Dr. Jeff Masters' WunderBlog

California's Sierra Snowpack Only 12% of Average, a Record Low

By: JeffMasters, 4:32 PM GMT on January 31, 2014

California's first significant snow storm of 2014 hit the Sierras on Wednesday and Thursday, dumping up to 2 feet of snow, with a melted water equivalent of up to two inches. However, this modest snowstorm was not enough to keep the Sierra snowpack from recording its lowest snow amounts in more than 50 years of record keeping during Thursday's Sierra Snow Survey. The survey found a snow pack that was only 12% of normal for this time of year. Until Thursday, the lowest statewide snowpack measurement at this time of year was 21% of average, in 1991 and 1963, according to the Los Angeles Times. Since snowpack in the Sierras forms a crucial source of water for California, the dismal snow survey results are a huge concern.


Figure 1. Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Survey Program for the Department of Water Resources, walks leaves a snow covered meadow after the second snow survey of the year near Echo Summit, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. Despite the overnight snow storm the survey showed the snow depth at 12.4 inches with a water content of only 1.4 inches for this location at this time of the year. Gehrke said that while the recent snow fall will help, it is not enough to impact the water supply.(AP Photo)

The forecast: little drought relief in sight
One of the most persistent and intense ridges of high pressure ever recorded in North America has been anchored over the West Coast since December 2012. While the ridge has occasionally broken down and allowed low pressure systems to leak though, these storms have mostly brought spotty and meager precipitation to California, resulting in California's driest year on record during 2013. January 2014 could well be its driest January on record. The ridge inevitably builds back after each storm, clamping down on any moisture reaching the state. Since rain-bearing low pressure systems tend to travel along the axis of the jet stream, these storms are being carried along the axis of the ridge, well to the north of California and into Southeast Alaska, leaving California exceptionally dry. The latest runs of the GFS and European models show that the ridge is now building back, and it appears likely that California will see no significant precipitation until at least February 7. A weak upper level low will move along the coast on Sunday and spread some light rain along the immediate coast, but this precipitation will generally be less than 0.25"--too little to have any significant impact on the drought. The ridge will not be as intense when it builds back, though, which gives me some hope that a low pressure system will be able to break the ridge by mid-February and bring the most significant rains of the winter rainy season to California.


Figure 2. One of the key water supply reservoirs for Central California, Lake Oroville, as seen on January 20, 2014. Image credit: California Department of Water Resources.

Worst California drought in 500 years?
UC Berkeley paleoclimatologist B. Lynn Ingram, author of "The West Without Water: What Past Floods, Droughts, and Other Climatic Clues Tell Us About Tomorrow", said in an interview, “this could potentially be the driest water year in 500 years.” Her research on tree rings shows that California has not experienced such an extreme drought since 1580. "If you go back thousands of years, you see that droughts can go on for years if not decades, and there were some dry periods that lasted over a century, like during the Medieval period and the middle Holocene. The 20th century was unusually mild here, in the sense that the droughts weren’t as severe as in the past. It was a wetter century, and a lot of our development has been based on that." It's no wonder, then, that the overall agricultural impact of the drought could reach $1 billion this year, according to the Fresno-based Westlands Water District.

California's drought woes are part of an on-going 14-year Western U.S. drought that began in 2000, and peaked between 2000 - 2004. A 2012 study titled, Reduction in carbon uptake during turn of the century drought in western North America, found that the 2000 - 2004 drought was the most severe Western North America event of its kind since the last mega drought over 800 years ago, during the years 1146 - 1151. The paper analyzed the latest generation of climate models used for the 2013 IPCC report, which project that the weather conditions that spawned the 2000 - 2004 drought will be the new normal in the Western U.S. by 2030, and will be considered extremely wet by the year 2100. If these dire predictions of a coming "megadrought" are anywhere close to correct, it will be extremely challenging for the Southwest U.S. to support a growing population in the coming decades.

Megadroughts in the Western U.S. can develop from natural causes, as well, and the current pattern of cooler than average ocean temperatures in the Eastern Pacific and warmer than average ocean temperatures in the Atlantic increase the odds of drought conditions like the ones we have seen during the current megadrought. Edward Cook, director of the Tree Ring Laboratory at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y., said at a presentation last month at the American Geophysical Union meeting that tree ring data show that the area of the West that was affected by severe drought in the Medieval period was much higher and much longer than the current drought. It is “indeed pretty scary,” Cook said. “One lasted 29 years. One lasted 28 years. They span the entire continental United States." Two megadroughts in the Sierra Nevada of California lasted between 100 and 200 years. Bobby Magill at Climate Center has more on Dr. Cook's presentation in a post, Is the West’s Dry Spell Really a Megadrought?
 


Figure 3. Normalized precipitation over Western North America (five-year mean) from 22 climate models used to formulate the 2013 IPCC report, as summarized by Schwalm et al., 2012, Reduction in carbon uptake during turn of the century drought in western North America. The horizontal line marks the precipitation level of the 2000 - 2004 drought, the worst of the past 800 years. Droughts of this intensity are predicted to be the new normal by 2030, and will be considered an outlier of extreme wetness by 2100. The paper states: "This impending drydown of western North America is consistent with present trends in snowpack decline as well as expected in-creases in aridity and extreme climate events,including drought, and is driven by anthropogenically forced increases in temperature with coincident increases in evapotranspiration and decreases in soil moisture. Although regional precipitation patterns are difficult to forecast, climate models tend to underestimate the extent and severity of drought relative to available observations. As such, actual reductions in precipitation may be greater than shown. Forecasted precipitation patterns are consistent with a probable twenty-first century megadrought." Image credit: Schwalm et al., 2012, Reduction in carbon uptake during turn of the century drought in western North America, Nature Geoscience 5, 551-555, Published online 29 JULY 2012, DOI: 10.1038/NGEO1529, www.nature.com/naturegeoscience.

Related posts
Unprecedented Cut in Colorado River Flow Ordered, Due to Drought, my August 2013 post.

Lessons from 2012: Droughts, not Hurricanes, are the Greater Danger, my November 2012 post.

How Two Reservoirs Have Become Billboards For What Climate Change Is Doing To The American West, August 12, 2013 climateprogress.org post by Tom Kenworthy.

Scientists Predicted A Decade Ago Arctic Ice Loss Would Worsen Western Droughts. Is That Happening Already?, June 2013 post by Joe Romm at climateprogress.org.

Twenty Cities At Risk of Water Shortages, August 14, 2013 wunderground news post by Nick Wiltgen

‪If There's Global Warming...Why Is It So Cold?‬
It's been top-ten coldest January on record in the Upper Midwest, and much colder than average over much of the Eastern U.S. However, the that isn't the case over other portions of the globe, including the Western U.S. and Alaska. Wunderground's weather historian Christopher C. Burt analyzes the situation in his latest post, How Cold has this January been in the U.S.? He concludes, "this January’s average temperature nationally has probably been close to normal since the western half of the nation has been almost as much above average as the eastern half was below average. The only region that will most likely have experienced a TOP 10 coldest January will be the Upper Midwest." In the U.S., only four stations set all-time low minimum temperature records in January, compared to 34 that set all-time high maximum temperature records. I've been monitoring global temperatures this month, and it appears likely that January will rank between the 5th and 15th warmest January since record keeping began in 1880. Of particular note were the amazingly warm January temperatures in the Balkans. According to weather record researcher Maximiliano Herrera, "over 90% of all stations in the Balkans from Slovenia to Croatia to Bosnia to Serbia To Montenegro to Kosovo etc., have DESTROYED their previous record of warmest January ever (many locations have 100 - 200 years of data.) In many cases the monthly temperatures were 7 - 9°C (13 - 16°F) above average, and the new records were 3 - 4°C above the previous record. This is for THOUSANDS of stations, almost all of them. In Slovenia, for example, Mount Kredarica is the only station in the whole country not to have set its warmest January on record."


Video 1. ‪If There's Global Warming ... Why Is It So Cold?‬ The latest video from climate videographer Peter Sinclair on the Yale Climate Forum website demonstrates that while it was a very cold January in the Midwest, this has been counterbalanced by record warmth over the Western U.S. and Alaska, caused by an unusually extreme kink in the jet stream.

Links
Another Unexpected Disaster That Was Well Forecast. Based in Atlanta, TWC's Bryan Norcross concludes that "WARM GROUND + VERY COLD AIR + SNOW + WORKDAY = CHAOS. If the decision-makers understood the formula above, this information should have been sufficient to trigger a proper response."

Jon Stewart Lays Into Georgia’s Snowpocalypse

Have a great weekend, everyone, and I'll be back Monday with a new post.

Jeff Masters

Drought Extreme Weather

Updated: 4:52 AM GMT on February 01, 2014

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Southeast U.S. Slowly Thaws; Rains in California End Record Dry Streaks

By: JeffMasters, 4:00 PM GMT on January 30, 2014

The unusually sharp kink in the jet stream that has brought extreme weather to nearly the entire U.S. in January is finally beginning to straighten out, and a return to more normal winter conditions will begin today and extend into next week. After a morning low of 14°, Atlanta's temperature is expected to rebound into the upper 30s under sunny skies on Thursday afternoon, helping to melt out the hundreds of miles of ice-covered roads left by Winter Storm Leon on Tuesday. A state of emergency remains in effect for all of Georgia until at least noon Thursday due to icy roads. Atlanta, Birmingham, Alabama, and many other cities in the Southeast U.S. suffered their worst traffic days in history on Tuesday, after sleet and snows of 1 - 3" compacted into ice on area roads, resulting in travel chaos. Temperatures will fall into the teens again on Thursday night, allowing those roads that do thaw out to re-freeze. The Southeast will not fully thaw out until Friday afternoon, under sunny skies and temperatures in the 50s. At least a dozen deaths have been blamed on the storm, including five traffic fatalities in Alabama.


Figure 1. Abandoned cars litter the roadway Cobb Parkway (US 41) between Cumberland Pkwy and W. Paces Ferry Road. Image credit: Michael King @mhking


Figure 2. Freezing rain from Winter Storm Leon turned roads in Mobile, Alabama into skating rinks. Mobile Airport received 0.1" of ice and 0.8" of sleet. Image credit: David Ladner @davidladner

Top snowfall amounts from Leon, by state
VIRGINIA: 10.0” at 5 locations in the Norfolk-Virginia News area; Park Manor, Suffolk, Stone Bridge, Deep Creek, and Willoughby Spit (8.5” officially at Norfolk NWS site)
NORTH CAROLINA: 9.0” Gliden
NEW JERSEY: 7.7” Estell Manor (7.3" in Atlantic City)
MARYLAND: 6.7” Ridge
MASSACHUSETTS: 5.5" East Sandwich, West Tisbury
DELAWARE: 5.4” Dover, Harrington, Ellendale
NEW YORK: 4.9" Theresa
MISSISSIPPI: 3.0” at 5 sites, including Cato
SOUTH CAROLINA: 4.0” Bennetstsville
GEORGIA: 4.0” White
LOUISIANA: 4.0” Jena
ALABAMA: 3.0” numerous locations
WEST VIRGINIA: 3.0" Gary
TENNESSEE: 2.0" Maryville
PENNSYLVANIA: 1.0” 5 NE Philadelphia
FLORIDA: no official snow reports, but 0.5" of sleet at Freeport

Rain in California!
"Ahhh, rain!" Those are words that undoubtedly arose from the lips of a great number of upturned faces in California on Wednesday, as heaven-sent drops of water splashed down from above. The first significant rain storm of 2014 moved through the northern half of the state on Wednesday, bringing some welcome relief from the record dry conditions that have parched the state this winter. In the Sierra Mountains, snows of up to 12 inches fell, and up to 2 feet of snow may accumulate above 8,000 feet, adding a modest boost to a snowpack that was the lowest on record in many locations. As of 7 am PST on January 30, the Sierra Snow Survey found a snow pack that was only 7% of normal for this time of year. Sacramento recorded 0.03" of rain on Wednesday, ending a string of 52 consecutive days without rain. It was their longest streak of dry days during the rainy season ever recorded, smashing the previous record of 46 days set in 1884. According to wunderground's weather historian Christopher C. Burt, Wednesday's rains in downtown San Francisco and Oakland ended their longest winter rain-free periods on record, since at least 1850 (though San Francisco did get 0.03" of drizzle earlier this month.) The last actual rainfall in the city was on December 6th. That’s 53 days during what normally should be the wettest period of the year, when at least 8” would normally fall. Yesterday's rains also brought an exceptional dry streak to an end in Reno, Nevada--the 0.10" of rain that fell was its first precipitation since December 19.


Figure 3. The observed precipitation plot for the 30-day period ending at 7 am EST January 29, 2014, shows that about 2/3 of California had received no rain at all in 2014. All of Arizona, most of Nevada, and much of Utah and New Mexico were also precipitation-free. January is the heart of the rainy season for the Southwest U.S., and is typically one of the wettest months of the year. Arizona is expected to get rain on January 31, keeping it from going the entire month without rain. Only one time since record keeping began in 1895 has any state had a rain-free January: 1986 in Kansas. Arizona's lowest January rainfall came in 1972, when the state averaged just 0.01" of precipitation. Image credit: NOAA.


Figure 4. The January 29 U.S. Drought Monitor showed 94% of California in drought, with 9% of the state in the highest level of drought, "Exceptional." Image credit: U.S. Drought Monitor.

