A new reconstruction of global average surface temperature change over the past 2000 years has identified the main causes for decadal-scale climate changes. The result shows that the Earth's current warming rate, caused by human greenhouse gas emissions, is higher than any warming rate observed previously. The researchers also found that airborne particles from volcanic eruptions were primarily responsible for several brief episodes of global cooling before the Industrial Revolution of the mid-19th century.
This new temperature reconstruction also largely agrees with other climate model simulations for the same period of time. The researchers found agreement for changes in temperature caused by identifiable factors, such as volcanic aerosols and greenhouse gases, as well as random fluctuations in climate that took place on the same timescales. This suggests that current climate models accurately represent the contributions of various factors that influence global climate change and are capable of correctly predicting future climate warming.
The research team working on the Past Global Changes (PAGES) project used seven different statistical methods to perform the reconstruction and these results were published online July 24, 2019 in the journal Nature Geoscience. The new 2,000-year reconstruction improves on previous efforts by using the most detailed and comprehensive database compiled by PAGES researchers. The dataset includes nearly 700 separate publicly available records from sources that contain indicators of past temperatures, such as long-lived trees, reef-building corals, ice cores, and marine and lake sediments. The data are sourced from all of Earth's continental regions and major ocean basins.
Graph shows global mean rates of temperature change over the last 2,000 years, as determined by a new reconstruction based on climate proxy data. Red denotes temperature increases while blue denotes temperature decreases. The green line shows the maximum expected warming rate without human influence; the dashed orange line signifies the ability of climate models to simulate this natural upper limit. The black line indicates average global as determined by direct measurements since the Industrial Revolution. Credit: University of Bern
By comparing the new reconstructions with existing climate simulations generated using the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 5 (CMIP5) climate models, the PAGES research team was able to determine the relative contributions of several influences on global temperatures over time. These included natural influences, such as fluctuations in solar heating and the cooling effect of particles ejected by volcanic eruptions, as well as the human-caused influence of greenhouse gas emissions.
The results suggest that volcanic activity was responsible for variations before about 1850.Thereafter, greenhouse gases became the dominant influence on global climate. By removing these influences in their analysis, the researchers also identified the magnitude of the random changes that cannot be traced to a specific cause. The team's data-based reconstructions also agreed with model simulations when evaluating these random changes. This agreement between the researchers' data-based reconstructions and the CMIP5 simulations suggests that existing climate models can accurately predict future global temperature change over the next few decades. However, these simulations depend heavily on the choices that humans make in the future, which is very difficult to predict. According to the researchers, the uncertainty in the influence of human activities is not so large when looking forward only a few decades but in the longer term, the choices that are made regarding energy sources and how much carbon these sources emit will greatly matter.
Journal reference: Consistent multidecadal variability in global temperature reconstructions and simulations over the Common Era, Nature Geoscience (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41561-019-0402-y
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© 2019 Oceanographer Daneeja Mawren
The World’s Largest Bloom of Seaweed is Devastating, and It May Very Well be Linked to Climate Change
A massive blossoming of seaweed is traversing the Atlantic Ocean, and it may be linked to changes in our climate.
The massive mat of seaweed, known specifically as Sargassum, stretches from the West African coast to the Gulf of Mexico—thousands of miles. This species of seaweed has been in the Atlantic for decades, although in sparse amounts. In 2011, however, researchers found this seaweed in exorbitant amounts, to which algae was connected in a continuous mat stretching across the ocean.
While this particular strand of seaweed provides a sanctuary for many species of fish, birds, and turtles, it can, in large amounts, devastate these same species. In 2011, when satellite imagery located the abnormal bloom of seaweed, researchers attributed it to discharge from the Amazon River during spring and summer. However, it was noted later on that upwelling off Africa during boreal winter may also be in play. The latter factor is likely caused by changes in Atlantic Ocean circulation patterns, courtesy of climate change.
