the battle to discredit the science of climate change and the scientists involved, and last week they launched a major offensive, publishing multiple opinion pieces. I'll critique one of these, a December 1 editorial by Bret Stephens which accuses climate scientists of having a vested interest in promoting alarmist views of the climate in order to get research funding. "All of them have been on the receiving end of climate change-related funding, so all of them must believe in the reality (and catastrophic imminence) of global warming just as a priest must believe in the existence of God", Stephens wrote.

Money
It's always wise to follow the money when analyzing the motivations of people. However, Ph.D. atmospheric scientists are less motivated by money than, say, the typical reader of the Wall Street Journal. I am an example of that. Nobody owns more shares of Wunderground.com than I do, yet here I am criticizing the Wall Street Journal and some of the richest and most powerful corporations on the planet--hardly the sort of action that will generate more revenue for my company. Our top climate scientists are some of the most brilliant people on the planet. They could have easily made fortunes on Wall Street devising intricate schemes to hawk sub-prime mortgages or leverage obscure derivatives. Yet these people chose climate science as a career, out of a genuine curiosity about how the world works and desire to help find the truth of whether human-caused climate change poses a significant threat to humanity. The charges that these scientists are exaggerating the danger of human-caused global warming to get more funding is a personal attack on their integrity--a typical politician's ploy to avoid talking about the issues, when one has no valid arguments to bolster one's position. In my 29 years in the weather business, I've had the honor of working with many of the world's top weather and climate scientists. I can personally vouch for their integrity and commitment to pursue the scientific truth, no matter what that truth turns out to be. These are honest, incredibly hard-working public servants who are enduring a punishing assault on their integrity because they are the bearers of bad news. The Earth has plenty of pressing problems requiring the services of brilliant scientists; these public servants will always have a job, and have no need to exaggerate dangers or invent new threats in order to get more research funding. If one reads through the entire set of 3,000 emails hacked from the University of East Anglia--not just the choice few lines excerpted from chosen emails, and then spun by the anti-CO2 regulation lobby to make the scientists look bad--you will see that these scientists are the good guys. Never once is there a mention of fabricating data or fudging results to try to get more research funding. There is no conspiring to perpetate the massive "hoax" of human-caused global warming they have been accused of. Rather, we see a picture of some very smart, hardworking, and very human and imperfect scientists that are doing their best to learn the truth, and pass that information on to the rest of us. You don't get ahead in scince by fudging the data. It's publish or perish. While the peer-review system of publication is not perfect, it generally does an excellent job of rewarding those scientists who seek to publish the truth, and rejects those who do not. Published papers that turn out to be false will, in time, crumble under the weight of subsequent studies that do uncover the truth. Smart scientists tend to have big egos and hate being wrong, so there is additional motivation to publish truthful studies that will withstand the test of time and be validated by subsequent research.

Alarmism
Mr. Stephens uses the words "alarm" or "alarmist" four times in the editorial, and he is clearly trying to provoke an emotional reaction against those Chicken Littles guilty of raising the alarm. Speaking as an atmospheric scientist, I can tell you from long experience that we are not the wild-eyed, alarmist lot that the Wall Street Journal makes us out to be. This makes for some very dull parties (if you're not excited about discussing quasi-geostrophic theory), when we get together for a big bash. Very little alarming behavior takes place. (In fact, after I dragged my wife to three straight devastatingly dull departmental Christmas parties while I was in graduate school, she forbade me from ever requiring her to go to another.) Atmospheric scientists are not an alarmist lot--put us in quiet room with a window and give us a computer and pile of data to analyze, and we'll be as happy as a clam at high tide. The portrayal of climate scientists as alarmist, money-grubbing, dishonest hucksters out to destroy the economy to further their own selfish desires for money or fame is a common theme in climate change denial attacks, and is a very narrow-minded and ignorant one. It's more convenient to shoot the messenger than to acknowledge the truth of the bad news they're bringing.