Drought situation in California still dire despite today's rains
While yesterday's and today's rains and snow in California are a welcome respite, they will put only a minor dent in what is one of the worst droughts in California history. Today's U.S. Drought Monitor update put 9% of the state into "Exceptional Drought"--the worst category. This is the first time since the Drought Monitor product began in 2000 that a portion of California was put into "Exceptional Drought". California's area experiencing extreme to exceptional drought remained at 63%, making it one of the three worst winter droughts in state history. To break the drought, much of the state needs more than 12" of precipitation. Sacramento has received about 2" of rain since July 1, 2013, which is 8" below normal, and most of the southern half of the state needs more than a year of rainfall to fall in one month to break the drought. The stubborn ridge of high pressure responsible for the drought is forecast to build back over California during the first ten days of February, and the state will receive little or no rain during that period. However, the ridge will not be as intense, increasing the odds that a low pressure system will be able to break the ridge by mid-February and bring more rain to the state.

Jeff Masters

Winter Weather Drought

Updated: 4:24 PM GMT on January 30, 2014

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SnowedOutAtlanta: Extreme Travel Chaos in the Deep South

By: JeffMasters, 3:40 PM GMT on January 29, 2014

A dangerous winter storm swept through the Deep South on Tuesday, dumping 1 - 4" of snow and 1/4" - 1/2" of ice on a region unused to dealing with severe winter weather. Travel chaos resulted in many cities, and at least nine people died in storm-related accidents. Officially, 2.6" of snow fell at the Atlanta Airport from Winter Storm Leon, and snow amounts across the city ranged from 1.5" - 3.5". But with temperatures in the low 20s, and only 40 snow plows and 30 sand trucks to handle the snow, Atlanta streets and highways quickly turned into parking lots during the afternoon snow, as schools, businesses, and government offices all closed nearly simultaneously, sending a huge number of vehicles onto the roads. Atlanta experienced its worst traffic day of all-time, and thousands of motorists were forced to abandon their vehicles, with many spending the night sheltering in stores, stalled cars, or strangers' homes. A Facebook group dubbed SnowedOutAtlanta, meant to connect stranded motorists with people willing to put them up for the night, had thousands of members by Tuesday night. Thousands of children never made it home, and were forced to spend the night at their schools or at bus shelters. There were 1200 confirmed traffic accidents in Atlanta, with at least 130 injuries, according to media reports. It was Atlanta's worst driving day since the infamous Snow Jam of 1982, when 6" of snow also created traffic chaos, stranding thousands of motorists.

The Weather Channel's Paul Goodloe had this to say about his evening commute home Tuesday night:

"On my drive home tonight, I gave a ride to a school bus driver who was walking on a road that was littered with abandoned cars.  He said his bus got stuck with kids on it not far from the school. They walked back.  He told me there are several hundred kids spending the night at East Cobb Middle and several hundred high school kids spending the night at Wheeler High. He said several buses were involved in traffic accidents, usually with other people running into the buses.  One bus was hit on all 4 sides."


Figure 1. Traffic gridlock in Atlanta on Tuesday afternoon, January 28, 2014. Image credit: @beercontrol/twitter.


Figure 2. Snow began falling in Atlanta at 11:15 am on Tuesday, and the progression of traffic gridlock in the city was remarkably swift as everyone left school and work simultaneously and flooded area roads. Image credit: Kevin O. via Twitter.

Dangerous travel continues on Wednesday
After a morning low of 11° in Atlanta on Wednesday morning, the temperature will struggle to reach the freezing mark, resulting in little improvement in road conditions during the day. A Winter Storm Warning continues for Atlanta throughout this afternoon, even though skies are sunny, and no precipitation is expected. I don't think I've even seen a Winter Storm Warning issued with a forecast of clear skies, but if it helps keep people off the roads, it's a great idea:

"… Winter Storm Warning now in effect until 1 PM EST this afternoon...
* locations... northern Georgia.
* Hazard types... continued hazardous driving conditions due to snow and ice covered roads.
* Accumulations... no additional accumulations.
* Timing... now through this afternoon.
* Impacts... snow and ice covered roadways will make travel extremely treacherous. Numerous vehicle accidents have already been reported across northern Georgia. Stay off the roadways if possible."


At 1 pm, this Winter Storm Warning was replaced with a "Civil Emergency Message", which is the way situations like this should be handled in the future.
Atlanta was warned well in advance of the winter storm, but local officials failed to plan properly for the storm. Advances in weather forecasting won't help much if people don't use the information to make the right decisions. J. Marshall Shepherd, a University of Georgia professor who serves as the current head of the American Meteorological Society, had these points to make in his blog post, "An Open Thank You to Meteorologists in Atlanta":

1.  The public needs to clearly understand what Watch, Warning, and Advisory mean rather than what they “think” they mean. Also, they must understand that a Watch for a winter event has nuanced differences than tornado, hurricane, or other warnings.

2.  Should we develop “warnings” that are more clearly meaningful to the public like a number or index? Research and scholarly discussion will be required, but increasingly, social science research is revealing that how people consume information is as critical as giving them the right information.

3.  The public must watch the evolving forecast not a snapshot they saw 2  or so days ago. The forecasts change.

4.  A friend (not a meteorologist but an intelligent, attentive citizen) noted that a few media outlets, at times, showed 4 different model scenarios at times. She noted that this is confusing to the public. I agree. We, as meteorologists, use an array of model tools, diagnostics, or data. Does the public need to see “the sausage making” or the scenarios we weigh out?  When these scenarios are shown on TV or a website, we, as professionals, know how to consume them, but the public may be confused or misinterpret the message.

5. Forecasting capacity in the 1-5 day window is quite good, but as we get to local-to-regional scales and 1-24 hour time frame (“the mesoscale”), the processes are not as well-represented in the models. We know where improvements are needed. Budget cuts, travel restrictions, and other policy decisions hinder research and development that lead to improvements for citizens.

6.  We still have challenges in how weather information is consumed, interpreted, or viewed by policymakers and decision-makers. This is ultimately the root of the Atlanta mess from Tuesday, in my view. I don't believe "anyone" is necessarily to blame. The situation simply points out that we still have challenges in communicating across the science-decisionmaker-public "gap."  



Figure 3. People work to clear stranded vehicles on County Road 25, Tuesday Jan. 28, 2014 in Wilsonville, Ala. (AP Photo/Hal Yeager)

Freezing rain and snow end across the South
Though freezing rain and snow from Winter Storm Leon have ended across most of the South, temperatures well below freezing will continue to keep traffic paralyzed over a swath of the country from East Texas to Eastern North Carolina. Atlanta wasn't the only city with extreme traffic problems. Birmingham, Alabama looked much like Atlanta, with thousands of drivers stuck and hundreds of children unable to get home; Tuscaloosa, Alabama declared a state of emergency and ordered all non-emergency vehicles off the road; 124 miles of I-10 in the Florida Panhandle were closed on Wednesday morning due to ice. Fortunately, the freezing rain was not great enough to cause serious power outages, with ice accumulations generally under 1/4". Here are a few of the power outage numbers as of midnight on Tuesday:

NC: Two utilities reporting 2,528 without power
SC: Two utilities report 997 without electricity
GA: One utility reports 1,260 without power
TX: Three utilities report 914 without power
LA: Two utilities, 417 without power

Jeff Masters

Winter Weather

Updated: 6:26 PM GMT on January 29, 2014

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Rare and Dangerous Ice Storm Hits Deep South; Extreme Cold in the Midwest

By: JeffMasters, 4:04 PM GMT on January 28, 2014

A rare and dangerous ice storm has begun in the Deep South, where Winter Storm Leon is tracking along the northern Gulf Coast, spreading a nasty mix of freezing rain, sleet, cold rain, and snow along a swath from Central Texas to Eastern Virginia. At 8 am CST, freezing rain was falling at a temperature of 28°F in Austin, Texas, where a 20-car pileup on an overpass was reported, as well as at least ten other car crashes in a 30-minute time span. A portion of Interstate 35 was closed due to the crashes and icing. Freezing rain was falling on the north side of Houston, Texas, and in Mobile Alabama, this morning; snow was falling in Jackson Mississippi, and sleet in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The National Weather Service has posted Freezing Rain Advisories along a swath from Eastern Texas across Southern Louisiana, Southern Mississippi, Southern Alabama, the Florida Panhandle, almost all of Georgia and South Carolina, and into Eastern North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland. Ice accumulations of 1/4" - 1/2" are expected in much of this area, with isolated higher amounts. Snows of 1 - 4" are possible just to the north of the freezing rain swath, with heavier amounts of 6 - 12" across southeast Virginia and northeast North Carolina. The ice storm has the potential to cause significant damage to trees and power lines, resulting in widespread power outages. Travel will be very dangerous in a region unaccustomed to extreme winter weather.


Figure 1. Ice builds up on the Chicago River as temperatures drop below zero on January 27, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Extreme cold in the Midwest
An unusually sharp southwards dip of the jet stream is allowing intensely cold air to spill southwards out of the Arctic and over the eastern half of the United States. The most extreme cold Tuesday morning was over the Upper Midwest, where the temperature fell to -35° in Northern Minnesota in Longville, with a dangerously low wind chill of -47°. Chicago bottomed out at -11°, with a wind chill of -30°, at 7 am CST. In Detroit, the low hit -10°, with a wind chill of -27°. Wind chill levels that low are extremely rare in Southeast Lower Michigan, and the dangerously cold conditions prompted officials at the University of Michigan to cancel classes on Tuesday for only the fourth time since the college was founded in 1817 (the other closures came in January 1978, 1974, and 1945, according to a Dec. 7, 2006 article published in the Michigan Daily.) The latest round of snow on Monday brought the January total snowfall for Detroit to 37.1", establishing a new all-time January snowfall record. It's getting so the snowbanks surrounding my driveway are so high, I can't throw the snow over them! This morning it hit -18° at my backyard PWS, marking the 12th day this month with a temperature of -10° or colder. It's truly been a winter to remember in Michigan in 2014.

The historic February 1994 Southeast U.S. ice storm
Damage from today's Southeast U.S. ice storm may well run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, but it will not compare to the damage from the most expensive ice storm in U.S. history, the great February 1994 Southeast U.S. ice storm. That storm killed nine people and caused $4.7 billion (2013 dollars) of damage in portions of TX, OK, AR, LA, MS, AL, TN, GA, SC, NC, and VA. At least 2 million customers were without electricity at some point, and 1/2 million were still without power three days after the storm. Hardest hit was Northern Mississippi, which was deluged with 4 - 5" of freezing rain that created flooding problems. Ice thicknesses of 3.5 - 5.5 inches were common in the state, causing catastrophic damage estimated at $3 billion. Some residents were without power one month after the storm.


Figure 2. ‪Number of blizzard warnings issued so far during the winter of 2013 - 2014 show that the Upper Midwest is giving Alaska a run for its money--a very unusual state of affairs! ‬Image credit: Iowa Environmental Mesonet. Thanks go to TWC's Jon Erdman for providing this link.

62° in Alaska
The cold air flowing out of the Arctic into the eastern half of the U.S. is being replaced by warm air surging northwards over Alaska and the North Atlantic east of Greenland. The warmth in Alaska the past three days has been particularly astonishing, with Alaska observing its all-time warmest January temperature of 62° on Monday 1/27 at the Port Alsworth Climate Reference Network station, according to Rick Thoman of NWS Fairbanks. This ties the January state record set at Petersburg on January 16, 1981. Port Alsworth is about 160 miles southwest of Anchorage.

Nome, Alaska recorded a high of 51°F on Monday. This was 38° above average, and the warmest temperature ever observed in any November through March in Nome since record keeping began in 1907. Ironically, exactly 25 years ago, Nome recorded its lowest temperature on record--a bone-chilling -54° on January 27, 1989. Nome is located about 160 miles south of the Arctic Circle, and has just 6 1/2 hours of daylight this time of year.

According to Wunderground's weather historian, Christopher C. Burt, in his latest post, Record Warmth in Alaska Contrasts Cold Wave in Eastern U.S., all-time January heat records have been set over the past three days in Nome, Denali Park, Palmer, Homer (twice), Alyseka, Seward, and Talkeetna. Bolio Lake Range Complex in Fort Greely, Alaska, located about 100 miles southeast of Fairbanks, hit 60° on Sunday. This is only 2° short of the all-time state January heat record of 62° set at Petersburg in Jan 1981, according to NCDC records.

Links
Snowstorms in the Southeast and Deep South of the United States: An Historical Perspective, 2011 blog post by our weather historian, Christopher C. Burt.

Jeff Masters

Winter Weather

Updated: 7:47 PM GMT on January 28, 2014

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Record Alaskan Warmth and Rains Trigger Huge Avalanche That Isolates Valdez

By: JeffMasters, 9:06 PM GMT on January 27, 2014

If you're wondering where California's missing precipitation has been going, look northwards to the south and southeast coasts of Alaska. The remarkably persistent ridge of high pressure that has blocked rain from falling in California during January has shunted all the rain-bearing low pressure systems northward, bringing exceptionally warm and wet weather to coastal Alaska. Heavy rains, snows, and warm temperatures helped trigger a‪ series of huge avalanches that began on Friday, which blocked a 52-mile long section of the ‬Richardson Highway, the only road into Valdez, Alaska (population 4,000), located about 120 miles east of Anchorage. The avalanches, called some of the largest avalanches ever observed in the region, blocked the Lowe River in Keystone Canyon, creating a large backup of water behind the snow and ice dam. The water level is slowly dropping, but a Flash Flood Watch has been posted for the region in case the avalanche dam suddenly releases. The highway is expected to be cleared no earlier than February 2, according to the city of Valdez website. Extra marine ferries will be running during the blockage to provide supplies to Valdez.


