Record Cold in a Warming World

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:58 PM GMT on March 04, 2014

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An impressive blast of Arctic air has toppled more records for all-time March cold over the Eastern U.S., in the wake of the major snowstorm that brought 4 - 8" of snow from Missouri to Maryland. Fresh snow is very efficient at radiating heat to space, and the 3.8" of snow that fell in Baltimore on Monday helped drive the temperature down to 5°F on Monday night, tying the city's all-time March low temperature record set on March 4, 1873. The temperature eventually dipped down to 4°F Tuesday morning, breaking the March record. Atlantic City, NJ, which got 5.5" of snow on Monday, also set a new all-time cold record for the month of March on Monday night, when the temperature fell to 2°F. The previous all-time low for the month of March was 3°F set on March 4, 2009. Official records for the Atlantic City area date back to 1874.

At least five other cities have set or tied all-time March cold temperature records during the current cold wave:

Charlottesville, Virginia set an all-time March low of 1°F Tuesday morning (previous record: 7°F on March 4, 1943.)

Billings, Montana set an all-time March low of -21° on March 2, 2014 (previous record: -19°.)

Pierre, South Dakota set an all-time March low on both March 1 and March 2, dipping to -20° (previous record: -19°F on March 11, 1998.)

Flint, Michigan set an all-time March low of -16° on March 3 (previous record: -12°.)

Rockford, Illinois tied its all-time March record low of -11° on March 3.

At least five U.S. cities have set records for their coldest winter on record, as detailed by wunderground's weather historian Christopher C. Burt in his latest blog post. He has not yet compiled a list of cities that have set a record for their warmest winter on record during 2013 - 2014, but I know of at least two: Las Vegas, Nevada, and Tucson, Arizona.


Figure 1. Departure of surface temperature from average as diagnosed by the GFS model at 00 UTC March 4, 2014. A negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation (AO) allowed cold air to spill southwards out of the Arctic over the Eastern U.S., bringing temperatures up to 36°F (20°C) below average. Compensating warm air flowed northwards into the Arctic underneath a ridge of high pressure over Europe. Data/image obtained using Climate Reanalyzer™ (http://cci-reanalyzer.org), Climate Change Institute, University of Maine, Orono, Maine.

How can a planet that is warming experience record cold?
This week's impressive cold blast brings up the question: How can a planet undergoing "global warming" experience record cold? Well, it's a big planet, and the weather has naturally crazy extremes. We expect to see many locations experience all-time daily and monthly cold records each month. It's just that the number of these cold records will be outnumbered by all-time heat records, when averaged over the globe, and over decades. It is called Global Warming for good reason! A 2009 study led by Dr. Jerry Meehl of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, CO found that in the U.S., the ratio of the number of record daily highs to lows was near 1:1 in the 1960s and 1970s, but had increased to more than 2:1 during the decade of the 2000s, due to our warming climate. The ratio for the 2010’s was approximately 2.4-to-1 for daily records, for the four years 2010 - 2013, as explained in detail at Guy Walton's wunderblog. If "business as usual" emissions of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide continue this century, this ratio of record highs to record lows is expected to increase to 20:1 by the year 2050, and 50:1 by 2100. So, even on planet experiencing extreme global warming, we will still see a few record low temperatures in the 22nd Century.


Figure 2. Ratio of record daily highs to record daily lows observed at about 1,800 weather stations in the 48 contiguous United States from January 1950 through September 2009. Each bar shows the proportion of record highs (red) to record lows (blue) for each decade. The 1960s and 1970s saw slightly more record daily lows than highs, but in the last 30 years record highs have increasingly predominated, with the ratio now about two-to-one for the 48 states as a whole. ©UCAR, graphic by Mike Shibao; data from a 2009 study led by Dr. Jerry Meehl of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, CO.