Toleration of false alarms
It is possible that the alarms climate scientists are raising over climate change will turn out to be false. Environmental scientists have in the past issued false alarms over environmental problems that did not materialize as expected. However, we should expect and tolerate some degree of false alarms, given the uncertainty in forecasting these events. If our scientists never issue a false alarm, then the tolerance for issuing alarms is not correct. Would you criticize the National Weather Service for issuing a tornado warning when a possible tornado signature is spotted on Doppler radar, since less than half of these signatures result in in an actual tornado touchdown? Or the National Hurricane Center for issuing a hurricane warning, since only 25% of the warned coast receives hurricane-force winds, on average? No, some degree of false alarms must be tolerated. Our weather forecasters are dedicated public servants, doing their job of warning the public when their best scientific judgment indicates that there might be a significant threat. It is no different with our climate scientists. They are predicting that there is a greater than 90% chance that most of the observed global warming is due to human causes. Climate scientists are extremely concerned about what their scientific results are saying, and are doing their utmost to warn a public resistant to acknowledging the danger. This resistance runs very deep among conservatives. A 2008 Pew Center poll found that 75% of Democrats with a college education believed that humans were responsible for global warming, while only 19% of college educated Republicans believed that. Conservatives' core belief that a capitalist, free market economy with limited regulation is the best economic system in the world is challenged by acknowledging that human-caused global warming is real and a threat. I greatly respect conservatives who can objectively evaluate the validity of global warming science while holding that core belief, for it is difficult to accept that the best economic system in the world could spawn such a self-destructive force. But as I detailed in a post last week, corporations, by law, exist to make a profit. If scientific research shows that a corporation's products may be harmful to the public health, it the obligation of the company to its shareholders to employ whatever legal means possible to cast doubt on this science, in order to protect profits. The profits of the richest and most powerful industry the planet has ever seen--the fossil fuel industry--are currently so threatened. Thus, we are being subject to history's greatest campaign to deny science, and it is keeping us from much-needed action to curb the danger. These voices are telling us what we want to hear--the danger is not real, the scientists are corrupt and are falsifying their data, the uncertainties are great, and that we cannot afford to change. But the laws of physics don't care about ideology or free market economies or election cycles. The overwhelming majority of our top climate scientists are saying that the laws of physics dictate that massive amounts of greenhouse gases, when added to the atmosphere, will cause warming that will be very damaging to civilization. If we are to limit that damage, we must act soon, for the approaching storm will grow ever stronger the longer we wait. Don't shoot the messengers-- they are on your side.

Other posts in this series
Embattled UK climate scientist steps down
The Manufactured Doubt industry and the hacked email controversy
Is more CO2 beneficial for Earth's ecosystems?

Next post
My timing of my next post will depend upon the weather.

Our Climate Change expert, Dr. Ricky Rood, is in Copenhagen for this week's crucial COP15 climate change treaty negotiations. Be sure to tune into his blog for updates on the talks. Wunderground has provided financial support for several University of Michigan students to attend the talks, and I may be featuring portions of their blogs over the coming weeks.

Jeff Masters

Climate Change

Updated: 7:41 PM GMT en Agosto 16, 2011

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Historic snow hits Houston; hackers target Canadian climate scientists

By: JeffMasters, 3:09 PM GMT en Diciembre 05, 2009

Snow fell over a 60-mile swath of southeast Texas yesterday, piling up to depths of four inches over some locales. The one inch of snow that fell on Houston was the earliest snow on record there, beating the record set just last year, on December 10. Remarkably, Houston has had more snow this year (1.0 inches) than Chicago (0.2 inches). The storm also dumped up to two inches of snow on portions of Louisiana and Mississippi. The 0.2 inches of snow that fell on Lake Charles, Louisiana was that city's earliest snowfall on record. The early season snow was caused by a sharp kink in the jet stream, which funneled cold, Canadian air far to the south over the Gulf of Mexico. An area of low pressure developed over the Gulf, and pulled in plenty of Gulf moisture that was able to fall to the ground as snow, due to the cold temperatures.

