Warmest January on record for the lower atmosphere

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:37 PM GMT on February 17, 2010

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Earth's lower atmosphere recorded its warmest January on record last month, according to data from both the University of Alabama, Hunstville (UAH) and Remote Sensing Systems (Figure 1). The satellite measurements used to take the global temperature of the lower atmosphere began in December 1978, using the Microwave Sounding Unit (MSU) on polar-orbiting satellites. The January 2010 temperature anomaly was an impressive 0.72°C above the 1979 - 1998 average, easily beating the previous record of 0.59°C set in January 2007. Last month's anomaly was the 3rd warmest anomaly for any month, falling just 0.04°C cooler than the record warmest anomalies of 0.76°C from February and April 1998. The January 2010 satellite-measured temperatures continued a trend of very warm conditions we've seen in the lower atmosphere since the current El Niño event began in June 2009. Record high temperatures occurred in November 2009, and were the second highest on record in both July and September 2009, according to UAH. The record-breaking temperatures in the lower atmosphere are due to the heating of the atmosphere by the strong El Niño event that has been heating the waters of the Central and Eastern Pacific since June 2009, combined with the global warming trend of the past few decades. Since we are currently at the lowest level of solar output in decades, the Earth is currently about 0.1°C cooler than if we were near the maximum of the 11-year sunspot cycle. Had we been near solar maximum, we would have set an all-time warmest lower atmosphere temperature anomaly record last month.(Note, though, that there is about a 2-year time lag between solar maximum and when Earth's global temperature responds). It will be interesting to see if the current El Niño event, which is quite a bit weaker than the record-strongest El Niño of 1998, is capable of making 2010 beat 1998 for honors as the warmest year on record in the lower atmosphere.


Figure 1. Temperature of the lowest 8km of the atmosphere measured by satellite via the MSU instrument flown on polar-orbiting satellites between 1979 - 2010. Image credit: Dr. Roy Spencer, University of Alabama, Hunstville.

Real-time display of atmospheric temperatures measured by satellite
The University of Alabama, Huntsville has a handy interactive plotting page that lets one plot up the historical and near-real-time satellite measurements of Earth's global average temperature at various levels of the atmosphere. These temperatures are measured by the MSU instrument on the polar-orbiting NOAA-15 satellite. Note that this is a different instrument than the AQUA satellite's MSU instrument used by UAH to formulate their official monthly global temperature anomaly data set. The two satellites give similar results, although NOAA-15 requires an additional correction to account for drift of the satellite.


Figure 2. Temperature of the global atmosphere at 14,000 feet (4.4 km) as measured by the MSU instrument on the polar-orbiting NOAA-15 satellite. This instrument has been flying since August 1998. The 20-year average (yellow line) and 20-year record highs (pink line) are for the period 1979 - 1998, using versions of the MSU instrument that flew on older satellites. The most recent data (green line), as of February 15, 2010, are marked by a white square, and have now fallen below the record for the date set in 1998. Note that during July 2009, November 2009, and January 2010, record high temperatures were measured at 14,000 feet altitude. A full description of the data is available from the University of Alabama, Hunstville.

Error sources in global atmospheric temperatures measured by satellite
Satellite-measured temperatures of Earth's atmosphere, in my judgment, are inferior to using the surface based system of ground stations and ocean buoys for measuring global temperature changes. I have two reasons for saying this:

1) The satellite temperatures show large global increases when there is an El Niño event. While the surface also experiences an upward spike in temperatures during an El Niño, it is much less pronounced than the atmospheric heating that occurs. Since we live at the surface, those temperatures are more relevant.

2) According to a description of the MSU data available on the Remote Sensing Systems web site where the data is archived,


"The instruments in the MSU series were intended for day to day operational use in weather forecasting and thus are not calibrated to the precision needed for climate studies. A climate quality dataset can be extracted from their measurements only by careful inter-calibration of the eleven distinct MSU instruments."


In other words, it's very tricky to make an accurate measurement of Earth's temperature going back to 1979, when satellite measurements began. You have to merge data from eleven separate satellites, whose instruments were never designed to make the kind of precise long-term climate measurements that are being asked of them. While surface stations also have error sources, I believe that the uncertainty in the satellite-based global temperature measurements are higher.

