Friday, December 28, 2012

A Not So Merry Christmas!

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

From The Night Before Christmas

For some there were no children snug in the beds with visions of sugar-plums dancing in their heads.  No time to settle down for a long winter’s nap.  The winds were howling and the snow was flying, while tornadoes danced south keeping everyone on edge.  This year Mother Nature would be part of the tale.

Meteorologists were kept busy forecasting what’s next;
Many monitored each storm and sent out the text;
For many the weather was not so genteel;
Like the tornado that passed through the heart of Mobile;
Most were quite nervous as the storms moved east;
Not knowing what to expect from this awesome beast;
But most survived Mother Nature’s disorder;
Because they were warned by meteorologists and reporters.

There was no surprise from the Christmas Day storm.  It had been forecast well in advance.  The European model hinted that it might take place as I mentioned on-air a week before it happened.  What happened?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

It's All About Chemistry

In 1827 the French mathematician and scientist, Jean-Baptiste Joseph Fourier postulated that something in the atmosphere was helping keep the earth warmer than it might otherwise.  He is generally credited with discovering the greenhouse effect even though he did not coin the phrase.  However, his work set the stage for later developments in the nineteenth century.

It was the British scientist John Tyndall who demonstrated the absorption of infrared radiation from different gases in 1861.  His work found that nearly all of the greenhouse effect was due to just a few trace gases like water vapor and carbon dioxide (CO2).  This was a startling discovery, because it had huge implications for Earth’s climate.

The Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius was the first to actually detail how a doubling of carbon dioxide would change the global temperature with the publication of his work in 1896.  His work eventually led to the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1903.  He is recognized with beginning modern climate science.

The discovery of global warming is a fascinating story.  I highly recommend the book by Spencer Weart by the name The Discovery of Global Warming.  If you are interested in the scientific papers, it is available in the collection called the The Warming Papers edited by David Archer and Raymond Pierrehumbert.

Note that the foundation of climate science occurred over a century ago.  It is also noteworthy that the trace gases were recognized for their ability to influence Earth’s climate as far back as the nineteenth century.

Fast forward to today.  The burning of fossil fuels has fueled (pardon the pun) the world economic growth.  China and the U.S. are the two largest emitters of CO2.  In the latest accounting the global growth in emissions continues.

How do we know that the increases in CO2 come from burning fossil fuels?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Denial Amongst TV Weathercasters

I was surprised this past week by an article in Rolling Stone magazine.  The article covered the issue of the denial of human-caused climate change among the nation’s television weathercasters.  It is an issue that has puzzled me given the science and the consensus among climate scientists.  One has to question why so many TV weathercasters seem to know more than climate scientists.  The article highlights a rather vocal group of communicators and can be seen here.

Screen grab of the Rolling Stone website.  Image Credit: Rolling Stone

There is one statement that I disagree with in the article.  It states that “Yet the cause of much of the meteorological mayhem – global warming – was rarely mentioned on air.”  The author implies that Sandy was caused by global warming.  I do not believe that this is accurate.  Sandy and other “meteorological mayhem” was enhanced in it destructiveness by global warming and climate change as I have written previously.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

We're Melting! Melting!

“You cursed brat! Look what you've done! I'm melting! melting! Oh, what a world! What a world! Who would have thought a good little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness? Oooooh, look out! I'm going! Oooooh! Ooooooh!”

                                                                                          From the Wizard of OZ

Dorothy watches the Wicked Witch of the West melt in the Wizard of Oz.  Image Credit: Everett Collection.

How many times have you seen this movie?  I won’t spoil the ending if you haven’t.  However, I couldn’t help remembering this line from the movie Wizard of Oz as I read a new report this week.

The report was published in the November 30 issue of the journal Science.  It was the work of 47 experts in glaciology from 26 institutions worldwide and the best estimate we have of the amount of ice being lost from Greenland and Antarctica.  The team analyzed different sets of data covering the period from 1992 to 2011 and included satellite measurements from NASA.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Give Thanks for Quiet Weather

Thanksgiving Day is the fourth Thursday in November so that the date changes each year.  This year it is on the 22nd which is the earliest that it occurs.  For Christmas shoppers it means you have more time between Thanksgiving and Christmas to get those gifts.  Next year, 2013, Thanksgiving Day will fall on the 28th which is the latest date that it occurs.

