Dr. Jeff Masters' WunderBlog

Nature's thermometers say spring is springing earlier by 3 days per decade

By: JeffMasters, 7:31 PM GMT on March 29, 2013

In a welcome sign of spring, Washington DC's famous cherry trees are beginning to burst into bloom, with the peak bloom predicted to come around April 5. This is two weeks behind last year's peak bloom date of March 20, which was the third earliest on record, according the Capital Weather Gang at the Washington Post. The only earlier bloom dates in the National Park Service's 92-year record dating back to 1921 were March 15, 1990 and March 17, 2000. The average bloom date is April 4, and the latest bloom date on record was April 18, 1958.


Figure 1. Cherry blossoms on March 21, 2012, in Washington D.C. Image credit: wunderphotographer KEM.

Nature's thermometers are reacting to global warming
Flowering cherry trees are excellent "natural thermometers" that give evidence that the climate is warming. Their flowering time is highly sensitive to temperatures in February and March. Last year's early bloom was triggered by the record-warm "Summer in March" temperatures that gave DC its warmest March on record. February and March temperatures in Washington D.C. have warmed by nearly 3°F over the past century, causing the city's famous cherry trees to bloom, on average, five days earlier than they did in 1921. The earlier blooming times of D.C.'s cherry trees are part of a global trend towards earlier spring blooms. A 2007 study by Parmesan et al. found that Northern Hemisphere spring events such as flowering times, bird and butterfly migrations, and frog breeding times have been occurring an average of 2.8 days per decade earlier in spring since the 1950s, averaged over all species.


Figure 2. Average temperatures in Northeast Virginia, including the northwestern suburbs of Washington D.C., have warmed by nearly 3°F over the past century. Temperatures in 2012 were the warmest on record. Image credit: NOAA/NCDC.


Figure 3. Comparison of the 1990 and 2012 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Maps. Wintertime minimum temperatures in the U.S. have risen so much in recent decades that the United States Department of Agriculture decided in 2012 to update their Plant Hardiness Zone Map for gardeners for the first time since 1990. The Plant Hardiness Zone Map is the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location. The map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10°F zones. Compared to the 1990 version, zone boundaries in the new 2012 edition of the map have generally shifted one 5°F half-zone warmer than the previous map throughout much of the United States. This is mostly a result of using temperature data from a longer and more recent time period. The old 1990 map was based on temperature data from only a 13-year period of 1974-1986, while the new map uses data from the 30-year period 1976-2005. Image credit: USDA and Arbor Day Foundation

The forecast: DC's cherry trees blooming in early March by 2080?
Using a computer model of spring bloom driven by the expected climate of this century from climate models, a 2011 paper by Chung et al. predicted that peak bloom of Washington D.C.'s cherry trees will come five days earlier by 2050, and ten days earlier by 2080, assuming a middle-of-the-road climate change scenario called A1B. However, carbon dioxide emissions are at record high levels, and humankind is currently on a path likely to cause much greater warming. Under a higher emission scenario, the authors predict that by 2080, the cherry trees will bloom in early March, nearly a full month earlier (29 days) than at present. One major concern the authors point out: shorter and warmer winters can reduce the cold hardening of trees, leaving them vulnerable to frost injury.


Figure 4. Past and projected peak bloom dates of the Yoshino cherry trees in Washington, DC and surrounding areas. The future projections were made under the IPCC middle-of-the-road emission scenario A1B (middle panel) and high emissions scenario A2 (right panel.) Humanity is currently burning oil, coal, and natural gas at a rate that puts us closer to the high emissions scenario. Image credit: Chung et al., 2011, "Predicting the Timing of Cherry Blossoms in Washington, DC and Mid-Atlantic States in Response to Climate Change", PLoS ONE 6(11): e27439. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0027439

Unusual winter jet stream patterns tied to Arctic sea ice loss may slow down cherry tree blooming changes
However, the authors' cherry tree bloom model did not take into account the fact that unusual jet stream contortions in winter have become increasingly common in recent years, increasing the odds of cold winters over the Eastern U.S. According to a March 2013 paper by Tang et al., "Cold winter extremes in northern continents linked to Arctic sea ice loss", wintertime Arctic sea ice loss can cause an increase in unusual jet stream patterns capable of bringing cold, snowy weather to the Eastern U.S., Western Europe, and East Asia. They theorized that sea ice loss in the Arctic promotes more evaporation, resulting in earlier snowfall in Siberia and other Arctic lands. The earlier snow insulates the soil, allowing the land to cool more rapidly. This results in a southwards shift of the jet stream and builds higher atmospheric pressures farther to the south, which increases the odds of cold spells and blocking high pressure systems that can cause extended periods of unusually cold and snowy weather in the Eastern U.S., Western Europe, and East Asia. Climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf has an intriguing blog post (translated from the German by Eli Rabbett) that shows a dramatic agreement between temperature and pressure patterns during March 2013, and those expected to occur as a result of Arctic sea ice loss. He concludes, "In my view, the above studies provide strong evidence for a link between Arctic ice loss due to global warming, more frequent winter high pressure air masses, especially over the Atlantic-European part of the Arctic, and an associated influx of cold air to Europe." With Arctic sea ice expected to steadily dwindle in the coming decades, there may be an increase in cold February and March temperatures in the Eastern U.S. that will slow down the shift in cherry tree bloom times.

References
Chung et al., 2011, "Predicting the Timing of Cherry Blossoms in Washington, DC and Mid-Atlantic States in Response to Climate Change", PLoS ONE 6(11): e27439. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0027439

Parmesan, 2007, “Influences of species, latitudes and methodologies on estimates of phenological response to global warming”, Glob. Change Biol. 13, 1860–1872

Root, T. L. et al., 2005, "Human-modified temperatures induce species changes: Joint attribution", Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 102, 7465–7469.

Related posts
From Heat Wave to Snowstorms, March Goes to Extremes by Andrew Freedman of Climate Central
Extreme jet stream causing record warmth in the east, record cold in the west (January 2013)
Arctic sea ice loss tied to unusual jet stream patterns (April 2012)
Our extreme weather: Arctic changes to blame? (December 2011)
New USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map for gardeners shows a warming climate (February 2012)

Have a great weekend, everyone, and I'll be back with a new post on April Fool's Day, appropriate for the occasion.

Jeff Masters

Climate Change

Updated: 7:32 PM GMT on March 29, 2013

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Global warming continues with no slow down

By: JeffMasters, 4:23 PM GMT on March 27, 2013

One often hears the statement in the media that global warming stopped in 1998, or that there has been no global warming for the past 16 years. Why pick 16 years? Why not some nice round number like 20 years? Or better yet, 30 years, since the climate is generally defined as the average weather experienced over a period of 30 years or longer? Temperatures at Earth's surface undergo natural, decades-long warming and cooling trends, related to the La Niña/El Niño cycle and the 11-year sunspot cycle. The reason one often hears the year 1998 used as a base year to measure global temperature trends is that this is a cherry-picked year. An extraordinarily powerful El Niño event that was the strongest on record brought about a temporary increase in surface ocean temperatures over a vast area of the tropical Pacific that year, helping boost global surface temperatures to the highest levels on record (global temperatures were warmer in both 2005 and 2010, but not by much.) But in the years from 2005 - 2012, La Niña events have been present for at least a portion of every single year, helping keep Earth's surface relatively cool. Thus, if one draws a straight-line fit of global surface temperatures from 1998 to 2012, a climate trend showing little global warming results. If one picks any year prior to 1998, or almost any year after 1998, a global warming trend does result. The choice of 1998 is a deliberate abuse of statistics in an attempt to manipulate people into drawing a false conclusion on global temperature trends. One of my favorite examples of this manipulation of statistics is shown an animated graph called "The Escalator", created by skepticalscience.com (Figure 1).


Figure 1. Average of NASA's GISS, NOAA"s NCDC, and the UK Met Office's HadCRUT4 monthly global surface temperature departures from average, from January 1970 through November 2012 (blue), with linear trends applied to the time frames Jan '70 - Oct '77, Apr '77 - Dec '86, Sep '87 - Nov '96, Jun '97 - Dec '02, Nov '02 - Nov '12. Climate change skeptics like to emphasize the shorter term fluctuations in global temperatures (blue lines) and ignore the long-term climate trend (red line.) The global surface temperature trend from January 1970 through November 2012 (red line) is +0.16°C (+0.29°F) per decade. Image credit: skepticalscience.com.