Figure 1. ‪The ‬Richardson Highway, the only road into Valdez, Alaska, lies blocked by a massive avalanche in this January 25, 2014 photo from the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

Record warmth and precipitation in Alaska
As of January 26, 13.83" of precipitation had fallen in Valdez during the month of January. This is more than 8" above average for this point in the month, and close to the all-time record for January precipitation of 15.18", set in 2001 (records go back to 1972.) With more rain on the way Monday and Tuesday, this record could easily fall. Numerous locations in Southeast Alaska have beaten their rainiest January day on record marks.

Wunderground's weather historian Christopher C. Burt has much more detail on the record Alaska January warmth in his latest post, Record Warmth in Alaska Contrasts Cold Wave in Eastern U.S. A few highlights:

- Temperatures of up to 40° above normal occurred across the interior and West Coast of Alaska on Sunday. Bolio Lake Range Complex in Fort Greely, Alaska, located about 100 miles southeast of Fairbanks, hit 60°. This is only 2° short of the all-time state January heat record of 62° set at Petersburg in 1981.

- At 10pm local time Sunday in Homer, Alaska, the temperature was 54°. This was warmer than any location in the contiguous U.S., except for Southern Florida and Southern California. The 55° high in Homer on Sunday broke their all-time monthly record by 4°.

- All-time January heat records have been set in 2014 in Nome, Denali Park, Palmer, Homer, Alyseka, Seward, and Talkeetna.


Video 1. ‪Valdez Alaska: Massive Avalanche and ice dam in Keystone Canyon‬. This clip shows a flyover of the avalanche in Keystone Canyon blocking the Lowe River, 1/26/2014. Video courtesy of Vertical Solutions.

Jeff Masters

Winter Weather Heat Flood

Updated: 2:15 AM GMT on January 28, 2014

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Intense Cold Blast Hits Midwest; Significant Winter Storm Expected in the Deep South

By: JeffMasters, 4:06 PM GMT on January 27, 2014

The intense winter of 2013 - 2014 over the Eastern U.S. adds another remarkable cold blast to its resume this week, as a new outbreak of Arctic air surges southwards from Canada. Temperatures of -24°F and colder were common in northern Minnesota on Monday morning, and strong winds were bringing dangerous below-zero wind chills to 23 states. The core of the cold air will thrust southeastward on Monday and Tuesday, and more than half of the contiguous U.S. will experience temperatures 15°F - 30°F below normal. This cold blast will be just as widespread as the cold wave three weeks ago, but about 5° warmer. In Chicago, where the winter of 2013 - 2014 ranked as the 13th coldest winter on record for the period December 1 - January 25, the temperature fell below zero at 6 am CST Monday morning, and may remain below zero until late morning on Wednesday, a period of up to 50 consecutive hours. This would rank near 4th place for the longest stretch of below-zero temperatures on record. The 36 consecutive hours Chicago was below zero three weeks ago was not quite a top-ten below zero streak.


Figure 1. Blizzard conditions in Woodbury, MN on Sunday, January 26, 2014. Image credit: Wunderphotographer 26mileman.

Nasty ice storm for the Deep South
An area of low pressure will track along the Gulf Coast over the next two days, moving east-northeast to a position off the coast of South Carolina on Tuesday night. With cold air firmly entrenched over the deep south, a significant winter storm is expected from Southern Louisiana to Eastern North Carolina. The anti-fun starts in New Orleans Monday night, when rain will change over to freezing rain. Ice accumulations of 1/4" - 1/2" are possible along a swath from Southeast Louisiana through Southern Mississippi, Southern Alabama, the Northwest Florida Panhandle, Southern Georgia, Southern South Carolina, and Eastern North Carolina though Wednesday morning. Snows of 2 - 4" are possible just to the north of the freezing rain swath. This storm has the potential to cause significant damage to trees and power lines, resulting in widespread power outages. Travel will be very dangerous in the areas affected by the heaviest freezing rain and snow.

Worst weather for Monday: Munising, Michigan
My nomination for worst weather of the day goes to Munising, Michigan, on the shores of Lake Superior. Munising had a temperature of -2°F at 8am EST, and the winds off of Lake Superior were 17 mph gusting to 22 mph, creating a wind chill of -23°. Heavy lake effect snow was creating whiteout conditions, and a blizzard warning is in effect for much of the Michigan shore of Lake Superior, for snowfall amounts of up to six inches. The snows would be much greater, but Lake Superior is mostly frozen over. Ice cover on the Great Lakes was at 48% on January 22, which was well above the 1980 - 2010 average of 18%. This ranks as the highest ice coverage since the winter of 1993 - 1994, and fifth highest since the winter of 1980 - 1981.

Links
Snowstorms in the Southeast and Deep South of the United States: An Historical Perspective, 2011 blog post by our weather historian, Christopher C. Burt.

Report: Lake Ice Grows Safer To Venture Out On With Each Beer Consumed: news item from The Onion.

Jeff Masters

Winter Weather

Updated: 4:11 PM GMT on January 27, 2014

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December 2013: Earth's 3rd warmest December on Record

By: JeffMasters, 8:36 PM GMT on January 25, 2014

December 2013 was the globe's 3rd warmest December since records began in 1880, according to NOAA's National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), and 4th warmest, according to NASA. December 2013 was the eighth consecutive month (since May 2013) with a global monthly temperature ranking among the top 10 highest for its respective month, and the year 2013 was the 4th warmest year on record. December 2013 global land temperatures were the 5th warmest on record, and global ocean temperatures were the 7th warmest on record. Global satellite-measured temperatures in December 2013 for the lowest 8 km of the atmosphere were 11th or 2nd warmest in the 35-year record, according to Remote Sensing Systems and the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH), respectively. Wunderground's weather historian, Christopher C. Burt, has a comprehensive post on the notable weather events of December 2013 in his December 2013 Global Weather Extremes Summary.


Figure 1. Departure of temperature from average for December 2013, the 3rd warmest December for the globe since record keeping began in 1880. Record warmth was observed across parts of central and eastern Russia, where temperature anomalies exceeded 5°C (9°F) across a large swath of the country. Record warmth was also present in various areas of coastal and southern Africa, and sections of southern South America. It was much cooler than average across parts of central and eastern Canada, the west coast of the United States, southern Greenland, part of southeastern Asia, and most of the Middle East, with record cold temperatures (more than 5°C / 9°F below average) observed around eastern Turkey and northern Iraq. Image credit: National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) .

The two billion-dollar weather disasters of December 2013
Two billion-dollar weather-related disasters hit the Earth during December 2013: Winter Storm Xaver in Northern Europe, which killed 15 and did $1.5 billion in damage, and flooding in Southeast Brazil that killed 48 and did $1.4 billion in damage. These two disasters bring the world-wide tally of billion-dollar weather disasters in 2013 to 41, according to the December 2013 Catastrophe Report from insurance broker Aon Benfield. This is the highest yearly total of billion-dollar weather disasters for the globe since accurate disaster records began in 2000. The previous record highest number of billion-dollar weather disasters was 40, set in 2010. For comparison, during all of 2012, there were 27 billion-dollar weather disasters. The U.S. total in 2013 was nine, according to Aon Benfield (NOAA listed seven.)


Disaster 1. Winter Storm Xaver brought extreme winds and the second highest storm surge of the past 200 years to Northern Germany. The storm killed 15 and did $1.5 billion in damage. In this photo, we see a 14 meter (46') high, 1000 kilogram (2200 lb) Tyrannosaurus replica that was standing in front of the German climate museum Klimahaus in Bremehaven, which had the bolts which connected its base plate to the ground sheared off by the force of Xaver's winds. A peak wind gust of 78 mph (126 kph) was recorded in Bremerhaven during the storm. Image credit: Christine Sollmann and Michael Theusner of Klimahaus.


Disaster 2. Some of the worst flooding in 90 years affected parts of southeastern Brazil during the second half of December, killing at least 48 people and doing $1.4 billion in damage. Here, we see an aerial view of a flooded area in Vila Velha, Espirito Santo state, Brazil, on December 27, 2013. Image credit: YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images.

Neutral El Niño conditions continue in the equatorial Pacific
For the 21st month in row, December 2013 featured neutral El Niño conditions in the equatorial Eastern Pacific. The January 9 El Niño discussion from NOAA's Climate Prediction Center noted that "While current forecast probabilities are still greatest for ENSO-neutral by mid-summer, there is an increasing chance for the development of El Niño. None of the El Niño models predict La Niña conditions for peak hurricane season, August-September-October 2014, and 5 of 15 predict El Niño conditions. Temperatures in the equatorial Eastern Pacific need to be 0.5°C above average or warmer for three consecutive months for an El Niño episode to be declared; sea surface temperatures were -0.2°C from average as of January 25, and have been +0.1 to -0.7°C from average since April 1, 2013.

Arctic sea ice falls to 4th lowest December extent on record
Arctic sea ice extent during December was 4th lowest in the 36-year satellite record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). Northern Hemisphere snow cover was the 8th largest in the 48-year record.

I'll have a new post on Monday discussing the impressive cold blast setting up for the eastern half of the U.S.

Jeff Masters

Climate Summaries

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California's Record Warmth and Drought Won't Stop Outdoor NHL Hockey

By: JeffMasters, 4:41 PM GMT on January 23, 2014

No rain or snow fell anywhere in California over the past week, prompting no change to the drought rankings for the state in today's U.S. Drought Monitor update. California's area experiencing extreme drought remained at 63%, making it one of the three worst winter droughts in state history. To break the drought, most of the state needs more than 12" of precipitation, and most of the southern half of the state needs more than a year of rainfall to fall in one month. On Wednesday, the San Francisco Bay area experienced its 10th consecutive day of record highs, with Oakland, Mountain View, Jan Jose, and Gilroy all hitting record highs of 72° - 75°. According to the National Weather Service, since December 23, record highs have been reported in the Bay Area a remarkable 22 out of 32 days.


Figure 1. One of the key water supply reservoirs for Central California, Lake Oroville, as seen on January 17, 2014. Image credit: California Department of Water Resources.


Figure 2. The amount of precipitation that must fall in one month to break the California drought is equivalent to more than a year's worth in most of the southern half of the state. Image credit: NOAA/NCDC.

Outdoor hockey in record-warm Southern California?
The heat is also on in Southern California, where Burbank, California, located about 10 miles north-northwest of downtown Los Angeles, hit 81° on Wednesday. Not only was that a record high for the date, it also set a new record for consecutive January days with highs of 80° or above--ten. The previous record was eight consecutive days, set in 2009. A rare January fire weather watch is posted for the area, where offshore Santa Ana winds and humidities below 20% will heighten the fire danger Thursday and Friday.

The record warm weather in Southern California will not deter the National Hockey League from playing its first-ever outdoor hockey game in the U.S. west of the Rocky Mountains on Saturday in Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium. Puck drop is scheduled for Saturday at 7:15 pm, and temperatures are expected to be near 70° after a daytime high of 80°. The ice will be protected from the sun's heat during the day by an insulated, heat-reflecting Mylar blanket, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times. A 53-foot truck that houses pumps and refrigeration equipment will circulate glycol coolant at the rate of 1,000 gallons a minute through ice pans set up beneath the ice to keep the ice temperature at 22 degrees.


Figure 3. California Governor Jerry Brown holds a chart showing statewide average precipitation as he declares a drought state of emergency for California during a news conference on January 17, 2014 in San Francisco. At his State of the State address on Wednesday, Governor Brown said, "we do not know how much our current problem derives from the build-up of heat-trapping gasses, but we can take this drought as a stark warning of things to come.” Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

The forecast: no drought relief in sight
Less than an inch of precipitation has fallen over more than 95% of the state so far in January 2014, and the prospects for significant rain through the end of January look bleak. The large and persistent ridge of high pressure that has set up over the West Coast and shows no signs of budging. Since rain-bearing low pressure system tend to travel along the axis of the jet stream, these storms are being carried along the axis of the ridge, well to the north of California and into Southeast Alaska, leaving California exceptionally dry. Over the past few days, the GFS and European models have at times predicted that the ridge would weaken in 8 - 10 days and allow rain to move into Northern California. However, these forecasts have not been consistent, and forecasts that far into the future are not reliable, as it is very difficult to dislodge such a persistent and strong upper-level wind pattern.

