Sunday, January 29, 2012

2011 Global Temperatures and A Look Ahead

There are three organizations that regularly analyze the global temperature record on an annual basis.  The three international global temperature data sets are from the Met Office and University of East Anglia (HadCRUT3), NOAA National Climatic Data Center (NOAA NCDC) and NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies (NASA GISS).  Final figures from HadCRUT3 will not be available until March, 2012.  While the other two are also preliminary, the additional data yet to come will not likely change the findings.

This is what the three data sets looked like together as of October, 2011:

Image credit: UK Met Office.

NASA GISS recently released its figure for all of 2011.  The year was the ninth warmest on record according to its analysis.  Meanwhile, HadCRUT3 and NOAA NCDC listed this past year as the eleventh warmest on record.

Global temperature anomalies 1880-2011.  Image credit: NASA GISS

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Decline in Solar Output Unlikely to Offset Global Warming

This is a repost of a press release from the UK Met Office issued on January 23, 2012.

Image Credit: NASA/SDO.
New research has found that solar output is likely to reduce over the next 90 years but that will not substantially delay expected increases in global temperatures caused by greenhouse gases.
Carried out by the Met Office and the University of Reading, the study establishes the most likely changes in the Sun's activity and looks at how this could affect near-surface temperatures on Earth.

It found that the most likely outcome was that the Sun's output would decrease up to 2100, but this would only cause a reduction in global temperatures of 0.08 °C. This compares to an expected warming of about 2.5 °C over the same period due to greenhouse gases (according to the IPCC's B2 scenario for greenhouse gas emissions that does not involve efforts to mitigate emissions).

Gareth Jones, a climate change detection scientist with the Met Office, said: "This research shows that the most likely change in the Sun's output will not have a big impact on global temperatures or do much to slow the warming we expect from greenhouse gases.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

2011 Extreme Weather Update

The year 2011 was already a record for the most billion-dollar + disasters.  Now two more disasters have been added to the list.  They include Tropical Storm Lee which made landfall in Louisiana on September 2nd and a Rockies and Midwest severe weather outbreak which occurred July 10-14.

Tropical Storm Lee caused wind and flood damage across the Southeast, but considerably more damage to housing, businesses, and infrastructure from the record flooding across the Northeast states, especially Pennsylvania and New York. The storm occurred in an area that had experienced heavy rainfall from Hurricane Irene barely a week earlier.  Meanwhile, in the Midwest much of the damage was from wind, hail, and flooding impacts to homes, business, and agriculture.

Therefore the total number of billion-dollar disasters is now at 14 and there are a few more that are being analyzed that could increase the number.  This brings the cumulative damage estimate to more than 50 billion dollars.

From extreme drought, heat waves and floods to unprecedented tornado outbreaks, hurricanes, wildfires and winter storms, a record 14 weather and climate disasters in 2011 each caused $1 billion or more in damages — and most regrettably, loss of human lives and property. Image Credit: NOAA

The insurance company Munich Re has been collecting and analyzing natural hazards and losses worldwide for more than 35 years.  It has accumulated a database of over 30,000 events.  At the 2011 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa, Munich Re made the following statement "The number of major weather-related natural catastrophes has almost tripled since 1980. The number of flood loss events has gone up by a factor of more than three, and the number of windstorm natural catastrophes has more than doubled."

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Geomagnetic Storm in Progress

The sun erupted late Sunday night with an M8.7 class flare, an earth-directed coronal mass ejection (CME), and a burst of fast moving, highly energetic protons known as a "solar energetic particle" event.  This is producing the strongest radiation storm since September 2005 according to NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center.

That news was flashed around the globe yesterday in preparation for the arrival of the CME.  It arrived at earth about 15z (11 a.m. ET) this morning.  It does not pose a threat to anyone on the surface, but some planes flying over the poles have been rerouted.

The event was captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory.  The video shows the eruption toward the end.

From NASA:

What is a solar flare?

 A solar flare is an intense burst of radiation coming from the release of magnetic energy associated with sunspots. Flares are our solar system’s largest explosive events. They are seen as bright areas on the sun and they can last from minutes to hours. We typically see a solar flare by the photons (or light) it releases, at most every wavelength of the spectrum. The primary ways we monitor flares are in x-rays and optical light. Flares are also sites where particles (electrons, protons, and heavier particles) are accelerated.

What is a coronal mass ejection (CME)?

The outer solar atmosphere, the corona, is structured by strong magnetic fields. Where these fields are closed, often above sunspot groups, the confined solar atmosphere can suddenly and violently release bubbles of gas and magnetic fields called coronal mass ejections. A large CME can contain a billion tons of matter that can be accelerated to several million miles per hour in a spectacular explosion. Solar material streams out through the interplanetary medium, impacting any planet or spacecraft in its path. CMEs are sometimes associated with flares but can occur independently.