The reason this strand of seaweed is rather devastating is because of where it happens to be washing up—popular tourist destinations across the Caribbean. The Yucatan Peninsula, home of Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and other prominent vacation hotspots have been particularly hard hit. Since the beginning of the year, over 650,000 tons of seaweed have washed ashore along the Yucatan’s coastline, and it comes with a distinct egg odor that has turned away many vacationers. The odor is caused by the release of hydrogen sulfide as the seaweed decomposes. Although some may be able to deal with the odor, the hydrogen sulfide has caused issues with local infrastructure, such as the corrosion of plumbing.
While Mexican officials have allocated funds to the cleanup and disposal of seaweed into dumps and the use of it as fertilizer for agriculture, researchers warn these extraordinary blooms of seaweed will become the new normal, and have even given the belt a name—the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt.
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©2019 Weather Forecaster Jacob Dolinger
In a city already plagued by constant flooding and storm surge, climate change is a clear problem facing New Orleans. Located next to the southern tip of Louisiana, the Crescent City’s unstable ground and exceedingly low sea level have placed it in a zone ripe for encroaching seas. On top of that, hurricanes that form as a direct consequence the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico frequently bombard Louisiana, and this will only get worse as the global temperature continues to rise. This begs the question: How will New Orleans survive?
In response to this question, the U.S. government has tried to prepare the coastal city for increasingly pervasive storm surge by installing storm surge countermeasures through the United States Army Corp of Engineers (USACE). These countermeasures include, but are not limited to, levees, sea walls, and pumps. Such provisions can also be found in other vulnerable coastal cities around the world, such as Shanghai, Jakarta, and London. Unfortunately, New Orleans has had difficulty utilizing their defenses in the past.
When Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana in 2005, it absolutely overwhelmed the flooding countermeasures put in place by the USACE. In fact, the flooding countermeasures were so ineffective that the levees themselves are often cited as the main reason why New Orleans flooded to the degree it did. The levees, canals, and floodwalls were annihilated by storm surge, allowing waters from nearby lakes and the Gulf of Mexico to invade the city. To make matters worse, it was revealed a year later that some of the pumps installed to get rid of floodwaters were defective. The storm surge was so monstrous that a large amount of buildings were completely unusable until they were pumped and rebuilt. This tragic fate could be indicative of the future of New Orleans.
Thankfully, there might still be hope for this important cultural and economic center. Lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina have better prepared the engineers, scientists, and officials for future disasters. Better designed levees, higher floodwalls that can stop up to 20 feet of storm surge, and warier city officials make it less likely that New Orleans will experience a Katrina-like failure again. However, it’s probable that these improvements won’t entirely save New Orleans from disastrous flooding in the future. Despite valiant efforts from engineers and officials, the city’s geography often leaves it defenseless from storm surge. As a result, there may be no way to completely erase the threat of storm surge from happening in New Orleans, especially with the intensifying climate. Regardless, the officials of New Orleans and the U.S. government must remain vigilant to protect this invaluable city from disaster. Hopefully, scientists and engineers will discover new ways to fight storm surge that will allow for more coastal security. Until then, it’s wise to remain watchful of incoming disasters that could devastate New Orleans and cities like it to minimize loss of life and property.
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© 2019 Weather Forecaster Cole Bristow
The week leading up to the Summer Solstice marked the second year that meteorologists across the world took to twitter through #MetsUnite in an effort to educate the public on the perils of climate change. The movement started based off the promotion of Ed Hawkins’ Warming Stripes—a stunning visual representation of the earth’s warming atmosphere through the use of stripes representing the annual temperature for every year since record-keeping began. While atmospheric science professionals worldwide donned earrings and pins laced with the stripes, some members of the public asked: what is the origin of these warming stripes, and what exactly do they mean?
Based on modern day science, many in the meteorology community have concluded that the earth’s average annual temperature is warming. This is old news. However, deciphering this data for the public can be difficult and overwhelming. Visual representations of climate science are often the best and most efficient way to grab the public’s attention when it comes to this heavy-duty science. Originally, Hawkins had only published warming stripes graphics for a handful of European cities and countries. However, in the past year, Hawkins, a scientist at Climate Central, was able to expand the graphics to cities, states, and countries worldwide, including many U.S. states and cities. Climate Central normally publicizes data for a hand-picked 244 U.S. cities that represent a variety of regional climates; this year, they made warming stripes available for 160 of those 244 cities. The chosen cities were based on available annual average temperature records for various regions, so for cities that didn’t have sufficient data (data needed to date back to the mid-19th Century) you can search for warming stripes in a nearby city, or any of the 50 states.