Jeff Masters

Drought Heat

Updated: 7:49 PM GMT on January 23, 2014

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Heavy Snows Hit Northeast, Mid-Atlantic: 13.5 Inches for Philadelphia

By: JeffMasters, 2:06 PM GMT on January 22, 2014

The Northeast and Mid-Atlantic are digging out today from the snow left by fast-moving and intense Winter Storm Janus. At 4 am EST, the deepening 985 mb low was several hundred miles offshore from the New Jersey coast. The snows from the storm had mostly ended, except over Eastern Massachusetts. The storm dumped 13.5" on Philadelphia, 11" at New York City's Central Park, and 5.3" at Baltimore. The 3.8" of snow that fell at Reagan National Airport in Washington DC on Tuesday broke a streak of 1073 days (five days short of three years) that the city had gone without seeing at least a two-inch snowstorm. This was the longest such period on record, with the previous record being 700 days, beginning on February 5, 1975. Tuesday would have been an interesting day to play the Super Bowl, as East Rutherford, NJ, site of the February 2 Super Bowl game, received 13" of snow. The top snowfall amounts by state, as compiled in the 4 am EST Wednesday NOAA Storm Summary:

New Jersey, 15.8": Manalapan
Pennsylvania, 14.8": Brookhaven
New York, 13.3": Lindenhurst
Maryland, 11": Northeast Heights
Connecticut, 10.5": Geeenwich
Delaware, 12": Pike Creek
West Virginia, Kline Gap: 9"
Massachusetts, 8.8",:Norwell
Virginia, 8.5": Dulles Airport
Illinois, Oak Park: 8.5"
Michigan, 6.3": Munising


Figure 1. MODIS visible satellite image of a heavy lake effect snow band over Lake Michigan on January 21, 2014. At the time, snowfall rates of 3" per hour were occurring at Gary, Indiana. Ice is visible on the east and west shores of the lake, and had been sculpted into an interesting wave-like pattern by currents on the east shore of the lake. Image credit: NASA.

Heavy lake effect snowstorm dumps nearly two feet of snow on Indiana
Powerful north-northwest winds blowing around the back side of Winter Storm Janus streamed over Lake Michigan on Tuesday, creating a classic lake effect snowstorm over Northwest Indiana. Snowfall rates as high as 3" per hour were observed in the late morning, and Gary, Indiana received 18" of snow between 7:30 am and 12:50 pm, and a storm total of 20". The highest snow amounts from the lake effect blizzard were in nearby Griffith, Indiana, with 22.3".

Cold air invades the Eastern U.S.
A frigid blast of Arctic air is pouring southeastwards across the eastern U.S. today, and will bring temperatures 15 - 25° below normal Wednesday and Thursday. The cold air brought several record lows for the date on Tuesday (-22°F at Gaylord, MI, and -13° at Flint, MI). At least one record low for the date has been set so far on Wednesday: a low temperature of -30°F in Massena, New York. However, this cold blast isn't intense enough to set many records, since it is competing with one of the greatest cold waves in North American history: the great January 21, 1985 cold wave, one the two most intense cold waves on record. Wunderground's weather historian Christopher C. Burt has a fascinating account of the records set in that historic event in his latest post, Anniversary of the Great Cold Wave of January 21, 1985. Chicago (-27°), Norfolk, VA (-3°), Jacksonville, FL (7°), and dozens of other major cities set their all-time cold records during the cold wave.


Figure 2. Departure of temperature from average at 2 meters (6.6') as diagnosed by the GFS model at 00 UTC January 22, 2014. A strongly negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation (AO) created a sharp kink in the jet stream (Figure 3), which allowed cold air to spill southwards out of the Arctic over the Eastern U.S. and Western Europe. Compensating warm air flowed northwards into the Arctic underneath ridges of high pressure over Alaska and Greenland. Data/image obtained using Climate Reanalyzer™ (http://cci-reanalyzer.org), Climate Change Institute, University of Maine, Orono, Maine.


Figure 3. Winds at a height where the pressure is 250 mb show the axis of the jet stream, seen here at 00 UTC January 22, 2014. A sharp trough of low pressure was present over the Eastern U.S., and unusually strong ridges of high pressure were over the Western U.S. and the North Atlantic. Data/image obtained using Climate Reanalyzer™ (http://cci-reanalyzer.org), Climate Change Institute, University of Maine, Orono, Maine.

NOVA show on Super Typhoon Haiyan: Wednesday at 9 pm
The PBS NOVA series is airing a show on Super Typhoon Haiyan called "Killer Typhoon", on Wednesday, January 22 at 9 pm ET on most PBS stations. I've had a chance to preview the episode, and thought it was well-done, with impressive storm surge footage and excellent graphics. Commentary is provided by hurricane experts Kerry Emanuel and Jeff Weber, storm surge expert Dr. Hal Needham, and the current head of the American Meteorological Society, Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd. Here's the web site for more info: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/earth/killer-typhoon.html. I wrote NOVA an article on Haiyan that is published here.

Jeff Masters

Winter Weather

Updated: 7:15 PM GMT on January 22, 2014

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2013: Earth's 4th Warmest Year on Record

By: JeffMasters, 8:26 PM GMT on January 21, 2014

Earth had another top-ten hottest year on record in 2013, which ranked as the 4th warmest year since records began in 1880, NOAA's National Climatic Data Center said today. NASA rated 2013 as the 7th warmest on record. The disagreement between the two data sets is minor, since the 2013 numbers were within 3% of each other. Including 2013, nine out of ten of the warmest years in the 134-year period of record have occurred during the 21st century (2001–2013). Only one year during the 20th century--1998--was warmer than 2013. Global land temperatures were the 4th warmest on record during 2013, and ocean temperatures were the 8th warmest. Global satellite-measured temperatures in the lower atmosphere were the 4th or 9th warmest in the 35-year record, according to UAH and RSS, respectively. Following the two wettest years on record (2010 and 2011), 2013 joined 2012 as having near-average precipitation on balance across the globe. A NASA press release issued today noted that "weather patterns always will cause fluctuations in average temperatures from year to year, but the continued increases in greenhouse gas levels in Earth's atmosphere are driving a long-term rise in global temperatures. Each successive year will not necessarily be warmer than the year before, but with the current level of greenhouse gas emissions, scientists expect each successive decade to be warmer than the previous. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that traps heat and plays a major role in controlling changes to Earth's climate. It occurs naturally and also is emitted by the burning of fossil fuels for energy. Driven by increasing man-made emissions, the level of carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere presently is higher than at any time in the last 800,000 years."


Figure 1. Departure of global temperature from average for 2013. Australia had its warmest year on record, and portions of Indonesia, Central Asia, and East Africa were also record warm. The only land area cooler than average was in the Central U.S., and no parts of the globe were record cold. Image credit: NOAA's National Climatic Data Center.


Figure 2. Earth's top ten warmest years since record keeping began in 1880, according to NOAA and NASA. Image credit: NASA.


Figure 3. Earth's departure in temperature from a 1951 - 1980 average during the period 1880 - 2013, according to NOAA and NASA. Image credit: NASA.

NOVA show on Super Typhoon Haiyan: Wednesday at 9 pm
The PBS NOVA series is airing a show on Super Typhoon Haiyan called "Killer Typhoon", on Wednesday, January 22 at 9 pm ET on most PBS stations. I've had a chance to preview the episode, and thought it was well-done, with impressive storm surge footage and excellent graphics. Commentary is provided by hurricane experts Kerry Emanuel and Jeff Weber, storm surge expert Dr. Hal Needham, and the current head of the American Meteorological Society, Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd. Here's the web site for more info: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/earth/killer-typhoon.html.

Jeff Masters

Climate Summaries

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Return of the Polar Vortex

By: JeffMasters, 2:06 PM GMT on January 21, 2014

It's "The Return of the Polar Vortex" over the much of the eastern half of the U.S. this week, as another round of bitterly cold Arctic air plunges southwards out of Canada. Like many sequels, "The Return of the Polar Vortex" will not be as impressive as the original, with temperatures averaging about ten degrees warmer than during the original Polar Vortex episode earlier this January. Still, with temperatures 15 - 25° colder than average expected over much of the eastern half of the U.S. Tuesday through Thursday, this week's sequel is a respectable cold blast. The cold air is centered over the Upper Midwest, and low temperatures in portions of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan dropped below -20° early Tuesday morning. Crane Lake, Minnesota bottomed out at a bone-chilling -32°F this morning, and Pellston, Michigan hit -25°.

On Wednesday, the cold air spills southeastwards over much of the Ohio Valley, Mid-Atlantic, and New England, in the wake of Winter Storm Janus. The powerful storm is expected to bring 4 - 8" of snow to Washington D.C. on Tuesday, and 6 - 12" to Philadelphia, New York City, Providence, and Boston, Tuesday night through Wednesday. The most dangerous conditions are expected on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where 8 - 12" of snow with sustained winds of 20 - 30 mph, gusting to 50 mph are expected. A blizzard warning is posted there.


Figure 1. Lake Erie lies 90% covered in ice on January 9, 2014, after the intense "Polar Vortex" cold air outbreak over eastern North America that week. The cold air brought the Great Lakes their highest ice coverage in 20 years for that time of year. Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory.

What is the Polar Vortex?
It's curious that the media latched on to the term "Polar Vortex" earlier this month. It's a term that has been around for a long time, but is generally not used by meteorologists in their public discussions of weather, since it is a rather technical term. NOAA has this explainer of the Polar Vortex, and TWC meteorologist Stu Ostro also has a nice description in his latest blog post, Polar Vortex, Global Warming, and Cold Weather. A short excerpt here:

  • A polar vortex is not only not something new or mysterious, it's a standard feature of the atmosphere, strongest in winter. The term has been used in the scientific literature at least back as far as 1939 in a paper by Rossby. This meteorological phenomenon has likely been present for as long as there has been weather on Earth.

  • A polar vortex is a large circulation in the upper atmosphere that has generally west-to-east winds circling the Earth. It's not a cold wave or a storm. As the name implies, polar vortexes (or vortices -- either is grammatically correct) are usually centered in the polar regions, one near the North Pole and another near the South Pole.

Nine Nations or Territories Set All-Time Heat Records in 2013

By: JeffMasters, 2:43 PM GMT on January 20, 2014

It was another notable year for all-time heat records in 2013, with six nations and three territories tying or setting records for hottest temperature on record. No nations set an all-time cold record in 2013. For comparison, five countries and two territories set all-time hottest temperature records in 2012, and the most all-time national heat records in a year was twenty nations and one territory in 2010. Since 2010, 45 nations or territories have set or tied all-time heat records, but only one nation has set an all-time cold temperature record. Since each of those years ranked as one of the top eleven warmest years in Earth's recorded history, and 2010 was the warmest year on record, this sort of disparity in national heat and cold records is to be expected. Most nations do not maintain official databases of extreme temperature records, the national temperature records I report here are in many cases not official. I use as my source for international weather records Maximiliano Herrera, one of the world's top climatologists, who maintains a comprehensive list of extreme temperature records for every nation in the world on his website. If you reproduce this list of extremes, please cite Maximiliano Herrera as the primary source of the weather records. Wunderground's weather historian Christopher C. Burt maintains a database of these national heat and cold records, for 235 nations and territories, on wunderground.com's extremes page.


Figure 1. A moose takes a dip to cool off in a backyard pool in this photo taken in Big Lake, Alaska on June 17, 2013, by Lonea Moore McGowen (Courtesy KTUU-TV.) Bentalit Lodge, Alaska hit 36.7°C (98°F) on June 17, tying the mark set in Richardson on 15 June 1969 for hottest undisputed temperature in Alaska history. The official heat record for Alaska remains the 100°F registered at Fort Yukon on June 27, 1915. However, there are questions concerning this figure as outlined by our weather historian, Christopher C. Burt.

New all-time national heat records set in 2013

Heard and McDonald Islands (uninhabited territory of Australia) set a new all-time heat record of 26.1°C (79°F) at Split Bay on 1 March. Previous record: 21.6°C set at the same station in April 1992.

Ghana tied its all time highest temperature record with 43.0°C (109.4°F) at Navrongo on 6 March; the same value had also been recorded on 25 February 2010 and 19 April 2010 at the same location.

The United States tied its highest undisputed temperature at the Furnace Creek Visitors Center, Death Valley California, with 53.9°C (129°F) on 30 June. The only higher temperatures ever recorded on the planet occurred in Death Valley on July 10, 12, and 13, 1913, when readings of 134°F, 130°F, and 131°F were recorded. These 100-year-old official hottest temperatures in Earth’s history have many doubters, though, including Mr. Burt, who noted in a 2010 blog post that "The record has been scrutinized perhaps more than any other in the United States. I don't have much more to add to the debate aside from my belief it is most likely not a valid reading when one looks at all the evidence.

St. Pierre et Miquelon, a French territory off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, set its all time highest temperature record with 28.3°C (82.9°F) at the St. Pierre Airport on 6 July. Previous record: 28.0°C at St. Pierre town in August 1876 and August 1935.

Greenland, a territory of Denmark, set a new all time highest temperature with 25.9°C (78.6°F) at Maniitsoq Airport on 30 July. Previous record: 25.5°C at Kangerlussuaq on 27 July 1990. There is a claimed 30.1°C measurement at Ivigtut on 23 June 1915, but this is almost certainly a mistake, since the reading doesn't fit at all with the hourly data of that day, and the station in over a century has never recorded any temperature above 24°C.

Austria set a new national record of highest temperature with 39.9°C (103.8°F) at Dellach im Drautal on 3 August, which beat the old record of 39.7°C set at the same location on 27 July 1983. The 3 August 2013 record was beaten again on 8 August 2013, with a 40.5°C (104.9°F) reading recorded at Bad Deutsch-Altenburg.

Slovenia also set a new all time heat record on 8 August, with 40.8°C at Cerklje Ob krki. Previous record: 40.6°C set at Crnomelj on 5 July 1950.

Japan set a new all-time heat record with 41.0°C (105.8°F) at Shimanto on 12 August. Previous record: 40.9°C at Tajimi and at Kumagaya on 16 August 2007.