Hackers target Canadian climate scientists
According to an article in the National Post, the offices and computers of climate scientists working at the University of Victoria in Canada have been targeted by thieves and hackers in recent months. University spokeswoman Patty Pitts said there have been attempts to hack into climate scientists' computers, as well as incidents in which people impersonated network technicians to try to gain access to campus offices and data. These incidents took place at the Canadian Centre for Climate Modeling and Analysis, an Environment Canada facility located at the university. In addition, Dr. Andrew Weaver, a Canadian climate scientist working at the University of Victoria and a key contributor to the Nobel prize-winning work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, had his office broken into twice late last year, and his papers rummaged through and a dead computer stolen. "The key thing is to try to find anybody who's involved in any aspect of the IPCC and find something that you can...take out of context," Dr. Weaver said. "People don't like it, so they try to discredit it, and the way they try to discredit it is by attacking the individual responsible for it. The real story in this is, who are these people and why are they doing it? They're trying to find anything. They don't care what it is." Dr. Weaver stated that he believed the campaign is driven by the fossil-fuel industry, citing "a war for public opinion."

Other posts in this series
Embattled UK climate scientist steps down
The Manufactured Doubt industry and the hacked email controversy
Is more CO2 beneficial for Earth's ecosystems?

I'll have a new post on Sunday.

Jeff Masters

Climate Change

Updated: 7:41 PM GMT en Agosto 16, 2011

Permalink

Embattled UK climate scientist steps down

By: JeffMasters, 3:53 PM GMT en Diciembre 03, 2009

The embattled director of the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit (CRU), Dr. Phil Jones, announced that he will be temporarily standing aside as director. An independent review of his conduct in light of the emails illegally hacked from his computers last month is in progress. In a press release, Professor Jones said: "What is most important is that CRU continues its world leading research with as little interruption and diversion as possible. After a good deal of consideration I have decided that the best way to achieve this is by stepping aside from the Director's role during the course of the independent review and am grateful to the University for agreeing to this. The Review process will have my full support".

The University and the police are investigating the break-in, and it is currently unknown if this was the act of an insider or an external break-in. I think it is highly unlikely this was the work of an insider in a whistle-blower type of action, since a computer at realclimate.org was hacked into the same week (via a computer in Turkey), and the criminal attempted to upload the emails stolen from CRU to the realclimate.org server. This is not the sort of action a whistleblower would do. Dr. Gavin Schmidt of realclimate.org said in a comment yesterday that the CRU break-in appeared to have been done from the outside, into a backup mail server. It is unlikely the hacker acted alone, since hackers aren't typically intimately familiar with the details of the climate change science debate. The emails and code stolen were selectively culled by someone who appeared to have considerable expertise in climate science.

What did Dr. Jones do wrong?
So, what did Dr. Jones do wrong? For starters, he should have confronted the allegations raised by his critics immediately and talked candidly to the press about some of the specific accusations being made. For example, one of the emails contained the statement that he would like to "redefine what the peer-reviewed literature is" to exclude two questionable papers from the IPCC report. Well, that's not something a good scientist should seriously advocate, and is an impossibility, in any case. No one can redefine the peer-reviewed literature, since the rules for this are well-established an not subject to change. When I read the comment in the context it was made, it reads as a joke. There is no discussion in the hacked emails about how to go about redefining the peer-reviewed literature. In the end, the two papers Jones was referring to with this comment, McKitrick and Michaels (2004) and Kalnay and Cai (2003), ended up being cited and discussed in Chapter 2 of the IPCC AR4 report. Those intent on discrediting the science of human-caused global warming are spinning the comment differently, creating a controversy about something that is impossible to do, and was not being seriously suggested. Jones should have immediately spoken up to quash the hype on this comment.