The warming stripes that were created this year very closely followed Climate Central’s Earth Day report on the fastest warming cities and states. The stripes indicated that cities in the Southwest, Northeast, and Alaska were the fastest warming, consistent with the aforementioned Earth Day climate report. This is an important observation given the many effects increased temperatures can have on our average climate; more extreme blizzards, severe thunderstorms, wildfires… sadly, the list goes on. It is remarkably important that meteorologists, from the broadcast sector, to research, continue to not only promote warming stripes, but climate science in general since this is the data worked with. Meteorologists in research are those who curate the data; those in the private sector may use the data to analyze the risk in poses to private consumers and the public; and broadcast meteorologists, often the only scientists much of the public come into contact with on a daily basis, report the data and make it known to the public. If meteorologists in various sectors continue to work together in the climate science field, we may just be able to make sure this is an issue we, as a united society, can confront and solve together.
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©2019 Weather Forecaster Jacob Dolinger
Espresso. Cold brew. Macchiato. Americano. French press. Pumpkin spice latte.
Are you craving coffee yet? It is the most consumed beverage in America, aside from tap water. Many people drink it for an energy boost in the morning, or when they hit the mid-afternoon slump. Much of the world’s coffee crops are grown in tropical areas, but these crops are under serious threat from anthropogenic, or human-caused, climate change. There are three ways that climate change will harm coffee crops: hotter temperatures, longer and more frequent droughts, and changes in the type of pests in the area.
Coffee is a temperature-sensitive crop. Different types of coffee beans survive best in different temperature ranges. For example, the arabica bean, a popular type of coffee bean, grows best in average temperatures between 64-70 degrees Fahrenheit. If temperatures are above 70 degrees for too long, plants will produce fewer beans. This means fewer beans are available to be turned into coffee.
All crops, not just coffee, need water to grow. Droughts are projected to happen more often and last longer in the future as the climate changes. As these droughts strike areas that produce coffee, bean yields will decrease. This, too, means that availability of coffee will decrease. In a world that is warmer and more drought-prone, these two factors will combine to devastate coffee production.
Finally, changes in temperature and precipitation mean changes in the types of bugs and fungi that can live and grow in certain areas. While coffee currently grows in areas with pests and diseases that they are resistant to or tolerant of, this is likely to change in the future. Some of these pests may prefer the warmer conditions that come with climate change. Extreme rainfall after a drought may be prime conditions for certain fungi to invade the area quickly.
All three of these factors together spell trouble for one of the world’s favorite beverages. But remember, there are ways you can help prevent climate change. As the summer starts, consider setting your air conditioner to a warmer temperature, especially as you leave the house for the day. This will help save energy by reducing the amount of fossil fuels being burned and carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. Additionally, this will save you money on your energy bill!
© 2019 Meteorologist Margaret Orr
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Image: stock photo
What are Plant Hardiness Zones And Are They Really Creeping Northward? (Credit: USDA, The New York Times)
It was during the Great Depression that two researchers began creating maps to educate farmers on what crops could grow in their respective regions of the U.S. One researcher, Henry Skinner of the U.S. National Arboretum, began tailoring his map by separating the country into zones that were separated into increments of ten degrees Fahrenheit. Researchers Donald Wyman of the Arnold Arboretum began creating another map during the same time period that would split the U.S. into eight zones that could have temperature differences of either five, ten, or fifteen degrees.