Comoros tied its national record of highest temperature at the Hahaya Int. Airport with 35.6°C (96.1°F) on 19 November; the same value was recorded at the former Moroni Airport (its location looks to have been very close of the current international airport) on 31 December 1960.


Figure 2. The official Furnace Creek, Death Valley maximum recording thermometer for the maximum temperature measured on June 30th, 2013. The 129.2°F (54.0°C) reading was the highest June temperature ever measured on Earth. Photo courtesy of Death Valley National Park and NWS-Las Vegas. Note, though, since only whole Fahrenheit figures are official in the U.S., the value was registered as 129°F.

Notable global heat and cold records set in 2013
Hottest temperature in the world in 2013: 53.9°C (129°F) at Death Valley, California, June 30
Coldest temperature in the world in 2013: -81.7°C (-115°F) at Dome A, Antarctica, July 31
Hottest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: 49.6°C (121.3°F) at Moomba Aero, Australia, January 12
Coldest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: -64.2°C (-83.6°F) at Summit GEO, Greenland, March 4

Number of major world stations which set their all time highest temperature in 2013: 389

Number of major world stations which set their all time lowest temperature in 2013: 12
 


On 27 February, 2013, a new February all-time heat record for the Northern Hemisphere was set with 44.5°C (112.1°F) at Abu Na' Ama (Sudan). Previous record: 44.4°C with two former record holders: Kayes in Mali, and Kiffa in Mauritania.

A day for the history books: European heat wave of 8 August 2013
An incredible heat wave over Central Europe on 8 August 2013 was a day for the history books of world climatology, with two nations and three world capitals setting all-time heat records on the same day. Dozens of stations in six European countries also set all-time heat records that day. The three capitals that set new all-time heat records on 8 August:

Vienna, Austria reached 39.5°C (103.1°F), beating the previous city record of 38.9°C which was recorded in July 1957.

Bratislava, Slovakia reached 39.4°C (102.9°F), beating the previous city record of 38.9°C set in July 2007.

Ljubljana, Slovenia reached as high as 40.2°C (104.4°F), beating for the FIFTH TIME IN SIX DAYS the old record of 38.0°C set in June 1935. This is particularly amazing, since the city has about 150 years of data. This is the sequence:


3 August 38.3°C

4 August 38.4°C

6 August 38.6°C

7 August 39.5°C

8 August 40.2°C

One other world capital set an all-time heat record in 2013: Bangkok, Thailand, which reached 40.1°C (104.2°F) in the Metropolis Station on 26 March, beating the previous record of 40.0°C set in April 1979 and April 2012.

A big thanks goes to Maximiliano Herrera for providing the information in this post.

Jeff Masters

Heat Climate Summaries

Updated: 6:38 PM GMT on January 20, 2014

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Earth's Record 41 Billion-Dollar Weather Disasters of 2013

By: JeffMasters, 2:00 PM GMT on January 17, 2014

Earth set a new record for billion-dollar weather disasters in 2013 with 41, said insurance broker Aon Benfield in their Annual Global Climate and Catastrophe Report issued this week. Despite the record number of billion-dollar disasters, weather-related natural disaster losses (excluding earthquakes) were only slightly above average in 2013, and well below what occurred in 2012. That's because 2013 lacked a U.S. mega-disaster like Hurricane Sandy ($65 billion in damage) or the 2012 drought ($30 billion in damage.) The most expensive global disaster of 2013 was the June flood in Central Europe, which cost $22 billion. The deadliest disaster was Super Typhoon Haiyan, which killed about 8,000 people in the Philippines. Six countries set records for most expensive weather-related disaster in their history, as tabulated by EM-DAT, the International Disaster Database, and adjusted for inflation:

Germany, June flooding, $16 billion. Previous record: $15 billion in damage from the August 2002 Elbe River floods.
Philippines, Super Typhoon Haiyan, $13 billion. Previous record: $2.2 billion, August 2013 floods near Manila.
Austria, June flooding, $4 billion. Previous record: $3.1 billion in damage from the August 2002 floods.
Czech Republic, June flooding, $1.5 billion. Previous record: $0.3 billion in damage from the August 2002 floods.
New Zealand, Jan - May Drought, $1.6 billion. Previous record: $0.3 billion, January 2001 heat wave.
Cambodia, Oct - Nov floods, $1 billion. Previous record: $0.5 billion, August 2011 flood.



U.S. sees nine billion-dollar weather disasters
In the U.S., there were nine billion-dollar weather disasters in 2013, which was one below the ten-year average of ten, according to Aon Benfield. NOAA's National Climatic Data Center gave a lower number of U.S. billion-dollar weather disasters in 2013: seven, compared to their average of six billion dollar weather disasters per year over the previous ten years. The seven billion-dollar weather disasters of 2013 marked the 5th highest total of these disasters since 1980. NCDC consistently rates fewer disasters than Aon Benfield as billion-dollar disasters. Billion-dollar events account for roughly 80% of the total U.S. losses for all weather-related disasters.



Commentary
Forty-one billion dollar weather disasters is a huge number of these highly disruptive events to experience in one year. This is especially so given that 2013 was a neutral El Niño year, and the previous record of 40 billion-dollar weather disasters was set in 2010, when we had both a strong El Niño and a strong La Niña event in the same year. Strong El Niño or La Niña events tend to cause an increase in weather extremes capable of causing major disasters, so seeing 41 disasters in a neutral El Niño year gives me concern that climate change could have been responsible for a portion of this huge tally. However, looking at disaster losses to make an argument that climate change is affecting our weather is a difficult proposition. The increasing trend in weather disaster losses is thought to be primarily due to increases in wealth and population, and to people moving to more vulnerable areas--though the studies attempting to correct damage losses for these factors are highly uncertain. To find evidence of climate change, we are better off looking at how the atmosphere, oceans, and glaciers are changing--and there is plenty of evidence there. I discuss this topic in more detail in a 2012 post, Damage Losses and Climate Change.



Multi-month drought disasters of 2013

Drought Disaster 1. Drought in Central and Eastern China during the first eight months of 2013 caused an estimated $10 billion in damage, making it the 6th most costly weather-related disaster in Chinese history. Here, we see villagers digging deeper for water at a dried-up well at Dabu village on August 13, 2013 in Loudi, China. Drought dried up most rivers and reservoirs in Hunan province, leaving over 3 million people short of drinking water. Image credit: ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images.


Drought Disaster 2. Drought in Northeast Brazil during the first five months of 2013 caused an estimated $8 billion in damage, making it Brazil's second most expensive natural disaster in history, behind the $8.2 billion inflation-adjusted cost of the 1978 drought. Here, we see farmers from the Brazilian northeast carrying out a demonstration, holding cattle skulls in front of the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, on December 4, 2012. The protesters demand the cancellation of their debts and help from the government to alleviate the effects of the drought. Image credit: Pedro Ladeira/AFP/Getty Images.


Drought Disaster 3. The record U.S. drought of 2012 continued into 2013, bringing record low water levels to the Mississippi River that restricted navigation. Although the drought was less severe than in 2012, it still caused $3.5 billion in damage. This Nov. 28, 2012 photo provided by The United States Coast Guard shows a WWII minesweeper on the Mississippi River near St. Louis, Missouri. The minesweeper, once moored along the Mississippi River as a museum at St. Louis before it was torn away by floodwaters in 1993, is normally completely under water. However, it has become visible--rusted but intact--due to near-record low river levels on the Mississippi in early 2013. (AP Photo/United States Coast Guard, Colby Buchanan.)


Drought Disaster 4. Drought in New Zealand during the first five months of 2013 cost $1.6 billion, and was that nation's most expensive weather-related disaster in history. Image credit: Federated Farmers of New Zealand, via Daniel Corbett of the Meteorological Service of New Zealand Limited.

January

Disaster 1. A woman talks on her mobile as she travels on a flooded road using an improvised raft in Jakarta on January 23, 2013. Widespread flooding hit Jakarta, Indonesia between January 20 - 27, killing 41 and causing $3.31 billion in damage. This was the 3rd costliest natural disaster in Indonesian history. Image credit: BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images


Disaster 2. Widespread flooding, due, in part, to Tropical Cyclone Oswald, hit Queensland, Australia between January 21 - 30, killing six and causing $2.5 billion in damage. The city of Bundaberg had its worst flood disaster in history. Image credit: Chris Hyde/Getty Images.

February

Disaster 1. Mourning doves endure blowing snow on February 24, 2013 during Winter Storm Rocky in Manhattan, Kansas. Rocky killed three and did $1 billion in damage. Image credit: wunderphotographer tomcat.

March

Disaster 1. Hail up to the size of tennis balls fell on McComb, Mississippi, as documented by wunderphotographer sirencall on March 18, 2013. The hailstorm was part of a severe weather outbreak that cost $2 billion and killed two people.


Disaster 2. Late-season winter weather affected much of Europe throughout the month of March, bringing an extended period of heavy snowfall, sub-freezing temperatures, high winds, ice and flooding. At least 30 fatalities were reported, and damage was estimated at $1.8 billion. Among the hardest-hit areas were northern France, Germany and Ukraine. In this photo taken by wunderphotographer tonylathes on March 24, 2013, we see one of March's heavy snowstorms that affected Wardlow Village in Derbyshire, United Kingdom. March 2013 was the 2nd coldest March in the U.K. since 1910, exceeded only by March 1962.

April

Disaster 1. A large storm system brought hurricane-force wind gusts across parts of California and the rest of the West on April 7 - 8, and spawned heavy snowfall in the Rockies and the High Plains. The storm brought severe thunderstorms, hail, high winds, and tornadoes across the Plains, Midwest and Southeast through April 11, with at least 23 tornado touchdowns, including an EF-3 twister with 145 mph (230 kph) winds in eastern Mississippi. Total damage was estimated at $1.75 billion, and three people were killed. In this image, we see damage from a tornado in Shuqualak, Mississippi, taken by wunderphotographer richardlove310.


Disaster 2. Severe flooding in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on April, 3, 2013 submerged half the city in waters up to 2 meters (6.6') deep. The flooding killed 86 and did $1.3 billion in damage. The 400 millimeters (15.74 inches) of rain that fell in just two hours in the La Plata region was more than the city had ever recorded during an entire month of April. Image credit: focolare.org.

May

Disaster 1. Flipped vehicles are piled up outside the heavily damaged Moore Medical Center in Moore, Oklahoma, after an EF-5 tornado ripped through the area on May 20, 2013. A Midwest tornado outbreak on May 18 - May 22 killed 29 people and cost $3.75 billion, making it the most costly weather-related disaster in the U.S. during 2013. Image credit: Brett Deering/Getty Images)


Disaster 2. The Weather Channel's Mike ‪Bettes‬ and crew caught this image of the El Reno, Oklahoma tornado--the largest tornado ever recorded, with a diameter of 2.6 miles--before the tornado caught them and rolled their vehicle on May 31, 2013. The tornado, rated an EF-5 based on mobile Doppler wind data, but an EF-3 based on the damage it caused, killed tornado scientists/storm chasers Tim Samaras, Paul Samaras, and Carl Young. The May 26 - June 2 tornado outbreak that the El Reno tornado was a part of killed 27 and did $2.25 billion in damage.

June

Disaster 1. Aerial view of the flooded Danube River in Deggendorf, Germany on Friday, June 7, 2013. A historic $22 billion dollar flood disaster killed 25 people in Central Europe after flooding unprecedented since the Middle Ages hit major rivers in Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland and Slovakia in late May and early June. The Danube River in Passau, Germany hit the highest level since 1501, and the Saale River in Halle, Germany was the highest in its 400-year period of record. This was Earth's most expensive weather disaster of 2013. AP Photo/Armin Wegel.


Disaster 2. The closed Trans-Canada Highway in Canmore, Alberta, Canada, along Cougar Creek on Friday June 21, 2013. Torrential rains between June 19 - 24 triggered flooding that cost $5.3 billion and killed four people in Alberta. It was the third most expensive natural disaster in Canadian history, behind the 1977 drought (inflation-adjusted $11.6 billion) and the January - August 1989 wildfires ($7.9 billion.) Image credit: The Canadian Press.


Disaster 3. Torrential monsoon rains triggered deadly flash floods and landslides in India's Himalayan Uttarakhand region on June 17. The damage was $1.91 billion and 6748 people died, making the flood Earth's second deadliest weather-related disaster of 2013, behind Super Typhoon Haiyan. In this image, we see the Kedarnath Temple (center, foreground) after a landslide ripped through on June 18. Image credit: STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images.


Disaster 4. A man looks at cars on a mud-covered street on June 20, 2013 in Bareges, southwestern France, two days after unseasonal storms caused havoc across huge swaths of the country. Severe thunderstorms spawned tornadoes, straight-line winds, and flash flooding across France and northern Spain on June 18 - 19, killing three and doing $1.25 billion in damage. Image credit: LAURENT DARD/AFP/Getty Images.

July

Disaster 1. Heavy flood waters sweep through Beichuan in southwest China's Sichuan province on July 9, 2013. Rainfall amounts as high as 1,150 millimeters (45.3 inches) of rain fell in the Dujiangyan region, triggering Sichuan Province's worst floods in at least 50 years. Flooding in China from July 7 - 17, 2013 cost at least $4.5 billion and killed 125 people. Image credit: AFP/Getty Images.


Disaster 2. Two men remove the debris after a tree fell on a car on July 29, 2013 in Nice, French Riviera, following violent storms overnight in southern France. Severe thunderstorms affected northern Germany and France July 27 - 28, spawning up to tennis ball-sized hail and causing damages of $4.25 billion. Image credit: VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images.