Correcting for natural causes to find the human contribution to global temperature changes
We know that natural global warming or cooling on time scales of 1 - 11 years can be caused by changes in the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, dust from volcanic eruptions, and changes in solar energy. For example, a study published in March 2013 in Geophysical Research Letters found that dust in the stratosphere has increased by 4 - 10% since 2000 due to volcanic eruptions, keeping the level of global warming up to 25% lower than might be expected. So, it is good to remove these natural causes of global temperature change over the past 34 years for which we have satellite data, to see what the human influence might have been during that time span. The three major surface temperature data sets (NCDC, GISS, and HadCRU) all show global temperatures have warmed by 0.16 - 0.17°C (0.28 - 0.30°F) per decade since satellite measurements began in 1979. The two satellite-based data sets of the lower atmosphere (UAH and RSS) give slightly less warming, about 0.14 - 0.15°C (.25 - .27°F) per decade (keep in mind that satellite measurements of the lower atmosphere temperature are affected much more strongly by volcanic eruptions and the El Niño phenomena than are surface-based measurements taken by weather stations.) A 2011 paper published by Grant Foster and Stefan Rahmstorf, "Global temperature evolution 1979- 2010", took the five major global temperature data sets and adjusted them to remove the influences of natural variations in sunlight, volcanic dust, and the El Niño/La Niña cycle. The researchers found that adjusting for these natural effects did not change the observed trend in global temperatures, which remained between 0.14 - 0.17°C (0.25 - 0.31°F) per decade in all five data sets. The warmest years since 1979 were 2010 and 2009 in all five adjusted data sets. Since the known natural causes of global warming have little to do with the observed increase in global temperatures over the past 34 years, either human activity or some unknown natural source is responsible for the global warming during that time period.


Figure 2. Tavurvur volcano in New Guinea erupting on March 7, 2009. According to the 2011 study, "Major influence of tropical volcanic eruptions on the stratospheric aerosol layer during the last decade", an October 7, 2006 eruption of this volcano, in combination with a May 20, 2006 eruption of the Soufrière Hills volcano on Montserrat Island in the Caribbean, hurled a significant amount of sulfur into the stratosphere, helping reduce global temperatures. Image credit: Taro Taylor.


Figure 3. Departure from average of annual global temperatures between 1979 - 2012, adjusted to remove natural variations due to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, dust from volcanic eruptions, and changes in solar energy. The five most frequently-cited global temperature records are presented: surface temperature estimates by NASA's GISS, HadCRU from the UK Met Office, and NOAA's NCDC, and satellite-based lower-atmosphere estimates from Remote Sensing Systems, Inc. (RSS) and the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH.) Image is an update (via realclimate.org) of one from a 2011 study, Global temperature evolution 1979 - 2010 , by Grant Foster and Stefan Rahmstorf, Environ. Res. Lett. 6, 2011, 044022 doi:10.1088/1748-9326/6/4/044022.


Figure 4. Average of NASA's GISS, NOAA"s NCDC, and the UK Met Office's HadCRUT4 monthly global surface temperature departures from average, from January 1970 through November 2012 (blue), with linear trends applied to the time frames Jan '70 - Oct '77, Apr '77 - Dec '86, Sep '87 - Nov '96, Jun '97 - Dec '02, Nov '02 - Nov '12. Climate change skeptics like to emphasize the shorter term fluctuations in global temperatures (blue lines) and ignore the long-term climate trend (red line.) The global surface temperature trend from January 1970 through November 2012 (red line) is +0.16°C (+0.29°F) per decade. Image credit: skepticalscinec.com.


Video 1. An animated description of how correcting for El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, dust from volcanic eruptions, and changes in solar energy shows that global warming has continued. Video credit: skepticalscience.com.

Where is the missing heat going? Into the oceans
The preponderance of La Niña events in recent years has caused a large amount of heat from global warming to be transferred to the deep oceans, according to a journal article published earlier this week by Balmaseda et al., "Distinctive climate signals in reanalysis of global ocean heat content". The warming at the surface has slowed down in recent years, but the total amount of heat going in the atmosphere/oceans/surface has continued unabated. The next big El Niño event will be able to liberate some of this stored heat back to the surface, but much of the new deep ocean heat will stay down there for hundreds of years. As far as civilization is concerned, that is a good thing, though the extra heat energy does make ocean waters expand, raising sea levels.


Figure 5. Land, atmosphere, and ice heating (red), 0-700 meter ocean heat content (OHC) increase (light blue), and 700-2,000 meter OHC increase (dark blue).  From Nuccitelli et al. (2012), described at skepticalscience.com.

Links
In October 2012 Carbonbrief.org published a list of six blogs and videos done to debunk the claim that the Earth hasn't warmed since 1998.

Balmaseda et al., 2013, "Distinctive climate signals in reanalysis of global ocean heat content," Geophysical Research Letters, DOI: 10.1002/grl.50382.

The 2013 realclimate.org annual adjusted global temperature analysis, for 1979 - 2012, concludes: "the models are on the low side of some changes, and on the high side of others, but despite short-term ups and downs, global warming continues much as predicted."

To answer frequently cited challenges to climate change science, see the wunderground.com webpage, Top Ten Skeptic Arguments, as debunked by skepticalscience.com.

I'll have a new post on Friday.

Jeff Masters

Climate Change

Updated: 4:16 PM GMT on March 30, 2013

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Katrina-level storm surges have more than doubled due to global warming

By: JeffMasters, 2:08 PM GMT on March 25, 2013

Since 1923, there has been a ‘Katrina’ magnitude storm surge every 20 years, according to a storm surge index developed by Aslak Grinsted, an assistant professor at the Centre for Ice and Climate at the Niels Bohr Institute. The index uses data from six tide gauges along the U.S. coast from Texas to New Jersey from 1923 - 2011, and is part of a statistical model that links global temperatures to the risk of Katrina-level storm surges. Because of global warming, Katrina-magnitude storm surge events have now more than doubled in frequency since the late 1800s, Grinsted and colleagues argue, in research published in March 2013 in the scientific journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS). Their statistical model found that an increase of 0.4°C in global temperatures was sufficient to double the odds of Katrina-magnitude storm surges. Since global temperatures have risen 0.6°C since the late 1800s, "we have already crossed the threshold where more than half of all ‘Katrinas’ are due to global warming,” said Grinsted in a press release. Projecting into the future, the model predicts that if the global climate warms as expected by 2°C before the end of the century, Katrina-level storm surge events will become ten times more common, and a Katrina-level surge will occur, on average, every 2 years, instead of every 20 years. Since sea level is steadily rising due to global warming, these future storm surges will also be riding in on top of an elevated ocean surface, and will thus be able to do even greater damage than in the past. Since this is a simple statistical model, I am hopeful that the relationship Grinsted at al. found might break down as the climate warms, due to unexpected changes in hurricane tracks, wind shear, etc. However, this high-end consequence of global warming is quite possible, and is something coastal planners should should consider, particularly since the U.S. population living along the coast is expected to grow from 123 million in 2010 to 134 million people by 2020, according to a NOAA report issued on March 25. We need to retreat from barrier islands highly vulnerable to storm surge, and invest in significantly improved shoreline protection measures in the coming decades.


Figure 1. High water marks on East Ship Island, Mississippi, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Katrina brought the highest storm surge ever recorded on the U.S. coast, 27.8' at Pass Christian, MS. Left image: Bark stripped off a tree with salt-burned pine trees in the background (note the 25 ft (7.65 m) long survey rod for scale). Right: Massive beach and over wash erosion illustrated by damaged and snapped pine trees along the beach. Arrows show the the high water mark left by the storm surge. Image credit: Fritz et al., 2007, "Hurricane Katrina storm surge distribution and field observations on the Mississippi Barrier Islands" (PDF File), Estuarine, Coastal, and Shelf Science (2007), doi:10.1016/j.ecss.2007.03.015.


Figure 2. Number of Katrina magnitude surge events per decade for the past and future computed using gridded global temperatures and a statistical model relating global temperatures to storm surges. Confidence intervals of 5% and 16% are shown in the lighter blue colors. Image credit: Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen.

References
Grinsted, A., J. C. Moore, and S. Jevrejeva, 2012, "A homogeneous record of Atlantic hurricane surge threat since 1923," PNAS 2012, doi:10.1073/pnas.1209542109

Grinsted, A., J. C. Moore, and S. Jevrejeva, 2012, "Projected Atlantic hurricane surge threat from rising temperatures" PNAS March 18, 2013 201209980, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1209980110

Jeff Masters

Hurricane Climate Change

Updated: 4:13 PM GMT on March 25, 2013

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Modest Midwest drought improvements, limited major flooding expected this spring

By: JeffMasters, 2:55 PM GMT on March 22, 2013

Springtime is the rainy season in the Midwest U.S., and spring rains this year are expected to put a modest dent in the most intense areas of drought in America's heartland over the next three months, according to NOAA's latest March 21 Seasonal Drought Outlook. The forecast calls for much of Nebraska and Kansas to see improvements in the fierce drought, though drought is expected to expand southwestwards to include nearly all of California, Texas, and Arizona. The area of the contiguous U.S. covered by drought remained unchanged this week at 52%, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor report. A winter-like storm that will track from Colorado eastwards during the next few days will dump 0.5" - 1" of precipitation across some of the most hard-hit drought areas of the Midwest, though these regions generally need 3 - 9" of precipitation to end the drought. It's a good bet that drought will cause over $10 billion in U.S. agricultural losses for the third consecutive year this year.