Two Years Ago: Summer in March
When we do break all-time heat records in the current warming climate, we should expect that some of these new records will crush the old records in phenomenal ways. That was the case during the astonishing U.S. record-breaking "Summer in March" heat wave just two years ago, in 2012. It was the warmest March on record for the contiguous U.S., 8.6°F above the 20th century average for March, and 0.5°F warmer than the previous warmest March in 1910. Of the more than 1,400 months that have passed since the U.S. record began in 1895, only one month, January 2006, had a larger departure from its average temperature than March 2012. Every state in the nation experienced a record warm daily temperature during March, and 25 states east of the Rockies had their warmest March on record. An additional 15 states had monthly temperatures ranking among their ten warmest. All-time March records were broken at 290 stations, with some stations breaking their all-time March record four times. There were 21 instances of the nighttime temperatures being as warm, or warmer, than the existing record daytime temperature for a given date. Four stations broke daily records by 30°F or more.


Figure 3. "This is the kind of sunset that you can expect to see in July, not in March. 77°F when I took this," said the caption on this wunderphoto taken on March 17, 2012 in Windom, Minnesota by wunderphotographer sally.

Jeff Masters

Apostle Islands Ice (walcek)
You drive on 3-ft. minimum thick ice for a couple miles out to these islands on frozen Lake Superior. (Saves on kayaking workout)
Apostle Islands Ice
Frozen Silence (RevMac)
No one else was out walking a very popular Nashville park on a frozen ice and snow storm day in early March.
Frozen Silence

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Quoting 497. nwobilderburg:
All we are is cosmic dust. Belief in god is just an excuse for weaker minds. None of you are as enlightened about the truth as I am. I hate being by far the most intelligent person in a room


I came from New Jersey.
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581. jpsb
Night all
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Quoting Birthmark:

So, your assertion is that Tesla isn't very "green" because it uses the same number of conventional batteries as an IC-powered vehicle, even though the Tesla's effective mpg is much higher? That would be rather a strange standard, imo.

I don't actually know the answer to that question. Tesla and its sole battery supplier, Panasonic, which also owns a piece of Tesla, have not been forthcoming about where the 7,000+ AA cells are made. Many Panasonic AA Li ON batteries are made in Japan but the batteries found when Car & Driver did their test on the battery pack didn't show a county of origin. The Model S has the best environmental rating of any car from the Automotive Sciences Group, but that only looked at the amount of electricity consumed compared to a combustion engine car, as well as environmental costs of battery production. That test assumed a recharge cycle when the battery reached a discharge rate of 70%. In real life, that would mean less than a 100 mile range, and Tesla owners report they regularly drive 200 miles and recharge when the battery pack has less than 30% remaining capacity. The electricity consumption more than doubles in that case. The study did not factor in the environmental or monetary cost of battery recycling or replacement.

The bottom line is that Elton Musk has made sure he provides as little information as possible to regulators and the public. It's almost impossible to assess the portal to portal environmental impact of Tesla. The success of the company is almost totally dependent on federal and state tax credits to buyers. Tesla would still not have made a profit if not for those subsidies. My own belief is that Tesla's car have a smaller environmental impact than a combustion engine car, but that I can't quantify by how much because Tesla intentionally doesn't make it easy to do so. Certainly it's not a "zero emissions" car, regardless of the sign for the carpool lane.

Another real issue environmentally is that, if Tesla doesn't make it as a company, there will be no battery replacements or recycling, and the hazardous waste issues will fall inevitably on the taxpayer. Combustion engine cars offset some of their environmental impact when the owner buys gasoline and pays the gasoline tax. There is no such safety cushion when Tesla owners fill up from the grid. Musk has repeatedly resisted suggestions that he create, in essence, an escrow fund to pay at least part of the environmental costs if the company goes belly up.

I think Tesla will survive (that's why I own the stock), but Tesla is very much the Apple of car companies. If Musk drives off a cliff, I'm selling ASAP.
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Quoting 577. TropicalAnalystwx13:
It's been quite a while since eastern Atlantic sea surface temperatures were this cold:


I asked you and our met office, what was causing this, in terms of the warmer SSTs in the western Atlantic.

Here's their (Met service of Jamaica) response....

western side of the Azores. Relatively warm C'bbean (advection). Signs of a strong Madden Julian Oscillation.

Usually, the farther south the High dips, the warmer the temps it advects further north.