The weather can be bitter or balmy or anything in between.  Research by Climate Central shows that in Columbia, SC, the warmest Thanksgiving Day was in 1900 with 81 degrees F.  The coldest temperature recorded has been 21 degrees F in 1970.  It is interesting that 1 inch of snow fell in 1912.  However, there has not been a measurable snowfall on Christmas Day in Columbia.

Click on the image for a larger view.  Image credit: Climate Central.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Sandy: A Story of Survival

There have been a number of stories in the media of surviving Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy.  Tragically more than 200 people have lost their lives from the Caribbean to the Northeast.  Sandy was a hurricane as it moved through the Caribbean toward Cuba.  A number of lives were lost in Haiti due to the excessive rains.  The country was still trying to recover from the devastating earthquake in January, 2010.  Sandy has been a setback for the nation.

We have seen the images and heard the stories of Sandy from those affected in the Northeast.  There have been two stories that have jumped out at me in the past week.  The first was published here in the New York Times.  Stories like this remind me of the same stories told by hurricane survivors along the Southeast & Gulf coasts.  Why would anyone stay after seeing the devastation brought by Sandy?

Oblique aerial photographs of Mantoloking, NJ. View looking west along the New Jersey shore. Storm waves and surge cut across the barrier island at Mantoloking, NJ, eroding a wide beach, destroying houses and roads, and depositing sand onto the island and into the back-bay. Construction crews with heavy machinery are seen clearing sand from roads and pushing sand seaward to build a wider beach and protective berm just days after the storm. The yellow arrow in each image points to the same feature.  Image Credit: USGS.

Then there is this story of survival by Steve Hartmann of CBS.  His is a story of a son who decided to stay to protect the house.  I encourage everyone to see this.  It is one of the best examples of why you should never stay to protect property.  Fortunately no one was killed in this example.

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There are many lessons to be learned from Sandy.  CBS This Morning briefly mentioned a few thoughts as they interviewed a reporter from Time magazine.

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It will take time to recover from Sandy.  However, this is the time to think about the next storm.  Many will get money from FEMA or some other source to rebuild.  But why build in a vulnerable spot when the next storm will simply inflict the same result?

Andy Revkin of Dot Earth wrote an article explaining how so much was at risk in Sandy.  Simply rebuilding as before is a waste of money in my view.  Keep in mind that much of this is funded by taxpayers.  I do not mind helping victims with their loss, but to simply put the money back in harm’s way is a waste.

Local and state governments are reluctant to restrict rebuilding in vulnerable areas, because of the loss of revenue.  To declare land off limit to rebuilding is to reduce the revenue base.  Yet the cost to taxpayers is increasing.  Many of the same issues are happening in South Carolina and the result will likely be the same as in Sandy.

Furthermore, we need to rethink the infrastructure.  Areas need to be fortified and the electrical grid upgraded to weather future storms.  Of course the entire national grid needs to be upgraded to the 21st century.  The frequency and severity of storms is increasing.  If we are to adapt to a changing climate, then this must be done.

Last night Nova aired a special program on PBS called Inside the Megastorm.  It is a look at the forecasts for Sandy, surviving the storm, and a look at the future.  If you missed the program, here it is:

Watch Inside the Megastorm on PBS. See more from NOVA.

The forecast for Sandy was excellent.  I first wrote about the potential eight days before landfall here.  There was plenty of warning that the storm was coming and that it would be bad.  Yet, there could have been better communication and preparation for the storm.

Still Sandy was an unusual hurricane.  I will address this in a latter post.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Public Supports Action

The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University released their survey of the public (as of September 2012) in a bi-annual report.  A staggering 92% of Americans say the President and Congress should make developing sources of clean energy a priority.  The full report can be seen here.

The cover for the new report.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Rise Of Extreme Weather

Extreme weather has always been with us, but the trend over the past few decades has been for it to increase in number.  The Climate Extremes Index (CEI) was developed by the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) and goes back to 1910.  It looks at the number of events that occur.  The graph below compares the period of January through October so that data from this year can be included.

The CEI for the period of January - October 1910 - 2012.  Image Credit: NOAA/NCDC.

The CEI with the experimental tropical cyclone indicator included.  Image Credit: NOAA/NCDC.