It wasn’t until the 1960’s, however, that most agriculturalists adopted the U.S. National Arboretum map as the standard for gardening, despite the release of Wyman’s map in 1938. Wyman’s map was hard to follow since the zones were broad. This can cause trouble for gardeners in regions that may have diverse microclimates, something even the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) acknowledges on their website. These microclimates can come in the form of urban heat islands, such as large cities like New York City and Los Angeles, where the overall average temperature may undergo less drastic diurnal temperature variations in comparison to surrounding areas. Areas like these will absorb more heat due to lower albedos and increased absorptivity of surfaces such as blacktop and concrete. This can cause for a warmer plant hardiness zone than areas just miles outside the typical city center, where factors such as more grassy surfaces and differences in elevation may cause a decrease in the overall average temperature, causing for a cooler plant hardiness zone.
It is once all of the aforementioned factors such as the characteristics of microclimates are taken into account that one can think about how those exact climates may be affected by an increase in temperature, as caused by climate change. A recent analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as reported in the New York Times, brought to light how increasing temperatures due to climate change already are and may continue to have an impact on the movement of plant hardiness zones northward.
The zones are currently based on the coldest temperature of the year at various locations across the U.S., averaged over a 30 year period. The USDA’s map was revised in 2012 after over twenty years without revisions. Although the perimeters of all plant hardiness zones did creep noticeably northward, it was noted in the Times article that it was impossible to distinguish the influence of climate change on this northward progression from other systematic differences given that the USDA changed their map-making process s between the 1990’s and 20212. In other words, the USDA map is broad and fails to take into account climate change, making it impossible to make future predictions based off of just plant hardiness.
This is why the researchers at NOAA created the maps using the thirty-year technique practiced by the USDA. These maps take into account the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on the climate that the USDA’s revised maps didn’t. The maps clearly show how by 2040 certain zones designated by NOAA will have creeped much farther northward, with areas like the New York City metro area being considered as Zone 8, the same hardiness as areas as far south as Montgomery, Alabama and central Georgia.
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©2019 Weather Forecaster Jacob Dolinger
Image Credit: BBC
Over the past few years, you’ve probably heard about climate change. And global warming. But what’s the difference? Is there even one? Why has the name seemingly changed? The use of both of these terms can be confusing, so let’s get them sorted out.
Global warming is the term that was originally most widely used to refer to the observed rapid changes in Earth’s climate system. It refers to the fact that overall, the planet is getting warmer. While there are some areas of the planet experiencing a cooling trend in their climate, the Earth as a whole is warming, even when these cooling pockets are taken into account. However, this warming is only a piece of the story of what is currently happening to our planet. Global warming is, in fact, a symptom of climate change.
The term “climate change” refers to the effects that global warming is having on the planet. The climate system involves more than just the temperature of the atmosphere. It also encompasses moisture in the atmosphere, and where and when it rains. Additionally, increasing global temperatures has a number of physical effects on the planet, such as melting land ice, sea level rise, and intensifying hurricanes, just to name a few. These, in turn, affect Earth’s climate. Thus, scientists use “climate change” to refer to all of the changes that are resulting and will result from increased global temperatures. Climate change is an umbrella term, under which global warming falls along with the other effects associated with an overall warming planet.
The media has shifted from global warming to climate change in their stories simply because “climate change” is a broader term that encompasses all changes and is more accurate if something like sea level rise or changing precipitation is being discussed. Scientists, however, have been using both terms for a long time. Each of these terms serves a different purpose for scientists in talking about what is happening to our planet. “Global warming” hones in on temperature changes, while “climate change” helps discuss other changes occurring in the Earth’s systems. While the two terms have been used interchangeably in public discourse and are closely related, it is important to remember the distinction between them.
©2019 Meteorologist Margaret Orr
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Image Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-47144058
Spring is the season when severe weather kicks up again. In some areas, like the Central United States, it also means that tornado season will be starting up soon. And while this fact is common knowledge, the science behind why this season experiences such a noticeable uptick in severe weather events isn’t discussed as frequently. In this article, we will be exploring the key ingredients required for severe thunderstorms like supercells to form and how they come together at much greater rates during the spring months than at other times of the year in the mid-latitudes.
Ominous skies over eastern Colorado in May 2018.