Disaster 3. Cars stranded on the DVP, one of Toronto's busiest highways, on Monday, July 8, 2013. Flooding in Toronto and vicinity from torrential rains on July 8 cost $1.65 billion. Photo posted to Twitter by Michelle Shephard@shephardm.


Disaster 4. Excessive rainfall brought renewed flooding across China between July 21 - 25, killing at least 36 people and causing $1.4 billion in damage. The rains were most significant in Shaanxi Province, from overflowing rivers and landslides. In this picture from July 23, 2013, people watch on the edge of the Xiaolangdi Reservoir in central China's Henan Province Yellow River floodwaters are released. Image credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images.


Disaster 5. Rescuers evacuate residents from flood-hit areas on July 2, 2013 in Chongqing, China. Multiple days of torrential rainfall swept across parts of southwestern, central, eastern, and northern China between June 29 and July 3, killing 55 people and causing $1.4 billion in damage. According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA), a combined 125,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, and more than 150,000 hectares (370,650 acres) of cropland were submerged. Image credit: ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images.

August

Disaster 1. Northeast China saw record flooding in August which killed 118 people and cost $5 billion. In this photo, workers use an excavator to clean up mud after heavy rain hit on August 19, 2013 in Fushuan, in the Liaoning Province of China. The Nei River overflowed, killing 54 and leaving 97 missing in Fushuan. Photo by ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images.


Disaster 2. Typhoon Utor approaches the Philippines in this 375 meter-resolution IR image taken by the VIIRS instrument on the Suomi satellite at 04:34 UTC August 11, 2013. At the time, Utor was a Category 4 storm with 135 mph winds. Utor killed 86 people in China and did $2.6 billion in damage, and also did $33 million in damage in the Philippines. Image credit: Dan Lindsey, NOAA Center for Satellite Applications and Research, Fort Collins.


Disaster 3. Torrential rains, due, in part, to moisture from Typhoon Trami, fell in the Philippines August 18 - 21, causing massive flooding on Luzon Island that cost $2.2 billion. Twenty-seven people were killed, and 60% of metro Manila was under water at the peak of the flood. According to EM-DAT, the International Disaster Database, this was the most expensive natural disaster in Philippine history (until exceeded by Super Typhoon Haiyan in November.) In this photo, pedicabs and makeshift rafts ferry office workers and pedestrians through flood waters that submerged parts of the financial district of Makati on August 20, 2013 in Makati City south of Manila, Philippines. Image credit: Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images)


Disaster 4. In Pakistan, torrential monsoon rains caused significant flooding that affected 5,739 villages. At least 234 people were killed, 63,180 homes were damaged or destroyed, and 1.4 million acres (567,000 hectares) of crops were submerged. Damage was estimated at $2 billion, and was Pakistan's 4th costliest weather-related disaster in history. Pakistan's four most expensive weather-related disasters in its history have been floods that occurred in the past four consecutive years. In this photo, Pakistani residents hold onto a rope as they evacuate a flooded area in Karachi on August 4, 2013. Image credit: Asif Hassan/AFP/Getty Images.


Disaster 5. A severe weather outbreak in the U.S. Plains and Midwest August 5 - 7 brought baseball sized hail and thunderstorm wind gusts over 80 mph to Minnesota and Wisconsin. Two people were killed, and damage was estimated at $1.25 billion. In this photo, a severe thunderstorm closes in on Edgemont, South Dakota, on August 7. Image credit: wunderphotographer ninjalynn.


Disaster 6. Russian President Vladimir Putin inspects a flooded area from a helicopter flying over Russia's Far Eastern Amur region, on August 29, 2013. Russia experienced its costliest flood disaster in history beginning on August 4, when the Amur and Zeya rivers along the Chinese border overflowed, flooding 1.7 million acres, damaging or destroying over 11,500 buildings. The $1 billion in damage made it the 4th most expensive natural disaster of any kind in Russian history. Image credit: ALEXEI NIKOLSKY/AFP/Getty Images.

September

Disaster 1. Hurricane Manuel made two landfalls along Mexico's Pacific coast, generating flooding that caused $4.2 billion in damage and left 169 people dead or missing. According to EM-DAT, the International Disaster Database, this was the second most expensive weather-related disaster in Mexican history, behind the $6 billion in damage (2013 dollars) wrought by Hurricane Wilma in October 2005. In this aerial view, we see the landslide triggered by Hurricane Manuel's rains that killed 43 people in La Pintada, México, on September 19, 2013. Image credit: http://www.novedadesacapulco.mx/.


Disaster 2. Super Typhoon Usagi made landfall near Shanwei, China on September 22, 2013 as a Category 2 typhoon with 110 mph winds, after skirting the Philippines and Tawian. The storm killed at least 47 people and did $3.8 billion in damage. Property damage was widespread in five Chinese provinces as Usagi damaged at least 101,200 homes. This radar image of Usagi shows that the typhoon had multiple concentric eyewalls as it approached landfall. Image credit: weather.com.cn.


Disaster 3. Record rainfall of 8 - 15" triggered historic flash flooding across in Colorado September 11 - 12, 2013, killing at least nine people and doing $2 billion in damage. The most significant damage occurred in Boulder, Larimer and El Paso counties after several major rivers and creeks crested at all-time highs. The Office of Emergency Management reported that nearly 20,000 homes were damaged or destroyed in addition to thousands of businesses and other structures. One person was also killed by flooding in New Mexico. In this image, we see damage to Highway 34 along the Big Thompson River, on the road to Estes Park, Colorado. Image credit: Colorado National Guard.


Disaster 4. Category 1 Hurricane Ingrid weakened to a tropical storm with 65 mph winds before hitting Mexico about 200 miles south of the Texas border on September 16, 2013. Ingrid's heavy rains triggered flooding that killed 23 and did $1.5 billion in damage, making the storm the 7th costliest tropical cyclone in Mexican history. In this image, we see Tropical Storm Manuel and Hurricane Ingrid laying siege to Mexico on September 15, 2013. Tropical Storm Manuel came ashore on the Pacific coast near Manzanillo on the afternoon of September 15, and Ingrid followed suit from the Atlantic on September 16. Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory.


Disaster 5. A series of killing freezes during the second half of September led to extensive agricultural damage in central Chile. A state of emergency was declared after farmers reported that frigid air had destroyed 61% of stoned fruit crops, 57% of almonds, 48% of kiwi crops, and 20% of table grapes. Heavy damage to vineyards also affected wine productivity. Total damage was estimated at $1.15 billion, making it the costliest weather-related disaster in Chile's history.

October

Disaster 1. Category 2 Typhoon Fitow hit the southern Japanese Islands on October 4, killing two people. Fitow weakened to a tropical storm and made landfall in China just north of Taiwan on October 7, dumping torrential rains that caused $10.4 billion in damage and killed six. In this MODIS image from 02:15 UTC October 5, 2013, Category 2 Typhoon Fitow is approaching China. Image credit: NASA.


Disaster 2. Winter Storm "Christian" hit the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia on October 28, killing 18 and causing at least $2 billion in damage. A new all-time wind speed record in Denmark of 192.6 kph (120 mph) was measured that day at Kegnæs on the Baltic Sea, close to the German border. In this image, large waves break against the dyke at the entrance of the port of Boulogne, northern France, on October 28, 2013. Image credit: PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images.


Disaster 3. Tropical Cyclone Phailin hit the northeast coast of India on October 12, 2013 as a weakening Category 4 storm with 140 mph winds. Due to strong preparedness efforts by India, the storm killed only 46 people, in a location where 10,000 people had been killed by a similar-strength cyclone in 1999. Damage from Phailin was estimated at $1.1 billion, making it the 6th most expensive tropical cyclone in India's history (adjusted for inflation.) In this image taken at approximately 4:30 UTC on October 11, 2013, Phailin fills the Bay of Bengal as a top-end Category 4 storm with winds of 155 mph. Image credit: NASA.

November

Disaster 1. Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the Central Philippines on November 8, 2013, as one of the strongest tropical cyclones in world history, with peak surface winds estimated at 195 mph by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center. Haiyan killed over 7,700 people and did at least $13 billion in damage, making it the costliest and deadliest disaster in Philippine history, and Earth's deadliest natural disaster of 2013. In this image, we see an infrared VIIRS image of the eye of Haiyan taken at 16:19 UTC November 7, 2013. At the time, Haiyan was at peak strength with 195 mph sustained winds. Image credit: NOAA/CIRA.


Disaster 2. The most expensive November tornado outbreak on record hit the U.S. on November 17, killing ten and causing damage estimated at $1.6 billion. This image shows an aerial view of Washington, Illinois on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, after an EF-4 tornado tore through the area, one of three EF-4 tornadoes from the outbreak. AP Photo/Alex Kareotes.


Disaster 3. Heavy monsoon rains caused the Mekong River in Cambodia to overflow its banks in October and November 2013, causing $1 billion in damage and killing 188. According to the International Disaster Database, EM-DAT, this would make the disaster Cambodia's most expensive and 6th deadliest natural disaster in its history. In this photo, we see Cambodian children swimming in flood waters at a village in Kandal province on October 7, 2013. Photo credit: TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images.

December

Disaster 1. Winter Storm Xaver brought extreme winds and the second highest storm surge of the past 200 years to Northern Germany. The storm killed 15 and did $1.5 billion in damage. In this photo, we see a 14 meter (46') high, 1000 kilogram (2200 lb) Tyrannosaurus replica that was standing in front of the German climate museum Klimahaus in Bremehaven, which had the bolts which connected its base plate to the ground sheared off by the force of Xaver's winds. A peak wind gust of 78 mph (126 kph) was recorded in Bremerhaven during the storm. Image credit: Christine Sollmann and Michael Theusner of Klimahaus.


Disaster 2. Some of the worst flooding in 90 years affected parts of southeastern Brazil during the second half of December, killing at least 48 people and doing $1.4 billion in damage. Here, we see an aerial view of a flooded area in Vila Velha, Espirito Santo state, Brazil, on December 27, 2013. Image credit: YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images.

Jeff Masters

Climate Summaries

Updated: 5:18 PM GMT on January 20, 2014

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Historic January Drought Intensifies in California

By: JeffMasters, 5:31 PM GMT on January 16, 2014

Record warmth and dryness have hit California this month, as one of the worst drought in state history continues to intensify. San Francisco Airport observed its warmest January day on record on Wednesday: 73°. This beat the previous all-time January record of 72° set twice before (on January 13, 2009 and January 24, 1948). Oakland hit 77° on Wednesday, and Monterey topped out at a remarkable 83°--which would be a daily record on many summer days. The record January heat has been accompanied by record dryness. California recorded its driest year in its history during 2013. The most widely used measure of drought in the U.S., the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI), shows that December 2013 drought conditions in California were the 2nd most intense for any December going back to 1895, with only December 1898 being worse. If we look at 3-month PDSI for the first three months of the water year, October - December, 2013 ranks as the third worst such drought, behind 1898 and 2008.


Figure 1. Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI), shows that December 2013 drought conditions in California were the 2nd most intense for any December going back to 1895. Only December 1899 was worse. Image credit: NOAA/NCDC.

The forecast: no relief in sight
Less than an inch of precipitation has fallen over more than 95% of the state so far in January 2014, and the prospects for significant rain for the next ten days look bleak. A large and persistent ridge of high pressure has set up over the West Coast and shows no signs of budging. Since rain-bearing low pressure system tend to travel along the axis of the jet stream, these storms are being carried well to the north of California into Southeast Alaska, leaving California exceptionally dry. Today's U.S. Drought Monitor showed that the area of California experiencing extreme drought expanded from 28% to 63% over the past week, and I expect January 2014 drought conditions will challenge 1899 for the dubious honor of worst January drought in state history.


Figure 2. Color-coded wind speeds at a pressure of 300 mb (roughly 9,000 meters or 30,000 feet) from 00 UTC January 16, 2014, show the axis of the jet stream over North America, with a large upside-down "U"-shaped ridge of high pressure over the West Coast. California is outlined in orange. The strongest winds of the jet stream (orange colors, 160 mph) were observed over the Northeast United States. Image generated from the 00 UTC January 16, 2014 run of the GFS model, and plotted using our wundermap.

Top ten most severe winter drought months in California history, 1895 - 2013, along with the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) for the month:

1) Feb 1899, -6.28
2) Feb 1991, -6.21
3) Jan 1991, -5.74
4) Jan 1899, -5.67
5) Feb 1977, -5.62
6) Dec 1898, -6.28
7) Jan 2009, -5.26
8) Jan 1977, -4.82
9) Dec 2013, -4.67
10) Feb 2009, -4.49

Our weather historian, Christopher C. Burt, has much more detail on this historic drought in his latest post, Central California Enters a Drought Period Unprecedented in its Weather History.

Jeff Masters

Drought

Updated: 2:54 AM GMT on January 17, 2014

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2013: A Warm and Wet Year in the U.S.