A new report recently released (before Hurricane Sandy) by Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurance company, re-enforces this observation.  The report is about the increase in extreme weather over North America.  The report states:

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Growing Season Ends For 2012

Frosts and freezes were common across the midlands of South Carolina this morning.  A few areas saw temperatures drop to freezing on the first of November, but most of those readings were in low-lying protected areas.  However, much of the area saw temperatures to freezing this morning.  A few areas like the city of Columbia still have not reached freezing, but most of the area saw enough frost to end the growing season for the Midlands.

Low temperatures for the first-order stations in South Carolina for Friday, November 9.  Image Credit: WLTX-TV.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Six Days Of Sandy

Much has been or will be written about Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy.  The impacts are still being assessed and it may be weeks before we have the full picture.  It was an historic and unprecedented storm.  NASA has put together a wonderful video of Sandy from its development as a tropical depression to its transformation to a superstorm and finally a weaker system.  The time period covered here is from October 23 to 31.

However, an even better video covering the period October 25 to 31 was produced by NOAA NESDIS.  These rapid scan images were produced into a time-lapse movie as an experiment using the GOES-14 image.  The images are using visible light with a one kilometer resolution.

Movie credit: NOAA/CIMSS at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Sandy is too large a storm to be viewed entirely at this resolution.  The view is centered on the central core and extends out a few hundred miles.  It begins in the central Bahamas as a hurricane and transforms north of the Bahamas as a hybrid storm.  Finally, Sandy makes a transition to extratropical just before making landfall on October 29th.

This is a fascinating view of the storm.  I hope you will appreciate the power being generated by Sandy.  You can see the tops of thunderstorms bubbling up through the cirrus overcast.  Sandy generated a tropical storm force wind field that was up to 1000 miles across at times.  The central pressure was so low that if it had been a pure hurricane it would have been a category 4 storm.  However, the transition to a hybrid spread the winds over a much larger area preventing Sandy from concentrating the winds near the center.


Monday, October 29, 2012

Sandy Update: Monday

Update: 10 p.m. EDT

Sandy made landfall about 5 miles southwest of Atlantic City, New Jersey around 8 p.m. EDT.  It came ashore as an extratropical cyclone as Sandy made a quick transition during the late afternoon.  The storm still had sustained winds up to 80 mph and was moving west-northwest at 21 mph.  Sandy slowed as it moved inland and may slow some more over the next few hours.

The windfield around Sandy as of 9 p.m. EDT, October 29, 2012.  Click on the image for a larger view.  Image Credit: NOAA.
Notice the area colored in yellow.  These are winds in the range of 45 to 60 mph.  This is a very large area of high winds and it is pushing water into New York harbor due to the southeast winds.  It produced a record flood for lower Manhattan.

Sandy continues to move inland and was near Wilmington, Delaware as of 10 p.m. EDT.  Inland winds of 40 to 50 mph were common.  This heaviest rains were now south and west of the center.

The radar from Dover AFB as of 10 p.m. EDT, October 29, 2012.  Sandy was centered southwest of Wilmington, Delaware.  Image Credit: WLTX-TV.
Heavy snows are now falling in West Virginia and western Virginia.  The snow extends south into the mountains of North Carolina, but amounts have been generally light so far.  More snow is expected overnight and through the day on Tuesday.

Update: 6 p.m. EDT

Sandy is now extratropical.  However, that does not alter the overall pattern of the storm.  It has been making rapid transition during the past few hours.  The 5 p.m. analysis of the wind field is below with the radar composite from 5:48 p.m.  The storm is approaching Cape May, New Jersey and should make landfall in about an hour.

The wind field over the radar.  Click on the image for a larger view.  The storm is extratropical.  Image Credit: NOAA.

Update: 2 p.m. EDT

Hurricane Sandy is accelerating and turning to the west-northwest.  The storm has been moving northwest over the past three hours, but it is clearly turning.  Forward motion is now 28 mph and central pressure is 940 mb (27.76 in.).  Maximum sustained winds still at 90 mph, but it appears that an area of strongest winds are developing north of the center.

Windfall analysis as of 1 p.m. EDT October 29, 2012.  Image Credit: NOAA.
Radar image of Sandy as of 2 p.m. EDT October 29, 2012.  Image Credit: WLTX-TV.
The faster forward motion means that the center will cross the coast earlier than forecast.  In addition, it could move faster as it is affected by a strongly negatively tilted trough shown in this mornings upper-air analysis.  The jet stream may cause a further deepening of the pressure.