Figure 1. It's getting to be a familiar sight: the weekly Drought Monitor showing a widespread area of significant drought over the majority of the U.S. Image credit: U.S. Drought Monitor.


Figure 2. Predicted 7-day precipitation for the period ending Friday, March 29. Portions of the U.S. drought region from Colorado to MIssouri are predicted to receive as much as 1" of precipitation. Image credit: NOAA/HPC.


Figure 3. The amount of precipitation needed to bring the contiguous U.S. out of long-term drought conditions (raise the Palmer Hydrological Drought Index (PHDI) above -0.5) shows that the core drought region in the Midwest needs 3 - 9 inches of precipitation to end the drought. The hydrological impacts of a drought, such as reservoir levels, groundwater levels, etc., take longer to develop and it takes longer to recover from them. Image credit: NOAA.

Major spring flooding expected to be confined to North Dakota and Minnesota
NOAA issued their annual spring flood risk forecast on Thursday, which calls for just one area of concern for major flooding, along the Red River of the North and Souris River in North Dakota and Minnesota. These areas experienced major to record flooding two years ago in the spring of 2011. Normal levels of minor to moderate spring flooding are expected in the middle Mississippi River and lower Missouri River basins, including portions of Kansas, Missouri, eastern Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. A heavy snowpack farther to the north over the Upper Mississippi River basin may cause more spring flooding than normal, if a sudden arrival of spring occurs, and the snowpack melts off quickly and the ground stays frozen, increasing runoff. The latest 2-week forecast from the GFS model calls for a continuation of a winter-like pattern for the eastern half of the U.S., with no quick warm-up expected for the Upper Mississippi River basin during the next ten days. The winter-like spring conditions have not been popular out east, where Michael Gmoser, a prosecutor for Butler County, Ohio, demanded that the famous prognosticating rodent, Punxsutawney Phil, be held accountable for his poor February 2 forecast of just three more weeks of winter. I think the fruit growers of Ohio and neighboring states will not be on board with this idea, as last year's week of 80°+ heat in March and subsequent frosts ruined local fruit crops, and this year's cold March guarantees a good fruit crop in 2013. Wunderground's weather historian Christopher C. Burt has a comparison of just how remarkably different March 2012 and March 2013 have been.



A late-breaking development:

A Pennsylvania law firm has announced it will be defending Phil, writing: Please be advised that Nurick Law Group, LLC proudly represents the interests of Phil Sowerby, a/k/a “Punxsutawney Phil Sowerby” a/k/a “Punxsutawney Phil” (hereinafter “Punxsutawney Phil”) his predecessors and progeny, for the purposes of this preposterous prosecution and persecution. Punxsutawney Phil provides (primarily Pennsylvanians) preeminent prognostication predicated on the position of his shadow."

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Jeff Masters

Drought Flood

Updated: 5:33 PM GMT on March 28, 2013

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An unusually quiet March for tornadoes--only 6 so far

By: JeffMasters, 11:37 AM GMT on March 21, 2013

After an unusually active January for tornadoes, with approximately double the activity of a typical January, tornado activity dropped to near-normal levels in February, and virtually flat-lined during March. The five confirmed tornadoes in Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama on Monday, March 18 brought the March 2013 tornado tally to just six. Monday's severe weather outbreak in the south brought hail up to the size of softballs to Jackson, MS, and damage from the hailstorm is estimated in the tens of millions.

Since 2000, the U.S. has averaged 89 tornadoes each March, so we have a long way to go to reach average. The 154 tornadoes last year in March 2012 was the fourth highest March total since records began in 1950 (record: 170 in March 2007.) Records for most and least tornadoes in a month have been set 24 times over the past 60 years. Ten of those records have been set in the past decade--six for the fewest tornadoes, and four for the most, said tornado researcher Harold Brooks last week. In addition, the three earliest starts of tornado season and the four latest have all occurred since 1997, and "We've had a dramatic increase in the variability of tornado occurrence," Brooks said. The jet stream, which plays a key role in tornado formation, has been wildly variable in recent years, leading to the large swings in tornado activity.


Figure 1. The EF-2 tornado with 120 mph winds that hit Meriwether and Pike County, Georgia on Monday, March 18, 2013 was one of just six March tornadoes in 2013. The cell labeled "3" spawned the tornado. Two other supercells are also labeled (cell #1 brought hail to Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport.) Thanks go to Stu Ostro of TWC for providing the image.

NOAA's Storm Prediction Center is highlighting only a small "Slight Risk" area for severe weather on Thursday over Northern Texas, and another "Slight RIsk" area on Saturday over the Southeast U.S. The winter-like jet stream pattern we are in is likely to be dominant for at least the next week, and perhaps into April. So, March 2013 has a shot at making the top-five list for the quietest March months on record for tornado activity. Years with fewest March tornadoes since 1950:

1) 1951: 6
2) 1969: 8
3) 1966: 12
4) 1958: 15
5) 1978: 17


Forecasting the End
We're safely past the December 21, 2012 date of the predicted Mayan Apocalypse, so its permissible to engage in a bit of "what if" speculation on how civilization on Earth might ultimately meet its doom. That's the premise of The Weather Channel's "Forecasting the End" series, which begins airing Thursday March 21 at 9 pm EDT. I'll be making appearances in six of the episodes, set to air each Thursday through mid-April. You might hear me say the phrase, "It would be a bad day on planet Earth" more than once during the shows, as the type of events being considered--an asteroid strike, super volcano eruption, gamma ray burst, encounter with a rogue planet, and massive methane expulsion event--would all do very bad things to earth's climate, making human life on Earth a tenuous proposition. The spectacular graphics should make for an enjoyable show.

New Wettest Place on Earth Discovered?
After successfully helping cast down one iconic world record--the bogus 136°F measured at El Azizia, Libya in 1922--wunderground's weather historian, Christopher C. Burt, and weather records researcher Maximiliano Herrera are at it again. Mr. Burt documents in his latest blog post a challenge to the world's rainiest location, which is officially Mawsynram, Meghalaya State, India, with an annual average precipitation of 11,872 mm (467.40”). It turns out that Puerto Lopez, Colombia may be even wetter.

I'll have a new post on Friday.

Jeff Masters

Tornado

Updated: 11:38 AM GMT on March 21, 2013

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Where's spring? 2nd most extreme March jet stream pattern on record extends winter

By: JeffMasters, 3:15 PM GMT on March 20, 2013

Punxatawney Phil got it way wrong. Pennsylvania's famous prognosticating rodent predicted just three more weeks of winter back on February 2. It's the first day of spring, but winter remains firmly entrenched over the eastern half of the U.S., where temperatures of 5 - 25°F below average have been the rule all week. The culprit is the jet stream, which has taken on an unusually contorted shape that is allowing cold air to spill down over the Eastern U.S. and Western Europe, but bringing near-record warmth to portions of Greenland. One measure of how contorted the jet stream has become is by measuring the difference in pressure between the Icelandic Low and the Azores High. There are two indices used to do this--one called the Arctic Oscillation (AO), which treats the flow over the entire Northern Hemisphere, and another called the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), which is more focused on the North Atlantic. The two are closely related about 90% of the time. When these indices are strongly negative, the pressure difference between the Icelandic Low and the Azores High is low. This results in a weaker jet stream, allowing it to take large, meandering loops, letting cold air to spill far to the south from the Arctic into the mid-latitudes. The AO index hit -5.2 today (March 20). This is the second most extreme March value of the index since record keeping began in 1948; only an AO value of -6.3 in March 1970 was more extreme. We've had some wildly variable jet stream patterns in recent years in the Northern Hemisphere. Just last year, we had the opposite extreme in March, when our ridiculous "Summer in March" heat wave brought a week of temperatures in the 80s to the Midwest U.S. The first day of spring today in Chicago, IL is expected to have a high temperature of just 25°F--a 60 degree difference from last year's high of 85°F on March 20!


Figure 1. The jet stream is taking a large dip to the south over the Eastern U.S., allowing cold air to spill southwards and bring winter-like conditions.

Unusual winter jet stream patterns tied to Arctic sea ice loss
Unusual jet stream contortions in winter have become increasingly common in recent years, according to a March 2013 paper by Tang et al., "Cold winter extremes in northern continents linked to Arctic sea ice loss". They found a mathematical relationship between wintertime Arctic sea ice loss and the increase in unusual jet stream patterns capable of bringing cold, snowy weather to the Eastern U.S., Western Europe, and East Asia, typical of what one sees during a strongly negative Arctic Oscillation. They theorized that sea ice loss in the Arctic promotes more evaporation, resulting in earlier snowfall in Siberia and other Arctic lands. The earlier snow insulates the soil, allowing the land to cool more rapidly. This results in a southwards shift of the jet stream and builds higher atmospheric pressures farther to the south, which increases the odds of cold spells and blocking high pressure systems that can cause extended periods of unusually cold and snowy weather in the mid-latitudes.