By: JeffMasters, 4:57 PM GMT on January 15, 2014

After experiencing its hottest and second most extreme year on record in 2012, the contiguous U.S. weather in 2013 was much closer to average, according to the just-released annual climate summary from NOAA's National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). The annual U.S. average temperature was 0.3°F above the 20th century average, ranking as the 37th warmest year in the 119-year record. It was the coolest year since 2009. No states had a top-ten warmest or coolest year on record, though some cities in California and Florida had their warmest year on record, and some cities in the Plains and Mid-South had their coolest year on record. Overall, it was a wet year in the contiguous U.S., ranking as the 21st wettest year in the 119-year record, and wettest since 2009. Michigan and North Dakota had their wettest year on record, and eight other states had top-ten wettest years on record. However, California had its driest year on record, and Oregon had a top-ten driest year on record.


Figure 1. Historical temperature ranking for U.S. states in 2013. No states had a top-ten warmest or coolest year on record. Image credit: National Climatic Data Center (NCDC).


Figure 2. Historical precipitation ranking for U.S. states in 2013. Ten states had a top-ten wettest year on record, and two states had a top-ten driest year. Image credit: National Climatic Data Center (NCDC).

A near-normal year for extremes
The year 2013 in the contiguous U.S. was near normal for extremes, according to NOAA's U.S. Climate Extremes Index (CEI), which tracks the percentage area of the contiguous U.S. experiencing top-10% and bottom-10% extremes in temperature, precipitation, and drought, plus winds from landfalling tropical storms and hurricanes. The CEI was 18% in 2013, close to the long-term average of 20%. The primary contributor to extremes in the CEI was drought, which affected about double the area it usually does in 2013. In 2012, the CEI hit 39%, the second highest value going back to 1910.


Figure 3. NOAA's U.S. Climate Extremes Index (CEI) put 2013 near-average for extreme weather, with 18% of the contiguous U.S. experiencing top-10% extremes. The average is 20% (heavy black line.)

A below-average year for tornadoes
Like 2012, tornado activity across the U.S. during 2013 was below average. There were 742 confirmed tornadoes from January - September, with 149 preliminary tornado reports still pending for October - December, according to NOAA's Storm Prediction Center. This gives 2013 a preliminary tornado count of 891. Depending on the final confirmation rate, this could be the slowest tornado year since 1989, when 856 tornadoes were confirmed. The 1991-2010 annual tornado average is 1,253. Despite the below-average number of annual tornadoes, there were several destructive tornado outbreaks that led to significant damage and loss of life. There were 54 tornado deaths in 2013, and five severe weather and tornado outbreaks that resulted in at least $1 billion in damage each.


Figure 4. Flipped vehicles are piled up outside the heavily damaged Moore Medical Center in Moore, Oklahoma, after an EF-5 tornado ripped through the area on May 20, 2013. A Midwest tornado outbreak on May 18 - May 22 killed 29 people and cost $3.75 billion, making it the most costly weather-related disaster in the U.S. during 2013. Image credit: Brett Deering/Getty Images)

Jeff Masters

Climate Summaries

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DIRECTV Drops The Weather Channel

By: JeffMasters, 2:10 PM GMT on January 14, 2014

As of today, The Weather Channel is no longer available on DIRECTV, which refused to come to an agreement on a market-based carriage deal. In a statement released by David Kenny, chairman and CEO of The Weather Company, he said:

“This is unprecedented for The Weather Channel. In our 32 years, we have never had a significant disruption due to a failure to reach a carriage agreement. We offered DIRECTV the best rate for our programming, and I am shocked they have put corporate profits ahead of keeping a trusted channel that subscribers rely on every day. We are not looking for a large fee increase. We are simply looking for a fair deal that allows our company to continue to invest in the science and technology that enables us to keep people safe, deliver the world’s best weather, and tell weather stories to help people be prepared and informed.



“At a time when DIRECTV has increased customer rates by 4 percent, they are trading safety for increased profits and replacing the experience and expertise of The Weather Channel with a cheap startup that does weather forecasting on a three-hour taped loop, has no field coverage, no weather experts--certainly not any on par with The Weather Channel network’s industry-recognized experts like tornado expert Dr. Greg Forbes and winter weather expert Tom Niziol--and no experience in severe weather emergencies. This is a dangerous gamble over one penny a month that puts DIRECTV customers at risk.

“This reckless move by DIRECTV will have an impact on our role as part of the national safety and preparedness fabric of our country at a time when the volatility and frequency of weather events seems to be increasing. The Weather Channel partners with humanitarian and emergency management agencies at the local, state and federal levels. We help people prepare before storms, stay safe during their effects, and find help afterward. If the network is not available to viewers, the effectiveness of these partnerships, which help make us a more weather ready nation, are jeopardized. I am hopeful DIRECTV will come to their senses soon and will not force its customers to change carriers to stay safe and informed.”


How the DIRECTV/Weather Channel dispute will affect wunderground
It has now been over a year and half since The Weather Channel purchased Weather Underground, and overall, I have been happy with how the merger has gone. There have been many internal changes at Weather Underground, but our web site has continued to function independently much as it always has. We pride ourselves on our ability to develop innovative weather products and interfaces unique to the Internet. The Weather Channel has helped with that effort, by giving us the money to hire additional staff, and by giving us access to some of their technology and resources that we did not have. With Weather Channel's blessings, I have continued to blog as I always have, without interference. I have been asked to blog about specific topics on only one occasion--to introduce their system of naming winter storms (though I have not been asked to use their winter storm names, and can choose not to do so if I like.) I was not asked to blog about the DIRECTV affair. The loss in revenue from DIRECTV's 20 million subscribers would be a major funding blow to The Weather Channel, and would also negatively affect the financial situation of the Weather Underground. Thus, I obviously cannot offer an unbiased opinion on DIRECTV's decision to dump The Weather Channel, but think this is probably a bad thing, and not just because of the reasons stated by TWC's CEO in the statement above. I've never seen the coverage from WeatherNation, the replacement for The Weather Channel on DIRECTV, and do not know if they have plans to do any climate change coverage as part of their programming. If not, this will mean there are now 20 million people seeing less climate change coverage, at a time when The Weather Channel is actively expanding their climate change coverage, and at a time when society greatly needs as much awareness of how our climate is changing as possible. I encourage those of you who think this is a bad decision to weigh in via social media or email:

• Visit keeptheweatherchannel.com where you can learn more and automatically send correspondence to DIRECTV

• Tweet @directv using the hashtag #stormdirectv

• Facebook: share keeptheweatherchannel.com and post to DIRECTV's Facebook page

• DIRECTV’s CEO cares about what customers think, so if you have friends or family who are customers, encourage them to reach out directly to mike.white@directv.com

Variety.com has an article explaining the economics of the conflict for those who want to understand the issue better.

Thanks!

Jeff Masters

Politics

Updated: 2:33 PM GMT on January 14, 2014

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Category 4 Ian Pounds Tonga; 91W Kills 20 in Philippines; First Tornadoes of 2014

By: JeffMasters, 2:55 AM GMT on January 13, 2014

The year 2014 has just begun, but the tropical cyclone seasons in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres have already claimed victims. Summer is in full bloom in the Southern Hemisphere, where two Category 4 storms formed last week: Tropical Cyclone Colin, which reached sustained winds of 135 mph midway between Madagascar and Australia on January 11, and Tropical Cyclone Ian, which intensified into a powerful Category 4 storm with 145 mph winds before roaring through the South Pacific islands of Tonga over the weekend. At least one death is being blamed on the storm in the northern Ha'apai Islands of Tonga, home to 8,000 people, and 70% of the buildings were damaged or destroyed, according to the Australia Network News. Tonga is an archipelago of 176 islands, with 100,000 people living on the 36 most populated islands. The economy relies on fish exports, tourism, and money from Tongans living overseas. About 40% of the population lives in poverty.

In the Philippines, heavy rains from tropical disturbance 91W have triggered flash floods and mudslides that are being blamed for twenty deaths on the southern island of Mindanao on Saturday, with thirteen other people missing. Twenty-four hour rainfall amounts in excess of 300 mm (11.81") fell in northeast Mindanao, according to Project NOAH. The disturbance will move slowly north over the islands through Tuesday, and bring torrential rains in excess of 5" to the islands of Leyte and Samar, ravaged by Super Typhoon Haiyan in November.


Figure 1. MODIS image of Tropical Cyclone Ian as its eye passed over Tonga at approximately 00 UTC on January 11, 2014. At the time, Ian was a Category 4 storm with winds of 145 mph. Image credit: NASA.

First U.S. Tornadoes of 2014 hit Virginia and Georgia
A modest severe weather outbreak over the Southeast U.S. on Saturday, January 11, brought the first tornadoes of 2014: three to Virginia, and one to Georgia:

1. EF-0 tornado near Waleska in Cherokee Co, GA, 3 mile path length, downed trees, damaged fence.

2. EF-0 in Isle of Wight Co., VA, 70-75 mph, 2 mile path, 50 yards wide, trees down, roof damage to homes, no injuries.

3. EF-0 near Smithfield, VA, EF-0, 75-80 mph, 1.4 mile path, 100 yards wide, trees down onto homes, no injuries.

4. EF-0 tornado in Hampton, VA, 80 mph, 1.25 mile path, 75 yards wide; trees snapped, shingles off homes, roof off City of Hampton school maintenance compound; Fox Hill Athletic Association building destroyed.

The strongest wind gust ever recorded at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, 86 mph, occurred at 1:57 PM Saturday, when a line of thunderstorms roared through central North Carolina.

Jeff Masters

Hurricane Tornado

Updated: 6:36 PM GMT on January 13, 2014

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Great Lakes Ice Cover at Highest Levels in 20 Years

By: JeffMasters, 4:03 PM GMT on January 09, 2014

This week's intense Arctic cold blast has brought the highest ice coverage on the Great Lakes in twenty years, according to data from the Canadian Ice Service. Ice coverage over Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario increased from 12% to 26% over the past week, reaching levels not seen at this time of year since the last Great Lakes cold blast of this intensity, in January 1994. Most notably, Lake Erie is now more than 90% frozen over. This will spell a temproary end to intense lake effect snowstorms for areas downwind of the lake like Buffalo, New York, since Arctic winds blowing over the lake will no longer be able to pull moisture from open water to fuel heavy snows. Buffalo received more than a foot of snow from Tuesday and Wednesday's lake effect blizzard, which tapered off because the lake froze up so significantly. With Saturday temperatures over southern Great Lakes expected to warm to the mid-40s, accompanied by rain, ice formation on the Great Lakes will slow down this weekend, but ice coverage should still be above normal for the remainder of January.


Figure 1. Great Lakes ice cover on January 9, 2014. Image credit: NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab.


Figure 2. Average ice concentration in the Great Lakes during the week of January 8 - 14, for the years 1973 - 2002. Ice coverage in 2014 (Figure 1) was about double the average. Image credit: NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab.


Figure 3. Ice coverage on the Great Lakes for the week of January 8 for the period 1980 - 2014. The ice coverage this year is the highest since 1994. Canadian Ice Service
.

Increased ice cover will keep Great Lakes water levels higher
The increased ice coverage on the Great Lakes this winter is good news for water levels on the lakes, which are still struggling to recover from some record lows recorded at this time last year. During January 2013, water levels on Lake Michigan and Lake Huron fell to their all-time lowest values since record keeping began in 1918, 29 inches below the long-term average. While the water levels recovered substantially during 2013, which was one of the wettest years in Michigan's history, water levels were still a foot below average at the beginning of 2014. The above average ice cover this winter will reduce evaporation from the Great Lakes, keeping water loss lower than in recent winters. Ice cover on the Great Lakes has declined 71% since 1973, according to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Climate by researchers at NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory. The loss of ice is due to warming of the lake waters, which could be due to a combination of global warming and natural cycles, the researchers said. Winter air temperatures over the lower Great Lakes increased by about 2.7°F (1.5°C) from 1973 - 2010, and by 4 - 5°F (2.3 - 2.7°C) over the northern Lakes, including Lake Superior. Lake Superior's summer surface water temperature warmed 4.5°F (2.5°C) over the period 1979 - 2006 (Austin and Colman 2007). During the same period, Lake Michigan warmed by about 3.3°F (1.7°C), Lake Huron by 4.3°F (2.4°C), and Lake Erie (which is shallow and loses and gains heat relatively quickly) showed almost no warming.

The long-term future of Great Lakes water levels is cloudy, since climate change is expected to bring competing effects. A 2011 paper by scientists at NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory found that lake levels could rise or fall, depending upon the climate change scenario used. On the one hand, precipitation has increased by 12% over Michigan during the past century, and is expected to increase even more in the coming decades. This would tend to increase lake levels. However, lake water temperatures are predicted to increase and ice cover decrease, which would heighten evaporation rates. This would tend to lower lake levels. The Army Corps of Engineers is considering adding speed bumps to the bottom of the St. Clair River to slow down drainage of Lake Huron, which would act to increase water levels in Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.


Figure 4. The water level on Lake Huron and Lake Michigan measured during 2012 - 2013 (red line) hit an all-time low during January 2013, beating the previous record set in March 1964. Water levels recovered some during 2013, but were still a foot below normal at the beginning of 2014. Image credit: Army Corps of Engineers.

References
Austin, J. A., and S. Colman, 2007, "Lake Superior summer water temperatures are increasing more rapidly than regional air temperatures: A positive ice-albedo feedback," Geophys. Res. Lett., 34, L06604, doi:10.1029/2006GL029021.