Analysis of the 250 mb level showing strong winds along the East Coast.  Image Credit: NCAR/RAP.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Dance Begins

The upper-level trough that has been moving through the central part of the U.S. is beginning to affect Hurricane Sandy.  It is moving east and energy will be moving into the base of the trough that will cause to tilt negatively.  Initially this will push the hurricane to the northeast.  However, as the trough gets close and the upper-level winds back, Sandy will turn north and then westward moving inland in the Northeast.

The 500 mb analysis for Friday evening October 26, 2012.  Click on the image for a larger view.  Image Credit: WSI.

Wind shear has been increasing over the hurricane and it is beginning to resemble a hybrid system.  A warm core typical of the tropical cyclone is in place, but the center does not have a ring of thunderstorms surrounding it.  NASA imagery showed the thunderstorms displaced to the north Friday evening.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Perfect Storm 2

In the previous post, which was written on Sunday, I described a scenario that would play out over the next 7 to 10 days.  The details often change significantly at those time frames.  However, the computer models have done a reasonably good job at the overall weather pattern.  The model which has performed the best in my opinion has been the European model at the medium-range.  Now most of the models are clustered toward a similar solution, although the American model (GFS) continues to show some strange results.

The overall pattern is a negatively tilted trough pushing into the eastern part of the country and picking up the northward moving hurricane.  As the two interact Sandy will transform from a tropical cyclone to a nor’easter.  The wind will greatly expand and the storm may become a monster worthy of a Halloween trick.  Sandy will weaken as a hurricane, but may strengthen as a nor’easter before moving into Northeast.

The 500mb forecast pattern by the ECMWF model.  The top chart is for Sunday evening while the bottom chart is for Tuesday morning.  Click on the image for a larger view.  Image Credit: WSI.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Coastal Storm Followed By Cold Weather?

The South Carolina State Fair was lucky and enjoyed great weather for its entire run which ended today.  Dry weather is expected to continue over the Midlands most of the coming week and it will be delightful fall weather.  However, the weather pattern will begin changing this week and the Midlands, as well as much of the East coast, will be challenged by the changing conditions next weekend.

All of the computer models, used for medium-range weather forecasts, are converging on a solution that changes the weather for much of North America.  The change is already underway.  It is happening in the middle troposphere (500 mb) over western Canada where a double-barrel low pressure system is pushing the polar jet stream south from Alaska to California.

The 500 mb chart for 00z, 22 Oct 2012.  Winds generally blow parallel to the contours lines.  Click on the image for a larger view.  Image Credit: WSI.

This will bring colder air south into the western U.S.  The low pressure system will slowly swing east and become an elongated trough of low pressure.  It will extend through the Plains states on Saturday intensifying a surface low pressure system and moving it north toward the Arctic.  At the same time a tropical system will be headed north from the Caribbean Sea into the Bahamas.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Winter Outlook for 2012-13

The Climate Prediction Center released its early outlook for the upcoming winter this morning.  Much of the western U.S. will see warmer than normal temperatures while cooler than normal temperatures are expected for the Florida peninsula.  Equal chances of above or below normal temperatures are forecast for much of the East.

Much of the West will be dry particularly in the Pacific Northwest.  The Central Gulf region is expected to be wetter than normal.  This may help ease the drought in Georgia and South Carolina.

Click on either graphic for a larger version or go here for the temperature map and here for the precipitation map.  Image Credit: NOAA\CPC.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Leaves Are Changing, But Later

By Climate Central

If it seems like autumn leaves are taking longer to change color, you’re not imagining things. Over the past 25 years, the onset of autumn has shifted. Fall now arrives two and a half weeks later in Columbia than it did in the early 1980s. This reflects the shift that's happening around the country, where leaves are staying on trees about 10.5 days later across the lower 48 states (see below).

The journal sourced is on the graphic.  Click on the image for a larger view.  Image Credit: Climate Central.

How do we know? Using satellite-based measurements of the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), which gauges leaf cover over wide areas, researchers at the Seoul National University in Korea found that the end of the growing season occurred progressively later over the course of their 26-year study. By noting the time of year changes in color occurred most rapidly, the researchers could track when fall in the lower 48 states started between 1982 and 2008.