The "trick" to "hide the decline"
Another area of concern is over a graph Dr. Jones helped construct in 1999 showing the "hockey stick" of Earth's surface temperature going back 1,000 years. This graph combined instrumental measurements made since the 1800s with older paleoclimate data (including data from tree rings) to show a continuous 1,000 year record of Earth's temperatures. The paleoclimate data after 1960 show a bogus decline in Earth's temperatures that does not agree with what modern thermometers have been measuring, due to a well-known variation in tree ring thickness as a function of time, referred to as "the decline". Thus, Jones elected to toss out the bogus paleoclimate data (using a "trick" to "hide the decline") rather than present it in the graph. The graph was not properly labeled to show this was done, so viewers of the graph would have had needed to be familiar with a 1998 paper published in Nature or the 1999 paper referenced in the caption on the graph, which explained this well-known data issue. The graph that Jones used his "trick" on was put into a 1999 report called the "WMO Statement on the Status of the Global Climate". The report was given to policy makers, but was never published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. No reputable climate scientist believes that the paleoclimate data since 1960 is of higher quality than the instrumental record (this is discussed in detail in Chapter 6 of the 2007 IPCC report). In order to make the "hokey stick" graph less confusing, removing "the decline" from the tree ring data is a reasonable thing to do--provided one labels the graph properly. The graph was not properly labeled. Does Jones' "trick" and failure to properly label the graph constitute data falsification, or was it merely sloppy science? The hacked emails contain no suggestions that the "trick" was done to intentionally fool people, and the "trick" never appeared in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, including the IPCC reports. In Dr. Jones' words, "This is well-known and is called the "decline" or "divergence". The use of the term "hiding the decline" was in an email written in haste. CRU has not sought to hide the decline. Indeed, CRU has published a number of articles that both illustrate, and discuss the implications of, this recent tree-ring decline, including the article that is listed in the legend of the WMO Statement figure".




Figure 1. The WMO 1999 "hockey stick" figure (top) with climate reconstructions and instrumental temperatures merged, and a version (bottom) with the climate reconstructions (coloured) and instrumental temperatures (annual & summer in black) shown separately. Note "the decline" in the temperature obtained from tree ring data (green curve) in the bottom curve. Image credit: University of East Anglia.

Global warming contrarians are spinning the "trick" as reason to discredit the "hockey stick", claiming that the data was falsified to hide the fact that tree rings were telling the real story. Since the hockey stick was falsified, some claim, the entire science behind human-caused global warming needs to be questioned. This is plain ludicrous. The graph was never published in a scientific journal. Several updated versions of the "hockey stick" graph have been published in the ten years since the disputed graph was produced, and the "hockey stick" can be reproduced in essentially the same form excluding the controversial tree rings, using other paleoclimate data such as boreholes (See Mann et al., 2008, Figure 2). Furthermore, the peer-reviewed science supporting human-caused global warming is not based solely upon the "hockey stick" and the CRU data used for the last 150 years of the hockey stick graph. There are three separate data sets of global temperatures maintained by NASA, the CRU, and NOAA's National Climatic Data Center, that all show essentially the same global warming. We also have evidence from nature herself in the form of plants and animals expanding their ranges poleward, the record loss of Arctic sea ice in 2007 and record loss of multi-year Arctic sea ice this year, the shrinking of mountain glaciers, reductions in the length of freeze season in many Northern Hemisphere lakes and rivers, the shifting of spring blooms earlier in most regions of the world, and on and on and on. Again, Jones should have spoken up immediately to kill the ridiculous hype being pushed by global warming contrarians about the importance of a 10-year old graph that is now scientifically irrelevant, and was never published.


Figure 2. The "hockey stick" of global temperature anomalies since 300 A.D., as published in a 2008 paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Mann et al.. Even if one excludes tree rings (blue curve), the hockey stick looks the same.