This storm is likely to cause enhanced auroral displays tonight as well as some navigational and electrical grid problems.  The potential problems will exist through tomorrow when the storm is expected to subside.

It is rare to see auroras as far south as South Carolina.  However, the chances increase during such storms.  It may be worth watching the skies tonight since they are expected to be clear.  Just be sure to bundle up, because it will be chilly.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Outlook for February

It has been an unusually warm, dry winter for the midlands of South Carolina.  In 125 years of records in Columbia this winter is currently the 19th warmest on record for the period of December 1 through January 20.  The rainfall picture has be dismal.  There is a deficit of 2.92 inches since December 1st which means that we have had less than half the normal rainfall.  This includes the heavy rain that occurred today which was also the election primary for the Republican Party (0.75 in., Saturday, January 21).

The Climate Prediction Center (CPC) has released its outlook for February.  It calls for a continuation of the weather pattern with warmer and drier than normal conditions for the Midlands.  Thus, a warm, dry weather is most likely for the Midlands as well as South Carolina.

The Temperature Outlook for February, 2012.  Note that much of the country will be above normal.

The Precipitation Outlook for February, 2012.  Note the drier than normal conditions for the southern U.S.

Looking ahead into the spring, it looks like it will continue to be warm and dry.  In fact, warmer than normal temperatures are expected through the summer.  However, the seasonal outlooks show an interesting trend.  The chances for drier than normal temperatures decrease toward the summer.

If this is the case, then it may be quite dry for the spring which will intensify the drought.  However, there is hope that more normal rainfall may be in place by summer.  This scenario will still make for a challenging planting season.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

La Nina is Peaking

NASA released today that La Nina appears to be peaking which increases "the odds that the Pacific Northwest will have more stormy weather this winter and spring, while the southwestern and southern United States will be dry."  NASA's satellites Jason-1 and -2 have been monitoring the progress of La Nina.  They recent detected an increase in La Nina conditions in the Pacific, but it is not expected to get any stronger.

The latest image of sea surface heights in the Pacific Ocean from NASA’s Jason-2 satellite shows that the current La Niña is peaking in intensity. Yellows and reds indicate areas where sea surface height is higher than normal (due to warm water), while blues and purples depict areas where sea surface height is lower than normal (due to cool water). Green indicates near-normal conditions. Image credit: NASA/JPL Ocean Surface Topography Team.
"Conditions are ripe for a stormy, wet winter in the Pacific Northwest and a dry, relatively rainless winter in Southern California, the Southwest and the southern tier of the United States," says climatologist Bill Patzert of JPL. "After more than a decade of mostly dry years on the Colorado River watershed and in the American Southwest, and only two normal rain years in the past six years in Southern California, low water supplies are lurking. This La Niña could deepen the drought in the already parched Southwest and could also worsen conditions that have fueled recent deadly wildfires."

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Winter? What? Where?

This winter has been anything but cold.  Yes, there have been some cold snaps, but the coldest temperature in Columbia this winter has been 19 degrees F on January 4th.  The coldest reading in December was a mere 27 degrees F.

Today marks the mid-point of meteorological winter (December 1 - February 29).  The average temperature for the period December 1 - January 15 this winter has been 50.5 degrees F making it the 16th warmest in 124 years of records.  Contrast this to last year when it was the 3rd coldest on record for the same time period.  Furthermore, the previous winter (2009-2010) saw the 7th coldest on record for this time period.  What a turn-around!

We have not been alone.  Much of the U.S. has been experiencing much above normal temperatures.  Below is a look at the mean temperatures for December and the first two weeks of January:

Mean Temperature for the 30 days ending on Dec. 31, 2011.  Image Credit: NOAA/CPC.

Mean Temperature for the period Jan. 1-13, 2012.  Image Credit: NOAA/CPC.
Don't worry, there has been some brutally cold weather.  It has been confined to Alaska and northern Canada.  In fact, the interior of Alaska has been seeing some of the coldest weather in decades during the first two weeks of January.  The small town of North Pole, Alaska (southeast of Fairbanks) recorded a low temperature of -56 degrees F this morning.  That cold air mass is now invading the Yukon with temperatures of -45 degrees F.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

2011: A Year of Weather Extremes

This past year was one for the record books.  Nationally, there were record snows, tornadoes, heat waves, droughts, floods, and hurricanes.  Locally it was the hottest summer on record and the second hottest year.  The Midlands saw drought and floods during the year.

Preliminary information from the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina, shows the distribution of temperature and precipitation state-by-state.