Dr. John Christy of the University of Alabama, Huntsville, made a series of efforts to perform the careful inter-calibration needed beginning in the 1990s, and for over a decade successfully defended his conclusion that the MSU instruments were showing a much lower level of tropospheric warming than what climate models predicted. Christy was probably the most quoted scientist by the "greenhouse skeptics" during that period, and testified numerous times before Congress about his findings. This discrepancy was a prime argument Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) used in his famed 2003 speech when he referred to the threat of catastrophic global warming as the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." Greenhouse contrarian Dr. S. Fred Singer, who has probably more Congressional testimony about global warming under his belt than any other scientist, headlined his SEPP website for many years with the quote, "Computer models forecast rapidly rising global temperatures, but data from weather satellites and balloon instruments show no warming whatsoever. Nevertheless, these same unreliable computer models underpin the Global Climate Treaty." Michael Crichton also used the tropospheric warming discrepancy to give climate models a bad rap in his State of Fear novel. However, a series of papers published in 2004 and 2005 showed that the satellite inter-calibration methods used by Christy were incorrect. Christy conceded that his analysis had been in error, and participated in writing a statement put out by NOAA's Climate Change Science Program that detailed the error.

Climate change contrarians continue to prefer using the UAH satellite data to look at global temperature trends, since that data set shows less warming than the regular surface station data sets, and rates 1998 as the warmest year on record. The UAH data shows that in the 31-year period from 1979 - 2009, Earth's lower atmospheric temperature warmed by 0.13°C per decade. A separate analysis of the satellite data by Remote Sensing Systems (RSS) puts this number at 0.15°C per decade. For comparison, NASA's GISS and the UK HadCRUT surface data sets (which don't use satellite data) show warming of 0.16°C and 0.15°C per decade, respectively. You can generate these numbers yourself, using the excellent woodfortrees.org plotting tools. The amount of global warming predicted in the 2007 IPCC report for the period 2010 - 2030 was 0.20°C per decade, so we are running about 25% below this predicted level of warming, when averaging over the past 31 years.

For further reading: I have a 2006 blog post on this, and realclimate.org has a technical discussion.

Portlight continues relief efforts in Haiti
The Portlight.org disaster-relief effort continues in Haiti, with another container of specifically-requested medical supplies being shipped today. At the request of Portlight's on-site coordinator, Richard Lumarque, Portlight is committed to sending another container with 500 tents plus food and water. The cost of each shipment is $4300, so your donations are greatly appreciated! Please visit the Portlight.org blog to learn more and to donate. Floodman's blog has the latest info on Portlight's plan for Haitian relief.


Figure 3. Richard Lumarque, Portlight's on-site coordinator in Haiti, poses with double-amputee Darline Exidor, who received a wheelchair from Portlight. Portlight's team of ten relief workers has been laboring full-time the past two weeks to deliver donated supplies and assess the needs of the earthquake survivors.

Next post
I'll have a new post on Thursday or Friday.

Jeff Masters

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Quoting Drakoen:
GFS 18z showing a major southern snow storm late next week. Watching for the trends.


With all due respect I sure hope it will be the last one for this winter....

Taco :0)
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Quoting aquak9:
where are you located again, hydrus? sorry I can't remember. I know the northeast has had ridiculous amounts of snow, poor folks...
On the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee. I am originally from S. Florida.
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where are you located again, hydrus? sorry I can't remember. I know the northeast has had ridiculous amounts of snow, poor folks...
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Probable positions of the two centers. The northern one is 90C. The one in the southern hemisphere is currently unlabeled. The satellite image is the latest visible shot with complete coverage of the system (2 and a half hours old). CIMSS 850mb vorticity data supports my idea that the southern center is located farther north than the Fiji Meteorology Center has it (8.6S). I'm putting it more around 4S-5S.

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26701
Quoting aquak9:
It's ok, Drakoen. I think everyone did a great job and learned a lot from the past system.

Besides, if it snowed here? I promised a pic of me in a bikini, dancing in it. So, no snow's probably a good thing. :)
Now your going to get snow.
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Quoting aquak9:
70 degree winter days

I'd be glad to have them NOW!!

hi hydrus!
I just read Draks post. We have been freezing here on the plateau for a long time without much of a break. Snow on the ground more often then not. Much wetter than predicted for this region. Mom and dad are ready for spring. Minus the tornadoes and severe weather.
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It's ok, Drakoen. I think everyone did a great job and learned a lot from the past system.

Besides, if it snowed here? I promised a pic of me in a bikini, dancing in it. So, no snow's probably a good thing. :)
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Quoting TankHead93:
Drakoen, what determines how hot ssts get?


Tradewinds, OLR, ENSO, Ocean thermostat.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30833
Quoting aquak9:
yeah, Drakoen...believe me it was pouring rain. Temp never even dropped below 48º in my area the whole time it was raining.

I was beggin' for snow, but it was a no-go.