Resistance to releasing data to other researchers
The hacked emails also show that Dr. Jones resisted releasing his data to contrarians and urged others to delete emails regarding Freedom Of Information (FOI) related requests. Many countries protect their weather data under an international agreement called World Meteorological Organization Resolution 40, which prohibits the data from being made public (this is why wunderground can't give out the UKMET model forecasts on our web site, for example). About 5% of the CRU data fell in that category, making release illegal. However, deleting emails related to FOI requests is inadvisable and implies one has something to hide. The investigation should certainly pursue the issue of whether Dr. Jones properly handled the requests to turn over his data to outside researchers. Ideally, weather data documenting Earth's climate history should be free to everyone on the planet (I am not a big fan of WMO Resolution 40). However, another aspect to this issue is the time it takes for the scientists involved to prepare the data for release. Large, complicated data sets require extensive documentation and access to related computer codes in order to process them, and making the data available to every amateur investigator interested in the data puts an unfair burden on the scientists who maintain the data sets. In particular, an amateur climate science investigator named Stephen McIntyre, who runs the web site Climate Audit, has created such an issue. McIntyre, a retired mining executive and an investor, is not a professional scientist, but has been successful identifying several technical errors made in the published literature. He has also generated a huge amount of misleading and incorrect information over the years, and has done a tremendous amount of damage to the understanding of climate science. McIntyre is intent on discrediting the science of human-caused global warming--presumably for ideological reasons, since he has no obvious ties to the fossil fuel industry--and has generated a large number of Freedom of Information requests to further his cause. One of the hacked emails, from Dr. Ben Santer, complained that McIntyre's FOI requests were intrusive and unreasonable with no scientific justification or explanation given, and appeared to be a calculated strategy to divert Santer's attention and focus away from research. It's worth reading Santer's reaction to the hacked email affair to learn more. Given such tactics by McIntyre, Dr. Jones' resistance to FOI requests from McIntyre is understandable, but appears to have been poorly handled.

The science of human-caused global warming remains unaffected
None of the hacked emails reveal any conspiracy to publish falsified or "fudged" material in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. The science of human-caused global warming will require no revision as a result of this affair. Baseless accusations of fraud, data manipulation, and conspiracy against climate change scientists stemming from the hacked emails are being massively hyped by the Manufactured Doubt industry in an effort to discredit climate scientists, since no flaw with the science can be found. Most of the public is in no position to distinguish good science from bad, so if you can create doubt, uncertainty, and confusion, you can win--or at least buy time, lots of it. The hacked email affair is all about politics, not science. Dr. Jones is an excellent scientist, but unfortunately was over-matched as a politician. It was hardly a fair fight--one scientist against the political might of the mightiest PR campaign against science ever waged, armed with some selectively culled stolen emails taken out of context.

Other posts in this series
The Manufactured Doubt industry and the hacked email controversy
Is more CO2 beneficial for Earth's ecosystems?

Next post
I'm working on a post called, "Don't shoot the messenger", and plan to run this Sunday or Monday.

Our Climate Change expert, Dr. Ricky Rood, will be in Copenhagen for Monday's start to the crucial COP15 climate change treaty negotiations. Be sure to tune into his blog for updates on the talks. Wunderground has provided financial support for several University of Michigan students to attend the talks, and I may be featuring portions of their blogs over the coming weeks.

Jeff Masters

Climate Change

Updated: 7:42 PM GMT en Agosto 16, 2011

Permalink

Fierce storm hammers Southeast U.S.