The key ingredients for supercell thunderstorms are: instability, a source of lift, moisture, and wind shear. Instability refers to the general alterations of atmospheric stability. For instance, if you were to draw out a parcel of air, said parcel would rise, fall, or remain in its current location depending on how stable (or unstable) its surrounding environment was.
Source: Columbia University
The atmosphere can become more unstable via surface heating; whenever sunlight warms the ground, certain parcels at and near the surface will warm at a faster rate than their surrounding ones. It is these lighter, warmer parcels that will rise and will continue to do so until they enter a cooler environment. They themselves will then begin to cool and become heavier until they eventually sink back down to the surface where they can be heated up again and repeat this convective process.
Source: Columbia University
In order for storms to initiate, there must be a source of lift that allows for parcels of air to be vertically driven into the atmosphere. As such, the solar radiative heating that was recently described is one of many sources of lift that are available to prospective storms. If there is both sufficient heating and enough moisture over a localized area, then we can further expect for these parcels to vertically carry that water content along with them, leading to the vertical mixing of both heat and moisture across several layers of the atmosphere. These parcels will eventually condense and produce isolated showers and thunderstorms over those locations. Once they die, their outflow can help to produced localized areas of lift that can allow for a few more of these sorts of thunderstorms (oftentimes called garden-variety thunderstorms) to develop. These sorts of environments can be routinely found in tropical and subtropical areas such as Florida or the Caribbean, especially during the summer months. This makes spring unique for areas in the mid-latitudes in that it is around that season that plants and other forms of vegetation begin to grow and mature. In states such as Illinois and Indiana, which host large amounts of agricultural production, the added vegetation provides moist soil and added surface moisture content.
Source: Thomson Higher Education
That being said, these types of thunderstorms are almost never severe; once the environment runs out of surface moisture to mix into the atmosphere by the mid-to-late afternoon hours, then any storms that did develop will soon die out. In fact, these sorts of thunderstorms tend to have life expectancies of just under an hour. In order for storms to maintain themselves, they require another ingredient that has not yet been discussed.
We have already discussed one primary lifting mechanism: solar radiation. This process, however, only accounts for isolated thunderstorms to develop, given that such thunderstorms are limited to pockets where the air has become sufficiently unstable enough for parcels to rise and condense. If we take a look at North America, the return of spring re-introduces warmer air masses to the rest of the continent, while still experiencing cold spells whenever arctic air masses sink down into the lowe-48. The fronts that divide the two air masses themselves become large-scale lifting mechanisms that can also trigger thunderstorms. Moreover, geography also can play a significant role in providing sources of lift, as they are natural barriers that an air mass must overcome by rising on the wind side of the mountain before descending again on the leeward side. If the ascending air mass has sufficient moisture content and there is enough radiational heating, then the end-result can be oragraphically-induced thunderstorms.
Source: Thompson Higher Education
Starting around the start of spring, low-level moisture tends to also be advected (transported) from the Gulf of Mexico and into the Great Plains of North America. This introduction of moisture into the environment allows for any prospective storms to have a greater source of moisture than they otherwise would, aiding in the production of very sharp contrasts between moist and dry air masses. It is these sorts of boundaries between the two air masses that lead to the development of a dry line, which commonly develops in the Great Plains when this sort of moisture advection occurs. This area of the world also harbors a unique topographical setting which further allows for the production of dry lines; the elevation of the Great Plains gradually increases from east to west given they cover an area that’s stretches from the Mississippi River Basin all the way to the front-range of the Rocky Mountains. As such, when Gulf Moisture moves across the Great Plains, it slows down and fills in the areas which host lower elevations. As it does so, this air mass then comes in contact with much drier air from the American Southwest, which descends into the Great Plains from areas of higher elevation. Given that this drier, denser air mass, is descending into a moister, lighter air mass, the end result is a source of lift that can enable for much larger areas of ascent that can cover large swaths of the Plains on a much greater scale than what is observed from isolated, tropical and subtropical thunderstorms.
Source: Kendall/Hunt Publishing
We have already discussed three of the key ingredients that are required for severe thunderstorms: a source of lift, instability, and moisture. And as one would imagine, some of the most severe thunderstorms on the planet are a result of strong sources of lift, such dry lines. Nevertheless, the final ingredient required for supercells to initiate given that without it such a thunderstorm would not be able to maintain itself: wind shear.