Sorry about that. I was really on the edge about a rain/snow mix for you guys when I drew up my map; nevertheless, I learned a lot from tracking that low pressure system to aid me in my forecast for this next potential system. I'm getting a better view of the vertical temperature profile on the models to make sure that conditions are conducive for snowfall.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30833
70 degree winter days

I'd be glad to have them NOW!!

hi hydrus!
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Quoting aquak9:


No snow in Jacksonville, Fl, though.
Good Evening aquake--One day you are going to get a foot of snow. Temps in the single digits for week, and then you will want those 70 degree winter days back...:)
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Quoting aquak9:
By the way, Levi, it's very very good to see you. Hope you can hang around thru Season™.


Thanks aqua, good to see you too :) I do hope to have the time.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26701
By the way, Levi, it's very very good to see you. Hope you can hang around thru Season™.
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yeah, Drakoen...believe me it was pouring rain. Temp never even dropped below 48º in my area the whole time it was raining.

I was beggin' for snow, but it was a no-go.
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Drakoen, what determines how hot ssts get?
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Quoting Drakoen:
GFS 18z showing a major southern snow storm late next week. Watching for the trends.


You know I hate you now. :)

JUST KIDDING PEOPLE!!!!!
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Quoting AussieStorm:


Can someone explain those mb numbers please. Also, does anyone have a link to the MJO and which direction does the MJO move, is it east to west or west to east, my thinking is west to east.
The numbers refer to the Bermuda high,s average peak barometric pressure in those months. If it pans out that way, storms that form in Sept and later may have more of a northerly track. WAY to early to say.
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Quoting HadesGodWyvern:
MARINE WEATHER BULLETIN FOR ISLANDS AREA
EQUATOR TO 25S BETWEEN 160E AND 120W.
ISSUED BY FIJI METEOROLOGICAL SERVICE Feb 172000 UTC.

TROPICAL DISTURBANCE TD [1005HPA] ANALYSED NEAR 05.3S 162.2W AT 171800 UTC. SLOW MOVING. POSITION POOR.

----
South of the area 90C is located


Yeah, that would be the southern center, although I think they have it centered too far south. However all we have and all they have to go on right now is IR satellite imagery, since the windsat has been missing the area for the last 24 hours.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26701
Quoting aquak9:
maybe over in the panhandle, Drakoen- Ike saw some in his area- but nothing for my area except rain.

As it has been, so it shall be.


Did you look up into the sky before the precipitation was about to end?
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30833
maybe over in the panhandle, Drakoen- Ike saw some in his area- but nothing for my area except rain.

As it has been, so it shall be.
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229. xcool
NOLA SNOW BY 27 HMMMM
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Quoting aquak9:


No snow in Jacksonville, Fl, though.


Lol. I heard you guys got some rain/snow mix from the last storm.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30833
227. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
MARINE WEATHER BULLETIN FOR ISLANDS AREA
EQUATOR TO 25S BETWEEN 160E AND 120W.
ISSUED BY FIJI METEOROLOGICAL SERVICE Feb 172000 UTC.

TROPICAL DISTURBANCE TD [1005HPA] ANALYSED NEAR 05.3S 162.2W AT 171800 UTC. SLOW MOVING. POSITION POOR.

----
South of the area 90C is located
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Quoting Drakoen:


Yes, all of them.


No snow in Jacksonville, Fl, though.
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Greetings Dr. Masters! Long-time lurker but I needed to comment. I'm a politics geek in addition to being a weather geek. The XM radio in my car defaults to the POTUS station and yesterday afternoon on my drive home from work I heard most of your interview w/Pete Dominick. Can't stand him but I did enjoy hearing your thoughts and diplomatic responses to the callers about climate change. Great job!

And Thank You for this site. I check it constantly during hurricane season - I live in western Palm Beach County.
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Quoting hydrus:
What southern states specifically? Do you mean all of them?


Yes, all of them.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30833
Quoting weatherbro:


How far east was that 1945 cyclone?


Well after looking it up I'm a little confused, as that cyclone only made it to 154W, and Oli made it to 152W before coming off its Cat 4 status. That's the numbers though. I don't know of a quick way to find records for the south Pacific.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26701
Quoting Drakoen:
GFS 18z showing a major southern snow storm late next week. Watching for the trends.
What southern states specifically? Do you mean all of them?
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However, by the time hurricane season started 2005's temps looks like:

Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30833
February 19th 2005:

Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30833
How does 2010's sst anomalies for the atlantic (mainly the MDR) compare to 2005's at this point in that year?
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Please report the trolls, don't feed or quote them. Thank you very much.
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Quoting Levi32:


It wouldn't be the farthest east. I don't know the records but I do know that Cyclone Oli back in January made it the farthest east of any Cat 4 cyclone since 1945. Oli made it to 140W. Right now 90C is still back at 160W.