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Good Night everyone!
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It's been quite a while since eastern Atlantic sea surface temperatures were this cold:

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Quoting 570. Birthmark:

This my fortieth year as an atheist. I was the only atheist I knew for the first five years. Oh, the things they called me back then --and that was just the dinosaurs!
I believe in God and I do not think I should judge anyone for their believes!
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Quoting 571. jpsb:
Yeah that's what he was saying. Not going to repeat the argument here. But I think there is a lot we still have to learn about the universe. Get back to me when we have a better handle on just what exactly time is, or gravity for that matter.

My take is that there will always be holes in our knowledge. We can't work with those really. What we can do is work with what knowledge we do have and draw valid conclusions, and leave ourselves open to the acquisition of new knowledge and the fact that everything we know about anything and everything might be wrong. That's what Science is all about.
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Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 169 Comments: 53296
573. jpsb
Quoting 569. gulfbreeze:
I just wanted to say thanks for your serves to our country as a Vet myself if not for people like you we would not have the Freedom to express our opions like this!!
Gulf I wrote 541 for you :)
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Quoting 570. Birthmark:

This my fortieth year as an atheist. I was the only atheist I knew for the first five years. Oh, the things they called me back then --and that was just the dinosaurs!
The backlash was huge at first, but in hindsight it's pretty amusing, xD.

I'm also not feeling as anomalous now because my brother admitted me to me the other day that he's not sure if he even believes in god at all anymore. The two of us have some pretty lively discussion about that, amongst many other things.
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571. jpsb
Quoting 563. Birthmark:

AFAIK, "absolutely nothing" has never been demonstrated to exist outside the human imagination. Even there it is just words as conceptualizing absolutely nothing is impossible.
Yeah that's what he was saying. Not going to repeat the argument here. But I think there is a lot we still have to learn about the universe. Get back to me when we have a better handle on just what exactly time is, or gravity for that matter.
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Quoting 546. KoritheMan:
And before the inevitable million dollar question comes up, I am atheist. Have been for six years now, coincidentally just before Gustav.

I can respect anyone regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof, though, provided they reciprocate in kind to me.

This my fortieth year as an atheist. I was the only atheist I knew for the first five years. Oh, the things they called me back then --and that was just the dinosaurs!
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Quoting 552. BaltimoreBrian:
No I don't.
I just wanted to say thanks for your serves to our country as a Vet myself if not for people like you we would not have the Freedom to express our opions like this!!
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Quoting 553. jpsb:
Quantum Mechanics allows for that point to simply pop into existence. I had a long argument on this point we called it a draw. But he insisted QM allows for something coming from nothing. I'll buy a low energy state but I will not buy something from absolutely nothing.

AFAIK, "absolutely nothing" has never been demonstrated to exist outside the human imagination. Even there it is just words as conceptualizing absolutely nothing is impossible.
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Quoting 551. Astrometeor:


Agreed. I'll give the point before the Big Bang (and even the Bang) to a God unless scientists can come up with something to explain it.

They have. And they may very well be right. :)

A lot of this is best described mathematically rather than with words. For most people (including me) it's not a lot of fun. lol
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Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 169 Comments: 53296
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553. jpsb
Quoting 533. GTstormChaserCaleb:
Question for you, what created that point?
Quantum Mechanics allows for that point to simply pop into existence. I had a long argument on this point we called it a draw. But he insisted QM allows for something coming from nothing. I'll buy a low energy state but I will not buy something from absolutely nothing.
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Quoting 548. gulfbreeze:
You think the cosmos is recreated only to be destroyed again at the end of the new cycle???
No I don't.
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Quoting 536. VAbeachhurricanes:


We don't know yet, I think some sort of divineness was at work. But I believe the evidence for the big bang is too overwhelming to ignore.


Agreed. I'll give the point before the Big Bang (and even the Bang) to a God unless scientists can come up with something to explain it.
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Quoting 547. Birthmark:

That depends upon what you mean by chance. A particular atom of water may form by chance. However, that water will form is almost unavoidable under many conditions.


If there is a .0000001% chance and there is a trillion chances... odds are it will happen.
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Quoting 545. wxgeek723:
I know we talk about the impacts of Typhoon Faxai's presence down the road on ENSO, but couldn't you argue that a typhoon this early in general may be indicative of El Nino?


