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!
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©2019 Meteorologist Shannon Scully
How Climate Change Might Impact Maple Syrup Production (Credit: Climate Central, NewYorkUpstate.com)
Discussion: Late winter is synonymous with many aspects of the Northeast, such as Winter Storms and lingering cold temperatures. Across the Northeast, late winter is also known for maple syrup production. Sugar maple trees are abundant from the Tennessee Valley into the Northeast, but it is only in the Northeast where the climate is right for tapping the sap from the tree. The combination of the cold nights and warmer days is beneficial for the production of sap from the maple trees. With the difference in temperature between day and night, there is a difference in pressure that allows for the sap to be pushed out of the tree. Sap is then boiled off and turned into maple syrup and other maple products. Scientists are concerned however, that the sugaring season is now being affected by climate change. The maple syrup season usually ranges from February to April but now according to some owners in Upstate NY, those seasons are being cut short with trees not being ready until mid-March.
According to maple tree researchers, the maple season in New England has been starting 8 days earlier and ending 11 days earlier than a half a century ago. In Vermont, researchers are worried due to the fact that Vermont and New York have similar climates. If the temperatures become too warm, it results in less sugar in the sap of the maple trees. The less sugar there is in the sap requires more sap per gallon of maple syrup. Vermont is the biggest producer of maple syrup in the United States. The maple syrup industry is a $141 billion-dollar industry. Maple trees need below freezing temperatures during the winter, and during the early spring need a range of temperatures for the sap to flow. As the winter season continues to change climatologically, it is likely that the Northeast will slowly become the sole hub of Maple Syrup due to the maple trees down south becoming less viable for sap production.
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Photo credit: Climate Central
©2019 Meteorologist Shannon Scully
In the northernmost region of the large island of Hawai’i, there is a tall mountain that separates the east from the west: Kohala Mountain. It has long been a trademark of the region for its incredible effect on the island. It’s responsible for creating the obvious rift in geography between the leeward and windward sides of the mountain that one can see in the image above. What about the mountain though causes one side to be lush with vegetation, while the other is basically a desert?
The answer has to do with orographic uplift, which is the upward movement of air along given mountains. Hawai’i lies within the area covered by the easterly trade winds, causing the eastern side of Kohala Mountain to be the first mountainous region to intercept winds coming over the ocean in northern Hawai’i. That moist air from the Pacific Ocean rises up over the mountains though orographic uplift and then condenses into clouds at the top of the mountain. Consequently, the windward side of Kohala receives plenty of precipitation and moisture, which creates its lush vegetation. However, once the air condenses and precipitates over the east, there is not much moisture left for the west side of the mountain. Instead, dry air falls back down the west side of the mountain and warms up, creating a desert. This is an example of a rain shadow, and they are present all over the world.
One very notable example aside from Hawai’i is the mid-west of the United States. In the continental United States, winds primarily come from the west over the Pacific Ocean. When that air reaches the Rocky Mountains, it creates a rain shadow over the leeward side of the mountains, which is part of the reason why it tends to be so dry in the mid-west. Additionally, the area west of the mountains gets a lot of rain and is why Seattle is known for being so rainy. Other instances of the rain shadow effect creating dry areas include the Atacama Desert in Chile due to the Andes Mountains, and the Gobi Desert in Mongolia due to the Himalayan Mountains.
Since rain shadows heavily impact people and wildlife on both sides of mountain chains, it’s an important phenomenon to know in order to understand the geography and climate of different areas around the world. Although it is only one piece of the puzzle in deciphering why different parts of the planet have different climates, the rain shadow is still an essential element in determining the behavior of the weather throughout the world.
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© 2018 Weather Forecaster Cole Bristow
In recent weeks, the spring-time thaw has been forecasted and broadcasted across the contiguous United States. With this past winter bringing record snowfall to numerous places, the combination of snow melt and spring-time rain will surely create difficult situations for various locations across the U.S. A recent study citing a rise in extreme rain events will also create havoc in an already damp and strenuous environment. The long-time saying of “April showers, bring May flowers” will definitely bloom in popularity with this increase in extreme rain.
Precipitation is an ever changing aspect of an ever changing climate. A one-degree Fahrenheit rise in global temperatures would lead to a four percent increase in water vapor in the atmosphere. This abundance of water vapor would have the potential to strengthen downpours, snow fall and even those “all day” rainfalls. In a recent study NOAA and NCEI indicates that the 10 years with the most extreme one-day precipitation have come all since 1995. The study used conventional climate extremes data that looked at monthly maximum and minimum temperature, daily precipitation and drought data for regions around the globe.
This upward trend of more extreme rain can be seen as a part of other extremes that are on the rise and have been for approximately a decade or so. The NOAA/NCEI Climate Extremes Index evaluates the percentage of the contiguous U.S. that is much above (or below) normal for six indicators that are related to temperature, drought, precipitation and tropical cyclones. This data goes back to 1910, but shows the top four of the five values occurred in 2012, 2015, 2016 and 2017, with 2018 coming in eighth. Of all the climate extremes that this index calculates, water imbalance issues stand out. In the coming decades, water imbalance, which includes precipitation, drought and water scarcity, will have the utmost climate impacts due to the reliance on water as well as the dangers that extreme rainfall and flooding possess.
In recent years, extreme rainfall events have seen a small but steady increase. Along with this, a slight rise in temperature, which is projected, will only increase extreme rainfall events further. To keep up with the NOAA/NCEI Climate Extremes Index, go here.
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©2019 Weather Forecaster Alec Kownacki
Spring has Sprung: An Analysis of CPC’s Spring 2019 Outlook (Photo Credits: NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, Fred Dunn)
NOAA's CPC outlook for April-May-June (updated March 21 2019) ; MLK Memorial in Washington D.C. surrounded by cherry blossoms in March 2018
This morning, the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) released its three-month outlook for spring temperatures and precipitation. An official El Niño declaration was made about a month ago, with positive temperature anomalies reigning in the central Pacific.
The CPC makes 6-10 day outlooks, 8-14 day, monthly, and seasonal outlooks across the United States. For example, the three month spring outlook (April-May-June) gives the probability of of precipitation occurrence on the three upcoming months of the forecast model run. Probability of precipitation will be in one of 3 possible categories: below (B), median (N), or above (A). Categories are defined by separating the 30 years of the most recent climatology period 1981-2010 into the 10 driest years, the middle 10 years, and the wettest 10 years on any given 5-day period. The probability of any category being selected at random is ⅓. The colored shading on the map indicates the degree of confidence. The darker the shading, the greater level of confidence.
For New Mexico, in particular, the Madden-Julian Oscillation, or MJO, played a bigger role in active winter weather systems. But, what does that mean for spring across northern and central New Mexico? Wetter than normal conditions are more likely during El Niño events in the Southwest, especially during the cool season months of winter and spring, in which there is an eastward extension of deep tropical convection. While odds generally favor a wetter winter during El Niño, an analysis of individual stations reveals precipitation to be highly variable from event to event. Temperatures are more of a mixed bag, based on current dynamical and statistical output and historical trends (i.e. whether an earlier spring snowmelt will affect higher elevation temperatures). MJO, on the other hand, is forecast to remain active through the end of the month, where mid-latitudinal teleconnections become weaker during the spring months. While an El Niño event will tilt the odds for a wet winter and spring in New Mexico, it does not guarantee above average precipitation.
Following a round of chilly temperatures and a polar vortex, it looks like the groundhog may have forecasted spring at an opportune time!
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©2019 Meteorologist Sharon Sullivan