Related posts
From Heat Wave to Snowstorms, March Goes to Extremes by Andrew Freedman of Climate Central
Extreme jet stream causing record warmth in the east, record cold in the west (January 2013)
Arctic sea ice loss tied to unusual jet stream patterns (April 2012)
Our extreme weather: Arctic changes to blame? (December 2011)
Florida shivers; Hot Arctic-Cold Continents pattern is back (December 2010)
Jet stream moved northwards 270 miles in 22 years; climate change to blame? (June 2008)

I'll have a new post on Thursday.

Jeff Masters

Winter Weather Climate Change

Updated: 3:18 PM GMT on March 20, 2013

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A dramatic greening of the Arctic over the past 30 years

By: JeffMasters, 3:30 PM GMT on March 18, 2013

A remarkable transformation in the vegetation of the Arctic has occurred over the past 30 years, according to a study of satellite data published on March 10, 2013, in Nature Climate Change. The authors found that Arctic vegetation growth and temperatures in 2011 resembled what occurred 250 - 430 miles farther to the south back in 1982. That's the approximate distance in latitude between San Francisco and San Diego, or Washington D.C. and Atlanta. More greening occurred in Eurasia than North America, and the Arctic's new greenness is visible on the ground as an increasing abundance of tall shrubs and trees. Large patches of vigorously productive vegetation now span a third of the northern landscape, an area about equal to the contiguous United States. "Higher northern latitudes are getting warmer, Arctic sea ice and the duration of snow cover are diminishing, the growing season is getting longer and plants are growing more," said co-author Dr. Ranga Myneni of Boston University's Department of Earth and Environment, in a NASA press release. "In the north's Arctic and boreal areas, the characteristics of the seasons are changing, leading to great disruptions for plants and related ecosystems." The changes in the Arctic's vegetation are being driven by human-caused global warming, which is occurring in the Arctic at more than double the rate of the rest of the planet. This so-called "Arctic amplification" is due, in part, to the increased melting of ice and snow near the pole. When ice and snow melt, they uncover darker surfaces underneath, which absorb more sunlight and increase Arctic temperatures in a vicious cycle which melts even more ice and snow. Using 17 climate models, the researchers predicted that a continuation of warming in the Arctic in coming decades could lead to over a 1300 mile latitudinal shift in Arctic vegetation zones by the year 2100, compared to the period 1951 - 1980. That's a distance greater than the north-south extent of the contiguous United States. However, more frequent forest fires, increased pest outbreaks, and summertime droughts due to a warming climate might slow down Arctic plant growth.


Figure 1. Of the 10 million square miles (26 million square kilometers) of northern vegetated lands, 34 to 41 percent showed increases in plant growth (green and blue), 3 to 5 percent showed decreases in plant growth (orange and red), and 51 to 62 percent showed no changes (yellow) over the past 30 years. Satellite data in this visualization are from AVHRR and MODIS. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio.


Figure 2. Trees take hold as permafrost thaws near the Altai Mountains in Russia. Credit: Terry Callaghan, EU-Interact/Sergey Kirpotin, Tomsk State University.

Commentary
One often hears complaints that global warming may be greatly overestimated, due to many temperature sensors being located in increasingly urbanized areas where local "urban heat island" effects are not being properly considered. If this were true (and it isn't), then we would not expect to see "nature's thermometers"--plants and animals--change their behavior and ranges much. But plants and animals are responding in major ways to the warming climate, and the greening of the Arctic is merely one more example of "nature's thermometers" telling us that the planet is warming significantly. Some other examples:

Fall is falling back: During 1982 to 1999, the end of the growing season was delayed by 4.3 days in the Northern Hemisphere. During 2000 to 2008, the end of the growing season was further delayed by an additional 2.3 days. In the U.S., fall now occurs ten days later than it did 30 years ago.

Spring is springing forward: Spring events, like bird and butterfly migrations, flower blooming times, and frog mating, have been advancing by about three days per decade over the past 30 years.

Animals are changing migration patterns: New species have colonized previously ‘cool’ regions, including sea anemones in Monterey Bay, and lichens and butterflies in Europe. Over the past 50 years, maximum range shifts vary from 200 km (butterflies) to 1,000 km (marine copepods).

Related blog post: New USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map for gardeners shows a warming climate

Dr. Myneni's petition to protect Earth from climate change
Professor Myneni of Boston University's Department of Earth & Environment, co-author of the greening Arctic study, has developed a simple one-sentence petition that he hopes one billion people will sign by Earth Day, 2014:

Dear Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon,

We, the People of the Earth, request You to act judiciously and expeditiously to protect the Earth from anthropogenic climate change.

Respectfully,
People of the Earth


The petition, which I have signed, is at: https://yourclimatechange.org/, and was recently featured by Discovery News.

Jeff Masters

Climate Change

Updated: 8:20 PM GMT on March 18, 2013

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February 2013 the globe's 9th warmest February on record

By: JeffMasters, 2:31 PM GMT on March 15, 2013

February 2013 was the globe's 9th warmest February since records began in 1880, said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) on Thursday. February 2013 global land temperatures were the 11th warmest on record, and global ocean temperatures were the 8th warmest on record. February 2013 was the 336th consecutive month with global temperatures warmer than the 20th century average and the 37th straight warmer-than-average February. The last time Earth had a below-average February global temperature was in 1976, and the last below-average month of any kind was December 1984. Global satellite-measured temperatures in February 2013 for the lowest 8 km of the atmosphere were 10th or 8th warmest in the 35-year record, according to Remote Sensing Systems and the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH), respectively. The Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent during February 2013 was the 16th largest in the 47-year period of record. Wunderground's weather historian, Christopher C. Burt, has a comprehensive post on the notable weather events of February 2013 in his February 2013 Global Weather Extremes Summary. Costly weather disasters were relatively rare in February, according to AON Benfield. The most expensive weather-related disasters in February 2013 were:

1) Drought in Central and Eastern China, 1/1 - 2/28, $541 million
2) Winter storm in Eastern China, 2/18 - 2/21, $124 million
3) Winter Storm Nemo, Northeast U.S., 2/8 - 2/9. $100+ million
4) Hattiesburg, MS tornado and associated storm damage, 2/9 - 2/11, $100+ million

The deadliest February weather disaster was Tropical Cyclone Haruna, which hit Madagascar at 00 UTC Friday, February 22, as a Category 2 storm with 105 mph winds, killing 26.


Figure 1. Departure of temperature from average for February 2013, the 9th warmest February for the globe since record keeping began in 1880. Colder than average conditions occurred in the Western U.S., western Europe, and northern Russia. No land areas in the Southern Hemisphere were cooler than average, and record warm conditions were experienced in parts of Indonesia and northern Australia. Image credit: National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) .


Figure 2. The deadliest weather disaster of February 2013 was Tropical Cyclone Haruna, which hit Madagascar at 00 UTC Friday, February 22, as a Category 2 storm with 105 mph winds, killing 26. In this image, Haruna is over Madagascar at 11:05 UTC February 22, 2013, and was a Category 1 storm with 90 mph winds. Image credit: NASA.


Figure 3. The most expensive weather disaster of February 2013 was the on-going drought in Central and Eastern China, which has cost $541 million since the beginning of 2013. Image credit: Beijing Climate Center.

Neutral El Niño conditions continue in the equatorial Pacific
For the 11th month in row, neutral El Niño conditions existed in the equatorial Pacific during February 2013. NOAA's Climate Prediction Center (CPC) expects neutral El Niño conditions to last through spring. Temperatures in the equatorial Eastern Pacific need to be 0.5°C below average or cooler for three consecutive for a La Niña episode to be declared; sea surface temperatures were 0.1°C below average as of March 11, and have ranged from 0.1 - 0.6°C below average during 2013.

Arctic sea ice falls to 7th lowest February extent on record
Arctic sea ice extent during February reached its seventh lowest extent in the 35-year satellite record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). This was the 11th consecutive February and 141st consecutive month with below-average Arctic sea ice extent. The last ten years (2004 to 2013) have seen the ten lowest February extents in the satellite record. Arctic sea ice is nearing its winter maximum and will soon begin to melt.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Jeff Masters

Climate Summaries

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U.S. has its 20th warmest winter, and an unusually quiet start to the year

By: JeffMasters, 2:51 PM GMT on March 13, 2013

It was another warm winter for the U.S. during December 2012 - February 2013, ranking as the 20th warmest winter since records began in 1895. For comparison, the previous "non-winter of 2011 - 2012" was the 4th warmest. And after an unusually intense period of extreme weather during 2011 and 2012, during January - February 2013 the U.S. had its quietest two-month period for extreme weather in over three years, according to NOAA's U.S. Climate Extremes Index (CEI). The index tracks the percentage area of the contiguous U.S. experiencing top-10% and bottom-10% extremes in temperature, precipitation, and drought. The CEI during February 2013 was 13%, and was 14% during January. The last time the U.S. had a two-month period with so little extreme weather was March - April 2009. On average, about 20% of the contiguous U.S. experiences top-10% extreme weather as defined by the CEI. In 2012, just two months (October and February) had below-average CEI, so we're off to a great start to 2013. Of course, February wasn't completely without notable weather:

Winter Storm Nemo on February 8 - 9 brought the heaviest snows to Connecticut and central Long Island since the iconic Blizzard of 1888. Aon Benfield estimated damages from the storm at $100+ million.