Wang, J., X. Bai, H. Hu, A.H. Clites, M.C. Colton, and B.M. Lofgren, 2012, "Temporal and spatial variability of Great Lakes ice cover, 1973-2010," Journal of Climate 25(4):1318-1329 (DOI:10.1175/2011JCLI4066.1)

Jeff Masters

Winter Weather

Updated: 6:58 PM GMT on January 20, 2014

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U.S. Cold Blast WInds Down, Fails to Set Any All-Time Cold Records

By: JeffMasters, 4:00 PM GMT on January 08, 2014

The remarkable Arctic cold blast that brought dangerously cold wind chills of -30°F or lower to at least nineteen states is winding down today. Tuesday's high temperature in Detroit struggled to just -1°F. It was just the fourth time in recorded history that the high temperature had failed to reach zero. In Buffalo, New York, Tuesday's epic lake effect blizzard dumped 12.6" of snow on the city, with up to 25" falling in nearby regions. Another 2 - 3" are expected on Wednesday as the winds over Lake Erie wind down and temperatures warm up. Temperatures will moderate to levels about 10 - 20° below normal on Wednesday, in contrast to the 20 - 40° below normal temperatures commonly observed on Monday and Tuesday over large portions of the eastern half of the United States. By Friday, the majority of the U.S. will see above normal temperatures, and by Saturday, high temperatures will be up to 40°F warmer than Tuesday's highs over much of the Midwest.


Figure 1. Arctic air flowing over the Lake Erie on January 7, 2014 created two major bands of lake-effect snow snow near Buffalo, New York. Image credit: NASA.


Figure 2. For those of you who have to be texting out in the cold, there's always the texting mitt sold by FE Clothing.

Not a Historic Cold Wave
As notable as this week's cold wave was--bringing the coldest air seen since 1996 or 1994 over much of the nation--the event failed to set any monthly or all-time record low minimum temperature records at airports and cooperative observing stations monitored by NOAA's National Climatic Data Center. As wunderground's weather historian Christopher C. Burt summed it up for me, "The only significant thing about the cold wave is how long it has been since a cold wave of this force has hit for some portions of the country--18 years, to be specific. Prior to 1996, cold waves of this intensity occurred pretty much every 5-10 years. In the 19th century, they occurred every year or two (since 1835). Something that, unlike the cold wave, is a truly unprecedented is the dry spell in California and Oregon, which is causing unprecedented winter wildfires in Northern California." Part of the reason that this week's cold wave did not set any all-time or monthly cold records is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so in a warming climate. As Andrew Freedman of Climate Central wrote in a blog post yesterday, "While the cold temperatures have been unusual and even deadly, climate data shows that intense cold such as this event is now occurring far less frequently in the continental U.S. than it used to. This is largely related to winter warming trends due to man-made global warming and natural climate variability." For example, in Detroit during the 1970s, there were an average of 7.9 nights with temperatures below zero. But this decade, that number has been closer to two nights.


Figure 3. Trend in frigid nights in Detoit from the 1970s to the most recent decade. Yellow line indicates linear trend since 1970. Image credit: Andrew Freedman, Climate Central

Jeff Masters

Winter Weather Climate Change

Updated: 2:09 PM GMT on January 09, 2014

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Extreme Cold Wave Invades Eastern Half of U.S.

By: JeffMasters, 4:33 PM GMT on January 07, 2014

A remarkable Arctic cold blast--the most severe since 1996 or 1994 in much of the U.S.--is smashing daily low temperature records across the Midwest, Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast today. The counter-clockwise flow of air around powerful Winter Storm Ion, a 961 mb low centered just east of Hudson Bay at 9 am EST, is pushing frigid air from northern Canada deep into the U.S., bringing freezing temperatures as far south as Central Florida. Strong winds of 15 - 25 mph are accompanying the cold blast, and have brought dangerously cold wind chills of -30°F or lower to at least nineteen states. The coldest winds chills on Tuesday morning were over Southern Michigan, Northeast Indiana, Northwest Ohio, and Southern Ontario. The temperature in Detroit bottomed out at -14° on Tuesday morning--their 16th coldest day in recorded history--and the wind chill hit a remarkable -41°. The high temperature in Detroit on Tuesday is expected to remain below zero; the city's list of days with a high temperature below zero is a short one, with only three such days in recorded history. The cold air has eased some in Chicago, which had a low temperature Tuesday morning of -11°. Chicago's high temperature hit -1° on Monday; the noontime temperature on Monday was a remarkable -14°F, the 7th coldest noontime temperature ever measured in the Windy City. From the 10 EST Tuesday NWS Storm Summary, here are the coldest wind chill readings observed so far in the cold wave:

Comertown, MT: -63
Rolla, ND: -60
Glenwood, MN: -56
Summit, SD: -56
Waupaca, WI: -56
Ironwood, MI: -54
Mount Mitchell, NC: -50
Dubuque, IA: -49
Moline, IL: -46
Toledo, OH: -45
Ingalls Field, VA: -45
Valparaiso, IN: -44
Canaan Heights, WV: -44
Brownlee, NE: -43
Clarion, PA: -42
Oakland, MD: -41
Jamestown, NY: -38
Garden City, KS: -33
St. Charles, MO: -31


Figure 1. A frigid morning in the Windy City: Chicago seen from the air on January 7, 2014, after the low temperature hit -11°F. Image credit: Hank Cain

Worst weather of the day: Buffalo, NY
My vote for worst weather of the day goes to Buffalo, New York, where heavy snow was falling at 9 am with a temperature of -6°F. West winds of 24 mph gusting to 33 mph created a dangerously cold wind chill of -32°, and a wind gust of 60 mph was recorded at 3:26 am. West-southwest winds blowing along the length of Lake Erie are creating an epic lake effect blizzard in the Buffalo region, which may see snow accumulations of up to three feet before the storm ends on Wednesday. An ice jam has also formed on the Niagara River, leading to issuance of a flash flood warning for low-lying areas along the river.


Figure 2. A cold day on Lake Ontario. Sea smoke is visible over the lake in this shot taken three miles west of Pultneyville, NY, on January 7, 2014. The outside air temp was 1°F. Image credit: wunderphotographer JACKMAY52.


Figure 3. A cold day in the Great Lakes: Arctic air flowing over the Great Lakes on January 6, 2014 creates bands of lake-effect snow snows over and in the lee of the lakes. Image credit: NASA.

Weather whiplash in New York City
New York City is enduring a classic case of weather whiplash due to this week's wild weather. Freezing rain on Sunday morning caused a Delta flight to skid off a runway at JFK airport. But on Monday morning, a surge of warm air riding northeastwards in advance of Winter Storm Ion boosted the temperature in the Big Apple to 55°. The cold front associated with Ion passed though the city Monday afternoon, allowing the low temperature on Tuesday morning to plummet to 4°, beating the record for the date of 6° set in 1896.

The culprit: cold air from Canada and the polar vortex
In the winter, the 24-hour darkness over the snow and ice-covered polar regions allows a huge dome of cold air to form. This cold air increases the difference in temperature between the pole and the Equator, and leads to an intensification of the strong upper-level winds of the jet stream. The strong jet stream winds act to isolate the polar regions from intrusions of warmer air, creating a "polar vortex" of frigid counter-clockwise swirling air over the Arctic. The chaotic flow of the air in the polar vortex sometimes allows a large dip (a sharp trough of low pressure) to form in the jet stream over North America, allowing the Arctic air that had been steadily cooling in the northern reaches of Canada in areas with 24-hour darkness to spill southwards deep into the United States. In theory, the 1.5°F increase in global surface temperatures that Earth has experienced since 1880 due to global warming should reduce the frequency of 1-in-20 year extreme cold weather events like the current one. However, it is possible that climate change could alter jet stream circulation patterns in a way that could increase the incidence of unusual jet stream "kinks" that allow cold air to spill southwards over the Eastern U.S., a topic I have blogged about extensively, and plan to say more about later this week.


Video 1. I appeared on Democracy Now this morning to discuss the cold wave, the polar vortex, and possible linkages between climate change and wild jet stream behavior.


Figure 4. From wunderground's Jet Stream page, we see the large dip in the jet stream over the U.S. responsible for this week's extreme Arctic air outbreak.

Siberians agree: North American winters are impressive!
The last time I experienced weather this cold was on January 18, 1994. I walked across the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor that evening in bitter cold temperatures of ten below zero, driving winds, and lake effect snow--which the road salt had absolutely no effect on. I made it to Hill Auditorium to hear a concert by the Siberian throat singers of Tuva. After performing one of their songs that was sung in their native language, the singers explained through a translator that the lyrics described the story of their epic voyage that day from Dayton, Ohio northwards on I-75 to Michigan in a blinding snow storm with visibilities near zero and intensely cold temperatures. Their vehicle spun out into the ditch, but they were able to push it out and make it to the concert on time. "Siberia is known for its brutal winters," the translator said, "but North American winters are just as impressive!" The next morning the temperature bottomed out at -20° in Detroit, the third coldest reading in city history.

Winter storm Christina (formerly Hercules) pounds the UK with huge waves
The winter storm (dubbed "Hercules") that hit the U.S. last week morphed into a massive 950 mb low pressure system to the east of the UK on Monday. The storm, called "Christina" by the Free University of Berlin, generated huge waves of up to 8 meters (27 feet) that battered the southwest coasts of the UK on Monday, causing damaging coastal flooding, according to the BBC. Huge waves from the storm also battered Portugal, injuring four and damaging about two dozen cars. The unusually contorted jet stream pattern associated with Christina pulled warm air to the north over Western Europe on Monday. According to weather records researcher Maximiliano Herrera, Amsterdam had its warmest January day on record Monday: 14°C (57°F), and the temperature hit a sizzling 26.2°C (79°F) in Murcia, Tocino Bridge Station, Spain--not bad for the core of winter!


Video 2. Impressive waves from Winter Storm Christina (formerly "Hercules") pound the UK on Monday, January 6, 2014.

Jeff Masters

Winter Weather

Updated: 5:16 PM GMT on January 07, 2014

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Extreme Cold Blast and Heavy Snow Hit Midwest U.S.

By: JeffMasters, 4:26 PM GMT on January 06, 2014

The most extreme cold air outbreak since 1994 is in store for much of the U.S. on Monday and Tuesday, as Arctic air behind a major winter storm invades the Midwest. The powerful 989 mb storm blasted the Upper Midwest on Sunday, bringing snows in excess of a foot over portions of Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Missouri, and Ohio. The 11.4" that fell on Sunday in Indianapolis, Indiana made it that city's second snowiest day on record (the all-time record: 12.1" on March 19, 1906); Flint, Michigan also recorded its second snowiest day on record: 14.5" (the all time record: 15.0" on November 28, 1937.) A blast of Arctic air poured into the Upper Midwest on Sunday, and Sunday's playoff game between the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers began with a temperature of 5°F and a wind chill of -10°, evoking memories of the legendary Green Bay Packers-Dallas Cowboys Ice Bowl NFL playoff game on December 31, 1967. On that frigid day, the temperature at kickoff was thirteen below zero, with a wind chill of -45°F. It's lucky that yesterday's game wasn't played today: the high temperature in Green Bay is expected to be near -10°, with wind chills as low as -40°. The temperature in Chicago at noon CST Monday was a remarkable -14°F, with gusty west winds of 20 mph causing a dangerously low wind chill of -40°. This is the 7th coldest noontime temperature ever measured in the Windy City (the record was -21° on January 10, 1982). The record-breaking cold air will spread eastward and southward over the next few days, bringing the coldest temperatures seen since January 1994 to many locations. The high temperature in Detroit on Tuesday is expected to remain below zero; the city's list of days with a high temperature below zero is a short one, with only three such days in recorded history. The frigid air is being propelled by strong Arctic winds of 15 - 25 mph, which will generate dangerously low wind chill readings in the -30° to -60°F range from Michigan to Minnesota on Monday and Tuesday. From the latest NWS Storm Summary, here are the coldest wind chill readings observed so far:

Comertown, MT: -63
Rolla, ND: -60
Grand Maraia, MN: -55
Hillhead, SD: -53
Mason City, IA: -48
Dexter, WI: -47


Figure 1. At my home in the northern Detroit suburb of Highland, Michigan, we got 14" of snow on Sunday, which made for some very low electrical output from my rooftop solar array! Photo by Ellie Masters.

The culprit: cold air from Canada and the polar vortex
In the winter, the 24-hour darkness over the snow and ice-covered polar regions allows a huge dome of cold air to form. This cold air increases the difference in temperature between the pole and the Equator, and leads to an intensification of the strong upper-level winds of the jet stream. The strong jet stream winds act to isolate the polar regions from intrusions of warmer air, creating a "polar vortex" of frigid counter-clockwise swirling air over the Arctic. The chaotic flow of the air in the polar vortex sometimes allows a large dip (a sharp trough of low pressure) to form in the jet stream over North America, allowing the Arctic air that had been steadily cooling in the northern reaches of Canada in areas with 24-hour darkness to spill southwards deep into the United States. In theory, the 1.5°F increase in global surface temperatures that Earth has experienced since 1880 due to global warming should reduce the frequency of 1-in-20 year extreme cold weather events like the current one. However, it is possible that climate change could alter jet stream circulation patterns in a way that could increase the incidence of unusual jet stream "kinks" that allow cold air to spill southwards over the Eastern U.S., a topic I have blogged about extensively, and plan to say more about later this week.


Figure 2. From wunderground's Jet Stream page, we see the large dip in the jet stream over the U.S. responsible for this week's extreme Arctic air outbreak.

Jeff Masters

Winter Weather

Updated: 6:08 PM GMT on January 06, 2014

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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.