This is the rank of the mean temperatures by states based on 117 years of data.  The rank of 103 for South Carolina means that the mean temperature was the 14th warmest on record.  Image Credit: NOAA/NCDC.

This is the rank of the total precipitation by states based on 117 years of data.  The rank of 8 for South Carolina means that the precipitation was the 8th driest on record.  Image Credit: NOAA/NCDC.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Our Local Climate Change

Most people have heard about global warming and climate change as well as the concern about both.  What will the impacts be and how will it affect me?  It is much easier to talk about a global warming, but the computer models have a much harder time with regional climate.

An example of regional climate is the extraordinary dust bowl years of the 1930s.  Much of the central U.S. experienced record high temperatures and exceptional droughts.  In fact many of the all-time temperature records for individual states occurred during this time.  This was at a time when the global climate was cooler.  A regional warming of that magnitude today would be unbearable.

The record for South Carolina is 111 degrees on three different dates, twice in 1925 and once in 1954.  However, it was also quite hot and dry for South Carolina during the 1930s.

These are examples of extremes in weather and can be set at any time, but what about the climate.  How has the local climate changed?  We can examine this by looking at the data set from Columbia, SC.

I looked at changes in the average annual temperature and average annual precipitation by looking at the 30-year moving average with help from meteorologist Scott Ryan.  The National Weather Service calculates the climatological norms every ten years.  However, by looking at the moving average you are looking at how the climate is changing every year and can easily see the trends.


Average Annual Temperature for Columbia, South Carolina.  Image Credit: Scott Ryan.
Note that there is a warming in the local climate from the beginning of the data to 1954 where it reaches a peak.  Then there is a significant cooling from 1954 to 1989.  This is a good example of how local climates can be different from the global climate.  The local climate cooled about 1.4 degrees F during this time.  However, since 1989 the average annual temperature has warmed almost 1 degree F (0.96).  That is a significant warming in just 22 years.

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Seesaw Pattern

The first cold outbreak of the season hit the midlands of South Carolina as New Years Day came to a close.  A high temperature in Columbia on that Sunday was 73 degrees F followed by a high of 40 degrees F just two days later.  It was the coldest weather so far for this winter.

Now a warming trend has returned temperatures to the unseasonably warm levels.  This Saturday will see high temperatures in the upper 60s to low 70s for the Midlands whereas normal high temperatures for this time of year are in the mid 50s.  It appears that the unseasonably warm weather will last into at least the middle of next week.

This seesaw pattern will last for much of January.  The bitter cold air remains lock up in the polar regions with only brief cold outbreaks for this part of the country.  Much of the country will experience above normal temperatures.

As mentioned in previous blog posts this winter's warm weather is fueled primarily by the Arctic Oscillation (AO).  This oscillation has seen the wildest swings ever recorded over the past six winters.  Records of the oscillation date back to 1950.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Junk Science?

This is a repost of a blog I published on June 14, 2011.  In light of the Iowa Caucus this came to mind.  Also, Chris Mooney has an excellent post at DeSmogBlog on Rick Santorum.

Recently a republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, claimed that there was no such thing as global warming.  Speaking on a radio talk show he called global warming "junk science."  He went on to say that climate change science was simply a "beautifully concocted scheme" to allow the "government to come in and regulate your life some more."  Santorum has made similar comments before.

In a recent book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, called Merchants of Doubt, the authors state that the term junk science was used by the tobacco industry "to discredit science it didn't like."  As they explained beautifully in their book the term was extended to include climate change science.

Deniers have used a tactic of making claims, but never substantiating them.  There is no evidence that climate change science is junk or that there is some conspiracy behind it.  Yet, they persist in making the claim hoping that if it is repeated often enough, people will believe them.  They seem to be using the old adage "don't let the facts get in the way of a good story."

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Climate Change: A Conservative Viewpoint

I have been mystified for some time as to why conservatives and particularly Republicans reject climate science.  I know of several climate scientists who are conservative Republicans who believe the evidence that the earth is warming and that humans are the primary driver of that warming.  Chris Mooney has written extensively about the "Republican War on Science" and he makes a compelling case.

The idea of the enhanced greenhouse effect is not a conservative or liberal view.  It is soundly based on the physics of infrared radiation and the data.  I believe the science and the data.  The evidence for anthropogenic global warming is overwhelming.  No one has ever substantiated the claim that the data is doctored.

There are a few conservative Republicans in South Carolina who do believe the science, but they are few and far between.  Much of what we hear from conservatives is not substantiated by the facts.  So I was surprised by a conservative viewpoint I stumbled upon over the holidays on the website Skeptical Science.