On February 10, a violent EF-4 tornado carved a path through Hattiesburg and Oak Grove, Mississippi, injuring 82, but miraculously not killing anyone. Aon Benfield estimated damages from the storm at $100+ million.

California had its driest January–February on record.

Georgia had its wettest February on record, leading to dramatic improvements in their multi-year drought.

February 2013 was a quite ordinary one for temperatures, ranking as the 49th warmest February since 1895, said NOAA's National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) in their latest State of the Climate report. No states had a top-ten warmest or coldest February. However, the February temperatures were warm enough to make the 12-month period ending in February 2013 the warmest such 12-month period on record. Forty-two of the 48 contiguous U.S. states had top-ten warmth during the past twelve months, with eight states posting record warmth.


Figure 1. Historical temperature ranking for the U.S. for the winter of 2012 - 2013. Florida, Delaware, and Vermont each had one of their ten warmest winters on record; no states had a top-ten coldest winter. Image credit: National Climatic Data Center (NCDC).


Figure 2. Not driving anywhere today! Snow buries cars in New Haven, CT at the Premier Hotel & Suites on Long Wharf on February 9, 2013, due to Winter Storm Nemo. The storm caused $100+ million in damage. Image credit: wunderphotographer phototex.

Jeff Masters

Climate Summaries

Updated: 3:03 PM GMT on March 13, 2013

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Are atmospheric flow patterns favorable for summer extreme weather increasing?

By: JeffMasters, 2:45 PM GMT on March 11, 2013

In 2010, Russia baked through its most intense heat wave in recorded history, one that killed over 55,000 people. At the same time, intense rains deluged Pakistan, bringing that nation its worst natural disaster in its history. The following year, it was the United States' turn for extreme heat, as the nation sweltered through its third hottest summer on record, and Oklahoma suffered the hottest month any U.S. state has ever recorded. The U.S. summer of 2012 was even more extreme. Only the Dust Bowl summer of 1936 was hotter, and drought conditions were the most extensive since the 1930s. All of these events--and many more unusually extreme summer months in recent decades--had a common feature, said scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany, in a research paper published in March 2013 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. According to the authors, "each time one of these extremes struck, a strong wave train had developed in the atmosphere, circling the globe in mid-latitudes. These so-called planetary waves are well-known and a normal part of atmospheric flow. What is not normal is that the usually moving waves ground to a halt and were greatly amplified during the extreme events. Looking into the physics behind this, we found it is due to a resonance phenomenon. Under special conditions, the atmosphere can start to resonate like a bell. The wind patterns form a regular wave train, with six, seven or eight peaks and troughs going once around the globe". Using a complex theoretical mathematical description of the atmosphere and 32 years of historical weather data, the scientists showed that human-caused global warming might be responsible for this resonance phenomenon, which became twice as common during 2001 - 2012 compared to the previous 22 years.


Figure 1. Drought-damaged corn in a field near Nickerson, Nebraska, Aug. 16, 2012. The great U.S. drought of 2012 was the most extensive U.S. drought since the 1930s Dust Bowl. Damage from the 2012 drought is at least $35 billion, and probably much higher. The associated heat wave killed 123 people, and brought the U.S. its second hottest summer on record. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)


Figure 2. Business was slow at the Lake Conroe, Texas jet ski rental in 2011, thanks to the great Texas drought and heat wave of 2011. Texas endured its driest 1-year period on record in 2011, and had the hottest summer ever recorded by a U.S. state. July 2011 in Oklahoma was the hottest month any U.S. state has ever recorded, and the contiguous U.S. had its third hottest summer on record. The total direct losses to crops, livestock and timber from the drought, heat wave, and record fires of the summer of 2011 are estimated at $12 billion, with a death toll of 95. Image credit: wunderphotographer BEENE.


Figure 3. Tourists wear protective face masks as they walk along the Red Square in Moscow, Russia on Aug. 6, 2010. Moscow was shrouded by a dense smog that grounded flights at international airports and seeped into homes and offices, due to wildfires worsened by the city's most intense heat wave in its history. The heat wave and fires during the summer of 2010 killed over 55,000 people in Russia and decimated the Russian wheat crop, causing global food prices to spike. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)

Two fundamental atmospheric flow patterns may be resonating more often due to global warming
Earth's atmosphere has two fundamental patterns. One is a series of wave-like troughs and ridges in the jet stream called planetary (or Rossby) waves, which march west-to-east at about 15 - 25 mph around the globe. The other pattern behaves more like a standing wave, with no forward motion, and is created by the unequal heating of the equatorial regions compared to the poles, modulated by the position of the continents and oceans. A number of papers have been published showing that these two patterns can interact and resonate in a way that amplifies the standing wave pattern, causing the planetary waves to freeze in their tracks for weeks, resulting in an extended period of extreme heat or flooding, depending upon where the high-amplitude part of the wave lies. But what the Potsdam Institute scientists found is that because human-caused global warming is causing the Arctic to heat up more than twice as rapidly as the rest of the planet, the two patterns are interacting more frequently during the summer. During the most recent eleven years, 2002 - 2012, there were eight Julys and Augusts that showed this unusually extreme resonance pattern (this includes the U.S. heat wave of July - August 2012.) The two previous eleven year periods, 1991 - 2001 and 1980 - 1990, had just four extreme months apiece. Global warming could certainly cause this observed increase in the resonance phenomenon, but the researchers cautioned, "The suggested physical process increases the probability of weather extremes, but additional factors certainly play a role as well, including natural variability. Also, the 32-year period studied in the project provides a good indication of the mechanism involved, yet is too short for definitive conclusions. So there's no smoking gun on the table yet--but quite telling fingerprints all over the place."



Figure 4. The northward wind speed (negative values, blue on the map, indicate southward flow) at an altitude of 300 mb in the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere during July 2011 and July 1980. July of 2011 featured an unusually intense and long-lasting heat wave in the U.S., and the normally weak and irregular waves (like observed during the relatively normal July of 1980) were replaced by a strong and regular wave pattern. Image credit: Vladimir Petoukhov.

Commentary
The new Potsdam Institute paper gives us a mathematical description of exactly how global warming may be triggering observed fundamental changes in large-scale atmospheric flow patterns, resulting in the observed increase in unusually intense and long-lasting periods of extreme weather over the past eleven years. The paper also adds important theoretical support to the research published in 2012 by Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University, which found that the amplitude of Earth's planetary waves had increased by over 100 miles (161 km) in summer over the past decade in the Northern Hemisphere. Dr. Francis theorized that this change was connected to increased heating of the Arctic relative to the rest of the Earth, due to the observed decline in late spring Northern Hemisphere snow cover. Humans tend to think linearly--one plus one equals two. However, the atmosphere is fundamentally non-linear. What may seem to be modest changes in Earth's climate can trigger unexpected resonances that will amplify into extreme changes--cases where one plus one equals four, or eight, or sixteen. In some cases, when you rock the boat too far, it won't simply roll a bit more, it will reach a tipping point where it suddenly capsizes. Similarly, human-caused global warming is capable of pushing the climate past a tipping point where we enter a new climate regime, one far more disruptive than what we are used to.

Julys and Augusts since 1980 when quasiresonant extreme conditions were observed
The Potsdam Institute's research lists sixteen July and August periods since 1980 that have had extreme atmospheric flow patterns due to quasiresonance. These months featured severe regional heat waves and destructive floods in the Northern Hemisphere midlatitudes, detailed below. Half of these months occurred in the most recent 11-year period, 2002 - 2012. During most of these extreme months, there was not a moderate or strong La Niña or El Niño event contributing to the extremes. Summers when a La Niña or El Niño event was present are listed in parentheses, based on the Oceanic Niño Index (ONI).