Source: Earth Sky
Wind shear is essentially the change in wind speed and/or direction with respect to height. In the case of isolated thunderstorms that occur in the tropics, this ingredient is nearly non-existent given that the air masses of such environments tend to be stable with the exception of the localized areas of enhanced heating where the storms were able to initiate from. As such, once the thunderhead reaches its highest level in the atmosphere, all of the parcels that have cooled and condensed will sink back down to the surface. This downdraft will then cut off any supply of warm, moist air that initiated the thunderstorm, and produce an outflow boundary that may help to produce a new one in its wake. Under conditions in which there is greater wind shear, however, such a thunderstorm would have a downdraft that sinks further away from the core of the storm. As such, these thunderstorms require sources of lift that can produce sufficient enough wind shear given that this difference in the location between a thunderstorm’s updraft and downdraft will then in turn allow for a thunderstorm to maintain itself for a much longer period of time, strengthen, and become a much more severe thunderstorm that can potentially produce hail, damaging winds, and of course tornadoes.
Late-afternoon supercell over Nebraska
Given this requirement, supercells are most likely to be produced over areas with strong, well-defined air mass boundaries, such as surface fronts or dry lines. As such, the mid-latitudes, which include areas like the Great Plains of North America, are prime locations for such thunderstorms to develop in the spring. This season is when these boundaries begin to develop at greater rates across the continent while the reintroductions of vegetation, along with increased radiative heating, ensure that the environment is much more prime for supercells and the severe weather hazards that come along with them.
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©2019 Meteorologist Gerardo Diaz Jr.
April Showers, Bringing May Flowers? …. Global Precipitation Climatology (Photo Credits: Sharon Sullivan, Global Precipitation Climatology Project)
April showers bring May flowers - or so we’ve been told - this phrase can be traced back to the mid-1500s from a collection of writings known as “A Hundred Good Points of Husbandry” - “Sweet April Showers do spring May Flowers”. But, with portions of the Southwestern U.S. still in moderate to severe drought categories, what does that mean for May flowers?
Precipitation is defined by the AMS Glossary as “liquid or solid phase aqueous particles that originate in the atmosphere and fall to the earth’s surface”. Precipitation is important for understanding climate evolution and hydrological applications ranging from agriculture to flooding. Extensive research has been undertaken in recent decades to develop a global precipitation climatology. The main source of precipitation climatology is from the Global Precipitation Climatology Project (GPCP), a joint effort that attempts to merge data from 6000 rain gauge stations, geostationary and polar-orbiting satellites, radar, and sounding observations in order to estimate total monthly rainfall.
Rain gauge observations have been used to estimate precipitation rate, however, the global distribution of gauges is population dependent and assumes there is no potential losses from the melting of frozen precipitation. Radar can be used to estimate rain rate through comparison of hydrometeor size to the radar reflectivity factor, but beam blocking, attenuation, and great distances from the radar can leave gaps in precipitation climatology. While satellites may tend to underestimate precipitation compared to gauges and radar, they can infer precipitation amounts over oceans, complex terrain, and sparsely populated areas by determining cloud types/depths through the visible and infrared channels.
Annual mean precipitation distributions in mm day-1. The global mean is 2.61 mm day-1, or 37.480 in year-1 (Global Precipitation Climatology Project)
On global, regional, and local scales, precipitation is controlled by the availability of water vapor, temperature, aerosols, cloud type, dynamics (latitude), and orography (local). The Northern Hemisphere tropics precipitate on average 50% more than the Southern, due to a greater proportion of land mass. Precipitation tends to follow a diurnal cycle, but this pattern is regionally dependent. During spring, the best of both precipitation dynamics - winter and summer - converge. The jet stream remains strong, holding onto the cold winter chill, as sunlight warms the lower atmosphere. The Rocky Mountain Range in the central United States typically experiences high-frequency precipitation events in the mid-afternoon summers and early fall (suggesting that high surface temperatures drive convective processes), while early morning rainfall may occur in Thailand and the Bay of Bengal during monsoon season. For New Mexico in particular, the summer monsoon months receive almost half the average precipitation for the year. The poles typically have lower precipitation amounts (<1 mm day-1) due to the lower water vapor content, as colder climates aren’t able to hold as much water vapor in the atmosphere above. Another important phenomena associated with global precipitation variability on interannual time scales is El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), where changes in sea surface temperature can modify the position of storm tracks in the Northern Hemisphere.