Peter Wehner wrote several blog posts that I think everyone, especially conservatives, should read. He is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Previously he worked in the administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. In the last of which, he served as deputy assistant to the president.

His posts are in the neo-conservative magazine Commentary and can be found here:

Conservatives and Climate Change - Part 1

Conservatives and Climate Change - Part 2

and a response post:

Conservatives and Climate Change: Facts Need To Be Our Guiding Star

As Tom Smerling writes on Skeptical Science "It seems to me that anybody who cares about climate should listen respectfully and engage with people like Wehner who say it is time for conservatives to join the conversation about market-based solutions, rather than pretend that the problem doesn't exist."

My sentiments exactly.  My problem with many of the Republican candidates is that they ignore the science and believe that the problem does not exist.  It does, and acting like an ostrich is not a solution.  As a meteorologist I understand the science, the uncertainties, and the potential outcomes.  We are currently failing miserably at mitigation and adaptation.  The costs will climb exponentially as time passes.

The country has many problems that need to be address in the near future (i.e, national debt, deficit spending, housing, jobs, entitlements, poverty, and an aging population among others).  This is just one of them, but time is running out to address them in a timely and cost-effective manner.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Global Warming: It's Real and Unprecedented

The fact that the earth is warming has been known for some time.  Analysis from HadCRU, NOAA, and NASA GISS have all shown similar trends.  Toward the end of 2011 another study was added to the mix.  This was known as the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Study.  Their analysis was another confirmation of the other analyses.  Keep in mind there have been at least a half dozen independent studies of NASA's analysis all of which confirmed the analysis.

Here is a comparison of the analyses:

The chart shows the annual land-surface average temperature using a 12 month moving average of surface temperatures over land. Anomalies are relative to the Jan 1950 - December 1979 mean. The grey band indicates 95% statistical and spatial uncertainty interval.  Image Credit: Berkeley Earth ( ).
The Berkeley study was headed by Dr. Richard Muller, a Professor of Physics at the University of California at Berkeley.  Data for over 39,000 reporting stations were used which was more than five times the 7,280 stations used in the Global Historical Climatology Network Monthly data set (GHCN-M) used in many climate studies to date.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Winter Weather Outlook Update

The Climate Prediction Center (CPC) issued the outlook for the winter 2011-2012 back in October and issued an update at the beginning of December.  The winter months are considered to be December, January, and February, because these are the three coldest months of the year.  Climate oscillations like the El Nino/La Nina oscillation tend to make the forecasting of the winter season a little easier.  The wild card is usually the Arctic Oscillation.

This year the forecast looked like this:

Map shows U.S. areas predicted to have well above (red) or well below (blue) normal winter temperatures in 2011-2012.  Image credit NOAA/CPC.

Map shows U.S. areas predicted to have well above (green) or well below (tan) normal winter precipitation in 2011-2012.  Image credit: NOAA/CPC.
The outlook for South Carolina was for the winter to be warmer than normal and drier than normal.  So far the forecast has been on track.  The preliminary data indicates that December 2011 was the 14th warmest and 10th driest on record for Columbia, South Carolina.  Mean temperatures across the U.S. looked like this in December:

Mean temperatures across the U.S. from December 1-30, 2011.  Image credit: NOAA/CPC.
An arctic blast it now pushing into the eastern part of the country and will bring colder than normal temperatures for several days.  This will be the coldest outbreak so far this season.  However, it will be short-lived.

The weather pattern will revert back by next weekend and temperatures will once again be above normal for much of the country.  In fact, January is still forecast to be above normal for much of the country.
Temperature Outlook for January 2012.  Image Credit: NOAA/CPC.
The winter of 2009-2010 was an El Nino year and the winter in South Carolina was much colder than normal.  In fact it was the 4th coldest for Columbia and the 10th coldest for South Carolina.  The next winter (2010-2011) was a La Nina year and it was a strong La Nina.  Yet, it was colder than normal.  Now in the winter of 2011-2012 we have a moderate La Nina and are seeing unseasonably warm weather.


As I mentioned the wild card is the Arctic Oscillation (AO) which has been in a negative phase the past two winters.  In fact two winters ago it was in the most negative phase in years.  This year the Arctic Oscillation has been in the positive phase.  You can see how the two phases affect temperature in the following figure:

Image credit NOAA/CPC.
Note that the different phases changes the placement of above and below normal temperatures.  It is still cold, but the difference is a matter of degrees.

Thus, it appears that the forecast will remain on track.  This winter will likely be warmer and drier than normal for much of South Carolina.  There will be cold outbreaks, but they are likely to be brief.  The more disconcerting forecast is the one for drier than normal.  This may worsen the drought conditions for the spring planting season.  More on that in a later post.