Other famous El Nino years like 1992, 1997, and 2002 got off to very fast starts in the Pacific. March 2002 even featured a super typhoon!
No I wouldn't. This is a high-latitude typhoon, similar to what we would see in the Atlantic with mid-latitude tropical cyclogenesis. It's likely not indicative of anything.
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Quoting 521. BaltimoreBrian:
I consider it a waste of time to debate evolution and the origin of the universe with someone who doesn't know what the big bang is. When you understand the concept of ekpyrosis I'll take you seriously. Over and out.
You think the cosmos is recreated only to be destroyed again at the end of the new cycle???
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Quoting 529. gulfbreeze:
Thank you Fine Tuning do you think that just happen by chance?

That depends upon what you mean by chance. A particular atom of water may form by chance. However, that water will form is almost unavoidable under many conditions.
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And before the inevitable million dollar question comes up, I am atheist. Have been for six years now, coincidentally just before Gustav.

I can respect anyone regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof, though, provided they reciprocate in kind to me.
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I know we talk about the impacts of Typhoon Faxai's presence down the road on ENSO, but couldn't you argue that a typhoon this early in general may be indicative of El Nino?


Other famous El Nino years like 1992, 1997, and 2002 got off to very fast starts in the Pacific. March 2002 even featured a super typhoon! Obviously the correlation isn't strong but a case could be made.
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Quoting 536. VAbeachhurricanes:


We don't know yet, I think some sort of divineness was at work. But I believe the evidence for the big bang is too overwhelming to ignore.
Yeah, me and my friend a couple years had a long conversation on this topic. We came to the conclusion that maybe we aren't supposed to know. But I do believe in the big bang.
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Quoting 514. Birthmark:

Let's start with what the BB isn't. It isn't an explosion in any conventional sense.
You ought to hear my aunt "debate" it with me and use it in this fashion. Sounds so sure of herself too. >_<
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Nicely-timed video given the current discussion...

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541. jpsb
Quoting 511. gulfbreeze:
Not sure what big bang is ?
The Big Bang is interesting and might very well have happened. Critics describe it as "First there was nothing and then it exploded". Lol, that is really not a bad description. Prior to Hubble discovering that the universe is expanding the prevailing view was the Steady State. The Steady State said that the "Universe is and always will be". It was in a Steady State, no changing. Well an expanding universe is not in a steady state and if it is expanding then it must have been smaller in the past. Astronomers did the math and determined that the universe is 14.5 billion years old and must have at some point been infanently small. So something very small suddenly came into existence and in doing so created space, time and all of the mass/energy in the universe today. The big bang, we are pretty sure his happened because we can see the remnants of the big bang when looking at the background radiation thru out the entire universe, about 3K whcih also fits the math. So that's the big bang. Please excuse all typos, typing is not my thing.
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Quoting 532. BaltimoreBrian:
For birthmark, gulfbreeze and everyone:

A Successor to Sagan Reboots 'Cosmos'

I like Neil a lot. I'm a bit worried about the new Cosmos series, though. The original series was absolutely brilliant. It will be hard to match.

But I'll be watching...well, I'll DVR it and watch it later most likely.
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Quoting 518. gulfbreeze:
How long until Hurricane Season I need a storm to track!!
87 days.
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Question: What created time, what created matter, what created space? We must ask ourselves these questions, and yet we will find ourselves in a loop hole asking what created the precursor of time, space, and matter, and so on and so on.
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Quoting 531. VAbeachhurricanes:


Yep the universe is expanding, and continues to expand at an ever faster rate. Play it backwards and what do you get? A single point.


Indeed!

Quoting 530. PedleyCA:
Night All - Stay Safe - Stay Warm - Play Nice - Do Not Play With the ICE


Good night, Pedley!
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Quoting 533. GTstormChaserCaleb:
Question for you, what created that point?


We don't know yet, I think some sort of divineness was at work. But I believe the evidence for the big bang is too overwhelming to ignore.
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Quoting 530. PedleyCA:
Night All - Stay Safe - Stay Warm - Play Nice - Do Not Play With the ICE
night ped see ya maňana
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Quoting 529. gulfbreeze:
Thank you Fine Tuning do you think that just happen by chance?
who do I look like Albert Einstein

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Quoting 531. VAbeachhurricanes:


Yep the universe is expanding, and continues to expand at an ever faster rate. Play it backwards and what do you get? A single point.
Question for you, what created that point?
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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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