By: JeffMasters, 2:17 PM GMT en Diciembre 02, 2009

The Southeast U.S. is under the gun today from a combination of severe thunderstorms, high winds, heavy rain, and coastal storm surge flooding. A tornado was reported on the ground near Eglin Air Force Base, Florida this morning, and tornado warnings have been posted for two separate squall lines moving through the Florida Panhandle and neighboring regions of Alabama and Georgia. These squall lines are expected to intensify and generate tornadoes, heavy rain, and strong winds as they push eastwards today. The Storm Prediction Center (SPC) has put most of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina in their "Slight Risk" category for severe weather today, warning of the possibility of supercell thunderstorms capable of spawning tornadoes. If the air mass in front of these squall lines becomes sufficiently unstable this afternoon due to solar heating of the lower atmosphere and other factors, SPC may need to upgrade their severe weather category to "Moderate Risk", the second highest level of risk.


Figure 1. Satellite image of the December 2 storm. Image credit: NASA/GSFC.

The storm's powerful winds blowing over the Gulf of Mexico have created storm surges of 2 - 3 feet along the coast, from New Orleans to the Florida Panhandle. A storm surge of two feet was recorded in Waveland, Mississippi last night and this morning, which caused flooding of low-lying roads in Hancock County. New Orleans recorded 2.42" of rain yesterday from the storm, breaking their record for the rainiest December 1. Radar-estimated rainfall (Figure 2) shows up to five inches of rain has fallen over some regions of the Florida Panhandle, and additional rainfall amounts of 2 - 5 inches are expected along the track of the storm as it heads north-northeast today. Flash flooding was reported in Charleston, SC this morning, closing several roads.


Figure 2. Radar-estimated rainfall from the December 2 Gulf Coast storm.

Also receiving a pounding from the storm were the Gulf Coast beaches from Dauphin Island, Alabama, to the Florida Panhandle near Pensacola. A storm surge of two feet, topped by battering waves 10 - 12 feet high, probably caused millions of dollars of erosion damage last night and this morning. A 16-mile stretch of man-made beach encompassing the Alabama coastal communities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach suffered $5 million in erosion damage from the pounding delivered by Tropical Storm Ida last month. The two beach communities, along with Gulf State Park, spent about $24.2 million in 2005 to strengthen 16 miles of shoreline by dredging about 6 million cubic yards of sand from the sea floor and dumping it on shore. Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008 did about $9.5 million in erosion damage to the Gulf Shores beach. Because the beach is man-made, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Alabama Emergency Management Agency treated it as they do bridges and highways, paying 85 percent of the tab to repair storm damage.

You can follow today's severe weather outbreak with our Severe Weather and Tornado pages.

Second Annual Portlight Honor Walk this weekend
When:
Saturday, December 5, 2009 or Sunday, December 6, 2009

What:
A nationwide grassroots event to raise funds for and awareness of Portlight's ongoing efforts specifically aimed at providing Christmas presents for kids and families devastated by the recent Atlanta floods, South Carolina wildfires, American Samoa tsunami, and other disasters that may occur.

Why:
Un-served, underserved and forgotten people are depending on us.

How:
We need one hundred people across the country to commit to walking one mile on this day, and to raise at least $300.00 in sponsorship from friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, etc. Participants can choose where to walk--it can be the park, the mall the neighborhood--anywhere you choose. The first 100 participants to raise at least $300 will receive a commemorative T-Shirt.

To register, simply e-mail your intention to participate at paul@portlight.org

Check the Portlight featured Weather Underground Blog regularly for updates!

The Honor Walk Sponsor Form available here will help you keep track of funds and pledges:
http://www.portlight.org/images/walkerform.pdf

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The embattled director of the Climate Research Unit (CRU) of the UK's University of East Anglia announced that he will be temporarily standing aside as director until an independent review resulting from allegations following the publication of emails illegally hacked from his computers. I'll be posting a response tonight or Thursday morning, assuming that today's storm does not generate a deadly tornado outbreak. I'm also working on a post titled, "Don't Shoot the Messenger", in response to charges by the Wall Street Journal in an editorial yesterday that climate scientists have a vested interest in promoting alarmist views of the climate in order to get research funding.

Jeff Masters

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Updated: 7:05 PM GMT en Enero 05, 2012

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About JeffMasters

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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