How far east was that 1945 cyclone?
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Link

WOW!!GFS showing nearly a foot of snow in central Mississippi and Alabama. However, it looks like it's going to be too warm to snow in central GA where I am. Oh well maybe it'll be changed later.
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GFS 18z showing a major southern snow storm late next week. Watching for the trends.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30833
Quoting AussieStorm:



Can someone explain those mb numbers please. Also, does anyone have a link to the MJO and which direction does the MJO move, is it east to west or west to east, my thinking is west to east.



Found MJO info
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Quoting StormW:


Looking at the forecast, through March...and the CFS is indicating by the MSLP monthly means, through the peak of hurricane season. The CFS is predicting the following monthly means of the A/B high:

MAR 1018mb
APR 1020mb
MAY 1022mb
JUN 1026mb
JUL 1026mb
AUG 1024mb
SEP 1019mb



Can someone explain those mb numbers please. Also, does anyone have a link to the MJO and which direction does the MJO move, is it east to west or west to east, my thinking is west to east.
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Wind shear is definitely more conducive for development of the southern center, located in the southern hemisphere at about 4S, 161W.

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26701
Quoting weatherbro:


Wouldn't that be the furthest east a tropical system has developed in the South Pacific?

Also sorry about tripple posting. My PC is acting up. Keeps sending me to a "Unable To Connect" or Page has been reset" page.


It wouldn't be the farthest east. I don't know the records but I do know that Cyclone Oli back in January made it the farthest east of any Cat 4 cyclone since 1945. Oli made it to 140W. Right now 90C is still back at 160W.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26701
Quoting Levi32:
The 18z GFS does indeed have an intense tropical cyclone in the southern hemisphere 5 days from now, but it leaves a piece southwest of Hawaii as well.



Wouldn't that be the furthest east a tropical system has developed in the South Pacific?

Also sorry about tripple posting. My PC is acting up. Keeps sending me to a "Unable To Connect" or Page has been reset" page.
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HonoluluAdvertiser.com
Updated at 11:20 a.m., Wednesday, February 17,
2010
(No time zone given)

Hurricane center tracking storms south of Hawaii
Advertiser Staff

The National Weather Service and Central Pacific
Hurricane Center in Honolulu this morning issued
a Special Tropical Weather Outlook for an area
of disturbed weather 1,300 miles south-
southwest of the Islands.

Forecaster Ray Tanabe said the weather service
is tracking an area of thunderstorms that is
moving slowly eastward.

"We're just letting people know that it's an area
we're watching," Tanabe said.

"The chances of it developing into a cyclone are
real low, but we've seen it happen before in El
Nino conditions."

In its advisory, the weather service noted:
"Hurricane Ekeka and Tropical Storm Hali formed
(in the Central Pacific Basin) in the El Nino year
of 1992 in January and March, respectively."

On the Net:

http://www.prh.noaa.gov/hnl/cphc/

To see a satellite loop of the bad weather, go to:

http://www.prh.noaa.
gov/cphc/pages/display_sat.php?
sat=ECPAC_IR_loop.gif

For a description of Hurricane Ekeka, go to:

http://www.prh.noaa.gov/cphc/summaries/1992.

For a description of Tropical Storm Hali, go to:

http://www.prh.noaa.gov/cphc/summaries/1992.
php#Hali
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The only problem with saying that El Nino was responsible for the warming between December and January is, El Nino actually peaked on December 26, 2009. The ENSO warm pool has been weakening since then, but it has expanded and the slowing of oceanic gyres may have contributed to warm water overwhelming cool currents, flooding the warm air over continents. The AO also weakened to a higher number and became less negative in late January, removing some of the cold air intrusion over the Northern Continents and this may have contributed slightly to the warming.
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The 18z GFS does indeed have an intense tropical cyclone in the southern hemisphere 5 days from now, but it leaves a piece southwest of Hawaii as well.

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26701
Models have it meandering around the same area for several days, but this is only for the part that's in the northern hemisphere. The southern center south of the equator has a better chance to take over based on the time of year. The whole mass will indeed take its time in moving as it is a direct result of the negative SOI burst coming east, which is a slow process.

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26701
Quoting wunderkidcayman:
guy I think that Invest 90C in now located at 4.0N 163W under that new blow up of convection

Link


Actually the real blow-up is south of the one at 4N closer to 1.7N, which is kinda cut off on your image. That's closer to where the northern center is.

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26701
guy I think that Invest 90C in now located at 4.0N 163W under that new blow up of convection

Link
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I'm happy to let y'all down South have the snow since it usually means up here in Nebraska won't get it. We've had our current snow on the ground since early December. Sucks seeing nothing but gray snow for months. (Yes, gray. After being around this long, it gets very dirty.) No wonder everyone gets depressed here.
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Member Since: September 22, 2005 Posts: 11 Comments: 2032

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

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