July and early August 2012: Catastrophic floods in China and Japan, as well as record-breaking temperatures during heat waves in the United States and southern Europe (weak summer El Niño)

July 2011: Record heat wave in the United States, resulting in the fourth warmest July on record nationally and the driest conditions in the southern United States ever (weak summer La Niña)

July/August 2010: Russian heat wave and the Pakistan flood, with the strongest and most persistent extreme weather conditions and the highest death tolls from heat waves and floods ever for these two regions (strong summer La Niña)

July 2006: Temperatures higher than 100°F for only the second time in Britain’s history and much of Europe experiencing a serious heat wave (weak summer El Niño)

August 2004: Much of northern Europe hit by very low winter-like temperatures and sporadic snowfalls (moderate to strong summer El Niño)

August 2003: European summer 2003 heat wave, causing a highly persistent drought in western Europe (weak summer El Niño)

August 2002: Catastrophic Elbe and Danube floods (strong summer El Niño)

July 2000: Destructive floods in northern Italy and the Tisza basin and a simultaneous heat wave in the southern United States, smashing all-time high-temperature records by that time at many sites (strong summer La Niña)

July/August 1997: Disastrous Great European Flood, which caused several deaths in central Europe, and the destroying floods in Pakistan and western United States (strong summer El Niño)

July 1994: Very strong heat wave in southern Europe, with a national temperature record of 47.2°C set in Spain (weak summer El Niño)

July 1993: Unprecedented great flood in the United States that reigned over the country from April (weak summer El Niño)

July 1989: Unusually intense and unprecedented widespread drought in the United States (weak summer La Niña)

August 1987: Severe drought in the southeastern United States (strong summer El Niño)

August 1984: Continuation of the severe heat of summer 1983, with serious drought in the United States (weak summer La Niña)

July and August 1983: Very dry conditions, severe heat, and substandard crop growth (5–35% below normal) in the Midwest United States (weak summer El Niño)

Links
Petoukhov, V., Rahmstorf, S., Petri, S., Schellnhuber, H. J. (2013), "Quasi-resonant amplification of planetary waves and recent Northern Hemisphere weather extremes" Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, (Early Edition) [doi:10.1073/pnas.1222000110]. No subscription required, but understanding this article requires a graduate-level understanding of the mathematical theory of atmospheric dynamics. Try reading instead this easy-to-read description of the paper by the authors, published at http://theconversation.edu.au.

Press release issued in March 2013 by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), "Weather extremes provoked by trapping of giant waves in the atmosphere."

In this 40-minute lecture presented in 2013 at the University of Arkansas, Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University explains the linkage between warming in the Arctic due to human-caused global warming and an observed shift in Northern Hemisphere jet stream patterns.

Linking Weird Weather to Rapid Warming of the Arctic, a March 2012 article by Dr. Jennifer Francis in the Yale Environment 360.

Francis, J.A., and S.J.Vavrus, 2012, "Evidence linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes", GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 39, L06801, doi:10.1029/2012GL051000, 2012

Jeff Masters

Climate Change Extreme Weather

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Greedy Lying Bastards: a movie review

By: JeffMasters, 5:14 PM GMT on March 09, 2013

Greedy Lying Bastards is a documentary film on the politics of global warming, playing in theaters this weekend. As it's rather provocative title suggests, this movie is all about exposing the bad guys--the fossil fuel industry, the private climate change denial "think tank" groups that they fund, and the politicians and media outlets sympathetic to the fossil fuel industry. The movie features several hero climate scientists, who focus on the political efforts to suppress climate science, rather than the science. Other "heroes" featured include politicians such as U.S. Representative Henry Waxman, several environmental journalists, and environmental activists such as Kert Davies of Greenpeace. The movie is produced by actress and climate activist Daryl Hannah and directed by filmmaker and political activist Craig Rosebraugh.


Video 1. Trailer for Greedy Lying Bastards.

The movie is at its strongest when it traces the history of organized climate denial efforts in the United States. We learn through engaging and detailed 3-D graphics how tens of millions of dollars have flowed from the fossil fuel industry to organizations active in climate denial efforts. The movie spends a lot of time exposing the anti-climate science efforts of billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, who jointly own majority stakes in Koch Industries, a large oil, gas and chemicals conglomerate based in Kansas. Through 2012, the Koch brothers spent $67 million to fund organizations engaged in climate science denial efforts, compared to $27 million spent by ExxonMobil on such efforts. Unfortunately, the movie was not able to mention the new power player in this game of thrones, Donor's Trust (and the affiliated Donors Capital Fund), whose influence has come to light only in past few months. Corporations who want to hide their contributions to climate science denial organizations can now launder them through Donor's Trust, who will keep the source of the funds secret. It's a charity, so this is all tax-deductible. According to mediamatters.org, "Between 2008 and 2011, Donors Trust doled out over $300 million in grants to what it describes as 'conservative and libertarian causes,' serving as 'the dark money ATM of the conservative movement.' Donors Trust enables donors to give anonymously, noting on its website that if you 'wish to keep your charitable giving private, especially gifts funding sensitive or controversial issues,' you can use it to direct your money." The following chart created by The Guardian, based on data from Greenpeace, shows that as ExxonMobil and the Koch Foundations have reduced traceable funding for these groups, donations from Donors Trust have surged:



The movie also has a very interesting look at Citizens United, a conservative nonprofit group founded by the Koch brothers. Citizens United won a landmark 2010 Supreme Court case, which now allows unlimited corporate donations to political candidates. The movie makes the case that Justice Clarence Thomas should have recused himself from the case because he appeared at a retreat sponsored by Citizens United prior to the court case.

Interspersed through the movie is dramatic footage of extreme weather events such as fires, tornadoes, and hurricanes, and the struggles of people on the front lines of climate change-related disasters. We see victims of the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado, villagers in the island nation of Tuvalu struggling with sea level rise, and Kansas farmers dealing with drought. The movie spent too much time dwelling on the victims of the Colorado fires, making for excessive melodrama. However, the scenes of the Tuvalu people living in homes that are regularly inundated by the sea were very compelling, as was the lament by one islander that a rich and colorful culture was in danger of being permanently lost.

The movie closes with a call for people to take action, accompanied by the thumping sounds of the song, "Bastards and Swine Forever." Specifically, the movies calls for people to get politically active to oppose the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, and to boycott ExxonMobil and products manufactured by Koch Industries, including Chevron, Union 76, and Conoco gasoline, plus Georgia-Pacific products such as "Brawny" paper towels, Quilted Northern toilet paper, and Dixie cups.

Overall rating: two and-a-half stars, out of four
It's a pretty interesting movie, as documentaries go, but documentaries tend to be boring, and Greedy Lying Bastards does suffer from this problem. There are some humorous moments, but not enough of them to make this as engaging as Michael Moore documentaries. Still, the fascinating look at how the funding of the climate change denial movement works is worth the price of admission, and I give Greedy Lying Bastards two and-a-half stars, out of four.

Jeff Masters

Book and Movie Reviews

Updated: 5:27 PM GMT on March 09, 2013

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Sprawling Nor'easter still bringing heavy snow, damaging coastal floods

By: JeffMasters, 4:15 PM GMT on March 08, 2013

It's not often that a Nor'easter centered more than 600 miles out to sea brings heavy snow and and major coastal flooding to New England, but Winter Storm Saturn is a one-of-a-kind. The massive storm, which was centered about 600 miles east-southeast of New York City at 7 am EST, sprawls out over a huge area of ocean more than 1000 miles across. While the central pressure of 988 mb is not exceptionally low for a Nor'easter, the sheer size of the storm is allowing Saturn to pile up a formidable storm surge, which hammered the coast of Eastern Massachusetts during the Friday morning high tide cycle, causing severe erosion, widespread street flooding, and damage to roads and houses. Snowfall amounts as high as 18" have fallen in Massachusetts (in West Walpole), and a band of moderate snow has set up along an arc from New York City to Boston. The big storm has dumped 6+" of snow on seventeen states this week, from North Dakota to Massachusetts. The deepest snows fell in the Appalachian Mountains of western Virginia and eastern West Virginia, where a number of locations received over twenty inches. The top snow-getter was Franklin, West Virginia, with 24".


Figure 1. Satellite image of Winter Storm Saturn at 9:45 am EST Friday March 8, 2013. Image credit: NASA/GSFC. There's a nice 3-day animation of these satellite images available from NASA.


Figure 2. A house slides into the ocean waters at Plum Island, MA, after being hit by pounding waves from Winter Storm Saturn on Friday, March 8, 2013. (Courtesy: NECN)

Moderate to major coastal flooding in Massachusetts
The island of Nantucket, MA, which is south of Cape Cod and thus the land area closest to the center of WInter Storm Saturn, has received the worst pounding from the storm's wind and water. The island has observed wind gusts greater than 40 mph every single hour since 6 pm Wednesday evening, and will probably continue to so so until late Friday afternoon (thanks to Eric Fisher for this stat.) A storm surge of 3' hit Nantucket Island on both Thursday and Friday. The storm tide--the height of the water above the high tide mark--reached 2.63' during the Friday morning high tide, and 2.57' during the Thursday morning high tide cycle. These heights beat out the Blizzard of 1978 for 5th highest Nantucket water level since records began in 1965. Only Nor'easters in 1991, 2013 (Nemo), 1992, and 1987 brought higher water levels to Nantucket. Boston was too far to the north of Winter Storm Saturn to receive a top-ten storm tide; the storm surge water level peaked at 2.62' above the high tide mark during the Friday morning high tide, well short of the 3.43' needed to crack Boston's top-ten list.

Our Winter Storm Saturn Section has more on the storm. You can also track current storm surge levels using our wundermap with the storm surge layer turned on.