Thus, an accurate precipitation climatology is essential to improve model & satellite verification, make short-term forecasts more effective, and even help to predict shifts in global precipitation patterns in the future. Just as a reminder than even the most unpleasant of things (in this case, the heavy rains of April) can spring forth even the most enjoyable of things - the abundance of May flowers.
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©2019 Meteorologist Sharon Sullivan
Taking A Look Back at Winter 2019 Climate Statistics (Credit: NOAA National Center for Environmental Information-Climate)
Discussion: As the cold days of winter fade away, spring is starting to go into full gear across the United States. The National Center for Environmental Information has released their climate statistics from this past winter. Breaking these statistics down, the overall average temperature for the season (December 2018- February 2019) was 33.4°F. This number is 1.2°F above the average temperature. These averages are based on a record spanning 125 years. This winter ranked the top third warmest of winters since the record began. Regions that experienced these warmer than average winter temperatures included parts of the New England, the Southern Plains, and Southeast Ohio Valley. In Alaska, the average winter temperature was 10.5℉. This was the thirteenth warmest winter for Alaska, 6.9°F warmer than the long-term average. Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee all had overall winter temperatures that ranked in the top ten warmest for their state. Though many areas saw a warmer winter, cooler than average temperatures were present in the Rocky Mountains, the Southwest, and Central and Northern plains. During the end of January, many parts of the Midwest experienced record breaking, downright frigid temperatures. Despite the extreme cold during that time, no state broke a record for cold or warm.
The average total of wintertime precipitation this year was 9.01 inches, which was above average by 2.22 inches. This amount ranks this winter (December 2018-February 2019) as the wettest winter on record, beating the winter of 1997-1998 by just 0.02 inches. Across the contiguous United States, most of the nation experienced above average precipitation rates except for only five states! The standout state was Tennessee, which experienced their wettest winter and February on record, while Wisconsin had their second wettest winter. Snowfall records were broken in Omaha, Nebraska and Nome, Alaska. Omaha had a record breaking 46.1 inches of snowfall which broke their 2003-2004 winter record of 44.3 inches. Nome tallied 69.5 inches of snow with help from a record-breaking February snowfall of 35.6 inches. That record-breaking February snowfall was the highest single February snowfall in Nome since 1920! With all of the snow and rain that fell across the United States this winter, no state ranked below average in the precipitation category.
Winter 2019 was a fairly active season. Across the United States, various weather events occurred. From Washington to Wisconsin, numerous cold temperature and snowfall records were broken in February. In Hawaii, Mauna Kea experienced a temperature of 9 degrees! A storm system known as a Kona Low was the cause bringing snow, heavy winds, and high waves. Across California and the West Coast, an atmospheric river event brought in heavy rainfall. These heavy rains caused flooding on the Russian River, which is located north of Santa Rosa, California. The atmospheric river event also contributed positively to the above average Sierra Nevada Mountains snowpack. In the southeast, heavy rain caused flooding and mudslides, while in the Northeast and Great Lakes, winter storms brought coastal flooding, heavy snowfall, and hurricane force winds.
In other locations across the west, snowfall broke records. In Flagstaff, Arizona, a one-day total of 35.9 inches was recorded! This marks the snowiest day on record for the city. For Las Vegas, Nevada, they saw their first measurable snowfall in over a decade. This winter broke records and brought some of the coldest temperatures that some parts of the country have ever experienced. With the winter cold and snow behind us, springtime temperatures will be right around the corner!
For more information on regional climate statistics click here!
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©2019 Meteorologist Shannon Scully