Join me in Austin, TX on Monday for "Climate Change and the Individual"
I'll be in Austin, Texas on Monday March 11, where I'll be speaking at a panel discussion on climate change that the public is invited to (it's free.) The event is at Bourbon Girl, 212 East 6th Street, 2:30 - 3:30 pm. On stage with me will be David Kenny, CEO of The Weather Channel, and Peter Glatzer and Adrian Grenier, co-founders of SHFT.com. Adrian is the star of the HBO TV series, Entourage. SHFT.com's mission is to convey a more sustainable approach to the way we live through video, design, art and culture. The event is part of "SHFT@Austin", which runs from 10:30 am - 6 pm at Bourbon Girl. The event features a Green Gadget Lab, SHFT's Year on the Road Photo Gallery, in-car app demos in Ford electric cars, and some of The Weather Channel's latest innovations.


Wunderground's climate change blogger Dr. Ricky Rood has a very detailed article in the Washington Post on what it would take for the U.S. to catch up to the European ECMWF group in forecasting skill: "the benefit of additional money can be important, but the impact will be patchy. To be the best in forecasting, the U.S. must face the underlying issues of fragmentation and provide the U.S. organizations responsible for weather forecasting a stable environment in which to function. "

Jeff Masters

Winter Weather Saturn

Updated: 6:41 PM GMT on March 08, 2013

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Winter storm dumps over 20 inches of snow on Virginia

By: JeffMasters, 4:02 PM GMT on March 07, 2013

The heaviest snows are now over for the very wet Winter Storm Saturn, which dumped 6+" of snow on fourteen states this week, from North Dakota to Virginia. The deepest snows fell in the Appalachian Mountains of western Virginia and eastern West Virginia, where a number of locations received over twenty inches. The top snow-getter was Franklin, West Virginia, with 24". At least three more states will join the 6+" snow club on Thursday, as Boston, MA, Providence, RI, and New London, CT are all expected to get 4 - 8" of snow. A mere 0.2" of snow fell at Washington D.C.'s Reagan Airport, despite predictions early in the morning that the city would receive 8 - 10" of snow. The storm, dubbed "Snowquester" by the Washington Post, is now being called "Noquester" after the forecast bust. Western suburbs of D.C. just twenty miles from the city got up to 6" of snow, though, with 3.3" recorded at Dulles Airport.


Figure 1. MODIS satellite image of Winter Storm Saturn/Snowquester at 2:55 pm EST March 6, 2013, from NASA's Aqua satellite. Image credit: NASA.

According to NOAA's latest storm summary, here are the top snowfall amounts for the fourteen states that received 6+" of snow:

...IOWA...
NEW HAMPTON 8.6

...ILLINOIS...
LA GRANGE PARK 11.0

...INDIANA...
NORTH WEBSTER 11.0

...MARYLAND...
FROSTBURG 12.5

...MICHIGAN...
SAWYER 9.5

...MINNESOTA...
BIGFORK 13.2

...MONTANA...
ROCKY BOY 24.0

...NORTH CAROLINA...
BRYSON CITY 6.0

...NORTH DAKOTA...
LANGDON 15.0

...OHIO...
BELLEFONTAINE 9.0

...PENNSYLVANIA...
NEW KENSINGTON 12.0

...VIRGINIA...
FISHERSVILLE 20.3

...WISCONSIN...
INDEPENDENCE 9.0

...WEST VIRGINIA...
FRANKLIN 24.0

Coastal flooding in Delaware floods Highway 1; flooding in Massachusetts a concern
The storm brought high winds and a storm surge of 2 - 4' to the shores of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York, causing moderate flooding to many of the beaches battered by Hurricane Sandy in October. The top wind gust was 64 mph at Tuckerton, NJ. The streets of Sea Bright and Highlands in New Jersey flooded during high tide Wednesday, and a 4.1' storm surge hit the Delaware coast near Lewes, driving water levels to 2.8' above the high tide mark. The storm surge, topped by high, battering waves, caused severe erosion and broke through a barrier dune north of the Indian River Inlet Bridge, inundating the coastal highway, Route 1, between Dewey Beach and Bethany Beach. As the storm moves eastwards, it will bring moderate flooding during the Thursday evening and Friday morning high tide cycles along large portions of the Eastern Massachusetts coast. Sandwich Harbor and Nantucket Island are both predicted to receive major coastal flooding on Friday morning, with storm surges of up to 3.8' and waves offshore of up to 29'. Winds gusts of 68 mph were observed at Hyannis and Harwichport on Massachusetts' Cape Cod this Thursday morning.


Figure 2. Coastal flooding on Wednesday, March 6, 2013, in Norfolk, Virginia, thanks to Winter Storm Saturn. Image credit: Martin Cornick.


Figure 3. Coastal flooding prediction made at 5 am EDT Thursday March 7, 2013 for the Friday morning high tide cycle. Sandwich Harbor and Nantucket Island are boost predicted to receive major coastal flooding, with storm surges of up to 3.8' and waves offshore of up to 29'. NWS Boston.

We'll have ongoing coverage this week of Winter Storm Saturn in our Winter Storm Section. You can track current storm surge levels using our wundermap with the storm surge layer turned on.

Jeff Masters

Winter Weather Saturn

Updated: 4:07 PM GMT on March 07, 2013

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Heavy snows fall from Chicago to Virginia

By: JeffMasters, 3:32 PM GMT on March 06, 2013

An intensifying winter storm has moved off the coast of Virginia this morning, and will bring heavy rain and snow, strong winds, and coastal flooding to most of the Mid-Atlantic and New England coast over the next two days. Rain is mixing with snow in the Washington D.C. area, where 4 - 8" of snow is expected today, down from earlier forecasts of 8 - 12". According to The Capital Weather Gang, today's snowstorm needs at least 6.6" of accumulation to crack the top-ten list for biggest March snowstorms in D.C.; the biggest March snowstorm in D.C. history was 12" on March 27 - 28, 1891. Snowfall amounts of up to 15" have already fallen in western Virginia near Shenandoah National Park, as of 10 am EST Wednesday, and thundersnow was reported near Richmond, Virginia. Snowfall amounts of 12" were observed at Valparaiso, Indiana on Tuesday, and Chicago is digging out from 9.2"--the biggest March snow in Chicago in a calendar day since 11.5" fell on March 2, 1954. Chicago is now close to average for snowfall for the winter, since the city had a snow drought through most of December and January. The ratio of snow to liquid water ranged from 9:1 to 13:1 in the Chicago area, close to the typical 10:1 snow to liquid water snow the Midwest sees.


Figure 1. Satellite image of Winter Storm Saturn/Snowquester at 9:31 am EST March 6, 2013. Image credit: NASA.


Figure 2. Predicted snowfall amounts from Winter Storm Saturn (AKA Snowquester) from the NWS.

Coastal flooding a concern in the Mid-Atlantic and New England
This storm is going to cause a lot of damage to beaches all along the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast coast damaged by Hurricane Sandy in October, and by Winter Storm Nemo on February 9. The powerful onshore winds of the new storm have already piled up a storm surge in excess of 2' along most of the coast from Norfolk, Virginia to New York City. The highest surges at 10 am EST were 4' at Wachapreague, Virginia and 3.5' at Lewes, Delaware. Winds gusting to 55 mph will build waves of up to 15' and a 2 - 4' storm surge along the coast of New Jersey, causing widespread areas of moderate flooding. Moderate flooding is also expected along large portions of the New England coast, from New York City to Boston. The most dangerous flooding is predicted to occur along coast of Cape Cod Bay southeast of Boston, where Friday morning's high tide cycle is expected to be accompanied by a storm surge of 3 - 4' and waves as high as 25', causing major coastal flooding.

We'll have ongoing coverage this week of Winter Storm Saturn in our Winter Storm Section. You can track current storm surge levels using our wundermap with the storm surge layer turned on.

Jeff Masters

Winter Weather Saturn

Updated: 3:51 PM GMT on March 06, 2013

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Chicago snowstorm headed toward the Mid-Atlantic

By: JeffMasters, 4:03 PM GMT on March 05, 2013

The snow has begun in Chicago, as what promises to be their biggest snowstorm of the season moves through. The fast-moving "Alberta Clipper" has already brought up to 10" of snow to Minnesota and North Dakota. These type of storms, so-named because they originate in Alberta and clip along at a fast forward speed, typically bring the Midwest moderate amounts of fluffy snow that is relatively easy to shovel. However, this Clipper is traversing through an atmosphere that is warmer than usual for these types of storms--close to the freezing point near the surface. Since warm air can hold more moisture, this Clipper is bringing heavier snowfall amounts than is usual for a Clipper, with 4 - 8" of snow expected in Chicago. The storm, dubbed Winter Storm Saturn by The Weather Channel and "Snowquester" by The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang, is expected to bring a swath of 4 - 8" of snow into the Mid-Atlantic through Wednesday, with the heaviest snows in excess of a foot falling in Western Virginia and eastern West Virginia. The models are still in considerable disagreement on what will happen to the storm on Wednesday, both in regards to the track and the location of the rain/snow line. I still prefer the European model's solution of a colder and more southwards-moving storm, which would likely bring Washington D.C. 4 - 8" of snow, their biggest snowstorm since January 26, 2011. There will be a sharp gradient in snowfall amounts in the region, though, due to the fact the rain/snow line will be in the area. We cannot rule out the solution provided by NOAA's SREF model, which calls for snowfall amounts closer to 15" in D.C. The Capital Weather Gang has an interesting article on historical March snowstorms in Washington D.C. In order for Snowquester/Winter Storm Saturn to crack the top-ten, it would have to dump at least 6.6" of snow on the nation's capital. The New England coast from Long Island to Southeast Massachusetts could also see heavy snows in excess of 6", though the uncertainty in snow amounts is high. There will be a very sharp gradient in the precipitation amounts, and the storm's track may keep the heaviest snows just offshore.


Figure 1. Predicted snowfall amounts from Winter Storm Saturn (AKA Snowquester) from the NWS. There is a sharp gradient in snowfall amounts near the coast, due to some of the precipitation falling as rain.

Coastal flooding a concern in the Mid-Atlantic and New England
As the storm moves off the coast on Wednesday night, winds gusting to 55 mph will build waves of up to 15' and a 2 - 4' storm surge along the coast to the north of the center, along the coasts of Delaware, New Jersey, and New York. Heavy rains will bring runoff down rivers that will act to increase water levels along the coast. The latest Forecast Discussion from the Mount Holly, NJ NWS office highlights the likelihood of moderate coastal flooding in Delaware during the high tide cycles on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning. The latest storm surge forecast from the GFS model calls for a storm surge of around 3' at Lewes, Delaware on Thursday morning, though the peak surge is currently forecast to hit at low tide, which would not bring top-ten highest water level on record to the coast. Still, even moderate flooding would cause much greater erosion than usual, due to weakened state of the dunes from the pounding Hurricane Sandy gave to the coast in October. Sandy brought the 3rd highest water level on record to Lewes. Moderate flooding is also expected along large portions of the New England coast, from New York City to Boston. Should the more northerly track of the GFS and NAM models verify, Southeast Massachusetts could be looking at a dangerous coastal flooding event with impacts far worse than experienced during Winter Storm Nemo on February 9.

We'll have ongoing coverage this week of Winter Storm Saturn in our Winter Storm Section.

Jeff Masters

Winter Weather Saturn

Updated: 8:54 PM GMT on March 05, 2013

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Winter storm to spread heavy snow from North Dakota to Virginia

By: JeffMasters, 3:44 PM GMT on March 04, 2013

The flakes are flying in Minnesota and North Dakota, where up to 10" of snow has fallen from an "Alberta Clipper" that is barreling southeastwards across the U.S. These type of storms, so-named because they originate in Alberta and clip along at a fast forward speed, typically bring the Midwest moderate amounts of fluffy snow that is relatively easy to shovel. The storm, dubbed Winter Storm Saturn by The Weather Channel and "Snowquester" by The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang, is expected to bring a swath of 6 - 10" of snow from Minnesota to Virginia Monday through Wednesday, with Chicago expected to get 6 - 9", their biggest snow of the season. Once the storm moves off the coast on Wednesday, its strong winds will make coastal flooding a major concern for the Mid-Atlantic coast, particularly Delaware, on Wednesday and Thursday. The computer models are still showing quite a bit of disagreement on what the storm might do on Wednesday. The European model has been the most consistent model, and maintains that the storm will not bring heavy snow to New England. I would lean towards this solution at present. However, keep in mind that the latest run of the GFS model shows a more northerly track, with heavy snow falling along a swath of coast from Long Island, NY, to Boston, MA, Wednesday through Thursday. The exact position of the rain/snow boundary along the Mid-Atlantic coast is also quite uncertain. Washington D.C. could end up with mostly rain, and just 1 - 2" of snow, or get a 6+ inch dumping, picking up more snow from one storm than from the all the snowstorms from the past two winters, combined:

Reagan Nat'l Airport (DCA):
- Snowfall this season-to-date:  1.5"
- Snowfall all last season:  2"
- Last 5"+ snow event:  Jan. 26, 2011 (5")
- Last 10"+ snow event:  Feb. 9-10, 2010 (10.8")

Dulles Airport, Virginia (IAD)
- Snowfall this season-to-date:  5.3"
- Snowfall all last season:  3.7"
- Last 5"+ snow event:  Jan. 26, 2011 (7.3")
- Last 10"+ snow event:  Feb. 9-10, 2010 (9.3")

(Thanks go to Jonathan Erdman of TWC for these stats.) The Capital Weather Gang has an interesting article on historical March snowstorms in Washington D.C. In order for Winter Storm Saturn to crack the top-ten, it would have to dump at least 6.6" of snow on the nation's capital.



Coastal flooding a concern in the Mid-Atlantic
As the storm moves off the coast on Wednesday night, winds gusting to 50 mph will build waves of up to 15' and a 3 - 4' storm surge along the coast to the north of the center. Heavy rains will bring runoff down rivers that will act to increase water levels along the coast. The latest Forecast Discussion from the Mount Holly, NJ NWS office highlights the likelihood of at least moderate coastal flooding in Delaware during the high tide cycles on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, with the possibility of major flooding. The latest storm surge forecast from the GFS model calls for a storm surge of around 3' at Lewes, Delaware on Thursday morning, which would bring the 8th highest water level on record to the coast. This is of concern due to the damage Hurricane Sandy brought in October, which weakened the dunes and left the coast more vulnerable to erosion. Sandy brought the 3rd highest water level on record to Lewes.

We'll have ongoing coverage this week of Winter Storm Saturn in our Winter Storm Section.

Jeff Masters

Winter Weather Saturn

Updated: 3:45 PM GMT on March 04, 2013

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Australia has its warmest summer on record

By: JeffMasters, 3:34 PM GMT on March 01, 2013

The historic summer of 2012 - 2013 is now in the books in Australia as the hottest summer on record, beating the previous mark set in 1997 - 1998 by more than 0.1°C. Australia also roasted through its hottest month on record this summer, with January 2013 topping out as Australia's warmest month since record keeping began in 1910. The oceans surrounding Australia were at their second warmest levels on record during January, contributing to the exceptional heat over the nation. The summer heat peaked during a remarkably long and widespread heatwave in late December and the first half of January, when fourteen of the 112 sites used by the Bureau of Meteorology for long-term monitoring had their hottest day on record. Sydney's 45.8°C (114.4°F) on January 18 and Hobart's 41.8°C (107.2°F) on January 4 were among the places which set new records. The highest temperature during the heatwave was 49.6°C (121.3°F) at Moomba in the far northeast of South Australia--Australia’s highest temperature since 1998. The extreme Australian heat helped push the average land temperature over the entire Southern Hemisphere to its warmest value on record during both December 2012 and January 2013. Many parts of southern Africa also had their warmest January on record.


Figure 1. Devastating wildfires swept through many areas of Australia during January 2013, the nation's hottest month on record. In this photo provided by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, a wildfire near Deans Gap, Australia, crosses the Princes Highway Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013. (AP Photo/NSW Rural Fire Service, James Morris)

Record heat without an El Niño: an unusual occurrence
What's notable about the new summer heat record is that is occurred during a “neutral” period in the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (there was neither a La Niña nor El Niño event present.) El Niño conditions add an extra natural bump to temperatures over Australia, and it is difficult to set all-time heat records unless there's an El Niño present. Before 2013, the hottest three summers on record in Australia occurred during El Niño years. Breaking an all-time hottest month and hottest summer record during a non-El Niño year is the type of event that would be difficult to have in Australia without a warming climate.


Figure 2. The departure of temperature from average for Australia from 1910 - 2013 shows that summer temperatures have warmed by about 0.8°C (1.4°F.) Most of this warming has occurred since 1950. Image credit: Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

Global warming expected to make the summer of 2012 - 2013 seem cool by late this century
According to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, "the most significant thing about all of these extremes is they fit with a well established trend in Australia--it’s getting hotter, and record heat is happening more often. Six of Australia’s ten hottest summers on record have come in the last eleven years, meaning that very hot summers have been occurring at about five times the rate you would expect without a warming trend. In the last decade, record high temperatures have outnumbered record low temperatures in Australia by a ratio of about three to one. About a third of the all-time record high temperatures at the Bureau’s long-term stations have occurred since 2000…Australia has warmed by nearly a degree Celsius since 1910. This is consistent with warming observed in the global atmosphere and oceans. And it’s going to keep getting hotter. Over the next century, the world will likely warm by a further 2 to 5 degrees, depending on the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. Under mid-to-high emissions scenarios, summers like this one will likely become average in 40 years time. By the end of the 21st century, the record summer of 2013 will likely sit at the very cooler end of normal."

Jeff Masters

Heat Climate Change

Updated: 3:42 PM GMT on March 01, 2013

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About

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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